Sarah Weedon: Incense and Eggshells

By Jeannie Babb

Inside a cozy stone Sewanee house surrounded by garden statutes and Tibetan prayer flags, Sarah Weedon, T’15, starts the tea kettle as she shares her experience as a Griffin Scholar in the Holy Land. Weedon took her pilgrimage later than most of the other Griffin Scholars. “That pilgrimage was closed out by the time I found out that I’d received the award, so I joined a different group at St. George’s College in late August of 2014.”

Tensions in that part of the world were reaching a peak as Weedon planned her trip, but she says, “I would have gone no matter what was going on. St. George’s people live there, so they know what they’re doing. They plan ahead. When we were there, they rearranged things according to what was going on, so I felt very well taken care of and very safe while we were there.”

Nevertheless, Weedon was shocked by the hostility she encountered as an American. “I was surprised at how much America is identified with Israel. At one point we stopped and had a long discussion with one of the [Palestinian] shopkeepers—he was an incense maker and seller. Well, most of the people [traveling with this group] were from England, so we Americans kind of kept our mouths shut. There were only a couple of us. He was trying to be very diplomatic, but at the same time, boy, there was just such pain and rage in him.

“The way he explained it was, ‘If I’m standing here, they [the Israeli Jews] want to stand here. And if I move over here, they say, no, no, no, we want to stand there. So I’m in mosque, we’re praying and they burst in with soldiers and they say, you know, this is ours now.’ So he was telling us about these things and then he was talking about the children that had been killed earlier in the summer during the bombing of the U.N. safety place where the women and children were. He was just crying when he was talking about the children, and we all started crying with him.”

At one point, the pilgrims were sent to visit with Palestinian families on the other side of the wall. Weedon visited with a woman whose daughter and grandchild live on the other side of the wall. The woman told Weedon, “The priest is able to pull some strings so I can go over a couple of times a year. My husband’s not allowed to go over at all because he was in some trouble you know, 20 years ago.” Twice her daughter brought the baby to visit, but each time she travels in fear, knowing that if her papers are revoked she will not make it back home.

The woman said, “Nobody believes we’re Christian. The Israelis see us as Arab, and if we’re Arab, we have to be Muslim. And the Muslim Palestinians see we’re not one of them, so we’re not in any world.”

Weedon describes another time they were climbing a hill when a man came out on his porch cursing Americans and screaming, “We’ll kill you the way you’re killing us! You killed our babies! We’re going to kill your babies!” Though he was expressing hatred, she was struck by the intensity of his pain.

Weedon says, “Everything’s barricaded; everybody’s walking on eggshells—and not just the Palestinians, I mean the Israelis too. At the same time, it’s a beautiful country, you know? We were driving in our bus almost all the way up the Jordan, and it was just rich with orchards and strawberries and all the kinds of fruit you can imagine. Then you would see in the distance this one place that had big walls and barbed wire all around it, and you knew that was an Israeli settlement.

“I am determined to speak out for the Palestinian people, even knowing that I’m going to be immediately charged with anti-Semitism,” declares Weedon. “The people over there who are trying to be peaceful aren’t heard at all; it’s the two extremes that are being heard and that keep ratcheting things up another level. And most of the people just want to live their lives, and not have to worry about what’s going to happen next to them. They’re just not being heard.”

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