Thursday, May 29, 2014

And you will be my witnesses….Ascension Day, May 29

“And you will be my witnesses
in Jerusalen, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Acts 1.8

According to the writer of Acts, these are Jesus’ last words before he was taken to heaven. A friend in Taybeh wrote today to wish all of her friends a blessed Holy Ascension, commemorated today, forty days after the resurrection.

The descendants of these disciples, who stood watching as Jesus was taken to heaven, still live in the Holy Land today. And they take Jesus’ command very seriously. Today I share the witness of one of these disciples, Dr. Maria Khoury, who lives in Taybeh, near Ramallah, in the West Bank.

What Does the Pope’s Visit Mean to Me?

Maria C. Khoury, Ed. D. [Read this in the Arab Daily News]

The Visit of Pope Francis to Israel/Palestine brought more excitement than ever because anyone and everyone in news media came to Taybeh to interview the local Christians.  I am so very disappointed, however, that one might spend five hours with a news team and it is not sure they will use the two minutes they are planning since the producers always have the final word. Either way, since the village is known for having people who are “Taybeen,” meaning “good” or “pleasant,” we continue to welcome visitors and news media with open arms.  Although, on the ground we feel our situation will stay the same no matter who visits.

Furthermore, when follow-up emails begin with such a sentence:  “…my apologies for the delay in responding to your email.  Indeed, I am deeply thankful for your time, consideration and gracious hospitality.  Our trip to Taybeh was as eye-opening as it was heart-breaking…Your struggle is real and I applaud you for your courage…” most likely they are not using the footage and they are not bringing the Holy Father to visit you.  So sad! But at least His Excellency the Consul General of France expressed his solidarity and support and had a great tour of Taybeh this last week.

It was a remarkable moment that Palestinians can say Pope Francis came directly to Bethlehem when he finished his schedule in Jordan.  This was a very symbolic message since Israel controls everything and one day Palestine wishes to have its own airport, seaport and its own internationally recognized boarders.  What was even more extraordinary is that His Holiness stopped to pray at the wall that circles Bethlehem completely in a huge prison.  For me it was a way to validate that everything we experience because of the wall was recognized by a world leader since it has affected 80% of the Palestinian people in our daily life.  Although, again, the visit by Pope Francis will not change anything unless he asks Israel to end the occupation.
Dr. Maria Khoury

The Pope’s visit will surely touch the lives of many.  Especially the thirty young people from the Latin Church Choir who participated in the mass in Bethlehem.  Although very tired…it was an amazing experience.  Sister Leonie, the choir director who accompanied the group said the visit of the Holy Father was “very important to the Christians of the Holy Land.  It inspired Christians to maintain their faith and promote harmony among the denominations. Pope Francis reminded all Christians that they are one in Christ. The visit inspires love, peace and co-existence among Christians, Muslims and Jews.” Abu Johnny, the music teacher, also recognized that Pope Francis simply had a “peace sign” on his face and his visit was very important in supporting Christianity in the Holy Land. Many students said that the Pope’s visit was a great comfort to the Christians in this region and his message of peace was critical.

I am so very grateful that Pope Francis helped me believe in miracles since he invited both the Israeli and Palestinian president to come to the Vatican. In my thinking he should have possibly invited them to pray on the moon since our resolution seriously needs an out of the box solution.  And I wish he can invite some female leaders from both sides to join the prayer session since I am thinking women can contribute creative solutions. But again, I wish the Holy Father asked Israel to allow all people to enter Jerusalem freely if in fact they support religious freedom.

My husband David Khoury, former mayor of Taybeh and co-founder of the Taybeh Brewing Company said that “the visit of Pope Francis expressed great solidarity with the people of Palestine and very symbolic of the shepherd looking over his flock.  His visit means Christians are not forgotten and since he is a man of peace it will hopefully bring peace to the Holy Land.  Although his visit was announced as a spiritual pilgrimage only, it was important that he called for a just peace.”  However, on a personal level, I wish I heard Pope Francis or Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew ask Israel to end the occupation right now today because it has been one day too many already.  I wish they visited me in Taybeh so I would have mentioned it personally after explaining that every week water is turned off 5 days per week and in September, I did not have running water for 17 days. Last July no running water for 21 days. While the settlements all around [us] get water 24  hours a day, 7 days a week.

May we keep our hope for a better future so such Apostolic visits allow us to see a light at the end of the tunnel. It is the True Light of Christ that I will keep seeing no matter who visits me. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Will the Holy Fathers Bear True Witness?

