Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Our final lectures in Jerusalem

Bishop Younan speaks to our group at the Lutheran synod offices in Jerusalem. Younan clearly is a brilliant man and brings a passion for his people. He's fireball!

Akiva Eldar of Ha'Aretz next to yours truly

On Monday morning we had the joyful opportunity to meet with Bishop Maneb Younan of the Lutheran Synod of Jerusalem. Younan is an small but very energetic man, passionate and prophetic.

When he's been in the U.S., Younan says, he's been dismayed at the way Palestinians are portrayed in the media. Based on what Americans see, he feels, all Palestinians are terrorists. The sympathy of Americans toward Israel is reflected in many ways, among them the recent General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. Younan kidded us that the PCUSA assembly could easily have been confused with AIPAC. As you can tell, he's a passionate supporter of Palestinian concerns.

Younan made the following points: 1) The U.S. is incorrectly viewing Israeli/Palestinian issues as a small part of a larger, regional struggle. In reality, Hunan said, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is at the heart of regional difficulties and unlocking this problem will also unlock positive relations with the Arab world. 2) Extremism is growing in the region. Younan sees himself, now, as a moderate, and voices at the table who are currently being heard are much more extreme in their outlook. One major problem of extremism is American Christian Zionism, which colors much of Christianity as ultimately anti-Palestinian. "Christians United for Israel" are building a $30 million settlement on the West Bank, which promotes to Muslims the idea that the Christian viewpoint is synonymous with American foreign policy. Ultimately this is destruction for local Palestinian Christian leaders trying to work with Palestinian Muslims. 3) Jewish extremism is growing. Sharon is now seen as a moderate, and forces calling for complete annexation of the West Bank are now more mainstream. Jewish settlers have increased in their attempts to take additional Palestinian land in the West Bank.

Bishop Younan believes the best and only solution has already been agreed to by majorities both in Israel and Palestinian, i.e. a two state solution. The current problem is the need for charismatic leadership that can help both sides achieve this goal.

A myth that needs to be dispelled is that Palestinian Christians are being persecuted by Palestinian Muslims. In reality there has been only one murder of a Christian by Muslims that is even suspicious, and that was the recent murder of a Christian man in Gaza. No one yet knows who is responsible for that crime. Otherwise Muslim and Christian relations are very close and harmonious, with Christians and Muslims having lived side-by-side for hundreds and hundreds of years. Relations with Jews are not always so positive, and Bishop Younan reported having been spat upon by Jews on visiting the Western Wall.

A sign of hope is a recent statement by the Chief Rabbi of Israel that Palestinians have suffered as a result of the occupation. At the same time as that statement was released, a prominent Mufti from Jerusalem issued a statement that, indeed, Israel needs security. This interfaith act is an important step ahead for a region whose people have been divided along religious lines.

I must say our two visits with Lutherans were the most impressive presentations during our Israel-Palestine.stay. Both men, Bishop Younan and Pastor Raheb, operate out of a strong theological position, are passionate about their faith, committed to the well-being of their people, and visionary about the future. Lutherans can be proud that they're well-represented in the Holy Land by capable and talented clergy.

We could have enjoyed Bishop Younan for many more hours, but the bells of the Lutheran church began to ring, which signaled him to move to his next appointment. Several of us head to Papa Andrea's restaurant nearby for a quick lunch before heading out to shop in the Old City. I hope Gail enjoys what I bought her!

In the early evening came one of the highlights of our tour, a visit with Akiva Eldar, an author and journalist with the Ha'Aretz newspaper. Eldar shared his own background as a Palestinian Jew -- an uncommon title -- who was born in Israel prior to creation of the State of Israel in 1948. Eldar since has closely studied Palestinian-Israeli relations and, in addition, has served as correspondent for Ha"Aretz in Washington, D.C.

According to Eldar, Israel originally believed that occupation of the West Bank would be in the best interests of the Palestinians - a sort of enlightened occupation that would bring health care, education, and economic development. A conversation years ago with a Palestinian reinforced in his mind that the reality was far different. An elderly Palestinian told him he'd lived under 4 occupying forces - Turkey, Britain, Jordan and Israel - and that the Israeli occupation was the best and the worst. It was best because israelis did bring some benefits and did, at least at first, care for their Palestinian neighbors, much more so than Turks, Brits or Jordanians. The Israelis were the worst, however, because they are the first occupiers to take away Palestinian land.

Eldar sees Israel and Palestine as being at a critical juncture, but with an unusual set of disadvantages. Olmert, Abbas, and Bush are all in weakened states. This means that the agreed-to goal of a 2-state solution will be much more difficult to achieve. While everyone recognizes the inevitability of a 2-state solution, Eldar feels the parties are now arguing over the remaining 6% - that part not yet settled by previous agreements. Olmert wants to exchange the 6% of the West Bank currently under negotiation for a highway or railway between the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinians are demanding more actual territory, as well as a safe passage between the two portions of the Palestinian state.

Israel and Palestine need to take some chances, Eldar believes. Israel should break the current stalemate by repeating what it did in Nablus - giving the Palestinian Authority control over public safety. The result there has been a great success, where 350 police maintain law and order. If this were repeated throughout the West Bank, there would be far less need for Israeli walls, security barriers, and checkpoints. This would allow more freedom for economic development among Palestinians.

