Tuesday, January 27, 2009

In Gaza Only the Dead Have Seen the End of War

Looking at our TVs, we might assume the war is over, but in Gaza it looks different.....

In Gaza, only the dead have seen the end of war.

For the living, no truce can make up for the daily battle for survival. They have no running water, gas, electrical power, and no bread and milk to feed their children. Thousands of people have lost their homes. Humanitarian aid seeps through the passes in drips and drabs, and you get the feeling that the benevolence of the killers' accomplices is only temporary. Tomorrow, Ban Ki-Moon, the UN's Secretary General will travel to Gaza, and we're pretty sure that John Ging, Chief of the Palestinian Refugees' Agency, will have many stories to tell him after Israel bombed two UN schools, assassinated 4 of their workers, bombed and destroyed the UNRWA centre in Gaza City (which reduced tons of medicine and food supplies destined for the civilian population to ashes).

Gaza's mountains of rubble continue to spit corpses back up to the surface. Yesterday, between Jabalia, Tal el Hawa in Gaza City and Zaitun, the Red Crescent paramedics, with some help from the ISM volunteers, have pulled out 95 corpses from the ruins, many of which are in an advanced state of decay. Walking through the streets of the city and no longer feeling constantly terrified by the thought of a bomb surgically aimed to decapitate me, I still tremble at the sight of stray dogs gathering in a circle, imagining what could reveal itself before my eyes as their meal. The relieved men go back to hang out in their mosques and cafés, but their attitude of feigned normalcy is easy to detect. Many of them have lost a relative or have nowhere to live.
They pretend to go back to their everyday routine to boost their wives and children's spirits – somehow, even this catastrophe must be dealt with. This morning we drove with some ambulances to the most devastated neighbourhoods in the city, Tal el Hawa and Zaitun.

Questionnaire in hand, we went door to door and compiled a list of the damage suffered by the buildings , and wrote down the families' most urgent requirements: medicine for the elderly and sick, rice, oil and flour, basically the essentials to feed themselves. All that we've been able to give them so far are metres of nylon, to be used in lieu of their shattered windowpanes to block out the cold.

ISM colleagues in Rafah informed me that the municipality has handed out a few thousand dollars – mere pennies – to the families who've had their houses completely razed to the ground by the bombs, the very same that according to Israel, had been dropped to destroy the tunnels. After the end of the conflict with Lebanon, Hezbollah donated millions of dollars in cheques, to refund the homeless Lebanese citizens. In Gaza, under siege and embargo, Hamas is barely able to refund its people with what "will scarcely be enough to rebuild a barn for livestock", says Khaled, a Rafah farmer.

The truce is unilateral, hence Israel unilaterally decides not to respect it. Khan Yunos, a Palestinian boy, was killed yesterday, and another was injured. East of Gaza helicopters have showered a residential area with white phosphorous. The same happened in Jabalia. In Khann Younis today, the war ships fired their cannons at an open plain, thankfully without harming anyone. But while I write, the news of storming tanks has just reached me. We're not aware of any Palestinian rockets having been fired in the last 24 hours...

International journalists are clamouring for news all along the Strip, as they only managed to get in today. Israel granted them a pass only now that the massacre is winding down. Those who got here in the thick of the battle have seriously risked being killed, as I was told by Lorenzo Cremonesi, a correspondent for Corriere della Sera. Israeli soldiers shot potholes into the car that he was traveling in . Standing by the blackened skeleton of what remains of Al Quds hospital in Gaza City, an astonished BBC reporter asked me how the army could possibly have swapped the building for a terrorists' den.

I said: "For the very same reason that children running away from a burning building were put in sight of the snipers on the roofs, who don't hesitate to kill them, spreading their grey matter all over the road", to which the journalist furrowed his brow further. The enormous difference between us eye-witnesses and first-hand victims of the massacre, and those who hear about it through our stories, is now further highlighted. From Rome I'm told that the EU intends to freeze the funds assigned for the reconstruction of Gaza as long as it's governed by Hamas. The European Commissioner for External Relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, has made her point clear on this score. "The aid for the reconstruction of the Strip", stated the European diplomat, "will only arrive if Palestinian President Abu Mazen will once again re-establish his authority over the territory."

For Gaza's Palestinians this is an explicit invitation from the outside to engage in civil war, or in a coup d'état. It's equivalent to legitimising the massacre of 410 children, who died because their parents chose democracy and freely elected Hamas. "The EU is diligently echoing the criminal policy of collective punishment imposed by Israel. Why not entrust the funds to the UN? Or some governmental organisation?" "The Unites States are free to elect a war-monger like Bush, Israel can choose leaders with bloodied hands like Sharon or Netanyahu, but we, the people of Gaza, aren't free to chose Hamas…", suggested Mohamed, a human rights activist who never voted for the Islamic movement himself. I have no arguments to contradict him.

The surviving Palestinians learn from their dead; they learn to live while dying, right from the tenderest age. Truce after truce, the general perception here is that of a macabre pause between one massacre and another during which to count the dead, and peace has never felt so elusive. Scouring Gaza City on board an ambulance with the siren switched off for once, the war is still everywhere, among the ruins of a city robbed of its smiles and now populated only by frightened gazes, eyes that insist upon scanning the sky for planes still endlessly flying overhead. Inside a home we visited with some paramedics, I noticed some pastel drawings on the floor. It was clearly a child's hand that had abandoned them after evacuating the house in a mad rush. I picked one of them up – tanks, helicopters and a body in pieces. In the middle of the drawing a child with a stone had succeeded in reaching the sun's height and was damaging one of the flying death machines. It's been said that in a child's drawing, the sun represents his desire to be, to appear. The sun I saw was crying tears of blood in red pastel. Is a unilateral truce enough to heal such traumas?

Stay humanVittorio Arrigoni
link: http://www.ilmanifesto.it/il-manifesto/ricerca-nel-manifesto/vedi/nocache/1/numero/20090120/pagina/01/pezzo/239905/?tx_manigiornale_pi1%5BshowStringa%5D=solo%2Bmorti&cHash=afda453893 permalink: http://guerrillaradio.iobloggo.com/archive.php?eid=1777

Friday, January 23, 2009

Humanitarian Aid for Gaza an Insult

There is much talk about the humanitarian aid needed in Gaza - how the international community must respond by giving money and assistance to rebuild what was destroyed in the Israeli attacks. John Holmes, U.N. head of humanitarian affairs, today urges quick fundraising for emergency repairs in Gaza. I agree - we need to help with the rebuilding. Gaza, the home of 1.6 million people, has been destroyed and we need to help provide shelter for all the people once again made homeless by Israeli military actions.

However, humanitarian aid is meaningless - it would even be an insult - without political changes. As long as Israel occupies "Palestinian" lands, there will be no peace and there will be no justice for Palestinians. Rebuilding Gaza so that life can return to "normal" is not what Gazans want. They want change - their borders opened, reporters allowed back in, and trade to resume so that they can have heat, medical supplies, food and other necessities of life. In an article in today's Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/search/ci_11526642, Gazans are seen reopening the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt so they can resume smuggling. The smuggled items the reporter saw were - chocolate-covered cookies from Egypt. Not weapons to attack Israelis, just the stuff of daily life - cookies! Another man talks about getting the gas needed for transportation.

