Saturday, December 24, 2011

Remembering Bethlehem

Due to the 8 hour time difference between where I live in South Dakota and Palestine, this time of day in South Dakota is already Christmas Day in Palestine.  The memories of last year are still vivid in my mind.  When asked by Paulene (director of EAPPI)  “Who would like to go to Bethlehem for Christmas?”  I immediately raised my hand and was enthusiastically joined by all of my EA teammates placed in Tulkarm.   The familiar Christian story of Christmas came flooding back as we rode the bus to Bethlehem.  Can it really be true that I would be able to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in Bethlehem?

While singing “Silent Night” in each of our own languages at Christmas Lutheran Church I had a sense of unification and hope for the future.  When Bishop Munib Younan gave the sermon I was filled with admiration for the man who preached so lovingly about a future without barriers.

Now a year later the pathway to the end of the Occupation of Palestine is still fraught with countless obstacles.  Julie Rowe states it well in verses she wrote to the carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
From the little town of Bethlehem we sing to you tonight;
Our streets are clear, there's no one here, who sees our daily plight;
Once here was born a savior, but now we're all enslaved;
By razor wire and walls and towers, now when will we be saved?

The little town of Bethlehem gets smaller every day;
They take our land, it's all been planned; to make us fade away;
The settlements keep growing, they're bigger every day.
We've not much left from all the theft, so soon they'll have their way.

The little town of Bethlehem is trapped by walls of stone
By razor wire and giant towers we're left here all alone;
Tonight the world sings carols of peace on earth to all
Think of all behind the wall that dwarfs the manger stall.

O Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray,
Break down our walls and hear our calls, bring just peace here to stay;
Let angels sing together,  their great glad tidings tell:
Live in your land, there's peace at hand, from God Immanuel
Rev.  Julie Rowe        ©Julie Rowe

Today I have been listening to the radio most of the day.  It has been a day full of beautiful music some of which has been broadcast from England and other places. 

Last Saturday morning there was a simulcast from the Washington Cathedral in Washington, DC and Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem.  If you would like to watch a video of this service held on December 17, 2011 please click on this url.

All of these wonderful experiences of music has brought me back to last Christmas Eve in Bethlehem.  I remember seeing that awful wall both before and after we worshipped at Christmas  Lutheran. 

Artwork on the barrier wall depicting the destruction
of olive trees and the surrounding of Bethlehem

Here is another website which contains a powerful cartoon depicting the effect of the wall as well as the promise of hope celebrated at Christmas by Palestinians.
We just returned from a candlelight Christmas Eve service here in Sioux Falls.  In spite of the pessimism that I often feel about the situation of my Palestinian friends, I left the service renewed in the hope that the occupation can be brought to an end.  We need to keep shining the light on what is happening to our brothers and sisters in Palestine.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Israel imposes censored Palestinian textbooks in East Jerusalem

It has been a year since I was in Palestine as an Ecumenical Accompanier through the World Council of Churches   I have been keeping up with current news and am forturnate to be in contact with other members of our EA team.   One of the expectations of the EAPPI program was to build relationship with people in the community where we were assigned.   

I have fond memories of discussion groups while relating to teenagers in Tulkarm and the surrounding area. 

Conversation Group Kuhr al Labad Resource Center
Our team met regularly with teen-agers from the Tulkarm Refugee Camp, Khadori University and the Kufr al Labad Resource Center  How the time quickly flew by as we shared ideas and experiences.  They were open and articulate about their life under occupation and how it greatly restricts their opportunities.  This article was forwarded to me by one of my EA colleagues and I wanted share it with the readers of my blog.   The article was written by a senior in high school by the name of Jalal Abukhater.

 Israeli authorities are attempting to impose new censored textbooks in Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem. Jalal Abukhater provides a sample of the changes and argues that censorship of Palestinian heritage and history is illegal, ineffective and dangerous. Students and parents are mounting protests.

Censored E. Jerusalem textbook
By Jalal Abukhater

While the mainstream media has been dominated by big stories, others are not getting enough attention. For example, Israel
s Jerusalem Education Administration (JEA) recently decided to
enforce the use of new, censored textbooks <> in all private schools in East Jerusalem. The JEA is a joint body of the Jerusalem municipality and the Israeli Ministry of Education. At present, public Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem administrated by the JEA are already forced to use Israel-issued censored textbooks, and the JEA is trying to force private schools to use them too, despite the fact that it has no authority over them.The decision was an initiative of Knesset Member Alex Miller from Yisrael Beiteinu, who is also head of the Knessets education committee. Miller stated <> (Hebrew) that in East Jerusalem the whole curriculum should and must be Israeli.

At the start of the 2011-2012 academic year, students and parents protested against the decision to impose the new censored curricula upon their schools. Students and parents have threatened to escalate their protests if the JEA keeps up its pressure and have said they will not attend the schools if theschool administrations comply with the JEA decision. This action by the Israeli Education Ministry is completely illegal under international law, which considers East Jerusalem to be occupied territory; as such the move is yet another direct violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention <> and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights <> , specifically Article 13 of the ICESCR. The move aims to deform Palestinian identity; the changes in the textbooks are dangerous and cannot be ignored.
I have obtained a copy of a report that highlights the modifications made by the JEA to the Palestinian textbooks that have been used since the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993. The report lists most of the changes made to textbooks used from first to tenth grade.

1. The logo of the Palestinian Authority that has been printed on all book covers has been removed and replaced with the logo of Jerusalem Municipality.
2. In the censored textbooks, every mention and picture of a Palestinian flag has been removed, even in the coloring books for six-year olds.
3. Also in the first grade textbooks, a story about a female prisoner returning home, and a poem about the
dawn of freedom were deleted from the censored versions.
4. All mention of the terms Nakba (meaning
catastrophe, referring to Palestinian dispersion/exodus in 1948) and Palestinian right of return have been removed, including poems by exiled Palestinian poets expressing their longing for their beautiful homeland. Poems and songs about the beauty of Palestinian landscapes or poems that mention Israeli checkpoints have also been deleted.
5. Earlier history
from hundreds of years ago is being equally censored. In the fourth-grade textbook, a story about Saladin and the Battle of Hattin was deleted from existence for no apparent reason. Similarly a storyabout the Siege of Acre during the Napoleonic invasion has been deleted.
6. In fact, all mentions of the city of Acrehave been removed including a poem which calls Acre
the bride of the sea and a story about students visiting the city for the first time. Additionally, all mentions of Jerusalem as Al Quds have been removed; a story in the second-grade textbook about a field trip to the OldCity of Jerusalem has also been removed.
7. Any mention of Israel as an occupying force or East Jerusalem as anoccupied city have been removed. This aims to assert Israeli control over occupied Palestinian lands behind the 1967 armistice lines. Furthermore, Palestinians inside Israel are not referred to as Palestinians anymore, anywhere.
8. Stories, songs, and poems about of the first and second Palestinian uprisings have all been deleted. Here is a sample the report cites from a deleted song that the JEA accuses of inciting to violence, translated:
Jerusalem is waiting for the dark occupation to wither away and for the bright day of freedom to arrive. This is the only part of the song cited in the report.
9. In the geography textbooks of eight-grade students, the issue of pollution in the Palestinian environment addresses the waste sewage water dumped by settlements in the West Bank onto Palestinian villages; this whole lesson has been deleted. Also in all geography textbooks, facts about the Palestinian water crisis
such as in the Jordan Valley where roughly 8,000 settlers receive 20 times more water than almost 2.5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank are entirely deleted, in the newly censored textbooks.
10. In ninth and tenth grade history textbooks, almost the whole book has been deleted. Whole units that address the Palestinian issue from the time of the Balfour declaration (1917) until the Nakba (1948) have been deleted, leaving blank white pages for students to stare at.
Pages of Censored E. Jerusalem textbooks (Photo: Jalal Abukhater)

David Ben-Gurion
once said<> in a conversation with Nahum Goldman: That is natural: we havetaken their country [] Why should they accept that? They may perhapsforget in one or two generations time, but for the moment there is no chance.

We have not forgotten, and we will never be forced to forget.

This issue is dangerous beyond description, and such illegal acts must not be allowed to pass unnoticed. People must act quickly and support the schools that have refused to deal with such misleading textbooks. The JEA has now
threatened to cut funding<,-Book-by-Book.html> to those schools, which are in need of support.
Everyone has the right to preserve his or her identity, heritage and history. All people have the right to receive proper education at schools they attend; no one deserves to receive censored, politicized propaganda that aims to control the minds of young people in any way. We will not be forced to forget nor will we be forced into ignorance about our own identity.

