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First communion on Nakba Day

Contributed by Toine Van Teeffelen on 16.05.2011:

Toine van Teeffelen

May 15, 2011

It was yesterday a strange mixture of festivenous and Nakba day – the commemoration of the expulsion and flight of Palestinians in 1948 when the state of Israel was established. Festiveness: Tamer had his first communion in the Nativity Church. Mary and I remember that the main events in his young life have been linked up to politics. He was born just a few days before the IsraelI invasion into Bethlehem during spring 2002 when militants took refuge in the Church, and the city came under very strict curfew. He received his baptism in January 1, 2003, on a day that it was unclear whether the city was under curfew or not. (I remember walking on an empty street in order to bring the cake to the reception hall, with an Israeli tank besides me). And now his first communion fell on Nakba day with much speculation that this perhaps could be the start of the third Intifada. Mary, dryly: “Perhaps this is all so as not to forget his occasions.”

Tamer did not feel the political tension. He was mostly concerned that he wouldn’t like the wine at the communion. When entering the church he had a cheerful smile on his face. Mary had told him in advance not to be tense with all the cameras around. The 92 girls and boys, all in white, with the girls wearing flower crowns like little angels, filled a good part of the church. Parents and others sat around for encouragement. A table in front became filled with symbols of daily life: a football, which Tamer brought, a guitar, bread, flowers, a pillow, books. Yes, daily life is there even under the most extraordinary of circumstances. The priest walked up and down among the kids and asked them questions, like: “What would you do if it is Sunday and your parents are still sleeping?” The parents laughed. “Bravo ‘aleik” (bravo to you), the priest said, after the right answer.

Then the big moment. All parents tried to make pictures. That was formally not allowed since it was the task of the professional cameramen and photographer to make the occasion unforgettable. At the end of the Mass, Mary expected applause. (Perhaps the angels cheered…) When all the family pictures were taken in the courtyard of St Catherine’s, Jara and Tamer, the last in his long white robe and a large olive-wooden cross dangling on the chest, chased each other among the many cars parked in front of the church.

On the way back, Tamer read the sentences on the billboards along the road: “No Peace Without Return.” “What is return?” he asked but then quickly forgot about it, absorbed as he was by the superman toy that was his first present. During the day, the sound of demonstrations was audible. When the TV did not function well, Mary remarked that it was likely Israeli soldiers who were in Bethlehem as their radio systems usually interfere with the locals’ TV reception.

We meanwhile heard how the Israeli army in cold blood killed refugees in Lebanon, Syria and Gaza, trying to return to what once was there homeland. “Haraam,” how sad, remarked Mary a couple of times.

At the afternoon party specially made for Tamer – with a beautiful, large cake in front of which he piously plied his hands for the photo – I talked with a cousin of Mary about the political situation. We agreed that in the past Israel knew what it wanted and had some kind of strategy, while the Palestinians knew their rights but had no practical way to implement it. It seems that today the situation has been reversed: the Palestinians know what they want and have strategies to implement it (boycot campaign, declaration of a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, walks toward checkpoints and borders, reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas) while Israel is in vain trying to keep going on with an unsustainable status quo and is hijacked by settler and orthodox religious lobbies. But the cousin also cautioned that any strategy on the Palestinian side needed a great deal of guidance and coordination before there was any chance of success.

The day before I was involved in an activity for the World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel convened by the World Council of Churches. We had the plan of making a brief film about Palestinian youth unable to enter Jerusalem. In advance, one youth painted a mock gate on the Wall. A soldier called him from a military watchtower to ask him what he was doing. He was told to slowly walk towards the wall so that the soldier could film him. His father told me what could be the next steps: collaborators trying to collect “information” about him; then an invitation to go to Etzion – the regional military headquarters where “suspected” people are interrogated. Potential punishment: to be put on a blacklist so that traveling or getting permits becomes hard or impossible, or – when you show vulnerability – to be pressured to become a collaborator yourself. That is how fear is planted into people’s hearts. Meanwhile, like other youth, Jara afterwards gave an interview about the places she liked in Jerusalem and what she knew about the Nakba.

Last news is that Mazin Qumsiyeh is held at the military camp near Rachel’s Tomb. He is a main activist in non-violent actions in the Bethlehem area, a prolific social media writer but also a teacher at Bethlehem University, formerly a researcher and lecturer at Yale University in the US, and an author of books about his specialty in the natural sciences – like “Mammals of Palestine” – and books about human rights, including his latest about “Public Resistance in Palestine.” I pity the soldiers interrogating him. They will be confronted by a huge knowledge of law, history and politics, and the certainty that whatever they will say will be afterwards communicated around the world, in graphic detail.

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