The tunnels, seen by the Israelis as a danger to their safety, would not be needed if the Israeli-imposed blockade were lifted and Gazans could get their chocolate-covered cookies like we do - from trucks and trains that travel and deliver their goods above-ground.

The attacks on Hamas seem to have only increased Hamas' popularity. People who previously had no use for Hamas, are now supporters - united behind a government disregarded and persecuted by Israel and Western governments including the U.S.

If we really want to help the people of Gaza, who have lost everything, we must not only give our money, but demand political change - respect for elected Palestinian leaders, an end to the blockade of Gaza, opening of the border crossings with Israel and with Egypt. If these political changes were made, Gazans could help themselves rebuild. This is what they really want and need from us.

More knowledgeable people than I have raised these issues. Read Henry Siegman's article< "Israel's Lies," in this week's London Review of Books: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v31/n02/print/sieg01_.html

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

From Bombs and Rockets to the Daily Terrorism of Control

Today we have much to be thankful for!

A ceasefire has been declared in Gaza and the joyful celebrations of the U.S. Presidential inauguration fill our TV screens. There are reasons for us to celebrate and Gaza residents are relieved that the attacks have stopped and no more of their children will be killed.

But their grief is not over and moving on will be very difficult. Bloody bodies still fill the hospitals and morgues. Neighborhoods are decimated. One U.N. observer said it looks like a major earthquake has hit Gaza.

The "terrorist" violence of the Hamas rockets aimed at Israeli towns north of Gaza and the Israeli bombs dropped on Gaza are only one form of terrorism. While the rockets and bombs have stopped, another form of terrorism remains: the daily terrorism of lives lived under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza and in refugee camps in Jordan, Syria and wherever the Palestinian refugees of 1948 and 1967 have found shelter. These people still wait for peace and they wait for justice. And they wait for the freedom to control their own lives.

I think of our tour guide last summer, who spends several hours every day waiting in lines at checkpoints to get to his work, meeting tourists like me, in Jerusalem. When he shows up at the checkpoint in Bethlehem at 6:00 in the morning, he never knows whether he will have to wait an hour or three hours. He never knows whether this is the day his permit will be revoked, without cause, by a surly soldier. He sleeps fitfully, because he worries that, even with his permits in order, he may not be able to meet his tour group - he worried about what we would do if he did not show up! And then what will he do for work? How will he feed his family? How will he provide for his wife and three small children?

A ceasefire is an important first step, but there is much more to be done. All of the terrorism needs to stop:
  • the arbitrary and demeaning treatment of Palestinians at checkpoints
  • the system of checkpoints and permits, whereby Israel (which has the sole power to issue travel documents) controls all movement between Israel and Palestine and within Palestine
  • the refusal of Israel and the U.S. to work with duly elected Palestinian governments when we do not approve of their politics and their tactics
  • the stated embargo of goods to Gaza and the de facto embargo to the West Bank - which not only denies Palestinians medical supplies, fuel and food, but also prevents commerce in Palestine and denies Palestinians the means to make a living. For example, Israel denies permits to wine growers in Palestine to ship their wines abroad.
  • the denial of travel permits to Palestinian students who want to study abroad
  • the ongoing building today of new Israeli settlements and the enlargement of existing settlements in Palestinian areas

So, today, as we celebrate new beginnings with a new president, let us not forget the new beginnings that are needed in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank and the role our new government can play in bringing peace and justice to the region.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Jewish Voices Speak Out Against Israel's Attacks on Gaza

I am not the only one on a pilgrimage. Many others are also on their own journeys of discovery and transformation as they encounter the current situation of Palestinians. See my other blog (http://peacenewslinks.blogspot.com/) for voices of Jews who are calling for changes in Israel's policies--voices of peacemakers working for justice in Palestine and Israel, among them:

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Dark Fog - Jewish reflections on the violence in Gaza

A view of suffering and death on both sides of the Wall. This article appears in today's Guardian newspaper in the UK.

'A dark fog has enveloped us'

When a rocket killed his mother-in-law in Israel, actor Paul Kaye was appalled by the celebrations in Gaza. Six months on, he feels a different kind of despair.

by Paul Kaye

The Guardian, Friday 16 January 2009

I had to hold my 17-year-old son down on the bed after he heard the news. His strength really shocked me. I was gripping his upper arms as tightly as I could to hold him flat on the bed, but he was spitting with rage, tears streaming down his face. I was shouting, "Stop! Please stop!" but he was pushing up at me hard, his face twisting like his body underneath me. He was fighting with everything he had in order to be able to get up, run down the stairs and get out of the house. All I knew at that moment was that I couldn't let him leave. We were in his bedroom in London and I had just given him the news that his grandmother had been blown to pieces by a rocket in Israel. Jordy had lost his other grandmother five months earlier to cancer. This time there was someone to blame.

Our pain and his rage opened a window up for me on to what is happening in Gaza. There are thousands and thousands of young men who have experienced - or are experiencing - that rage in Gaza and the West Bank, and their fathers and grandfathers have no doubt experienced it too. When I heard in the days that followed Shuli's death that they handed out sweets in Gaza to celebrate the fact that the rocket had hit a target, I was appalled. Now with all I have seen over the last two weeks in Gaza, part of me feels: why wouldn't they celebrate?

Shuli, my wife's mother, lived on Kibbutz Gvar-am, which lies 5km to the north of Gaza and 10km to the south of Ashkelon. She had been the kibbutz nurse until she retired and lately had worked part-time in the kibbutz factory making envelopes for the Salvation Army and Asda. In May last year she had been expecting a visit from a cousin who was over from America. The cousin had phoned to say that she was too frightened to come to Shuli's kibbutz on account of a rocket landing in Ashkelon the previous day. "Don't worry," Shuli told her, "every missile has its own address. We'll come to you instead."

An hour later she arrived at the house where her cousin was staying. Her son, Yariv, rang the doorbell and while they waited for someone to answer, Shuli stepped away in order to get some shade next to a wall. The rocket came out of nowhere and she died instantly. None had landed in that area before. Only later did we find out that Shuli had rung her sister the night before her death and made her promise to look after her children if anything were to happen to her. It was beshert - meant to be.

That was six months ago and now, sat at home in north London with the Israeli bombardment of Gaza well into its third week, and with news of fresh horrors arriving daily, our house is filled with a despair of a different kind. It has felt like a house in mourning again. A dark fog which I can't really describe has enveloped us. Maybe it's shame. I don't know. I know we all felt relief that Israel didn't retaliate after Shuli was killed. But it's happening now. I keep looking at Shuli's birth certificate which my wife now has. Shuli's mother had left Germany by boat for Palestine after Hitler came to power and she helped form a radical socialist community on land partitioned to the Jews by the British. Shuli's birth certificate states her nationality as Palestinian. Her death certificate said Israeli.

My wife says she feels scared and lost and full of guilt. "It's my country and I see myself as Israeli not Jewish," she keeps shouting at me. Does that make you feel better or worse about what's going on, I ask? "That's worse!" she says, "because Israel is nothing to do with God." I digest this, but don't even know where to begin to start unravelling that statement.

I'm trying to think back to Christmas when I was staying on the kibbutz. I'm struggling to remember what I felt as the Hamas rockets were flying in every day during the week before the Israeli F16s screamed over our heads and began pounding the Gaza Strip and those condemned to live within it. My five-year-old son, Geffen, was constantly asking me if he was going to die like his Grandma. People on the kibbutz rallied around as you would expect; it was no time for questions or politics. We didn't see the bigger picture. But on returning home, I saw it all too clearly, and it sent me into meltdown.