Jalal Abukhater is a resident of East Jerusalem, and a high school senior attending school in Ramallah.

I'd also invite you to view a daily advent message from the Church of Sweden (ELCJHL) produced in 2010 and very applicable for 2011 as well.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Travel, Protests and Tilda Swinton

While I was an ecumenical accompanier almost a year ago, I spent fifty days in Tulkarm and spent forty days at other places in Palestine and Israel.  I was encouraged to be “on the road” as much as possible and it was a wonderful way to sit back and enjoy the countryside. Transportation available to me were buses, service vehicles (mini-buses)  and taxis.  
Bus in Ramallah
A Service Van (Minibus) in the West Bank
 While in the West Bank I was only permitted to be on Palestinian roads while being transported by vehicles with Palestinian license plates.  Those roads, illegally built by the Israelis to connect the settlements to Israel, were off limits to use by vehicles without an Israeli license plate.  
I am sitting on barriers  erected by the IDF to prevent
access to the Village of Shufa because the road
was "confiscated" so that Palestinians would not have
contact with the settlers on their way to a settlement below Shufa
Without much command of Arabic I was able to travel anywhere I planned for my next destination.  As an EA I always wore my vest and always had an interesting time on the journeys.  It was absolutely amazing to experience the ease at which drivers of these vehicles were able to get me on the right bus or 7 passenger mini-bus.  It was also amazing how each driver could make change while maneuvering through narrow roads and exasperating disruptions of service directly related to checkpoints and sudden random road checks by the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces). 

We often were delayed by IDF soldiers who detained and searched
I rode the bus in the larger cities as well and remember a bus trip in East Jerusalem when a bus driver carefully backed up through a very crowded neighborhood and only one lane passageway.  It warmed my heart to know that he went out of his way to deliver a Palestinian woman to the front of her house when she had failed to get off the bus in time.  I never really gave it much thought as to where I sat in the buses or service vehicles.  However I did observe the cultural expectations for women sitting next to each other rather than by a man who was a stranger.  Those arrangements were worked out accordingly to everyone’s comfort and satisfaction.

As to Jerusalem, it really confuses me to think that in a city that is the birthplace of Muslim, Jewish and Christian religions there needs to be any differentiation as to who rides what buses.  The new light rail system which connects East Jerusalem settlements to the Holy Sites appears be solely for the convenience of the illegally built settlements. 
At the present time there are protests happening in and around Jerusalem which remind me of the civil rights movement which occurred in the United States during my high school and college days.  Most Americans recognize the name of Rosa Parks, the courageous woman in Alabama who refused to move to the back of the bus where African American people were required to sit.
I am including a letter I recently was made aware of from Antonia House of the Jewish Voice for Peace.

“Six breathtakingly courageous Palestinian human rights activists just tried to take the bus from Ramallah to East Jerusalem. It's a trip I've made countless times without a hitch. But I'm a Jewish American. I can move about freely. And Fadi Quran, Nadeem Al-Sharbate, Badee Dwak, Huwaida Arraf, Basel Al-Araj and Mazin Qumsiyeh are Palestinian. They cannot move freely in their own country. Instead of being allowed entry to East Jerusalem, the Freedom Riders were violently arrested and held for hours in the Atarot Prison. I'm thrilled to report that just moments ago I got word they were released.
These six Freedom Riders chose to board a bus that serves Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank on it's way to Occupied East Jerusalem, wearing "kuffiyehs" (Palestinian scarfs) and t-shirts reading 'Justice', 'Freedom', and 'We Shall Overcome'. Inspired by the Freedom Rides of the American Civil Rights Movement, they took this bold action to expose the racism and policies of segregation that pervade every aspect of life in occupied Palestine. They also wanted to bring attention to the role of Israeli and international companies, such as Egged and Veolia, who operate these segregated bus lines, in perpetuating and profiting from the occupation.

In recent years the brutal reality of the occupation of Palestine has become increasingly exposed, and this morning the media room was packed with supporters- Palestinians, Jewish Israelis and people from all over the world. There was an air of excitement, but also apprehension, knowing the risk these six activists were taking. Those of us who remained in the media room were in constant contact with the Freedom Riders.

The first bus drivers, seeing that Palestinians were waiting at the bus stop, passed without pause. Once a bus finally stopped and they boarded, the driver did not know what to do with Palestinians on board. He consulted with the Israeli soldiers, who had arrived on the scene after being alerted that Palestinians were standing at a Jewish bus stop. They instructed him to continue to the Hizmeh checkpoint, where the settlers were taken off the bus and soldiers got on. The Freedom Riders refused to get off, asserting their right to go to Jerusalem. One by one these non-violent protesters were roughly dragged off the bus and arrested, along with Fajr Harb, a supporter who had not been on the bus.
All the Freedom Riders did to warrant arrest was to take a bus from one place in the Occupied Territory to another, using public transportation. While Israelis are allowed to come and go as they wish in the Occupied Territory, even to settle in it in contradiction to international law,  Palestinians' movement in their own land is severely restricted, even criminalized. This kind of racism and segregation is as abhorrent today as it was 50 years ago in the Jim Crow South. As I watched the Freedom Riders dragged from the bus today, I felt like I could have been watching the police uncoil fire hoses in Birmingham or whip out their clubs in Soweto.

Fadi Quran, one of the arrested freedom riders, is a 23 year old Palestinian from Ramallah. He was born in Jerusalem and is currently a graduate student at Birzeit University finishing his master degree in Democracy and Human Rights. Right before being dragged from the bus by Israeli soldiers, he said: ""We are not going to give up. We are struggling for justice, freedom, and dignity and we shall overcome. Stand with us in solidarity. Please divest from the Egged and Veolia bus companies and all Israeli institutions. We will achieve freedom, justice, and dignity for this generation of Palestinians." I have no doubt Fadi and his fellow Freedom Riders will keep boarding those buses until the day comes when all may do so freely.

Please support the brave activists who risked so much asserting their rights to equality and dignity, and join us in telling the United States Department of State to ensure their safe passage to Jerusalem on the next Freedom Ride.”

I would guess that this very newsworthy event will not be even mentioned in the newspapers or on television in the United States.  We are so shielded from what is actually occuring in Israel or Palestine.  Protests are very common on the West Bank.  For instance, we observed weekly non-violent vigils in Tulkarm.  But rarely do the intended recipients respond.  But it is a way for those who are under occupation to continue their expression of solidarity in face of continuing oppression.

Last month I heard that Tilda Swinton, the Scottish model, had done a picture for Vogue magazine draped in a Palestinian scarf.  So I went out and purchased the November edition here in Sioux Falls expecting to find it.  I looked through every page, twice, as did my husband. 

But it was no where to be seen.  It is another example of press censorship here in the United States because other editions of the November magazines around the world have it available.  

I continue to try to be active in letting my community know about the worsening situation of the Palestinians.  And those of you who read this blog, I hope that each of you is doing what you can do to bring light to this dark page of human history.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Non Violent Resistance

Since my return from Palestine many people have asked me if I felt safe there.  I answer that during my three month stay in Palestine I was treated very respectfully and did not feel threatened at all.  The reason for their question is probably based on what most people in the United States read in the newspapers or see on the television.  Much of what is reported in the U.S. is about violence, particularly in or near the border between Gaza and Israel.

While living in the West Bank I had the opportunity to observe and participate in many non-violent demonstrations.  In fact, the Palestinians regularly engage in non-violent resistance.  

Non-Violent Protest at Deir-al-Ghusun Agricultural Gate
We met at the Deir-al-Ghusun demonstration
Most Palestinians experience armed settlers and fully armed Israeli soldiers on a daily basis.  There are weekly non-violent demonstrations in many towns and cities on the West Bank.  Most Americans are completely unaware that almost all resistance in the West Bank is non-violent.  The reason:  It does not get reported in our press.

I recently viewed a film clip by a Brazilian filmmaker, Julia Bacha, who makes a very interesting point about non-violent resistance.  She states that non-violent resistance and terrorist acts are both a form of political theatre.  Non-violent movements in India, led by Ghandi, and in South Africa, led by Nelson Mandela, were widely viewed by the world community through press coverage.  But this is not true of the non-violent resistance in Palestine.

I encourage you to view this presentation.  I feel a responsibility to inform others that most Palestinians are involved in non-violent resistance, not violence.  

In the future I will write more often in my blog.  I may even add some information on Haiti as I plan to go there on a trip with "Helping Hands For Haiti" with some members of our church in late December.

May peace prevail.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Recognition of Palestine as a State

I have not written since May as I have been in rural Alaska most of the time since then without much access to the internet.  This is a picture I took of a newborn moose calf near our Alaskan home.

