Friday, December 31, 2010

Christian Church in Tulkarm Dating From 105 AD

This will be the last update I’ll be writing in 2010  because it’s already 9:30 p.m. my time and we’ll be ringing in the New Year 8 hours early than folks back home on the Prairie. 
Our day started off at the third agricultural gate we have visited called the Deir Al Gushun gate.  We arrived to view farmers gathered around a fire to keep warm until the gate opened.

Farmers Keeping Warm at Deir Al Gushun Gate
And of course we met a very friendly donkey who was curious about us.

Today we also visited with the two Christian families in the Tulkarm area. They are:  Mouna, her mother and brother, Samir and Daoud (Arabic for David) of another family.   Daoud is a successful businessman whose wife is an obstetrician in Tulkarm.  He is an important contact for solidarity in this area as well.  He is a goldsmith and his shop is located near the Old Mosque close to the fruit market.  He gave Esther and me a tour of the Greek Orthodox Church located in the center of Tulkarm.  On a very busy street he unlocked the door to the courtyard where the church is located. 

That’s the most amazing thing about being here is everything looks similar on the outside and only when you are invited into places do you realize what’s behind locked doors.  The courtyard was pleasant with miniature lemon and orange trees ready for picking.  We picked a couple lemons and oranges right off the tree and ate them whole just like eating a large grape.  And suddenly there was a burst of flavor of either lemon or orange.  Yum!
Then he unlocked the door to the church.  He told us the actual building was built around 105 AD. 

Built in 105 AD-- Recently Restored

Over all these years it has been a place of worship for the Christians in the area.  Because of all the difficulties that have occurred since 1948 Christians started leaving the area.  Now there are basically only two Christian families in the Tulkarm area. 

In 2000 and 2001 life in Tulkarm was very unpredictable and there were bombs and fires that started.  This church was the target of one of the fires and much of it was damaged except the original structure.  The local community and the municipality pledged together with Daoud and his Muslim friend Adnan to rebuild and restore the church.  By making this commitment, this community demonstrated  respect for both the Christian faith and the Muslim faith.   Walking into this most precious space and seeing how well cared for and beautiful it now is was inspiring to me.  

There is no regular worshiping community at the present time but Daoud arranges occasional services with priests visiting from Bethlehem.  He always informs the EA teams when those services will be held and invites us to join them.

We also walked over to visit Mouna, one of the few Christians in Tulkarm, and her mother.  Esther and I wanted to wish them a Happy New Year.  She lives in a tiny house and is very poor.  But she, like most Palestinians, are extremely hospitable and she insisted on sharing goodies and coffee.

Many people also stopped by to visit as we ate apple slices, a sweet her mother had made, followed by a tiny cup of delicious Arabic coffee.  (one small cup is enough!!)

Mouna (in red) and her mother entertain us
Happy New Year everyone and may this year bring an end of the Occupation in Palestine.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Village Tour

Almost the end of 2010 and where did it go?  As I reflect on this past year I realize how many blessings have come my way.  As I experience daily life in this unique part of the world I am constantly reminded of the many freedoms I take for granted.  Today after our agricultural gate
Qaffin Agricultural Gate

watch at Qaffin,  our team went on a tour of several areas north of Tulkarm where the separation barrier between Israel and Palestine has been constructed. 

The villages that once enjoyed visits with family members and friends were abruptly cut off when the separation barrier was completed in 2004.  What that means in the daily life of Palestinians is extreme difficulty even getting to a family function. 

Roads that connected villages to each other were suddenly filled with dirt or concrete barriers plus the never ending razor wire.  Maintaining friendships and positive family communication is a challenge due to the frustration and stress of trying to get anywhere.

It was interesting to see olive groves and walk around in the fields.  They told us that olive trees thrive in rocky soil.

Here I am in an olive grove in Nazlat
 The land is very fertile if it can get water.  Here are some greenhouses made with plastic.  They are put up seasonally and can grow two crops a year if they have water. 