The U.S. has a critically important role in resolving this conflict, since the U.S. has available to it both a carrot and a stick. Only when the U.S. is firmly engaged in creating a just solution will be see a final resolution of the conflict.

Eldar is a delightful man, and I look forward to reading his new book, Lords of the Land: The War for Israeli Settlements. Here is a man who, like many we've met, sees how "stuck" this issue is and is advocating creative ways to move his people into a better future.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

More photos of our trip

Sitting with Israeli soldiers in the Old City. They're just kids.

Michael, Joshua, and Lloyd at the West Wall

Goats herded through Jerusalem just outside the Church of All Nations

A glass blower in Hebron. Fascinating to watch.

Bedouins - Israel's lowest underclass

Sultan Abu-Abayyid shares with our group about Bedouin issues

Eating lunch in a Bedouin tent is for the flexible among us

After our visit to Hebron we headed to Kibbutz Krameem in the Negev for an overnight. The kibbutz is in a quiet, agricultural area and our rooms were individual cabins spread out over a gentle slope.

In the morning, Huda Giddens introduced us to Sultan Abu-Abayyid, a 50ish Bedouin man who comes off as well-educated and professional. He described for us the historical background and current conditions of Bedouin peoples in Israel, Jordan, and Gaza.

Bedouins have inhabited this region for hundreds if not thousands of years. These semi-nomadic people live in tents and have an economy based on goat and sheep herding as well as farming and orchards. Virtually all are Muslim and over 120,000 live in Israel, while 700,000 live in refugee camps in Jordan. No modern government - Turkey, Britain, Israel - has ever quite understood the traditional customs and stubborn libertarian ways of the Bedouin. Israel has tried many times to settle Bedouins in established villages. Instead, most Bedouins live in unrecognized villages consisting of ramshackle tarps and corrugated metal siding. The families are desperately poor, and although they pay income taxes as all Israelis and have full vote, they do not receive commensurate services like education, streets, health care, etc.

After Sultan's excellent introduction, we headed to several Bedouin villages, including Al-Quilya, where we had a delicious lunch seated on carpets. Huda was justifiably proud that the weaving industry she helped restart while she was here some years ago is doing a good job of helping support many Bedouin families. Many of us purchased rugs from the village's carpet shop.

Although we were in the far south of Israel, it was a short, 2-hour drive back to Jerusalem. I was relieved finally to be back online and able to send and receive e-mails home.

After a short break we met with Anglican Bishop Suheil Duwani, a friend of ours since his trip to Seattle last year. Bishop Suheil described his diocese, which consists of about 30 churches and 37 Anglican institutions (hospitals, homes, schools, etc.). There are 7,000 Anglicans in the diocese's five countries - Israel, Jordan, Syria, Palestine, and Lebanon.

Bishop Suheil's focus is on supporting the Christian community, which has been under extreme pressure, in the Holy Land. He hopes to build housing, provide education, and create all the conditions necessary to maintain a strong community here, which is important given that, pre-1948, Christians comprised 1/3 of Palestine's population. The number has slipped to just about 1%.

Interfaith cooperation has also been an important hallmark of Bishop Suheil's ministry. He meets each month with a group of Muslim and Jewish leaders to discuss ways in which they can help build peace in Israel/Palestine. Although ecumenical cooperation in Jerusalem seems scant, given the well-publicized fisticuffs between clergy at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Bishop Suheil's opinion is that the Christian community at the grassroots is strongly united.

Christians are often a bridge for peace and reconciliation between Muslims and Jews, according to the bishop. We pray that his ministry will help that role to flourish in the years ahead.

Some posts by Michael Ramos

Michael Ramos caught a big one


Talk about courageous people. Rabbi Arik Ascherman from Rabbis for Human Rights and Jean Zaru from the Friends International Center are at the top of the list in this increasingly fragmented land. Rabbi Ascherman, a Reform Jew with roots in Erie, PA, and Jean, whose Quaker organization has its international headquarters in Philadelphia, are at the forefront of nonviolent efforts for justice founded upon transformational community action.

Ascherman, inspired by Rabbi Abraham Heschel, recalls his phrase, “some are guilty, all are responsible,” to mean that he must stand in the way of the demolition of Palestinian homes when it is almost impossible for Palestinians to build a home legally. In 2004-05 alone, 246 buildings in East Jerusalem, some 4-7 stories high, were destroyed by Israeli governmental authorities. The Rabbi believes that his organization, joined by 400 rabbis from throughout the country, have at least slowed down the demolitions.

On April 15, 2004, where the erection of separation barriers was being challenged by a Palestinian village, a 13-year old Palestinian boy was beaten by border police. Ascherman could not morally stand by. In the face of tear gas fired by soldiers and rocks hitting him from Palestinians reacting to the beating, Ascherman made himself a human shield and helped save the boy’s life. Not knowing what would happen with the boy, Ascherman found out that the boy testified in court: “A tall Jewish man in a kippa came to my rescue and told me not to be afraid.” Demonstrating great moral strength, Ascherman modeled the justice and compassion that befits a hope for the “repair of the world” or tikkun olam that he wishes for in his country.

