Montag, 4. Februar 2013

To whom the land belongs

 Arqaba 25, January 2013

The heartwarming joy of the children who welcome us in the villages straight as if we were a kind of Tour de France passing by, makes it difficult not to fall into the tone of the usual standard reports. They have little, but they always laugh and they share with you the last thing they have. How often have you heard that, and then the photos of the old pale Central Europeans amidst a crowd of lauging brown children.

No, I will avoid this cliché at any price. I want to tell you that they all have apparently learned enough English from about the third grade to say How are you?, and What is your name? The older children may even lead a decent conversation with you. This is remarkable, because the learning of English is associated with learning the Latin alphabet - a complex exercise that those will understand who ever tried to learn Greek or Russian.
The leap from Semitic Arabic, with its round characters to Western European, Latin written English is much more difficult than our transition from German to the greatly related sister language of the British. In Palestine, the children learn, after a recent reform of the system, English from the first grade on and so have to fight from the beginning on with two headers.
No, and they are not poor. They are dressed village-like, often wear simple sweaters and jackets that  they apparently need only for a few months, the winter here is short and relatively warm. The tea and the juices that their parents conjure when one stops for a moment in front of a house, would excite the customers of every European farmer's market, with its strong rural flavor. Not to mention the green and golden shimmering olive oil, in which one dips his bread and the fresh white yoghurt curd. Its fine acidity would satisfy even French gourmets.
On our ways I often think of the enigmatic biblical concept of anawim,
ענוים), the small and humble, who spend their lives in meekness and who get the promise that they shall possess the land. Humbled are the children of Palestine in the sense that the world politics grant them only a marginal existence, limited options, to one day explore distant countries or to determine their political affairs in freedom.
I saw a shepherd in a remote valley who in the midst of a pastoral idyll of sheep and olive trees in terraced gardens did his afternoon prayers. I remembered that the Prophet Muhammad in Sura 21, 105 quotes Psalm 37 in which, in four different ways, the promise is given that God will distribute the earth differently than those in power would have us believe. In the Quran the third of these four points is quoted (v. 29): "the righteous shall possess the land," Jesus takes the first point (v. 11) for his Sermon on the Mount and says, "The meek shall inherit the earth."
The use of this psalm is the only quotation that all three books of the Abrahamic religions have in common. So the authority of three great world books is gathered behind these words. One must therefore ask whether this is a promise that is not only true in the distant future or whether it does not describe a hidden reality which is already valid today. Does not the country belong to this shepherd in a much stronger and deeper sense than it belongs to the Israeli fighter jets that are roaring over the country and claim it for themselves? I saw teenage children in a grove of fruit trees and olives guarding a flock of sheep and recognized how in a very deep meaning they were at home, rooted in tradition, the true owners of the land.
Of course you should provide for the improvement of their living conditions, for their education. You should help them to be capable engineers, teachers and doctors. But will they be able to experience the whole fullness of human life and its possibilities better when they reach the modern objective to live in a four-room apartment on the third floor in one of the urban centers of the modern world, and from there  go out in the morning into the gray fog and into one of the large industrial plants there?
I doubt that. I look around in amazement - and see the children of God, to whom He in his grace already has given the land, completely independent from any political system in their country.



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