Israel/Palestine. The Doors of the Desert

“It is very important to be present and walk with them, especially in this painful and difficult moment”, Sister Expedita Perez tells us.”

Our community of Al Azarieh is very close to Jerusalem, in the place that in Jesus’ time was called Bethany. From here, we usually go on Saturdays to visit some Bedouin communities in the West Bank, but we have stopped doing so due to the insecurity surrounding us since October 7th.

Early one Saturday, we decided it was time to resume our visits and off we went. When they saw us arrive, the women and children were overjoyed. Some of them told us that the little ones waited for us every Saturday and that, when they saw evening fall, they said sadly: “The Sisters aren’t coming today either.”

On these visits, we work with the women by doing typical Palestinian embroidery on scarves and offering them English lessons. We also play with the children, although, to be honest, I think what they like most are the gifts they receive if they manage to win in one of the activities we do with them. In any case, on that day, we had a lot of fun with both the ladies and the children. The women told us that they had not left their village since the outbreak of the conflict for fear of the settlers.

In fact, 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 closest gates. Some of the women also confessed to us that they barely slept during the first few weeks for fear of being attacked. The children had not been to school for more than a month. On the first day classrooms reopened, it took about three hours to get in and another three hours to get out of Jericho.

It is there that the United Nations school for the Bedouins living in the refugee camp and for those living in the nearby desert is based. That day, of course, they didn’t make it to class on time. Thank God, the school principal reached an agreement with the Israeli soldiers who control the entrance to Jericho and now let the school bus pass 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.

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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