Monday, December 24, 2012

Peace in Bethlehem

It is mid-morning on Christmas Eve, and as I ponder the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, I am wondering why Bethlehem? When will Bethlehem be the place of peace?

This little village in the hills just south of Jerusalem has never seen long periods of peace. Most of its history has been a land under occupation. The Romans as we know were present at the time of Jesus' birth, childhood, ministry, and his death. Followed then by the Byzantines, Crusaders, Ottoman Turks, the British Empire, and now by Israel. Technically Bethlehem is run by Palestinians. This city has a Christian mayor, (for the first time a woman has been elected) and the Palestinian Authority has control of the civil society. However, the city is also surrounded by a "separation wall" or "security wall."

I prefer the use of "separation wall" because this 30 foot concrete barrier effectively separates one segment of society from another. Often the wall has been built to separate one Palestinian neighborhood from another. Before the wall a mother in one neighborhood could walk across the road to visit her daughter and vice versa.  Now one must get a permit to cross to see the other. A piece of paper with a stamp on it and a 30 foot wall stand between them. The Israelis are firm in their belief that the wall is for security--that before it terrorists with bombs were free to enter Israel and kill innocent people. However, in reality, if I really wanted to take a bomb into Jerusalem all I need do is place it in a public Palestinian bus in Bethlehem, ride it through Beit Jala and through a checkpoint where soldiers will enter the bus and look through the people and select one or two to check their ID. When satisfied that no one on the bus looks dangerous, the bus then proceeds into Jerusalem. Or I would take it in my car through the Q'alandia Checkpoint in the North-West part of Jerusalem. There it used to take a fair amount of time to get through the auto checkpoint. As the settlers in Maali Adumim (an illegal Israeli colony in the West Bank) found their direct road into Jerusalem that does not have a checkpoint becoming very crowded with cars not from their settlement, they complained to the military that they needed cars to move more smoothly through the checkpoint so they could return to getting to work on time on their own road. The military stopped checking vehicles and instead just make a cursory peek into the vehicles as they go by at 20 MPH. So, you cannot convince me that security is first on the minds of the Israelis.

With each passing day life becomes more difficult for the Palestinian. Instead of a 5 minute drive to school, some now travel over 40 minutes because their roads have been closed to Israeli only traffic. And this happens in Bethlehem, in the West Bank, in an area that is known by the rest of the world to have its own sovereignty. This sovereignty is not real, but an illusion to placate the rest of the world into believing that these people live normal lives, have self-determination  and are choosing to be isolated and controlled. Many Israeli citizens believe that if we give Palestinians open access to Israel they will send suicide bombers and terrorists.

Let's get real. The Palestinians are not armed except with home-made rockets in Gaza and rocks. Every Israeli is conscripted into the Army--men and women--and serve side by side; men for 3 years, women for 2 years. From an early age they are taught to think in military terms. Weapons are carried overtly by many Israelis, especially those who have settled into colonies (otherwise known as settlements) that are located inside the Internationally proclaimed borders of the West Bank. Playgrounds are full of military symbols--tanks, jeeps, fighter planes, helicopters, so that from an early age children grow accustomed to their presence. A recent book by Nurit Peled documents what students from grade 10 through graduation learn of Palestinians. Mostly these neighbors are portrayed as non-entities, having not added to society at large, and as Arabs are viewed as less than us. The photos used in the texts are less subtle than the writing, and show Arabs in menial jobs, faceless, nameless, and fully armed as terrorists. The subtext is that we are to fear and hate these people who want to destroy us and push us into the sea.

I just learned that the school I used to guard in Tuqu' has been teargassed. An 8-year old student was arrested and detained because he threw a rock. I don't condone rock throwing, but have you ever tried to control an 8-year old boy who has access to thousands of rocks on his way to school? Little boys are magnets for rocks, regardless of whether you live in Bethlehem or Portland, OR. As I looked at photos posted by the current EA living in the house in Bethlehem where I spend 3 months earlier this year, I wanted to cry. These are eager students, young children bursting with exuberance at being 8 years old, innocent, precious. The military jeep is ominous, with Israeli flags flying at all four corners of the vehicle, containing two fully armed military soldiers. The situation I went into to try to make life better for the Palestinians has become worse.

Since the UN vote, the Israelis have made life even more miserable. The escalation of settlement building, the confiscation of land, the cutting down of olive trees, the violence of settlers has all become worse. This week the EAs in Bethlehem climbed a hillside north of the illegal settlement of Ephrat where they found a tent with an Israel flag flying and land being cleared. When I was visiting this "colony," one of the settlers, Bob, explained the plan to expand the settlement to the hills surrounding Ephrat. Now a tent stands on this hillside near Ephrat, and the land is being cleared for settlement building. Bob explained that they had been approved to build 400 more buildings, and it appears that some may be on this new expansion site. The Palestinian family who owns the land is mourning its loss. It was just taken--no deed of sale, no money transferred.

This week in Nahalin, a village just outside of Bethlehem, a loud speaker in the village announced that olive trees were being destroyed by settlers from Betar Illit, an illegal settlement of about 30,000 inhabitants, built on former grazing land of the people of Nahalin and Wadi Fukin. By the time the citizens of Nahalin reached the area, the military had blocked the roads and could only watch as the settlers cut down trees on their property. This property has not been taken by the settlers of Betar Illit, and the families who counted on the proceeds of the olives now have lost their source of income.

It is Christmas Eve, and preparations are being made to greet the Christ Child in Bethlehem, and all over the world. I pray that one day this little town on the hill, Bethlehem, will see peace. May we all bring the newborn child into our midst, nourish him, and listen to his wisdom.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

I'm Returning

In September Jim and I spent two perfect weeks in Hawaii. This was a gorgeous day in Kailua where we enjoyed swimming in the ocean, eating fabulous food, and drinking mai tai's. The vacation is now over and its time to be back to doing advocacy.

I have been spending a lot of time reading and digesting the multitude of email reports I am getting through New Profile, Mondoweiss, Electronic Intifada, and EAPPI. There is very little positive news except that I keep reading and listening to more American and Israeli Jews who are standing up and talking about the injustice being done to the Palestinians. I listened to Meko Peled, the son of an Israeli General who served as a young man in the 1948 war and in the 1967 six-day war, at a Sabeel Conference in Albuquerque, NM earlier this month. His perspective of these wars is far different that our mythology. Read his book, The General's Son.  He says it better than I can summarize it, and his story is compelling.

Jeff Halper of ICAHD was also present, and between the two of them, and echoed throughout the conference is that the two-state solution is dead. According to Peled there was never a two-state solution in the hearts and minds of Israeli leaders.

The hope is that there are many Israelis who understand that their country is in danger of losin its soul through the actions the government and military are taking. As more Israelis speak up, there is hope. An apartheid situation is not acceptable. Continuing to ethnically cleanse the land of Palestinians is not acceptable. A one state solution where all can live peaceably and where Palestinians (or Arabs as they are called by Israelis) have equal rights, the opportunity to vote, equal education, the same opportunity to own property, the ability to move freely within the country, to drive on the same roads, and to expect economic equality is a good solution. Until then, what we are experiencing is apartheid.

This Sunday at 4:25am my shuttle van will quietly pull into my building's entrance and I will be whisked off to PDX for a series of flights that will take me to Tel Aviv. Jim leaves at 8:30 for a different set of flights and we arrive within a couple of hours of each other. We will have 2 days before we are met by 4 others for a private 4 day tour of things we will not see on our 12 day Sabeel trip. I will be in Jerusalem on November 4th, the day of the 10th Anniversary celebration of EAPPI. Whatever is on our schedule for the day I will likely duck out of so that I can join with EAPPI.

People ask me if I am excited. Yes and No. I am looking forward to being with Jim as he sees what I have experienced. I am not looking forward to the continued loss of land being experienced in villages like Al Khadr and Khallet Sakariyya. I am not looking forward to experiencing more settler evidence in Hebron. I am not excited about visiting East Jerusalem and witnessing more loss of property. I am looking forward to seeing the work of the EAs. I am not looking forward to beeping every time I go through the Bethlehem 300 checkpoint. I am looking forward to seeing Majdi, Claire, Abu Iyad, and those friends I made while living in Bethlehem.

