Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas Eve from ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission,Jerusalem/Bethlehem

Read the final December 24 post from their Advent calendar, and listen to some music composed from their experience.

The photo of the nativity with the wall is from a web site that offers them for sale. They are carved in Beit Sahour, Shepherd's Field.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Bethlehem, Christmas Eve, 2013

Christmas Eve, Luke
Luke 2.1-20

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 

His grandmother told Ahmed that their family has lived on this farm in Amin, West Bank, for more than 500 years. He is discouraged that he has not been able to stop the settlements and the wall from taking his land. Fighting the demolition order on his home was expensive. "It broke my future, my son's future," he said. In the photo Ahmed Yousef introduces us to one of his 150-year-old olive trees.

All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 

Ahmed shows us the papers he must now carry— including a permit to go through the checkpoint to farm his land. The checkpoint is open a couple of hours most days. The road in the background is the Israeli "wall"—here a barrier, flanked with razor wire, cutting Ahmed off from his land on the far hillside, where he used to graze the family's sheep and goats in the summer. The hillside is now part of an Israeli settlement. He says, "This is our problem…the wall."

While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ 

In the photo, one of the sons in our host family in Bi'lin shows us his sheep, housed in an underground room under their house. In the morning I wanted to go outside and look at the landscape—we had arrived in the village the evening before—it was November and darkness comes early.

He wanted to show me around their yard and especially his sheep. He posed for the photo with his sheep, who are eagerly eating the grain in the manger. Bi'lin holds weekly non-violent protests against Israel's wall, which is being built on their land, where they used to graze sheep and tend their olive trees, which have been uprooted. Bi'lin is the village where the Oscar-nominated film, Five Broken Cameras was filmed.

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Tonight in Bethlehem, worshipers are gathering to celebrate the birth of a baby in their town—an event that would shape the lives of the people of their town for more than two millennia. A baby who brought a message of peace to a conflicted world and hope to a people oppressed by an occupying army. Today the occupying army still controls the land and sea and the people of Bethlehem are still spreading Jesus' gospel message of hope and reconciliation. They are teaching peace to their children and providing the education that equips them for a future without walls and checkpoints. The people of Christmas Lutheran Church are equipping leaders for a future they can only imagine. The artwork in the photo is part of an art exhibit by students at Dar Al-Kalima College, a ministry of Christmas Lutheran Church.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’

Tonight I praise God for all I have seen and heard in Bethlehem—the steadfast hope the Palestinians carry for their future, their reconciling work and their witness to me of the power of God's love to sustain hope and transform lives.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Kairos Palestine - Christmas 2013

In a message from the writers of Kairos Palestine: a Moment of Truth, we are invited to journey with them this Advent season. Read their invitation below or go directly to the "Christmas Alert" resource they have prepared.

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

For Christians, Advent is the spiritual preparation for the birth of Jesus Christ. Most of the time, however, we tend to lose our focus along the way, distracted by the “commercialized” Christmas. It is hard to concentrate on the spiritual importance of the Advent season while we are busy decorating our Christmas trees, selecting our presents and planning our Christmas parties.

There is nothing wrong with all these joyful projects, but it is important to balance the spiritual aspect of Advent with all our other activities. If we don’t make time for reflection, meditation, prayer and thinking about God and others, we find ourselves physically exhausted and spiritually unsatisfied.
Living where I live, Advent is, for me, the rebirth of truth and the beginning of the church year.

Advent is an opportunity to ready ourselves to receive Jesus Christ in our hearts and lives. It is a time to pray and repent. It is a time for joy and hope. It is a time for feeling the presence of Christ among us. It is a time to reconcile with God, with ourselves and with our neighbors.

In the Scriptures, Advent equals readiness, promise and hope for a rebirth of new life. Read more . . .

Friday, December 20, 2013

Israel Palestine 101 - from Jewish Voice for Peace

Sometimes it's overwhelming to try to understand the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. But this 7-minute video is amazing and easy to watch—a broad overview of the history and possibilities for peace. (It's best to view in full screen mode.)

 Learn more. Visit Jewish Voice for Peace


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Beating spears into pruning-hooks in the farmland south of Bethlehem

...they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more. Is 2.4

I heard these words as the lessons were read last Sunday and today I am remembering the last time I saw these words—painted on a rock on a farm just south of Bethlehem.

We got off the tour bus on a dirt road just off the main Jerusalem-Hebron road. We couldn’t drive up to the farm because Israeli soldiers had placed large boulders in the road to block access to the farm.