Greenhouse gardening near Qaffin

But water is scarce, especially for Palestinians.  (that will be another story after I learn more particulars)

Several sobering stories shared with us today were about what happened after the separation barrier was in place.   A family home that had existed before the barrier was built was now too close to the barrier.  Demolition orders were issued and the demolition of the house took place on the very day of the wedding of a family member living in the house.  They came back from the wedding to find their home gone.
When a demolition occurs everything is completely destroyed and only rubble remains.  In looking at the demolished houses it looked the same way that an act of nature would destroy everything in the path such as a tornado or hurricane.  But those are acts of nature and not purposeful destruction of property and livelihood.  I wonder how someone feels when they watch their house being destroyed.  As I walk and talk to folks in Tulkarm and surrounding areas, I sense an overwhelming sense of grief and loss.   It seems to me that the struggle to keep going must sometimes feel insurmountable.
We visited another small village called Nazlat’Isa that had been the center of commerce a few years ago.  The Israeli forces came into the town unexpectedly one day and completely destroyed 170 businesses.  Since that time it has been like a ghost town with very little activity.  The construction of the separation barrier not only destroyed many houses and shops but has basically destroyed the economy of the village.
Nazlat’Isa--mostly deserted

In another village there was a large house where the separation barrier was built up to it with a space for the house and then again on the other side.  Because it wasn’t secure, the family had to move out for 6 years while the Israeli forces occupied the upper level of the house.  Now the owner is back in the house but unable to occupy the section that is against the separation barrier.
Halfway through our tour our guide for the day, Abdul, who received a graduate degree in New Orleans and speaks English very well, showed us a plot of land he has purchased.  He comes out often, has cleared some land for planting, and has constructed a place to camp, treated us with coffee and tea.  His wife comes out weekly and bakes bread for the family in his home-made stove.  These people have such an attachment to the land.  And to see it slowly being taken from them is heartbreaking.
And this is the bathroom he has constructed.  Note the running water............ha.

Well, that is enough for today.  I will write soon about my experience of being in Bethlehem apart from our Christmas Eve service.  We are nearing 2011.  I will be staying here for New Years.  Johanna and Vidar plan to go for the holiday and one of the EAs from the village of Yanoun will come and stay with Esther and me.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Taybe Checkpoint in Tulkarm

One of the expectations in our placement in Tulkarm is for us to be present at the checkpoints.  Perhaps I should explain what I mean by a checkpoint.  Rather than me explain, here is an explanation written by a Palestinian:
     A Checkpoint is a barrier built by the Israeli Defense Forces or Border Police to limit the movement of Palestinians who lack necessary permits. Normally, Israeli citizens, settlers and foreigners move through the checkpoints without being stopped. Palestinians with permits frequently experience extreme delays and humiliation at these barriers.
Here is a description of how it works, again written by a Palestinian woman:
     "What is a checkpoint? Let me give you a brief description. Usually it's some cement blocks in the road that you have to stop at. Soldiers with big guns motion for you to come forward when they want; sometimes they'll keep cars for hours while they stand around and joke with each other. Usually there's maybe one soldier checking a long line of idling cars and one checking a long line of tired pedestrians, and about five sitting in the shade, doing no apparent 'work.'  Some times they let you through with a cursory ID check, sometimes they make you unload all of your gear, they check under the vehicle, they question you about irrelevant facts, and they turn you back. At checkpoints near Jewish settlements, there is a separate way, without a stop, for settlers, who are distinguished by yellow Israeli license plates as opposed to green Palestinian ones. Allegedly set up for Israeli 'security,' their effect, as I'm sure I've said before, is to slowly strangle Palestinian life and freedom."  
I must explain that the checkpoint at Taybe is only set up for Palestinians, since Tulkarm is totally a Palestinian town with no tourism.  The checkpoint allows Palestinians to pass through the Separation Barrier in order to access Israel or land in the "seam" (between the barrier and Israel).  The checkpoint is mainly used to access jobs on the other side of the barrier.
Tulkarm Checkpoint
The alarm was set for 3:00 a.m. so that Vidar and I could get to the Taybe Checkpoint before 4 a.m.  The taxi driver was sleeping in his office but he is used to our early morning requests and he readily loaded us in his taxi for the ride to the checkpoint.  There is a variety of food available from vendors before the place where people start standing in line.

