Monday, December 24, 2012
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
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
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
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
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
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. http://www.machsomwatch.org./
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. http://www.shovrimshtika.org/
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Friday, March 16, 2012
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 ipsnorthamerica.net/news.ph?
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.
Friday, March 9, 2012
Monday, March 5, 2012
Monday, February 27, 2012
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Monday, February 20, 2012
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;
- 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.
- Martin, Mary, Esteban, Kat, Hannah
(Martin from Switzerland, Esteban from Ecuador, Kat from Sweden, Hannah from the UK)