Boulders blocking the road to Nassar farm
So we walked up the road, squeezing around the boulders (see photo). We saw settlements on the hills to our right and left. Like the Nassar farm, these settlements are perched on hilltops, their uniform blocks of housing units looking official and severe in this pastoral landscape.

Daher Nassar meets us with stories about his father’s dream—to farm this land, to bring peace and to show others the love of Jesus. His father, Bishar, died in 1976, but he and his brothers and sisters carry on the work, creating Tent of Nations, a place dedicated to peace and breaking the cycle of violence.

The motto of Tent of Nations is, “We refuse to be enemies.” The Tent is a place for everyone, he tells us—and there are international visitors living here—they come to farm, create new solutions to the problems of no water or electricity, and enjoy this beautiful land.

He also tells us that there are now five settlements surrounding the farm, and the settlers are pressing for demolition.  Although the settlements continue their expansion, the Nassar family cannot get permits to build. They have not been able to build anything on their property since 1967. They can plant trees, but they cannot bring any machines—this is why the soldiers pushed the boulders onto the road.

The settlers tell Daher that this land is all Israel (even though it is in the West Bank). He replies, “Before you were born, I am here.”

Because Israel does not recognize their right to live on the farm, the Nassar family has no electricity, no water, no road. Because they cannot build, they live in the eight caves on the property—where their ancestors lived.

Amal, Daher’s sister, told us that before 1991, the farm produced grapes, fig, almonds, apricots, pomegranates, cactus, and wheat. They made wine, which they cannot do now without the machinery.

"We refuse to be enemies," in Arabic, English and German
They have spent many years and a great deal of money ($150,000) in court, fighting to keep their land. After ten years, their Palestinian lawyer was no longer allowed to represent them. Because they are Palestinian their case is under the jurisdiction of the military court system, a separate system from the Israeli civilian courts. They have been required to produce mountains of documents and witnesses. Often, when they bring this documentation to court they are told it is not needed.

When the settlers uproot their olive trees and smash water storage containers, the Israeli police do not respond. When they take their produce to market, the soldiers take their IDs at the checkpoint, hold them for 5-6 hours and by that time, the produce is spoiled and worthless.

Believing that education leads to peace, Tent of Nations sponsors a summer camp for the children—Muslim and Christian—who need a place where they can develop their talents, take positive action and feel hopeful.  They draw to express their fear of the violence they see every day. They talk about their fears. 

They also offer programs for the women in the nearby village of Nahalin, who suffer from depression because they cannot leave their village, which is surrounded by settlements, roadblock and checkpoints.

Amal tells us, “As Christians, we have to be witnesses.”

If you would like to support their ministry, see their website and purchase an olive tree to be planted on their farm: and click on “support”.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Trees of Al-Araqib

Al-Araqib, Negev, Israel
November 5, 2013
Sheikh Abu Aziz

We were welcomed with coffee under the tree - the only tree left on their village lands. The rest of the landscape is graded - all dirt now. All traces of their wheat fields and olive groves, the homes and farm buildings, obliterated by the grading of the land. First the planes flew over spraying the roundup and other chemicals that destroyed the vegetation and killed their sheep and goats. This was 1999-2004. Then the soldiers came and demolished their homes and farm buildings. The first demolition was in 1948, but the recent demolitions began on July 27, 2010, a series of demolitions that continue today - 60 demolitions altogether. 

Israel wants the Bedouin to move from their lands for a "park" being built by the Jewish National Fund (JNF). Now, this is the Negev. It's a desert. And the JNF is planting trees everywhere. This takes a lot of water, unlike the olive trees the JNF destroyed. 

Next Aziz brought tea for us, all prepared on a small stove under the tree. 

Nearby we could see their current home, which they have set up in the cemetery. A traditional long black Bedouin tent and space for a few livestock to graze outside. 

Aziz told us they used to sell eggs, bringing in 600 shekels a week. They never worried about what they would eat. They had plenty of milk, eggs, cheese, vegetables and camel meat. Now they must buy camel meat at the market and he never knows if he will be able to feed his family and he worries about his children. He spoke to his (maybe 10 year-old?) son and then told us he wants his son to become a doctor and set up the first clinic in Al-Araqib. 

We walked around the area where the village was demolished. All that is left is rubble and a few remnants of plastic shelters on wooden frames. We saw broken tiles and I picked up a piece to bring home. It is a decorative piece that may have been a floor tile. 

All around us, on the north, west, and south we could see the JNF trees, planted to reclaim the village lands for a "national park." I took a video of the a trees, stretching as far as we could see in the distance. We watched the sun set over the desert and the JNF trees - a species of tree not native to the land. The beginnings of a vast forest. 

