Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Advent Reflections, 2010

During December, please ready my Advent reflections three times weekly on my Advent blog:

When I have visited Palestine and Israel I always ask the people I meet how I can support their peacemaking work. The answer is always the same: Tell our story. So, during Advent and Lent, I read the weekly lectionary (texts for Sunday) and reflect on them through the experiences I have had learning about the people of the Holy Land.

Journey with me to Bethlehem in Advent and Christmas:

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Survivor's Tale - from the Jewish Boat to Gaza

Lillian Rosengarten, a Holocaust survivor, tells about her experiences on her recent voyage to Gaza, in this interivew by Philip Weiss, posted on his blog, Mondoweiss.

Lillian Rosengarten, the only American on the Jewish boat to Gaza, lives near me in the Hudson Valley, and the other day I visited her to interview her about her experience on the British-flagged catamaran that the Israelis had intercepted on the high seas on September 28.

I hoped the activist/therapist/poet could answer a big question. How did she reconcile two important events in her life: her family had fled Nazi Germany when she was a toddler, but now, 73 years later, the state created to rescue the Jews had deported her and said she could never come back?

It was Wednesday afternoon. The door was open and Rosengarten was in her kitchen. There were three pots on the stove. She was making beans and soup for a sick friend.

We sat down in the living room near a carving from New Guinea. Rosengarten was rested and relaxed, and I thought of how fretful she had been before she left, as she waited to hear from the secretive boat organizers in Europe. Her friends and family had been afraid for her, we kept hearing rumors that she was on the list or off the list, she had nearly taken off on a trip she’d planned to Indonesia. Since then she’d had an adventure on the high seas and become a public figure. She’d been quoted in the New York Times, people were calling her from all over.

I asked her whether she’d been afraid to go.

“I was afraid from the beginning. There was some ambivalence, and on the other hand I absolutely had to go on this mission. I knew damn well this is dangerous. I knew what happened on the Mavi Marmara, I knew what happened in Dubai. I am not a martyr and I wanted to survive the trip. But if I were to die, I thought, so be it, I have to go.”

From the moment when she had first heard about the German Jewish boat (its original name) early last summer, she had felt called to be on it. “I thought, I have to be on that boat. It was completely emotional, not intellectual.”

Rosengarten was born in Frankfurt in 1935. By 1937 her father had seen the writing on the wall and arranged to get most of the extended family out. Today her relatives are scattered around the world, on several continents. Many live in Israel. Though she was never a Zionist, Rosengarten went to Israel a half dozen times, the first time in 1971, when she fell in love with the country. Read about her experience on the boat....

Monday, October 11, 2010

Columbus Day, 2010

Today is a government holiday in Colorado. In spite of protests and negotiations over the past several decades, a small group in Denver’s Italian community has maintained a parade to honor Columbus and state employees like my husband have the day off, in honor of Christopher Columbus.

When I have taken groups to Israel/Palestine, we meet Palestinians who live, say, in Bethlehem, but they stand on a rooftop and point off in the distance to a hilltop where their family’s village once stood (one of these, ironically named the American Park-you can see one of these hills to the top left in the photo, taken from the Deheisheh Refugee Camp in Bethlehem--the site of Shadee's family's home, where he has never been able to visit). Americans are often baffled by how, in so many instances, Israel has simply taken lands that belonged to Palestinians. They often ask, How can this happen? How does Israel get away with this?

I have found myself explaining it by noting that it’s like when American colonists and pioneers “settled” America—building their log cabins or sod homes, cutting down the forests or plowing the prairie and rationalizing it by saying that no one lived on the land, that the land was empty, or it was (US) government land.

Over the past 20 years I have marched several times in the “Transform Columbus Day” protest of Denver’s Columbus Day parade. This year, because of my work to learn about and educate Americans about Palestinian rights, three parallels seem particularly striking to me.

A Land Without a People for a People Without a Land

Seventeenth century European immigrants to America thought that God was providing them with the land—that it had been “abandoned” by the inhabitants, who had conveniently died of smallpox epidemic in 1616, a disease brought by earlier European explorers. William Bradford wrote in his diary “For it pleased God to visit these Indians with a great sickness and such a mortality that of a thousand, nine and a half hundred of them died…” Because their methods of cultivation were different, one early colonist describes the Indians as lazy, “fettered by the chains of idleness,” unworthy to properly care for the land by efficient cultivation—leaving the land “marred for want of manuring, gathering, ordering, etc.” The Europeans justified their occupation of the land with the argument that they would put the land to its proper use. (from Ronald Takaki, A Different Mirror)

Following God’s Will

Columbus, like many of the Europeans who came to the “New World,” was an apocalyptic Christian—he believed that the fulfillment of scripture depended on the Christianization of the world. Columbus writes, “God made me a messenger of the new heaven and new earth…” Columbus also hoped to use the wealth he gained to finance a new crusade to take Jerusalem back from the Muslims. (see Christianity: a Global History by David Chidester)

Security Needs—the New Residents of the Land Demand Protection

In a description of the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado, near La Junta, we read,

“The Treaty of Fort Laramie (1851) had recognized Cheyenne and Arapaho claims to much of the high plains between the Front Range of Colorado and western Kansas, and the North Platte and Arkansas rivers, but increasing Anglo-American emigrant traffic through native lands as well as the Pikes Peak gold rush in 1859 made it necessary for the government to ‘renegotiate’ the treaty….[The new treaty,] the Treaty of Fort Wise (1861) established a Cheyenne-Arapaho reservation in southeast Colorado (officially known as the ‘Reservation of the Arapahoes and Cheyennes of the Upper Arkansas’).…The treaty faced problems from the beginning, since only the ‘peace factions’ of the Southern Cheyennes and Arapahos signed. No Northern Cheyennes and Arapahos participated in the ratification, and these bands continued to claim hunting lands in the South Platte valley. In addition, militants such as the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers, established on the Smoky Hill and Republican rivers, also resisted the new demands.” Read more in a history of the Sand Creek massacre by Colorado State University. Photo is of the Sand Creek National Historic Site near La Junta, Colorado.

In Israel, too, settlers expect their government to protect them. In the West Bank, settlers first build temporary mobile units, and then more permanent homes. As new people move to the settlement and all the children grow up, they need more homes and more land. The settlers begin to feel threatened, either because of actual attacks or because they want to expand their lands and fear resistance from the nearby villages that claim these lands. Sometimes the lands for settlements are purchased from the Palestinian owners. Sometimes the lands are simply declared “parkland” by the Israeli government, which can then dispose of the lands as they wish.
On this Columbus Day, from where I am writing, I look out over West Denver, where the names of the streets remind me of those who used to gather here to trade and hunt buffalo—Arapaho, Bannock, Shoshone, Lipan, Navajo…and others who inhabited the southwest—Acoma, Zuni, the Cherokee and Elati who were forced west by settlement. Like many current residents of Denver, the Arapaho came here (of their own accord) from Minnesota—the Red River Valley area. Read more….

Friday, October 8, 2010

From Inside Gilboa Prison, Israel

From the Electric Intifada--read it on their website

"Solidarity tastes different inside prison"
Ameer Makhoul writing from Gilboa prison, Live from Palestine, 30 August 2010

Ameer Makhoul (Adri Nieuwhof)
The following is an edited excerpt from a 7 August 2010 letter written by Ameer Makhoul from Israeli prison. A human rights defender, the director of the Arab nongovernmental organization network Ittijah, a leading voice of the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and a Palestinian citizen of Israel, Makhoul was arrested during a raid of his family home in Haifa in the early morning hours of 6 May. For the following eleven days Makhoul was held in isolation, denied access to a lawyer, and subjected to torture. Rights groups have condemned his political persecution and the criminal proceedings launched against him. Amnesty International supports his release.

My trail is still somehow stuck. The system is structurally and politically Shabak-oriented, not justice-oriented. My human dignity, basic human rights and constitutional rights are suffering from basic violations. I still have no permit to meet my lawyers without being recorded. The ruling of the three judges is to justify the decision of the attorney general of Israel and the Shabak to ban free meeting with my lawyers in prison. The judges insist that such a meeting should be done through the glass separation wall and through a telephone in order to ensure recording of the whole conversation.