While I was in Tulkarm the United States vetoed a resolution in the UN Security Council condemning Israel for continuing illegal settlements.  I felt quite awkward knowing that this action put me in a position in Palestine that was contrary to my colleagues from Europe.  Some Palestinians asked me why the United States does not support Palestinian efforts for change to their status.  I had nothing to say.

Since returning I have found that individual congressmen and women as well as the United States Senate is under tremendous pressure from Israel and its supporters in this country to maintain the status quo.  After reading a very interesting background piece in the America Magazine, I felt the need to post it here for you to read:

Later this month the United Nations will vote on statehood for Palestine. It appears the vote will take place in stages. First, a draft resolution will be presented to the Security Council, where the United States is expected to veto the proposal. If the veto is cast, then a resolution will be made for the General Assembly to recognize Palestine as an observer state. With that status, though lacking full membership, Palestine will be able to participate in General Assembly debates and to belong to other U.N.-system organizations. The main rationale the administration offers for casting the veto is that Palestinian independence ought to be settled in negotiations with Israel. Tying Palestinian statehood to negotiations is bogus. The two parties may be able to negotiate lesser issues, but Palestinian sovereignty and independence should not be negotiable.

In 1948 Israel did not wait for U.N. recognition or negotiation with its Arab neighbors before declaring independence. The U.N. Partition Plan for Palestine had projected Jewish and Arab states with a separate international zone around Jerusalem. As the British Mandate was about to expire in May 1948, David Ben-Gurion, executive head of the World Zionist Organization, declared the establishment of the modern state of Israel. During the Mandate and the subsequent Israeli War of Independence against neighboring Arab states, irregular Israeli fighters using terror tactics seized the territory, driving more than 700,000 Palestinians out of more than 400 villages and urban neighborhoods. U.N. requirements for minority protections were flagrantly violated. After 63 years, Palestinians should not have to wait any longer to enjoy their natural right to self-governance and statehood. Above all, their independence should not be dependent on Israeli agreement.

Claims by the United States that statehood should wait on negotiation are especially offensive. Previous rounds of negotiation and hope of negotiation have led to further Israeli confiscation of Palestinian land and water. Settlements have pushed farther and farther into the West Bank. Israel has seized more Palestinian land for its security barrier, settler highways and military zones. Palestinian homes have been demolished as illegal, and settlers’ forceful occupation of others has been upheld by the Israeli military. In previous negotiations, Israel always retained the upper hand. The piecemeal transfer of West Bank territory under the 1993 Oslo Accords left Israel in control of most of the West Bank. When it came to implementing Oslo, Israel repeatedly demanded that the Palestinians fulfill their part of the bargain first and then set new conditions before it would implement its own responsibilities.

U.S. policy also assumes that this country can successfully mediate a final status agreement between the two sides. But the Obama administration has failed to make headway even on the smallest issue. The Netanyahu government, for example, has flagrantly rebuffed the president’s repeated efforts to prevent further settlement construction and confiscations in East Jerusalem. Though Prime Minister Netanyahu has lately said he would take the 1967 ceasefire lines as a basis for negotiation, at an earlier televised White House meeting he contemptuously rejected President Obama’s proposal along those lines as a starting-point for talks.

For those serious about finding a negotiated end to the conflict, U.N. recognition of Palestinian statehood makes very good sense as an incentive for productive talks. It will help create some leverage for Palestine in addressing issues that will have to be negotiated eventually, like final borders, Israeli security, Jerusalem, refugees and water. As a sovereign state, Palestine would be empowered under international law to demand an end to Israeli occupation and to place its claims before international courts. Its membership in international organizations would aid the further development of Palestinian state structures and help bring more pressure to bear on Israel to agree to a just and lasting settlement. The United States has failed to provide that kind of pressure. It is time to see whether, with broad international support for Palestinian statehood, the Palestinians may at least enter into negotiation on a more equal status with the Israelis.

The Palestinian Authority has gone far to make a peaceful transition to statehood possible. Most observers recognize the success of the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, in creating effective government on the West Bank, reducing corruption and shaping an able security force that is well coordinated with Israeli forces. At the same time, private enterprise has prospered in the territory with economic growth (G.D.P.) at an annual rate of 8 percent. Palestinian leaders, including President Mahmoud Abbas, have pledged that popular demonstrations on the occasion of the U.N. vote will be nonviolent and security will be maintained. Palestinians have come of age. It is past time to welcome Palestine into the community of nations.