This post comes from Dr. Maria Khoury, who lives in Taybeh, a Christian village in the West Bank near Ramallah. Maria was raised in Denver and now lives in the West Bank with her husband, whose family owns the Taybeh Brewery there. They returned to Palestine after the Oslo Accords, filled with hope for a peaceful resolution of the conflict and freedom for Palestinians. They are sti

Dear Friends of Saint George Taybeh,
Wishing all of you a blessed early Holy Ascension,
truly the Lord is Risen, maria

Will the Holy Fathers Bear True Witness?
Maria C. Khoury, Ed. D.

It is a special day in the Holy Land where His Holiness Pope Francis will meet Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to commemorate the historic meeting of their predecessors in Jerusalem fifty years ago that began a new era of Church relations. The motto for the Apostolic Pilgrimage is "So that they may be one" (John 17:20-23). Also scheduled to arrive in Jerusalem is Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai of Lebanon. 

Although the Holy Fathers will not make it to Taybeh, many newspapers came to report on the Christian community.  We wish to be for the world the light and the hope needed under Israeli occupation.  We are locked up behind a wall in an open prison and settlements continue to go up all around us while Israel continues to control all of the boarders, the roads, the natural resources.  It is a hassle and harassment not to have the freedom to enter Jerusalem without permits.

Will the Holy Fathers speak against the atrocities we experience and see?  Does it have to take a miracle to hold Israel responsible for the death of two Palestinian children gunned down by the Israeli soldiers during Nakba Day protest (May 15th) near Ramallah? Will the Holy Fathers even have time to see the video released by Defense for Children Palestine which reveals that the sixteen year old Mohammad Mahmoud Odeh Salameh and the seventeen year old Nadeem Siam Nawara were not holding any rocks or weapons, nor were they posing any security threat when the Israeli soldiers shot them assassination style.  Does the world know about this brutal killing that goes on daily in Palestine.  Yes, Palestine.  I am sorry to say that some of the press releases refuse to even include the word “Palestine” and mention the visit only to Israel.  So sad! We do exist in 22% of the historic land of Palestine; over 4 million people although less than 1.6% Christian, we are united as Christians and Muslims with the hope for a free Palestine.

As Pope Francis is celebrating Mass in Manger Square in Bethlehem which we are so honored that the Taybeh Latin Church choir will sing for him, will he say anything about the destruction by the Israeli military this past week, May 19th of 1500 fruit trees at the Tent of Nations Peace Farm near where he is praying.  I am so shocked and outraged of the damage at the Daoud Nassar farm because many of the trees were ready for harvest this June.  But will His Holiness say anything to Israel?

Our local Latin priest Father Aziz Halaweh has written a letter more than once to the Holy Father about the twenty Palestinian priests of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem who do not have the right to enter Jerusalem without a permit.  If they get this permit, increasingly unlikely, however they cannot enter Jerusalem with their own car. They must use public transportation.  They must cross the checkpoint on foot (not drive through with other priests who have a visa). They must be inserted into a queue and wait many hours as Palestinians to cross without  being sure they enter Jerusalem. Even when the Apostolic Delegation in Jerusalem which is an official Vatican Representative has tried to facilitate their pastoral mission and provide a pass for priests to show at the checkpoint the Israeli military authorities refuse it.

One priest said: "Every time I show it to pass, the Israeli soldiers refuse it, and they always ask for a visa. Recently, a soldier told me, in view of this pass: " Throw it away; here it’s worthless."  Another priest also said: "Israeli soldiers accused us in an arrogant way of being liars," You Catholic priests, you are liars, you have a document without a visa and you pretend to enter Jerusalem. "

Will any of the Holy Fathers this weekend be a loud voice to speak against military occupation and the discriminatory laws? Or will the Christian community be like a museum where the media simply comes to see how we are keeping the Christian values and traditions for two thousand years here in the very land where Christ was born.  One of the commandments is “Thou shall not bear false witness.”  We hope everyone who comes to visit Israel/Palestine will have their eyes open and speak the truth for justice and peace.  Will Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew have the courage to speak against the injustices happening in the very land where Christ was crucified and Resurrected? Will they see the crimes against humanity like we see them with our eyes?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Wondering what has happened to my tree

On an evening in early November, our group of Interfaith Peacebuilders got off our tour bus and trudged up the hill toward our next destination—Tent of Nations, a farm in the West Bank, just outside Bethlehem. We had to walk around large boulders on the road, which blocked our bus from driving up to the farm. The boulders had been placed there by Israeli soldiers some time ago, to prevent the farm from bringing in any equipment—like trucks, tractors, or other heavy equipment.

Here we are squeezing through the boulders blocking the road.
Daher Nassar met us and told us the story of his family's farm—he welcomed us into his grandfather's cave, which he built in 1916 when he purchased the land and registered it with the Ottoman government. Things changed for the Nassar family in 1991, when the Israeli settlements were being built and they started being harassed by the settlers. Settlements are built on hilltops, to command the surrounding countryside. The Nassar farm is on a hilltop.

Today the farm produces carob products, figs, almonds, apricots and apples. The farm has also begun developing solar energy and recycling wastewater—a necessity, since Israel has cut off their access to electricity and water. Israel has ordered them not dig cisterns or collect rainwater. Since their road was blocked they have been forced to farm without equipment.

In the summer, they host peace camps for Muslim, Jewish and Christian children. This year they had 65 children and 25 volunteers. They also host international volunteers who want to gain experience in sustainable farming, or simply help this family stay on their land.

Then his sister Amal spoke to us. She is a psychotherapist, working in Bethlehem. She tells us, "This land is precious to us like a mother." She also tells a story about meeting a woman from a nearby settlement, who can't believe there are Palestinians living in the area (in addition to the Nassar farm, there is also a Palestinian village in the valley). She explains that they use her grandfather's cave, rather than building more buildings, so as not to destroy nature.

The farm used to produce wheat and grapes for wine, which they cannot raise now, without machinery. Although they have four sets of documents proving their ownership of the land, this West Bank family has spent thousands of dollars and the last twelve years in Israeli court, fighting to keep their land. They could choose to leave, she says, but "my father said 'Always keep hope alive.'" Their father was a lay evangelist at Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, where the family still worships. She continues, "we have a task to do on this land."

So the Nassars have chosen not to be enemies. The sign for their farm shows their motto, "We refuse to be enemies." She tells us, "Christians have a duty to make peace and share the land."

Amal also tells us that international pressure has helped save their land—in spite of all the demolition orders.

This week Israeli soldiers came with bulldozers and uprooted one of their orchards—1500 apricot and apple trees were destroyed and the terraces where they were planted were leveled by the bulldozers. The valley looks like a wasteland.
Before and After—Tent of Nations orchard (left) and the valley after Israeli's military bulldozed and uprooted the trees (right).
I'm wondering whether the tree I gave them was one of the destroyed trees. Amal's name means "hope." That night, when I gave the tree, I, too, had so much hope for the project. Tonight I'm angry—at the waste, the meanness, the hard-heartedness. But I'm also inspired by the hope the Nassar family maintains—the hope of their father Daher, whose vision of a farm bringing people together still preaches hope in these dark days.

Please be part of that hope—sign a petition to Secretary of State John Kerry asking for his help in rebuilding the destroyed orchards and getting compensation for the Nassar family, and an end to the Israeli effort to take their land.

Read more about Tent of Nations:
Watch "Love Your Enemies"—Daoud Nassar tells about how their faith supports them in their peacebuilding work.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Two Narratives—Independence Day and Nakba "Catastrophe"

May 15 marks two anniversaries in Israel/Palestine. the day Israelis celebrate as Independence Day is also a commemoration by Palestinians of the Nakba. While many Americans are aware of Israel's statehood, few of us ever heard about the Nakba. In conflict, the winners' story is usually the one that is told.

Nakba means "catastrophe" in Arabic and May 15 marks the 66th anniversary of the Jewish militias' campaign to remove Palestinians from lands it wished to make into a state. I say "Jewish militias" because the removal of Palestinians from their villages in what is now Israel began in 1947—before the UN vote for partition, before the British withdrew from Palestine, before any "Arab War" began, before the formation of the state of Israel. Before May 15, almost a quarter-million Palestinians had already been forced from their homes by Jewish militias. (Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, 2006, p. xv)

Entrance to Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem—this key looks like the keys many Palestinian families will show you, the keys the refugees grabbed as they hurriedly left their homes in nearby villages in 1947-48. It reminds us of their intention to return to their homes when the fighting stopped.
Palestinians fleeing from their homes was not an accident of war. It was a systematic plan to remove as many Arabs as possible from the land Israel claimed for their state (thoroughly documented, from Israeli archives, in Pappe's book). The Nakba continued through 1948, eventually displacing about 800,000 people.

The Middle East Children's Association has compiled a short narrative with photos, telling the story of the Nakba, which I encourage you to read:

Monday, May 19, 2014

Make new friends, but keep the old...

From Barbara Hanst, teaching English in Nablus:

Do you know that song from your childhood? I learned it as a Girl Scout and its message has stuck with me through the years.

On Wed I traveled to Jenin to make some new friends, the parents of Ayman Alawneh. Ayman is a Palestinian studying for his PhD at CU. He and his wife, Nancy, have become good friends in Boulder and Ayman wanted me to meet his parents and deliver a phone to them. I was happy to do so and enjoyed meeting not only his parents but also several of his siblings. What a LOVELY family!! Now I know why Ayman is so special!! His mother not only prepared a feast for me, but also sent me home with her homemade za'atar.

On Thursday I went to Beit Jala, a suburb of Bethlehem, to see old friends, Kamal Mukarker and his family. Kamal had been my tour guide both in 2010 when I traveled on a Sabeel tour and again in 2012 when I ret'd to Bethlehem on my own. Normally I would have taken a service (pronounced ser-veeese; a van holding 7 people) first from Nablus to Ramallah, and then from Ramallah to Bethlehem, but Kamal was going to be in Ramallah with a group so offered to pick me up and drive me the rest of the way. Lovely idea, I thought, but it ended up being a bit unsettling.

I was traveling on the anniversary of the Nakba ("catastrophe" in Arabic), the time in 1948 when about 700,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes and made refugees as a result of Israel's War of Independence. There are observances of the Nakba all over the country and, for sure, in Ramallah where Yasser Arafat is buried and Palestinian governmental offices are now found. I was to meet Kamal in the City Centre. Hah! No way!~! It was packed with people, so I was relieved when he suggested an alternative spot about a 10 minute walk away.

I finally found it and was enjoying an ice cream cone when suddenly the proprietor ran into the street and then lowered the steel rolling door that closed his shop. "What's going on?" I asked. Two Palestinians had been killed as they were demonstrating outside a near-by Israeli prison, and when news of it came to the City Centre, the people there were enraged and began marching and shouting. The ice cream shop as well as other businesses were closed to protect their property, I suppose. Other customers left by a rear door and I was there alone until Kamal came to get me. Fortunately by that time the shop had opened up again.

The ride to Beit Jala was filled with lively conversation during which Kamal told me of his plans to be married, the development of his tourism business, and recent time he had spent with Rick Steves. He is also in the process of building a 3 story home attached to his parents', which home I got to see during my full and somewhat tumultuous visit with his family.

The next day, not long after breakfast, Kamal's father was rushed to the hospital, fearing a heart attack, as his mother prepared to host a group of Swiss tourists, providing lunch and lecturing on Palestinian history. She, too, is a tourist guide. I ended up on kitchen duty, not that I was asked to do that, but because I wanted to do something to make myself useful!

Returning to Nablus late that afternoon via 2 service rides was also eventful, probably because of the Nakba observance and the killing of the two Palestinians by the Israeli military the day before. First we encountered the remnants of tear gas which, even though the driver quickly rolled up all windows, made it uncomfortable for both lungs and eyes. Since I feel sure that was from the previous day, I can't imagine the impact of it "freshly sprayed".

On the 2nd service we passed through two checkpoints, but only at the 1st did we have to show our IDs. At both checkpoints the lines were long and slow, inching forward, unless you had a yellow license plate, indicating yours was an Israeli car, which enabled you to zoom right by.

When I finally got back to Nablus, I was feeling tired and dejected as I trudged toward my Project Hope apt, backpack weighing me down. (This time I was carrying apricot jam made by my host from their trees.) What a surprise to be accosted by shouts of "Barbara! Barbara!" There were two of my students pleased to see me........but not nearly as pleased as I was to see them!! It was a joyous "Welcome Home!"

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Stung by a Question

Barbara Hanst, a friend who lives in Boulder, is currently in Nablus, volunteering as an English teacher with Project Hope. Project Hope "works in the refugee camps, cities, and villages of the Nablus region of the northern West Bank, teaching English and delivering other essential education, arts and sports programs to Palestinian children and youth.

The largest volunteer organization of its kind in Palestine, Project Hope fosters dialogue and cooperation between local and international volunteers, while encouraging its volunteer alumni to remain involved with the issue of Palestine afterward."

Barbara posts her encounters and thoughts on regular emails to friends and family. I'm sharing her post yesterday—a poignant reminder about why it is so important for us to keep working to change the US role in the conflict.

She writes—

Dear friends and family,

I've spent much of the past several days "playing hooky" from Project Hope in order to spend time with fellow Boulderite and Sister City Project Board member, Carl Tintsman, who is passing through Nablus and has been interested in meeting some of our contacts here.

Last night we had dinner with a recent An-Najah graduate who is now the Community Participating Governance Coordinator for Global Communities. We were soliciting his input for ways to make the Sister City relationship effective, i.e. what projects we might undertake.

Inevitably the conversation strayed to the difficult conditions under which Palestinians live. "Do you think life would be like this for us if the United States were not giving Israel 8 1/2 million dollars a day and exercising veto power at the UN?"

We responded with silence.