Spending so much time with the Palestinian neighbors I am accompanying, I lose sight of the impact of western views of the Palestinian people and the minute stereotypes that are held about the place that has been my home for the past six months. During Holy Saturday, some fellow YAGM volunteers and I were going out to dinner for some relaxation and fellowship during a very busy week of Holy Week meditation and worship. The days before we had spent time considering the meal Jesus shared with his decuples, and walking as he did to Gethsemane. The next morning, we walked with the Lutheran and Anglican congregations on the Via Dolorosa, following the stations of the cross on Good Friday. Saturday was more or less a free day for us volunteers.
That night, we decided to go to a local Chinese restaurant near our Country Coordinators house in Beit Safafa. We love the place. Good food, and not a far walk away from the house. When we got there it was slow, but there was a large group of American tourists eating in the corner of the restaurant. We were seated a couple of tables away from the group, and started looking at the menu. Before we started ordering our meal, one person from the group at the other table said, “I can’t believe that we are in Israel, in an Arab Chinese restaurant.” All of us volunteers looked at each other in amazement at what we just heard. Yes, we were in a Chinese restaurant, but that’s where the facts really ended.
The part of Beit Safafa that we were in was a part of occupied East Jerusalem. Before the war in 1967, this part of Jerusalem, and all of the eastern portion of Jerusalem was a part of Jordan. After the war, the West bank and East Jerusalem came under Israeli Occupation. Unlike the rest of the West Bank, East Jerusalem was annexed from the West Bank, and its Palestinian residents were given residency, not citizenship to Israel. Their second class citizens. East Jerusalem is peppered with Israeli settlements, and Palestinian communities are continuing to shrink due to house demolitions, and rampant poverty. Beit Zafafa is hugged by two large Israeli settlements, Gilo, and Har Homa. It sits near the Separation Wall with the West Bank, and only seconds from Bethlehem and Beit Jala in the West Bank.
Yes, we were annoyed by the ignorance by these tourists, but we let it go (for the most part), and got to enjoying our amazing meal. We were wrapping up our meal when the server brought out our complementary pot of Chinese tea, and fried bananas. The Palestinian server apologized that they didn’t have ice-cream, because he recognized us from our previous visits. When he brought over the same things to the other table, he told them the tea and bananas were on the house. One person in the group said very loudly in front of the server that they “were not really on the house,” and that they were going to have to pay for the extra food. Us Volunteers were embarrassed by their behavior. This was not some tourist trap restaurant in the Old City of Jerusalem, but a small eating establishment in the heart of a Palestinian neighborhood.
As we were wrapping up our fried bananas, the server wonderfully kept filling up our pot of tea. We kept thanking him for his generosity, and kindness. As we tried to leave, we got up and went to the counter to pay our bill. We paid him, left him a nice tip, and were ready to leave when he said, “sit down, I’m making you some coffee.” This gesture reminds me of the times when I walk into the home of a Palestinian family and it is never okay until you have some co
ffee and tea. We sat and drank tea and coffee for another hour and a half. We tried to pay him and he refused.
PALESTINIAN HOSPITALITY STRIKES AGAIN! I wish to see a newspaper read someday. Gestures like this are the hallmark of the Palestinian community, not bombings and hatred. I think about how during Maundy Thursday Jesus opens his table to “taste and see” God’s presence in our lives. On this day, us volunteers, and the American tourists were brought into this restaurant to taste the stir-fry that fulfills our hunger. We than drink the tea that fulfills our thirst. Jesus’s table is a radicle hospitality, that brings us together in a shared humanity. We must eat. We must drink. These earthly elements show us our common humanity, in relationship. Jesus calls us that we must then “do this always.” We must bring this hospitality to all of those around us. I’d have to say that the Palestinian people have been practicing this call for a long time.