a time for peace

– standing against occupation

holiness made real

On my first visit to the Holy Land, Woods (my husband) and I were on a spiritual pilgrimage.  We had joined a tour group of pastors and spouses, mostly from the Southwest, and traveled thru the land Jesus walked, reading Scripture, taking time for prayer, and immersing ourselves in the beautiful holiness of this land.  We breathed the holy air, ate the holy foods, visited the holy sites, and found it difficult to sleep as we felt that time here was so preciously short.  My favorite place was the Temple Mount, as I was filled with a deep sense of joy to be in a place that seemed at once so familiar, yet so uniquely different than anywhere I had ever been! It was an Israel/Palestine visit that nourished my soul and I am grateful for the memories.

My time here now is very different. The land is still the Holy Land and the places I walk in are still so unique from my previous experience in the world, but I feel the holiness differently.  I can no longer think of it as a magical place where God graced humankind in a mysterious way. God is not somehow floating above the land, filling it with divine beauty and meaning, with hope and peace.  Rather, I feel the holiness of God where I didn’t fully expect it – in the gritty, harsh reality of the everyday life of ordinary struggling people.  It shows itself not just in the elaborate cathedrals that fill this land, but in the simple homes of poverty stricken people, where we are offered tea and a chance to sit and rest.  

God’s holy hope is in the many Palestinians and internationals who develop leadership programs for the youth who will someday lead their country. God’s holy grace is in the hearts of so many who say they want to forgive, if only they can find a future opened to them.  God’s holy love is in genuine smiles and welcome of the children who are filled with joy to meet someone new and to say with pride in English, “Hello, how are you?”

In the midst of Occupation, the holiness of Jesus, who knew life under occupation, offers us the choice of living in freedom. In the face of poverty, which was Jesus’ reality, we can offer up what we have to one another, and find God’s abundance flowing to us. In the darkness of deep suffering and loss, it is the Holy Spirit of our suffering God who fills us with a hope for a better tomorrow.

The holiness of God permeates this place, just as it does all places on earth, as God’s people keep their hearts and minds and eyes on Jesus and allow Him to bring us the strength and the peace we need to be His witnesses and to live according to His ways – with a holiness deep within us and our daily lives.  May that holy peace keep our hearts filled with joy and wonder everyday, everywhere.

Peace/salaam – Pastor Pat

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September 29, 2008 Posted by | Occupation, Palestine, peace, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Nu’aman, israeli land…palestinian people

After the 1967 war, Israel annexed some land south of Jerusalem into the city limits, including the village of Nu’aman.  So the land became part of Israel. Unfortunately, due to a clerical choice made by someone who didn’t know the area, the people were registered in the town of their “civic leader,” who lived 2 km away.  So the 200 villagers have ID’s declaring they are Palestinian.  The problem is that Palestinian people cannot be on Israeli land without special permits, which mean the people of Nu’aman are now living illegally in their own homes!

And, if that’s not bad enough, Israel has refused to accept responsibility for the people of this land – they are not providing water or garbage pick-up or municipal services, such as schools, medical clinics, or police protection. Plus, the Israeli government will not allow the construction of any new homes – which means the children of the current villagers have to leave the village when it it time to start their own families.  The Palestinian Authority has been providing some water services, but they are not allowed to do more.

Recently the village has been cut off completely as the roads have been closed – at one end of the village the road was dug up and an earth mound put across it; at the other end there is a checkpoint for cars and pedestrians.  Now there is also a fence, that will eventually be an extension of the Wall, that threatens to separate the people from their farmlands! Because of the remote area that surrounds this checkpoint, the Israeli soldiers are freer to commit abuses, especially on the children who are walking home from their school in Beit Sahour.  At times, the children have been deliberately trapped in the turnstiles until they repeated crude insults about their parents; another time, a young girl was forced to dance before being freed.

