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.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Arab Christians Living in Israel

March 1, 2011
Two Christian families, who are actively involved with Friends of Sabeel in Nazareth, joined us for our evening meal at St. Margarit's Guesthouse.  Habib and his wife live in Nazareth with their two teenage children.  He is a software engineer and his wife works for an agency which is involved with human rights issues.  They are Anglican Christians and helped us to understand what it is like to be a Christian living in Israel.
Habib's wife can trace her family and their Christian roots to the fourth century and to land in a village near Nazareth.  Since Nakba, “the Catastrophe” in 1948 when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were evicted from their homes and villages, her life has radically changed.  She is an Israeli citizen and carries an identity card.  Her father was educated in the United States.  She met her husband when they were young children at church events and camps near Nazareth.  They both attended college in the U.S.   After working in the United States for a few years they longed to be with their families again so they returned to Israel.
She said that before 1928 all people who lived in Palestine were called Palestinians.  There were three groups:  Christians, Jews and Muslims.  All of these groups were considered Palestinians.  With the advent of Zionism, Palestinian Jews disassociated themselves from being identified as “Palestinian.”. 
Since Nakba , Arabs who remained within the borders of Israel have become second class citizens.  They experience significant discrimination even though they pay the same rates of taxes as Israelis.  An Arab or Palestinian village receives about a quarter of the financial support of a Jewish village in funds returned to operate the municipality.  They have difficulty buying property.  Jews are encouraged not to sell land to them.  Recently, 100 prominent rabbis in Israel produced a document stating it was a sin to sell to Palestinians.
On job applications the first thing asked is the person’s army number.  Since the Arab/Palestinian young people are forbidden to join the Army, there is an immediate bias on hiring.  In education, young Palestinians entering college are forbidden to take certain classes. This is done by restricting classes by age.  Since Israeli young people must serve 2 or 3 years in the Army after high school, they are older when they start college.  Classes in higher professional education are restricted by age, making it difficult for young Palestinians to take certain courses.
In schools, the Israeli’s forbid any mention of the Nakba.  They are trying to wipe out the history of the brutal invasion of the Zionist forces in the 1948 which dislocated hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes.  Large numbers of refugees fled the country to the United States, Canada, Jordan and other countries.  In fact, a recent law makes it illegal for teachers to even mention the Nakba in the classroom.  The penalty is that the school will lose government funding.  This is very ironic in light of the great efforts of Jews to keep alive the memory of the Holocaust.  The Palestinian families feel that the intent of the Israeli government is for Palestinian children to be unaware of their own history, thus tempering any resistance to Israeli policies.
Israeli policy also places limits on economic development of Palestinians.  One way they do this is through their ministry of tourism.  This is felt in Nazareth by the fact that roads are being built in such a way as to bypass Palestinian villages. Even in Nazareth, tour operators are advised not stay in Nazareth hotels as they are considered unsafe.  
In the last twenty years the Muslim population in Nazareth has become the majority after it historically was a majority Christian town.    Muslims and Christians have always lived together peacefully, but there have been recent efforts of local Israeli politicians to put a wedge between Christians and Muslims, encouraging more fanaticism among Muslims—something which is quite new to Nazareth. 
We were told that there are some Palestinian villages which have existed for centuries which are not listed on Israeli maps.  Those towns technically do not exist and the people who live there technically do not exist.  They live in constant fear of their towns being bulldozed as they cannot obtain any permits to build on their centurys' old property.
Habib showed us his Israeli identity card.  Until recently the term “Arab” was printed on it.  But after pressure from human rights activists the term Arab was removed, but it was replaced by a star.  (This reminded me of the star that the Nazi’s required of the Jews in the Warsaw ghettos prior to World War 2).  Israelis have two birthdates on their identity cards—one using the Western calendar and one using the Jewish calendar year.  Palestinians are always pulled aside and given a very thorough and harassing screeningat the airport.
When asked if they saw any hope for things changing, they said that the Israeli population is becoming much more rigid and to the right of center.  The peoples' influence appears to be waning in what used to be a larger group of the population that supported the plight of the Palestinians. They also think that the present Foreign Minister is very open in establishing racist policies against  the Palestinians or Arabs.
Clinging to faith that God will not abandon them like Christians of the first few centuries, they know that they face constant pressure and suffering.   They are very anxious that Christian people around the world learn the fact that there are Christian Palestinians who are not Muslim or Muslim terrorists.

