With all of the media coverage of global conflict and this religion vs. that one, stories of beauty and goodness tend to get lost, because fear and negativity attracts more attention to new outlets and their advertisers (more potential sales of fast food and cars, etc.).
So I thought I would do my part to shine a light on the things that really happen on the ground in areas of conflict, in this case Jerusalem. The following is a 100% true story (originally written as part of a paper I presented at a university conference) about my time living in Jerusalem: teaching in Jerusalem and Ramallah, Palestine
Flying into Tel-Aviv in the early morning one sees dawn-lit cities sprawling across the desert floor, the streetlights glittering like gold coins, the Mediterranean flashing orange and pink morning waves. Such serenity, what a scene… yet only days later I would come face to face with the threat of violent conflict in the hot streets of East Jerusalem.
Picking me up from my hotel, a friend had kindly offered to show me around by car; twisting through the city toward the Mount of Olives, and back past the Wailing Wall, stopping only to wander the Old City markets. But before we concluded our trip she causally announced that we would be attending a protest! As she was Palestinian by birth, I assumed that “protest” was a euphemism for screaming protesters throwing rocks through the teargas-laden air; a code word for violence and death. “How could she do this to me?” I thought. Protesting had always seemed to me a singular thing: loud violence, built on a foundation of tears and coffins. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to speak out, to speak my dissent. I sat mute, confused, and afraid. I am not afraid to fight or run, but I have martial arts training… not riot training. She, like I, was a known pacifist too. What was she doing attending such a protest like I had seen countless times on TV?
Continuing on through cobbled streets and old alleys, we eventually arrived. It was time, fight or flight: these seemingly being my only options once the vehicle stopped. I rolled down my window and took a breath of the musky air… partially expecting it to be one of my last. Turning the corner, my fear melted away in a flush of surprise and embarrassment. I couldn’t decide whether to laugh out loud or cry my relief.
The “protest” was a children’s pizza party, held at an elementary school! The school’s principal had decided to charge a toll to enter the parking lot and pick up the children. As the school’s students came from more economically disadvantaged families, this was a major burden, if not illegal. So a group of mothers responded by blocking the entrance with tables full of pizza, pop, and balloons until the principle relented an hour later. Happy children running around, playing and eating pizza was their response. Not screaming, blaming or name-calling. These mothers – every variant of religion, local and international origin, etc. – had banded together to send a message to the school: let’s have fairness and peace, education and not commercialization, let’s give children and their families a fair chance to thrive.
This was a day of powerful examples. The principal changed his mind, the mothers had justice, no one was hurt, and the peace was restored. And all it took was some pizza…