The villagers ask us to come out as often as possible to offer our protection and we try to cover this checkpoint whenever we can. But we know we are not the solution the villagers need. Either the village must be reclassified as Palestine land or the people must all be issued Jerusalem ID’s.  But either way, the people lose something valuable.  If the land is reclassified, they will lose all access to Jerusalem and the holy sites, as well as the chance to visit family members living there. If they are granted Jerusalem Israeli ID’s, they will lose the ability to go to their farmland, and also they will require permits to go to Beit Sahour, the closest town just across a small valley, which includes their shops, their mosque, their schools, their friends, so much of their regular daily life.

Again and again, I am finding that until the Occupation ends, trying to solve these problems is almost impossible – there is no win/win for anyone, and the longer the Occupation continues the more difficult and more absurd these situations become.  The village is asking for the Wall to be rerouted, but up to now Israel has not acted reasonably, so their hopes are dim that a peaceful and good solution will be found.

Please follow this story through the Jewish-Arab partnership organization, Ta’ayush, a political activist group working on this case.  And keep these villagers in your prayers as they endure living in this confusion of identity at home.

peace/salaam – Pastor Pat

September 26, 2008 Posted by | Occupation, Palestine, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

the ache of lost hope

I have been connecting to young adults lately… I find them, they find me. We share some time and I listen – and my heart is breaking as I hear their pain.  It is not about the Wall, or the Occupation, or the political situation that they want to talk.  It is the despair of well-educated (graduates of Bethlehem University), good looking, respectable, hard-working, young (25-27 yr olds) men who see no future for themselves here in this land.  They have done everything right – worked hard, been good, made their parents proud, yet the eyes that look into mine are aching and confused.

They are Christians, caught between the Israeli Jews and the Palestinian Muslims, neither of which care about them or their place in the society.
Their families are suffering economically, and in this culture, the sons are expected to financially help their parents, many of whom are forced to retire at age 60 with no pension or health benefits.  Although there are 5-7 Christian women to each Christian man, they cannot imagine ever having enough money to marry (the groom’s family pays for most of the very expensive wedding) or to buy a house.  The low end jobs that are available, won’t cover even simple living expenses so they can get an apartment and move out of their parents home.  At age 25, they are overwhelmed, and have little to no hope of a brighter future.

And maybe even worse, for this age group, there is nothing to do, no where to go, night after night after night.  The town just next to Bethlehem, Beit Jala’s “strip” has one bar/club, one pool hall, and one grocery shop.  There are no movie theaters, no zoos or parks, no bowling alleys, no community centers catering to young adults.  And they can’t go into Jerusalem, where at least something is happening!  There is nothing for them to do outside of sitting around their parents homes – which are usually filled with younger siblings or nieces and nephews!

Their only hope, economically and socially, is to leave this place and find a way to build a future far from home.  But that means finding an American or European business owner who will “sponsor” them – give them a job and file papers with Immigration – so they can get a work visa for two years and begin the process of applying for citizenship.  It’s still a rough road, but as they send money home, the whole family benefits – and that means more Christians will be able to stay in this land that means so much to them – and all Christians everywhere.

Part of my job here is to advocate for the people here in ways that will help, so if anyone reading this is willing to take a chance and provide a job and a future for some very deserving young men caught in the ache of lost hope, please let me know and I will connect you.  It may be the most significant way you can make a difference, by offering an opportunity of hope for someone ready to believe in it again.

peace/salaam – Pastor Pat

Surely there is a future, And your hope will not be cut off. 
Listen, my son, and be wise, And direct your heart in the way.
– Proverbs 23:18-19

September 22, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

prayers for peace

Last Thursday, while visiting Sabeel, a grassroots liberation theology movement in Jerusalem, we learned that they invite Friends of Sabeel all around the world to pray every Thursday at noon (local time) so that a wave of prayers covers the Earth for hours – all asking for God’s peace and justice to reign here on our part of the vast universe.  We shared Holy Communion and joined our voices in unity with Christians all over the world.

