If asked a year ago for the first word that came to mind when I heard the word Palestinian… I might have said “terrorist.” Today I would answer something quite different. As I prepare to leave Bethlehem tomorrow, I want to introduce you to some of the Palestinians I have come to know, who have been part of my life just about everyday. Palestinians, I now call “friends.”
The first Palestinian I met was Majdi, the shop owner at our corner. Our first day here, Niina and I were walking down the street in search of a bread shop and he came running out of his shop, insisted we get into his car, and he drove us to the best bakery shop in town! Since then I’ve learned Majdi adopts the EAs and always has a cup of coffee or tea ready to refresh us on our journeys past his corner shop.
Then there’s Clemence, whose home is directly next to the wall near the car gate. She was a teacher in the Beit Sahour Lutheran School and she did her best to teach me Arabic, poor woman! But more than that, she taught me about the culture and the ways of the people here, so I would not look foolish even if I couldn’t hold a conversation. She took care of me like a good mom!
Elias was our main taxi driver, and our relationship became one of the nicest surprises of all. Driving us home one night he invited Dirk and me to come with him to have a beer and meet his friends. His friends became our friends as we had many dinners together – at their homes, and out for pizza. They shared their lives, their hopes and dreams, and their struggles with us – teaching us much about the lives or ordinary Palestinians. Since that night, Eli has not only taken us all around the area, he’s taken me many places that he, as a Palestinian, was nervous about going.
Cafe Sima is our favorite coffee shop – Sima was trained at the Cordon Bleu in Paris as a pastry chef and her cafe is filled with delicious treats, as well as wonderful salads, soups, crepes, and quiche – and all kinds of coffees. What a blessing this little get-away has been! Plus Sima’s mother, who works in the shop is a highly educated business woman who is a delightful lunch companion!
Finally, I must include the man who runs the small grocery shop just downthe block, Abu Amil. Although we didn’t shop there all that often, (in these shops there are no fresh foods, just staples) every time we walked past – sometimes three or four times/day – he or his son or wife, would wave and call out to us, so we would stop and check in to let them know what was happening. Day or night I felt safer, knowing they were watching for me as I walked their street.
Everyone of these folks (and many more I don’t have time to introduce you to) knew I would only be here for three months. And they knew I was an American, which means I was somewhat of a culprit in the on-going Occupation. Yet they opened their hearts with warm hospitality and genuine friendship to this stranger in their midst. They watched over me, listened to me, laughed and cried with me. They shared their struggles and they taught me what I needed to understand. They were gentle and kind as they expressed their impatience with American/Israeli policies.
They became a part of my life as they helped me do my job, encouragingme to take risks,listening to the stories of my adventures, welcoming me home from scary places, and then they shed tears as we said our goodbyes. As I leave tomorrow, I do so with sorrow that I am leaving some good friends to deal with the difficulties here without me – and I am grateful we had a chance to introduce them to Team 29 who will continue to join the struggle with them. And I pray that God’s Holy Spirit bind them together in the same love we now share.
peace/salaam – Pastor Pat
This plea from Israel appeared in CounterPunch on November 6, 2008 – it’s too good not to share!
By Edna Canett, of Machsom Watch, an Israeli group of women who monitor the checkpoints on the Jerusalem side.
Obama my dear, they tell me that you are going to change the world. Do me a favor, come and change my life personally.
Come to Israel, grab its stupid leadership by the throat and take its foot off the neck of another people. Come and force us to do what is clear, and written, and fitting, and necessary, come and get us out of the Territories, if necessary do it with a smile that reveals million-dollar teeth. If necessary bare your teeth and force us to do it.
Make it so that I don’t have to get up in the morning – I who hate to get up early, to go to the checkpoints, to watch and to weep. Make it so I will not have to see 19-year-old children who have been duped into believing that they are defending the home front by pointing rifles at five-year-old children.
Make it so that when my daughters take a shower for half an hour I don’t have to think about Ayad’s family from Awarta that puts buckets under all the washbasins in order to reuse the water which is more precious than gold. Because the settlements need the West Bank’s water more than the Palestinians do.