And I am definitely not looking forward to the long flight from JFK to Tel Aviv sitting in a middle seat in coach. Pray that Delta Airlines, who changed equipment and then reassigned us new seats. Thank heaven for Ambien, which I will take as soon as I get on the plane. I know I will survive. I will eventually catch up on my sleep. And I will return.

The Dunhams and I will be speaking at Trinity Cathedral on December 16th at the Sunday Forum, and then in January Darlene, Tom and I will be leading a 4-week class in Steadfast Hope. I hope you will be able to join us.


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Returning to Normal

I have now been home for several months, minus a 3-week trip to Europe including a 14-day Baltic Cruise.  I still do not feel like I've returned to any kind of normalcy. What is normal about what I have witnessed? How can I re-enter when I've experienced the things I have and still cannot make sense of them. The two weeks on a luxury cruise line was wonderful, but I felt incredibly indulgent, decadent, and relaxed. Too relaxed. I admit to enjoying every moment, and having Jim keep me away from email and text messages helped me start clearing away some of the intertwining webs that had been criss-crossing my brain from my experiences in the villages on the outskirts of Bethlehem. I can tell you that I feel so blessed--so humbled to have been able to be in Palestine for 3 months, and so overjoyed to be home.

Part of the vacation was spent making contact with my Bethlehem teammate Hannah in London. I was extremely glad to hear that she is struggling as I with reentry. It was reassuring to me, but disconcerting to both of us.  I also met up with Jorma in Helsinki who was still gratefully on sabbatical and was also grappling with the enormity of our experiences. The de-briefing was helpful.

I return to the United States, the easiest place on earth to live. Easy because we can flip switches and get results. Open your tap and unlimited water flows. We can pull up to the gas pumps and get gasoline at a reasonable price in comparison to the rest of the world. We can drive on all roads, although we may have to pay toll on some of them. We do have the choice to pay the toll or not, but we can still reach our destination. For the most part our highways are paved and in reasonable shape, although as our local governments have fewer resources we do notice more potholes. We can post a letter one day and for the most part be guaranteed it will be delivered if not tomorrow then the next day. We can go to the grocery store and load up our carts and haul away all we can put in the trunks of our car instead of carrying it home, or if living in places like New York City, your groceries will be delivered to your door steps, or can be ordered on line. We can dine out under the stars in almost any restaurant not having to worry about curfews or rockets being launched at us. I seldom carry ID and I don't need a special pass to get to work, nor do I have to pass through metal detectors unless I am at the airport.

I was recently browsing through my Facebook contacts, looking at the faces of my classmates from Ballard High from the class of 1965. Some haven't changed. Some have gained weight. Some have lost weight. All look young--much younger at 65 than any 50 year old woman in Palestine. Our life is easy while their life is so much harder and it is evident with every line, wrinkle, and sag. For the most part they are hunched over from years of hard work lifting and carrying, preparing fires for their bread, washing clothing by hand, scrubbing floors and keeping homes spotless. The hours spent in the fields or tending sheep, milking the goats and sheep, making cheese, and plowing have left their skin weathered and old.  Their eyes are sparkling and there is something earthy and human about the smiles and laughter. But they are physically years older than we are.

As I speak to groups I can see in their eyes that they can't possibly understand what I saw. There are not enough words to describe everything. I have been verbally scorned for taking sides, although I can tell you honestly that I understand the Israeli point of view much better now, and I have more difficulty trying to figure out exactly what is what. Where is the truth? I only know what I saw and heard. And that was enough to tell anyone that being occupied is extremely difficult. This occupation has robbed people of their human dignity. It has attempted to deaden the soul. The goal is ethnic cleansing. We can say that the Israelis are justified because all along, from the 1880's forward, they believed they were being promised a Jewish state where all Jewish people could live in harmony and peace.; a theocracy where Judaic law would prevail, and where all would be from the same branch. Instead they inherited a land well populated by Moslems and Christians. You cannot expect them to permit a Moslem or Christian to vote for the leaders of the Jewish nation, can you? So they have been carrying out ethnic cleansing for many years, and this will continue. It continues because we are silent.

Our silence happens because our nation is joined with Israel in a partnership. They are two powerful nations who need each other and who support one another. We give Israel lots of support building their army, in think tanks developing science fiction weaponry, and in assisting Israel in the building of Israeli only roads. Israel through fund raising activities here and abroad funds our politicians. Every senator is virtually bought by the Jewish lobby who will insure their re-election or the election of their successor depending on where they put their vote.

Israel funded the formation of Hamas. It didn't turn out the way expected, but in some ways it was more successful because the beliefs and actions of Hamas keep the world believing that Israel is the victim of the terrorist Hamas organization. When we view Israel as the victim, they do not have to be held accountable for their actions. They do not have to take responsibility for robbing the Palestinians of their sources of water, polluting their most fertile farmland, taking their sheep, taking their land, arresting their teenaged children in the middle of the night, poisoning the grass the sheep graze on, beating up farmers, shooting them, and then stealing their crops and livestock, digging up the olive trees, razing crops and then planting their own.  As of a week ago Palestinians can no longer bring law suits in Israeli courts. This means that whenever the Women in Green go in and dig up olive trees and re-plant the land with their crops there is no recourse for the Palestinian. If the Palestinian land owner then goes back onto his land to tear out the newly planted Settler's crops to replant olive trees the military will stop them. They used to be able to seek justice in court, but this has now been taken away as a place to resolve issues.

What can we do? We can ask Secretary of State Clinton to reject the Levy Report and to press Israel to reject this report which states that Israel is not an "occupier." If Israel accepts this report it is carte blanche to take all of the land in what is known by them as Judea and Samaria, and what we know as the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and to move all of the Palestinians out.

We can follow web sites like Mondoweiss and the Electronic Intifada, sign petitions like the one Sydney Levy of the Jewish Voice for Peace just delivered to the Romney Campaign asking for an apology for the disparaging comments made about the nature of Palestinians. Yes, a Jewish voice trying to make our politicians accountable to the Palestinian people. Bravo, Mr. Levy!!

Read books like Mark Braverman's Fatal Embrace: Christians, Jews, and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappe, The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East by Sandy Tolan, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, by Jimmy Carter.

I'm back, I'm adjusting to this wonderful life, and I have been blessed with an abundance of riches in experiences, in having a supportive family, and in life in general.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Children in Palestine

The knocking on the door at 3AM was followed by the cries of a boy. Samira, the headmistress of the girl's school in Tu qu' thought it was the military as it is their habit to enter homes at night often to make an arrest or just to harass. Reluctantly she went to the door to discover 14 year old Mohammad Talek Alzeera standing before her terrified and with his hands bound in front of him. She took him into her home, found a sharp kitchen knife, and tried to cut the bindings, but they were too strong. She finally had to heat the knife over the fire to burn through. Once the child was freed he called his father to pick him up.

Six months ago his brother was imprisoned and earlier that evening--about 6PM--the military had told his parents that they just wanted to ask Mohammad a few questions. So Mohammad went with the soldiers. From the military jeep he was taken to a jail where he was put into a room with no light no window. He remained there for many hours during which time he was periodically questioned. He was then taken by car to the edge of Tekoa Settlement (Israeli settlement) just outside of the Palestinian village of Tu qu' where we do twice weekly school runs to provide protective presence between the children going to school and the military who often stand outside of their jeep fully armed to "protect the Israeli settlers from the children who throw rocks at their cars." Mohammad was left in a very dangerous situation as the settlers are afraid of the Palestinians and often are armed. Fortunately Mohammad chose to knock on the door of a headmistress and he was returned home.

Unfortunately this is not an isolated incident. Children are often taken into custody for questioning or worse. Many are detained for days or weeks without any formal charges against them. Some are beaten. Some cry. All are frightened. Almost all are male. This happens all over the West Bank and Gaza. It happens in Area A, B, or C. Even though Area A is designated to be governed exclusively by Palestinians and where Israelis are strongly advised not to go for their own safety, the military does anything it wants and goes anyplace it wants.

In the Village of Al Jaba the Israeli Military Base is just on the other side of the hill and across the border of the West Bank and Israel. Helicopters and fighter jets soar through the sky daily. The military jeeps roam their hillsides and set up checkpoints randomly. Many of the children wet their beds well beyond the normal age. Some still wet the bed at age 12. The parents know that the trauma of being under military surveillance is causing psychological problems but they have no resources to help the children through the trauma.