Each Friday evening, we join the Caritas Sisters as they pray along the Wall near our apartment.  It is a gentle, peaceful end to a hectic day/week – particularly during Ramadan!  As the sun sets, we walk in the shadow of the Wall, opening our spirits and lifting our pleas for peace up to the Holy One. At the same time, all across this conflicted land, Jewish women are lighting the Shabbat candles and murmuring their prayers, while Muslims are preparing to break their day-long purification fast at an “iftar” meal. Together, in our own ways, we turn toward God, grateful for our many blessings and mindful of our humble dependence on the Almighty One.

Saturday afternoon, we joined many members of the “Church Related Organizations” in an ecumenical Peace Day Prayer Event at the Wall near Rachel’s Tomb. An Orthodox priest, a Muslim sheik, and I (!) spoke of the need for peace and justice in this land and then we offered prayers in eight different languages (I heard english, arabic, spanish, german, italian, african dialect, french…).  Finally, a group of dancers performed Debke, lifting up their prayers physically – it was so amazing!

Sharing prayers unites us, strengthens us, reminds us of a Great God who is already working to bring peace, and brings joy to our hearts as we remember that what we see and experience is not all there is.  Even in the dark shadow of the Wall, the Light of Christ in His community shines brightly, and we are filled with the goodness and grace of our God.

Please add your prayers to all of these whenever you can, and know that while we often pray as a last resort, praying should be the first thing we do, because calling for God’s guidance will allow us to make a difference, as God’s will and ways fill our minds and hearts and bodies so that all we do is filled with peace, justice and grace, wherever we are!

peace/salaam – Pastor Pat

“I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. 
Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!”  
– Psalm 116:1-2

September 22, 2008 Posted by | Israel, Occupation, Palestine, peace, women | 4 Comments

women speak of the checkpoint

The women gather every Wednesday morning for two hours, to share stories, practice speaking English, and connect with other women.  Our leader this month is from Pax Christi in Holland and he is facilitating a conversation about “sumud” which in Arabic means resiliency, steadfastness, and strength-which these women have in great abundance!  As they share their stories, that often sound surreal because of the violence and the abuse they have suffered, I sense they not only have great sumud to have endured without losing their minds, but that this sumud connects them deeply with one another.

Today, we were talking about their experiences at the checkpoint going into Jerusalem.  Please remember Jerusalem doesn’t, or at least, isn’t supposed to, belong to Israel; it is designated a shared city.  But the checkpoint keeps most Palestinians out of Jerusalem unless they can produce a work permit or a special event permit, which can takes weeks of continual pleading to get, and still doesn’t assure entry. (Imagine being forcibly kept out of Aurora or Naperville where your family and friends live, and your church/mosque is located.)

Here are some stories they wanted me/us to know:

  • the facilitator’s 10 yr old daughter had metal decorations on her jeans and t-shirt that set off the Metal Detector. The soldiers told her she would have to strip, right there in front of everyone if she wanted to go thru… they waited and pleaded with them for 20 minutes, then turned back to Bethlehem.
  • a young mom shared a similar experience with her three yr old. The soldiers wanted to take him alone into a room and strip him (because of the snaps on his underware), but mom insisted that she go with him. While she was distracted, her purse (in the soldiers possession) was stolen. Remembering that trauma a year later, this four year old insists he will not go back.
  • Sylvana, a middle aged mom travelled with her children for the first time thru the checkpoint and when she showed uncertainty about the process the soldiers started screaming and cursing her in Arabic. When she protested his behavior, the men passing thru the checkpoint pleaded with her not to make a fuss or the soldier would close the entrance.  She tore up her permit vowing never to return and receive that abuse again.
  • Lorette told of a church-sponsored trip to a Maundy Thursday prayer event in Jerusalem, with a priest and fifty women who had spent weeks getting their permits.  Just before they arrived a soldier got angry at one of the men and shut down the checkpoint. This group waited three hours, as the priest pleaded to be let thru, finally missing the event.
  • Many women spoke of times when they were going thru a checkpoint with friends, when the Christians (wearing crosses) were admitted, but the Muslims (wearing head scarves) were refused entry.
  • Jala shared that when her son married a girl from East Jerusalem they asked for 100 permits for their family to attend the event. They were granted 10 permits for randomly selected family members! After two months of continual protest, 20 more permits were issued. The stress on the family was hard, but even harder on the couple!  (as an up-coming mother-of-the-bride, I would be crazed!)
These may seem manageable, but women don’t go often thru the checkpoint, except on Ramadan Fridays when thousands go thru. When I am there, I normally see 2300 men and only 50-70 women, which means the harassment is proportionally higher among those who would be most easily intimidated. These women want to visit family, pray at their church, do some shopping – how is it they are treated as terrorists?  The fact that many do continue to fight for permits and go thru the abuse, speaks just a bit of their sumud and offers me hope that they will endure a life filled with hardships even larger than checkpoints!
peace/salaam – Pastor Pat
 
