a time for peace

– standing against occupation

whose house?

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.

So now we wait for the sunrise, watching the clouds carefully, and praying for peace, a peace that sometimes seems to be a bit further away each day.  Please pray with us!

Salaam/Shalom – Pastor Pat

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October 26, 2008 Posted by | Israel, Occupation, Palestine, peace | 1 Comment

christian economics…

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

October 24, 2008 Posted by | Christians, ELCA, Occupation, Palestine, peace | Leave a comment

schools under siege…

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

October 24, 2008 Posted by | children, Occupation, Palestine, peace | Leave a comment

mahmoud darwish, poet of the people

“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

October 19, 2008 Posted by | Palestine, peace | Leave a comment

a simple day…

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

October 19, 2008 Posted by | Israel, Occupation, Palestine, peace, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

olive harvest

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

October 17, 2008 Posted by | Occupation, Palestine, peace | 4 Comments

settlers…

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

October 15, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

a bit of fun

Every once in a while, something fun surprises us here is the West Bank.  Thursday night was one of those times.  My teammate from Norway had met a Town Council member from Al Khader, a small town outside Bethlehem, who invited us to a football game (that’s soccer over here).  At the last minute we found we had time, so we took advantage of the invitation to have some fun. I expected it to be a small town event, so imagine my surprise when we arrived at a full-size stadium for semi-pro players!

It turns out that this adult league had been a big part of the life of Palestinians until it was stopped eight years ago because of the Second Intifada.  Then two months ago, it was re-started, and the people are very excited to have these sporting events happening all over the West Bank. Instead of watching what I thought would be high school rivals, we got to see Al Khalil (Hebron) vs Abu Dis (a large town outside of Jerusalem) play a great game!

But there were a couple more surprises along the way.  Because of our schedule that evening, the game was already in progress when we arrived and as Dirk, Susan (an EA from Jayyous who was visiting us) and I entered the stadium and scrambled up the cement bleachers looking for seats, it became apparent to us that this was a “guys event.”  It turns out, Susan and I were the only women in the crowd of 4-5000 men (though I did see one little girl with her dad)!  At first, it was a bit unnerving and we considered leaving – but pretty soon we were too wrapped up in the action to worry about it.  Later, we were told that at first lots of women attended the games, but the crude and abusive language used by the men toward the ref and the players had offended the women, so they no longer came. Luckily for Susan and me, we didn’t understand what was actually being shouted!

Our final surprise came after the game.  We were slow leaving the stadium at the end of the game, so we were not quick enough to get a taxi or service (shared taxi).  As we stood and talked about how we would get back to Bethlehem, one final service in the very front corner of the lot started up and we rushed over to see if there was room for three of us. Imagine our surprise (one more time!) when we discovered we were hitching a ride with a service hired by three of the soccer players!  Two were from the winning team (Al Khalil) and one was their friend from the Ramallah Team.  

They were nice and fun and when they stopped to drop us off, they even posed for pictures with us.  I think they enjoyed having “adoring fans” as much as we enjoyed the serendipitous surprise of the whole evening.  We have a saying we use a lot here: “Nothing is normal.”  Thursday night we repeated it over and over – but this time it was with joy and delight!

Surprising bits of fun like this sure refresh our hearts and souls – and we thanked God as we walked home, feeing once again what we used to say a lot at my former church, “God is good… All the time!”  

Peace/Salaam – Pastor Pat

October 11, 2008 Posted by | Occupation, Palestine, peace | 7 Comments

on the road

This weekend, I’ve been in Hebron, a busy city in the southern part of the West Bank, where I stayed with the EA Team who serve there – and I visited the tombs of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah, shopped in the Souk (market) in the Old City that has been devastated by the Occupation, and met some of the fanatical settlers that have moved in and are causing such unrest in this Muslim city.  On Shabbat, after their family dinner, they go out for a stroll tohurl rocks into Palestinian houses and intimidate everyone they meet. Midweek, they focus their attacks on young girls walking to school or on farmers trying to work in their fields.  Settlers are by far, the scariest people in Israel-Palestine – even the IDF soldiers are too afraid to stop them! The Hebron Team has a difficult job as they confront religious fanaticism every single day.  I’m still processes my encounter with a settler who threatened me with an enormous gun (AK-47?) and demanded I honor Shabbat and stop using a camera to record his bad behavior! I got the whole thing on tape as I scurried behind the human line of internationals! 🙂 