Aziz said he cannot understand why they uprooted his plant theirs????

He says The JNF trees stand like police over their land, where his family has lived since 1905. He showed us the area where his grandfather's house was. He asked us to tell President Obama to stop Israel from passing the Prawer Plan to remove them from their land. Tomorrow the Knesset begins debate on the Prawer Plan. You can write President Obama too: 

Support the Bedouin residents of Al-Araqib in their struggle to keep their land

Last week we met with Sheikh Abu Aziz and his son in the Negev. His village, Al-Araqib, has been demolished more than 50 times since 2010. The family has lived there since 1905. The village has never been recognized by Israel - no electricity, no water, no schools, no roads. Luckily it is a short distance from a major highway. 

He told us Israel wants to "kill Arab history - plant new Jew history." As we sat under the 108-year-old tree - the only tree he has left - he told us "nothing else is left to receive you." He has only one tree left, but the JNF (Jewish National Fund) has planted what looked to me like thousands of trees, all around him. The sheikh said, "the Palestinian is not the terrorist, but the one who is stealing from the Palestinian people." He said Netanyahu will never make peace, "he who makes peace does not steal land."

Read more about our visit to Al-Araqib in my next blog post. 

Please contact elected officials to continue to pressure Israel to stop implementation of the Prawer plan. I suggest you write to President Obama and say something like:

The Israeli Knesset is discussing implementation of the Prawer Plan, which will result in the destruction of more than 35 unrecognized villages in the Negev and the removal of more than 70,000 Bedouin, citizens of Israel who have lived there for more than 100 years. Their land is being seized for a "park" for Jewish residents of the area around Beersheva. 

Please use your influence (or substitute "make US aid to Israel conditional on") halting implementation of the Prawer Plan now being discussed in the Knesset. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

With Ahmed's family in Anin, November, 2013

Ahmed was eager to take us to see the "wall" which separates him from his olive trees. Although we can see the olives from the hill where his house is, he must travel up the nearby mountain to go through the checkpoint to reach them. Most of the time the checkpoint is open 7 am - 6 pm, two days a week. During the olive harvest Israel has so generously opened the checkpoint each day. 

He shows us the remnants of a very old house on his land and says his grandmother told him that his family has lived on the land for 500 years. Then he tells us the story of building a new house in 1995. Two years later he received a demolition order on his house because he did not have a permit from Israel to build. (Remember, this was after the Oslo accord and we are in the West Bank.) He went before the judge and was given a fine of $7000 - equivalent to the income from 12-15 years of work for this farmer. He said "they are killing me." He also tells us he has not shared this story and he is glad he could tell it.

He laments the theft of his village's land so that three settlements could be built on the hill where he used to graze sheep in the summer. He laments the theft of his own land for building the wall, and the loss of his freedom to cultivate his olive trees whenever he wants to, unbound by checkpoint schedules. He laments the loss of his land and the fine he had to pay - this was to have been his son's inheritance. Several times during his story, he stops because of the tears.

We walk some more and he tells us he likes to come out to his land (the part that is still on the same side of the wall), sit on a rock and enjoy the breeze and the clear air, the smell of the land. 

We walk toward the wall and he stops us short of the 300 meter buffer zone protected by the soldiers, who will stop their jeeps and take out their bullhorns and make anyone in that zone move out - stealing a bit more of the land. 

Ahmed is a man of peace. He has no hatred of the Jewish people. He just wants them to stop stealing his land, his home and his livelihood. He wants to provide for his family and live on the land where his family has lived for at least half a millennium. His existence destroys the myth that the land was empty, waiting for the return of the Jewish people. Or that the Palestinians came from other Arab countries. Or that there are no Palestinians. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Dia de Los Muertos, Aida refugee camp

Today in Colorado they are celebrating Dia de Los Muertos, the Day of the dead, when families remember their loved one and friends, creating memorials to them, often elaborate altars, with objects and even food that the dead loved in life.

Many of the Palestinian men I have met, especially those who have grown up in the refugee camps, have told me about being arrested and imprisoned. Mohammad, our guide in the camp, told us that he had also spent time in prison as a young man. Then he told about the men who are killed by the soldiers and then arrested. These dead are arrested, tried and imprisoned. The bodies are given numbers and when the bodies are convicted, they serve out the sentence - they call it "the graveyard of numbers." After they have served their sentence, the "bodies" are released to the families for burial. 

I thought about the mothers, wives, fathers, sisters and brothers who must wait out the sentence before they can lay their loved ones to rest. Daily torture. 