It was totally packed even before we arrived and continued that way until 7 a.m.  This particular Checkpoint is open throughout the day but Palestinians who work in Israeli wait in line very early in the morning so they can get to their jobs on time.  This checkpoint is managed by a private company so no one is visible as people go through the various gates.  There was a sound like a siren going all the time. People crammed in by the hundreds waiting for a green light to let as many people as possible through the first gate. Then the gate slams shut as the light goes from green back to red.
A man named Omar

Waiting For Hours to Get to Work
Men often wait up to three hours to get through.  If they are late for work, they can lose their jobs.  In a conversation with the local governor, we were told that in the last five years 4,000 have lost their jobs due mainly for being late.  The resulting unemployment has greatly impacted Tulkarm.   Able bodied men sit around during the day, resigned to their loss.  But I digress.

There is a shift in the waiting group as everyone moves forward a bit.  The first group who made it through that far must then show identification, have their fingerprints verified and show everything they are bringing with them for the day.  That sometimes means dumping their belongings on the ground if that’s what they are ordered to do.

We stood by the gate to count the number of people going through and assist if there were problems getting through.  We have back-up phone numbers we can call such as the Humanitarian Hotline or Machcom Watch.  Machcom is a group of Israeli women who are dedicated to showing up at checkpoints and advocating on behalf of the Palestinians. 

We watched a couple thousand go through this process today.  Even though it is a bit of a chore for us to get up early to be there, the inconvenience is not nearly so great for us as it is for each of these Palestinians who face dehumanizing treatment every day just to get to work.  They are crowded like cattle going into a sales ring.  There is little human interaction with the Israelis except for anonymous voices on a loudspeaker requesting to see ids or the contents of bags or pockets.  Anyone going through the checkpoint must return the same day or they will lose their "permits." 
Here are some more pictures of the Taybe Checkpoint:

We saw women standing off to the side.   They had to go through the same gate as the men even though it is culturally unacceptable for a woman to be in close proximity to a man.As it was getting lighter I noticed a woman and her two daughters patiently waiting.  I went over to talk to them and also asked if it was o.k. to take their picture.  The woman said they would be visiting her husband today. 

She went on to say that her husband has been in prison for 6 years.  Her daughters age 6 & 7 have not been able to get to know their father.  There are many men in Palestine who have been imprisoned for years, some having been there for throwing rocks as teens.  The International Red Cross is committed to helping families visit their loved ones who are in prison.

The people of Tulkarm have all treated us with dignity and respect.  We seldom can pass a shop or a group without having them greet us warmly or smile.  I marvel at how they can maintain such dignity in the face of daily humiliation, degradation and dehumanization. 


p.s.  I promised you that I would tell you about the Separation Barrier in Bethlehem.  Here is one picture that speaks a thousand words....again more later.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Eve in Bethlehem

December 26
On Christmas Eve day our team set out by taxi and bus to go to Bethlehem where we spent Christmas Eve.  After checking in to the Bethlehem Inn,

we set out to find  The Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem so we could attend the Christmas Eve service.  Since we didn’t know exactly where the church was located, we started out early walking along the streets of Bethlehem. 

 It was fortunate we were there early because we were able to listen to a pipe organ concert prior to the service.

Early Birds Get a Seat
The service was a multilingual Christmas Eve service.  Bethlehem has been honored as a special place since the days of the early Christian church.  And Christmas has been celebrated here since the days of Pentecost.  The Christian Church in Palestine is comprised of Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant families.  A choir and instrumentalists (trombone, violin and clarinet) were up in front accompanying the singing. 

We felt fortunate to have found it early as we were able to get very good seats.  The trombone player is a Lutheran pastor working with Lutheran World Federation in Jerusalem, Mark Brown.  Mark is a friend of Rolf Svanoe who is a colleague with my husband Obed at Peace Lutheran in Sioux Falls.

Third Row is Perfect !
Palestinian Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan, who succeeded Bishop Mark Hanson (ELCA) as the president of the Lutheran World Federation,  preached the sermon. 
Bishop Younan Preaches

We sang  “Lo, How a Rose”  in Arabic, German and English.  Prayers of intercession were given in Burmese, Swedish, German, Danish, German, French, Finnish, Papue New Guinea, Arabic and English.

Christmas Lutheran Church stands as part of the ongoing witness and proclamation of theChristian faith.  It is the oldest Lutheran Church in Palestine, started in 1854 by German missionaries.  Today, it is one of the 6 Lutheran Churches of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land.
The pipe organ in the church was manufactured in Berlin, Germany in 1890.  It was rebuilt for the 2000 Millennium celebration through a fundraising campaign led by their partner church, the Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
The church has beautiful architecture with stain glass windows throughout as well as a beautiful dome.

We processed out to the courtyard after lighting our candles while singing “Silent Night”  in whatever language we knew it best.  It was truly an extraordinary experience to celebrate with Christians around the world this holy night.  I am still pinching myself to make sure I was not dreaming.

After a meal with the EAPPI team we met some local Christians   I decided  that I did not want to go to Manger Square where thousands gather and celebrate.  It was pretty much a loud extravaganza for tourists.  Here is a picture taken from our hotel window on Christmas morning.
I will share some thoughts and pictures I took in Bethlehem that have to do with the Separation Barrier and its effect on the Christian community of Bethlehem.  But it will have to wait.
I am attaching a url that gives you access to a Christmas sermon released by Bishop Younan.  It has a wonderful message which is based on the announcement to the shepherds of "FEAR NOT".  It is a message of hope from a place in our world which is ridden with fear.

I understand that in 2008 there was a simulcast of the Christmas Eve service in the National Cathedral Washington, DC and Christmas Lutheran in Bethlehem. If you would like to experience the Bethlehem sanctuary you can click on the url below.

Blessings to you all.     Susanne

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Refugee Camp in Tulkarm

December 23

Vidar and I walked over to the Tulkarm Refugee Camp in the late afternoon.  The camp was established in 1950 by the United Nations on land leased from Jordan.  It is located within the town of Tulkarm and houses over 18,000 refugees, some of whom have resided here their entire lives.  You can read more about it by checking this url: 

The director of support services met us at the local hospital and he walked with us to the resource center of the camp.  Even though there are no signs to indicate the actual borders of the camp, it is quite apparent when walking through it.  It is a very densely populated area with buildings and streets in need of repair.  There are some small shops with a few pieces of merchandise on display. 

The men’s conversation group meets at the resource center.  There were about 7 men and a 15 year old boy present.  Also present was a woman named Suhair who is the director of the women’s resource center.  We met in the room that has several commercial sewing machines.  We started the group by introducing ourselves, telling a little bit about our families and saying one thing each of us was interested in.  Everyone in the group knew some English. 

One man who works at the camp has shared with me on another occasion about his past life.  He is from a Palestinian family of 6 boys and 3 girls.  His sisters are deceased and he didn’t go into any discussion about the circumstances of their death.  He shared with me in a private conversation that there was a period of 6 years when he was detained in prison due to an action on his part as a young adult.  Many Palestinian men have been arrested at some point in their lives either for throwing rocks or showing aggression towards soldiers. 

This man said he was beaten many times while in prison and now suffers back and shoulder pain because of it.  After his release from prison he somehow managed to turn his life around and he went on to college and has learned English as well.  He is very proud of his accomplishments and says he is setting an example for his own children who are 5, 7 and 8 years old. 

We plan on holding conversations weekly at the Tulkarm Refugee Camp.

1000 year old olive tree

Well, I will write more upon my return from Bethlehem.  We are very, very excited to travel to Bethlehem.  And unlike Mary and Joseph, we do have reservations in the Bethlehem Inn.  ;)


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Der-al-Ghusun Agriculture Gate

Vidar and I got up at 4:30 a.m. to get ready to go to the Der-al-Ghusun Agriculture gate.  It is a taxi ride and then a 10 to 15 min walk to the gate.   It was a calm morning with no wind so we didn’t have to dress too warmly.  The taxi ride went by very fast and the walk out to the area where the gate is was also very pleasant.  There was a full moon and a clear sky so it almost seemed light outside even though it was still dark.
The soldiers monitoring the gates arrived soon after we go there.  The way the system works is that young soldiers serve 3 weeks over a period of 1 to 3 years in a certain area and then they are switched around to another duty.  The soldier in command is usually older and they work in the same area for a longer time.