Make it so that when I sit in a traffic jam I don’t have to think about the vast numbers of cars that are standing at the entrance to Tul Karem while each one is checked by soldiers and dogs because there has been a warning that they’re about to blow up Tul Karem.
Make it so that when my sister urgently rushes to the hospital to give birth and when I rush my husband to the hospital practically with red lights flashing, I don’t have to think about the women giving birth and the heart patients and the wounded people who are stopped at the entrance to Nablus because their vehicle has no permit to enter.
Make it so that when I see a soldier in uniform on the street I do not wonder what he did last night. What house he entered in a “Straw Widow procedure”,* what boy he beat up in the alleys of Hawara because he smiled the wrong way.
Make it so that in the morning I don’t hear the satisfaction in the voice of the radio newsreader who relates that the IDF has killed six terrorists.
Obama my dear, this autumn I did not go to the olive harvest. It didn’t work out. Please make it so that I will not suffer from pangs of conscience because I am not doing enough. That I am living my own good life, pursuing my career, while for the other people just to get home safely is a career in itself.
Please relieve me of this pain that I have all the time deep in my belly. It never lets up, I can never really enjoy life, children, friends or work, because my mind is preoccupied with the image of the shepherd in Baq’a standing by the locked gate and shivering with cold because the redhead with the key has not showed up, and the bound blindfolded boy, and the three-year-old girl who got hit on the head by the carousel at the checkpoint, and the barriers of dirt and the concrete blocks that stop the lives of so many people from flowing smoothly.
Come, Obama, come and save us from ourselves.
And if that is what they mean when they say you are not a friend of Israel, then don’t be a friend. We have already had friends who arm us and justify every horror we carry out and save us from the international courts. Be a true friend. Save us from ourselves. And don’t do it for the world, do it only for me, so I can have peace. You owe it to me. I do not believe in God but still I prayed for you.
*The IDF practice of forcibly occupying private Palestinian homes temporarily, for tactical purposes – translator
Edna Canetti wrote this for MachsomWatch. The piece was translated from Hebrew by George Malent
…/Oasis of Peace is a village southeast of Tel Aviv that is an intentional community made up of Jews and Palestinian Arabs, all with Israeli citizenship. Since the 1970’s 50 families have come to live in this small area, families who are devoted to peace and living in respectful relationship as both the healthiest way to bring about peace between people, and as a model for the rest of Israel/Palestine. I spent some time with them last week… walking the streets, meeting the residents, visiting the schools, and seeking out their spiritual center. These are folks who are committed to finding solutions to the problems that arise between those who are fundamentally different yet who have so much in common. And it is working.
Children come to the Peace School from the village and all around this agricultural area. The schools teach both Hebrew and Arabic and they do it well because the teachers are native speakers! The students learn the histories, traditions, and cultures of both people and they share their thoughts and feelings about one another with mutual respect. Their families are neighbors and their parents speak well of one another. Could it be so easy to live as friends??
The pluralistic spiritual center is located on the edge of town, on a beautiful hillside. The entrance is a courtyard of a Meeting, Prayer and Study House with space for Muslim prayer on one side and Jewish synagogue teaching on the other, with a small kitchen they share so they can offer hospitality to everyone who finds a way to their door. Plus there is a separate House of Silence a bit further down the path. Around these structures are lovely nature paths for hiking or strolling that I enjoyed as I prayed and listened for God’s presence. Could it be so easy to find peace??
There are plans to expand the community to include up to 140 families here. But they are trying to determine how to add families who will fit well into the life of peace that can sometimes get difficult when something happens in the larger countries of Israel and Palestine. It is really not as easy at it appears at first glance. But these folks are committed, with every part of their daily lives, to making peace become the reality now and for their children.
At a time when Israeli-Palestinian relations seem to be at a new low, here is a village whose people still believe their engagement together in peace programs and intentional living can offer the hope needed so badly in the Mid-East. Jesus says, “Blessed be the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9) May these children always know the blessings of their God as they work for peace!
salaam/shalom/peace – Pastor Pat
The call came in just after a long, early morning at the checkpoint. I had taken my shower and was getting ready to go to the baptism of the daughter of a friend here. Scott knocked on my door and said, “Don’t get too comfortable – no time for a nap. There’s a house in Husan that’s been occupied by the army.” And off we went… That’s how it happens here, the IDF decides to make a move and a whole network of people’s lives are interrupted.
On the ride out to the village, we gathered information. It seems that a motorist on one of the apartheid settler roads complained that a rock had struck their car in the area of this small village. They didn’t see anyone throwing anything, but they wanted to make an insurance claim, so charges had to be filed. And that gives the army a way in…
Husan is an unusual village because the people here have relatively good relations with the nearby settlement folk – some of the residents work in the settlement and the settlers often do some shopping in Husan. But not this weekend.
At 2 am Saturday morning, the army rolled into town and took occupancy of one of the most prominent homes, forcing a family of fifteen out into the streets, without any notice. They raised the Israeli flag, covered the front porch with camouflage mesh netting, and blocked the front with their oversized vehicles. They don’t suspect any member of this family – it’s just a nice house, in the center of town, right across from the mosque. So the family had to go.
Fortunately, an uncle lives in the village, so at least they weren’t stuck out in the street. Unfortunately, all their belongings are now out of reach. In fact, it’s fairly certain their home will be thoroughly searched and turned upside down, simply because the soldiers are bored as they watch a community where not much out of the ordinary happens – at least until the army comes to town.
When we got there, a group from the International Solidarity Movement was sitting watch with some of the family in the (now closed) shopping strip next door to the home. Ta’ayush, an Israeli peace group had been there, as well as Haaretz, the Israeli news agency. Neither had been able to help much, but they were told the IDF has a one-week order of occupation. It doesn’t say in the order what the family who lives here is supposed to do for the next week or what is going to be done to rebuild the relationships in this town. Tonight, we got a call asking us to come in the morning and be with the children as they walk to school tomorrow – trust has been broken and everyone is afraid it will only get worse.
Salaam/Shalom – Pastor Pat
An important aspect of the current situation in Palestine is the declining economic life, especially for the Christians. Until the middle of the 20th Century, Bethlehem was about 90 percent Christian, inhabited by one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. Yet, in recent years the size of the community has shrunk due to emigration. In 1998, the religious makeup of the city was 67% Sunni Muslims and 33% Christian, mostly of the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic denominations. In 2005, the total Christian population had decreased to about 20%.
Economically Christians are suffering more than others because it is mostly the Christians who own the hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops, so the Occupation and protest Intifadas have had a huge affect them. The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) reports that Bethlehem has the highest unemployment in the West Bank. There is 65 per cent unemployment rate largely due to the 2,000 bedrooms in hotels that are empty each night.
“As Christians, we have no economic future here,” one business man says. “We are melting away. Next summer I will leave this country to go to the States. How can I continue? I would rather have a beautiful dream in my head about what my home is like, not the nightmare of the reality.”
The Christian population is the well-educated, middle class of this area. As they leave for better prospects in Europe and America, they are creating an even larger gap between the wealthy and poor, and Palestine is losing some of her best resources for the leadership that is needed so badly.
And even more importantly, the “living stones” of Christianity, who give enduring witness to the Christian faith by their presence here, are losing their voice and influence. Many are worried that soon, very soon, there will no longer be Christians living in this land we regard as holy. The descendants of Jesus will be completely scattered abroad. While Christians don’t hold as closely to a “theology of place” as the Jewish and Muslim people, the events that happened here and the prayers of millions of people over the centuries have saturated this Holy Land with a sacredness that can’t be denied, and which continues to enrich the faith experience of every pilgrim.
The Palestinian-Christians here need the support of their brothers and sisters around the world. They need them to come and visit this land, to buy goods produced here, to pray and work for the end of the Occupation by the Israeli’s, to act as advocates in their struggle for freedom. They are the guardians of the physicalness of our faith – The Church of the Immaculate Conception (above) and the Synagogue site where Jesus offered his first sermon (right) in Nazareth, among many others. Our support will help them stand strong as living links for us, as they remain in the place Jesus called home.
peace/salaam – Pastor Pat
‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’” Matthew 2:5-7
Tuesday we were called to the village of Al Khader, whose four schools are located near the international soccer field I mentioned earlier – two elementary schools (boys and girls) and two secondary schools (girls and boys). It seems that Israeli soldiers have been harassing the teachers and students for the last week – putting in a flying checkpoint some mornings that delays the start of school one to two hours, announcing (untruthfully) that the schools have been closed, surrounding the schools and delaying the students leaving by an hour or more. Please understand that school starts at 7:20 am and does not serve lunch, so by 1:00 pm dismissal, the kids are exhausted and hungry – and now being traumatized by scary men with huge weapons.
Each principal has tried to stop the soldiers from being near the schools, but the commanders harshly push their way past, pointing high-powered weapons at him/her, claiming they can go anywhere and can do anything they want. A few months ago, they shot tear gas into the boys secondary school to make sure all the students had come into the courtyard! Even worse, in the past couple of years, they have “detained” 24 boys from the secondary school for six months and longer without any charges. Right now, they continue to hold eighteen boys and two girls, who were roused from their beds and taken away from their families with no explanation, and held in prison without any charges or trials.
This time, they say they saw a student throw a rock onto the apartheid “settler road” that runs past below the back of the school compounds. When we went to the scene it was obvious that no one could have thrown a stone that could have hit the road. Due to a slanted roof over the road at this point, it is a physical impossibility! But the harassment continues, because it can. Sadly, the powerful can always find reasons and ways to abuse the oppressed.
As the time for school dismissal approached, we could feel the tension build up, from both teachers and students. One little girl who feels especially traumatized by the soldiers presence, comes into the headmistresses office everyday now about a half hour before the end of school, just for reassurance. While she agreed to smile for a picture, I saw her heart wasn’t in it. Gratefully, the soldiers didn’t come the day we were there. The teachers tell us it is because the Israeli long-range cameras are placed so they can see into the schools, and when internationals are there they stay away.
Imagine for a moment, any of this happening in American schools. I believe the outcry would be deafening – from parents, the public, the officials, from everyone! Yet here, in the Land of Occupation, the cries cannot be heard. Harassment like this is so common, it is considered almost normal. Individual families who protest are punished. Teachers and counselors are ignored. Even the local officials have no power to fight the Occupiers. The Israeli government continues to claim it is all in the name of “security.” And they are backed by the money, the resources and the power of the USA – which includes me… and you.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, when facing the apartheid and abuse in South Africa, said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” For Americans, it’s something to think about as we send our kids off each morning confident of their safety, at least from those who serve in our security forces. Maybe it’s time to tell our political leaders, we expect the same for children everywhere!
peace/salaam – Pastor Pat
“Mahmoud Darwish was one of the best-loved Arab poets of modern times and counts among the most eminent poets in the history of world literature. Thousands flocked to hear his readings, and his volumes of poetry have been published in the hundreds of thousands. Numerous pieces have been translated into more than 30 different languages. His poems have been transformed into folk songs and many of his verses have taken on the character of proverbs.” (www.mahmouddarwish.com)
Here is one of the poems from Darwish, which we have used with a women’s group here in Bethlehem…
On This Earth
We have on this earth what makes life worth living: April’s hesitation, the aroma of bread at dawn, a woman’s point of view about men, the works of Aeschylus, the beginning of love, grass on a stone, mothers living on a flute’s sigh and the invaders’ fear of memories.
We have on this earth what makes life worth living: the final days of September, a woman keeping her apricots ripe after forty, the hour of sunlight in prison, a cloud reflecting a swarm of creatures, the peoples’ applause for those who face death with a smile, a tyrant’s fear of songs.