I feel guilty about abandoning my friends on the kibbutz - not physically but mentally. A good friend of mine over there called Mirav, whom I've known for 25 years, has a 12-year- old daughter, Omer, who just stays in her room and cries. She's been doing it for three months now and this all began after the fourth Kasam rocket hit her school. I try to think about her, but shockingly she doesn't seem to matter so much any more. Not at the moment anyway. Not from here in England with what we're seeing on television every day. Everything is dwarfed by the horrors in Gaza.

I'd seen the ground troops massing up the road from the kibbutz towards the border with Gaza in the days before I left Israel, but I never believed for one second that they would go in. They did. In the last few days, I've stopped watching television and buying newspapers. For the first time in my adult life I don't want to know what is going on outside my own front door.

Most Israelis I know think Hamas wants to annihilate Israel. A lot of Jews over here think that too. I don't know if that's what Hamas wants: it depends what you read. I was over there when they blew up buses on Dissenghof Street in Tel Aviv in 1996. That act seemed to turn Israel right wing just at the moment the country was mourning the death of Rabin and was, I believe, genuinely committed to peace. But Hamas is now part of the political process whether Israel, Britain and America likes it or not and dialogue is the only way forward. Would hatred for Israel stop if it were to return to its 1967 borders? Of course not, but Israel has to do it anyway. It has to do the right thing, to help build a strong Palestinian state where people can live normal lives, work, feed their kids, be happy, safe, have dignity. That's what most people want in life isn't it?

At Shuli's funeral last May, her son Jonathon, my brother-in-law, gave a speech. "Where are the doves?" he asked. "What is this land worth without someone with a vision? Nothing. Without doves it wasn't worth the struggle." Jonny is 34. He's an army reservist who is studying to be a neurologist and has a two-year-old son called Boaz. He didn't scream for blood at his mother's graveside, he screamed for peace.

In our house we have our own thinking to do. My eldest son, Jordy, has Israeli citizenship and in two years he will have to choose either to relinquish that citizenship or to fight in the Israeli army. It can be only his choice. But, unlike the Palestinians in Gaza, at least he has one.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2009

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Message of Hope and Something we can Do - from Pastor Mitri Raheb

One of the people I met in Palestine is the Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, pastor of the Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem. His leadership helps the people of Bethlehem build a city with hope for the future. Today he offers us his perspective on the Israeli attacks on Gaza, as he remembers the attacks by the Israeli military on his own buildings in 2002.

Gaza: A Different Perspective
by Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb
January 12, 2009

Watching the news these days is not an easy task, especially if you switch between Arab channels like Al Jazeera on one hand, and Western channels like Fox on the other. The war on Gaza is portrayed so differently that one sometimes might wonder if these diverse narratives are actually dealing with the same conflict. On one channel, you see images of children slaughtered by Israeli troops and missiles; the other repeats, ad nauseam, the statements issued by the Israeli spokespeople about Israel's right to defend itself.

The most deceiving thing about coverage on both sides, however, is the idea that the more pictures one sees, the more he or she understands what's going on. I believe that the outrageous pictures transmitted are capturing our attention and feelings, yet are preventing us from thinking, analyzing and understanding what is really happening. This war on Gaza, and the sensational, 24-hour media coverage it is getting, has created a storm in the public sphere in order to hide the real intentions of the parties involved. The most important thing, I believe, is not what we are told and shown, but what this war is trying to hide. Here are some of the intentions as I see them:

1) The two-state solution is the intended victim of the war on Gaza.
Although Israel is aiming at destroying Hamas' military capabilities (as primitive as they are), I believe that Israel's real intention is to polish Hamas' political image. This may seem an outlandish contradiction, but let's look at what has been happening. While Israel can't tolerate rockets falling into its territory, it is in its long-term strategic interest to have Hamas control the Gaza Strip. Why? For a simple reason: if Hamas controls Gaza and Fatah controls the West Bank, then the two-state solution is over. Gaza and the West Bank will become two distinct entities governed by two different Palestinian parties with two different regional alignments. And Israel is off the hook. The "Two-State Solution" that the Palestinian negotiators were wishfully thinking to have almost achieved in their negotiations with Israel, and what President Bush had promised to deliver by the end of 2008 and didn't, is what was really targeted in this war and totally destroyed. President Obama will find new realities and challenges on the ground to deal with. A new chapter of managing the conflict will start in the Middle East.

Ed. note: I also observed that the possibility of a two-state solution is being eliminated by the continued building of Israeli settlements throughout Palestinian lands, breaking up any land which could become a Palestinian state.

2) Regional power struggles continue to be played out in Palestine.
The war on Gaza, although purely an Israeli decision, was also triggered also by some regional powers who were backing Hamas. Again we see the same old story played out, of regional wars being fought on Palestinian land, using Palestinian groups and war lords as proxies for different political interests. Without a new regional arrangement, there will be no stability in Palestine or in the region at large.

3) Gaza is the new poster-child for justifying humanitarian aid.
Gaza will now be marketed on a much wider scale as a severe humanitarian crisis. Disempowering aid, handouts and food supplies will start flowing into Gaza like never before. Yet Gaza's problem is, fundamentally, a political one. What the people in Gaza really need is for the occupation to end, for the population to be able to live freely, to export and import, to fish and grow flowers. What Gaza really needs is self-empowerment, a new vision, and the power of a spirit that overcomes the liturgies of death and insists on having life that is worth living; even if outside forces deny them that.

Some might ask: Is this the time for such words? People are struggling for mere survival, and you try to talk about things that might be interesting, but not crucial. I disagree. I still remember the days in 2002 when we experienced in Bethlehem the same kind of bombardment with the same F-16s and Apache helicopters (though on a smaller scale and for a much shorter period), when we saw our city that had just been renovated for the millennium celebrations damaged and destroyed. I know how children in Gaza are now being traumatized, how families are scared to death, not knowing who's next. And yet it was at that time that we wrote: "We will never give up on our town and on the wellness of our community. We will continue to build and rebuild, to train and educate, to empower and to create life in the midst of death. We will continue to call for justice and reconciliation in the midst of rising hate, revenge and retaliation." This was as true then as it is now.

Bright Stars of Bethlehem - Something You Can Do

While the children of Gaza are experiencing the ongoing trauma of being under attack, the children of Bethlehem, watching these images on TV, are reminded of their own experiences of violence and endangerment, calling up their own trauma during the 2002 attack on Bethlehem.

The Bright Stars of Bethlehem is a program begun by Pastor Mitri and the Lutheran Christmas Church, to help the children of Bethlehem cope with their ongoing trauma and the limitations the Israeli occupation and the wall create. The children participate in after-school activities and summer camps, to make their lives as normal as possible under these dehumanizing conditions. To help these children deal with the trauma, the Bright Stars Program has initiated a project to help children explore their thoughts, feelings and fears through visual art, and to send messages of hope to the children in Gaza.

The Bright Stars Program is coordinating with art teachers in schools throughout the West Bank to encourage their students to draw the images that are haunting their minds from the current war on Gaza and from previous experiences of conflict, in hopes that their minds and spirits will find freedom through creative expression. The further goal is for teachers to encourage their students to imagine and portray images of hope and peace, since visualizing things helps them to become reality. All of the artwork from this initiative will be collected and displayed in an exhibition, so that other children, parents, teachers, the media, and through them the outside world, might see the Gaza war through the eyes of children, and what the children hope for in the future instead of conflict.