About 60 farmers came during the hour it was open.  Transportation  modes included donkeys, tractors, taxi, by foot -- even one backhoe today. 
All of them are very used to the process they need to go through as it has been a part of their lives for a very long time.  They have to be sure they have the correct paperwork to receive permission to go through the second gate.  So it involves tying up their donkey or leaving a motorized vehicle to go through the first gate and advance to the building where paperwork is reviewed and permission granted or denied.  They are only allowed to go one at a time into the building and the next person has to wait until the first person either goes into the fields or goes back home if denied.  As it was getting light and now will be lighter for a few minutes longer each day, it did not seem too complicated for us to be there.  Only one problem arose after the gates were closed and we had started walking back.  A taxi arrived with 4 people…..3 women and 1 man.  They hurried over to the gate and we walked back to the gate as well.  The soldiers reopened the gates to allow them to enter today.  It made us feel good to know it was a happy ending for the start of their day.  However in thinking about how dependent they are on the good graces of the soldiers it raises questions in my own mind with how much is this all about control over other people.  The question for me is why do farmers need any kind of permission to access and care for their own land?
Part of today was spent shopping for necessary household supplies, cooking dinner for our team, eating with the team and then planning how we will divide household responsibilities.  As you can see our food is fresh.  I did the cooking tonight.
"Eat Fresh.............."

We sat outside on our patio to eat our evening meal as it was still nice and warm outside.  All of our team comes from Northern climates where it is out of the question to think about sitting outside in the winter.  Airports in Sweden and Norway are closed due to a big storm in Europe and Obed reports that it will snow as he heads for Minnesota.   This truly is a unique way for me to celebrate Christmas. 
In case you are wondering about our Christmas plans, I received this correspondence from our coordinator in Jerusalem.
"Dear EAs,  I hope you are doing well!  Concerning those of you who are going to spend your Christmas in Bethlehem,  your rooms are booked in the Bethlehem Inn.  You can check in after 12 noon.  The church we recommend you to go to is the Lutheran Christmas Church.  The service starts at 5 p.m. , but if you want a seat you want to be there latest at 4:00 p.m.!!  I'll be there also.  Later in the evening, you can go to the Nativity Square where all the nice concerts and events take place.    J."

Wow, isn't that great?!!  The Bethlehem Inn and Lutheran Christmas Church.  I will be sure to take pictures for all of you.  Christmas blessing to you all.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Attil Agricultural Gate

December 20, 2010
After yesterday’s arrival in our placement at Tulkarm, our team met to discuss how we would live together and divide responsibilities.  There are mandatory engagements and meetings but we have some leeway in how we manage the rest of our time.  The Handover Report from the previous team has been very helpful by including names and ongoing commitments.
Vidar and I agreed to go to the Agriculture gate at Attil this morning.   We  walked to the taxi service to arrange for the early morning transport.  There are a group of men who gather in the tiny office for conversation and one of them wrote it on the board.  When my very loud alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. I hopped out of bed to join Vidar in the living room to prepare for our early morning trek.  Our apartment has a heavy metal gate in the entrance to the yard.  We each have a key to open the gate.  It has been problematic closing the gate so last night we used what we had on hand……olive oil ….to try to get it to close better.  Vidar is able to close the gate in an expert way but I would imagine all of us will eventually become experts as well. 

The taxi driver was waiting for us -- it was completely dark, but we were accompanied by a full moon and brightly shining stars.  This sure beat our earlier trek to the gate in pouring rain.  This particular gate is open for 1 hour this morning, 1 hour at lunchtime and 1 hour in the evening.   The gate is the only access allowed for farmers to tend to their olive groves in the area between the Separation Barrier and the Israeli border, often referred to as “The Seam.” 

