Sunday, August 8, 2010

Greta Steeber writes: We Are Floating in a Sea of Crazy

Dear readers,

I wish I could share with you all the marvelous newsletters sent to me in the past year by Greta Steeber, a young friend who lived in Beit Sahour through the Young Adults in Global Ministry program of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Ameria (ELCA). She taught at the Lutheran school there. Greta sent her reflections in a monthly newsletter, beautifully laid out. I'll include here her message from the last newsletter she sent from Palestine (June 2010).

For more about the young adults - six of them! - who served in Palestine, including an example (April) of Greta's newsletter, go to the web page of the ELCA's Peace Not Walls campaign (you have to scroll down a little bit):

June 1, 2010

Why Is This Place Different?
We Are Floating in a Sea of Crazy

By Greta Steeber


Contrary to what is usually advisable when writing essays etc., I wrote the title to this newsletter yesterday before starting to write and with an entirely different meaning in mind. However, events have conspired against me and I am forced to reinterpret “floating in a sea of crazy” quite differently. You may have heard of the “Freedom Flotilla” that was making its way from Turkey with 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid for Gaza. On Sunday night the boats were attacked in international waters by the Israeli Defense Forces who were intent on enforcing the blockade of Gaza; so intent were they on stopping the aid boats that they were willing to use extreme force including live fire, thus killing at least 10 people, maybe more. [ed. we now know that nine people were killed.] The repercussions of this event are ongoing and I encourage you to keep up to date on how the pieces are moving on the political chessboard.

My original idea was to talk about how much attention this part of the world gets in comparison to so much suffering elsewhere. Israel/Palestine is a hot button topic that is sure to raise opinions from most people who know about it. It is also assuredly the key to conflicts in other parts of the world - even going so far as to call it the flash point of conflict between the “West” and the “East” if you want to think about the world being so divided (my own opinion is that this is not the most helpful frame of reference). On the other hand, when I am here it is not always easy to keep in mind that there are many kinds of occupation in the world. There is economic occupation, domestic violence, slave trade, religious extremism, racism, occupation of the body through disease, and many other less known calamities happening around the world every day. All of these occupations are devastating and pervasive.

I do not believe that you can rank suffering, but I do think that each voice has a right to be heard. Israelis are not physically occupied, though events I have witnessed in the last year have persuaded me that they are morally compromised by the actions taken in their name against the Palestinians. Palestinians are not blameless either. Each side has its share in the big pot of crazy being brewed here and which is sure to overflow every now and again. Again, I am not sure this is exactly different from other kinds of occupation. What I have come to understand for the sake of my own sanity, is that you cannot compare situations. All you can do is be where you are and be present for the people in your community. There is much that I have left unsaid about communities and their importance, but I encourage you to discover this for yourself wherever you are right now!

I have done what I said I would not do, and that is to editorialize. This was, however, an important part of my month. Us six ELCA YAGM’s were spending an evening in Ramallah last weekend and decided to try having an evening without any discussion of the occupation, politics relating to occupation, our school dramas or basically anything about Palestine/Israel. The experiment has yet to be tried, but I am guessing it will fail. This is one of the things that makes living here so stressful - you cannot often forget the occupation hovering right above you.

Some things do have that magical power though. For instance, helping students at my school get ready for their open house. The students from all the classes prepared projects, posters, exhibits and plays to show off their work from the entire year. I had a wonderful time cruising through the transformed classrooms and having students show me their projects. It was especially eye-opening because I don’t often get to see what their strengths are outside of the English department - some kids need all thehelp they can get with English, but are whizzes at reprogramming computers and I never knew. Some of the presentations were quite amazing and I was able to reconnect with some of my high school science principles as I helped them translate their explanations into some mix of Arabic and English that I could understand.

I think I have already mentioned how much I love getting even seemingly minor religious holidays off. For instance, this month we had Ascension Day off as well as Whit Monday (the official name of the day after Pentecost). I took advantage of one of these days to visit Old Jaffa on the coast. It is one of the oldest ports along the coast and the arab precursor of the modern Tel Aviv. It is justifiably known for good food and rustic scenery. I also found it to be swarming with international Jews on birthright tours. This is a program through the Israeli government (and funded largely by Americans), that seeks to strengthen the Jewish heritage by bringing young Jews to Israel ( Unfortunately, it is also a prime opportunity for a propaganda campaign of pro-Israeli zionist ideas. There is even a separate program that has been formed called “Birthright Unplugged” that tries to break down the information from the government into a more tempered and two sided perspective (

When I got back to school after my trip and after our open house, it was on to the next big event - graduation. We had both a kindergarden graduation and high school graduation. The top class of kindergarden is called Taumhedi, and the top class of high school - grade 12 - is the Tawjihi, so named for the school ending exams they take in the summer which in turn determine their future to some extent. The kindergarden graduation was cute and brief, and the high school was a sight to behold. All year I have not really gotten to know the Tawjihi because supposedly they are too busy learning the government material for their exams and don’t have time for mere trifles like learning conversational skills etc. But I saw them in all their triumph at graduation when they dressed to the nines and paraded across the stage before heading for their party at which there were apparently over 850 people - a number to which I can attest. I did not graduate from a small school, on the contrary, my graduating class was over 650, so I don’t know how to compare this graduation with similar ones in the US, but I can say that our 30 or so Tawjihi students have been surrounded by a supportive community and are not likely to loose track of the friends they have made at the Evangelical Lutheran School in Beit Sahour.

We now have less than two weeks of school left and this in itself is a scary proposition. I am going to deeply miss having the chance to see all these familiar and friendly faces every day. One of my jobs is to help prepare the yearbook for publication, so hopefully when I get back, I will have a vehicle for sharing some of these wonderful experiences with you in a very secondhand way.

Finally, I don’t know why I feel the need to share this with you other than that it simply tickled my fancy, but yesterday as I was running at my gym here in Beit Sahour, I got handed a key chain that doubles as a bottle opener. Not a big deal,right? But this is maybe saying something about living in minority Christian community in a Muslim country - besides the fact that my gym is handing out bottle openers.... I enjoyed it as one of those odd little moments I have come to appreciate about my time here.

ma’salaame, Greta

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