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. 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/

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. http://www.othervoice.org/info/eng/about-us.htm

"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. http://www.newprofile.org/.

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. http://www.mossawacenter.org/.

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! http://www.icahd.org/

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!

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