The gate was opened at 5:45 a.m. and there were 11 men waiting to go through.  It isn’t just a matter of passing through a gate but rather going through the first gate…..only one at a time is allowed in….going inside a building to show identification and permits….and then either going through or coming back to drive their tractor or ride their donkey through the gate.  The gate was closed promptly at 6:30 a.m. after allowing 66 men and 1 woman to pass through.  We started walking back down the road so we could access public transportation to take us back to Tulkarm.  We had walked quite a ways when another tractor approached with three more men.  We decided to go back to the gate to see if our presence at the gate might persuade the soldiers to reopen it for the farmers who were a couple minutes late.  The soldiers did open the gate again although we do not attribute it to our being there or having persuasive powers to affect their attitude or behavior.
After resting a while it was time for a shower and had breakfast of avocado and humus on bread.  It was very nice outside so we enjoyed eating on our deck. 

Then we went to visit Samir who is a Christian businessman in downtown Tulkarm who has family in this area.  He has a coffee shop close to our apartment.  He was very gracious in serving us coffee and tea as we sat in his shop getting acquainted with each other.  He speaks English quite well but it was very hard to hear him with the T.V. blaring.   (I will need to get used the loud volume of music or noise in vehicles or shops.  The Muslim call to prayers are also amplified over loudspeakers.)
Samir is a single man in a family of 5 brothers and 3 sisters.  His mother lives with his sister and family.  He has one sister who lives in Gaza and he hopes to see her during the Christmas holiday if she gets a permit to travel.  She wants to visit her mother and a daughter living in Nablus.  Samir has had his business in different areas for 20 years.  He talked about how close this area is to the Mediterranean Sea.   Years ago before the Israeli forces occupied Palestine they used to swim and fish there.  Now they are not permitted to go near the water because of the separation barrier.  He expressed great longing for the occupation to end so he could return to the Sea.

After dinner of lentil soup and boiled potatoes we received our next visitor.  His name is Hassan (fictitious name) and he is a freelance journalist working with the ISM (International Solidarity Movement.)  This is the fourth time I have met him.  He had just been to the Jordan Valley to meet with some people over there.  He was just given permission to be there for 4 hours… longer.  Abdel brought a memory stick with him so he could share some pictures dating back to 2003.  The pictures were vivid examples of the stark reality of what has happened in just a few years.  They included demolitions, cruel treatment at the checkpoints, the before and after pictures of how checkpoints really affected movement of people to ordinary activities of life and the building of the separation barrier.  He has known many groups of EA’s and is willing to work with whoever is assigned to this area.
Well, this is the first full day for our team in Tulkarem.   By tomorrow our team will submit to the Jerusalem office our planned schedule of activities for the next three months.   We are expected to work five days a week and on our “off” time we have been urged to visit other EA sites and get a feel for all of the areas of Palestine.   
Here is a picture of a couple of school boys I took today.   Tomorrow is the beginning of winter, so the days will get longer.  Before we leave we should be able to have light for our early morning trips to the Agricultural Gate.  Have a wonderful celebration of Christmas.


Friday, December 17, 2010

Why Palestine & What Will You Do?

I  first learned about the EAPPI program last Spring while reading a newsletter from the Texas Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  At that time I had very little knowledge of what is called the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  But there was something about this challenge that seemed right for me to undertake.   These two questions have been asked of me by many of my friends.  So here is an initial answer.
Most of my professional life has involved working with people who have been suffering.  My work with the mentally ill, those homebound with illness, and those who have been disadvantaged made me open to considering this challenge of being “accompanier” in Palestine.  After applying to EAPPI, I began to study in earnest the background of this “conflict.”  And the more I read the more I realized that the peaceful resolution of this conflict is one of the most important global issues of our time.  This conflict has become a cancer that has worldwide consequences. 
So with my children grown and my career in a “semi-retirement” status my response to the invitation to become an accompanier was, “Why not?”  Of course it meant trusting that God would provide what I needed to fulfill my responsibilities, including safety and health.
What will I do here?  There are four major responsibilities that all of us have accepted as members of this program:
1.        By our presence and observations, we aim to provide protection to people at risk and facilitate freedom of movement and action.
2.       We monitor and report violations of human rights to the proper authorities.
3.       We show solidarity with the civilian populations, the churches and those who engage in non-violent efforts to end the occupation.
4.       By using media and communication tools, we enhance awareness and encourage creative action to peacefully resolve the conflict.
This is our team which will be in Tulkarm:  Susanne (me), Vidar (Norway), Esther (Switzerland), and Johana (Sweden)
We have learned a lot during our first week of training which has involved lectures, guided observations and hand-on activities.  For instance, on Thursday we attended the one year anniversary of the Palestine Kairos document in Bethlehem.  (street scene below)