October 30 - the day we we're tear-gassed

This is a first - for me and for the 47 IFPB delegations that have preceded us. Yesterday was our first day in the country and we were visiting Aida refugee camp here in Bethlehem. We'd just gotten our bus turned around in the narrow street that enters the camp, passing under the large key over the entryway to the camp. Anyway, we were getting off the bus, taking pictures of  the graffiti on the walls of the community center, when we heard a loud "thud." I had seen two small (7-8-year-old) boys throwing stones at a dumpster on the street. I was thinking they were enjoying making such a loud clanking sound, right? So when I heard the thud, I thought they must have also had some fireworks. But then there was smoke and an acrid smell and then burning and coughing - burning eyes, nose, throat - trying to hold my breath. Remembering the videos of the demonstrations and the boys with their kufiyehs, wrapping the scarves over their noses and mouths, I pulled my shirt over my nose and mouth and breathed just a little. Till I was upstairs in the room with the windows closed and the door shut behind the group. 

Some of our group - especially one of the leaders who was the last one in the building - got much more of the gas, but I was only uncomfortable for a few minutes. Then I wondered what in the world had happened? I didn't ever see them, but apparently there were three IDF soldiers up the street. Seeing the boys throwing the stones, they lobbed several tear gas canisters at the boys. 

Maybe the boys were in a celebratory mood because of the 26 Palestinian prisoners who were released yesterday. All over the camp there were banners with 10-foot photos of three of the men - maybe the ones they knew?

So the soldiers apparently ran down toward the boys and threw the tear gas at the boys. And the soldiers were in Bethlehem because? 

They wanted to make sure no one enjoyed the day? Bethlehem is in area A, Palestinian-administered West Bank. But the IDF has the jeeps and the AK-47s and the tear gas. Why? Because they could. 

We had our tour of the camp - cut short because the soldiers were still out there when we came out of the building. No loitering for photos. 

Tonight I'm wondering if the soldiers returned in the middle of the night and forced the whole family outside in the dark and then took the boys off in a jeep to the police station.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Divestment or "Positive Investment"?

In church circles, when the subject of BDS comes up, people often ask, why do we have to punish Israel? Wouldn't it be better to encourage "positive investment" in Palestinian businesses? Sam Bahour is an American Palestinian, who returned to the West Bank after the signing of the Oslo Accords, convinced that 1993 marked a time of change--the beginning of a new hope for Palestine. He went back to assist in the privatization of the Palestinian telecommunications sector. He was part of the core team that established the Palestine Telecommunications Company, PALTEL.

Twenty years later, he is still struggling to work in a occupied land, where every aspect of life--travel, water, electricity and air are controlled by Israel. All business enterprises require permits from Israel. Here he answers our question: Why can't we just support Palestinians by "positive investment"? He is writing a response to a UCLA divestment request.

