Friday, June 27, 2008

June 26, going home

Today we visited Yad Vashem, the museum of the holocaust in West Jerusalem, a good place to end our pilgrimage and give us a different perspective, to appreciate where others have been in the stories of their own lives, their families and their people. For our stories are all we have. Out of our stories we create our lives, our reality. My reality has been shaped by the people I have met and the stories I have heard on this pilgrimage. They have become part of my story and now yours....

Yesterday we began at Efrat, where Jewish settler Ardie Geldman told us his story of coming from Chicago to Israel, where he and his wife felt called to live out their story -- on the land sacred to Jews, given to them in the Bible (his words). Efrat is built on a hill above the olive groves of Palestinian farmers. The road to Efrat cuts across these groves, separating one half of a grove from the other. As our bus travels this highway I wonder how the Arab farmers get to their lands to care for their trees now. Is it like up north in Jayous, where we watched and waved back as the farmers went through the checkpoint? Every day they drive through this checkpoint in their fields below their village, driving their tractors through the gate, showing the Israeli soldiers their IDs and papers to pass. Ardie Geldman referred to the land where he lives in his settlement on the West Bank as "disputed" (not "occupied") territory. The settlement, Efrat, is beautifully landscaped with green grass and even a hundreds-of-years-old olive tree, dug up from one of the ancient olive groves and planted in the central entrance to the city.

As I write this in the internet cafe, I hear the Franciscans chanting, as they lead their Friday walk along the Via Dolorosa, the 14 stations of the cross. The internet cafe is adjacent to the 8th station and the pilgrims are praying as I prayed last week when I walked with them...."he was despised....a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." I'm sure he weeps over Jerusalem today, where Christians fight over the real estate that is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the three Abrahamic religions fight over the land of the Old City and beyond.

Back to yesterday -- we traveled from the lush greenery of Efrat a few miles along the settlers' road to Hebron. Because more settlements are being built and Israel is completing its plan to connect them with "secure" roads, this road will soon be closed to all Palestinians and they will have to drive many kilometers around this area, through all the small Arab villages, to reach Hebron. Hebron is heavily militarized because the Jewish settlers here are quite militant in their claim to this land where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Rebekkah, Jacob and Leah are said to be buried. Most of the shops in the once-bustling market are now closed because most people think it is too dangerous to come to Hebron. One shop owner begged us to purchase something from his shop. The suq (market) is open air, on an old narrow road in the Old City. This shopkeeper had stretched chickenwire above his shop to catch the garbage that settlers throw from their windows above the street. Sometimes they pour water or bleach on him and his goods.

We visited with the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) in Hebron, who showed us the city and talked about their work. They escort children to school to try to protect them from the settlers, who sometimes attack them with rocks. Some of you remember when Heidi Schramm showed us her slides and told us about her work with CPT in the rural part of this region in the small village of At-Tuwani. Recently some of the residents were given cameras to document what happens to them. A woman who was attacked was able to use her photos to prove that she was attacked. The police were glad to use her photos as evidence. (When I return I'll provide a link to the story.)

The main street of Hebron, where the market was busiest, is now closed -- all the shops shuttered, their doors welded shut and stars of David spray-painted on the doors--the settlers have marked this Arab market as their territory. So many people in Hebron have lost their source of income - little tourism and no place to sell their goods. But the shopkeeper who works under the settlers' garbage told us, "I will not leave. This is my shop and my land. I will not let them drive me away. Please buy my goods and help me to stay here."

Life here is so complicated -- survival is difficult and emotions are strong. Everyone wants a safe place to raise their children, sometimes at great cost to others. And every Friday, as the Franciscans pray the stations, Jesus still carries his cross and I imagine God weeping for the children of this holy land.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

June 24, the Galilee

I'm sorry I have't written more times, but our days are very full. It's 10:30 pm and I had to wait for the computer - not as convenient as home, but a minor matter in this land where even the most ordinary tasks can take hours for Palestinians.

Yesterday two people were killed in Nablus.

