In March of this year, I had the opportunity to go to the Holy Land with a girlfriend who is a fellow Pastor's wife, and other incredible world-changing women. This trip organized by the movement Amplify Peace and led by the Telos Group was different than most Holy Land trips in that it was one that would be about hearing local people's stories. Both in Israel and in Palestine. This trip was one that will ever change my life. Yes, I saw wonderful Biblical, historical sites but I met and heard from amazing people. People who are brave and need to have their stories told. Here is one of several I will share along the way:
When I walked into the conference room at a very nice hotel in Palestine, I was a little surprised to meet our speaker for the day. This Palestinian woman was a well-dressed business woman, had nice makeup on, and greeted us very professionally shaking our hands.
Her name was Lana and this is her story.
Lana was raised in Palestine and, as several in the middle East do, attended a University in the United States for her Engineering degree. Lana came back to her homeland to help her country to become a better place.
Her first job was in a refugee camp in Gaza. Lana learned there that people were people, no matter their economic status or their nationality. She overcame her stereotypes and learned to see people with individual stories and circumstances.
For 17 years, Lana fulfilled various roles for the United Nations working with the development of her country. In 1990 and the next few years, the Oslo Accords gave her hope for her country because previously, in 1967, many innocent Palestinian people had lost their homes as well as many rights being limited.
Lana said reality soon came and Palestinians got the short end of this agreement which was supposed to be just the beginning. “Israeli settlements came and are, still, taking over our land. People need land, water, air (for phone and internet use—Israel just allowed them to get 3G), borders and all of those were taken,” Lana said. “I had to face collapse.”
Sadly the Israeli tanks rolled into their streets. And horrific became a normal way of life.
Israeli settlements came and started taking over the land--even personally owned land that Palestinian families used for farming. (My side note—I’ll write about one farm owned by a Christian family we visited who has faced this oppression).
Lana admitted after much discouragement, she began to get apathetic. “And then it became personal,” she said.
Lana received a call that her mom had been killed by Israeli military who were shooting randomly outside her parent’s house. One of the bullets went through the walls and shot her mother while she was sitting doing stitching. Her father and brother were hurt as well. And, according to Lana, her mother was a person of peace, taking flowers to soldiers whenever they were around. “I can’t even look at that home now,” said Lana, “and it has become personal.” It is so sad that the military drove up to this nice house and began to spray bullets, Lana said through tears.
“I found myself at a crossroads. And I ashamedly admit, I want revenge or at least to contribute to make it stop.” I am not condoning the thoughts that entered Lana and her brother’s minds, but desperation makes people think unhuman thoughts. Lana ashamedly admitted, “It actually occurs to you to think about blowing yourself up in Israel to draw attention to the injustice of it.” But her wise father emphatically urged his children to not lose their humanity. Instead use tools to help people.
So Lana moved forward the only peaceable way she knew how—she sued the state of Israel. “Justice was the only way I knew to help this from happening again.” Her case stayed in the Israeli courts for over 11 years. And then it was dropped. Israel doesn’t allow charges against its military. Lana claimed she used every resource she had to fight it but they closed the case. There was no punishment.
Lana’s is heartbroken that when sadly an Israeli mom from a settlement was killed, articles were written about her and the world heard about it. “But no one ever mentioned or wrote about my mom,” Lana said sadly.
So Lana even quit the United Nations to find better ways to put her time and energy. Today Lana invests her time into the youth of Palestine starting a local council of the Aspen Institute which teaches youth of 15 to 22 years of age about government, which 50% of Palestinians are under 25.
Lana is an United States citizen and International citizen. She could live anywhere in the world. So why does she stay in Palestine? “I want my three daughters to have a good life,” states Lana. “And if I don’t stay, and my daughters don’t come back (from college and jobs), what hope do we have?”