Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Easter in Palestine—Stories from the West Bank and Gaza

The Electronic Intifada compiles news stories from Palestine. Here are a four of the stories from the West Bank and Gaza in this Easter week. These are all in the Nablus area, in the middle of the West Bank, in an area where Israeli settlers are increasing their numbers and Israel is closing roads to "protect" them. (read this on the Electronic Intifada):

Israeli Forces Shoot Tear Gas into Houses in Awarta Village

On the 20th of April, five Israeli jeeps entered the village of Awarta. The Israeli forces broke into four houses and shot several tear gas and stun grenades inside the houses, leaving several families with no other alternative than to sleep elsewhere until the tear gas clouds dispersed, which could take weeks.

The Israeli soldiers beat several people and broke furniture during this event. A 26-year-old Palestinian was violently arrested and detained for two hours with no reason given.

Two days later, Israeli soldiers once again entered houses in Awarta and shot several tear gas more

Khan-al-Luban: Israeli Army Attack Read the whole story

From an ISM volunteer at the scene….At 6:45pm an Israeli army jeep pulled in front of a building across the street from the family house, then backed out of the driveway and drove along the road towards the back of the house. We all went into the center area and shut the doors, but went outside to photograph what they were doing as the three Israeli soldiers got out of the jeep and started coming over the fence and onto the roof. We climbed to the roof area where they had come onto the property. They asked one of the human rights volunteers to show her passport but she refused.

Jimmy stayed inside because he thought they might be looking for him. One of the young sons talked to the soldiers on the roof and the army called for back up.

After the soldiers began shouting at the mother and her child, Jimmy came out to the roof area, no longer able to stay hidden. He told the soldiers that they were on his family’s property and that they should stop yelling at his mother and younger brothers.

The soldiers became belligerent and hit him with their hands. They then attempted to handcuff Jimmy, and dragged him partway across the roof; by that time the cuffs were fully on. At that point they knocked him down and hit him on the head with the back of a rifle. Jimmy was unconscious from that time on and appeared to convulse slightly. They continued to beat him after he collapsed. [He was later taken to hospital in Nablus] Read more

Settlers Set Fire to Palestinian Chicken Farm
On Friday 18th April, during the night in the village of Madama, settlers from a nearby illegal settlement entered a Palestinian farm and sat fire to a newly built chicken house. The damage totaled $12,500 for the 3,500 chickens and their food, as well as $100,000 for the building itself. The Palestinian owner of the chicken house sold his car and some of his land in order to buy this costly farm, it is now completely destroyed.

The farmer described the day this incident occurred, stating how he finished his work and went home, passing two Israeli military jeeps on the road. When he returned to the farm at 4am on Friday, he found his chicken farm burnt to the ground, all 3,500 chicks dead. The fire was started near a window of the farm, most likely started with gasoline. More…

"A Message of Peace" from the Village of Qaryut Met with Violence from the Israeli Army
The people of Qaryut began weekly demonstrations three weeks ago, due to the Israeli military’s decision to close the main road near to the village.

Yesterday, the 18th April, approximately 300 from the village, of which 100 were children, decided to come to the hill to pray rather than to march. Israeli soldiers arrived immediately, with one soldier yelling: “Go back home!” A resident of Qaryut responded; “Insh’allah [If God wills it], this is our home.”

The prayer began despite the provocative military presence on the hill, during the prayers Israeli soldiers surrounded the gathering, one solider removed a Palestinian flag from its place in the ground.

As prayers finished, one of the villagers declared to the army that it was their intention to leave the area, repeating over and over that they brought “a message of peace”.

However, within a few steps of the people’s return to the village, Israeli soldiers started shooting tear gas at their backs. Due to the rocky terrain, many were unable to get away from the tear gas that the soldiers continued to fire. 15 people had to be treated by paramedics due to several tear gas inhalation, however it was difficult to access those in need because of the difficult conditions underfoot. Stun grenades were also used extensively by the Israeli forces. More…

Sunday, April 20, 2014


If Jesus’ resurrection teaches us anything, it teaches us that death is not the final word. Death, imprisonment, torture—these are not the end of the story.

Safe in our fairy-tale country, we struggle to understand the message of the resurrection, but it is a powerful message of hope that Palestinians—Christian and Muslim—live every day.

“No oppression, no denial of rights can continue forever.” Dr. Saeb Erekat quoted Nelson Mandela in his recent message on Palestinian Prisoner Day:

[From Palestine News Network, April 17] The PLO Executive Committee Member Dr. Saeb Erekat issued a press statement marking the Palestinian Prisoner Day, as follows:

"For Palestinians, having loved ones in prison is not the exception: it is something which has affected every Palestinian family. In the context of prolonged occupation, Israel- a foreign military power- has unlawfully imposed itself on the land of another people and has oppressed millions, in many varying ways. The plight of the prisoners reflects the plight of the Palestinian people as a whole.