While I was there, we also traveled south to Susiya, a village south of Yatta, whose Bedouin-type community is being targeted by other settlers.  The EA Team travels down every Friday and spends the night in this rather primitive village to offer protection to them from different settlers who are doing everything they can to force the people off their land, again, especially on Shabbat. Saturday, a group from Ta’ayush (Israeli peacemakers) came down with a water tank truck and we supported the Palestinians who needed to enter a newly declared “military zone” to access a Palestinian well. After a rather volatile beginning with the army, police and settlers getting involved, the army declared a military emergency and all of the internationals were thrown out of the village, but the water was transferred to the village cistern. After hiding out for a couple hours in the hills, we met up again and celebrated the victory on our trip back to Hebron.

How people (sadly, most of whom are from America) who have chosen to live in the Holy Land of Israel because of their religious beliefs, can use those beliefs and their understanding of their place as the chosen ones of God to cause such hardship and hurtfulness, especially on Shabbat, is hard for me to understand.  That they get away with it, is unconscionable – not only for the Israeli military and government who do nothing to stop them, but also for the many wealthy American Zionist Jews and Christians who actively support this kind of behavior.

Today, though I am saddened, I am also glad to be here doing something to balance the American reputation, and having a chance to return good for evil on behalf of a God who loves us all – and simply wants us to do the same, especially on the day God gives us to rest and focus on our relationship with God and each another.

peace/salaam – Pastor Pat

October 6, 2008 Posted by | Israel, Occupation, Palestine, peace, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Rosh Hashanah and Eid el Fitr – together!

Ramadan has come to the ending celebration, Eid el Fitr – and it coincided with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  Everyone celebrating on the same day!  I was invited to a joint celebration event that I’m guessing was a one-of-a-kind in the Mid-East!  Included on the private invitation list for the event were Israeli Jews, Palestinian Muslims, and international Christians (me and two friends) – everybody willing to assume great personal risk, to do what was right, in the name of friendship.

First, we met by a pool of water, Ein Haniya Spring, just inside the West Bank, for the Jewish New Year ritual of Tashlikh – with prayers and a symbolic casting of our sins and negative burdens into the water, according to the message from the Prophet Micah: “And compassion is on its way to us. You’ll stamp out our wrongdoing. You’ll sink our sins to the bottom of the ocean.” (7:19, The Message)

Then, we trekked up into the village of al Wallaja to the home of a Muslim family, who were eager to open their home to this unusual group.  Here we ate sweets and sweets and sweets at a grand Christmas-like family party.  Then came dinner… platters and platters and platters of food – which, being only given a large spoon each, we ate from together!  We watched wedding videos and talked and laughed and even danced together – Jews, Muslims, Christians, Israelis, Palestinians, Internationals – in an area of the world where friendship gatherings like this are rare, to say the least!  We shared stories and became friends, or as more than one said, “more than friends, family!”

How was this gathering possible?  In late 2003, group of friends: an Israeli Jew, a Palestinian Muslim, an American Christian, and a guy with a Jewish mother and a Christian father, who had recently converted to Islam (!) shared a dream of starting a cafe that would be open to everyone from any nation in the world. Thus began All Nations Cafe! Five years later, it is no longer in East Jerusalem, but has moved out to a roadside location just past the Israeli checkpoint in an area all people can reach – at least for now!

People gather in an old house for coffee and conversation, and they build friendships.Together, they hold classes for children and adults, theater workshops, and winter and summer family camps. Israeli kids and Arab kids act and sing and dance together.  For all those who are part of All Nations Cafe, an important part of their ongoing work is taking care of Ein Haniya spring and its surroundings so they can continue to enjoy it together.

People caring for one another and the land they share – this is where hope is born.  In the hearts of these men and women, boys and girls, lies the greatest chance for peace that I have seen in this land of conflict – a willingness to accept each other with love and respect, and work together for a better tomorrow.  What a wonderful way to begin a new year, for all of us!

peace/salaam/shalom – Pastor Pat

“For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.” – Isaiah 61:11

October 1, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments