A voice from the Middle East | Inquirer Opinion

A voice from the Middle East

/ 11:21 PM December 26, 2011

We are in that odd interim period between two occasions of such mad celebration that we need these days to recover from the first and prepare for the second.

Many years ago, my siblings and I and our families spent this post-Christmas, pre-New Year period traveling, either out of town or out of the country. But these days, the holidays have become so draining we literally need the time to catch our breath, put up our feet, let our bellies rest from the onslaught of holiday banquets and our heads settle after the cloud of overindulgence.

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This is the time to try to finish all the edible gifts that have found their way to our home. This is because unless we make the effort, these items will end up hibernating in the fridge, gathering mold and other growths until they mutate into other forms of life. So we end up eating pastillas and turrones for breakfast, snacking on a tub of chocolate-flavored popcorn, and finishing off containers of adobo, laing, lechong manok and leftover lechon turned into paksiw, which I actually prefer to the original. Lord knows how long we will have to subsist on Christmas ham. I tell you, it’s a hard job but someone’s gotta do it!

The holiday décor stays up until after Three Kings, when the season “officially” draws to a close. But already they are beginning to look threadbare, the tree askew from all the pushing and shoving during the exchange of gifts, and I have yet to check my collection of belens to see if another Baby Jesus has gone missing. My guess is that it’s not the tinsel balls or faux ivy that have lost their sheen, but rather, they seem a bit tawdry now that the gilt-edge of anticipation is gone.

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Christmas hangover—I don’t know if this is a natural consequence of a celebration let-down, or if it had to be invented to give our minds, bodies and spirits a time for quiet and reflection before the frenzied New Year’s Eve erupts anew.

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The news item caught my eye. The headline read, “A merry Christmas in Bethlehem,” and it struck me because, during a trip to Israel some years back, we couldn’t make it to the town where Jesus was born because it lies inside the West Bank and at that time the borders were closely guarded and tourists weren’t allowed entry.

The report said that as many as 100,000 visitors were in Bethlehem for the Christmas celebration, noting that joining the local and foreign tourists were Palestinian residents, with one woman saying, “We love to share this holiday with our Christian brothers.”

I was moved by the images the report conjured, believers and non-believers alike wandering the narrow streets of Bethlehem and hearing Mass at the Church of the Nativity, built over the grotto where the legendary “manger” was to be found. It also reminded me of the work that has yet to be done to bring lasting peace to the Middle East, especially after the Arab Spring that ushered in high hopes for a transformation of the region, but from which we now hear disturbing developments.

For about a year now, I have been receiving updates from Ronit Avni, an Israeli who works with Just Vision, an NGO that works for peace and change among both Israelis and Palestinians. Let me share with you an e-mail from Ronit that tells the story of an individual journey, that, shared with many others, promises to build into an unstoppable tide.

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From the moment I was first exposed to Palestinians and Israelis working nonviolently to end the occupation and resolve the conflict, I felt compelled to act.

For me, it all started when I met a handful of individuals on the ground who embodied the values that I most admire: integrity, courage, fairness, a commitment to pluralism and personal responsibility. I wondered who else was out there and wished there was a place I could turn to for comprehensive, in-depth information about people like them, on both sides of the Green Line, working for change. Not the politicians or militants, but the pragmatic visionaries. I didn’t find what I was looking for.

Several years later as a full-time media strategist for human rights defenders, I decided to interview 475 Palestinian and Israeli peace-builders, human rights activists and nonviolence leaders. I wanted to find out what they needed, what obstacles they faced and how I could help.

This was how Just Vision was born.

Today, Palestinian and Israeli grassroots leaders are up against steep odds, facing well-resourced and influential challengers. Yet their unarmed struggle for freedom, dignity, security and peace has the moral force of history behind it. At Just Vision we are committed to helping them succeed.

* * *

Every few weeks we publish another interview with a pragmatic visionary on our website in Arabic, Hebrew and English. I am proud of the global footprint we have created, but am also humbled by the task ahead.

Since the launch of Just Vision at the height of the Second Intifada in 2003, I have seen the key assumptions underlying our work move from the margins to the mainstream: that ordinary people—not politicians—will lead on this issue; that nonviolence is the best way to bring the occupation and the conflict to a dignified end; and that unity across divides—whether it is among men and women, Palestinians and Israelis, or people of different political persuasions—is the greatest hope we have for a free, rights-respecting and secure future for both peoples.

Our politicians need to catch up, but in the meantime university students, faith leaders, refugee camp residents, women’s groups, cinema-goers and journalists across Palestine, Israel, America and around the world get it. They are seizing upon a fragile but very ripe moment to build a different future for us all. And we’re right there with them.

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TAGS: bethlehem, Christmas, featured columns, just vision, Middle East, opinion, peace process
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