Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck . . . I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God. – Psalm 69:1-3
Ayman is a university professor in Palestine and a graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. I am talking to him while we are sitting under an awning with his extended family, overlooking the bypass road in the West Bank village of Al Walajah. Land for the road was taken from his family and other Palestinian families and only Israelis can use the road, not Palestinians.
Just up the hill from the family home is the 26-foot-high cement separation wall. From the winding path the wall follows, it is clear the wall is meant for more than security. The wall separates Palestinians from their land and it protects natural resources like water for use by the Israelis.
Sandwiched between the wall and the bypass road for Israeli settlers, Ayman’s family is barely able to survive on their land. But still, they welcome us into their home and offer us tea. “Here,” Ayman says about the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, “it’s your very existence that is threatened.”
Ayman tells us me he has to survive humiliation from Israeli soldiers each day as he waits to pass through the checkpoint from the West Bank into Israel on his way to teach in Jerusalem. He tells me he could have stayed in the United States after his studies, but this, he says, is his land and his family. He views his daily humiliation as part of his resistance. “You have to be crazy enough to resist,” he tells us.
From Dr. Jad Isaac, director of Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem (ARIJ), we had heard earlier that day that there are now hundreds of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian West Bank. The 700,000 Israelis who live here is double the number of settlers just 10 years ago. The bypass roads we see, says Dr. Jad, have been funded by the United States government. The primary purpose of these roads is to connect Israeli settlements and to isolate Palestinian communities.
Dr. Jad tells us that Israelis have claimed 40% of the West Bank land with the separation wall, the bypass roads, the settlements, nature reserves, the resources of the Jordan Valley, and more. I ask him what can possibly give him hope for the future and he tells me, “I believe in humanity and I believe that someday somebody will say enough is enough.“
In the village of Walajah, we visit two ARIJ projects partially funded by Mennonite Central Committee. The first is a waste water treatment system installed in 180 homes that treats waste water so it can be used for irrigation. The system provides these families a far cheaper alternative to sewage treatment than was earlier available, if it was available at all.
In Ayman’s home, we see a new aquaponics project demonstrated that provides clean water and fish for eating. The project is still an experiment and it does not yet provide enough water or food to be profitable, but it is still a source of hope for what might be possible someday.
Here in the West Bank, throats are parched and eyes are growing dim waiting for God, but there is still hope. Save us, God, before we are overcome, I cry as I wait with them.
Ron Byler is executive director of Mennonite Central Committee U.S.