I hope that all of you continue, in your own way, to bring to light this important issue.  My respect for the Palestinian people has continued to grow since leaving the West Bank.  Thanks.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Christian Zionism

Since my return from Israel and Palestine I have had the opportunity to have lots of visits with people about my experiences as an ecumenical accompanier with the World Council of Churches.   Most people are very surprised when they hear what I share with them.  Many of them respond something like this:  “I never knew” or “we never hear about the kinds of things that you observed.” 
What is clear to me is that the news which reaches the United States is “laundered”, so to speak, in regards to what is happening in Israel.  Europeans receive a much more balanced version of events in Israel.  Members of my team from Sweden, Norway and Switzerland were much more informed upon arrival about the political realities of Israel and Palestine than I was.   I recently read an article written by an author, Grace Halsell, who wrote a book on Israel some years ago.  She writes in this article about the roadblocks she encountered in trying to get the book published because she was critical of Israel.  I recommend it to you.  It is entitled, “What Christians Don’t Know About Israel.”
Many of my friends and acquaintances I have spoken with since my return are quite confused about Israel and Palestine.  And their confusion stems from a blank acceptance that the “Holy Land” should belong to the Jews.  After all, the Bible describes a narrative in which God’s “Chosen People” are given land. 
Sign on a building in Hebron which was
illegally occupied by Israeli settlers
I think that most people that I grew up with have accepted this simple rationale for supporting the present situation in Israel.  The return of the "holy land" has been promoted by the Zionist movement which began in England in the late 19th century.  After World War II there was a concerted effort to establish a “homeland” for the Jews which was reinforced by feelings of guilt as the horrors of the holocaust became known.  But what I have discovered, after having been there, is that the present situation in Israel and Palestine has very little to do with religion.  It is mostly an economic and political exercise which is often couched in religious terms.
There has also developed an understanding of Zionism which has been described as “Christian Zionism” which supports a political regime in Israel based on apartheid and discrimination.  This has largely been formed by a belief about the “end times.”  This has been popularized in the United States by television evangelists who use the writings and movies of Hal Lindsay and Tim LaHaye as a basis for believing that the end of the world is imminent and will happen in Israel.  They see the development of a strong Israel as a fulfillment of Biblical prophesy.  And as such there is little incentive to challenge what is happening, much less to give any credence to the plight of the Palestinians.
Barbara Rossing, a Lutheran theologian,  has written an interesting book which challenges the theology and understanding of those who promote this view.  The book is entitled:  The Rapture Exposed:  A Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation.
Christian Zionism is essentially a kind of blind support for Israel’s actions in relation to the Palestinians.  Mike Huckabee, who is a possible Republican candidate for the U.S. presidency, recently toured settlements in East Jerusalem.  ( as has Sarah Palin)  These  settlements were built by Israelis on land confiscated from Palestinians .   He remarked that Jews should be able to build wherever they want because it is their land.  This notion is not only held by Christian Zionists in the United States, it is a growing phenomenon around the world.  For instance, there is an “International Christian Embassy” in Jerusalem which has been actively involved in promoting Zionism for over thirty years.  I encourage you to check out their website:
I recently became aware of another website that can provide more information about Christian Zionism.  It is important for Christian people around the world to understand and challenge the fallacies around the Christian Zionist movement.  Will the U.S. stand alone among the nations of the world in their blind support of what the Zionist movement stands for?
The United Nations has defined “Zionism” as a form of racism and apartheid.  What I observed happening in Israel is almost a re-enactment of the holocaust with the Israelis as those who are perpetrating injustice and torture.  The Palestinians are experiencing a gradual development of a prison camp in which they are enslaved by barbed wire and very high concrete walls.  
Guard tower on wall in Bethlehem