Jean Zaru is a Quaker who has been struggling non-violently for most of her life. “I don’t like violence qualified. All violence is bad.” Living in Ramallah in the West Bank, she laments that millions of Christians come to the Holy Land without touching base with Christians here locally. She would tell them (as she told us) that she has to have a permit to go to Jerusalem (just a few miles away); she has to have an outside organization apply for her and deliver it to her. She would say that her people suffer from structural violence. With hundreds of checkpoints, people, including members of the same family, cannot connect with one another. Palestinians are unable to sell their goods. Strawberries and other produce may rot in people’s cars trying to get to market. Unemployment, an exploited water supply, loss of land, and lack of labor protections all are part of the economic injustice she sees. Rabbi Ascherman views the struggle for economic justice as a matter of human rights and a living out of his faith. Jean would concur. “My faith inspires me to act to transform society. If all are created in God’s image, then we cannot destroy any (of God’s people). Unjust structures dehumanize and oppress both oppressors and oppressed.”

Zaru’s spirituality is grounded in dignity, equality, liberation, non-violence and the transformation of society. The Arabic word, samut, or perseverance, sums up her commitment: resisting what is unacceptable and transforming it. It is being “pro-justice” and “finding a way to lift us all together as equals,” so that we might all “live together as neighbors.” Her book, Occupied with Nonviolence: A Palestinian Woman Speaks, will be published in July.

Ascherman and Zaru both live out what the latter proclaimed to our group: “faith without action is dead; truth without being tested in one’s life is worthless.”


Yesterday, we heard two different proposals for peace but emerging from the same basic analysis. This was our experience in talking with two prominent Palestinian political figures, Hanan Aswari, Director of the Miftah Center for Global Democracy and Dialogue, and Mustapha Barghouti, Director of Health and Development in Palestine. Dr. Barghouti analyzes the Palestinian social situation as follows. Since the Oslo Accords in 2003, the Palestinian reality has significantly worsened. The GDP for the average Palestinian is $800-1000 per year. For an Israeli, it is $24,000. Water flowing from the West Bank region is limited to $137 million cubic meters per year, less than one-seventh the water flowing out to Israeli settlements and other parts of Israel. Because of over 700 roadblocks and checkpoints in the Occupied Territories, farmers have trouble getting produce to market and many workers cannot get to their jobs. This leads to the need to purchase more expensive Israeli goods. Yet, Palestinians are still paying their share of taxes to Israel. The Israeli government says that roadblocks and checkpoints are needed for security reasons, including to prevent violence against settlers, who are Israeli citizens, in the Territories.

The wall, sometimes called the separation barrier, complicates the situation on the ground further. Built often further into the West Bank than the proposed Green Line (marking the boundaries of the West Bank), the wall, 8-9 meters high of solid concrete, will surround 850 kilometers of the West Bank upon completion. The wall moves in and around certain cities, creating a patchwork of towns, that if made permanent, would seriously damage the idea of Palestinian contiguity within the West Bank. The city of Qualquiya, for example, is a city of 40,000 completely cut off by the wall from other villages and cities. Without a permit to travel, the vast majority of Palestinians have been unable to leave their districts in the last six years.

Jerusalem is a discussion by itself because of its religious significance for the three Abrahamic faiths. The discussion will be affected by the annexation of East Jerusalem by Israel and the massive building of settlements there which has the effect of reinforcing the decision and impacting the lives of this traditionally Palestinian area.

What Barghouti and Aswari (who will speak in Seattle in April for the World Affairs Council), represent are two prongs of an effort already under way to prepare for a viable and just two-state solution that will not condemn both sides to decades more of conflict. Mindful of the need for reform within the Palestinian political movement itself, Aswari notes that a broad social and economic agenda is needed for the Palestinian people in addition to a changed political reality. “We have to present Palestine with a better agenda with a commitment to a peaceful solution,” she says. These would be based on democracy, pluralism and good government. She believes that the Fatah party needs to learn from the last Palestinian elections.

Barghouti has started the Palestinian National Initiative to engage citizens in a non-violent struggle for an “independent, viable, democratic and prosperous Palestinian state that guarantees security, justice and equality before the law for all Palestinians.

Time is of the essence. Serious efforts from all sides, with the United States engaged actively, is vital so that - in these two figures’ estimation - no more time is lost. As one Palestinian member of our delegation said to the Jewish family with whom we shared a Sabbath meal: “As humans, we want the same things: to raise our children and provide for them through stable employment, an opportunity and hope.” Preparing for such a future for Palestinians and Israelis through negotiations toward a transformed political reality is a dream that these two Palestinian politicians are eager to shape.


Two evening presentations were added to our schedule yesterday. Although we were tired, I felt energized and hopeful, more so than at any other time on this trip. The first meeting was with Tom Garofalo of Catholic Relief Services (CRS).

CRS walks the talk. Working in conjunction with the UN World Food Program, they serve 125,000 people per month, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Most of these people have lost their livelihoods because of the conflict. Working in 140 villages, their immediate task is to enhance food security at the community and family level. Families contribute workers to teams to distribute food. Plans are set up based on priorities articulated by a local council.

Experience in the area since 1961 has led CRS to shift its strategy in the area from that of emergency services to one of development. But by development here is not meant what we might first associate with the term, for example, building water and electrical plants and introducing modern agricultural methods. CRS’ strategy in the face of the proliferation of poverty in a context of extensive security is that of “democracy and governance.” CRS is engaged in addressing the cumulative impact of a generation of suffering by preparing young people for peace. They intend to develop youth leaders through building on home-grown values in order to express them in civic engagement. Earlier experiments included encounters of Christian and Muslim students to engage in peace building among Palestinians.