It's almost to the end of my stay here and I am feeling very ambivolent about leaving. I will carry these stories with me and I'll bring them home to share.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Circus School in Nablus, West Bank

I offer these photos as proof that the circus is alive and well in Nablus.
PictureEmotions run high in the West Bank. Anxiety, fear, joy, sadness, pride, delight, horror. The negative and positive justapose daily between the normal routine of living and the added stress of the military presence in everyting from school, work, and going from one place to another. Parents worry for their children, often clinging to them, not wishing to let go.
A circus is an appropriate way to escape from the fear and anxiety of daily living, which includes right now the annual exam period for all children in all levels of schooling. This is also a time when the Israeli military targets school aged boys for arrest, often coming to their home in the middle of the night. For added punishment, there is no studying, reading text books, or taking exams while being detained or under arrest.

The Circus School in Nablus has created a wonderful way for children to escape from the realities of life into a world of fantasy and physical discipline. Funded by the French, this school draws children in villages for four days of training ending in a performance for the entire village. The four days are spent learning the fine art of acrobatics, juggling, and clowning. Mustafa, the founder and director, says he can teach anyone to juggle in 20 minutes. He says that if you focus too much you cannot keep the balls in the air--that one must relax and forget about the balls. This is an important lesson for the children who face anxiety in their daily life and need to learn to let go of it.

Clowning is not about painting the face and making people laugh, but rather it is about using your emotions to make people laugh. What makes people laugh is the topic of discussion over the 4 days where children are taught how to use their own feelings to make expressions, gestures, poses, to delight their parents. There is little make-up and minimal costuming but lots of mime and body control.

PictureLearning to become an acrobat is serious business that includes stretching the mind, and body, balancing, teamwork, and trust. The acrobatic teacher spends a lot of time with the children getting them to work with their bodies in synchrony. In order to accomplish the poses and movements each child must trust the others whether catching or being caught, to move in sync with one another to use ones strengths to balance the other's weakness.
PictureA day in the life of the circus is not unlike a day living under occupation. The Israelis are skilled in keeping everyone off balance by changing tactics momentarily. Just when you think you have their system figures out things take a 180 degree turn. Being able to juggle ideas and things, being able to keep your balance in the midst of turmoil, having trust in your teammates, and being able to laugh at yourself and make others laugh are perhaps the most valuable skills to teach Palestinian children.

Keep the hope and end the occupation!!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Fractured Way of Living

A few weeks ago the Red Cross (ICRC) in Bethlehem asked us to visit two families who are living just outside of the wall on the Jerusalem side. What makes these families unique is that they exist between two jurisdictions in a very strange way. The families in these homes are physicially living in what the Israeli's now define as Jerusalem, but they are not allowed to possess Jerusalem ID. This means that they are unable to go to Jerusalem. When they leave their property they can only move towards Bethlehem for fear of arrest. No ID is required to enter Bethlehem, but when it comes time to go home they do not have a permit to enter Jerusalem. They cannot own vehicles because they do not have the proper ID to purchase an Israeli license plate, and cars with Palestinian license plates are not permitted on the Israeli side of the wall. Thus, this way of living is fractured in a way that is almost impossible to comprehend.

We first visited the family of Husein Zawahra who lives almost surrounded by the settlement of Har Homa with his uncle and extended family. The family cannot own a vehicle because they do not possess ID that would permit they to purchase an Israeli license plate for their vehicle. The only place they can go is into Bethlehem. As the children must attend school in Bethlehem, their mother takes them to school every Sunday morning (the first day of the week) and then they remain in Bethlehem living with her sister until Thursday when they can return home. They cannot travel to and from their home as it requires public transportation and it is expensive, and quite time consuming. Husein goes to work on the weekends when the children and his wife are home as a tile layer in Bethlehem. Working only two days a week has dramatically reduced their family's income. They must always have someone at home due to the settlers who live so close that we could almost read the label in the underwear that was being hung on the line on the balcony directly accross from their property. Ironically, the family runs a car wash business for the citizens of Har Homa settlement, a city of 50,000 people complete with schools, temples, shopping centers, theaters, and all services to be expected in a town that size. The settlement is also rapidly expanding.

The view of Har Homa from the Zawahra Property

Following our visit to Har Homa we visited Salama abu Tarbush in their family home just outside of the Bethlehem checkpoint. As with the Zawahra family, their ID is Palestinian. When they go into Bethlehem for work or school, they exit back into the Jerusalem side. As they do not have the proper ID, they are often detained while the soldiers look up their information, or they are sent back to Bethlehem. As an 11 year old child, the Tarbush's daughter was frequently denied access to go home from school. She would have to return to Bethlehem to stay with an aunt and try to get home the next day. This photo was taken from within the checkpoint and shows not only a flock of sheep grazing alongside the road, their house is in the background.

We also visited with George Khalilha in Beit Jala which is a predominately Christian village just next to Bethlehem. George and his family live in a very old home in Beit Jala and own another home that is located at the agricultural property owned by the family and from which George earns his living. He has fruit trees--apricot, apple, peach, pear of many varieties. The home on the property was over 60 years old, but they had the audacity to re-tile the patio area and build a toilet in an outside building as there was not adequate plumbing. Due to his "renovations" the house was demolished by the Israeli army two weeks ago. You can see George explaining to Esteban about the rocks that once held up this old stone home--rocks that were cut in half by the heavy equipment brought by the military for the demolition. Ironically, the only structure remaining is the new toilet and surrounding building. George talked about his feelings of being discriminated against as he is a Christian living in a predominately Moslem world and being governed by Israelis.

Life gets fractured in the Occupied Territories. We notice daily how difficult it is to navigate through the land due to the rocks, steep drops, and mud. It is tough to get from one place to another. It is also difficult for the Palestinian to get from one day to another with all of the roadblocks that are placed before them. (Not to mention that their roads are so far inferior to the wonderfully paved Israeli roads upon which they cannot ride.) Israel is a country that prides itself as the only democracy in the Middle East. Personally I prefer the democracy we have in the US, not that it's perfect, but the blatant discrimination that occurs daily could not happen in the US.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Happy Easter from Bethlehem

"Alleluia, Christ is risen." Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia."

These words echoed throughout Jerusalem this Sunday, and they will echo again next Sunday as Orthodox Easter is celebrated. Spring has arrived after a very cold winter. Flowers are blooming, birds are singing, and the gloom of winter is fading away. The air is warm and the sun almost too hot as we make our way through throngs of pilgrims from all corners of the globe to worship in this, the Holy Land. It was difficult to celebrate the resurrection in a Good Friday world.

While suffering is happening all around, there is good news in the Holy Land. I have had the pleasure in recent months of meeting with strong, humanitarian leaders of NGOs in Israel. The common thread is the desire for Israel to end the occupation peacefully. Most are Jewish Israelis. One is a Christian Israeli. They all believe that continuing the occupation is bringing moral decay to Israel and could lead to its destruction. They all love their country but deplore the violence. They are speaking out.

Hanna Barag leads a group called Machsom Watch. The members are Israeli women, most over 50 years old, who come to the checkpoints to learn and document what they are seeing and hearing from the men who pass through. They have tremendous respect for the Palestinians and their strong faith. The women make our job easier by their presence.

Avihal Stollar from Breaking the Silence is a former Israeli soldier. His group was formed by soldiers to tell the truth about the military and the occupation. These young men are despised by current enlisted Israels (although one veteran of 15 years told us that they tell the truth), but they continue to spread the word.

Angela Godfrey is an Israeli activist who has taken on the plight of the Bedouins as they fight their move by the Israelis from their various encampments to be relcoated to a plot of land adjacent to the garbage dump. This is the most energetic senior citizen I have every met. She gave us the rich experience of having tea in a Bedouin tent, of crossing over barriers and across a siz-land highway, up a muddy hillside all in the sleet and rain. She was definitely my hero for the day.

We were greeted by Roni Keider of Sidot, Israel, located just over the border from Gaza City. Her organization, The Other Voice, is a grassroots organization that has no political agenda but helps Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip to get access to health ccare in Israel. Roni is a delightful woman with sparkling eyes and a strong message. While her village lives in constant fear of rockets being launched from Gaza, she still sees each person as a valuable human being.