"Prisoners" in Tulkarm waiting to be "let out" so
that they can get to their day jobs beyond the
"prison" wall
The prison guards are not only perched on towers, they are spread though-out the prison.  Israeli settlers have been incentivized to occupy land within the prison and are armed with automatic weapons to protect them from the prisoners.  Within the prison, movement of prisoners is restricted by roadblocks and checkpoints.  And of course there is the prohibition of any meaningful economic development within the prison.
One of the persons  of the current EA  team 39 in Tulkarm has had an article published in a newspaper in Belfast, Ireland.  Sean compares what he has observed to a soccer game in which the rules are totally arbitrary.  I recommend it to you for your reading.
My husband and I will be heading to Alaska soon for the summer.  I will be bringing some pictures along and hope I have opportunities to share my experiences with my Alaskan friends. 
Continue to pray for the people of Israel and Palestine.  I believe that the unrest in the rest of the Middle East may provide some incentive for positive steps to be taken in Israel between the Palestinians and the Israelis.  The rest of the world stands poised to recognize Palestine as a nation.  I can only hope that my fellow Americans can begin to get a clearer picture of the futility of blindly supporting Zionism.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Checkpoint Duty: A Retrospective

I have started giving presentations about my experience in Palestine.  I think it is important to give people here at home details of what I actually did during my time in Palestine.  Checkpoint duty was one of the responsibilities of the accompaniers placed in Tulkarm.  The pictures I show that were taken at the checkpoint gives my audience some idea of what a checkpoint looks like.    
Taybe Checkpoint--before sunrise
Oftentimes people ask me why it was so important for us to be at the checkpoints so early in the morning.  Talking about it always brings back a flood of memories.  I remember it was always very dark and oftentimes cold/rainy when we arrived at the checkpoint.   Many people had already gathered and were patiently waiting.  The wait seemed interminable to me and this was just beginning of their daily screening process to get to work in Israel or to get to their olive trees if we were at an agricultural gate.  We were all dependent on the light at the turn style going from red to green. 
This was operated by the management inside the building and we never saw a human face.  As soon as it turned green there was a scramble to get through but very soon it was red again.  There was never any predictability as to how long it would be before it turned green again.   We would stand by the first turn style and greet the people standing in line.   We were never allowed to go into the next area where screening, finger-print identification and further interrogation took place.  The voice over the loud speaker giving commands when people were starting the 2nd phase of security check sounded harsh and demeaning. 
I often wondered how much it was about security and how much it was about control and harassment of Palestinian people.  Since there was a waiting time, I found myself reminiscing about my experiences as a child growing up in Montana.  Growing up in a rural area there were plenty of opportunities to watch cattle being herded.  It  occurred to me that the herds of cattle going through cattle gates had been treated with more dignity and respect than what I was witnessing at the checkpoints.  

Our team also had a clicker to count how many men and women go through each checkpoint on a daily basis.  The numbers in this checkpoint alone were over 3,000.  It was important for us to gather exact information as this was sent to the office of Humanitarian Affairs.
We knew we could engage the assistance of a very helpful and dedicated women’s organization from Israel called Machsom Watch.   Machsom means “checkpoint” in Hebrew.  Their purpose is to monitor the checkpoints at the border crossings and other checkpoints placed in between places in the West Bank of Palestine.   All the women are Israeli citizens who are strongly in opposition to the treatment of Palestinians by their government.  I will post a url for their website which will give you an idea of what they do on a daily basis.
Our responsibility as EA’s was to problem-solve, put a human face on this degrading process and give direction if a person was denied access.  We called Machsom Watch to request their assistance by providing  names and numbers if  further advocacy was requested.  It was reassuring to have their consistent assistance for follow-up.  Since they were Israeli citizens they were able to problem-solve in a more effective manner. 
I have been made aware of a series of six short utube film clips made about the activities of Matchsom Watch which I found to be very helpful in understanding what they do and more importantly, why they are involved in Checkpoint watch.  This information was sent to me by one of the Palestinian friends I met in Tulkarm.  I viewed them today and they stirred up a lot of emotions that I experienced while I was on checkpoint duty.
I urge you to watch them.  

I wish all of you a very blessed holy season.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Juliano Mer-Khamis Assassinated Today

I was greatly saddened to learn that the founder of the Freedom Theatre in Jenin, Juliano Mer-Khamis, was murdered today outside of the theatre. 

Picture I took of Juliano Mer-Khamis in February
He (3rd from left) and his wife (2nd from left) met
with the EA team after Freedom Theatre performance
One of the highlights of my recent sojourn in Palestine was the day in February when he invited members of our EA team from Tulkarm to visit Freedom Theatre for a performance of "Alice in Wonderland".  The theatre is located in a refugee camp in Jenin.

