My last couple of days on the bus we had a number of interesting experiences in Northfield, Minnesota. This little town does so much and I couldn’t have imagined that such a small town could be home to something like Northfielders for Palestine. Most of these folks who we met are Americans whose age ranges from fifty to late seventies and many of these people have been to Palestine so they’ve seen for themselves how horrible the situation is. These are the people who helped to make our visit in Northfield seamless and who were wonderfully hospitable and generous.
Sunday morning began with driving around a part of the neighborhood where most of the churches are located. Most people were already inside praying, but we waved at passersby on the street. Then we went to a Baptist Church to do a quick version of our talk to a group of people there who have a regular study group on issues related to the Middle East. It was a mix of adults from that group and some middle school aged youth from a Sunday school class and their teacher. The talk went well and the people asked some really interesting questions that were specific and engaged. But one guy at the end of my presentation, who had his Bible on his lap, said that “God gave the Holy Land to the Jews because they are the chosen people” and therefore my talk was biased. Of course, I explain at the beginning of each talk that I am Jewish and also that I am presenting information about Palestinians that we don’t get in our media here in the U.S. It’s difficult to debate someone who is using a literal interpretation of the Bible, but from a Christian perspective–from Jesus’ teachings, more specifically–should one group of people be more privileged and special than others? Can one steal land and remove the indigenous population? Would Jesus support such behavior (aside from the fact that it’s been done all over the world precisely in this context…)? It just seems so contradictory to me.
Afterwards we went to the Unitarian Church where the former U.S. ambassador to Rwanda spoke. He left his post about five months prior to the genocide there. We missed his talk because of our own, but he told us about his time there and how he tried to lobby the U.S. government to intervene, but because of what had happened in Somalia it was too difficult to get the U.S. to do anything. I wanted Paul to say something to him about his experiences in the Congo and Rwanda because from his time there he sees so much money flooding into Rwanda and so much corruption, including their incursions into the Congo where there is a large-scale genocide happening that we never hear about in the U.S. and Rwanda exacerbates that problem. Apparently, his wife is quite Zionist and prior to his ambassadorship in Rwanda he was in Tel Aviv. She didn’t want us to speak in their church which is why we just went to socialize with the congregation after the service.
Our next event was at another grocery store (who knew that speaking engagements could happen in such spaces?), though this one was a food coop. They had a lovely room where we served some Palestinian olive oil and Arabic bread with za’atar. The olive oil was for sale and apparently the Canaan Fair Trade people who supplied Northfielders for Palestine with it have been asked to take off the “made in Palestine” logo on their label by Homeland Security so this may be one of the last batches with that label. I think this is something that happened only two weeks ago.
After our two talks at the grocery store we went out to dinner with more Northfielders for Palestine and then to a woman’s house who has been to Palestine 21 times. She is supportive of Palestinians, though her interest in biblical archeology and her understanding of the context was a bit off. I couldn’t discern whether this was due to old age or what. She would talk about “Arabic restaurants” in Nablus, but that’s what all the restaurants are. She also thought my kuffiyeh was a Jewish prayer shawl.
My time on the bus was finished up by going to a retirement home to meet with a woman who can’t get around too well, but she is a part of the Northfielders for Palestine. We visited with her and finished up with some tabling at St. Olaf’s College. And then I was off to the airport. Paul and I made a list of interesting questions and comments we heard over the course of our time on the bus which I thought I’d list here:
1. After showing a number of maps of Palestine I was asked what the West Bank was west of given that the Mediterranean wasn’t near there.
2. Do those people over there have a culture of revenge?
3. So how was it being kidnapped? (This one was for Paul)
4. They have been fighting for hundreds of years.
5. The language in Iran is Arabic.
6. A vet from the Iraq war (1991) shared that she got to Saudi Arabia and had to ask where Iraq was after arriving.
7. What is No Man’s Land (after Paul mimed, showed detailed maps, and explained thoroughly)?
8. In relation to Iraq, so they don’t want us there?
9. And, in the Baptist Church, apparently there is some new paradigm to look at the world through two poles: Jesus/Caesar.
Of course, Paul and I answered all such questions with patience, but it certainly demonstrates that there is a lot more mileage that the bus needs to cover in order to continue its work of educating people, even those who are already engaged, interested, concerned. There are so many other questions and comments we got that indicated that there is so much more people need to know. This is why the bus is so amazing and the people on the ground are so fabulous to help us get the word out. Most importantly there were many people interested in divestment and boycott, which would be great if we could turn Northfield into a Sommerville town and mimic their divestment project.