On its face the process as well as the procedures look fair, but essentially, systematic, structural and political violations of my basic right to fair procedure are practiced. The role of the attorney general is to criminalize me, not to seek truth.

In Gilboa prison there are approximately 600 Palestinian and Arab prisoners of freedom distributed into sections/branches. The distribution of prisoners is geopolitically oriented: prisoners of the West Bank, prisoners of 1948 (including occupied East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights) are together, while in the prisons located in the Naqab [Negev], prisoners of the West Bank are separated from those from Gaza. And prisoners from Gaza are separated along affiliation to Fatah or Hamas. The borders on the ground of the occupation based on the Apartheid Wall are valid in the prison demographic policy of distribution. It is the nature of imposed fragmentation in order to undermine the struggle against one of the biggest systematic colonial crimes and to weaken the collective struggle by destructing its structure of continuity and interaction.

I am doing a lot of efforts to bring hope and steadfastness to freedom prisoners. It is one of my missions inside prison. I have to keep in contact with Ittijah and the community and all solidarity movements, groups and persons, but most of all I have to correspond intensively as much as possible with my daughters Hind and Huda, who have become mature fighters for freedom, justice and dignity and mostly bringing back the happiness of life which was highjacked on 6 May at 2:30am. My wife Janan is leading in a heroic way the whole campaign as well as facing huge tasks at home.

Your letters are needed; the taste of solidarity is different in prison than being outside. The taste reflects the great solidarity, support and empowering acts.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Each of Us Has a Part

On Monday, I saw news of the settler attack on a mosque in Beit Fajjar, near Bethlehem. As usual, I looked up Beit Fajjar on my Israel map and discovered that it is next to Beit Ummar and the al Arroub refugee camp, two places I visited with the Compassionate Listening Project in May.

Palestine News Network reported some details of the attack: “Mahmoud Taqataqa, a witness, said that he awoke in the early morning, approximately 2:45 am, when he heard the settlers taking off the door of the mosque. He approached them asking the settlers to leave the area, but they forced him away at gunpoint at which time he went to other houses to awaken the other citizens of Beit Fajar.

Mahmoud, also said that the settlers had the protection of the Israeli occupation forces. They did not intervene nor did they try to stop the settlers form doing this heinous crime. He indicated that the Israeli occupation forces only stepped in when the citizens of the village approached the mosque and started clashing with the settlers who had collected copies of the Quran and started to burn them in the center of the mosque.”

This is a story I have heard from many of the people I’ve met in Palestine. On Monday I remembered the story told to our Compasionate Listening delegation by Ibrahim’s parents, Mohammad and Sulha who live in Beit Ummar, only a few kilometers from the now-burned-out mosque.

Our delegation had been invited to meet with a group of Israelis and Palestinians who had been meeting to get to know one another. Their organization is called Wounded Crossing Borders, made up of people who have been wounded in the conflict and who are now reaching out to “cross borders,” and meet people on the other side. One of the leaders (an Israeli) told us they are not a political group, but they are friends. “It is not easy,” he said, but they want to get to know one another across the divide of the conflict and the wounding. They are working on a paper which will state the principles they share.

We were all sitting outside late in the afternoon on a beautiful Palestinian summer day, sipping cool drinks. It had been a hot day, but Palestinian families make the dry, arid climate cool and inviting by planting shade trees, fruit orchards and grape arbors. So we were sitting comfortably in the shade on Jammal and Saddiya’s patio.

Jammal’s brother Mohammad and his wife Sulha were part of the group, and, as we sat in the cool shade, Mohammad told us about Ibrahim’s arrest. (Sulha and Mohammad are the couple at the right in the photo-thanks to Ellen Greene, our photographer on the trip)

Shortly after midnight a few days earlier, they were awakened when soldiers surrounded their house. The soldiers woke up the whole family, including all of their ten children, ages 1-18, and made everyone go outside. Ibrahim was wearing only his shorts and a shirt; they blindfolded him and tied his hands behind him. The soldiers beat Ibrahim in front of the whole family, including his little brothers and sisters. They arrested him and took him to jail at the nearby settlement, accusing him of throwing stones. Mohammad went to the Red Cross and then heard that his son would be in court the next day. Mohammad waited from 5:30 am to 2 pm, but Ibrahim’s case was not ready. Mohammad returned the next day and when they brought Ibrahim in, Mohammad could see his hands tied, his legs bruised from the shackles. They had used electric shock on his hands. Mohammad was sad that he could not talk to his son, could not hug him. Ibrahim had confessed to stone-throwing, but when his lawyer told him to tell the judge what happened, he said, “I didn’t throw stones. I said it because they threatened me.”

The family asked the Israelis in the group, “Can anyone come to the court with us next week?” The Israelis responded that it is “complicated.” They said, “We will do our best…but the macro and micro levels are complicated.”

I was skeptical—the Israelis in the group seemed mostly interested in maintaining their powerlessness, their victimhood…they seemed to be saying, we have no choice…this is simply what happens when children throw stones….after all, we must protect ourselves.

But I was wrong—sort of. A few days later Jammal emailed that the Israelis had written a letter to the court and that Ibrahim had been freed. He still faces a trial for the charges, but he is out of prison (after his uncle paid the $400 bail money). And we heard that his family and the whole village threw a big party to welcome him home.

This is not all I would have wished for Ibrahim, but it is a start—a way to begin to merge the micro and macro levels.

People often say to me, “the Israeli/Palestinian situation is so complicated.” I disagree. It is simple. Each of us needs to figure out what our part is……and do it.

Read more about Ibrahim from Leah Green, our Compassionate Listening leader, on her blog.

Read more about the burning of the mosque here…and here]

Monday, October 4, 2010

Not All Jews Support Israeli Policies Toward Palestinians

Not all Jews support Israeli policies toward Palestinians…..on the last week in September, nine people on the Irene, a 40-year-old, 32-foot boat were hoping to raise awareness of the ongoing blockade of Gaza by attempting to break Israel’s blockade and deliver humanitarian supplies, including medicines, therapeutic toys, water purifiers and outboard engines, to the people of Gaza.

As IDF soldiers boarded their boat, the group appealed to the consciences of the soldiers, urging them to disobey orders and allow the boat to land in Gaza: “The blockade as well as the occupation is inhumane and contradicts universal and Jewish moral values. Use your conscience. Remember our own painful history. Refuse to enforce the blockade. Refuse to occupy Palestine.”

Nine Israelis, standing against their government’s occupation of Gaza—
  • Reuven Moskovitz, from Israel, was a founding member of the Jewish-Arab village Neve Shalom/Wahat al Salaam (Oasis of Peace) and a holocaust survivor
  • Rami Elhanan, from Israel, lost his daughter Smadar to a suicide bombing in 1997 and is a founding member of the Bereaved Families Circle of Israelis and Palestinians who lost their loved ones to the conflict
  • Lilian Rosengarten, from the US, is a peace activist and psychotherapist. She was a refugee from Nazi Germany
  • Yonatan Shapira, from Israel, is an ex-IDF pilot and now an activist for Combatants for Peace
  • Glyn Secker, from the UK, is the boat’s captain and a member of Jews for Justice for Palestinians Executive Commitee
  • Dr. Edith Lutz, from Germany, is a peace activist and a nurse. She was on the first boat to Gaza in 2008
  • Itamar Shapira, from Israel, is Yonatan’s brother, and a member of the boat’s crew
  • Eli Osherov, Israeli reporter from Israel Channel 10 News
  • Vish Vishvanath, Freelance photographer and reporter

A news release from the Israeli Defense Forces reported that Israeli naval commandos “peacefully boarded” the ship, the Irene. This is what we heard on our news in the US as well. But participants’ accounts offer us another story.

It is September 28…. The Irene is 20 miles off the coast of Gaza, naval vessels speeding toward them, and the passengers know that two Gaza fishermen have been killed in these waters during the past week by the Israeli Navy.

Captain Glyn Secker reports: “with the frigate in the background, two gunboats, two landing craft and four high powered ribs [rigid inflatable boats] spread out in a semi-circle speeding towards us at perhaps 35 knots, with their bow waves and wakes flashing in the sunshine. It was surreal, it was like an action movie….this overwhelming force for a 9.7 metre 40 yr. old boat, the majority of its Jewish occupants over 60 years old, with no weapons and a publicized policy of passive resistance.”