The task is daunting. In Nehalin, CRS intended to build a school in a fertile town with crops traditionally sold in the main urban centers in the West Bank and beyond. But, now with the town surrounded by a wall, the school cannot be built.

Garofalo assesses the Palestinian situation through the following three reference points. First, there is an economy in dire straits because of restraints on movement and access. He assesses that even if 20% of the roadblocks were removed, people’s economic security would be improved. Second, there is a danger to the long-term viability of the economy due to the continuing of settlements and the wall. Third, there is the crisis in Gaza, closed off by Israel after Hamas took over after winning elections in 2006. Israel had withdrawn from Gaza the previous year. Just this week, the main power plant was shut down by Israel in an effort to stop violence against its border region. This will make food and fuel scarce.

A political solution, in his view, has to be found. This is why Garofalo has been involved in advocacy, in conjunction with the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and in communication with groups such as Churches for Middle East Peace. The first step is to change the dynamic. CRS is on the ground helping to make it happen.


“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”

Matthew 5:9

In 1994, Abuna (“Father”) Elias Chacour, the Melkite Byzantine (Greek Catholic) Archbishop, had a dream. A school for children so that they could build a future for themselves and their people. No Arab-Israeli college existed at the time; Chacour decided to go ahead, believing “asking for forgiveness later was easier than asking permission” ahead of time. The school began with 100 students. But, this school would be different. It would be open to young people from all religions: Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Druze. “We accept you as you are,” said Michael Chacour (nephew of Abuna Chacour) who oriented us and led us on a tour. In the school, children learn to “accept the other as they are.”

Today, 5,500 elementary, high school, college and university students plus teachers updating credentials, energize the campus in the town of Ibillin (northeast of Haifa and northwest of Nazareth). Abuna’s dream of paving the way of peace by engaging the future through education is being realized. The magnificence of this achievement cannot be overstated. Abuna and Michael Chacour are refugees living in their own country. From more than one-half million Christians in the Holy Land in 1948, there are only 135,000 Christians left in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Our bus guide noted the significance of the “rootedness of the Palestinian people.” Arab land in Palestine was given from father to son. In 1948, Michael Chacour said, “We had to let go. The olive trees were uprooted (and they still are today). This symbolizes the uprooting of our families.” He added, “We can feel deep feelings about our situation, but still accept you as you are.”

The Archbishop put it this way in an article by William Raspberry in the Washington Post on December 22, 2003: “If I wanted to be bitter, I could be. I was deported from my village of Biram in 1947, though I remained inside the territory. I’m still not allowed to live in my village. I can attend church there and, oh yes, I can be buried there…But, my parents never believed in hatred and violence. They always taught us that the only way to dispose of an enemy is to turn him into a friend.” Michael concluded: “If you become afraid of another, he becomes your enemy. (Our duty) is to love God and to love our neighbor as our self.”

“Peace is every step.”

Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh

We walked into the church passing over a Buddhist design meant to convey a spirit of welcome and peace to all who enter. Even before, we admired the beautiful sculpted door showing a Native child at the knees of a Palestinian priest, faces of children from different parts of the world and Jewish and Palestinian child with their arms around each other. Where did this come from? From Spokane, WA, through donations of the Methodists and Presbyterians churches and created by Dorothy Farrell. This door was an inspiring glimpse of the people we seek to be.

We went into the school auditorium and turned around. A marvelous peace mural with champions of the work of justice was at the center. Scenes of local life were bordered on either side by the Jewish rabbi and Palestinian landholder who confronted each other when the latter’s land was taken over in the 1940s. At the top of the very center was the depiction of their dramatic, tearful embrace some 40 years later. Peace is every step. Peace is the way.


The prayer today in our devotions was, “Where do we see hope so far on this trip?” I personally found hope today in our three meetings in and around Bethlehem, each representative speaking in a different way about the development of young leaders. In the later morning, we arrived to the Aida refugee camp, populated by 4,500 people, from the original families of displaced people whose homes were taken in 1948. They exist with few alternatives of movement, except to leave the country and move to the United States. Sixty percent of the residents are children. What future do they have? People showed bullet holes from when their “village” was occupied by troops in 2002. We confronted the separation barrier or wall that we understand will soon surround all of Bethlehem. Yet, when we met the brother of a Seattle-based Palestinian who led us on our tour of the camp, there was only pride for the Al-Rowwad Cultural and Theater Center and what their community organization has accomplished and where they are going. Children are trained in various media, including camera and film. Children taking part in theater, including through puppets, both locally and abroad teaches others about their reality and helps prepare these young people with skills for life. Women especially are encouraged to develop to their full capacity, through among other things, making hand-made goods.

The goals of the center are to: promote “beautiful non-violent resistance,” defend humanity and to show duty. Hohni describes it this way: “Nobody is born with the genes of hatred or violence.” We are about constructing ways of self-expression. There is no health clinic in the refugee camp. But, the leaders say they are better off than most of the others in Palestine. A heap of rocks stands in front of the wall where a local denomination hopes to build a church but cannot get permission from the government. Al-Rowwad would like to have a permanent playground there; renting it would be fine. “It is possible to make beautiful things out of garbage.”

