The following is an article written by a participant in the 2004 Annual Palm Sunday March from Bethlehem to Jerusalem.
There was order and joy, there was power and strength in the light of the humility of Jesus as we followed his footsteps. There were songs of joy and peace, songs of defiance and justice, all for the grace and peace and fire of God’s justice to become a reality for the Palestinians, an occupied people.
We walked through the Wall opening on the one road to Jerusalem that still exists. We numbered as many as 324, total. There were 92 kids and six hardy donkeys we all followed. We were holding palm branches and olive branches as we walked. In Bethlehem Square, we sang several songs, such as “We shall not be Moved,” and kids especially liked “Peace, Salaam, Shalom.”
When we got to the first group of troops, we continued to walk, saying that there was no reason we should not be allowed to pray in peace in Jerusalem this Holy Palm Sunday. We spoke in calm, clear tones, as the leadership had directed. After a first contingent of the troops fell back, we walked further right up to the Checkpoint. We had our arms locked in solidarity, now at least 10 rows of 20. There was dignity and solemnity as we approached the point where only six soldiers were ordered to stand, with their arms locked. There were conversations and prayers offered to the soldiers over the barrier of inches. One older man in a suit asked a soldier for a cigarette, and the soldier surprisingly shared it. Several soldiers unlocked their arms, but were ordered not to talk with us. We declared things like, “We come in Peace to pray in Jerusalem this day!” “Justice for the Palestinians!” “We do not recognize your illegal laws.” “We pray for your children, that they may live in a peaceful land.” We offered these in a spirit of solidarity, a spirit of engagement in love. We looked in the eyes of the soldiers and whispered, “Shalom,” to help them to see our humanity and touch their hearts.
There was an initial negotiation, in which first the Major, then the Captain and finally the Commander, addressed the leadership. They allowed one leader to go into the Checkpoint site and confer with him for about 10 minutes. He returned and stated that the Checkpoint would not allow us through under any circumstances, that they were proud of their racist policies and that no one here was allowed anywhere near Jerusalem because they were not permitted to be there.
After a hiatus of another 10 minutes, we were notified we would have only 10-15 minutes to disperse before they would use force, and we were directed to sit down to discuss our plans. There was a request that we poll the group. Our leadership told the soldiers that we should sit down and confer about what we would do next. At this point we sang peace songs, like “We have Overcome…today…”, and saw the soldiers’ stances and gazes soften. We included verses like, “We will speak God’s Truth…,” “In Jerusalem…,” “We will pray as One…,” “We pray to One God…” The arabic-speakers also sang 3 songs.
After 20 minutes of sitting, Sami Awad rose to say he had a statement to read. “We did not want violence and were not seeking to endanger those present with the violence of the weapons that we knew would be used. They had been used often agains the people in the past, he stated, and they would not hesitate.”
We in the Bethlehem community have come to you today with a message on behalf of our people. We represent the family members and friends who are imprisoned by these concrete walls and wire fences that now create the Bethlehem open-air prison. You, like the prison guards, control our freedom and ability to live as human beings with dignity in this holy land.
Our strong delegation of civilians comes to you without weapons but with great strength and commitment to deliver the message of just peace. In the name of security, you do not permit us to travel to work, to school and to worship inour holy sites in the city of Jerusalem. Your government deprives us each day of basic human rights to self-determination. Each day you keep us from beiong with our families at weddings, funerals, graduations, birthdays and religious holidays. Although Al Quds is only 20 minutes from Bethlehem, we have not been allowed to pray or to worship at our holy sites.
Each day as you come to our city, you serve the system of violence that keeps our people imprisoned and without the ability to live a life of a normal human being. With your guns, tanks and insults, you teach our children to hate.
However, we believe each of you has the power and choice to choose a different ending to this story. We appeal to your conscience and humanity as individuals and as soldiers, who may feel there is no way out of this system. Put your guns away and join us in the fight for peace and freedom.
The People of Bethlehem
These words were delivered with dignity and strength. They were delivered directly to the soldiers and commanders over the barricades they erected. Despite the commander trying to get his officers to push the cameras away, the cameras were recording each and every word, to the glory of God. The soldiers were not following the directions to push the cameras away.
Blessings of Peace with Justice from Bethlehem, as we all follow in Jesus’ steps. May we seek to find the power and the choice to live a different ending to this tragic and horrific story.
Version lightly revised by author.