A staggering 800,000 Palestinians have been arrested by Israeli forces since 1967. 5224 remain incarcerated today, including administrative, sick, female and children detainees. These numbers reflect one of the worst experiences of imprisonment in contemporary history, designed to break the will of an entire nation seeking freedom.

Israel has criminalized all forms of resistance, both armed and peaceful, and even political and civic engagement. The Palestinian leadership has chosen to resist through diplomatic and peaceful means, in order to achieve the Palestinian people's inalienable rights, as enshrined in international law. We now need to demonstrate to our people that this path leads to freedom and justice in an independent and democratic State of Palestine. Exist so that we can coexist.

The release of the Palestinian prisoners will be the first signal that freedom is on the way.

Now, we await the release of the remaining 30 Pre-Oslo prisoners still captive in occupation prisons. These are people who have been incarcerated for over 20 years. Karim Younes, the longest serving of these prisoners, has spent over 32 years of his life in Israeli jails.

Israel committed to releasing these prisoners as part of the Oslo Agreement in 1993, again in 1999 through the Sharm el-Sheikh agreement, and a third time in July 2013. In July last year, we agreed to postpone our accession to multilateral treaties and conventions for nine months in order to finally release the 104 Pre-Oslo prisoners. We fulfilled our commitment. Israel, yet again, did not.

Where else in the world could a State imprison the elected representatives of another country with such impunity? The national leader Marwan Barghouthi was the first Member of Parliament to be detained. April 15th 2014 marked the 12th anniversary of his abduction. There has been a total of 50 Palestinian parliamentarians in Israeli jails at one time or another, equivalent to over one third of the Palestinian Parliament. Eleven remain detained today, including the Secretary General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine Ahmed Saadat.

The level of support gathered by the International campaign for the freedom of Marwan Barghouthi and all Palestinian prisoners, and the signing of the Robben Island Declaration by prominent international figures, including six Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, church leaders, artists, parliamentarians, human rights figures, trade unions, and thousands of citizens, sends a clear message that must be heard: freedom of the Palestinian prisoners and freedom of the Palestinian people will pave the way to peace. Photo: “Free Marwan” grafitti on the wall near Ramallah. 

Israel must choose between the pursuit of occupation and the pursuit of peace. Each settlement, each arrest, each violation, each refusal to abide by its commitments and obligations, shows that Israel is heading in the wrong direction. But history teaches us that justice prevails. We follow the example of Nelson Mandela and the people of South Africa. No oppression, no denial of rights can continue forever."

Gracious God, keep us strong in hope and steadfast in our struggle to set the prisoners free. Amen.

Read an interesting editorial about how Marwan Barghouti’s release could lead to peace and a stable Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Resurrection of our Lord, Vigil of Easter—Hebron

Tonight, at the Easter Vigil, we read the stories of our heritage—remembering where we have come from on this long spiritual journey. The Fourth Reading is from Exodus, and the story is one that Jewish faithful are also celebrating this week—their Passover, which began on Monday.

In Jewish homes across America, families sit down to the traditional Seder supper and recall how God rescued them from the Egyptians and reflect on those who are less fortunate, those who are still slaves.

In Hebron, a Palestinian city in the West Bank, however, the holiday is a call to political protest, as an estimated 7000 settlers come for “tours”, led by Israeli soldiers and border police.

On Thursday afternoon, Israeli soldiers closed the main road into Hebron to allow settlers access to the Tomb of Othniel Ben Knaz, which is located in the H1 (Palestinian) sector of Hebron. Residents of Hebron had their daily routines disrupted as settlers, guarded by Israeli troops, paraded through the Palestinian suq, harassing the shop owners and preventing any sales.

The checkpoint between the suq and the Mosque has been closed since Wednesday, preventing Muslim worshipers from entering and forcing schoolchildren to walk a long way around. Schools have closed earlier and the children are forced to walk through large groups of soldiers. Many children stayed home.

Photo shows schoolchildren in Hebron this week, passing the Israeli soldiers.

April 17 is also Prisoners’ Day for Palestinians, when they remember all the prisoners held in Israeli prisons. In Hebron families gathered outside the stadium to pray for imprisoned loved ones. The International Solidarity Movement reports, “Many brought pictures of their family members and friends, and the people of al-Khalil (Hebron), together with many organisations and political parties, were there to show their support for the prisoners.”

Israeli soldiers have fired stun grenades and rubber-coated steel bullets, and tear-gassed the crowds. Young Palestinians have been throwing stones and some have been injured. You can read the whole story on the ISM website link above.

Savior God, you hear the cries of the oppressed and you set them free. Be with all who are oppressed and in bondage today. As you brought the Israelites out of slavery, give these people courage to resist their oppression and hope for their future. And give us courage and steadfastness to loosen the chains we hold. Amen.  