When the Irene approached Gaza, 20 miles offshore, the Navy responded with the exact declaration they made before attacking the Mavi Marmara in May:
“You are entering an area which is under military blockade and is closed under international law.”

Itamar, who was in charge of communicating with the Navy, responded by reading a declaration from the group in English and Hebrew:

“We are a boat of the European organization Jews For Justice For Palestinians. We are unarmed and non-violent and determined to proceed to the port of Gaza. You are enforcing an illegal blockade and we do not recognize your right to do this. On this Jews For Justice for Palestinians boat are peace activists of all ages among us holocaust survivors, bereaved parents and Israelis who refuse to collaborate with the illegal occupation of Palestine.”

“We call on you IDF soldiers and officers to disobey the illegal orders of your superior officers. For your information, the occupation of Gaza and the Palestinian Territories are illegal under international law; therefore your risk being tried in the international courts. The blockade as well as the occupation is inhumane and contradicts universal and Jewish moral values. Use your conscience. Remember our own painful history. Refuse to enforce the blockade. Refuse to occupy Palestine.”

As the passengers were holding hands, hugging one another and singing “We Shall Overcome,”
the soldiers continued with their planned takeover of the boat, roughing up passengers, using a tazer on Itamar, placing the tazer over his heart and firing it. Itamar reports: “The officer came towards us, pulling out his taser ordered us to stop holding on to each other. The soldier threatened if I did not let go they would hurt me, then tasered me on my right shoulder and shot twice – it was very painful – but not as painful as the next shot where he pulled aside my life jacket, put gun on my chest and fired. My whole body lost control and I convulsed like a fit, I let out a high pitched scream. Then they took me to one of their boats.”

As he goes on to say, “And that was the ‘non-violent’ take over of the Jewish boat to Gaza.” Read more of his and others’ accounts of the event: "What Really Happened When the Jewish Boat to Gaza was Boarded."

Read the Ha-aretz report

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Blessed are the peacemakers

[Come hear Pastor Mitri for his last presentation in Denver, tonight, Thursday, 7 pm, at the Doubletree Hotel in the Denver Tech Center, 7801 E Orchard Rd, Greenwood Village.]

While many Americans are encouraged by the the resumption of talks between President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu, Mitri Raheb, pastor of the Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, is not optimistic.

There are now 635 checkpoints in the West Bank.

Before the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, there were no checkpoints in Bethlehem.

Although there has been a lot of talking about peace, there is no peace on the ground. “Talking peace will change nothing at home,” Pastor Mitri tells us in Denver.

Then he reminds us that Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Not, “Blessed are the peaceTALKERS.”

So, while Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Americans are talking peace at a resort on the Red Sea, Pastor Mitri is making peace—creating institutions in Bethlehem that train young people to lead. This week he is in Denver, meeting with Bright Stars of Bethlehem volunteers to raise funds for a Lutheran college in Bethlehem.

Pastor Mitri believes that God is calling his people, not to engage in the politics, but to care for the polis, the city, the people. The Diyar Consortium, the umbrella organization for all the ministries, now includes a K-12 school (with half Christian, Half Muslim students); a senior center; a wellness center with a swimming pool for the community; a community center with an auditorium for music, theater, film and dance performances—and now Dar al-Kalima College, a two-year college which has graduated three classes of students and will dedicate its building in November. This is the first Lutheran college in the Middle East, and offers degrees in the arts and communication. Diyar is the third largest employer in Bethlehem, employing more than 100 people, supporting the economic development of the region. Watch a short video about the college.

Describing the West Bank as a Swiss cheese, Pastor Mitri describes Israel as the cheese and Palestine as the holes (see map). He sees nothing in the peace process to make him optimistic, but he notes that the Messiah came 2000 years ago, “as we know because he came to our town.” He is not waiting for a new messiah to fix what is broken. Instead, Pastor Mitri follows in the tradition of Martin Luther, who said, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” So Pastor Mitri plants olive trees in his land, the Holy Land, knowing that these trees will provide shade for the children to play in, branches to wave when Jesus comes again, and oil to heal the wounds of the conflict.

What can we do to join in?

  • Pray for the ministries
  • Make a personal visit to the Holy Land, visit Bethlehem, meet the people who are planting trees for the future
  • Pick a project and support the “tree-planting”
    Read more about these ministries:

[ed. Note: In fact, the Oslo Accords, by dividing the West Bank into three areas of conrol—Israel, Palestinian and joint control—legitimized Israel’s illegal occupation and encouraged an explosion of settlement-building that continues today. While you read this, cranes tower over the settlements in the West Bank, workers are digging foundations, pouring concrete, hanging drywall and building sewage systems for more housing for Israelis. Bethlehem is now surrounded on three sides by Israeli settlements, cutting it off from other Arab towns and villages—and workers are extending Israel’s security wall around Bethlehem to “protect” these settlements. watch a 2-minute video of how the land became Swiss cheese]

Friday, September 17, 2010

Soaking Up Hope in Palestine

At the end of May I traveled to Israel and Palestine for the fifth time….in as many years. Having heard about the region on the nightly news, people might assume that I go to help people who are suffering. Now, make no mistake—there is great suffering behind Israel’s security wall, but I cannot fix what is broken there (or anywhere).

I keep returning to this troubled part of the planet because I want to soak up some of the radical hospitality, reconciliation and hope I experience every time I visit. If you know me well, you know that I love the sun! When everyone else is standing under the trees, I’m fidgeting toward the edge of the shade to let the warmth soak into my muscles and down to my bones. Now, in Israel/Palestine I get plenty of this physical comfort, sometimes way too much! But, like the soothing warmth of the sun, easing tired muscles, the hope I soak up while I hang out with these courageous Palestinians feeds my spirit.

In a world groaning with pain and suffering, I need to rub shoulders with the hope of the Palestinian people. Their joy and hope for the future in contagious; they have something I desperately need. It is not a hope that depends on the success of the peace talks between Prime Minister Abbas and President Netanyahu in Sharm el-Sheikh this week. Their hope does not depend on ending the occupation, lifting travel restrictions or keeping Israeli soldiers out of their towns.

For both Christians and Muslim Palestinians, the hope they carry is grounded in their faith—in a good and gracious God who cares about their suffering. Children may be dying of gunshot wounds, brothers may be languishing in Israeli prisons; there may be no permits for visits to the hospital……but Palestinians know God’s promises. In God’s Holy Land, they trust that God, who has promised good things, will be faithful to them. Photos are from the wall in Bethlehem

Next week, September 21-24, Pastor Mitri Raheb will be in Denver and there will be three opportunities to hear his story of hope from behind the 24-foot high wall that surrounds Bethlehem, stories of a people who resist their occupation by living rich and fruitful lives in the lands of their ancestors. I hope you can come hear him and catch some of the hope:
• Tuesday evening, September 21, 7:00 pm - community and interfaith gathering, open to the public, at Montview Presbyterian Church, 1980 Dahlia St (at Montview Blvd).
• Thursday evening, September 23, 7:00 pm - presentation of all the ministries of the Dyar Consortium, including the building of Dar al-Kalima College, the first Lutheran College in Palestine at the Doubletree Hotel DTC, 7801 E Orchard Rd, Greenwood Village.
On Wednesday morning September 22, 9 am, he will lead a discussion of a letter from Palestinian Christians to the churches, “Kairos Palestine, A Moment of Truth.” The letter calls on churches in the international community to address the suffering of Palestinians. The discussion, especially significant for pastors and other church leaders, will be at Bethany Lutheran Church, 4500 E. Hampden Ave., Cherry Hills Village.