Nablus is one of the Palestinian towns that has been given over to the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority. But that does not mean that Israeli soldiers do not enter every day or two, looking for someone - usually young men, aged 15-18. That's what happened yesterday and will probably happen tomorrow and the next day. The city is full of posters of the martyrs - these are not suicide bombers, but those who have been killed without cause, without any weapons, usually those young men/children.

Two of the members of our group went to Nablus for a day last week and tonight they told us the story of their visit. The man they were to visit, who heads a non-profit organization (NGO) that provides health services to the residents of Nablus, had gone early in the morning to the local Israeli office to get papers to travel outside Nablus and ended up spending the day there. So my friends did not get to meet with him, but others showed them the work he is doing to provide support for the residents of Nablus, who suffer from the stress of living every day not knowing what is coming next - when the soldiers will come for them or for their children. As the price of gas and rice goes up all over the world, it makes life especially difficult for the residents of Nablus, a very poor Palestinian community, whose residents cannot get out for work or trade.

Two other members of our group went to Bethlehem early Monday morning to meet our tour guide and go through the checkpoint at Bethlehem with him. Read their story on Jeanne Boland's blog: I'll try to add a link.

Today we saw the first century boat that was taken out of the mud at the edge of the Sea of Galilee in the 1980s and then we took a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. Then we visited the sites where it is likely that Jesus taught - the Mount of the Beattitudes, Capernaum, Tabgha (seven springs, where Jesus is said to have multiplied the loaves and fishes). We visited Nazareth and then Cana, where we not only visited the church, but were invited by our bus driver Nael for juice, sweets and coffee at his home. He didnt' turn any water into wine, but his mother and sister had prepared a beautiful dessert - a Palestinian specialty made with cheese, very fine noodles and honey. He just graduated from college and is prepared to teach physical education. His sister Menal is a special education teacher and Helen, who is on our tour and also teaches special education, had a great conversation with her about their students and the common problems they deal with. This is the second invitation we have had. Our guide invited us to his home in Bethlehem last week - his wife made us two cakes and mint tea.

Everywhere we go the Arabs are very friendly and want to show us hospitality - nothing is done without a conversation and even mint tea if we wish. We feel very welcome! There is so much to write and so little time. More when I return....

Friday, June 20, 2008

June 20, Jerusalem

We began the day with Hannah from Maccsom Watch - the 500 women, mostly grandmothers, who stand at a few of the hundreds of checkpoints and witness what is happening. Fortunately, there are now rarely any incidents of physical mistreatment of Palestinians at the checkpoints. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have learned how to behave to avoid bad publicity and getting themselves in trouble. The mistreatment has become much more subtle. Instead of strip searches and beatings, the soldiers humiliate by ignoring those who are waiting or requiring them to go back home for yet another document before they are allowed to pass.

Our tour guide meets us every day at our hotel in Jerusalem. He must leave his home in Bethlehem at 6:30 so he can meet us at 9:00. It's about a 15 minute bus ride. The rest of the time he allows for holdups at the checkpoint. You see, he never knows if he will have to wait 15 minutes or an hour and a half. It's the same people lining up to go to work each morning, but the IDF have complete discretion as to whether the people go through smoothly or not. There are no written laws or procedures for what might be required at the checkpoint - only the whim of the soldier, who may choose to disallow the pass he holds.

Hannah, a Jewish grandmother, began her work with Maccsom Watch after she became a widow - her husband would never have approved of what she does and her children do not approve. That was all she would say about it. She does the work because she sees how the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is destroying the heart of the Jewish people in Israel. The way the soldiers are trained and their treatment of the Palestinians changes the hearts of the young Israelis, all of whom must serve a mandatory time in the army.

Today we also stood with other grandmothers at an intersection in Jerusalem, the Women in Black, holding signs saying "End the occupation." We got lots of reactions - some supportive, but mostly negative - hand signals we didn't recognize, but they definitely were NOT friendly! One woman signaled a "thumbs up" however!

Ending the occupation is the only solution for any of the people we have spoken with, Jewish or Palestinian. There are wonderful human rights workers gathering information and documenting what is happening. So, as a truce is declared in Gaza, no one we have talked with sees this as much progress. It's more stalling, with nothing really changing. Until IDF soldiers leave Gaza, nothing has changed.