October 22, 2013

Statement by Sam Bahour in regards to Positive Investment

The above mentioned draft resolution has been brought to my attention by several concerned UCLA students. As a Palestinian-American businessman from Youngstown, Ohio who relocated to the occupied Palestinian territory following the now infamous Oslo Peace Accords which were signed back in 1993, I feel a deep obligation to share with interested parties several flaws this draft resolution incorporates.
  1. The resolution notes a 2010 UC Regents affirmation “that it would not bring forward any discussion about divesting from companies that deal with the State of Israel until such actions were similarly adopted by the United States government.” It goes on to state that “divestment resolutions at other UC campuses have had negative effects on campus climate.” A reading of the state of affairs across the U.S., particularly of the Jewish American attitudes toward Israel as recently published in an October 1, 2013 Pew Research Report, shows a growing number of Americans, many out of their love for Israel, are calling for non-violent methods to be used to save Israel from itself. Even Secretary John Kerry initiated the current peace talk efforts by noting that the two-state solution has less than two years before it is lost. Nevertheless, it is most revealing that in a draft resolution promoting “positive investment” the drafters found it necessary to make arguments against divestment, as if the two are inherently linked. The fact of the matter is that blocking divestment is all that this resolution is about.
  2. The proposal attempts to shift focus to “narratives” which is very disingenuous. The issue is not about narratives; every state that emerged from a colonial past, including the U.S., have multiple narratives that peacefully coexist. Instead, the issue here is the illegal Israeli military occupation that has dragged on for 46 years.
  3. In multiple places the proposed resolution makes a glaring inaccurate comparison between “Jewish” and “Palestinian.” It should be noted that Palestinians are both Christian and Muslim and if any comparison is to be made it should be equally made between all three monotheistic faiths.
  4. The resolution refers to past resolutions that call for no action that will “develop a hostile and unsafe environment.” I assume this would apply to UCLA taking no actions that would hint at supporting or covering up illegal practices by other states. If this is the case, I refer you to the long list of UN resolutions and the U.S. State Department Human Rights Reports which document a pattern of gross violations of international law and human rights violations by Israel.
  5. The title of the resolution speaks of “positive steps” which are later detailed as actions to promote positive investment in Israel and Palestine. Not only does such an approach reinforce a rather outdated and artificial symmetry between Israel (the militarily occupying force) and the Palestinians (the occupied people who are protected under international law), but it also promotes a concept, positive investment, that does not require a resolution at all. Given the Israeli and Palestinian economies are open market economies, why would a separate resolution be needed if a sincere desire to invest rationally existed. Wouldn’t that allude to the need of a resolution for every country on earth that the U.S. is not sanctioning? The fact of the matter is that the pro-Israel lobby has designed this seemingly harmless tool called “positive investment” which in reality is a façade to block the growing number of institutions which are divesting from Israel in protest of its ongoing illegal practices of dispossession, military occupation, and discrimination.
  6. The resolution refers to specific firms which is rather odd. I know the business activities and executives in the majority of firms mentioned and it is misleading to believe all that they, or any private sector firm for that matter, do is good or bad. The issue is not to create an illusion of having symmetric investments, but rather to act in a way to cause the removal of the Israeli boot of military occupation from the necks of Palestinians. The EU, along with numerous US business and institutions, churches, and trade unions, have realized this and have taken actions, such as supporting divestment from Israel and firms operating in Israel, to hold Israel accountable. It is tragic that in today’s day and age an argument to invest in Israel’s economy, which would only reward Israel for its illegal practices, would even be contemplated.
  7. Another linguistic flaw, purposely placed no doubt, is the comparison between the “State of Israel” and the “Palestinian Authority.” Given 138 countries of the world voted to admit the State of Palestine into the United Nations last year, it is inaccurate to refer to the administrative governing apparatus called the “Palestinian Authority” when referring to the State of Palestine.
  8. The resolution goes on to call for investments in companies and ventures “that have spent time and resources on efforts to facilitate cooperative interaction between Israelis and Palestinians by promoting economic and commercial growth for both groups.” This nicely worded approach to an action statement is shockingly superficial. Pretending like the issue is the need for “economic and commercial growth for both groups” really strikes home all the previous points made above. The issue is not about “growth,” it is about adopting non-violent tools to hold Israel accountable for its actions. Such tools, which were not invented by Palestinians, include boycotts, divestments, and sanctions. I would hope these tools, amongst others, become the focus of the discussion given my understanding that UCLA’s voice is one that is expected to call for peace with justice, not merely peace, and surely not “growth” in place of justice.
I actually started writing this statement while on a flight from New York to London after spending one month on a five state speaking tour to present Palestinian investments to the American business community. From London I will fly to Amman to get back home to Ramallah. You may ask why I’m headed to Amman, given the Israeli airport in Tel Aviv is literally 30 minutes from my home. The reason is that I, an American citizen, am prohibited by Israel to use the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv because Israel blatantly discriminates against Palestinians, even if they are U.S. citizens, and forces all West Bank residents to enter and exit from a single bridge crossing to Jordan. It took me six hours to cross 3,452 miles over the Atlantic and six hours to cross the less than half a mile over the Israeli-controlled Allenby Bridge to get from Jordan to the West Bank. No amount of “positive investment” is going to expose the Israeli-made humiliation that happens during such border crossings, let alone the myriad of other daily acts of this 46 year old military occupation.

As I wrote in a Huffington Post piece titled, Palestine's Investments Require Divestment (07/25/2012), “Investment in Palestine -- without divestment from the Israeli occupation -- only continues to underwrite the status quo of military occupation.” This statement is even more relevant today.

Read more about him:

Monday, September 30, 2013

Today in Palestine - Israeli Settlers Occupy Palestinian Land, Obstructing Peace Talks

Photo: from
Israeli settlers near Nablus in the West Bank have occupied a hill so that they can occupy the land and build more settler units on the Palestinian land. This continuing theft of Palestinian is preventing a peaceful resolution to this 60-year-old conflict. The soldiers are protecting the settlers, who are throwing stones. The soldiers fired stun grenades and tear gas at the Palestinian villagers in Burin.

Please take three minutes to watch this live report from the West Bank.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Today in Palestine

In Colorado we are experiencing tragic loss of life and property - a hundred year event. There is much suffering and loss - they are saying as many as 20,000 homes lost.