The Wi’am Center for Reconciliation began in 1995 and serves Bethlehem and surrounding villages through training in non-violence, civic education and peaceful resolution of conflicts. They specialize in furthering the art of su’ha, the Arabic art of mediation, which allows couples and people having difficulties in their relationships, to resolve the situation through compassionate, thorough listening to both parties. Often the presenting issues are not the only issues at play: such influences as clan and economic deprivation often need to be addressed as well.”

Another prong of their work is with young people. In workshops with as many as 60-80 people Wi‘am implements their motto, “to understand the other is to meet the other.” Here Wi’am puts their “civic education multiplier” into action. They want to train role models so that other young people will have someone to look up to. In another part of their programming, younger children from all backgrounds come and us the center to play.

Finally, Wi’am seeks, like Al-Rowwad, to empower women. Knowledge about their rights helps the women come to know themselves as equal partners to men. Women learn to do embroidery and arrange flowers. All the money that comes in from what they produce goes directly to the women themselves. Recently, 40 women from neighboring villages came to Bethlehem, many for the first time, to meet their urban counterparts. The women felt so empowered that some were talking about running for the local council. These encounters, according to our host, Imad, “uplifts their spirit and personality.”

Though people are “squeezed” by the occupation, opportunities for international meetings of young people brighten the path for those who are becoming leaders. “Violence outside reflects itself at school, (but) empowering the weak brings harmony to the Palestinian community.”

“Making Peace by Creating ‘Facts on the Ground’”

The Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, Pastor of the Christmas (Lutheran) Church in Bethlehem and the head of the Diyar educational consortium, was direct and honest about what was needed here and now in this troubled and historic land: peace makers and peace talkers. Perhaps no other discussion did more to pivot our responsibility (response-ability) than our engaging conversation with a minister who is sowing the seeds of a new reality through locally-rooted action.

“There is too much politics; and, too little care for the polis and the city.” Diyar reaches 60,000 people per year through its college, music and theater arts programs, from “womb to tomb.” “There is too much religion and too little spirituality.” There are a lot of speeches by pastors, he said, including statements by religious organizations (which are good), yet the situation is getting worse. “(Our religious talk) needs to be about the spirituality of Jesus.”

“There is too much humanitarian aid.” The United Nations has been spending money on immediate needs for 60 years, helping individual families. While this is important, “there is too little development; we want to be engaged in development.” Diyar is the third largest employer in the Bethlehem. The impression I was left with was that the best and brightest are here because of the vision of this place, and Pastor Mitri.

On the other hand, Rev. Raheb goes on, “our land needs vision, hope and leadership.” “All the talk is about managing the conflict” instead of ending it. “We provide hope, which is different from optimism. “Optimism is when we believe that (President) Bush will come and he will fix it.” Hope is knowing that tomorrow will be worse and still going out into society and creating facts on the ground. Some (Christians) are waiting for the Messiah. Our Messiah came 2,000 years ago and we don’t need another Christ. We can make it happen.”

Training future leaders of Palestine addresses a lack of leadership. “When they return, they don’t engage in peace talking but peace making….No one of us is a spectator. We are all actors. We are all part of the problem and we all can be part of the solution.”

We were invited to join Rev. Mitri in creating “facts on the ground.” This would be a reframing in meaning from the “facts on the ground” that native Palestinians perceive that settlements and the separation wall are creating (that is, in effect permanent establishments creating new, more constrictive boundaries to be codified when a peace agreement is signed; Israeli officials say that such barriers and settlements would be removed). The ’facts’ that Rev. Mitri is talking about are actions discerned in the light of faith (’praxis’) that manifest care for the city.

Prayer is important. Beyond that, personal visits to these areas encourage others to understand the situation. Rev. Mitri imagines, what if Palestinian businesses received more than the 2% of the expenditures that Christian groups pay for pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Or, we can support a school such as the one under the Diyar consortium. Seeing and discerning lead to acting for justice. Putting facts on the ground through our individual and collective action help to create a new reality. They confirm the sanctity of the land and pave the way to peace.

What if?

Mural at the Ibillin Mar Elias School depicting interfaith cooperation leading to peace

Many people have ideas about how to end this conflict. As we've traveled through Israel and Palestine these last two weeks, I've started to generate my own ideas too. It's clear there are few "practical" solutions, but it's also clear that some pieces are missing if there is to be a way out of this decades-long mess. Rather than focus on the past - all of the hurts and pains of 60+ years of living without peace and harmony - here are some thoughts about how to move into a new future:

Americans - This is what I'll be advocating for from my own government 1) All future aid to Israel should be made contingent on granting of full and equal human rights to all Israeli citizens and anyone under the authority of the Israeli government. 2) Support a return to the 1967 borders and demolition of any walls and separation barriers not on the Green Line. 3) Commitment to economic development in a new Palestine to ensure an end to Palestinian poverty and an increase in the economic well-being of Palestinians.

Palestinians 1) A full and unequivocal repudiation of violence against Israeli civilians and acceptance of a permanent state of Israel in the 1967 borders.2) A Bill of Rights for all Palestinian citizens granting such rights as due process, freedom from discrimination, etc. 3) Full citizenship in Palestine for all Israeli settlers who remain following an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders.4) Creation of a state police function and full judicial system to guarantee justice for all inside a new Palestine.