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday—Stations of the Cross 10-14

Good Friday
Stations of the Cross

10Jesus is stripped
They took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. Jn19.23

This week, Israeli Defense Ministry Moshe Ya’alon sized control of 984 dunams of Bethlehem land for the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, declaring it “state land.” This piece of land surrounds private Palestinian land, which will now be inaccessible to its owners. The land includes the illegal outpost of Netiv Ha’avot.

11Jesus is nailed to the cross

Reading Ha’aretz, the Israeli newspaper today, I found the story of Fuad Shehadeh, who has been hospitalized for six weeks, following an attack by Israeli settlers. Shehadeh lives in a village near Nablus, in the West Bank. He went with his friend to prune some olive trees and they were attacked as they were leaving. They ran, but one of the settlers threw a metal rod and broke Shehadeh’s leg, which immobilized him. After being beaten further, the Israeli soldier standing watching called to the settlers, “Enough,” and they left. He has ten fractures, eight on his right leg and two in his left arm. He has bruises on his head and right arm. The police have not even interviewed him, even though he is now in a hospital in Tel Aviv, being treated for his injuries. His assault was not reported in Israeli media.
Photo: Fuad Shehadeh and his son Mohammed at Ichilov Hospital. The police haven't shown up to investigate.

12Jesus dies on the cross

Jesus died, refusing to cooperate in his trial or answer to his accusers. He also rejected violence, even healing the ear of the high priest’s slave injured by Peter. In the account in Luke, Jesus forgives the criminal hanging next to him.

In Kairos Palestine, Palestinian Christians “call on the people of Israel to be our partners in peace and not in the cycle of interminable violence. Let us resist evil together, the evil of occupation and the infernal cycle of violence.” (Kairos Palestine, 4.3)

13Jesus is taken down from the cross

…when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. (Jn19.33)

Take a moment for prayer.

14Jesus is laid in the tomb

Now there was a Garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. (Jn 19.41)

This entire narrative of Jesus’ passion takes place within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In the early years of the fourth century, the Emperor Constantine sent his mother Helena to find the holy sites and build churches. She investigated the places where pilgrims had been coming since the first century and chose the site for the Holy Sepulchre. Constantine built a church there to celebrate the resurrection. Geographically, it’s a very small space for such a large narrative. Visiting pilgrimage groups usually spend 30 minutes or so visiting the five stations that are located inside the church. 

Good Friday—Stations of the Cross, 5-9

Good Friday
Stations of the Cross

5—Simon helps carry the cross
Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases… Is 53.4

Who are the people today who help suffering people bear their burdens?

6—Veronica offers her veil to Jesus

Who are the bearers of the image of Jesus today?
I think of a Muslim—Farhan, elected mayor of Beit Ummar in 2006, in the first elections under the Palestinian Authority. Upon election he was immediately arrested by Israeli soldiers and imprisoned for being affiliated with Hamas. Sitting in his mother’s home, with his youngest son, Salah Ad-Din, on his lap, he told us, “Every good action, even if very small, gives me more hope—a hole for the light to pass through.” This Hamas leader told us, “I teach my sons and daughters to love, not hate; I give them the courage of love, not to hate. Love needs courage; hate does not.” But, he says, “love is stronger than hate.” He tells us this is what the prophet Mohammad taught: “Hate is very dangerous for the human being. War is easy; peace is hard.”

Photo: Farhan and Salah Ad-Din

7—Jesus falls the second time
He learned obedience through what he suffered Heb 5.8

Almost every young Palestinian man I have met has been arrested and served time in prison. Usually it is for throwing stones in a demonstration against the Israeli soldiers and tanks in their villages. They tell about the network of Palestinian elders in prison who taught them about non-violent resistance. In prison they have studied Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., so that when they are released, they are equipped to continue the resistance.
8—Jesus meets the weeping women

I think of Eran Efrati, the former Israeli soldier who was in Denver in February. He told the story of his gradual awakening to what Israel was really doing in the West Bank. One pivotal moment was in Hebron, when he heard a mother’s cry as she mourned her son’s death. The night before, in the confusion and darkness, her son had been killed by some19-year-old soldiers. When he heard her cry, he realized it was the cry of his grandmother, waking in the night with nightmares about her time in Auschwitz.

Photo of women weeping at the death of Arafat Jaradat, killed in Israeli custody, February, 2013.

9—Jesus falls the third time
All we like sheep have gone astray
We have all turned to our own way…
(Is 53.6)

By Station nine, I am despairing. Will Jesus’ suffering never end? Will the Palestinians’ suffering never end? The US supports Israel’s human rights violations with our tax dollars. As a country, we have lost our way. All we like sheep… It’s not like the swelling choruses of the Christmas oratorio. It is like carrying the cross and falling under its weight.