Jordan Valley & Galilee

March 1--(continued)  Our Aluna bus headed north on the road from which you can see Jordan to the east.  It was amazing to see the agriculture of the Jordan Valley.  But the sad thing was to realize that in spite of the fact that this is entirely Palestinian territory, virtually all of the land in the valley has been claimed by the Israelis.  They use various means to do this.  They have designated some of it as military zones and they have allowed many settlements to be established who claim virtually all the farmland in the valley.  Our trip leader from Sabeel said that it is the unspoken Israeli policy that Palestinians not have any land that adjoins the Jordan River.
The entire length of the valley on the west side of the Jordan River consists of incredibly rich farmland, which through irrigation, yields a vast wealth of products, from dates to bananas and from farm produce to orchards. Spotted throughout the valley are Palestinian villages.  Since they are denied access to their land all that they can do to support themselves is to work as laborers for the Israelis.  How ironic it is to be forced to be farm laborers for those who have confiscated their land.  But unless they did this they would have no means to support themselves financially.
As we neared the northern end of the valley, the land became much richer.  And, as to be expected, this more abundant land was where we crossed though a checkpoint and entered Israeli territory. Soon we spotted the beautiful Sea of Galilee.  

Looking At Galilee From the Hill of the Beautitudes
We stopped at several sites, among them where Jesus preached the Beatitudes, where Jesus told Peter to feed his sheep, and where Mary Magdalene lived in Capernaum.  We passed through Cana on our way to Nazareth.  It was funny to see a shop advertising “The First Wedding Wine.”  We finally came to Nazareth where we visited the sites of the Annunciation of Mary.

Father Farah Teaches us about the Annunciation of Mary
We were led through the old section of Nazareth by Kamal Farah, an Eastern Rite Anglican priest, who was absolutely wonderful in his explanation of its history.  We were shown the developments on the hills east of Nazareth built by the Israelis housing about 60,000 new citizens, mostly Jewish.  It is given the name of Nazareth Elite.  We stayed in the St. Margarit’s Guesthouse, overlooking the city of Nazareth. 

View of Nazareth From St. Margarit's Guesthouse
It was a wonderful experience to walk were Jesus walked and to experience the hospitality of those who explained the history of this unique area.


Leaving Bethlehem

March 2, 2011
After Obed left on his tour and before leaving Bethlehem I decided to walk towards the separation barrier on my way up to the checkpoint.  It was memorable to walk past the Bethlehem Inn and reflect on the times I stayed there.  Since the Bethlehem Inn is located right across the street from the separation barrier, it was easy to walk along the barrier.  The barrier is ugly and imposing consisting of gray concrete slab.  It is a blatant way to force separation and this has caused enormous suffering in every area of life.  The artwork all along the barrier is a beautiful expression of the anguish of the Palestinian people.  A book that contains many such pictures and explains this art is:  "Against the Wall:  The Art of Resistance" by William Parry.


The following cartoon figure is named Handala.  It was created by an artist Naji al Ali who was assasinated in London in 1987.  This cartoon figure is a refugee child of ten and represents "bitterness".  If you would like to read about the history of this cartoon you may find it at the following web site:  http://www.najialali.com/

I stopped to have a bite to eat at a tiny cafĂ© directly across the street from the Barrier.  As it turned out the owner is also a contact for the EA team in Bethlehem.  He shared with me his story about how the occupation has affected and continues to affect his family.  He said:  “the Occupation has been very hard on us and we continue to struggle because of it.”
I checked into the Lutheran World Federation guesthouse located on the grounds of the Augusta Victoria Hospital.  This is also where my spouse, Obed, will stay during his time in Jerusalem while I am finishing up with EAPPI.    

Upon checking into my room at the guesthouse I noticed beautiful hand- tied quilts on both of the twin beds.  This brought back a flood of memories of all the quilts I’ve seen made by people I have known. 

It’s nice to know that quilts made with loving hands all these years and sent to Lutheran World Relief are being used here.  Some may have been made by my dear cousin, Mimmie, who lived to be 102.  She sewed those quilts for her church in Webster, SD until she was 100 years old.  The quilts are a reminder of the work we do together. 

 I explored the facility and walked up to the Mount of Olives.  It was a beautiful day with evidence of spring bursting forth in this area and throughout the West Bank of Palestine.