If you’ve read this Sunday’s gospel (Luke 16.1-13—read it!), you know it is quite a puzzlement and a challenge. This is no gospel of good and evil, dividing holy from unholy. Pastor Mitri has learned well the lesson Jesus teaches. He does not let battles between “good” and “evil,” “Us” vs. “Them,” stand in the way of God’s good news for all the people of the earth. Jesus came to break down walls of separation, and the work of the Lutherans in Bethlehem carries on Jesus’ work—dismantling barriers of religion, nationalism and political loyalties. Come hear Pastor Mitri’s witness to the gospel!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Rabbis for Human Rights Help Palestinian Farmers

There are courageous and dedicated Israelis who are working for justice for Palestinians. Rabbis for Human Rights works for human rights for all, “giving voice to the Zionist ideal and the Jewish religious tradition of human rights.” I cringe when I hear people refer to the situation as “so complicated.” What is complicated about the situation in Israel/Palestine is not how to create justice for all parties—there have been many good plans offered for this—what is complicated is understanding the people and what is happening on the ground. What is complicated is that we Americans want to put everyone in categories, label them good or evil, and be done with it (or, worse, send in the guns and tanks). In Israel/Palestine, like everywhere, the actions of individuals are as diverse as the people

In the Palestinian village of Awarta near Nablus in the northern West Bank, Rabbis for Human Rights has been working to make life easier for farmers—showing up to accompany the farmers, who are subject to attack by settlers living in the Palestinian area. IDF soldiers are inclined to protect settlers and often disregard the rights of the farmers to work their land. in yesterday’s New York Times, Nicholas Kristoff does a good story on one such encounter:

This is one action by one Jewish Israeli organization—there are many more stories like this one……hope for peace in these days of negotiations at Sharm el Sheikh.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Healing Our Ignorance

The convergence taking place in these early days of September, 2010, is making my head spin! 1.5 billion Muslims around the world are ending their month of fasting, Ramadan, with a three-day feast, Eid al-Fiter. Americans are remembering our dead in the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, and pondering our own vulnerability. A group of American Muslims are planning an Islamic center for the people of New York near the site of the attacks. A Christian pastor in Gainesville, Florida, has captured the attention of the American media and our government officials with his plan to burn a Qu’ran tomorrow, on the anniversary of the attacks. Not to mention the thousands of people evacuated from their homes in the foothills a few miles from where I am sitting, and the young man I met last night who lost all his possessions when the house he was renting in Four-Mile Canyon was burned to the ground.

No wonder our hearts are a jumble of emotions—this is a lot to take in for one week. Unbelievable. Too much for our poor, tired brains to make sense of.

Tragedy, natural and human; loss and grief; terror and rising above it; faithfulness and catastrophic foolishness. The best and the worst of “religion,” snuggling together.

One of my new-found favorite places in the Holy Land is the Educational Bookshop on Salah Eddin Street in East Jerusalem, next to the chocolate shop. In June I bought a gift there for my husband Gale for our anniversary, which we were celebrating on opposite sides of the globe. It’s a book of Arab poetry, The Wisdom of the Arabs, complied by Suheil Bushrui. Here are two gems from the book for us to ponder in today’s confusion, to ground us in the cacophany:

For Ramadan, Eid, and to help heal my ignorance of Islam—

Fasting is an armour with which one protects oneself; so let not him (who fasts) utter immodest (or foul) speech, nor let him act in an ignorant manner; and if a man quarrels with him or abuses him, he should say twice, I am fasting.
—from the Hadith (a collection of writings on the life and words of the prophet Muhammad, assembled in the 8th and 9th centuries)

Those who believe (in the Qur’an),
Those who follow the Jewish (scriptures),
And the Sabians and the Christians, —
Any who believe in God
And the Last Day,
And work righteousness, —
On them shall be no fear,
Nor shall they grieve.
—Qur’an 5:72

Falsehood hath so corrupted all the world
That wrangling sects each other’s gospel chide;
But were not hate Man’s natural element,
Churches and mosques had risen side by side.
—a poem by Al-Ma’arri

Photo: drummers at the weekly demonstration against evictions of Palestinian families in the Sheik Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem

Friday, August 20, 2010

Compassionate Listening in Bethlehem

A typical website has a bar across the top of the page with tabs you click on to find out what you need to know—often these look like the tabs on a file folder, familiar to most Americans. On the website for the Holy Land Trust, these tabs are the sections of Israel’s security wall. Take a look:

It’s really quite creative and it illustrates a Palestinian attitude toward the wall, an attitude we found everywhere we went in the West Bank. It seems to be a fundamental tenet of Palestinian nonviolence that compells the people to transform the wall—from prison to liberation for the Palestinian people.

Returning from my trip to Israel/Palestine with the Compassionate Listening Project in June, I found it hard not to be depressed about the possibilities for peace and justice for the Palestinian people. It’s been difficult to write about the experiences because, although we met well-meaning Israelis and hopeful, energetic Palestinians getting to know one another throughout Israel and the West Bank, the progress toward change in the daily lives of Palestinians is very slow. In the five years I have been visiting the area, I have seen only increasing restrictions on travel. While peace talks meander on, the daily lives of Palestinians are filled with problems getting permits, humiliation at the checkpoints, and the stress of dealing with Israeli soldiers who are still uprooting olive trees for the building of the wall today. For example, every activity dealing with the world outside Palestine requires an Israeli permit because, although the Palestinian Authority has nominal control in metropolitan areas like Bethlehem, Israel controls its borders and everything that comes in or goes out.(This is also the problem in Gaza.)

The Palestinians we met—in Hebron, Al-Aroub refugee camp, Bethlehem, Beit Jala, and everywhere—do not let checkpoint humiliation and fear control their lives. They live as if there is a future of peace and justice. They live their lives as if one day there will be justice for them. They live their lives as if the world will one day turn their mourning into laughter.

And they live each day busily turning their sorrow into a brighter future for their people, especially the young people. So, they form oganizations like the Holy Land Trust (and the Diyar Consortium of the Lutherans in Bethlehem) to make that future a reality. Photo is Sami Awad, Executive Director of the Holy Land Trust, speaking to our delegation.

Over the past five years, I have watched Bethlehem become a walled enclave. In 2005, only small sections of the wall had been completed. One afternoon we walked through a gap in the wall, over a small hill, and caught the bus to Jerusalem without ever encountering a soldier. If we tried that in June, we would have put our lives in danger. The settlements, like Gilo and Har Homa, that were built between Jerusalem and Bethlehem on lands that were taken from Palestinian olive growers, now demand security—they fear the people whose land they have stolen.

If they met these Palestinians, they would learn that most Palestinians bear them no ill will. The Palestinians we met simply want an end to the confiscation of land and the building of the wall. They want Israeli troops out of the West Bank and Gaza and they want to live without fear that soldiers will shoot them for doing ????? (whatever—they never know) at the checkpoint. They want to live in a country where Israel does not control everything they do. Rafat, who spoke to us at the Holy Land Trust said something we heard over and over again from Palestinians everywhere: “Everyone is welcome here, but everyone must have equal rights. Face to face encounter is what will lead to peace.” He told us he was happy to have the settlers stay. The Palestinians I have met are amazing in their hospitality—they welcome even the people who oppress them, certain that if they get to know one another, life will be better.

This is a snapshot of the hope of the gospel—the good news that Jesus brought to this land two millenia ago is still being preached today.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Why Building a Mosque is Good for America

This article was sent to me by Ellen Clark Greene, one of the people on our Compassionate Listening delegation in May (view her blog: ). The piece below was written for the Huffington Post by Dean Obeidallah, a comedian and friend of hers.

My travels to Israel and Palestine have made me more aware of injustice in our own communities – the building of the mosque in Manhattan exposes American ignorance about Islam and our passion for rushing to condemn things we don’t understand. This political trend is, quite frankly, frightening. The post below expresses what I'd like to hear President Obama and our other elected officials say this to the American people – to call us back to our founding roots. Since this is not likely, please forward this to everyone you know so that we can safeguard the basic principle upon which the United States was founded.

Where can the Muslim community center be built in NYC?

To me, the answer is the same as if you asked me where a church, a synagogue, a Sikh temple or any place of worship in the US can be built. To paraphrase Dr. Seuss: I say you can build it here or there, by a house or a mouse, in Tribeca by Robert DeNiro or further down by Ground Zero. It's that simple.

It's alarming and disheartening to see the angry, hate-filled rhetoric by some in response to the building of the Muslim community center. Some people truly appear to hate Muslims more than they love the ideals of our country.

I don't subscribe to the view that everyone who is opposing the Muslim community center is a bigot. But to those who really have no issues with Muslims but simply object to its proposed location, I say: You might want to take a quick look to your left and right; I'm going to bet that at least one of the people protesting alongside you is a bigot, such as the "Christian" Pastor from Florida who is threatening to burn Korans on September 11 -- the way the Nazis burned Torahs -- and those who are protesting mosques being built in other parts of the country hundreds of miles from Ground Zero and threatening to release pigs on the property to keep the Muslims away. These aren't people I really want to hang with.