The LORD also will be a stronghold for the oppressed,
         A stronghold in times of trouble – Psalm 9:9

September 17, 2008 Posted by | Occupation, Palestine, women | 3 Comments

checkpoint watch

We are at the Bethlehem Checkpoint three or four times each week, watching as people enter Israel.  It’s one of the very few that make sense to me.  The vast majority of the checkpoint stations are between the West Bank and the West Bank –  often in the middle of nowhere, put in by the Israeli’s to have control of the Palestinian people even when they are going from their village into the closest town, or their homes to their farm fields and olive groves.  It is a strategy of “Restriction of Movement” that creates hardship on the Palestinians for no discernible reason other than keeping the West Bank folks off the roads used by, or the land confiscated by, the illegal settlers (read: apartheid roads). They make no sense, and I’ll talk more about them another time.

But the Bethlehem Checkpoint makes sense – it is the official entry from one state, Palestine, into another, Israel – albeit totally under the authority of Israel because of the Occupation.  It should be similar to the border checkpoints between any two nations.  But while monitoring this checkpoint this morning, it occurred to me what an embarrassment it is for Israel.  This should be the welcome station, the information center, the grand entrance into a beautiful and proud country.  After years of staffing this checkpoint, the well-trained army of Israel should have this down to a science – and an art! They should be proud to receive people from around the world here.

But instead, it is a dirty, ugly entrance, staffed by inexperienced, often inefficient soldiers, police, and security forces, that rarely runs well.  Mired in discrimination, it doesn’t open for Palestinians until 5 am (on good days) – though I am told the internationals other than Palestinians can get thru whenever they arrive. When the Palestinians get there, they must wait in long, fenced-in ramps until they reach a crude cut-thru in the Wall, then they move into the terminal.  It often opens late, the three metal detectors are very rarely ever all working – and are insufficient even when they are.

The “humanitarian” gate for women, the elderly, and those who are physically challenged, has only been opened on Ramadan Fridays.  There’s nothing friendly or welcoming anywhere at the checkpoint – there’s garbage all over the grounds, few places to sit and rest, and the soldiers remain anonymously aloof (and scary!) in their dark enclosures. 

Israel could do better.  Tel Aviv, where many internationals enter the country is beautiful and clean and welcoming.  The “herding of animals” feel at this entrance that so many people speak of when visiting the checkpoint, isn’t necessary for security.  It seems to be simply a disregard for the dignity of a people, whom the Israeli government seems to enjoy demeaning and treating in the worst possible way. Yet, in the end, the conditions here reflect more negatively on the Israeli government than on the Palestinian people.  My hope is that international tourists will stop riding thru the checkpoint in buses and start walking thru like the Palestinians – my guess is that would bring changes that would allow me to look forward to watching as Israel welcomes all people into their country. 

peace/salaam – Pastor Pat

September 16, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

lots of americans in palestine!

