US Foreign Secretary John Kerry Interrupts My Mid-Morning Coffee at the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

November 9, 2013 by cosmoakacitizensmith

After wondering around the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, (y’know, where Jesus was born and all that), Jules, Jean and I decide to stop for a coffee in Manger Square. Next thing you know there are soldiers everywhere, a press corps arrives and the whole place is cordoned off. I catch sight of my mate’s sister Nelly in the crowd. She’s a journalist with a Palestinian TV company. “US Foreign Secretary John Kerry is coming to give a speech about the peace process,” she says. She looks proper busy.

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I first became aware of John Kerry when he stood against George Bush for the US Presidency in 2004. He came over as a bookish East Coast intellectual type. I seem to remember he got photographed with a huge fish he supposedly caught to try and show he was actually all-American outdoors type. He lost the election. Next thing I know, he became Obama’s foreign secretary and started banging the war drum against Syria earlier this year. However, he got outfoxed by ex-KGB hard man Vladimir Putin of Russia and had to forget about armed intervention. Poor sod. Now he’s resurfaced as a peacemaker between Israel and Palestine.

“What the hell’s he doing here?” one of the waiters in the café says to me. “Israel will get more of our land, they’ll control more of our resources and keep killing our people. Peace? I don’t believe in peace.”

I can’t help thinking back to a cab ride yesterday. “How does it feel like to live under occupation?” someone asked the cabbie as we headed off to Jericho.

“How does it feel?” he replied. “How does it feel when soldiers kill members of your family, bulldoze your house and leave you with nothing? It makes you feel violent.” There was a silence as that sunk in.

Fast-forward to later the next day, and I am sitting with Aliyah from a women’s organisation who works with a peace movement dedicated to restorative justice. “Yes, I get angry. My aunt was very ill with a kidney problem and I had to drive her to hospital. We were hours in a roadblock. The soldiers wouldn’t let us through and I thought she was going to die. We got there in the end but there were complications.” Aliyah pauses. “Some Americans once said to me I must stop having anger in my heart and see our oppressors as fellow human beings. But they don’t understand occupation. We need to have our rights as human beings. We Palestinians are not animals. We need to be able to move around freely without the humiliation of checkpoints, and have access to the basic things we need to live our lives. We also need results, and after all these years and all these peace talks, we have none. Because of all this, it is difficult not to be angry with our oppressors. But I am committed to nonviolence, and so is the movement I am involved with. Soldiers do not solve anything. However, moderate voices like ours are lost in the media and in peace negotiations.”

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Back at Manger Square, we are still waiting for Kerry to speak. The press all sit down and the cameras roll. Nothing. Then the Muslim call to prayer echoes over the loudspeakers from the mosque opposite the church. Could this be the start of an epic sound clash of apocalyptic politico-religious significance? Or could it be just a massive wind-up? The call to prayer finishes. Still no sign of Kerry. More soldiers and men-in-black show up. The crowds have dwindled from a mass of pilgrims to a few bemused onlookers. Bored soldiers and suited men keep telling us aggressively to sit down in our seats in the cafe and stop taking photos. It’s like the anticipation just before the circus starts, and we’re waiting for the clowns to arrive.

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