So here are my simple responses to the main arguments I have heard in my effort to balance the avalanche of hate coming from the other side:

1. Should a sushi restaurant be allowed to open near Pearl Harbor? It's important to emphasize that the Founding Fathers of America did not flee England to the New World because they wanted to make California rolls or sashimi. It was for freedom of religion. You can't compare the sacred right of freedom of religion with the right to sell raw fish.

2. The location is the issue. This is frankly the toughest one. I understand fully the visceral opposition by some to the location. I stood about 20 blocks from the World Trade Center on 9/11 and watched the towers crumble before my eyes. I lived in Manhattan then and continue to live there today. But let's also keep in mind that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who will be leading the Muslim community center, is the long-time leader of a mosque that is located 12 blocks from Ground Zero and has been there since 1983. That is where his congregation is located. Should he have to move his congregation because terrorists happen to share the same religion? And how far is "enough" of a move: Is six blocks okay? Twenty blocks? Two miles? And who decides how far is enough: Sarah Palin? Newt Gingrich? Do any of you trust these people to decide the scope of our fundamental Constitutional rights? Can we allow the very right that inspired the creation of our nation to be decided by a popularity contest? If that were the case, do you think in certain parts of the South they would have agreed to allow synagogues or churches that serve African-American communities to be built?

3. American Muslims should not build a Muslim center near Ground Zero because the twenty 9/11 terrorists were Muslim. This is like saying that because a handful of Catholic priests molested young boys, Catholic Churches should not be allowed to be built near elementary schools. Or because Bernie Madoff and several others in the recent Wall Street scandals were Jewish, no synagogues can be built near Wall Street. I know these men didn't kill people, but they destroyed many, many lives; however, we would never punish everyone in their religion because of the sins of a few. Even more importantly, the people who are building this mosque and will worship in it will be American Muslims, not members of Al Qaeda.

4. This is a "victory mosque" because Muslims build mosques to symbolize military victories. There are approximately 1900 mosques in the US already. Somebody please list the military victories against America that each of these mosques represents. Seriously, I'm all ears.

5. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who will be leading this mosque, is connected to terrorist activity. He has been the imam of a mosque located 12 blocks from Ground Zero for 27 years. If he had been involved in terrorist activity, I think by now he would have been arrested. In fact, he has publicly condemned terrorism, worked to build bridges between the US and Muslim world, and spearheaded extensive Interfaith work bringing people of different religions together to foster understanding. But if you have any evidence whatsoever that he is involved with terrorism -- not "he likes falafel and terrorists like falafel" but credible evidence -- I implore you to turn it over to the FBI or US Attorney's Office. If you don't, then please stop the character assassinations and blood libel against him.

6. The Mosque will encourage terrorism. Actually, I believe strongly that the opposite is true. As a comedian, I have performed in the Middle East frequently over the past few years. There are many there who truly believed that during President Bush's term the US was waging a war against all Muslims, not just terrorists. One of the best arguments we had against this assertion was to say look how the American Muslims are treated -- they are free to worship and have the same rights as people from any other religion. Banning this Muslim community center will change that forever and, to be brutally honest, will be used as a tool to recruit terrorists against us by simply saying, "Look how America treats their Muslims!"
So why is the Mosque good for America?

Allowing the Muslim community center to be built where it is being proposed represents the best of America, the idea that the United States is a special place in the world, a beacon of fairness that welcomes and protects the rights of all its people. Too many have sacrificed their lives for these sacred rights to say that certain Americans should not enjoy them simply because of their religion.

As our Declaration of Independence famously states, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal," and it is my belief that they should be treated equally, as well.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Israel--"creating forests"

In the summer Gale and I try to get away for trips to our Rocky Mountains to enjoy the pine forests—hiking, biking, or just sitting by a lake. So how could anyone find fault with Israel for creating forests?

The Jewish National Fund calling itself “a global environmental leader,” has been creating forests in Israel for 107 years. They have planted 240 million trees and created more than 1000 parks. According to their website (, they are “bringing life to the Negev Desert.”

A story written by Max Blumenthal tells us about the most recent forestation effort ( ):

“On July 26, Israeli police demolished 45 buildings in the unrecognized Bedouin village of al-Arakib, razing the entire village to the ground to make way for a Jewish National Fund forest. The destruction was part of a larger project to force the Bedouin community of the Negev away from their ancestral lands and into seven Indian reservation-style communities the Israeli government has constructed for them. The land will then be open for Jewish settlers, including young couples in the army and those who may someday be evacuated from the West Bank after a peace treaty is signed. For now, the Israeli government intends to uproot as many villages as possible and erase them from the map by establishing “facts on the ground” in the form of JNF forests. (See video of of al-Arakib’s demolition here).

One of the most troubling aspects of the destruction of al-Arakib was a report by CNN that the hundreds of Israeli riot police who stormed the village were accompanied by “busloads of cheering civilians.” Who were these civilians and why didn’t CNN or any outlet investigate further?

I traveled to al-Arakib yesterday with a delegation from Ta’ayush, an Israeli group that promotes a joint Arab-Jewish struggle against the occupation. The activists spent the day preparing games and activities for the village’s traumatized children, helping the villagers replace their uprooted olive groves, and assisting in the reconstruction of their demolished homes. In a massive makeshift tent where many of al-Arakib’s residents now sleep, I interviewed village leaders about the identity of the cheering civilians. Each one confirmed the presence of the civilians, describing how they celebrated the demolitions. As I compiled details, the story grew increasingly horrific. After interviewing more than a half dozen elders of the village, I was able to finally identify the civilians in question. What I discovered was more disturbing than I had imagined.

Arab Negev News publisher Ata Abu Madyam supplied me with a series of photos he took of the civilians in action. They depicted Israeli high school students who appeared to have volunteered as members of the Israeli police civilian guard (I am working on identifying some participants by name). Prior to the demolitions, the student volunteers were sent into the villagers’ homes to extract their furniture and belongings. A number of villagers including Abu Madyam told me the volunteers smashed windows and mirrors in their homes and defaced family photographs with crude drawings. Then they lounged around on the furniture of al-Arakib residents in plain site of the owners. Finally, according to Abu Matyam, the volunteers celebrated while bulldozers destroyed the homes.”

Read more:

If you have ever doubted that Israel is engaging in ethnic cleansing, please read more and watch the video:

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Israel May Drag U.S. into Another War

This is significant and timely. Be sure to read the “analysis” (click on the word) --it is an interesting analysis of the problems inherent in US and Israel policy and inaction with regard to the rights of Palestinians.

Also of interest is a video (referred to in the analysis) of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talking with an Israeli family, bragging about how he is manipulating and taking advantage of US aid. It’s very disturbing. If you have not seen it on YouTube yet, it is well worth watching. This article from Ma’an News Agency includes both the video and a transcript of what Netanyahu is saying:

From the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, forwarding the information from the Council for the National Interest Foundation-----
Dear Friends,
We have disturbing and urgent news. Our new executive director, Philip Giraldi, and other former U.S. intelligence officers have just published an extremely important analysis warning that Israel may plan to attack Iran as early as this month (full-length article below).
They detail the evidence for this possibility and warn that such an action would quite likely drag the United States into yet another tragic, needless, and disastrous quagmire. It would be a war that Israel would begin and the United States would have to finish.

Fortunately, they also describe actions that President Obama could take to prevent this.

1. We urge you to circulate this information widely.

2. Also, please contact the White House and your Congressional representatives to tell them that you do not want another costly and profoundly tragic war. Explain that you desire that the U.S. issue a clear demand that Israel NOT attack Iran and instead allow the various excellent diplomatic initiatives to defuse the situation to move forward.

Our radio program “CNI: Jerusalem Calling” will discuss this topic TODAY at noon eastern time. CNI President Alison Weir will be the host with Executive Director Philip Giraldi and CIA intelligence officer Raymond McGovern as the guests. Mr. McGovern served as an intelligence officer in the CIA for almost thirty years and prepared the President’s Daily Brief during both the Reagan administration and the first Bush administration. He has also published a number of articles and is one of the founding members of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), a group of former and current officials in the intelligence community that got together in 2003 to protest the use of faulty intelligence leading up to the Iraq War.

