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.