"Any expression of racism or violence is in direct contradiction to the social-economic struggle"

Ruth Hiller grew up in San Jose, CA, suring the 70's Anti-Vietnam War demonstrations. Somewhat of a hippy earth mother, she and her family moved to a Kibbutz in Israel in the 70's until the Kibbutz became a public corporation. She has remained in Israel, is married and has 5 children; 2 girls and 3 boys. Ruth is an anti-military activist. She talked about the incredibly potent images about war and security that permeate the Israeli media, classrooms, playgrounds and virtually any place children are found. She described playgrounds which include tanks for the littlest ones to climb on, commercials with moms making that special treat for her child coming home on leave, military uniform and all. In becoming an advocate for her son who wished to become a conscientious objector, she undertook the entire military comples where everyone, men and women, serve in the military, and where the only conscience objectors recognized are the ultra-orthodox Jews. In battling the system she has also become a voice of Israel's military complex and military culture. Her organization, New Profile, seeks the end of the military culture of Israel. And FYI, her two daughters served in the military, one is a career officer, while all of her sons became conscientious objectors.

Christian and Moslem citizens of Israel do not share the same rights as Jews. Mossawa is an organization located in Haife that struggles for equal education, equal rights, and works against other injustices in Israeli society. Rania Laham spoke to us about her organization and the differences in rights from separate schools, neighborhoods with entirely different amenities such as parks, roads, libraries, and shopping. (Of course, tell me I can't shop in a particular shop and you have one feisty woman on your hands.) It is dangerous to speak out in Israel, particularly when you are the minority and have no power. I commend Rania for her brave work.

Jeff Halper founded ICAHD (Israeli Committee against Home Demolitions. Jeff founded this organization for the pusposes of stopping the occupation. He selected an issue that can be documented, statistics gathered, and reports created. The organization attempts to be present after each home demolition and his organization rebuilds homes without building permits, which they could never obtain, in defiance of the demolition policy. Some homes have been demolished three times and recently one was demolished for a fifth time. Go Jeff!

Alleluia. There is good news. There are Israeli citizens who care about the human rights violations taking place in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Alleluia, Christ has risen indeed!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


A Palestinian living in the West Bank is stuck behind walls, not unlike the walls of the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland in 1942. At the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem is a photo of people climbing a building in the Warsaw Ghetto in order to see outside of the ghetto. Palestinians cannot even go on their roof to see over the 30' wall that separates them from freedom of movement. I am not trying to compare the holocaust to the occupation. But there are some parallels that seem to have been lost. The death camps were unspeakable as they were fully able to euthanize hundreds of unsuspecting men, women, and children in a few minutes. Fellow Jews then lifted the bodies out, cut off their hair and removed gold teeth before placing the body into one of the many ovens for quick cremation. Another team of Jews would shovel out the ashes in preparation for the next set of bodies.

While on our mid-term "break" we visited an Israeli village located a couple of hundred yards from the wall separating it from Gaza. Every home, school, business, bus shelter either has or has been built as a "safe room" that children learn early on to run to when they hear the sirens which indicate the launch of a Palestinian rocket. They have 15 seconds to make it into the safe room before the rocket lands. They have about an additional 45 seconds before it is safe to exit the safe room. Over the previous weekend one hundred rockets were launched. They are incredibly unsophisticated and not very accurate, so there is not a huge chance of harm. However the villager cited two deaths from the village: one a young girl who had not made it to th
e safe room, and the other an agricultural worker who took cover, counted to 45, and then attempted to resume work when he was cut down by a rocket that was slower than normal. Every time a village is sent to safe rooms each wonders if this is the day they will die. What we did not hear was that many Palestinians living in Gaza were killed by the sophisticated system owned by the Israeli military. The numbers of deaths are significantly higher in Gaza than in Israel.

Yesterday we visited Naser Al-Din in his village of Al Ja'ba. Naser's home has been demolished three times by the Israeli military. His "sin" was not having building permits for his home which is in Area C. There are no building permits issued for Area C, so his only way to provide shelter for his growing family was to build a home anyway. This last demolition occurred just as the home was being finished, but they had yet to move in. As the 50-year old father of 10 talked to us about his experiences we lounged under an 80-year old olive tree, drinking coca cola and eating cookies. He talked about his years living in New York, and his return to this village where his father owned much land. He returned because while he experienced freedom he had
never known prior to his journey, wealth beyond his dreams, and a life of security and peace, his family was missing. Now he lives the traditional Moslem Palestinian life in the Occupied Territory and is very content to be living with his two wives (a maximum of 4 are allowed by law) and ten children and his Mother. The village of 1000 is essentially the melding of two families and has not grown over the last 50 years, not due to the low birth-rate of children, but due to the fact that the children are leaving. Naser's first wife is also a first cousin and as a result all of their children are moderately to severely handicapped. Naser showed us the land that has been taken by the Israeli's, for the pretense of security. Much of the land is on the other side of the separation barrier and he has no access to it. Some of it is so close to the checkpoint which is on the border between the occupied territory and Israel, that the military sees it as a threat and refuses to allow him to cultivate the land. If the land remains uncultivated for a period of time it will become automatically State land, and he will no longer own it.

So, let's measure the pain. Who has more? Less? The one truth that a settler told us is that none of the pain is acceptable. None. Life itself is painful. We experience many disappointments in life, many deaths, some tragedies, and a lot of pain without any influence from the outside. Add to the pain of daily living the deliberate causing of pain on one human being from another human being and what happens? Needless suffering and pain.

There can be no viable solution while both parties are in pain. And understand that the West Bank and Gaza are occupied territories and the power of that occupation is held by the Israelis. So while there is pain, there is also a huge disparity in power. The pain needs to stop. The power of one people over another needs to stop. Only then can justice begin. Without justice there will be no peace.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

ME:JEWISH. you: palestinian

Me: Jewish, You: Palestinian

If I had been born Jewish in South America, the US, Africa, or any nation of the world I would be an automatic citizen of Israel with all rights contained therein.
You, had you been born Palestinian in the West Bank or Gaza, could never have citizenship in Israel, nor could you travel in Israel without a special permit. You could not fly out of Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, but you would have to travel to Jordan to fly internationally.

I would travel throughout Israel and Palestine on new, 4-lane highways specifically designed to make sure I do not see Palestinian villages, but which go directly to all settlements and to all major cities. All roads are protected by either the wall or electronic fences so no undesirable person could get onto them.
You would only travel over Palestinian roads, all in poor repair, many with enough water in huge potholes to swallow up a Volkswagen. You could not take your car into Israel even if you had a pass. You could go, but the car cannot. You are prohibited from being on Israeli roads. It will take you much longer than it used to because now you can only take the back roads as the newer roads have been declared Israeli only.

I would have proper plumbing that allows me to throw toilet paper into the toilet.
You would have to put used toilet paper into a bin next to the toilet, and if you failed to do so the toilet would back up unmercifully.

I could repair my roof, add a room to my house, and go onto the roof as I wish.
You can do nothing without a permit, and permits are not approved in area B or C. If you happen to live in area A you can apply for a permit and it may be granted. If you lived in area C you could not even repair a broken window, and if you went up on your roof you might have soldiers shooting at you.

I can marry anyone I want and bring that person with me to Israel and they will also be granted citizenship.
If you lived in one of several of the smaller villages, if you marry someone from another village (which you will want to do because you are related to everyone in your village) your new spouse will not be able to enter your village.

I could tear out your olive trees and plant cabbage. The court might order that the cabbage be removed, but every time you plant anything on your own land I can tear it up without having any consequences. And as I get funding from the US, I can plant over your crops until you give up.
Your crops will be in danger of being polluted by my sewage which runs down the hill and into your land. Then, because you cannot plant, I will declare your land to be untended and can legally take it from you. When we get into planting wars you will lose lots of your own money continually buying new plants. You can go to court every time and while you will win, I can bankrupt you after a few cases in court.

I can travel wherever I want whenever I want.
You will have to pass through checkpoints where you will show your ID and fingerprints, you will go through a metal detector, and depending n the time of day it might take you up to 2 hours to get to the other side. Your hours inside Israeli territory will be limited as per your particular pass. Once on the other side you are limited to public transportation. Your children will never see the Mediterranean Sea, cannot travel to Haifa or any other part of Israel, and you may be denied the opportunity to pray in one of your holy places at certain times of the year.

All of my holidays are observed nationally.
Your holidays are not observed unless they coincide with my holidays, and often the checkpoints will be closed on my holidays so you cannot get to work or go through for any reason at all.