To listen: go to the show’s homepage and click on the “Listen Live” button for Studio A, at the top left.

Below is the article, by Ray McGovern:
FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)
SUBJECT: War With Iran

We write to alert you to the likelihood that Israel will attack Iran as early as this month. This would likely lead to a wider war. Israel’s leaders would calculate that once the battle is joined, it will be politically untenable for you to give anything less than unstinting support to Israel, no matter how the war started, and that U.S. troops and weaponry would flow freely. Wider war could eventually result in destruction of the state of Israel. This can be stopped, but only if you move quickly to preempt an Israeli attack by publicly condemning such a move before it happens.

We believe that comments by senior American officials, you included, reflect misplaced trust in Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Actually, the phrasing itself can be revealing, as when CIA Director Panetta implied cavalierly that Washington leaves it up to the Israelis to decide whether and when to attack Iran, and how much “room” to give to the diplomatic effort. On June 27, Panetta casually told ABC’s Jake Tapper, “I think they are willing to give us the the room to be able to try to change Iran diplomatically … as opposed to changing them militarily.”

Similarly, the tone you struck referring to Netanyahu and yourself in your July 7 interview with Israeli TV was distinctly out of tune with decades of unfortunate history with Israeli leaders. “Neither of us try to surprise each other,” you said, “and that approach is one that I think Prime Minister Netanyahu is committed to.” You may wish to ask Vice President Biden to remind you of the kind of surprises he has encountered in Israel.

Blindsiding has long been an arrow in Israel’s quiver. During the emerging Middle East crisis in the spring of 1967, some of us witnessed closely a flood of Israeli surprises and deception, as Netanyahu’s predecessors feigned fear of an imminent Arab attack as justification for starting a war to seize and occupy Arab territories. We had long since concluded that Israel had been exaggerating the Arab “threat” – well before 1982 when former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin publicly confessed: (read more.....)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Almost Forgotten

One of the really frustrating things about working for justice for Palestinians is the way our U.S. mainstream news covers Palestinian stories so poorly. One little-known story from the attack on the Free Gaza flotilla is that one of the nine victims was a U.S. citizen. Furkan Dogan was born in the U.S.; when he was two, his family returned to Turkey, where he grew up. He was nineteen; he had just graduated from high school and planned to become a doctor. He responded to an online invitation and won a lottery to join the flotilla, which was bringing humanitarian aid to Gazans (photo is Furkan's picture).

If he had been white, would we have heard more about him in our news? If his family had been British, living briefly in the U.S. when he was born, would our news media have covered the story? I can imagine that our local Denver news channels would have headlined his story if he had lived in Denver—and if he were white. I wonder if his being Muslim and Turkish had an effect on the lack of information about him in U.S. news?

Roger Cohen, an op-ed columnist for the New York Times, introduces us to Furkan in his Monday column:

TROY, New York — The Dogans were a quiet family little noticed by their neighbors here in upstate New York. Ahmet Dogan had come to the area from Turkey to study accounting at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

He was a serious student; the Dogans did little entertaining. But when their younger son, Furkan, was born in 1991, the family threw a party and a neighbor recalled a toast “to the first U.S. citizen in the family.”

Furkan Dogan would live just two years in Troy, returning to Turkey with his family in 1993. But he was proud of his American passport and dreamt of coming back after completing medical school. Five Israeli bullets — at least two of them to the head — ended that dream on May 31. Dogan was 19.

See photos of the other victims of the attack:

Bishop Munib Younan Elected President of Lutheran World Federation

Bishop Younan is bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL). His work in building relationships among religious leaders of varied faith traditions - in Palestine and Israel - is cited in the announcement of his election. His election affirms the important leadership role of Palestinian Christians in peacemaking and reconciliation work. Be sure to click on the full news release to read more about his work.

Here is the press release about the election, from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:

STUTTGART, Germany (ELCA) -- The Rev. Munib A. Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), has been elected president of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) July 24 at the LWF Assembly here. Younan received 300 votes affirming his election, 23 against and 37 abstentions. There were no other nominees.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

From Jerusalem - Today 20,000 people marched for Gilad Shalit's release

This news comes from Yael Pettreti, who was one of the leaders of our Compassionate Listening delegation in May-June. Our delegation stood with the demonstrators at Sheikh Jarrah at their regular Friday demonstration. We watched the families as they walked, accompanied by an exquisite drumming group--very lively and contagious. We also heard from Nasser Ghawi, who talked about the weekly demonstrations and the problems the families are facing as they are being evicted from their homes in East Jerusalem so that Jewish settlers can move in. Nasser's father made an agreement with the government of Jordan and with the UN--in 1952, Jordan provided the land and the United Nations built 28 houses. Nasser's father exchanged his refugee card for the house and the government promised to convert the title. After many years of court appearances, he is still fighting for his home. The photo shows the Palestinian families marching in Sheikh Jarrah, with Israelis and international volunteers, when we were there in May.

Yael reports from Jerusalem today that these families are supporting the demonstrations for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit:

"This evening, about 20,000 people marched for Gilad Shalit's release from Hamas captivity. They marched into Jerusalem to be met by thousands more in Independence Park. Among the marchers were the Palestinian families evicted from their Sheikh Jarrah homes. Nasser Ghawi persuaded them to join the marchers as a way of "reaching out in peace." I told him what a beautiful and very smart thing to do it was.

As people were gathering in Independence Park, I spotted Noam Shalit, Gilad's father, behind the stage. I went to him and told him about the Palestinian families. He said that he and the rest of the family did not distinguish between different religions or ethnic groups. He asked me to thank them for him.

Now the family is settling in just across from Netanyahu's house, vowing that they will not leave without Gilad. We are all praying that it will be soon.

"Mitakuya oyasin." ("All beings are my relatives.") - Lakota

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

From Israel—just north of the Gaza Border, June, 2010

Last week the US Senate passed Sen Res 548, a resolution supporting Israel’s right to defend itself and condemning the “destabilizing actions by extremists aboard the Mavi Marmara.” Both Colorado senators, Bennett and Udall, voted for it. The resolution contains much language about Israel’s “inherent and undeniable right to defend itself,” and calls Hamas a terrorist group—pursuing foreign policy by name-calling.

One of the “Whereases” of the resolution mentions the “approximately 860,000 Israeli civilians [who] reside within range of rockets fired from Gaza and live in fear of attacks.” Fortunately, some of these Israelis are not satisfied with name-calling.

Roni Keider and Julia Chaitin, met with our Compassionate Listening Project delegation in June. Roni and Julia live in Moshav Netiv-haAsara (a moshav is like a kibbutz, but the families do not pool all their money). They live on Israeli land, given to Israel in the armistice of 1949. Israel’s security wall, separating Israel from Gaza, forms the boundary of one of the neighborhoods. The moshav has decorated the wall on their side. (see picture)

Roni and Julia are part of a group called Other Voice, meeting with Palestinians from Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahiya, just on the other side of the wall. The moshav was founded in 1982, as a buffer between Israel and the Gaza Strip. As we sat in their community room, having cold drinks and cookies, the women told us what to do if the sirens sounded. Basically, we would follow them to the shelter. The warning sirens give them fifteen seconds to get to shelter before the rockets land.

They told us that ten years ago life became more difficult here—before that Palestinians had worked at the moshav and Jewish and Palestinian families knew one another and celebrated together. They thought that when Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, they would have peace. But the day after withdrawal, a rocket fired from Gaza killed Roni’s daughter’s best friend, Dana Galkowicz.

Roni also told us about living in Egypt, where her daughter became best friends with a Palestinian girl. It took three years, but finally, because the girls, Heba and Imbaa, were persistent, their families, too, became friends. (photo shows buffer zone between Netiv-haAsara and Gaza)

Julia, a professor at Sabir College near Sderot, told us about the two students who were killed two years ago in the parking lot, while other students watched. The effect of the rocket attacks on these Israelis is devastating. She told us that 75-80% of Israelis have PTSD, a result of living with the constant fear of the rocket attacks and seeing or knowing people who have been injured or killed.