When I left for church last Sunday, I didn’t expect to meet up with any Americans, after all, I was going to Beit Jala, of which, I would guess, most people have never heard.  Imagine my delight to find not one but eight Americans, fresh from the US! Then I found out that not only were they American, they were sent from the ELCA for service here!

The ELCA has started a new program – Young Adults in Global Mission – in which recent grads from all over the country apply for one-year of service somewhere in the world.  These six young people and their Country Coordinator, Martin Shoffner, with his wife Suzanne, will be living in Beit Jala and Jerusalem while they work in Beit Jala, Bethlehem, and Beit Sahour at various schools and NGO’s who need their enthusiasm and energy.

  • Paul’s from Green Bay WI; he’ll work at al-Mahaba Kindergarten and the Boys Boarding Home connected to the Lutheran Church in Beit Jala
  • Marta’s from Gettysburg, PA; she’ll work at the Lutheran School in Beit Sahour
  • Meredith, from Marion Center PA, will serve at the Dar al-Kalima school connected to the Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem
  • Kendra is from Berkeley CA and will do her work at the Environmental Center at the Talitha Kumi School for Girls
  • Chelsea (Monroe, MI) is going to help plan Alternative Tours for the ELC in Jordan and the Holy Land office in Jerusalem
  • Nikki, from Inver Grove Heights MN, is serving at Dar Anaddwa, the International Center in Bethlehem, connected to the Christmas Church
All of them are going to need our prayers and support as they serve people and make a difference in so many lives here!  They will be a blessing in so many ways – and I am proud that my church is showing active care for the people who continue to struggle to get a good education and the job opportunities that can make such a impact in their daily lives – and in the prospects of the future Palestinian state.
 
Please include these servants in your prayers and in your church’s intercessory prayer list, that the Holy Spirit would fill them to overflowing with the grace, love, patience, and strength they will need as they serve this year.
 
peace/salaam – Pastor Pat
Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.  – 1 Timothy 4:12

September 15, 2008 Posted by | ELCA, Occupation, Palestine, peace | 2 Comments

speaking Arabic

I tried Rosetta Stone, we’ve had rambo on-site lessons, everyone I spend my day with speaks it, but Arabic is just not getting thru to me!  I like languages and have learned quite a few, but this time the accent, the speed, and the vocab are somehow combined in a way that reduces me to hand signals every time.  But I’ve discovered a solution… there is another Arabic language that I can succeed at – the language of hospitality and cooking!

It all starts with shopping… that I can do!  First to the vegetable stand, where, no matter what they are called, I can recognize tomatoes, cabbage and eggplant.  Then on to the bread shop to pick up the freshest pita and flat breads I’ve ever tasted that are baked right in the store front – and even out on the sidewalk!

Next comes a trek to the spice shop in the Old City of Bethlehem – close to where Mary may have chosen some of the same spices as she cooked for her family some 2000 years ago.  This was a bit harder for me – you try figuring out hand-signals for “coriander” sometime :-0 – I opted for smelling each bin, which, for a former Montessori teacher, was an amazing way to choose spices!  

Although our cooking surface has only 2 burners and no oven, I managed to make my first Arabic meal: Fattoush Salad, Pita Bread, and Stuffed Cabbage Leaves!  And my teammates ate it all with enthusiasm!  We may be very different from our Palestinian friends here, but I’ve discovered that appreciating food together makes us all realize we have lots in common too!  

And I’m hoping that when I get home, the Arabic food I cook will build bridges to you, as I fill my presentations with something irresistible – not fancy talk, but good, down-home, simple cooking!  I know everybody understands that message of care and solidarity, no matter what language they speak!

peace/salaam – Pastor Pat

September 14, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

tent of nations…a place of peace

Yesterday I accompanied a group of German women up to a place outside of the Bethlehem area called “The Tent of Nations.”  It is actually a local farm operated by a Christian family of 4 brothers and 5 sisters who have been struggling to survive in spite of Israeli settlers and court cases for the last 20 years.  You see, the farm is located on a hilltop, and the settlers’ strategy on the West Bank is to grab all of the high ground they can and claim it for Israeli – even tho’ allowing civilians to populate occupied territories is illegal under international law.  As former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon predicted, by the time the world (i.e. America and Europe) realize what’s happening, it will be a done deal and there will be no more room for Palestinians in their own land.  That strategy is working.