After the exhibition, the messages and images of hope from the children in the West Bank will be sent to schools in Gaza. Maintaining the connection between the West Bank and Gaza is vital to Palestinian hopes for national unity and identity, and it must be fostered in the minds and hearts of the children of this generation.

You can support this work with your gifts.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

More on Gaza: Song, Evanston rabbi, Jon Stewart, ELCA bishops, Free Gaza

  • A song for Gaza: http://ca.youtube.com/watch?v=dlfhoU66s4Y
  • Jewish Voice for Peace - Evanston rabbi speaks out against Gaza bombing and Jon Stewart speaks out for peace: "Just a few days after the bombing of Gaza started, my rabbi, Rabbi Brant Rosen here in Evanston, Illinois had the courage to write something on his blog* that may forever change his life, and the lives of those around him. As I read it, I could literally feel the earth shift beneath my feet. He said, 'We good libereal Jews are ready to protest oppression and human-rights abuse anywhere in the world, but are all too willing to give Israel a pass. It's a fascinating double-standard, and one I understand all too well. I understand it because I've been just as responsible as anyone else for perpetratinbg it...So not more rationalizations. What Israel has been doing to the people of Gaza is an outrage. It has brought neither safety nor security to the people of Isarel and it has wrought nothing but misery and tragendy upon the people of Gaza. The earth is shifting on this issue when the people to whom we look for guidance about right and wrong, people like Rabbi Brant, finally speak the truth- that killing will not bring peace. Not for the Israelis, not for the Palestinians, not for anyone. Many people from my own congregation, including my own daughter, wrote him to say "Thank you, thank you for finally saying these words out loud." I felt something similar when I saw Jon Stewart on The Daily Show on Monday night. While almost all of the mainstream news in the United States has reported the story without any context whatsoever, repeating the lie that this is a simple case of Israel defending its people against irrational attacks, it was Jon Stewart, the main source of news for an entire generation of Americans, who got it right: http://www.thankyoujonstewart.com/
  • Free Gaza Ship leaves Larnaca, Cyprus, for Gaza, bringing doctors, journalists, human rights workers, and members of several European parliaments as well as medical supplies: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: www.FreeGaza.org For More Information, Please Contact:(Cyprus) Huwaida Arraf, +357 96 723 999 or +357 99 081 767 huwaida.arraf@gmail.com (Gaza) Ewa Jasiewicz, +972 598 700 497 freelance@mailworks.org (Egypt) Caoimhe Butterly, +20 121 027 072 sahara78@hotmail.co.uk(U.S.) Ramzi Kysia, +1 703 994 5422 rrkysia@yahoo.com (Cyprus, 11 January 2009) - The Free Gaza Movement ship, "SPIRIT OF HUMANITY," will leave Larnaca Port at 12:00 noon, Monday, 12 January, on an emergency mission to besieged Gaza. The ship will carry desperately needed doctors, journalists, human rights workers, and members of several European parliaments as well as medical supplies. This voyage marks Free Gaza's second attempt to break through the blockade since Israel began attacking the Gaza Strip on 27 December. Between August and December 2008, the Free Gaza Movement successfully challenged the Israeli blockade five times, landing the first international ships in the port of Gaza since 1967. Read more: http://www.freegaza.org/en/home/666-free-gaza-to-israel-qwe-are-coming-in-on-tuesdayq
  • Lutheran Bishops Hear from Families of Middle East Conflict Victims JERUSALEM (ELCA) - One man mourns a daughter, the other grieves a father. Their losses put them on an unlikely path to friendship in an area of the world marked by Palestinian-Israeli strife. Rami Elhanan, an Israeli, and Mazen Faraj, a Palestinian, shared their stories recently with 45 bishops from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada visiting the Holy Land Jan. 6-13 to support Christians and promote peace. As the two men spoke, the bloodshed in Gaza continued to escalate, adding to the toll of about 7,000 lives already snuffed out by violence since 2000. The violence "will not stop until we talk," said Elhanan, who lives here. His 14-year-old daughter died in Jerusalem in 1997 in an attack by a Palestinian suicide bomber. Read more, with pictures: http://blogs.elca.org/09cobacademy/

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Real people are being killed and injured - stories from Gaza

Israel has denied journalists access to Gaza, so our regular news sources are not available. This is not my own pilgrimage story, but that of a Red Crescent worker in Gaza - Ewa Jasiewicz, an experienced journalist, community and union organizer, and solidarity worker. She is currently Gaza Project Co-coordinator for the Free Gaza Movement. http://www.freegaza.org/

Her stories are painful to read, but not as gut-wrenching as the picture in one of my emails today: the disembodied head of a small child lying in the rubble of the bombing in Gaza. It's easy for me to see the conflict in statistics, finger-pointing and blaming, but these are real people and their suffering is greater than I can imagine. As you read, remember that these victims are refugees who(se parents) were removed from their villages in 1948. (1.1 m. of the 1.6 m. people in Gaza are refugess.) In the last section, "Global Intifada," she offers some suggestions for how we can respond to make a difference in the lives of these people.

Riding on fire and a third intifada

By Ewa Jasieiwcz, in Jabaliya and Beit Hanoun, Gaza Thursday January 8th 2008

I’ve been working with the Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance services in Jabaliya, Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahiya for the past 5 days and nights.

For the past five days the Red Cross and the Red Crescent emergency services have been blocked from evacuating the injured and the dead from key areas surrounding Jabaliya and Gaza City. Special Forces have occupied houses in the areas of Zeitoun, Atarturah, Zoumo and Salahedeen.

Paramedic Ali Khalil’s team was shot at on Monday afternoon. He told me, 'We had been told we had the go-ahead from the Israeli army through co-ordination with the Red Cross but when we arrived at the area we were shot at. We had to turn back'. Yesterday afternoon, a medical volunteer, Hassan, was shot in the leg as he and his colleague had to drop the stretcher they were carrying after coming under Israeli sniper fire. There are reports of scores of dead bodies lying in the streets un-claimed. The Palestinian Red Crescent Society estimates there are 230 injured which they haven’t been able to pick up.

There are reports of 18 corpses in one home alone and the injured dying from treatable wounds because of a lack of access to medical treatment.

Last night, at around 9pm, Marwan, an experienced paramedic, bearing the scars of years of Israeli invasions, sustained another yet another. He was shot in the leg by an Israeli sniper in Eastern Jabaliya. Gnarled by his work, picking up the pieces after Israeli attacks, he had said only the day before yesterday, ‘This is no life, its better to die, it would be better to be dead than this shit’.

The blockade on any rescuing is reminiscent of the battle of Jenin in April 2002. Israel forbade ambulances from entering the camp, blowing up one with a tank shell and killing Dr Khalil Sulleiman, the Head of the Palestinian Red Crescent. The army cut water and electricity and bulldozed an entire neighbourhood, complete with residents still in their homes, over the course of 11 days. The death count in the 11-day Jenin massacre was 58, but estimated to be much higher. Here in Jabaliya, this is the equivalent to around 4 days in the past week or almost the whole of yesterday. Between December 27th and January 5th, in Jabaliya alone, 119 people had been killed and 662 injured. An average of 15 people are dying, violently, every day. On January 6th, with the Fakhoura school massacre, 50 people were killed in just one day. Hospital authorities mark the day as the single worst day they have ever seen in Jabaliya.

