Living into Hope: Christmas in Zababdeh, Palestine

December 21 — Grace and Peace from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Marthame and Elizabeth Sanders have been living in Zababdeh, the only majority Christian village in the occupied West Bank, and documenting life there through writing, images and film for more than three years.

As we write this to you, we are still in Advent, a period of waiting and hoping and preparing, a time of expectation. Our years living in the West Bank have made Advent a season that resonates deeply with us. People there know waiting: waiting at the checkpoint, waiting for military closures to lift, waiting for peace. They know preparing: stocking up for curfew, anticipating loss, fearing for the worst. They also know hoping: hoping to arrive at their destination, hoping to survive, hoping for the future of their children.

It is the hope that constantly amazes us. Our friends in the West Bank have told us how hopeful they are for their upcoming elections, how optimistic they are that a new strong leader will be elected who will guide the Palestinian people to a just and lasting peace with Israel. For people living in this hopeless situation, such optimism astounds us. But it shouldn’t. As Paul reminds us, hope lies at the center of faith itself. Faith is “the conviction of things unseen.” Though peace remains invisible in Palestine and Israel, they do not stop hoping for it. And their faith is strengthened and rooted in that hope.

Zababdeh is a good example. The context is not much different from when we left one year ago—that is, fearful, desperate, overwhelming. As a small rural town far from Israeli settlements and the Separation Wall/Fence, Zababdeh has not seen the frequent Israeli military incursions, the civilian deaths, the home demolitions, or the land confiscation that many other parts of the West Bank have seen. It has not seen the Palestinian attacks on civilians that many communities in Israel have seen. However, checkpoints still riddle the West Bank, making the trip from Zababdeh to nearby Jenin arduous but (at least for now) usually possible. The journey from Zababdeh to most other places in the West Bank remains forbidden or prohibitively expensive and dangerous. Unemployment continues to grind down families’ life savings and their ability to provide for their children. The unpredictability of Israeli army activity—through periodic operations, nighttime house searches, arrests, and detentions—weighs heavily on the people.

In spite of this, we hear the word of hope continuing to spring forth from our brothers and sisters in Zababdeh. They are hopeful for new leadership for their people. They are hopeful that this bitter and entrenched conflict can end. And they live into that hope, in their lives and the life of their community. Fr. Aktham, the Roman Catholic priest, informed us that Misilye Road – the worst, muddiest, most potholed (and most traveled) road in town – was paved this Fall (we remember being literally unable to pass sections of it because of the small lakes that developed in the rainy winter). At the Latin school, where we taught, a new generator keeps electricity going during increasingly frequent power outages. A new program provides meals and health tests for one hundred and seventy children in the nursery, preschool, kindergarten, and first grades. Generous donations have made possible the addition of a language lab, strengthening the English and French programs. The school is also now connected to the internet, networking students and teachers to online resources and opportunities. A Family Center, a safe public space to relax, is being built, and will continue pending further funding.

The Anglican Church, without pastoral leadership for most of our time there, now has a pastor, Fr. Fadi, who tells us that the flock has been gathering, thankful to be able to worship in their tradition again. Fr. Firas, the Melkite priest, has completed much of the work on the Melkite Church, which had been closed for seventeen years. His flock is also re–gathering in the re–opened worship space, and he and his family have moved into the church manse where his grandfather lived as priest. Fr. Firas and his wife Doris celebrated the birth of a new son, Elias (Fr. Hosam, Anglican priest in Nablus, and his wife Rafa’ have also welcomed baby Wadi’ into their home). Fr. Toma of the Orthodox Church is learning how to use his new computer, which he hopes can keep him connected with supporting churches and with those whom he met during his visit to the States.

Indeed, the word from Zababdeh is not one of resignation or surrender. Despite the exhaustion, the fear, the uncertainty, the word from Zababdeh is Hope. And from this hope springs faith anew, reborn this Christmas season. May we all share in that hope.

Salaam al–Masiih (Peace of Christ),
Marthame and Elizabeth

Related Links:

  • Documentary: “Salt of the Earth: Palestinian Christians in the Northern West Bank” by Marthame and Elizabeth Sanders
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