I have the freedom to vote, to be protected by soldiers wherever I go, and to due process.
You can vote in Palestinian elections, soldiers will always protect the Israeli, and in any situation you are likely to be detained for weeks or months without formal charges being made. If you are a male you are likely to spend time in jail before you reach adulthood. Your family will have to pay the cost of food and housing while you are in jail. That money will have to be paid before you can be released.

Which would you rather be?

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Village of Khallet Sakariya

The village of Khallet Sakariya is located in a beautiful, agriculturally fertile valley just south and a bit west of Bethlehem. Five illegal settlements completely surround this small village, leaving one passable road that will soon be permanently closed.

Nadir, who is the advocacy officer for EAPPI in Jerusalem, invited Hannah and me to a meeting that was sponsored by UNHCHR (UN High Commissioner for Human Rights) and included representatives from UNICEF, YMCA, representatives from the Danish and Belgium Consulates, ACTED, ICADH, (Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions), and the Palestinian Authority. The purpose of this meeting was discussion of the laws regarding Absentee Land Confiscation. Instead it focused on annexation, a much more serious legal step.

The meeting took place in the home of one of the villages' families. The home is a one-room stone structure impeccably kept. There were about 50 of us in a home that is probably 15 x 15' that includes a bed, a table for cooking, no indoor plumbing whatsoever, minimal electricity for the hot plate and tea kettle. We were standing, sitting on chairs, on the bed, on the floor. Palestinian hospitality greeted us with coffee as we entered, then sweet tea, home baked pita bread, and sweet bread, all served by the matron of the home and two adult daughters.

There are a few factors that make this village a different type of case study as it is the victim of systematic, well-planned, well funded settler violence led by the Women in Green, a legal not-for-profit organization who solicits via its web-site for donations sent to New York City. On its web-site this group states as if fact that the Palestinians are well funded by Saudi Arabian oil money and money from the Arab League. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The web-site also lists the number of Israeli casualties caused by the terrorists, failing to cite that Palestinian casualties are more than ten times the number of Israeli casualties at the hands of the Israeli military. The disturbing aspect is that this organization, funded through The Central Israeli Fund, is among right-wing groups targeted in a recent publication of MAAN located at This is a direct quote:

Im Tirzu, which describes itself as "an extra-parliamentary movement to strengthen Zionist values", requests that supporters send contributions to the Central Fund of Israel (CFI), a non-profit which funds a number of right-wing Israeli groups.

These include Amitz, which funds settler militias; Magen Yehuda, which assists with military training for settlers; and Women in Green, a right-wing group which opposes the return of land captured during the Six Day War of 1967 and promotes the "transfer" of Arabs to neighbouring countries.

As reported by Akiva Eldar in Haaretz, Women in Green supports a yeshiva whose leader, Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, has tried to justify the killing of gentile babies because of "the future danger that will arise if they are allowed to grow into evil people like their parents."

"What we're seeing in Israel is a greater official intolerance of dissent," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "One of Israel's outstanding strengths has been its vibrant civil society and its flourishing public debate, so these developments are particularly worrying."

An IPS investigation into tax records has revealed a number of the biggest donors - those who gave more than 300,000 dollars - to the CFI since 2005. Contributions to the CFI are tax-deductible.

The Palestinians have deeds for the land dating back to the early 1900's during the occupation of the Ottoman Empire. The Israeli settlers claim ownership of the land as given to them by G-d. The two parties have engaged in a back and forth: one week the settlers uproot all of the olive trees and plant their own crops. As soon as the villagers can get it together, they go and uproot the plantings of the villagers and replant olive trees. The settlers once more uproot the olive trees and so on. The Women in Green receive funding through the Central Israeli Fund to continue to purchase plants and trees. The villagers, on the other hand, have few resources and cannot continue to play this game which deprives them of a livelihood of an olive harvest. It is also ironic that the settlers choose to target the olive tree which is a universal symbol of peace.

A new twist arose in the conversations and this is regarding the annexation of this land by Israel and is being negotiated by the Palestinian Authority which may be willing to swap this piece of land for other concessions in the peace process. This totally blind sighted me and many others as while we had observed the maps, the separation barrier, and the apparent surrounding of this large part of the West Bank that is inside the 1967 green line, and thus illegal as per International Humanitarian Law. We had viewed this as land that Israel felt necessary to protect the settlements and the settlers. Each village within the wall has been fully focused on its own problems and has not talked about or mentioned annexation, at least not to us. This annexation would put over 24,000 Palestinians inside Israel with no rights to their land. The Israelis will be in a perfect situation to starve out the Palestinians as they control water, electricity, the roads, and passage from one area to another. We have seen in another village (Al Nu’man) that the Israelis can enforce the inability for the villagers to bring in goods for their own sustenance, for feeding animals, and for bringing in fuel to burn for heat. The Israelis totally control who can come in and go out of the village, splintering families where a daughter marries a man in a neighboring village. The daughter may be allowed to return to visit her family if her name has been on the list, but the husband will not be permitted to enter. Israelis and internationals have the ability to come and go as they please.

The villagers in Khallet Sakariya are getting tired of challenging the settlers because they get fined for their actions and have no money to pay the fines. The participants in this meeting identified one serious issue as being the Women in Green and propose an all out campaign to discredit them. They also identified advocacy work as critical to bring this issue forward to world leaders to put political pressure on Israel. I personally fear that the diversion that Netanyahu has placed on the immediacy of Iran is a cover for action to annex this land while the world focuses on nuclear weapons and Iran.

The Street Where I Live

It is easy to be critical of Palestinians and the way they live in comparison to how we live in the States. Most would say everything looks dirty. I was walking home today from the Intercontinental Hotel where the evangelical conference "Christ at the Checkpoint" was taking place. The route took me on a now desolate street of auto body shops and vacant businesses that is bordered by this 35' wall built for security. This road was once the main road from Jerusalem to Hebron, now divided by the "security barrier." I walked along the wall, which curves uphill and meets with Caritas Street or "the street where I live." There are few sidewalks and the road is rutted and uneven with large potholes. As this area next to the wall is military area, the roads cannot be repaired. The wall has been spray-painted with amazing artwork, come crass and ugly and some done by famous artists from all over the world. There are many sayings written on the wall, i.e. "The Spirit if the Palestinians is stronger than this Wall."

There is a lot of trash on the side of the road. There is a dumpster on the corner that is overflowing with trash and today two cats were fighting over the good stuff. There is so little infrastructure in Palestine that trash collection is a nightmare. We take our household trash across the street to a dumpster-- a very small dumpster according to our experience-- and hope it doesn't spill over. It doesn't really matter if the plastic bag is well secured because the cats will gnaw through anyway and what they reject will be tossed out into the streets.

It's treacherous to walk up the road to home because we walk on the poorly paved road which are more shoulder than street, with two-way traffic and no white line down the middle. Fortunately drivers are courteous and will honk so you have time to jump aside. These roads remind me of back roads in remote communities, not municipal roadways.

Another part of the topography is the rocky soil. I have watched my grandsons' absolute inability to put down rocks as they are such a delicious toy to a small child-- irresistible. Rocks are more abundant than weeds, most of them about the size of a fist. It is easy to understand why children might throw rocks at soldiers. There are also many building sites along this road with half-built buildings. The workmen are working on sites where the building materials are stone, rebar, and mortar. Every wall is constructed by hand using hand tools that look like they belong to another century. Along the road is a bridge over a deep ravine that houses several dogs on long leads, building materials, several flat bed trucks that may work, the carcass of a 1957 Chevy with no engine or seats. It is ugly by my standards. Vacant lots are not cared for. There is dog feces on the few sidewalks that do exist, raised at least 8" above the road, about 12"-18" wide, and normally only go the length of the lot onto I which it was built. The gardens are strewn with garbage including carpets, mattresses, piles of building rubble, and perhaps a small vegetable garden. Gardens are not the norm because water is precious and in small quantity. Watering a flower garden is a luxury that one cannot afford if they want to bathe, have drinking water, and irrigate their vineyards and olive groves.

In the village of An Nu'man that is in no mans land, Siham's house has been demolished. There are no trucks allowed to enter the village and certainly no way to haul off the remains of a house demolition which carries memories like the children's small shoes, toys, clothing, furniture, contents of kitchen cabinets, appliances, rugs, electrical wiring, etc. The debris will be removed by one villager's bobcat and will be scattered throughout the village. When archeologists unearth this village they may have difficulty figuring out what exactly happened to cause the debris from one home to be so scattered.