Sporadic battles are taking place between Palestinian resistance fighters, armed with basic machine guns, the odd grenade, and warm clothes. They’re up against the fourth most powerful army in the world, armed with state-of-the-art war planes, Merkava tanks, regional governmental co-ordination and intelligence, a green light to kill with impunity in the name of self defence, body armor, night vision, and holidays in Goa when it all gets too much.
The paramedics, drivers and volunteers at the emergency services risk their lives every time they leave their base and even working within their bases.

Medics evacuated their original base near Salahadeen street due to heavy shelling from Israeli forces early last week. They then moved to the Al Awda Hospital in Beit Lahiya because again, it was too close to the battle front, and again to a community centre in Moaskar Jabaliya to be ‘safer’.

However, against a backdrop of deafening crashes and bangs of bombs falling close by, on Monday at 12.45pm, an Israeli surveillance plane fired two missiles into the Al Awda Hospital compound. The first slammed into a police car, the second, impacted two minutes later into the ground just meters in front of the Hospital’s clinic. Two rescue workers were injured in the head and face, but we were all lucky to escape without any serious damage.

Right now we’re back at the Jabaliya base, still close to the sound of pounding tank shells, apache strikes, and light gunfire met with staggering rapid fire 50 caliber tank-gun fire, the odd grenade and the ever menacing and maddening sneer of surveillance drones.

Yesterday around 1am we were called out to a strike in the Moaskar Jabaliya area. The area was pitch black, our feeble torches lighting up broken pipes streaming water, glass, chunks of concrete and twisted metal.

‘They’re down there, down there, take care’, people said. The smell of fresh severed flesh, a smell that can only come from the shedding of pints of blood and open insides, was in the air. I got called back by a medic who screamed at me to stay by his side. It turned out Id been following the Civil Defence, the front line responders who check to see if buildings are safe and put out fires, rather than the medics.

The deep ink dark makes it almost impossible to see clearly, shadows and faces lit up by swiveling red ambulance lights and arms pointing hurriedly are our guides for finding the injured. ‘Lets get out of here, lets get out’ say the guys, and we’re leaving to go, empty handed, but straining to seeing what’s ahead when a missile hits the ground in front of us. We see a lit up fountain of what could be nail darts explode in front of us. They fall in a spray like a thousand hissing critters, we cover our heads and run back to the ambulance. One of the volunteers inside, Mohammad, is shocked, ‘Did you see? Did you see? How close it was?’

At approximately 4am, we hit the streets in response to an F16 war plane attack on the house of Abdullah Sayeed Mrad in the Block Two area of Jabaliya Camp in the Northern Gaza Strip.
Mrad is said to be a high ranking Hamas official according to local sources. The attack leveled the house. Every house strike is like walking into a smoking grave, broken doll-like bodies of children to be found beneath layers and layers of white rubble and burning shrapnel.

We took Adam Mamoun Al Kurdi, aged 3 to Al Awda. He died of multiple shrapnel injuries to his skull and lower thighs.

We sped back 5 minutes later – four teams in four Red Crescent ambulances, to fetch more casualties. Thankfully there were none.

Whilst waiting in the ambulance we suddenly heard a deafening bang and saw an orange flash before our ambulance was showered with shrapnel, glass and brick. The target of the attack was another house belonging to Sayeed Mrad. Medics say the strike was from an F16. The depth of damage caused was consistent with the force of an F16-fired bomb.

The house, reduced to rubble, was just two meters from our ambulance. Ambulance driver Majdi Shehadda, 48, sustained deep lacerations to his face and right ear and went into shock in the ambulance. He was treated with oxygen. Four rescue workers sustained minor injuries and had to be treated for smoke and dust inhalation. One, Saaber Mohammad Awad, 34, was preparing to exit his ambulance when the bomb hit. ‘The door smashed against me and the windows smashed in because of the pressure. I expected to die. If we had been outside just a second later, we would have been killed. The ambulance saved our lives’.

The four ambulances, one with all of its' windows blown in and damage to medical stocks inside, the others with cracked windows, were trapped by rubble blocking our exit route.

We had to carry Majdi on a stretcher over the debris of the bombed house in total darkness whilst Israeli drones menaced the skies above us. I tripped up over twisted steel foundation poles at one point and dropped the oxygen tank, the pipe detaching and hissing oxygen out over the rubble. We all evacuated the area after 15 minutes, along with a family, carrying their blankets, mattresses and belongings, as another property belonging to Sayeed Mrad also in the area was at risk of being bombed.

The ambulances would have been clearly visible to Israeli drones and special forces with their rooftop indentification markings, bright flashing lights and solo movement in the deserted, pitch black strees of Jabaliya.

An aerial curfew

Everyone is terrified by surveillance plane strikes here. ‘Zenane’ they call them, because of the zzzzz sound they make. They have been firing explosive missiles into people – people walking, in cars, sitting in doorways drinking tea, standing on rooftops, praying together, sitting at home and watching television together.

In Naim Street Beit Hanoun, at 9.30pm on Sunday, Samieh Kaferna , 40, was hit by flying shrapnel to his head. Neighbours called him to come to their home. Fearing his home would be struck, he and a group of relatives began to move from one home to another, to be safer.
The second missile struck them down directly. When we arrived one man, eyes gigantic, was being dragged into the pavement, half of his lower body shredded, his intestines slopping out. He was alive, his relatives were screaming, we managed to take four, whilst six others, charred and dismembered, were brought in on the back of an open cattle truck. Beit Hanoun Hospital was chaos, with screaming relatives and burning bodies.

Three men died in the attack, 10 were injured, six from the same Abu Harbid family. Three had to have leg amputations, and one a double amputation.

Burning shrapnel in eyes is a common injury, shrapnel slices deep into to any soft fleshy parts of the body. We brought a boy from Beit Hanoun with a distorted heavily bandaged head wrapped in bandages, to Al Nasser hospital with its specialist eye unit and mental health clinic. When we get there, its pitch black, doctors are sitting around candles, the place is freezing and full of shadows. Both the doctors and their have been patients blinded with Israeli-controlled power cuts that intensify the confusion, fear, and psychological darkness caving in on people here.
Burning shrapnel in eyes – like those of three year old Shedar Athman Khader Abid from Beit Hanoun, ‘injured in the left eye, explosive injury, full thickness corneal wound, iris prologue and vitreous loss’ according to her medical report. Her father approaches my friend, quietly, to ask if its possible for me to help her, to get her out to have eye surgery, ’This girl, she was like a moon, haram, three years old and her beauty is robbed from her’.

Extremely hot, shrapnel lodges in chests, legs, faces, hands, stomachs, and skullls. I’ve been taught, don’t focus on stopping bleeding with shrapnel injuries, there is very little blood, the foreign bodies burn inside. Many casualties we’ve brought in that seem ok, literally, on ‘the surface’, only to die a few days later. People talk about the missiles being poison tipped, and there have been reports of white phosphorous being used.

Dead for buying bread

Last night four members of a family were traveling back from the bakers in Beit Lahiya. Squeezed into a white skoda, their bag of bread still warm, they were struck by a surveillance plane missile at 6pm. Khaled Ismaeel Kahlood, 44, and his three sons Mohammad 15, Habib, 12, and Towfiq, 10, were cut into pieces by the attack which blew their car in two. Taxi driver Hassan Khalil, 20, was also martyred in the attack. The bodies brought into Kamal Odwan hospital were virtually unrecognizable.

A Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees ambulance was fired upon at approximately 8.30am on Sunday morning killing Paramedic and father of five, Arafa El Deyem, 35. He and another rescue worker had been evacuating casualties which had come under fire from an Israeli tank East of Jabaliya in the North of the Gaza Strip. Witnesses report that as the door of the ambulance was being closed a tank shell hit El Deyem. El Deyem died from a massive loss of blood following a major trauma to his chest. Paramedics I ride with cherish his memory, carrying his photo - a kind and strong looking, bearded man - on their mobile phones.

The following day, at the family's grieving tent, five of El Deyem's relatives were killed when a missile smashed into the tent in the Beit Hanoun Area. Arafat Mohammed Abdel Deinm, 10, Mohammad Jamal Abdel Dein, 25, Maher Younis Abdel Dein, 30, and Said Jamal Said, 27, all died from head and internal explosive injuries. Witnesses claim the missile was fired by an Israeli surveillance drone.

The Ministry of Health confirmed that Doctor Anis Naeem, a nephew of the Hamas Minister of Health, Bassem Naeem, and a colleague were killed in the Zeitoun area on Sunday afternoon when a missile strike from an Israeli surveillance plane impacted on the home they had entered in order to retrieve casualties.

Rescue workers Ihab el-Madhoun 35, and Mohammad Abu Hasira, 24, were struck by Israeli missiles when trying to collect casualties in the Jabal Al Rais area of Jabbaliya last Tuesday. Witnesses said Ihab went to assist his colleague following a strike on the rescue workers. He too was then struck.

Abu Hasira was brought to the Kamal Ahdwan governmental hospital in Jabaliya and died at 7.30am according to hospital records. The cause of death was multiple trauma injuries. Ihab died from massive internal injuries following an operation on his chest and abdominal area five hours later.

Khalil Abu Shammalah, Director of Al Dhumeer Association based in Gaza City said: ‘It is a breach of the fourth Geneva Convention to target emergency medical services under conditions of war and occupation.

Battlefield casualties are also protected under the Geneva Conventions and cannot be targeted once injured. Israel is in breach of international law'.

The Israeli news agency Y-Net recently reported that Yuval Duskin, Director of the Israeli intelligence agency Shin Bet, told the Israeli cabinet that large numbers Hamas operatives are hiding in hospitals and dressing as medical workers. Palestinian medical officials have dismissed the claims as 'nonsense'. Rescue workers are terrified that hospitals will join the list of civilian targets including homes, schools, universities, mosques, and shops hit in Israel's offensive so far.

Homes crushed

People and their homes are being pulverized by Israeli tank shells, F16s and bulldozers. I traveled to the buffer zone area of Sikka Street close to the Erez checkpoint, to see the damage. 27 houses had been crushed by either bulldozers or tank shells, one had been destroyed by an F16 bomb.

10 water wells and 200 dunums of land – orange groves and strawberry fields, have been bulldozed, and approximately 250 people have been made homeless.

Six members of the Kiferna family were crushed to death when their home was fired upon by Tanks on Sunday night.

People were coming back to their homes for the first time. The Hamdan Family had three homes in a row destroyed. I asked one woman sitting amongst the ruins of her home where she would go now? She replied, ‘Beit Hanoun UNRWA school’.

’But do you think that will be safe?’ I asked her. ‘No, but I have nowhere else to go’ she replied.
The Al Naim Mosque was also completely destroyed, holy books still smouldering from the attacks. Approximately one in 10 of the some 100 mosques in the Jabaliya area have been destroyed in Israel’s assault. ‘We see them as personal centers for us, theyre not Hamas, and we paid for them out of our own money, they belong to us, not anyone else’, explained one Imam based in Jabaliya.

The demolition of Mosques means many people are praying in the streets, at the Kamal Odwan hospital, people pray in the garden area opposite, and at the funeral for the 42 people, mostly children, massacred at the Fakhoura School , hundreds prayed on the ground that was turned into an early graveyard.

Forced out

On Sunday night, all Sikka Street residents were given five minutes to leave their homes, ordered out through loudhailers, unable to take any belongings with them, rounded up by Israeli occupation forces and taken to the Al Naim Mosque. Women, children and the elderly were put inside and men aged between 16-40 were kept in a field outside in the cold and interrogated. Six were taken to Erez, three were released a day later and were told by soldiers, according to a witness, that it was safe for them to make their own way home along Salahadeen Street. It was there that special forces allegedly shot 33 year-old Shaadi Hissam Yousef Hamad 33, in the head.

Torn schoolbooks lie amidst rubble, and Iman Mayer Hammad picks through the debris of her life, a hejab, shoes, pictures, she cries out, ‘Its all gone, everything, they’ve taken everything, my children can’t finish their exams, how will they finish their exams?’

Hundreds of children won’t be finishing their exams in Gaza because they’re dead.
Whether people stay in their homes or leave, they are being bombed. Majid Hamdan Wadeeya, 40, was hit in the leg and spine with shrapnel while he and his family were preparing to leave their home in Jaffa Street, Jabaliya. We arrived at his home on Tuesday afternoon to find the family’s decrepit red car still running and the family minivan stuffed with mattresses, towels, blankets, and belongings, blasted open. They had been hit by a missile from either a drone of apache. ‘We were going from the bombing, from the bombing’, screamed his children, all terrified. We managed to take half of the family, the rest got in their red car and followed.
We were interviewing residents at the UNRWA elementary school in Jabaliya, close to the Fakhoora school, at exactly the same time of the massacre.The Sahaar family, which had walked from their home in Salahdeen Street to seek refuge in the school on the first day of invasion, were asking us, ‘But do you think we are safe here? We feel that any time a missile could come down us? Are we safe here?’ The 500 people, some 50 families living in classrooms, share just 14 toilets and rely on rations to survive. The nights are cold as the windows have been smashed out by Israeli bomb attacks. Noone can sleep at night because of the sounds of homes, mosques and people being bombed to the ground.

The fabric of life

Everyone here knows someone who has been killed in Israel ’s massacres. I can’t keep up with the stories of missile struck cousins, nephews, brothers, the jailed, the humiliated, the shot, the unreachable, the homeless, the now even more vulnerable than ever, people, not pieces, piling up in morgues all over Gaza, not pieces, people. These people are struggling to live and breathe another day, to avoid the lethal use of F16s, F15s, Apache Helicopters, Cobra Gun Ships, Israeli naval gun ships that are targeting them.

These networks and vision have held strong for 60 years, but another fabric of life is being planned by Israel. Whilst people say they are resisting the worst attack on them since the Nakba, Israel proceeds to cantonise the West Bank, under a project of roads and tunnels ‘for Palestinains’ which reinforce the existing illegal settlement system, apartheid wall, land and water theft and Palestinian bantustanisation.

Under the banner of 'development', this network of new facts on the ground, ‘for the Palestinians’ is called, ‘The Fabric of Life’. Israel is blasting holes in one corner of the Palestinian fabric of life through extreme violence, and tearing up another part with the help of international companies and governments and internal authority complicity.