The document was published one year ago by a group of Palestinian Christians which spells out the historical and theological rationale for the peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.   I encourage you to read it.
Yesterday we toured Jerusalem and saw areas never seen by tourists. I am standing next to The Separation Barrier in Jerusalem, a thirty-five foot concrete structure erected by the Israelis for security purposes which divides the city. 

On Sunday we journey back to Tulkarm to begin our work.  I am very impressed with the quality and commitment of my fellow twenty-three accompaniers. 
I appreciate very much your support and your prayers.  As we near Christmas, may Peace on Earth become more and more a reality for all of us.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Initial Reflections: Restricted Movements

December 14, 2010 

This is my first blog since arriving in Israel to serve with others from the World Council of Churches as “accompaniers” in Palestine.  One week ago three of us from the United States flew from NY to Tel Aviv.  Later I met the three other persons on my team, a Norwegian, a Swede and a woman from Switzerland.  After an initial orientation in Jerusalem we traveled to Tulkarm, in the northwest portion of the West Bank.  Tulkarm is a city of over 70,000 which includes two large refugee camps.  We met the present team which has been there nearly three months and whom we will replace.

Tulkarm is about 9 miles from the Mediterranean Sea, but our view is obstructed by a 20 foot Separation Barrier built on the edge of Tulkarm .  Our team was oriented by the present team and I have already had early morning checkpoint duty.  I quickly learned that I needed to get some rain pants  as it is the rainy season.  But I am grateful that I brought some insulated mud boots.
On Sunday we traveled to Nablus (Biblical name:  Shechem) to worship at an Episcopalian church.  It was good to worship even if we didn’t understand the Arabic.  It was a bumpy 20 mile ride and we almost got stuck in the mud on our return, but it was a good trip.
Yesterday , after a meeting at one of the universities  in Tulkarm, our team left for a scheduled training in Jerusalem.  .  The first part of our journey went smoothly as we rode by a  “Service “, which is 7 passenger taxi which is commonly used..  Then we transferred to a larger bus to get to our training meeting at the EAPPI headquarters.  When we reached a checkpoint in Ramallah there was more compacted traffic.  Our bus driver was trying to line his bus up to get through a checkpoint.  He was in a far lane and he moved the bus to the next lane as it looked like it had fewer vehicles waiting in line.  A young (maybe 19-20 years old) fully armed Israeli soldier approached the bus and immediately there was a reprimand and heated discussion between the soldier and the bus driver.  Meanwhile vehicles of all kinds were moving smoothly past the checkpoint on the right of us.  We sat and we sat with no resolution to the problem at hand.  We learned another Arabic word…..muskula….which basically means “problem” and several people on the bus were saying it.  More soldiers came up to bus, more rude treatment of the bus driver and no resolution to the problem. 
Finally the soldier demanded that the bus driver turn the bus around in the middle of all the traffic and park it.  This required experienced driving abilities on the part of the driver as we were just inches away from other vehicles.  Then we were all ordered out of the bus to the security line.  There were about 50 or more of us standing in the line by that time and the four of us were somewhere in the middle. 
It was windy and cold and there were babies, young and older women, young boys and older men.  Only 3 people at a time managed to get through the first gate.  After that there was a security screen similar to the ones people go through in airports.  We were then required to appear before a heavy glass window to show our identification.  After the four on our team were reassembled we found another #18 bus to make it to our destination—hours after our scheduled meeting.  The 2nd bus driver did not charge us any fee because he was aware of what had happened on the first bus. 
None of this needed to happen in the first place but it is an explicit example of what Palestinians go through on a daily basis.  They are a very patient people.