On the other hand the Palestinian home is pristine. The wealthier homes have two parlor areas, one close to the kitchen, small, warm, and with a flat screen TV, cable TV and a VCR. The other parlor is more formal with heavy wood- trimmed, overstuffed, matching sofas, love seats, and chairs to seat at least twelve. The tea is always ready, followed by coffee, and if you stay there enough there will be a freshly baked cake.

I spent a few days in Tel Aviv and noticed something I did not expect--lots of trash, unkept yards and gardens, balconies full of trash and building materials, lots of solar panels, no recycling. I have also seen a spirit that is difficult for me to understand or identify with, and that is the firm belief that G-d has given the Jewish people this land and that is an absolute. It requires no purchase of that land, no title or deed, regardless of who has the deed or can prove the purchase of the property, as this land belongs only to G-d, and as G-d has deeded this land via a promise to Abraham, no one could have owned it or sold it who was not Jewish, so all titles and sales are thus void.

If I take a step backwards and take a broad picture what does it contain? It contains trash, rocks, filth, under resourced municipalities, and poverty. That poverty is offset by the number of large, gorgeous homes, expensive cars, thriving merchants and dying businesses. Rich and poor living together in the same neighborhood. Christians and Moslems sharing neighborhoods. Street vendors, taxi drivers with Masters Degrees, and a people who are so resilient that hope cannot be taken away by any oppressor. The oppressor sees itself as the victim whose land has been mis-appropriated by a people who have no right to live on this land. It is all about three communities of faithful people who believe in a just God. I do not know what the Jewish people want, but I do know that the Palestinans want to love, will not be forced to hate, will continue to see God in the faces of the "other", and will not lose hope that the occupation will end.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The ABCs of an Occupied Land

All of the land in the Occupied Territories has been designated to be either A, B, or C. Area A is under complete Palestinian control with its own police and governance. West Jerusalem is largely area A as is the center of Bethlehem. A building permit can be applied for to the local Palestinian officials and is normally approved as long the property line is not expanded.There is no presence of Israeli soldiers except for the checkpoints. Life is calmer in area A. Israelis cannot go into Area A. They do come however at great personal risk.

Area C is land that has been designated to be State Land or necessary for the military. If you are a Palestinian living in Area C your property is subject to demolition or seizure. A resident of Area C may not apply for a permit to improve, add to, build a new structure, or go on their roof for any reason at all. Most of the land in Palestine is Area C. In these areas the roads are virtually impossible to drive on, and cannot be improved. In these areas Israelis drive on roads built by Israeli authorities and Palestinian cars are not allowed on these roads. There is no agriculture allowed so those in Area C who have land cannot plant on it. They are virtually refused a livelihood.

Area B is sort if in between. This area is generally near settlements and falls under Israeli governance. This means that there is mostly no police presence, these areas are more dangerous to live in. If you call the police for any reason they will not respond because this area is not controlled by Palestine nor by the Israelis. In area B you may apply to the Israeli Government for a building permit, but not one has been issued. So, you may not repair, add-on, you cant even add a window to a bathroom. Roads cannot be repaired, no additions, no new building at all. If you add anything to your building it will be cited for destruction In both Area B and C, any structure built after 1967 is subject to demolition. ICHAD is an Israeli org that rebuilds demolished homes, but with very poor construction. One woman we met had her home demolished. The rubble still sits and next to it is an ICHAD home which they cannot live in because of the mold. Their house is now under demolition orders once more.

I found it a bit humorous that when we were at the boys secondary school the Head Master, the English teacher, and a staff member were arguing about whether the school was in B or C. They knew it wasn't in A because a donor had given enough money for a new school, but the Israelis refused to give the permit. These boundaries are forever changing and they are never certain. Under the Oslo Accords the areas designated B were supposed to have been turned over to Palestinian governance. What we are seeing is the opposite--that more of area B is being designated C in order to protect the settlers.
Then there are exceptions. There is a village called An Nu'man that resides in the new Israeli definition on Jerusalem. The village is virtually surrounded by settlements and the main access road is an Israeli road. We had traveled to this village for about 30 minutes, where the taxi let us off at the checkpoint and then we had to walk the rest of the way to the village--a long uphill walk. On this, my second visit, we were picked up by Efrat, an Israeli woman with a PhD in anthropology who has written several books about the socio-economic issues surrounding the occupation. We met Efrat on the Israeli side of the checkpoint and she drove on the beautifully groomed and paved roads and we were in An Nu'man in about 10 minutes. As she has Israeli plates we zoomed by the checkpoints. The soldiers were searching trunks of other vehicles, but were not concerned about us. This village is not in A, B, or C but resides in the municipality of Jerusalem. however, in order to enter the village your name must be on the list, you must be a foreigner, or you can be an Israeli. The residents of An Nu'man have not been given Israeli or Jerusalem ID because in the original census of 1967 they were told that as their mufta lived in another village they would be registered there. So, officially no one lives in this village. As no one may enter without being on the list,the population cannot grow and eventually will die or be forced to move out. The 89 school aged children have to go through a checkpoint on their way to school and home. From the age of 5 they are carrying their original birth certificate.

You and I may have difficulty understanding why the villagers would remain under such circumstances. Yusef was born in this village, his father and grandfather also. He has a lovely home and 6 beautiful children. While his English is poor he stated clearly, "The village lives inside us; we do not live in the village."

Monday, March 5, 2012

Life goes on

This morning brought the first signs of spring. I was on the run to the school in Tu`qua. This is a beautiful village located to the north and east of Bethlehem. The Israeli's have built a settlement on a hill above the village and another one on a hillside just west of this village and the access road is also the road the Palestinians must use to get to Bethlehem. We used the Palestinian roads until we reached the bottom of the valley. There it is permissable for the Palestinians to use this portion of the road, but once they get past the turn-off to go up the hill to Bethlehem they are no longer allowed on the road and there is a checkpoint. If your plate is yellow you pass through, however if your vehicle carries the white Palestian plates you have to turn around. The Israeli roads are well cared for and have no potholes while the Palestinians have no money to repair, and in some areas are not allowed to repair them.

We go to this village twice weekly because the soldiers stand close to the school, bearing arms, and terrifying the children. This school is a Girl's school for kindergarten to 9th grade, and it is also the school for boys up to the age of 10. Up until age 10 school is completely co-Ed, but then the sexes are separated.

The Israeli army presence is to protect the settlers who live on the hill and who travel to Bethlehem or Jerusalem from potential rock throwing by the children. They often bring a jeep with 2-3 soldiers. Today they did not come, and that has been consistent since our team arrived. If we are there the soldiers do not come; if we are not present the soldiers harass and frighten the children.

This morning I was greeted warmly by many of the 900 students. With big smiles they said "Hello" and " what is your name.". They repeated my name with curiosity and then told me their names, after some prodding. Mohammad, Ahmet, Abet, Hamad, and for girls Sihma, Sharn, Qebet. Joyful, happy children. The headmistress told me that on some days the soldiers are present. We decided as a team to vary the days we go to catch them off-guard.

I will admit to you that not all is horrible in Bethlehem. While most of the children walked down the hill from two directions, some came by car or bus. I noted a 7 passenger van with 20 children inside. Four were sitting on the front passenger seat, and the rest crammed in. But there were also many very nice cars like Kia, VW, Subaru, and the occasional Mercedes.

Life in a "cell" of a city still goes on. There are small shops, vegetable vendors, grocery stores, but quite small in comparison to the average supermarket in the US. The hotels are quite nice and clean, there are lots of people on the streets shopping. Most Moslem girls wear a hijab, but with lots of make-up--okay guys, is hair really that sexy? They are all well dressed but conservative whereas the christian women wear western style clothing including a bit of bare midriff. There are theaters, all seem to have big screen LCD TVs in their homes, even in the refugee camps--they may sleep 7 people in a room on the floor on mats, but the flat screen TV is given the prime location. The EAs wear vests that tend to make us stand out. They all know why we are here and they are very cordial. Yesterday I was invited to tea in a small shop and they didn't even try to sell me anything.

Hospitality is the one thing you know-- wherever you are you will be served tea or coffee.