Back at Kamall Odwan hospital, Dr Moayan, explains, ‘It’s not about just riding the streets of civilians, because, they are bombing us even when we have left, when we are inside supposedly safe compounds. I have left my house, and now have nowhere else to go, nowhere else to go.’ He continues to say what hundreds of people are saying, ‘This is the worst we have ever seen, we have never had this level of violence. It has shocked even us. In Lebanon they killed over 1700 people, will it come to this here?’

The global intifada

This killing continues, day and night, and its not just people that are being physically dismembered, their families are being dismembered, their communities are being dismembered, the landscape of Gaza is full of holes.

The fabric of these communities, that neighbours no longer neighbours, that families no longer living or alive together is being stretched to breaking point. People are being made refugees again, tents as homes awaiting them again, as no buildings or building materials are available for people to even rebuild their shattered lives, their smashed homes, shops, mosques, governmental buildings, community centres, charities, offices, clinics, youth centers.

How do you break a people that won’t be broken? ‘They will have to kill each and everyone of us’ people tell me. From the first days here people were expecting ‘the shoah’ threatened upon them by Matan Villai , Israel ’s deputy defence minister this February. It is happening. It is happening now. This is the Shoah.

The third Intifada being urged now has to be our intifada too. As Israel steps up its destruction of the Palestinian people, we need to step up our reconstruction of our resistance, our movements, of our communities in our own counties, where so many of us live in alienation and isolation. We need to be the third intifada – people here need more and say repeatedly that they need more than the demonstrations, because they are not stopping the killing here. Demonstrations alone, are not stopping the killing here.

The arms companies making the weapons that are targeting people here, the companies that are selling stolen goods from occupied land pillaging settlements, the companies building the apartheid wall, the prisons, the East Jerusalem Light Railway system. These companies, Carmel Agrexco, Caterpillar, Veolia, Raytheon, EDO, BAE Systems, they are complicit in the crimes against humanity being committed here. If the international community will not uphold international law, then a popular movement should and can – we can use the legal system of international law as one of many means to hold on to our collective humanity.

The European Union decision, undertaken by the Council of Ministers this December, to upgrade relations with Israel, from economic ties to cultural, security, and political relations must be reversed. The EU represents a core strategic market of legitimacy and political economic reinforcement of Israel and as such its capacity to commit crimes against humanity, with impunity.

We can cut this tie, we can halt this decision which if approved this April, will empower Israel further, bring it closer to the ‘community of nations’ of the EU, and give a green light for further terror and crimes against humanity be inflicted upon the Palestinian people. This is a decision which has not yet been ratified. We can influence that which hasn’t happened yet.

There are concrete steps that people can take, learning from the lessons of the first Intifada and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign to dismantle the South African Apartheid regime. Strategies of popular resistance, strikes, occupations, direct actions. From the streets into the offices, factories and headquarters is where we need to take this fight, to the heart of decision-makers that are supposedly making decisions on our behalf and the companies making a killing out of the occupation. The third intifada needs to be a global intifada.

Ewa Jasiewicz is an experienced journalist, community and union organizer, and solidarity worker. She is currently Gaza Project Co-coordinator for the Free Gaza Movement.http://www.freegaza.org/

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Israel and International Law - ELCA Bishop's press conference in Amman

A short, concise and easy-to-understand explanation of Israel's responsibilities with regard to international law -


January 7, 2009

ELCA Presiding Bishop Addresses Gaza Situation at Amman News Conference 09-004-JB
AMMAN, Jordan (ELCA) -- The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), said the United States government needs to take a more active role in stopping the conflict in Gaza. Stopping the conflict needs to be a top priority, and it must be accomplished as soon as possible, he said.

Hanson, who also serves as president of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), said Israeli troops must withdraw from Gaza, Hamas must stop rocket attacks on civilians in Israel, and negotiations must be restarted for "a permanent peace with justice and a two-state solution." The LWF is a global communion of 141 churches in 79 countries, representing 68.3 million of the world's Lutherans.

Humanitarian conditions for the people of Gaza must be improved immediately, Hanson said. "We are deeply concerned that food, medicine and other basic necessities are not getting to the people in Gaza. We ask that borders be opened for humanitarian aid to reach Gaza. This must be a long-term, sustained effort," he said.

Hanson, the Rev. Susan C. Johnson, national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), and the Rev. Munib A. Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), addressed a news conference here Jan. 5.
In response to a reporter's question, Hanson said he was disappointed that the Bush administration vetoed a cease-fire resolution in the U.N. Security Council and hoped that new proposals would succeed. Israel needs to comply with U.N. actions, he added.

Hanson, Johnson and Younan are leading more than 40 bishops from the ELCA and ELCIC who arrived Jan. 6 in Jerusalem for a week-long series of meetings with religious, political and community leaders in Israel and the West Bank. A smaller group of bishops from both churches arrived here Jan. 3 for similar meetings in Jordan.

The Canadian government is deeply concerned about the violence and loss of life in Gaza, and it wants humanitarian aid to be available to people living there, Johnson said. "The Canadian churches have stated that all attacks on civilians, whether in pursuit of political ends or as a part of military operations are unacceptable and must be deplored," she said.

Months ago the North American bishops made plans to travel together to Israel, Jordan and the West Bank to demonstrate support and encouragement for the ELCJHL, to learn about the political and social situation in the region, and to advocate for peace. The visit is the 2009 Bishops' Academy, an annual event for study and reflection.

It is significant that the bishops are arriving at a time of serious conflict in Gaza, Younan said. "It makes their visit more significant and more important as they ... dare to come to stand with the peoples of this (region), to stand with Arab Christianity, and to tell the world that the voice of the manger in Bethlehem is much stronger than the voices of cannons and F-16s and bombs wherever they are in the world," he said.

Lutheran bishops met Jan. 5 with Zeid Al Rifai, president of the Jordanian Senate, who said Israel's incursion into Gaza is "mind boggling" and "inexcusable." He said "indiscriminate killing ... will achieve absolutely nothing." The Gaza conflict must serve as an incentive to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Al Rifai added.

The bishops also met with leaders of the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center, and Jordan's Minister of Islamic Affairs, Abdul Fatah Salah. The Lutheran bishops added their signatures to a document addressing "Islamic-Christian Interfaith Coexistence," which calls on both faith traditions to cooperate, continue dialogue, and promote peace and justice in the world. The bishops concluded activities Jan. 5 with an evening reception for religious, political and community leaders.

Hanson, Johnson and Younan said they would meet Jan. 6 with Jordan's King Abdullah II to talk about Gaza and other concerns before traveling to Jerusalem.
Information about the 2009 Bishops' Academy is at http://blogs.ELCA.org/09cobacademy/ on the ELCA Web site.
For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or news@elca.org http://www.elca.org/news ELCA News Blog: http://www.elca.org/news/blog

Monday, January 5, 2009

ELCA Bishops Travel to Israel and Palestine

I'll post news of their visit on this blog, or you can follow their travels on the site listed at the bottom.

January 5, 2009

ELCA Bishops Prepare for Uncertainty in Israel, Advance Group in Jordan 09-003-JB

AMMAN, Jordan (ELCA) -- Despite the continued conflict in Gaza, bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) are proceeding with plans to travel Jan. 6 to the Middle East. A smaller group of seven ELCA bishops, including the ELCA presiding bishop and the national bishop of the ELCIC, spouses and staff arrived here for a series of meetings Jan. 3-5 with religious, community and political leaders.