Israelis 1) Creation of a Bill of Rights guaranteeing equality to all Israeli citizens. 2) Withdrawal from all territories in the West Bank beyond the 1967 borders and demolition of all parts of the Wall not on the 1967 border. 3) Financial reparations to Palestinians who can show legitimate claims to pre-1948 property ownership inside Israel

Why should a plan like this work? First, it would do away with some of the most significant reasons for the conflict: lack of security for Israelis, lack of human rights for the Palestinians, etc. Why would a
plan like this not work? Because the enormous energy given to this conflict by its current participants may take generations to unwind, given the high level of investment by both sides in the current state of affairs.

But what if it could happen? The one player who could make this work is America. We're recognized by both sides as having a key role in resolution of the conflict. If we'd take a fresh look at it, enforce a fair solution, and stand behind partners on both sides who are
committed to peace it just might work. And what a wonder if it did. So many prayers would come true . . . . .

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Deep in the West Bank

Joy Ellison of the Christian Peacemaker Team in At-Tuwani

Our morning took us from Bethlehem, just inside the Green Line, to Hebron, the heart of the southern West Bank. Although I've traveled many times to Israel-Palestine, I'd not yet been to Hebron, which had
always been presented as being too dangerous to visit.

We picked up a member of the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) from Hebron outside the village of Beit Omar and heard some about a recent episode of violence that had occurred right in the little village outside Hebron. Two Palestinian men had shown up with knives and a gun inside a settlement. They were both shot dead. Hard to say what had provoked them to the point of their violent confrontation with the settlers, but it's clear from hearing stories about Beit Omar and other villages that there is "history" between Jewish settlers and local Palestinians.

In general, Hebron's roots as home to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob make the place sacred to Jews and Muslims alike. Jews settled in Hebron prior to 1948, then returned to Hebron post-1967. Several settlements, including one right in the heart of the Muslim Old City, mean Jews and Muslims are living side by side. Coexistence is tense, to say the least.

Hebron's Jews apparently are the most radical of Jewish settlers, and Palestinian residents of the Old City have put netting over their streets to protect them from stones and garbage thrown by Jewish settlers. CPTs stand between Palestinians and Jews and attempt to protect both. As in many West Bank locales, Jewish encroachments on Palestinian land are unrelenting. The two groups are enemies, and harsh words and bitter feelings are shared. A few years ago a Jewish American doctor named Goldstein brought his gun to the Hebron mosque during prayers and sprayed bullets over the crowd. He killed 29 Palestinians that day, and the atrocity has not been forgotten.

Sometime after that tragedy, Israelis divided the Hebron mosque into a mosque/synagogue, where Jews can see the traditional resting places of the patriarchs on one side while Muslims can do the same on the other - neither side being able to see the other. Having forgotten it was the Jewish sabbath we took a couple snapshots of orthodox Jews leaving the synagogue, and one man shouted out to us, calling us "Anti-Semites" until we put our cameras down.

After lunch in Hebron we drove toward the village of At-Tuwani, near the southern border of the West Bank. CPTs there work in between Palestinian villagers trying to keep their land and radical Jewish settlers trying to expand their settlements. Joy Ellison, a bright young woman from Vancouver, Washington, walked out to our bus to explain the situation there.

At-Tuwani's 150 villagers trace their roots over 800 years to the land surrounding the present village. They graze sheep, raise olives, farm wheat, and grow almonds on the rocky land around their town. The nearby Jewish settlement of Ma-aon, however, has been expanding into the Palestinians' grazing lands, and the Israeli government has marked every building in the village for demolition. Villagers have "fought" back with non-violent resistance, faithfully abiding by principles espoused by Gandhi and King. They managed to force the Israeli government to tear down a wall and have successfully retained ownership and possession of much of their history property. Joy described for us the inspiration she has received from these villagers who have patiently resisted what has seemed an inevitable onslaught of hostility and, sometimes, violence from the settlers.

Friday, January 25, 2008

A Lutheran pastor speaks of hope in Bethlehem

Metri Raheb, pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem

This morning I finally had an opportunity to post my blog. Our hotel has no Internet access (it'll be fixed on Saturday, they say, the day after we leave) so I wrote several posts, then early this morning walked along the main drag in Bethlehem looking for an unattended WiFi signal. Sure enough I found one and sat for the several minutes it took the slow connection to upload 8 e-mail messages and photos.

Bethlehem is a bleak city. Our hotel is directly across from the Wall, which snakes through the city at odd angles and divides the town into odd segments. In our morning Bethlehem tour we learned that the Wall will completely surround Bethlehem when it is complete. Right now it is partly ringed by Jewish settlements - 29 of them. The roads, which are also protected by portions of the Wall, will complete the isolation of Bethlehem.

George Rishmawi, a Bethlehem native, toured us around neighborhoods affected by the Wall, showing us how former Palestinian farmland is cut off from the villagers who tended it, and how new Jewish settlements surround the town. George handed our group off to Husham Jubran, who walked us through the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem, a forlorn village of poverty-stricken families displaced by the 1948 creation of Israel.