Her story is like so many I have heard from Israelis. At one time she believed that Israel only wanted peace. She believed that the land was empty when the state of Israel was formed in 1948. She also believed that the Arabs hated the Jews. Then she learned about the history—the forced removals of Arabs from their villages in 1948, and the massacres of Palestinians. And she realized that the Palestinians and the Jews need one another in this arid part of the world. So she joined Other Voice ( ), a group that builds friendships between Israelis and Palestinians. She stays in touch with friends in Gaza by email and speakerphone these days. They put the cell phone on the floor in the middle of the group and talk with their friends in Gaza. They have not seen one another since Operation Cast Lead in 2009.

While they used to get together in person, now she plays Farmville with her friends on Facebook. She was opposed to Israel’s attack on Gaza and she is opposed to the security wall, which is supposedly being built for her protection (read Other Voice’s statement). When one of her friends from another moshav protested the killings of the nine people on the Free Gaza flotilla, she was threatened by one of her neighbors who called her on the phone and told her to apologize or she would be forced out of the moshav—a frightening prospect for a single mother. (photo shows Julia and Roni)

Julia told us they won’t give up “because there is no other way” to live. She told us to support peacebuilding groups in Israel because this is really what it means to be pro-Israel. Regarding comparisons between the Holocaust and the Occupation, she says, “I don’t have to compare. I cannot because we know what this (occupation) is doing to us as a people.” She said it is easier to talk to Palestinians than it is to have a dialogue about Israel’s policies with other Israelis. She said it is easier for Israelis see themselves as the victims because then they are not responsible. “Both peoples are entitled to land and life; both have a right not to be bombed….We know what we have to do; we just have to do it; we need to know how to listen and talk to one another.” She does this for her thirteen grandchildren, “so they will have a good life.”

Read Julia’s article about the Israeli attack on the Free Gaza flotilla in the Berkeley Daily Planet.

People killed in Gaza, January 91, 2009 (the date of the Operation Cast Lead ceasefire) to May 31, 2010 (from B’Tselem):
As in most stories from Israel and Palestine, there is suffering on both sides of the wall. For the past sixty years, the suffering of the Palestinians, however, always seems to be greater. While there have been deaths from the rocket attacks on Israelis living just north of Gaza, there have been many more deaths of Palestinians in Gaza. During the past year and a half, while 4 Israelis were killed by Palestinians in ALL of Israel (2 in Israel and 2 in the West Bank), 56 Palestinians were killed in Gaza by Israelis; an additional 24 were killed in the West Bank.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Human Rights Activist Held by Israeli Police, then Released

I have frequently used the postings of Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh to tell the story of what is happening in the West Bank, as Israel continues to confiscate land, building the wall ever closer to Palestinian towns in the West Bank to “protect” the Israeli settlements that have been built to colonize the Palestinian areas. For example, see my May 10 posting about Israel’s confiscation of land in Al-Walaja.

On my May trip, as we traveled from Beit Jala (one of the towns in the Bethlehem region, where the wall was being built directly in front of our hotel--see picture) back to Jerusalem, our bus headed for the nearest checkpoint. When we arrived, we were told that it was not a checkpoint for tourists. We had to turn around and drive for about 45 minutes back through Bethlehem and the main checkpoint there. The checkpoint where we tried to cross was Al-Walaja. You can see the town on the map—it’s just northwest of Bethlehem and Beit Jala. It’s the town with the red dotted line around it—showing the wall being constructed in a circle around the town, cutting it off from its olive groves, which are being uprooted for the construction of the wall. All to protect the large Israeli settlement of Gilo and the tiny Har Gilo, built on Beit Jala’s orchards.

On the map, the green line is the Green Line, the 1949 armistice line after the war between Israel and its Arab neighbors. It was drawn as a tentative boundary between Israel and the West Bank. The solid red lines are where the wall has already been built. The dotted red lines are where the wall is currently being built and the purple lines are where the wall is planned.

When we toured Gilo with a guide from Ir Amim, he told us that in the early 70s, the site for Gilo had been chosen because they were looking for a place where people were not already living—he said there were “only 100 Palestinians living here, with a few olive and fruit trees.” So Gilo was built—on Palestinian land. And now the settlements are expanding and wanting to create a buffer between themselves and the Palestinian towns, so they are digging up more olive trees to make way for the 24-foot high security wall.

Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh has been organizing non-violent demonstrations against the wall and yesterday he was arrested, but this morning he was released.

He writes (you can also read his posting on his blog: )

I was released from detention after investigation only with minor bruises, threats and warnings but both Israeli activists Shy and Yotam were brought in front of a judge on some false charges and judged to stay away from the wall for 30 days (last time for me it was 15 days) with hefty fines if they violate the order. I was honored to share a few hours with them in detention.

The past two days have not been easy (videos below). Yesterday (Tuesday June 8th), we witnessed how the land of Al-Walaja was being destroyed. Abu Nidal watched as Israeli colonizers uprooted olive trees that his family has planted decades ago and trees donated by Europeans 8 years ago. After the devastation, activists were determined to do something and this morning some even chained themselves to a bulldozer. The 'Border police' are known for being ruthless and mean. In this case, there was also the added complication of the Israeli army deciding to put a unit headed by a Druze officer named Asa'ad that included a mix of Ashkenazim and Druze and a token black soldier. One of the Ashkenazi soldiers was particularly aggressive. The Druze soldiers appeared out of place. Some soldiers confided that they are merely forced to serve. But Captain Asa'ad was clearly in command and interested in action. He was busy ordering his soldiers to push us around, instructing them to not talk to us, telling them to arrest us etc. After Yotam was arrested for chaining himself to the bulldozer, we were pushed up the hill toward the paved village road past the old destroyed fig tree that Zakhariya used to sit under every day for decades. We had a sit-in for over an hour at the side of the street.

Towards the end of it, it was clear that this commander had it in for us.

At two times as I was trying to talk to him and his soldiers, he came to tell me that I would be arrested. As we finally ended our sit-in and were moving away from the soldiers, the commander called for me and took my ID card and told me I was being detained. As his soldier led me away, other activists rushed to talk to the soldiers including the commander. I was thus not surprised to see Shy also arrested even though he did not do anything other than trying to talk to the occupation soldiers about why they detained me. I was released without charges four hours later with a strong warning and threat from Asa'ad that he would shackle me, hurt me, 'and worse' if he caught me near the wall work areas again. Shy and Yotam were given a suspended sentence but they must stay away from the wall areas for 30 days. If you know any Druze, I urge you to write to them. It is a shame what they are doing serving in an army of occupation. But it is also a shame for any human being to serve in such a sadistic brutalizing colonization force.
Heartbreaking video of devastation Tuesday June 8th at
And the action and arrests on Wednesday June 9th
And here is a report from Palestine monitor with great photos

This destruction is carried on while the US administration bribes Mahmoud Abbas with more millions in aid for more streets and government buildings and security forces to ensure we do not have any demonstrations against the occupation. This is done as the US shields Israel from International law and sends more arms shipments to Israel in violation of US law (which demands weapons not be used to violate human rights)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Kidnapped by Israel--eyewitness account

From what I have read since I returned from Israel/Palestine yesterday and what I read in the Israeli media, it has been difficult to find information from eyewitnesses who were passengers on the Turkish ship, Mavi Marmara. This one is written by Al Jazeera journalist Jamal Elshayyal. His bio precedes his report.

Jamal Elshayyal is a news producer for Al Jazeera English. He joined the network in 2006 as one of the founding members of its specialized Middle East Desk, later serving as the channels Middle East editor. Jamal has studied, lived and worked across Europe and the Middle East, with particular focus on Arab politics and Western/Arab relations. He has worked on some of the region's biggest stories including Israel's war in Lebanon in 2006, the Qatari-sponsored Darfur peace talks, Egypt's role during Israel's war on Gaza and the Muslim pilgrimage of Hajj in Mecca.

Firstly I must apologise for taking so long to update my blog. The events of the past few days have been hectic to say the least, and I am still trying to come to grips with many of the things that have happened.

It was this time last week that I was on the top deck of the Mavi Marmara, and first spotted Israeli warships at a distance, as they approached the humanitarian flotilla. Little did I know how deadly and bloody the events that soon unfolded would be.

What I will write in this entry is fact, every letter of it, none of it is opinion, none of it is analysis, I will leave that to you, the reader.

After spotting the warships at a distance, (at roughly 11pm) the organisers called for passengers to wear their life vests and remain indoors as they monitored the situation. The naval warships together with helicopters remained at a distance for several hours.