Monday, February 27, 2012


First rule of travel--never get sick

It started as a normal cold. By Friday I was coughing and by Saturday I was afraid I was going to lose a lung. My ribs were so sore from coughing up green stuff that I decided that I had created a great new abdominal exercise. I drank green tea with ginger and chamomile after consulting with my acupuncturist. But, alas on Saturday night I had the most restless non-sleep ever. I had coughing fits that I thought would turn my lungs inside out. Somewhere between midnight and 3am I made the decision that self medication just wasn't working. I was going to have to see a healthcare professional tout de suite. Early on
Sunday morning I called Judeh, our on-call officer. Judeh lives in the area and went straight to work. Within an hour I got the name of Dr. De Gaulle. He was expecting my call.

The first surprise--he does house calls on Sunday mornings after mass--he is a Palestinian Christian living in Beit Jala, a village contiguous with Bethlehem. He arrived about 15 minutes after our phone conversation.He is a silver haired gentleman in every sense of the word, with a warmth and wonderful sense of humor. After examining me and taking my medical history he pronounced that I have a bad case of bronchitis and began writing prescriptions, everything in English.

So, I had to ask about his name.with his card in my hand I now saw that his first name is DeGaulle. He was born in 1946 in Beit Jala, and at that time
DeGaulle was in Syria, so the doctor suggested this baby should have the name DeGaulle. This doctor was the very same who recommended that his older brother born in 1937 be named Mussolini. His father was actually arrested for yelling "Mussolini" in the streets. So they changed that child's name to Franco.

The cost? 200 shekels for the visit or about $53 Us dollars and 5 prescriptions for a total of 172 shekels or less than $50.

Never get sick, but if you do, never underestimate the gracious local doctor who makes house calls. And, FYI, he was educated in Spain, married a Spanish women and their 3 children are all fluent in Spanish, italian, French, English, and Arabic. One daughter lives in Florence, one daughter lives here and is a news broadcaster, his son is a banker.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Living in a Walled in City, Bethlehem

This morning we were warmly greeted by the Mayor of Bethlehem, Dr. Victor Batarseh, and his Public Relation's Officer, Carmen. Dr. Batarseh spoke of the major problems in Bethlehem: the separation barrier (wall), unemployment which is the highest in the Occupied Territories at 18-20%, health,water, freedom of religion, inability to get permits to go outside of the OccupiedTerritories even for religious reasons at high holy days when the faithful wish to make the 6 mile pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He said, "We are living in a cell."

In 1948 and before approximately 92% of the population of Bethlehem was Christian; today that number is about 35%. Today the total Christian population in the Occupied Territories is only 1.2%. T his is due largely to Christians being forced out of their properties. In 1948 and up to 1966, Bethlehem has shrunk from 31 square kilometers of land to 5.8 kilometers of land. The land that has been carved out by the Israeli's is the farmland, from which many Bethlehemites earned their livelihood. To date 1,000,000 olive trees have been uprooted--the olive branch being a universal symbol of peace. The population of Bethlehem is about 32,000; with surrounding villages it is $135,000. There are 87,000 illegal settlers living on confiscated land. The confiscation of land is illegal according to International Humanitarian Law, but no one seems to be able to control Israel.
The water problem is terrible. The Israeli's control 80% of the water in the West Ooccupied Territories. While the settlements have swimming pools and water slide parks, the Bethlehemites receive water for 2 days of every 2 weeks. This means that water has to be captured in water tanks, and other containers so that you don't run out. During the summer it might be 20 days between times for water to be turned on, and then perhaps for one day. The rates for water are triple the rates for Israeli's and the amount is quite limited. We are conscious here of not taking too many showers. The sewer system is also very primitive and toilet paper cannot be flushed down the toilet. In every toilet--private or public--there is a bin next to the toilet for the used toilet paper. The first day in the hotel I didn't know it and completely clogged the system. I was not the most popular EA.

Freedom of religion has been a serious problem for both Christians and Moslems. One morning when I was at the checkpoint the soldiers were refusing to let the men pray. They were late beginning their prayer as they had been standing in line. As soon as they passed through the document check and exited the terminal they were dropping to their knees in prayer. The soldiers, pointing their automatic guns, made them stop praying. One man was taken inside and was questioned for about 30 minutes before being released. Freedom of religion is specifically protected under International Humanitarian Law.

The tourism trade is not helping very much. Most tours do not stay in hotels in Bethlehem which means they go where the bus tells them to go. They make deals with shop owners that they will bring busses, but the tour company will take up to 40% of the sales. The tourists pay highly inflated prices, so they prefer to shop in the malls in Tel Aviv.

Carmen told a story of electricity. In the early 2000's when things were even worse, the elctricity would last only a few hours a day. She tells how she and her family did their cleaning in candlelight--quite romantic, which for her family was normal as she is named for the opera "Carmen."

Monday, February 20, 2012

Have you ever had tea in a Beduoin tent?

This Beduoin home is spacious, but as you can see quite austere. The walls are a single sheet of plywood; the floor is dirt covered by carpets; the roof is or corrugated plastic, all held together by a single tent post and cross beams. As you can see there is a heater, which was wonderful as it was cold, sleeting, and very windy outside. The woman lecturing is Angela Godfrey, an Israeli who believes that they will lose Israel if the occupation does not end.

We sat on mats reserved for guests. There is not one other piece of furniture. The only sign of any convenience at all is the wire coming from the kerosene generator and providing power for the computer, internet connection, and television. This Beduoin village is in the middle of an ugly controversy where they may be forced to move to the site of a garbage dump. I can't imagine it to be a lot worse as the Israeli settlement above has diverted its water, and sends waste water flowing through this village. The owner of this tent home possesses a master's degree in community planning. Education is difficult for Beduoin children as they must walk many miles to get to school.

If you asked me what my feelings are right now I can only answer in snippets:

  • the humility of being served sweet tea by a teen-aged boy because his 16 year old sister who made the tea is too shy to greet all these men (about half of us);

  • the sadness of the story of a Christian woman in Bethlehem whose once successful shop at Rachel's Tomb has been surrounded on 3-sides by the "separation barrier" or Wall. The business is barely hanging on and Claire now sells goods made by Palestinian women, whose 9 chidren suffered during the second Intifada and the building of the wall;

  • freezing at the Bethlehem 300 Check Point at 4AM with 280 men already waiting. Today 2400+ men, women, and children went through to their jobs and school in Jerusalem;

  • the difficutly of working in a team of people who do not know one another, who probably would not have chosen each other for this task, but who respect one another and are committed to the work ahead;

            • Martin, Mary, Esteban, Kat, Hannah

              (Martin from Switzerland, Esteban from Ecuador, Kat from Sweden, Hannah from the UK)

  • the generosity of these people who continue to be resilient through all of the property grabbing, wall-building, land confiscation, personal degradation and humiliation;

  • hope that eminated from a young soldier who stopped a man who had been returned to the Palestinian side of the checkpoint, asking him what happened, making a call to a superior to learn why he had been denied access;

  • laughter and joy in the hearts of these people and even the soldiers as they join in the singing and dancing;

  • the sweetness of the tea that is served everywhere you go, including a home demolition where the family scurries around to heat water, to find seating, and to graciously invite you into their lives.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Bethlehem Checkpoint 300

This was the first morning of Checkpoint 300 watch. We arose at about 3:15 AM, dressed very quickly in many layers because of the cold, and walked the 3 minutes to Checkpoint 300. This is the most prison-like checkpoint in the West Bank. You enter a tunnel-like structure made of chain link fence in 3 lanes, each lane about 5 ft. wide. The chain-link fence is covered by a tin or plastic roof to keep people from climbing up the structure and dropping down into the line of people. This tunnel is about 150 yards long, all at an incline, and empties into a chained-in room about 15 by 15 feet. The three lanes are designated (1) for exit; (2) for Palestinians with work papers, and (3) for Humanitarian, women, children, elderly, foreigners. The Palestinians must exit Bethlehem in order to go to their jobs which are mostly construction jobs in the settlements, working on the construction of the wall that divides them, or other jobs in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.

By 3:50 AM the lane for laborers was completely full. It holds perhaps 1000 people. We give cards to 3 people at the end of the line in hopes of retrieving at least one at the end when they have exited. We fill in the time that we give the card, and then fill in the time when we receive the card. This tells us how long it took to get from the end of the line through the check-points. Today the time was one hour 40 minutes.