The Lutheran leaders are here to provide support for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), to learn more about the realities of living in the Middle East and to advocate for peace.

Leading the bishops are the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, other leaders of the ELCA Conference of Bishops, and the Rev. Susan C. Johnson, ELCIC national bishop.
The Rev. Munib A. Younan, bishop, ELCJHL, leads the host church.

Hanson, Younan and six ELCA bishops participated in worship services Jan. 4 at the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, an ELCJHL congregation here. Hanson and Younan joined the Rev. Samer Azar, the congregation's pastor, in the Christian rite of confirmation for six young people.

"Tonight we come as leaders from the United States and Canada to publicly commit ourselves to pray for peace in the Middle East," Hanson told the congregation. He said he fears people in the United States view the Middle East in its complexity, which prevents speaking clearly for an end to violence, for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, for a return to negotiations, for a reestablishment of human rights, and for an opening of borders so that medicine and basic necessities can get to the people of Gaza. Hanson said his denomination will advocate for peace with political leaders and will pray for peace. He expressed appreciation for Jordan's King Abdullah II for his efforts to stop the violence in Gaza, for sending humanitarian relief to people in Gaza, and for the king's respect for deeper relationships between Muslims and Christians.

While in Jordan, the ELCA bishops, spouses and staff toured the ruins and excavation at Petra.
The North American bishops are here as part of their 2009 Academy, an annual time for theological reflection and study.

Though planned for months, the visit is especially timely given the current conflict in Gaza between Hamas and Israel. Israel's decision to send ground forces into Gaza has heightened concerns throughout the region.

Throughout the weekend, ELCA bishops and staff monitored the situation in Israel and Gaza. They met by conference call to discuss concerns with bishops and staff in the United States.
Options included reducing the size of the bishops' delegation because of security concerns. Leaders determined that the visit should proceed as planned, with as many bishops from both churches participating as possible.

Following their itinerary here, the bishops plan to travel Jan. 6 to Jerusalem. They will be joined by about 29 more bishops from the ELCA and four more bishops of the ELCIC. That group will meet with religious, community and political leaders in Israel and the West Bank through Jan. 13.
Information about the 2009 Bishops' Academy is at http://blogs.ELCA.org/09cobacademy/ on the ELCA Web site.
For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or news@elca.org http://www.elca.org/news ELCA News Blog: http://www.elca.org/news/blog

Sunday, January 4, 2009

ELCA Bishop's Statement on Gaza Violence

Statement on Gaza Violence and Bishops' Visit to Middle East
A message from Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson

December 31, 2008

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

"For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this." (Isaiah 9:5-7)
In this New Year, we turn again to the Lord of hosts – praying urgently for the justice, righteousness and peace hailed by the birth of the newborn babe in the manger, the humble child, the Prince of Peace.

In these days of terrible violence, death and destruction in Gaza and southern Israel, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) joins its voice with all in the region and around the world who call for an immediate ceasefire. The continuing loss of life, infliction of serious injury and devastation of property will only deepen hatred and divisions, and will serve no good end. Lamenting the recent escalation of violence, only negotiations, leading to a two-state solution, will bring about a durable peace with justice for both Israelis and Palestinians.

The ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) are carefully monitoring events in the region as their bishops prepare for their upcoming Academy visit, the planning for which began two years ago. Bishops of both churches have met several times this week by phone, and are united in their assessment that the trip is timelier than ever and should proceed. In keeping with the 2005 ELCA "Churchwide Strategy for Engagement in Israel and Palestine," the trip emphasizes accompaniment with its Lutheran partners in the region, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) and The Lutheran World Federation (LWF). In this very difficult time, the bishops hope that their presence can be a source of comfort to these partners and manifest support for these ministries.

ELCA congregations are invited to join with the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, including Bishop Munib Younan of the ELCJHL, who have called for this Sunday, January 4, to be "a day for justice and peace in the land of peace." The ELCA joins them in calling upon, "officials of both parties to the conflict to…refrain from all violent acts, which only bring destruction and tragedy, and urge them instead to work to resolve their differences through peaceful and non-violent means." And the ELCA joins them in praying, “for the victims, the wounded and the broken-hearted. May the Lord God Almighty grant all those who have lost loved ones consolation and patience. We pray for all those living in panic and fear, that God may bless them with calm, tranquility and true peace.”

The ELCA and ELCIC bishops invite the continuing prayers of their church members for building peace among Christians, Jews and Muslims and all of the region’s peoples. On behalf of their churches, the bishops offer to their Christian sisters and brothers and to all people affected by the conflict, their steadfast support and their efforts and prayers for peace to prevail and healing to begin.

The Rev. Mark S. HansonPresiding BishopEvangelical Lutheran Church in America

Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem - on Gaza

Statement by the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem
on the current devastating situation in Gaza

We, the Patriarchs, Bishops and the Heads of Christian Churches in Jerusalem, follow with deep concern, regret, and shock the war currently raging in the Gaza Strip and the subsequent destruction, murder and bloodshed, especially at a time when we celebrate Christmas, the birth of the King of love and peace. As we express our deep sorrow at the renewed cycle of violence between Israelis and Palestinians and the continued absence of peace in our Holy Land, we denounce the ongoing hostilities in the Gaza Strip and all forms of violence and killings from all parties. We believe that the continuation of this bloodshed and violence will not lead to peace and justice but breed more hatred and hostility – and thus continued confrontation between the two peoples.

Accordingly, we call upon all officials of both parties to the conflict to return to their senses and refrain from all violent acts, which only bring destruction and tragedy, and urge them instead to work to resolve their differences through peaceful and non-violent means.

We also call upon the international community to fulfill its responsibilities and intervene immediately and actively stop the bloodshed and end all forms of confrontation; to work hard and strong to put an end to the current confrontation and remove the causes of conflict between the two peoples; and to finally resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a just and comprehensive solution based on international resolutions.

To the various Palestinian factions we say: It is time to end your division and settle your differences. We call on all factions at this particular time to put the interests of the Palestinian people above personal and factional interests and to move immediately toward national comprehensive reconciliation and use all non-violent means to achieve a just and comprehensive peace in the region.

Finally, we raise our prayers to the Child in the manger to inspire the authorities and decision makers on both sides, the Israelis and Palestinians, for immediate action to end the current tragic situation in the Gaza Strip. We pray for the victims, the wounded and the broken-hearted. May the Lord God Almighty grant all those who have lost loved ones consolation and patience. We pray for all those living in panic and fear, that God may bless them with calm, tranquility and true peace.

We call on all to observe next Sunday, January 4, as a day for justice and peace in the land of peace.

+ Patriarch Theophilos III, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate+ Patriarch Fuad Twal, Latin Patriarchate.+ Patriarch Torkom II, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox PatriarchateFr. Pier Battista Pizzaballa, ofm, Custody of the Holy Land+ Anba Abraham, Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate.+ Archbishop Swerios Malki Mourad, Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate. Abune Matthias, Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarchate+ Archbishop Paul Nabil Sayyah, Maronite Patriarchal Exarchate.+ Bishop Suheil Dawani, Episcopal Church of Jerusalem & the Middle East.+ Bishop Munib Younan, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan & the Holy Land.+ Bishop Pierre Malki, Syrian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate+ Bishop Youssef Zre’i, Greek Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate.Fr. Raphael Minassian, Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate

Jerusalem 30 December 2008
NCC News contact: Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228, NCCnews@ncccusa.org