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

Friday, February 10, 2012

If it's Friday is it Bethlehem?

The day began with a typical Palestinian breakfast or eggs, meats, cucumbers, cheeses, bread, sweet juices, fruit, yogurt. Our first training session was a general intro to the organization and safety lecture. We were then given envelopes with our first month's cash, Arabic and Hebrew phrase books, and other useful information like maps. After lunch we walked over to the UN Human Rights Office where we given a presentation about the original borders, the settlements the current borders, plans for new settlements, and the illegality and violations of the Geneva Conventions. It was quite enlightening. Then we were off to our home for the next 3 months.

We arrived in Bethlehem at about 3:15 this afternoon. We is my teammates Kat from Sweden, Hannah from the UK, and Esteban from Ecuador and me. Martin has not yet arrived. We were met by Bibi in Jerusalem. She is one of the current team who will be leaving. We dragged our luggage what she said would be 500 meters, which turned out to be more than 1/2 mile, to take the public bus. The bus was completely full and I ended up with my carry on bag in my lap in the back of the bus with a family sitting next to me. We were dropped off on the Israeli side of Checkpoint 300, which will be one of our posts. Of course no one cares who enters from Israel to the Palestinian side, but we did have to navigate 3 turnstiles before getting through the wall. On the other side we were greeted by a van and driver who immediately took us to a 3:30 outdoor service that occurs every Friday as a protest to the occupation. To give you an idea of the weather, the weather service may say 55 degrees, but it is cold. Except that walking and pulling luggage at the same time created sweat. Once seated in the bus as I cooled down sweat was pouring down, getting my clothes wet. Then we stood for about half an hour while the sweat froze....not very comfortable.

There were about 60-70 people gathered in an olive grove. Mass was done in Arabic, but the priest greeted everyone in English. In his English prayer he asked our prayers for the Israelis that God would soften their hearts to see the oppression.There were many foreigners and a member of parliament present. The MP spoke in Arabic to the group, so we have no idea what he said. Our driver returned with our bags and we arrived In our new home to settle in and review the schedule. At 5:30 we went to the Wall for an every Friday night peaceful protest led by ecumenical and catholic leaders. I added my jacket ti my fleece to be more comfortable. The small group of about 10 people prayed the rosary in English while watching the sun set over the wall. I met Constanza who lives next door. Her home is right at the wall, and on the other side of the wall was their olive grove from which they earned their living. Constanza is a faithful Catholic woman with a broad smile and big heart. She expressed great fondness for her Jewish neighbors but just wants a peaceful end to the occupation.

How is that for a first day?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

EAPPI 'Training

I spent three days in Washington, DC, where I basked in the glow of big government buildings and amazingly mild, sunny weather. I always have the impression that everything is up-sized in DC--the blocks each seem to be half a mile, the streets are all wide boulevards like the Champs d'Elysees. I was particularly struck with the number of seconds on the sidewalk lights--60 seconds. In Portland we would be up in arms at having to wait so long for the light to change.They take it in stride.

The EAPPI program has as its goal to being about a peaceful end to the Occupation. For the last 10 years groups of approximately 25-30 volunteers have worked side by side Palestinians who have the same goal, as well as many other NGOs (Non-Governmental Orgs), many of them formed and led by Israelis who see the negative impact the occupation has on their daily lives. I am excited to take part in this journey.

During orientation we met with Andy Chan, a former EA who was on the second group. I am in group 43 so things have changed quite a bit. We also met with Warren Clark, a former ambassador, and director of CMEP (Churches for Middle East Peace), who will be in Bethlehem while I am there on a conference called Christ at the Checkpoint. It would be exciting if I could attend at least some of the conference and take part in worship.

One of the significant reasons the EAPPI has elected to do training in Washington, DC, is the opportunity to meet with our senators and representatives. While Suzanne Bonamici was sworn in while I was there, she will no longer be my representative due to a change due to redistricting. I did have the opportunity, however, to be warmly greeted by Senator Wyden and Senator Merkley's staff.

My head is spinning with information and insight, and praise for Ann Hafften, the director of EAPPI US. Of course the effectiveness of the training will be my ability to function well as an EA, so I'll be able to tell her later, much later, what she also needed to talk about or keep me more awake to hear more (it wasn't always easy to stay awake, even one on one.)

In 2 hours I leave for the airport for Tel Aviv. Keep me in your prayers.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


My boarding pass is printed. Plane leaves for JKF at 7:20AM tomorrow. I have 2 days in New York, then travel to Washington DC for orientation. I will be there until Tuesday, return to New York where on Wednesday I depart for Tel Aviv. I will be stationed in Bethlehem which was my first choice.
You probably have been hearing a lot about Israel's intent to attack Iran to get rid of their nuclear weapons program. The US is lobbying hard with Israel, and those I have spoken to do not believe the threat is imminent. They also believe that the US will convince Israel not to act. Please pray for this threat to go away.
Please sign on!