Afterward we headed to the International Center of Bethlehem (ICB), a program operated out of the Christmas Lutheran Church in the city's
downtown. Rev. Metri Raheb, pastor of the church, laid out a compelling portrait of his people's needs. Raheb told us his land has too much politics, too little care for the polis; too much religion and too little spirituality; too much humanitarian aid and not enough development. The ICB has created a school and college that focus on giving people vision, hope and leadership to help see Palestine through this crisis. He asked our group to pray, to make personal visits to Palestine, and to pick a project to support. The tiny support given by mainline Protestant groups to Palestinian missions was a source of concern for him. He hopes mainliners will become peacemakers, in Jesus' image, rather than mere peace talkers.

Ten days into our visit, I'm beginning to identify with those who feel there's little hope for a solution to the problem of justice for Palestinians and security for Israelis. I am given hope by the existence of people like Metri Raheb. Calm, well-spoken, dignified, and focused, Raheb is the kind of leader a nation can be built on. I pray for him and his work and hope God will grow more like him out of this troubled land.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Photos of the Wall in Bethlehem

Here are miscellaneous photos of the Wall in the West Bank town of
Bethlehem. The artwork is full of irony, pathos, and sometimes beauty.

A priest teaches nonviolent resistance to Palestinian Christians

Yad Vashem, the Jewish Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem (no photos allowed inside)

Naim Ateek (left), Anglican priest and director of Sabeel, an ecumenical center for liberation theology in Israel-Palestine

During the morning our group toured Yad Vashem, the enormous and tragically beautiful Holocaust memorial in Israel. Since I was there last the memorial has been greatly expanded, including a long, triangular gallery that contains a multimedia presentation much like the Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C. The event, as always, was deeply moving and painful to endure.

Afterward we headed to the offices of Sabeel, an ecumenical liberation theology center founded and run by Fr. Naim Ateek, and Palestinian Israeli Anglican priest. We shared in communion, followed by a delightful luncheon with Sabeel volunteers. Then we spent nearly 2 hours talking with Naim about the political, theological, and moral situation facing Palestinians.

Naim's viewpoints are amply described in his books, primarily Peace and Only Peace. New to us were some hopeful signs Naim pointed out which primarily come from Israeli Jews. He pointed to the book by Elan Pappe, former professor of history at Haifa University, called The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. This book apparently has set off a wildfire in Israeli society since Pappe is a prominent academic and historian. Another new book has been written by the former Speaker of the Knesset called Hitler Has Won in which Israel is taken to task for its inhumane treatment of Palestinians.

Ateek now believes (contrary to his stance a few years ago) that the only way to find peace will be to create a 2-state solution, with Israel and Palestine side-by-side. Even this won't answer his particular problem, though, since he has full Israeli citizenship but is a "last class" citizen in his own country as a non-Jew. 

When we asked Naim his views of the memorial at Yad Vashem, he said this, "I haven't gone there and I won't until a memorial is built to the Holocaust that is happening around me here in Israel every day."

The key for Ateek and for his followers at Sabeel, is to resist nonviolently, to educate people about the injustice and continually build pressure on Israel to become more humane and just in its dealings with Palestinians on either side of the 1967 Green Line.

Mar Elias School in Ibillin - a success for the church, a success for the people

The door of the Ibillin Greek Catholic Church. Note children from many cultures, including a Palestinian Christian and Jew together on the right.

The next time I come to Israel, I want it to be to Ibillin to work with Christians at the Mar Elias school there. Michaline Chicour, cousin of Abouna Elias Chacour, founder of the school, shared with us the remarkable success at this effort to feed the hearts and minds of Palestinian Christian children.

In 1982, the Mar Elias school opened with 22 students. Today there are 5500 students from Kindergarten through college. While most are Christian, there are also Muslim, Druze, Bedouin, and Jewish kids,
some of whom come from as far as Beersheva (southern Israel) to attend the school. In addition to educational basics, children are taught to live together with others in peace and to appreciate differences of language and culture. Abouna Chicour, now Greek Catholic Primate for Northern Israel, built a church that seats 1200 people - the largest and newest church in Israel.

The school welcomes mission volunteers from all over the world. There's been a special connection with United Methodists, and this is why I want to come here next. I'd like to bring a group to this school, show them that Christianity is alive in Israel, have them work each morning while they're here, then show them the holy sites in Northern Israel each afternoon.

The spirit of the place rubs off. We all came away excited about the hope of teaching cooperation, love of diversity, and understanding of cultures. This is hope for the future.

A different situation for Palestinian Israelis

Janan Simaan, Palestinian Christian Israeli, after our visit with her at Sabeel Nazareth

After some much-needed shopping in Jericho, our group headed to
Northern Israel to see holy sites in Nazareth and Upper Galilee. In Nazareth we enjoyed a fine lunch at a Christian restaurant, followed by a tour through the Church of the Annunciation.

In the late afternoon we met with Janan Simaan, representative of Sabeel Nazareth, who told us of the particular plight of Israeli Palestinian Christians. Janan described the status of Israeli Palestinians (Christian and Muslim) as "not second-class, but last class." There are 1.3 million Palestinians living in Israel, and although this population has the vote they do not have equal rights in the Jewish state. At the airport, for instance, Palestinian Israelis are sent to a different line and the security check there may take hours to perform. Schools and services in Israeli Palestinian villages are meager in comparison to Jewish Israeli schools and services. Israeli Palestinians are not allowed in the military, but for many jobs in Israeli past military experience is a requirement.