We have on this earth what makes live worth living: on this earth, the Lady of Earth, Mother of all beginnings and ends. She was called Palestine. Her name later became Palestine. My Lady, because you are my Lady, I deserve life.
Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008)
We thank God for the words and thoughts of this man!
peace/salaam – Pastor Pat
Yesterday was a good day, a day of surprises, a day that is a good example of the life I live here. We expected to go to Al-Walejah, a near-by village, to harvest olives so we had to be up early to have time to dress, eat, and get to the meeting point in Bethlehem, where we were told a bus would meet us to take us out to the village. We were to get to “in front of the courthouse” on Hebron Road by 8:00. Unfortunately, none of us knew where that was – and, as it turns out, neither did the taxi driver! Fortunately, the guys who we were meeting knew where we had been dropped off and came to rescue us! So, on to the harvest… well, not quite…
First, we had to wait for others to arrive, so we went into an office to wait and it turned out it was the headquarters of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society – which meant we spent about an hour getting an introduction to their work around the Bethlehem area and the West Bank. They sponsor mobile units that travel all over the West Bank, offering primary care to villagers who have no medical facilities in their town. Dentists and doctors with specialties (gynecology, ophthalmology, oncology, etc) volunteer hours each week in 26 clinics. Together these programs reach 1.5 million patients in the West Bank each year – even though they are often prevented from reaching the one who need them the most. In recent years, seventy-two women have delivered their babies at the wrong side of the checkpoints, and many of the newborns didn’t survive. The doctor talking with us said, “they are living in tragedy, yet bringing hope.”
Grateful for this new contact, we were now ready to pick some olives…Joining with a few others we began out journey to the village. We met at the home of the group leader and waited for a larger bus that took us down into the fields on a road that was so narrow and steep the driver drove the last mile or so backwards to be sure he could get the bus back up the steep grade. Then we trekked to the field… but no! First we were taken on a tour to see an olive tree whose underground trunk was 25 km around and whose carbon-test results date the tree at well over 3000 years!
Finally, 2.5 hrs after we started our journey, we reached the field and began harvesting with about 35 internationals and 25 Palestinians. About 12:30 lunch was served – bread to be dipped into bowls of the greenest olive oil I have ever seen, fresh hummus, home-made yogurt cheese with more oil, piping hot falafel balls, and grape molasses. And, of course a fire was started for Arabic coffee and mint tea!
About 3:00 we finished for the day and found our way home – stopping at the market stand for fruits and veggies. After a quick shower and dinner, we headed to Manger Square in the Old City of Bethlehem for a huge, 5-screen showing of “Identity of the Soul,” a multi-media presentation with readings by the beloved Mahmoud Darwish, Palestinian National poet extraordinaire who died last August in Houston TX, after a critical heart operation there. It was an ironic end to a day that began with volunteer doctors trying hard to serve/save their people.
The “Identity of the Soul” was an amazingly sophisticated, intellectual, multi-media presentation from a people living in oppression, with little medical care and up to 65% unemployment, who depend on protection from internationals to pick their olives – reminding me once again how difficult it is to define these people and this situation in which they struggle to find their identities! So we ended our day over a last cup of coffee… a bit more confused but glad for the gifts of the day!
peace/salaam – Pastor Pat
The latest UN-OCHA Report, The Olive Harvest in the West Bank and Gaza, reminds us that olives are a centuries-old mainstay of the Palestinian economy, with the soil and climate producing some of the of the world’s highest quality olive oil. The olive tree is also symbolic of Palestinians roots in, and attachment to, the land. Some 45% of agricultural land is planted with an estimated 10 million olive trees, with the potential to produce between 32,000-35,000 metric tons of oil, with up to 100,000 families depending upon the olive harvest for their livelihoods. This year, the olive industry promises to contribute over $123 million (based on 2006/7 figures) to the fragile West Bank economy – that’s 18% of total agricultural production.