Tent of Nations is surrounded by four settlements on neighboring hilltops.  The newest is filled with settlers determined to take the Nasser farmland any way they can.  They have uprooted 350 olive trees of these farmers, bulldozed huge boulders onto the middle of the farm access road so cars can no longer pass, and harassed them with midnight attacks.  Drivers who take internationals out to see what is happening are often attacked as they wait in their buses and taxis on the other side of the boulders, making it difficult to find a ride out there.

The Israeli courts (legally or not) demand proof that the land belongs to this Palestinian family – and luckily for this family, their grandfather wisely registered their land at a time when many didn’t because of high taxes.  They have documents from the Ottoman, the British, the Jordanian, and the Palestinian governments.  But, after 17 years of battling in the courts, when it came to the Supreme Court, one settler came with a single paper containing the Old Testament promise to Abraham and claimed this was a paper from God proving the Jews owned the land. Even tho’ the judge was incredulous, and could have ended this atrocious and very costly harassment, the case was postponed once more!

The family has taken a positive attitude and created a type of peace center on the land, welcoming international students who need to do community service in lieu of military service, to join them for a year.  Since they cannot get a permit to build, it all takes place in tents or in the small nearby village! 

They offer camps for village children and classes for women to learn English, computer skills, health and medical issues. On Monday, a British woman will come to teach on alternative medicine.  They want to be a bridge for peace, even in the midst of the persecution.  Their answer to the violence:  they connected with a group of Israeli peace activists who came out and replanted 200 of the trees – and with internationals who helped fund the planting of an additional 500 trees!  That’s non-violent resistance winning the hilltop and perhaps a future!

peace/salaam – Pastor Pat

 

He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
– 
Micah 4:3    

 

September 13, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

an american in palestine

EA’s are sent by the World Council of Churches to be with the Palestinian people in their suffering. And as much as I’d like to just be “from the church,” no one here is fooled.  I am definitely first and foremost from America – they know it, and they make sure I know that they know it, sometimes rather loudly! (I don’t understand everything but I do clearly sense Pres Bush is a real problem!) Being American here is being very much an outsider.  Even within the larger EA group, the Europeans and South Africans have more in common with one another and with the Palestinians than they do with me.  They are all “not American” and that allows them to see and experience life differently in ways I cannot completely understand.  

I am learning that the Palestinian struggle, while relatively small on a global scale, is so important to so many of the EA’s because they come from countries that have experienced occupation, walls, apartheid, and/or oppression under more powerful nations.  One Israeli activist I heard tonight said the Palestinian issue is emblematic for the whole world – or at least the parts of the world that are aware of the underside of power.  And I’m finding that generally doesn’t include America.  Most of us know very little about the Israeli-Palestinian situation in any balanced way.  We know the side of the powerful – the Jewish-American lobbyists are incredible powerful in controlling what we hear.  But most of us have never taken time to find out the other side of the story.

Part of our ignorance is our busy, busy lifestyles; partly it’s that the Atlantic Ocean is a huge geographic buffer; partly that we don’t want to appear anti-Semitic, and we are afraid being against Israeli government policies may appear to be against the Jewish people; partly we don’t want to get involved in a confusing situation that doesn’t seem to have a solution.  But I hope at least some of you will find out ways to learn more.  This problem won’t just go away… changing the future means working in the present for justice – and that takes an effort of some kind from everyone.

My prayer is as I introduce you to some of the topics, the Holy Spirit will lead you further.  Maybe together we can start making being an American in Palestine a cause for celebration as we stand for truth, justice and peace. 

peace/salaam – Pastor Pat

September 11, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 7 Comments