But- pray for the ceasefire - it IS something!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tuesday, June 17, Jerusalem, the Old City

Written from an internet cafe a block from our hotel in the Old City, in the Christian Quarter.

It's warm here - very warm (like Denver this week, I think - dry heat that cools in the evening, when we need sweaters). I wake each morning to the loud chirping of the birds in the tree in the courtyard below my room in the Gloria Hotel. There must be a whole flock because they are very loud - making a joyful noise to the Lord, coming before the Lord's presence with singing, grateful for another dawn, no doubt, as am I.

There is much to see and learn here. What I write will reflect what I see - news that does not appear in the Denver Post or on CNN, or even in the New York Times or NPR. I hope to tell the stories of the people whose stories are not told in the American media I watch. They are stories told by Jews and Christians and Muslims, by Israelis and Palestinians.

Monday we walked the Holy City, spending time at the Temple Mount/Haram Al-Shariff. Everywhere here there are at least two names for every building and site, sometimes a single building has been synagogue, mosque and church, depending on who won the last war. We visited the Mount of Olives, where we saw churches commemorating Jesus' weeping over Jerusalem, his teaching of the Lord's prayer to his disciples and the agony of his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, where we cooled off in the shade of the 2000 and 3000-year-old olive trees in the garden that is thought to be Gethsemane. We also toured Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem and met with its administrator, ELCA Lutheran Mark Brown. He took us to the back of the hospital grounds, where we looked out from the top of the hill over the Palestinian villages and the Israeli settlements that are even now being built in the West Bank on Palestinian lands. Just over the fence, he showed us the ruins of a house that was demolished three weeks ago Wednesday. It is all rubble now, but the family, having nowhere else to go, is sleeping outside on the beds they rescued from the ruins. They have rigged a makeshift kitchen under a tarp in what was their backyard and they are already beginning construction of new floors and walls.

Today, Tuesday, we were led on a tour by a representative of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. Angela Goldstein (her name reflecting both her Christian and her Jewish heritage) showed us more houses that have been demolished and told us the stories of the Palestinian families who live daily in fear that the Israeli Defense Forces will show up as they feed their children breakfast to announce that their houses will be bulldozed at 10:00 am because they did not have a valid permit to build (even though they had tried for years to obtain a permit on their own land and been denied). This was a sharp contrast to the Israeli settlements still being constructed on Palestinian-owned lands - lands that were deemed "abandoned" because no one was living there. After the settlements are built, the Wall is built around the settlement and around the road that connects the settlement to the rest of Israel, a road open to Israelis only. It reminds me of the videogame my children played, Munchman or Packman, the ever-expanding settlements gobbling up the land that was once Palestinian farmers' grazing lands or olive groves, or Bedouin homes. We saw one settlement in particular, being marketed to American Jews who cannot see its view atop a hill in East Jerusalem which clearly reveals that it is on the Palestinian side of the security Wall.

We talked to Anat, who is a researcher for B't selem, the Israeli human rights organization. Her human rights studies abroad opened her eyes to the ways her own beloved Israel was treating the Palestinians from whom they received their homeland. She now documents settlers'
attacks on Palestinian farmers - in the Hebron area where Heidi Schramm worked for Christian Peacemakers Teams (Heidi was a member of the St. Paul community two years ago as an Urban Servant Corps volunteer. In 2007, she came back to Denver and spoke to us about her work in Hebron.)

What truths will I learn about my own homeland in my own two-week study abroad in Israel?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Preparing for Travel

As I prepare for the beginning of my trip, I've been reading about what is currently going on in Bethlehem, where I will visit the Lutheran Christmas Church. This past weekend Christians from around the world came to Bethlehem to make a Living Clock in Manger Square, in front of the Church of the Nativity. It was part of the Church Action for Peace, sponsored by the World Council of Churches, to mark the sixty years since the "nakba," the "catastrophe," when Palestinians' lands were seized, villages destroyed and people removed from their homes to make way for an independent state for Jews in 1948. Check out my newest link, the Living Clock, to see this event and take a look at other YouTube video links on that page, expressing the Palestinians' frustration over the lives and lands still being lost in the fighting.