In Palestine today there is no great tragic event (and no national news anchors in yellow raincoats standing next to torrents of muddy water)--in Palestine there is only the tedious, monotonous daily loss of life and property. In Palestine today is no different from yesterday or tomorrow. I think that is why we continue to allow our tax dollars to be used to support a government bent on removing everyone who is not Jewish from all of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.

Today in Palestine, in the Jordan Valley, at least 120 people are homeless because the Israeli military bulldozed their village. There was no hundred-year flood, no torrents of rain inundating fields, only soldiers armed with automatic weapons and bulldozers.

Ma'an News reports:

"Aref Daraghmeh, the mayor of al-Malih and al-Madarib villages, told Ma'an that a large Israeli military force accompanied bulldozers to the site of Khirbet Makhool village in Tubas, before demolishing homes and agricultural structures.

The villagers, who are mainly Bedouins, were given no prior notice about the demolitions, Daraghmeh said."

The article also mentions that last week soldiers entered the Jericho village of Fasayil and destroyed buildings.

It's not the flood, but the drip, drip, drip of destruction.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

President Obama Holds Syria Accountable for Human Rights Abuses

I agree with the president that Syria's leaders need to be held accountable for the atrocities - and there certainly ARE international "standards" as President Obama said yesterday in his remarks preparing us for an attack on Syria. 

As I watched President Obama speak, however, I wondered why the president thinks it is so important to hold Syria accountable to international standards, but not Israel...

When Israel used phosphorus in Gaza in 2009, the US did not attack Israel in retaliation for their violation of "international standards." The widespread and repeated use of white phosphorus in heavily populated areas, including refugee camps and a UN school, was documented by Human Right Watch in their report of their investigation: Rain of Fire: Israel's Unlawful Use of White Phosphorus in Gaza. "Read a summary of the report or access the entire report. But the US did nothing to retaliate or punish Israel.

In 2009, no one talked about attacking Israel in response to their illegal use of white phosphorus. Instead we give them more money--now $3 billion per year, much of which is given in the form of military assistance. Human Right Watch reports that in Gaza, "All of the white phosphorus shells that Human Rights Watch found were manufactured in the United State in 1989 by Thiokol Aerospace...." 

White phosphorus explosions at UN compound in Gaza, January 15, 2009 - The Times of London
Between 20 September 2000 and 26 December 2008, the beginning of "Operation Cast Lead") Israeli security forces killed 4858 Palestinians (source: B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories). During Israel's attack on Gaza, 1398 Palestinians were killed in Gaza and the West Bank. Since Cast Lead, 520 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces.

The Palestinians have been waiting more than 45 years for Israel to withdraw from their land, but my tax dollars support this injustice with $3B in military aid to Israel every year.

I wonder why the US response is so strong in the case of Syria, while we do nothing to stop Israel from killing Palestinians in the areas it has occupied since 1967. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

It Was All Part of the Plan - Israeli settlement construction and prospects for peace

As talks begin between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, it's important for me to read/listen to our news critically and to seek out other views, since much of what we hear reflects the Israeli government's view, without much attention to what Palestinians want or are thinking. The article below appeared on Aljezeera English and is written from a Palestinian perspective by Joseph Munayyer, the director of the Palestine Center in Washington DC. 

It is personally frustrating for me to see how Israel has continued to construct settlements on Palestinian land, which seems to me to undermine efforts to create two states. I wonder how two parties can sit at the negotiating table, while one of the parties continues to steal land from the other. What sort of trust can exist as a basis for peace while Israel builds walls on Palestinian land and bulldozes olive trees? And how can the US, which claims to be a "broker for peace," allow this settlement construction, when it clearly is an obstacle to peace? In 1992 there were 110,000 settlers in the West Bank; today there are 600,000. I highly recommend this short article by Joseph Munayyer, which shows how the US has played its part; be sure to click through to read the whole article – it's not long.

It was all part of the plan 

By Yousef Munayyer

An interesting exercise, made easily possible today by the magic of the internet, is a search of news articles on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process over time.

The most central and persistent theme is the construction of illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory. During intifadas, not during intifadas, during peace talks, not during peace talks, it didn’t matter. For the Israelis, every year was a good year to build more settlements.

What has changed dramatically is the reality on the ground, represented by both the number of settlers and settlements. Another change, clearly traced below, has been in the position of the United States toward the settlement issue.

Click here to read the rest of this analysis. 

This article originally appeared on 
Aljazeera English/Opinion.