Curtain Call after "Alice in Wonderland"
Mr. Mer-Khamis is one of Israel's foremost actors and  playrights.  His acting career began in 1984 when he appeared in "The Little Drummer Girl", starring Diane Keaton. A citizen of Israel and born to a Jewish mother and a Palestinian Christian father, he established the Freedom Theatre in Jenin in 2006 and lived there.  The theater is a tribute to his mother, Arna, who was tireless in her opposition to the Israeli Occupation. She established a children's theatre group in the refugee camps in Jenin in the 80's.  In 2003 Juliano produced his first documentary film entitled, "Arna's Children," a year after Jenin had been bombed during the Second Infitada.

See this article to learn more:

We spent the entire day with Juliano and his staff.  They hosted us for a wonderful meal after the performance during which we had a lengthy conversation about the plight of children who had experienced so much trauma.  He felt that theatre was a good way for people to begin to heal from Post Traumatic Stress Disorders.

We also visited with his wife, who was pregnant and carrying twins.  I couldn't resist taking a picture of his young son who is pictured below on the right. 

Future Actress and Actor
It was especially fun to see all of the children line up for the performance.  They were transported from Jenin and surrounding villages for the play.  It is a memory which I will treasure.

School Children Waiting to Enter Freedom Theatre
April 4th is the anniversary of the death of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.  On the National Public Radio today, there was an interesting story about the events surrounding his death.  He was a tireless advocate for the poor and for non-violent protests against discrimination.  It is so ironic that Mel-Khamis was also assassinated on April 4th.  This day will be etched in my memory for the tragic loss of these two great men.

I am grateful for having had the opportunity to meet Juliano and his wife.  I urge you to pray for his wife and family as well as the people of Jenin and Palestine as they mourn another loss.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Thoughts From Prague

March 7
I am writing this from Prague in the Czech Republic.  Obed and I flew here Sunday from Tel Aviv.  It has been a whirlwind three months and we are going to unwind in Europe before heading home.
Last Friday evening we gathered in Jerusalem as an EA team for a final dinner together.  It was a wonderful evening and gave us a chance to say farewell.  Obed took some pictures of our team so that I can remember the event and recall the significant times spent with a wonderful group of new friends.
Ann (UK), Cynthia (Swi), me, Katariina (Fin)
Petter (Nor), Mats (Swe), me, Elin (Swe), Johanna (Swe), Maria (Swe)
below:  Anne (Nor)
Helen (UK), me, Jan Erik (Swe), Christoph (Austria)
Vidar (Nor), me, Nicolai (Nor), Hanna (Fin), Abigajil (Ger)
I have already written about how richly blessed I feel to have spent time with the Palestinian people who have demonstrated such patience and perseverance.  I also feel fortunate to have met so many wonderful EAs.  They have helped to enlarge my world view.  As a group they brought an impressive array of personal and professional skills.  I am grateful to have shared the often challenging experiences with them.  And  I know that my life will not be the same. 
Elin and Susanne
In reflecting on the three months spent in Palestine I have learned to appreciate how complex the issue is.  Yet the yearning for justice and fairness on the part of those living under occupation is quite plain to see.  The question that I must now confront is this:  what can I do to begin to make a difference?  What can my friends in the United States and around world do to influence the situation to some degree?
Perhaps we can begin with the acronym PEACE.
·         Pray:  Pray for the Palestinian people.  Pray for the Israeli Occupiers.  Pray for those in positions of power.  Pray for all people who live in poverty and without justice.
·         Educate:  All of us need to be intentional in learning more about the plight of the Palestinians and all those who suffer from injustice.
·         Advocacy:  The call to advocate for the poor was made by the Old Testament prophets and was repeated forcefully by Jesus.  As Christian people all of us need to speak out for those whose voices are muffled by unjust policies and economic disparity.
·         Communication:  Perhaps the most important thing we can do as Americans is to let our elected officials know how we feel about policies that allow Israel’s land grab and inhumane treatment to continue unchecked.
·         Economic Measures:  For one, Obed and I have decided to boycott Israeli products in terms of our own purchases.  Any item that begins with 7 29 on the bar code is made in Israel.  Apartheid in South Africa was finally brought to its knees after economic pressures were asserted, including divestment, by people of conscience around the world.
Finally, I want to thank all of you who have been reading this blog and supporting me with your prayers.  It has meant a great deal to me.  I will continue to blog occasionally to share some of my ongoing efforts and thoughts.  God bless you.  Please continue to pray for justice and peace.