One of our team members remains in the exit lane at the first ID check station. From the line, men are allowed to move from the 15 x 15 room one at a time through a turnstile. One by one they pass through a continuation of the chain-link structure, covered, with an office with windows on all sides, where one soldier sits, manages crowd control by controlling the turnstile. Once through the turnstile each person comes to the window and has to show their ID before proceeding out of the building. From there these men, normally running, go across a parking lot and into the next area where there is a scanner. They must remove coats, take off shoes, and have everything scanned and go through a scanner much like at an airport. When they have passed that check they move on to the document check. I just have to show a passport. As Palestinians have no passport, they must show their work, or study. or emergency need card plus their fingerprint card. The fingerprint must match the card in order for them to pass through to the "Israeli" side, which is still in Palestinian territory according to the Oslo Agreement. Today an Israeli organization reported that this was a very bad day for people getting through--more than the normal were sent back.

The process is dehumanizing. At one point the men had crowded so many into the 15 x 15 room that I feared for their lives. One man had previously been crushed to death in this room. As the checkpoint does not open until after 4AM, many of the men have been waiting for up to an hour, perhaps more, and have been standing throughout that time. At 5AM the call to prayer occurs, but most of the men do not have enough room to pray. Many wait until they get through the checkpoints to pray, a few drop out of the line, some find some little bit of space, and they do their morning devotions.

One person at a time is allowed through the turnstile, although many crowd in so that often there are 2 to 3 people in one turnstile section. Sometimes they then get sent to the back of the line. Most times the Israeli guard just instructs them to approach the office window one by one. When there is a back-up at the metal detection/scanner area the turnstile closes until the area has been cleared. The turnstile might then be open for 10 minutes and then traffic will stop for 5-10 minutes. This morning the turnstile let in perhaps 100 of the 3300 who would eventually pass through, then stopped for 20 minutes until my teammate called the human right hot line. They then reopened.

I did see a sign of hope. One of the Israeli soldiers was actually somewhat friendly with the Palestinian men. He actually joked a bit with them. At one time he noticed a man dressed in Beduin clothing return to exit the area, meaning he had been refused entry. The Israeli soldier stopped him and asked what had happened. The man showed the soldier his papers and he looked them over and then placed a call to his superiors. The man was ultimately refused entrance, but the soldier was able to tell him why he had been refused. Other than the fact that the 19 year old Israeli soldiers controlled the lives of these 3300 men, women, and children for a few hours daily, I did see a slice of humanity.

At a going away party for the team leaving I met a woman from Israel who is part of the group that reported on the poor acceptance of Palestinians through the checkpoint today. I had spoken to her for quite a while and then was speaking to the young communist man I mentioned in an earlier post. He pointed to the woman and said to me, "This woman is Jewish, no?" I said yes, and he greeted her in Hebrew and a lenghty and very friendly conversation ensued during which time I witnessed two people, one Jewish, one Palestinian, become friends. They embraced as they left the party.

Today I was reminded by a Palestinian that peace will come when we all recognize the God in one another. With that note I will go to sleep.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Steadfast hope


Steadfast Hope

I wondered after today how people continue to live, eat, shop, drive, cook, laugh, rejoice, pray, in this situation.mIn each direction the is another story that is so incomprehensible that this person is still living, breathing, and has a vision of the future and is teeming his children that they must have their vision and that only you can make it happen.

There is a 100 acre plot of land sitting atop a hill near Bethlehem that is surrounded by 6 Israeli settlements. This land is owned by a Christian Palestinian family, deeded properly to them in 1919 during the Ottoman Empire. It is unusual for Palestinian land to have official deeds, particularly during the Ottoman Empire as land that was registered was taxed by the Occupiers. Palestinians live in community so the norm would have been that the family would have lived in Bethlehem and that the men of the family would travel to the property to care for the land and crops. The grandfather of Daoud (David) decided however that his family should live on the land in caves as his ancesters would have lived. So he dug a wonderful cave home. The two grandsons who now inhabit the land (their sisters have married and moved away) have been in a legal struggle to keep this land. Currently this is a case tied up in the courts for the last 21 years. As long as the case is pending the Israeli's have no right to take this property.

However, all around, all within the Palestinian land, settlements have been built. The Israelis want this land, too. The first step they took was to declare the land in Area C, or State Land, so declared because it is a security risk. Then the court battle ensued. Then the Israelis tried to purchase the land, for which they offered a blank check and would give the family up to 40 years before vacating. Again, the family refused. As Daoud says, "This land is my Mother and my Mother is not for sale."

The Israelis then gave an order to demolish the 9 structures that have since been built on the property. The order was given on a Thursday and the demolition would begin on Monday. Again the family went to court. They were given 30 days to get a proper survey and to get signatures of neighbors or demolition would take place. Again they prevailed, but not before expending $70,000 paying a proper surveyor, an Israeli.

The Israeli's, continuing to build settlements then gave an order to destroy cisterns and wells. The cisterns and wells remain today but no more can be dug. While all the Israeli settlements surrounding the hill have full services of electricity, water, garbage collection, sewers, etc., this property was allowed none of these services even though the owners pay property taxes. Three years ago a group of German people came and installed solar panels on the roof of one of the structures. The toilets are composting outhouses.

The next tactic was settlers attempting to build a road through their property, cutting down olive trees (the very symbol of peace) vandalism, harassment from the settlers. This has now ceased but the property is securely fenced and padlocked. But a sign remains outside, "We refuse to hate."

The family calls this land the Tribe of Nations. Each summer campers arrive for a 2-week session of artwork. The area is full of artwork that includes iconography, mosaics made from trash scraps, frescos, and other religious depictions. Up to 100 volunteers arive each summer to assist with the crops and animals. There are sheep, horses, chickens, and a bevy of dogs. While all 9 EAPPI ers were present this morning there was also a pilgrimage group from the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. They asked about our work and we told them about our program of observation and documentation.
We then walked down to the village of Nahallin, about a 20 minute downhill walk. We were met by Maher who took us to his house to tell his story. We were greeted by his Mother who served us sweet tea and date cookies. Maher is in his early 30's and is a communist, anti-religious, activist, author. who has been imprisoned for 2 1/2 years; the first time for his anti-Israeli writing, the second for attempting to get to Hebron when he was ill. At that time he and his two friends were told to get out of the car, were forced to the grounds, then were forced to face a wall while the soldiers beat each of them. They
were then transported to the prison and guns were pointed at their heads and the soldiers asked them where in their body they wished to be killed--the head, the heart? and where would they like their bodies delivered for burial. Maher speaks Hebrew so he knew what the soldiers were saying to one another and he believes that they were going to kill them. The process was interrupted by a higher official arriving at the prison. He was detained for 6 months with no indictment, no trial. However, due to his original sentence he is viewed as highly dangerous and can never leave Palestine.

Maher story took a long time and we were served coffee and wonderful bread with olive oil and a wonderful spice to dip in. We were all hungry! We left a bit late for our next appointment at Manger Square for lunch with Hamed from OHCHR.

At 2:00 Liva, Martin, Hannah, and I went to Battir, a small village that is accessible by driving under the Israeli highway, on horrible Palestinian roads (which they are forbidden to repair). There we visited with Fayez, his sister Shariya, and her husband, Abid. They have a 8 year old son Sammy who was severely traumatized as a 1 1/2 - 2 year old, during the violent period of the second Intifada. Soldiers used the roof of their home as a rocket-launching area, the soldiers intimidated and frightened them all, but Sammy stopped his babbling and has not yet spoken. They have tried every type of therapy and medical intervention, but there is no program that works for him. We suggested that first they get an appointment with the doctor that Liva had identified for them and I will try Doctor's Without Borders. Hannah has a friend who is in Bethlehem often who is a music therapist and will make contact with her.

To get to Battir we had to walk downhill for a very long time, so when we were ready to leave I was quite relieved when it was mentioned that we could get a taxi to come to the house, so we jumped at it and came home, exhausted.

This is highly emotional, impossible to accept the ability to transcend, endure, and make sweet, sweet lemonade from those old withering lemons.
Faith is such a hard part of the struggle. perhaps the struggle gives resilience, but today I watched beautiful women wearing lots of makeup and sporting new jeans along with their traditional hair coverings laughing together. I saw children on bikes and scooters, home-made soap box derbies, laughing and playing. ThisTakes incredible strength and fortitude. This is not an easy life.

The commonality: Steadfast hope