Yousef Munayyer is Executive Director of the Palestine Center. This policy brief may be used without permission but with proper attribution. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Another day in the West Bank - Israeli forces shoot B'Tselem spokesperson

972 Magazine reports--

WATCH: Israeli forces shoot B'Tselem spokesperson during West Bank protest

B’Tselem spokesperson and colleague Sarit Michaeli was shot in the leg from close range on Friday by Israeli forces while documenting the weekly protest in Nabi Saleh, as she has been doing for years. She issued a statement Saturday on her understanding of what happened, which I translated below.

Although this is not the first time an Israeli has been wounded by IDF fire at West Bank protests (there are a handful of other cases), it is quite uncommon. It  is certainly not the first time a Palestinian or foreigner has been wounded (there are dozens of such cases). It is important to note that Sarit is a professional NGO worker and her presence at the protests in Nabi Saleh is part of the organization’s work documenting human rights violations in the occupied West Bank.

As of Saturday evening, no Israeli mainstream media outlet reported on the incident. I contacted the IDF Spokesperson for comment and will update accordingly. (Response from a Border Police spokesperson has been added below)

B’Tselem spokesperson Sarit Michaeli, holds a rubber coated bullet, which was taken out of her leg, in Ichilov hospital in Tel Aviv, July 20, 2013. Photo by: Oren Ziv/

Sarit tells about her ordeal: "On Friday I was shot with a rubber-coated steel bullet while documenting the demonstration in Nabi Saleh. The demonstration was dispersed by Border Police officers when the protesters were still on the main road that leads out of the village. After the Border Police began to disperse the crowds, some kids threw a few stones in their direction. About 20 minutes after the protest had begun, and after the procession had already been largely dispersed, a group of about nine Border Policemen and IDF soldiers stormed the main road of the village next to the gas station in the direction of a group of demonstrators, who were running away from them up the road.

I stood aside, close to the gas station. At a certain point one of the Border Policeman shot at me from what I estimate was a distance of no more than 15-20 meters. (The legal minimum range for a rubber-coated steel bullet is 50 meters).

I’m not really sure why I was shot at. I wasn’t in the path of the soldiers and I wasn’t doing anything that could be interpreted as a threat to them...."

Read the story and watch the video at 972 Magazine

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Why are these men lining up in the dark? (no, it's not a rock concert)

Every morning-- (the part of the morning I never see, BEFORE the sun rises) --all over Palestine, thousands of men are lining up. No, it's not teenagers waiting to plunk down $50 or $100 for tickets to their favorite band. It's fathers, sons, brothers and a few sisters and daughters--just trying to get to work.

Here are some of them at the Eyal checkpoint near Qalquilya, West Bank, Palestine:

Here is a map of their town (it's the brown splotch in the bump):

The green line is the Green Line (1949 armistice line that ended the fighting). The red and purple lines are completed and planned routes for Israel's WALL. Everything to the west (right) of the green line is in West Bank, Palestine.

You can see the problem for workers in Qalquilya and for Qalquilya's economy. (That's also why workers have to leave to find a job.) The WALL is literally strangling Qalqilya's economy.

Watch these men going to work on a typical day - 3:45-7 am on May 11, 2013:

Follow them through the checkpoint as they wait....have the sun rise over the guard towers and barbed wire....wait....smoke a cigarette.....and wait some more.

Take another five minutes right now to see the rest of the photos, taken by Daniel Tepper, a photographer based in Ramallah specializing in the practices and effects of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

This Week in Palestine...

We might be encouraged by Senator Kerry's visits to Israel and Palestine, but life for Palestinians is only getting more difficult. I'm going to start posting some of the injustices Palestinians are continuing to experience.......every day. It seems like the violations of their human rights and threats to their safety are increasing......and, even though Secretary of State Kerry TALKS about making peace, neither Israel nor the US is doing anything to stop these ongoing attacks against individual Palestinians. No one is doing anything to stop the arrests of adults and children for political actions protesting these attacks and against the continuing theft of their lands.

Each week in Palestine there are many violations of basic human rights, but I will highlight only one. Today it's the attack on Palestinian villages and their fields by Jewish settlers who are living in the West Bank (Palestine), near Nablus. This report comes from the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), which monitors violence against Palestinians and accompanies Palestinians who are being threatened:

After the flames, only determination remains in Burin and Madama

On Monday 3rd June, around a dozen settlers from the illegal colony of Yizhar set fire to Palestinian’s fields in the villages of Burin and Madama, destroying at least 50 acres of arable land with olive trees. The settlers were joined by a jeep of border police when 40-50 Palestinians from the village of Burin came out to attempt to put out the fire, with some being stopped from doing so by the border police present.

