The students pushed their way into the bursting van, pressing their faces against the windows and waving as they disappeared around the gate. Patrick, Paul, and I grabbed our backpacks from the office, said bye to Basma and the remaining teachers, and started the long trudge uphill to our house. I slapped my knees to knock off caked dirt; we spent most of the afternoon pulling weeds around the budding cucumber plants. The road from the Al-Basma Center threaded through the old clustered homes, stacking upwards in layers and rising like artificial hills. Patrick said we didn’t have any more pita, so we cut over a gravelly embankment to a large grocery store on Wad Abu Sada, the street that runs to the foot of our jabal, hill. We have to buy pita and hoummus every few days, because in our house they evaporate with each meal.
I stood on the front steps while Patrick and Paul went inside. I hate shopping; perusing through used bookstores doesn’t count. Admittedly, I get too easily irritated with shopping, but when I need something from the store, I go in, find what I came for, buy it, and leave. Patrick and Paul like to browse, deliberating over every different brand of an item. So I let them browse, instead opting to wait outside. No sense in intentionally ruffling my own feathers.
Several kids ran up the gradual incline of the street, kicking a deflated soccer ball. I sat on the steps, my head resting on my knees. I was tired, but not necessarily from ripping weeds. This place tired me. I was tired of sarcastic teenagers howling profanities in English when I walked past, tired of seeing six-year-old boys playing with toy M-16s, tired of the incessant discord of car horns at any stall in traffic, tired of passing through checkpoints every morning to sit in an office in an industrial zone, tired of feeling like I wasn’t doing what I came here to do. I was tired of feeling like I wasn’t making any difference. I wasn’t naïve enough to come here thinking that the Occupation would end during this eight months. But I was drained, and the exhaustion agitated me.
I was concerned, too. There is a fine line between confronting dehumanization and dehumanizing those you confront. I have to take sides, because neutrality is voting for the oppressor. That fine line is a tightrope that must be walked. But I’ve never been convinced that joining the oppressed and actively condemning injustice mean that I must see the oppressors as something other than what I am. People dehumanize themselves with violence and hatred, but I don’t have to encourage them. I was concerned, because I don’t want to trip over the razor-edge of that line. For a lot of activists, I’ve noticed, that line is nonexistent: the other side deserves to be dehumanized, because they’ve forfeited their humanity by their actions. A love of justice isn’t always wedded to a love of the breath that fills us all. Because the others aren’t breathing the same air. They couldn’t be. The soldiers who come to villages in the middle of night to beat and arrest protest leaders don’t breathe the same way I do. Fanatical settlers drive Palestinians out of their generational homes in East Jerusalem, where homelessness is coincidentally illegal, and they can’t be like me. I’m nothing like the teenaged military recruits, away from homes and schools for the first time, pumped full of fear and nationalism and the need for defense. And I have nothing in common with citizens who praise the heroism of their armed forces, with government leaders who think strength and war will make peace, with adherents to exclusive religious ideologies, with families who go about their normal lives, intentionally or unintentionally oblivious about what their money supports or the costs of their allegiances. I could never be made to believe that my country was God-ordained, that my nation was morally superior, that my humanity was more important. I could never be made to believe such propaganda.
I looked up at the sky, and suddenly the dark clouds opened into light-laced holes and rain poured down. I jumped up the steps to the patio underneath the balcony that formed an awning. Dust spread like steam as the raindrops hit the pavement. The drenched kids abandoned their soccer ball and danced through the street, laughing with heads up in the air and fingers pointing to the leaking sky. The old man on the patio next to me took off his glasses and whispered “Hamdullah. Thanks to God.” Grayish white-water rapids turned the corner and rushed down the scarred streets. Waves lapped over one another and carried stones and pebbles that somersaulted with the rolling tide, singing like a Native American rainmaker. I cupped my hand and held it out beneath the fresh cascades. Raindrops splashed on my fingertips and trickled down the lines of my palm like a tributary.
Walter Wink wrote: “Every drop of water in me has been in every spring, stream, river, lake, and ocean in the world during our earth’s billions of years of existence. We are related to every other self in the universe.”
I’ve heard that justice, like water, rolls down like a mighty stream. Maybe that’s because they both give us our humanity back. Water and justice announce that we are all related.