At 2am local time the organisers informed me that they had re-routed the ship, as far away from Israel as possible, as deep into international waters as they could. They did not want a confrontation with the Israeli military, at least not by night.

Just after 4am local time, the Israeli military attacked the ship, in international waters. It was an unprovoked attack. Tear gas was used, sound grenades were launched, and rubber coated steel bullets were fired from almost every direction.

Dozens of speed boats carrying about 15-20 masked Israeli soldiers, armed to the teeth surrounded the Mavi Marmara which was carrying 600 or so unarmed civilians. Two helicopters at a time hovered above the vessel. Commandos on board the choppers joined the firing, using live ammunition, before any of the soldiers had descended onto the ship.

Two unarmed civilians were killed just metres away from me. Dozens of unarmed civilians were injured right before my eyes.

One Israeli soldier, armed with a large automatic gun and a side pistol, was overpowered by several passengers. They disarmed him. They did not use his weapons or fire them; instead they threw his weapons over board and into the sea.

After what seemed at the time as roughly 30 minutes, passengers on board the ship raised a white flag. The Israeli army continued to fire live ammunition. The ships organisers made a loud speaker announcement saying they have surrendered the ship. The Israeli army continued to fire live ammunition. Read more....


Yes, I’m back in Denver. For those of you who have asked if I’m OK—physically, yes, but the rest is more complicated, of course. My heart is especially with those who remain in the land, working for change. The lives of peace activists who want to change their country’s policies are truly in danger. We met with many of these courageous people. Israel’s government sees peacemaking as the greatest threat to their existence.

It looks to me like there has not been much news in the US from the peace activists who were killed aboard the Turkish ship, Mavi Marmara. To read about the event from the perspective of the participants in the Free Gaza flotilla, please read their press release describing what happened:

A report from The Guardian newspaper illustrates the way many in the Israeli leadership, as well as ordinary citizens, view the deaths of the Mavi Marmara victims:

Especially important: Please read who these victims were:

Below is a photo of Turkish passengers attending to wounded IDF soldiers who attacked their ship. You can see more:

Friday, May 28, 2010

Peace is the Road That Takes You Somewhere

He says he wanted to talk to someone about his trouble with the Jewish soldiers. The young man next to him wants to make peace--he lives where Jews and Arabs live together and he believes "Peace is the road that takes you somewhere." Then one of the young women spoke up--when she came, she discovered that she was not alone; there are others who want peace. She was shocked by how easy it was, making friends across the cultural divide between Arab and Jew.

Some of them have families that support what they are doing. Others talk about how their families are divided--some aunts, uncles, cousins, think that peace is possible; others think it is not possible. Most of them said their hopes rise and fall--sometimes they are hopeful; other times they despair that anything will ever change here in Israel/Palestine. Some of their families support peace; others do not think it will change anything.

We are sitting in a meeting room at the Ecce Homo convent in the Old City of Jerusalem and the young people we are meeting all have found a home by being part of Sulhita, the youth outreach of the Sulha Peace Project, a grassroots organization that "aims to rebuild trust, restore dignity and move beyond the political agenda." "Sulha" means mediation.

It is our first night in Jerusalem and, miraculously, we are beginning with the hope here on the ground in a part of the world where conflict is usually what makes the news.

They all believe that change will come if everyone gets to know one another at a young age. But they don't just sit around and talk. One young woman wants to make this dream a reality. She is setting up a peace camp this summer for Bedouin and Jewish children. They will come together to play and learn for a week of day camp. She is doing a year of voluntary service, between graduating from high school and before her mandatory service in the army. She is living and working this year in Beer-sheva, in the south of Israel.

Sulhita trains young people to be leaders, to empower them. They tell us it is easy to control people who are afraid. But these young leaders believe there is another way. They want the world to know that Israel is doing something good. 12,000 young people have participated in Sulhita since its beginnings. And they want us to come home and "Tell the truth."

They all shared their favorite part of what they are doing:
  • looking into the eyes of the other and knowing them
  • knowing that others share feelings of peace
  • having friends, singing

A Palestinian young man tells us, "When I see how the soldiers treat people, I don't believe in peace. When I see what is happening, I can't believe in peace." But when he comes to Sulhita, he finds others who share his desire for peace and he has hope.

So do I.

If you would like to share in their hope, take a look at their website: There is even a way to donate to their work online! (click on "donate" and then look for the page for donors from the U.S.). When I get home (or find a computer with a USB port) I'll upload a picture of these amazing young people.

This is Compassionate Listening in Palestine/Israel.

Shalom....Salaam....Peace be with us all.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

"You Are Not Alone" --Leaving for Israel/Palestine

We are sailing away, with hope in our soul
Sailing to say, “You are not alone.”
Sailing today, “Salam, Shalom,”
For peace on the shores of Gaza.

These are the words of Irish singer, Tommy Sands, who wrote the song 'The Shores of Gaza," a theme song for the Free Gaza Movement’s current voyage from Ireland to Gaza. The cargo ship, MV Rachel Corrie, and the rest of flotilla of eight ships has set sail and is bringing humanitarian supplies—among other things, medical supplies, children’s school materials, and cement—to the people of Gaza, who are still living under Israel’s blockade of their port and land routes. [See Thursday’s blog to hear the song and find out more about Free Gaza.]

These words express my feelings too, as I prepare to leave on Monday for a Compassionate Listening delegation to Israel and the West Bank. It’s what the people there—both Palestinian and Israeli—who are working for a just peace, have asked of me on previous trips. They say “Come and See,” “Bring others”—and “Tell our story.”

I, indeed, have “hope in my soul”—this injustice and fear cannot go on forever. And I am going there to tell them that they are not alone. Although American tax dollars are spent every day ($7m each day) to supply and maintain the soldiers stationed in the West Bank, there are Americans who are working for a just peace too.

Compassionate Listening has the power to bring about understanding and reconciliation. It is a way of listening deeply that transforms both speaker and listener, and in so doing, is a seed of hope for an embattled world.

So, please hold all of us in your prayers. I will write on my blog when I can find internet access: . I’ll be gone May 24-June 5.

An update on the Free Gaza flotilla from Greta Berlin:
We will soon have a new page added to our website called . You will be able to follow us as we journey to Gaza over the next two weeks. You can watch our own 'video reports' twice a day, reports from the boats and from Gaza. Everything on the page is connected to make it easier for you to access TWITTER, Facebook, YouTube and FLICKR. Watch for it in the next day or so.

For the update on the boats, the Turkish passenger ship left yesterday from Istanbul to the next port to pick up more passengers. The Irish/Malaysian ship, the MV Rachel Corrie, is on her way to the Mediterranean. The Greek/Swedish cargo ship, the passenger boat from the European Campaign and the Free Gaza passenger boats are ready to leave Greece this week.

We will all meet in international waters off the coast of Gaza, turn and steam into Gaza City port sometime between May 28 and June 1 depending on the weather.

The Israelis are nervous.
The Palestinians from the occupied West Bank to Gaza to the diaspora are ecstatic.
The internationals are determined.
The boats are ready.
The world waits.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

“Sailing to say you are not alone” -MV Rachel Corrie sets sail for Gaza with humanitarian aid

On May 14, 2010, the MV Rachel Corrie pulled out of the docks in Ireland and began her long journey down the coast of Europe to the Mediterranean. She is named after the 23 year old American, Rachel Corrie, who was killed in Gaza by an Israeli bulldozer as she was protecting the home of a Palestinian doctor. She will join seven other vessels in the Mediterranean and sail to Gaza to deliver vitally needed construction, medical and school supplies to the imprisoned population of Gaza.

“Sailing to say….. you are not alone”

• Take two minutes to watch a video telling about the purpose of their trip:

• And another three minutes to watch a video of the launch and the material aid they are taking to Gaza:

• And a four-minute video of an interview with Rachel Corrie, on March 14, 2003, two days before Israeli Defense Forces killed her with a bulldozer that was demolishing another Palestinian home. The really sad part of watching this interview is that NOTHING HAS CHANGED in the seven years since her death:

Another three and a half minutes to see what materials are being denied under Israel's blockade of Gaza:

Check out their web site to follow the progress – Israel apparently is planning to prevent the ship from breaking the blockade with these supplies.