As people from the two villages south of Nablus were hoping for an uneventful workday, the settlers from Yizhar, renowned for being one of the worst for settler violence, [Ed. note: if you click on the link you will see a map of these villages--they are almost completely surrounded by Israeli settlements, some illegally built]. (These settlers) set fire to fields in the Khallat al-Injas neighbourhood of Madama. One young person there desribed how, “then I went there quickly with my friends and tried to extinguish it. During that time the settlers went to the eastern area which is between Madama and Burin. They set fire into the hills there”. Before long, the enormous fires spread across the field and towards the olive tree groves of neighbouring Burin. Shortly after, Israeli border police turned up at the scene in Burin’s land, delaying the extinguishing of the fire.

Of the Palestinians that gathered, the Israeli border police only allowed uniformed firemen and those from the Palestinian Authority’s civil volunteer service to put out the raging fires. Those who approached to help were threatened with pepper spray. The fire was eventually slowed down when the border police left and the community was able to help. Areas of the hills still burned when volunteers were leaving at around 6 o’clock in the evening. The Israeli fire service appeared in case the fire spread to settler-occupied land, but did nothing to help the Palestinians nearby.

This level of violence is far from unheard of in the villages of Madama and Burin, which like other villages in proximity to Yizhar, are both subject to regular crop burnings, harassment and serious violencefrom the illegal settlement, that, with the assistance of the Israeli occupation forces, show no signs of stopping their assault on the surrounding Palestinian land and its inhabitants. Residents of Burin also face harassment from the Israeli army, which includes the tear-gassing of a Burin home, with a months old baby inside, during this February’s ‘al-Manatir‘ action. A protest for which the village has received several militaryreprisals since, including destruction of the local cultural centre.

Yizhar is at the forefront of settler violence and operates a strict “price tag” policy, where any action taken by the Israeli government on illegal settlements within the West Bank must be met by carrying out harsh and violent crimes on Palestinian communities.

Read more.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Three years later - justice still waits for Furkan Dogan

Three years ago today I came downstairs for breakfast at the Everest Hotel in Beit Jala. The hotel sits at the top of the hill overlooking Bethlehem. It's gardens are an oasis of beauty and serenity, even though the Israeli wall has been constructed on the street in front of the hotel.  

On this sunny May morning, the owner of the hotel had brought a large TV into the dining room and everyone was clustered around it, watching in horror the reports of the Israeli army's attack on the Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara, a ship filled with peace activists protesting Israel's blockade of Gaza. The ship was carrying medical and other humanitarian supplies to call the world's attention to Israel's ongoing illegal blockade which was strangling commerce in Gaza. Their mission was humanitarian--both in the supplies they carried and in their intention to call attention to Israel's illegal blockade which cuts Gaza off from the rest of the world. Although Israel claims they "left Gaza" in 2005, Israel still controls everything--goods and people--that enters or leaves Gaza.

Furkan Dogan, an 18-year-old Turkish and American citizen, was one of the nine people killed by Israeli army forces who boarded the ship in the middle of the night, rappelling down ropes from a helicopter, while soldiers fired on the ship from the helicopter. Dogan was shot in the face, apparently while he was lying down on the deck. Details are reported in a UN Human Rights Council report. Their conclusions about what happened on the Mavi Marmara begins on page 25.

On that morning three years ago in our hotel in Beit Jala, our Israeli tour guide was especially distraught – saddened and horrified that her government could perpetrate such violence against unarmed peace activists. So this event is personal for me – and two weeks ago I sat in the roof garden of our hotel in Istanbul, looking out over the blue sea for which the ship was named, remembering Furkan Dogan and the other eight people killed on the ship.

The US has never demanded an in dependent investigation into the death of this American citizen. Israel's military investigated itself and found no wrongdoing (surprise!). And the UN Human Rights Council issued their report, which finds that Israeli forces committed "a series of violations of international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law. Here is a portion of their report concerning what they determined about the circumstances of Furkan Dogan's death:

"Furkan Doğan, a 19-year-old with dual Turkish and United States citizenship, was on the central area of the top deck filming with a small video camera when he was first hit with live fire. It appears that he was lying on the deck in a conscious, or semi-conscious, state for some time. In total Furkan received five bullet wounds, to the face, head, back thorax, left leg and foot. All of the entry wounds were on the back of his body, except for the face wound which entered to the right of his nose. According to forensic analysis, tattooing around the wound in his face indicates that the shot was delivered at point blank range. Furthermore, the trajectory of the wound, from bottom to top, together with a vital abrasion to the left shoulder that could be consistent with the bullet exit point, is compatible with the shot being received while he was lying on the ground on his back."  

Please help Furkan's father (in photo below with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and Secretary of State Kerry), who is asking the US to investigate his son's death: Sign the petition here.