Friday, March 4, 2011

The Dead Sea

March 1 
Susanne has asked me to write a bit about my tour with 28 other participants of the Sabeel Conference of the holy sites in the region of Galilee and Nazareth.   We traveled on a bus furnished by the Aluna Bus Company, a Palestinian owned firm.  (Most of the tourist buses used in the large Israeli tour business which travel to see the holy sites, largely located in the West Bank, are Israeli owned.)  First we headed out towards the Dead Sea southeast of Jerusalem.
Between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea we went through the Judean Hills which is largely uninhabited except for an occasional Beduoin group or  Israeli Settlement s located near the main highway.  A walk to the top of the hill brought us a view looking east towards Jordan as well as an encounter with Beduoins anxious to sell things to tourists.
Judean Hill Country Looking East Towards Jordan
Bedouin with his camel
There are two significant tourist sites in the southern end of the Jordan Valley which we toured.  Both are in the West Bank but control of them is maintained by the Israelis.  The first is the Dead Sea—the lowest point on the earth.  We stopped and some of our group went “floating” on the Sea, but I was content to just observe.
Dead Sea Looking Towards Jordan
The second is the site of the Dead Sea Scrolls—the ruins of the Essene Community-- which is also has a huge concession complex including a restaurant.  It was fascinating to see the ruins of this community and to have a close-up look at the sites where members of the Essene Community made copies of the Old Testament Scriptures.  One of the popular yet unconfirmed rumors is that John the Baptist may have been part of the community for a short time.
Escavations of Khirbet Qumran:  Site of Dead Sea Scrolls
None of our group bought any of the products sold in the store which mainly features soaps and cosmetics made with salts and chemicals from the Dead Sea.  It has become a very large international business, the main brand of which is AHAVA.  Of course, the Palestinians receive nothing from this business as they are forbidden commercial access to the Dead Sea.

Sabeel Conference in Bethlehem

February 28, 2011

I was able to attend one full day of the 8th Annual Sabeel Conference held in Bethlehem.  I joined my husband, Obed, who flew in from the United States.  The theme of the conference was "Challenging Empire:  God, Faithfulness and Resistance." 

Father John Dear (US) Addresses Conferees
It was inspiring to join about 280 participants from around the world who are committed to peace and justice for the Palestinian people.  It was also sobering to realize that many Christian people around the world compare the suffering fostered by the United States' support of Israel to the suffering of the early Christians under the Empire of Rome (aka "Babylon") referred to in the Book of Revelation. 

Patriarch Michel Sabbah (Israel) & Professor Andreas
Van Agt (Netherlands) addressed conference
The presenters at the conference were excellent.  It was also a thrill to attend the closing worship service with the participants and hear an excellent sermon from Naim Atik, Director of the Sabeel Institute.

I would urge you to consider becoming a "Friend of Sabeel".  You can learn more about the work of Sabeel as well as the content of the conference by going to their website:

Obed and I had a chance to visit the Church of the Nativity. 
We stand at the entrance to the Church of the Nativity
God's Blessings to you.      Susanne

Saying Goodbye to the People of Tulkarm

February 27
Today I said my final good-byes in Tulkarm and boarded a bus for the trip to Bethlehem to attend the Sabeel Conference.  Riding through the city of Tulkarm I looked out the window at the familiar places.  It was a sad moment to actually leave the area.  I thought about the many experiences packed into a short amount of time.  And along with the experiences I thought about the special people I have met in Tulkarm and the surrounding area.  We have shared joys and sorrows.  We have laughed together and cried together.  All of the wonderful people of Palestine will be forever in my heart and on my mind.  I admire their resilience, sincerity, love for their land, and love for their families.  I marveled at their patience in the face of daily sufferings experienced due to the Occupation. 

I never felt like a stranger in their land.  Each of them welcomed me into their lives knowing full well that I would be leaving after only a short time.  I felt totally safe in Tulkarm and never once even received a look of anger or disdain directed at me.  Yesterday it was a great honor to place the blue prayer shawl, given to me by the women of Peace Lutheran to accompany me on my journey, around the shoulders of Mouna's aging mother.  She said she would treasure it as I did.  The people of Tulkarm will forever be in my heart and prayers. 
I will blog more from Bethlehem and Jerusalem.