Whenever I look down at my arm and see this olive branch, I pray for peace in the Holy Land. This symbol of peace was tattooed on me on my last night in Jerusalem by Razzouk Tattoo, the oldest tattoo shop in the world. Tattooing has been in the Razzouk family for 700 years — first in Egypt, then coming with them to Palestine five centuries ago. Wassim, who tattooed me, is the 27th generation in his family to carry on the tradition.
Thinking about the Old City of Jerusalem, with its cobble-stoned streets sectioned into the Jewish Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, and the Armenian Quarter.
Thinking about the generous hospitality of my Israeli hosts.
Thinking about the Palestinian Christians I met in Beit-Jala, and how we prayed the Lord’s Prayer together in both Arabic and English.
Thinking about Mahmoud, who graciously hosted our group of nearly 50 at his restaurant in Samaria, Palestine.
Thinking of the Catholic nuns I saw praying the rosary at Jacob’s Well in Nablus.
Thinking about the Separation Wall in the West Bank, and how the Israeli side had been painted to look like a landscape while the Palestinian side displayed artwork calling for liberation, and a painting of George Floyd.
Thinking of the gentle way Muslims would drop to their knees when the call to prayer came on.
Thinking about driving past the barbed wires just north of Gaza, and about the one time Israeli soldiers stopped our tour bus because of our Arab driver, only to wave us on once they boarded and saw all the passengers.
Thinking about the Palestinians I saw lined up at the wall, waiting for an Israeli business man to pick them out of a line-up so they could cross the border and go work for a day’s wages.
Thinking of the tears I cried when we visited Yad-Vashem and I gazed upon the millions of artifacts in glass cases that once belonged to Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust.
Thinking about the soldier holding a machine gun two feet away from where we disembarked in Bethlehem.
Thinking about the Armenian friend who was shut out of his family’s home once Israel annexed East Jerusalem, and how he had to fight for nearly a decade to gain Israeli citizenship because he’s Christian, not Jewish.
Thinking of the Israeli boat captain who proudly sang his national anthem and flew his flag when we sailed on the Sea of Galilee.
Thinking of the friendly “Shalom!”s exchanged between I and two Hebrew boys carrying a plastic slide, and the grinning faces of the Palestinian children vying to sell our tour group olive oil soap.
Thinking of the news that 47 families (500+ people) were wiped out from the civil registry in Gaza this week. Completely erased — entire generations, just gone.
In a land so full of history, where people feel such deep pride over their ancestries and languages and stories and their faith, 47 families were eliminated in the blink of any eye.
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
يا إلهي، ارحمك.
يا رب، ارحم.