“If you pay attention you will see: the tour guides tell their groups not to buy from the Arabs. So there is no business.”
— A shopkeeper in the Old City of Jerusalem
It is 2:30 pm on a weekday in Jerusalem’s Old City, and one would expect the stores and restaurants to be open and busy. Standing near one of the first stations along the Via Dolorosa, the final path Jesus took as he carried his cross to his own crucifixion, I was looking around me and Abu-Shkri restaurant was closing, as were some of the t-shirt and souvenir stores. I turned to one of the shopkeepers and asked him why they were closing so early. “No business,” he replied.
This seemed like an odd thing to say as the street was full of tourists. There were some tourists walking in groups and others walking in pairs or alone. “There are thousands of people here,” I said to him. “Yes, but they don’t stop to shop, not even to look or ask for prices.” He was right. Not a single tourist was stopping. “Look,” he continued after he noticed I continued to stand there, “if you pay attention you will see: the tour guides tell their groups not to buy from the Arabs. So there is no business.”
Ali requires further surgery. He is still hoping to move his legs again. He is still hoping to defy the treacherous bullet fired by a heartless sniper, and a world that answers Israel’s crimes with shocking silence.
I was sitting behind my desk in my family’s supermarket in Khan Younis on 14 May when my cousin Ali approached. There was going to be another gathering in al-Faraheen for that day’s Great March of Return protest, he said. Would I join him?
“No, I prefer the one in Khuzaa where we usually go,” I said.
Ali insisted to go to al-Faraheen and decided he would do so with his friend Saed. He stayed with me until I closed the shop and we went our separate ways. I called my friend Ahmad to go to Khuzaa.
At the protest, we found the usual: tear gas canisters falling thickly, leaving us barely able to breathe or talk; ambulances and paramedics fanning out everywhere; and the sound of live bullets whizzing past. The sound of a bullet elicits contradictory feelings. All of us know that it will hit someone. But if we hear it, we are safe, just like when we hear shelling it means it has exploded but not on us.
According to the Torah, God provided for the needs of those who journeyed through the wilderness. The lesson this teaches us in our current political moment is all too obvious: the provision of humanitarian aid is divine work. Those who stand up to systems of state violence are not criminals — they are following a sacred imperative at the very heart of the Exodus story.
This weekend, I’ll be joining 60 faith leaders from around the country in southern Arizona to witness and respond to the suffering on our border though “Faith Floods the Desert” — a collaboration between No More Deaths/No Más Muertes, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, and the Unitarian Universalist Association. Representing communities of many faiths and denominations, we’re going to stand in solidarity with humanitarian aid workers and local residents by walking into the desert and leaving gallons of water along heavily-frequented migrant trails.
No More Deaths/No Más Muertes — a humanitarian organization based in southern Arizona — has documented how border enforcement pushes migration routes into some of the most remote, dangerous areas in Arizona’s deserts. As violence and hardship grow in parts of Latin America — in direct response to US foreign policy — and as pathways to asylum and other relief are cut off, growing numbers of people are crossing the border to reunite with their families and seek safety.