Israel/Palestine. The Doors of the Desert.

“It is very important to be present and accompany them,
especially in this painful and difficult moment,”
says Comboni Sister Expedita Perez.

Our community of Al Azarieh is very close to Jerusalem, in a place called Bethany in the time of Jesus. From here we usually go out on Saturdays to visit some of the Bedouin communities in the West Bank, but we have not done so since 7 October because of the insecurity around us.
Early one Saturday, we decided it was time to resume our visits and set off. The women and children were overjoyed to see us. Some of them told us that the children waited for us every Saturday and that when they saw the evening coming, they said sadly: “The sisters won’t come today either”. During these visits we work with the women, embroidering typical Palestinian scarves and giving them English lessons. We also play with the children, although, to be honest, I think what they like best are the gifts they get if they manage to win in one of the activities we do with them. Anyway, we had a lot of fun with both the women and the children that day. The women told us that they had not left their village since the conflict started because they were afraid of the settlers.

A Comboni sister with a group of women. File swm

To get to one of the four villages we visited that first day, we had to take a detour through the desert because the settlers had closed two of the nearest gates. Some of the women also confessed that they had barely slept in the first few weeks for fear of being attacked. The children had been out of school for over a month. The first day the classrooms reopened, it took about three hours to get in and another three hours to get out of Jericho.
This is the UN school for the Bedouins living in the refugee camp and those living in the nearby desert. That day, of course, they didn’t make it to class on time. Thankfully, the school’s headmistress made a deal with the Israeli soldiers who control the entrance to Jericho and let the school bus through immediately.
A lady told me that one of the kindergarten children asks her mother the same question every day: “Is there war today or is there kindergarten?” If her mother tells her that she is going to kindergarten, she immediately wakes up very happy, but if the answer is no, she remains in bed sad and silent because she feels she is in danger. That is how children are. In the four villages we visited that Saturday, the women told us of the difficult time they are now going through. They live in fear and, on top of that, their husbands are at home without work because they cannot enter Israel or the settlements where they worked in the Judean desert.

Sister Expedita and two young ladies with some kids. File swm

The food, already very simple, has become even more sober. When we said goodbye, almost all the women asked us if we would be back next week. They told us that our presence is very important for them because we offer them the opportunity to experience a different, relaxed, and joyful day, beyond the fact that they can learn English and the technique of embroidery. Also, for us Comboni missionaries it is very important to be with them and walk with them, especially in this painful and difficult moment. We told them we would be back.
Furthermore, we accompany our response with words of encouragement, because we have lit up in our hearts, each of us from our own faith, be it Muslim, Jewish or Christian, the hope of being able to live as brothers and sisters, in peace and justice.



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