Happily, I’m here just in time to help harvest all those millions of olives! Unhappily, it’s not always very easy to enjoy these harvest parties. In the West Bank, picking olives is often full of friction, conflict, and violence, especially in the vicinity of the Israeli settlements or along the Separation/ Apartheid Wall where there are new outposts of settlers trying to steal the land. Many Palestinian farmers out working in their small fields face incidents of crop theft, tree uprooting, harassment, and physical attack during this time.
Local NGO’s and agencies do what they can to bring internationals into the fields to offer protection by their presence. The YMCA-Joint Advocacy Initiative organizes a 10-day Olive Picking Program and Tour for internationals from all over Europe. Ta’ayush, an Israeli Jewish-Arab political activist group, invites both local peace activists and internationals like EA’s and local interns to the higher risk areas. And many other organizations send email invitations when they hear of an older farmer who needs some extra help with the labor-intensive harvest of his family’s trees.
In addition to the hardship of harvesting the crops, this UN-OCHA reports tells us that tens of thousands of olive trees have been deliberately uprooted for the construction of the Wall, whose route is 86% on West Bank property. The placement of the Wall undermines the olive farming industry both by the destruction of trees, and by separating the farmers from their olive groves. So much of the essential care of the trees can’t be carried out by the farmers, affecting both the quality and the quantity of the olive yield. Yet even with all this against them, the farmers here are hopeful – they are looking forward to a good harvest this year. Those of us who stand with them will certainly do our best to make that happen!
Peace/Salaam – Pastor Pat
Some readers have asked, “What are settlers exactly? And are there any good settlers?” I remember hearing the term before coming here, but it really didn’t register with me. Now, after some experience with them, I would say there are roughly three kinds of settlers: first, the ideological, religious settlers (up to 85-90% in many settlements); second, the economic settlers, who just want the incentives of cheaper rent, utilities, and taxes, etc; third, the “don’t know and don’t care” settlers. But all of them are illegal under international law – the settlers, the settlements, and the settler roads, which are major parts of the apartheid system that is ripping the West Bank to shreds.
Ideological religious settlers are the forward thrust of the settlement movement. They are the religious extremists who feel justified in attacking anyone who gets in the way of their belief that God wants them to take the land any way they can. Even the best case of those who think they are obeying God’s will, hold a worse case understanding of how God’s will is to be accomplished.
When we visited a settlement this morning and met with their “PR man,” Bob Lang, I was disappointed to find his presentation to us was mostly just racist propaganda – as in: on one hand, “everything that is wrong is caused by the ‘Arab/Muslim terrorists,'” and, on the other hand, “this land is meant for the Jewish people because God said so and we were here centuries ago.”
When challenged that perhaps an abuse of power by the Israeli’s is adding to the turmoil, or asked how to deal with the fact that Palestinians have also been on this land for centuries, he just circled around and around, without acknowledging there might be two sides to this conflict. It is difficult to have a conversation with someone who plays the “God loves Jews best card,” the “they’re all terrorists card” and the “security card.”
Those of us serving here believe that God wants this land to be enjoyed by all people living here. We know every Palestinian is no more a terrorist, than every Christian in the USA in the 1960’s were KKK members. And we’d all agree Israel (as every other country) needs to do whatever they can to keep their people safe and secure.
Where we differ is on to what extent an Occupying nation can inflict abuse and human rights violations on the occupied people without the international community crying out and demanding a halt to the abuse. For this spokesman, there are no limits – he made it clear that if there is even one criminal in Gaza, that justifies turning off the electricity to 1.5 million people until they find him/her and turn him/her in. Right now, if Zionist Jews wants to live in the area inhabited by Palestinians, they hold the trump card, and can use any degree of violent force necessary to get rid of the current residents, without the army or anyone else stopping them.
Non-religious settlers don’t cause as much trouble, but their very presence is still illegal and lends support to the more extreme settlers. But ultimately, the responsibility for the continuing problem of expanding settlements and abusive settlers belongs with the Israeli government. It is the leaders of Israel (and their international supporters) who must be held accountable for the expansion of the settlements and the harassments they allow to continue. Please pray with me that this problem is solved as we seek an end to the Occupation.
Peace/Salaam – Pastor Pat