Janan shared criticism of the Church as well, which she sees as out of touch with the needs of everyday Palestinian Christians in Nazareth.

On a regular basis Israeli Palestinian towns are appropriated for Jewish settlements, with the Israeli government taking away Arab property for purported "security" reasons. This happens, according to Janan, even though the Israeli courts have ruled it to be illegal. She gave the example of the Arab village of Mashad, where the Israeli government is removing olive trees and giving the land away to Russian Jewish immigrants.

Janan lamented the support given Israel by Christian Zionists in America, who send millions of dollars to Israel to strengthen the Israeli government's work. This is interpreted by Israeli Palestinian Christians as a betrayal by the church and another attempt by ignorant or cruel Americans to stamp our Christianity in Jesus' native land.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Israeli side of the conflict

The Israeli Foreign Ministry (no photos allowed inside)

Rabbi David Rosen of the American Jewish Committee

Thomas Garofalo of Catholic Relief Services

We woke up early so we could head to the Western Wall, the Temple Mount, and the Mount of Olives. Each site was beautiful as ever. I'll post photos a bit later. After a quick lunch we headed to the Israeli Foreign Ministry for a meeting with Ambassador Naom Katz, the ministry's director of Public Relations.

Katz used an interesting strategy to describe the current situation in Israel. He described the policy problems and most surprisingly, the public relations problems.

Policy-wise, Katz talked about four different strategic issues: 1) relations with Israel's Palestinian and Arab neighbors, 2) the strategic threat of Iran, 3) problems along the northern front with Lebanon, and 4) the soldiers captured by Hamas and Hezbollah. He sees the issue as primarily that of moderates in the Middle East dealing with extremists. Over 70% of attacks on the West Bank can be traced to Iranian dollars and influence, in the Israeli government's opinion, and forces of the extremists are getting to be more powerful and influential.

All these concerns happen at the same time that political leadership on both sides - Israeli and Palestinian - are at their weakest. Israel and Palestine, Katz said, are like a divorced couple still living together. There is little likelihood for a win/win scenario, rather a lose/lose is what tends to occur in the Middle East.

In terms of the public relations challenge, Katz believes Israel has been "Boratized." Borat, he recalled, did a huge disservice to Kazahkstan, making it appear anti-Semitic, backwards, etc. Israel has been the victim of the same kind of PR disaster. Katz showed film footage from focus groups in the US in which everyone was excited about going to Italy, for instance, but didn't want to visit Israel. Focus group members saw it as an armed camp where outsiders are not welcomed. In reality, Israel is a tolerant society, diverse, and full of high-tech and artistic accomplishments. The three themes Israel's international PR hopes to get across about its country are: Passion, Ingenuity, and Fusion.

As our group asked about the Wall, Katz pointed out that Americans are building a similar, though much larger wall, on our border with Mexico. He also pointed out that only 17 km of the Wall is actually wall, the rest is fence.

Katz was a gracious and intelligent man, and I was certain I would enjoy inviting him to dinner if he ever came to Seattle.

Our next stop was the American Jewish Committee where we met the dynamic and engaging Rabbi David Rosen. Dark-skinned and with a charming British accent, Rosen was full of energy as he described the interfaith situation facing Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Israel. In Rosen's analysis, the two mega-trends the world will face in the next decades are a) global warming, and b) the Muslim interaction with the West.

In the evening we met with Thomas Garafalo of Catholic Relief Services. More on this to come. Gotta run for the bus to Galilee now!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The price of the Occupation

Atan of B'tselem

Yehuda Shaul of Breaking the Silence

Our group divided up today to head to churches in the area for Sunday worship. My choice was the Redeemer Lutheran Church in the Old City, which we'd heard has a 9 a.m. English service. We got there to discover the service was in Arabic, and none too energetic Arabic at that. We hummed along to the Old One Hundredth which was the closing hymn. At the conclusion of the service a nice couple came up to us and asked why we didn't go to the English service in the church's chapel. We dashed up to the chapel and found around 150 English-speakers, mostly Americans, enjoying a warm and vibrant service. Joshua stuck around for post-service tea while others headed to the Jaffa Gate to explore and shop.

After lunch we bused to the headquarters of B'tselem, a Jewish human rights organization. Atan, a field worker there, laid out for us the organization's work of documenting human rights abuses in the West Bank and Gaza - of and by both Palestinians and Israelis. We talked a lot about the social cost of checkpoints, especially those that separate Palestinian communities in the West Bank from each other. It was quite interesting to hear, too, about the challenges faced by Jewish settlements that are placed directly in the middle of Palestinian communities like Hebron. B'tselem's audience is the Israeli public, 70% of whom know of B'tselem's work, but only 30% of whom support it. The org has begun giving video cameras to Palestinians so they can document harassment and abuse. One recent episode, in which an Israeli settler harasses a family living nearby, is shown in this video.

Kathy discovered St. George's Cathedral was planning to host the local celebration of Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, so we hightailed it back to the cathedral in time to enjoy the Anglican/ecumenical service there. Bishop Suheil Duwani, who recently visited Seattle, was the speaker. The organist did a fine job on the Toccata of Widor Symphony #5 as a postlude.

Following the service we gathered in the hostel dining room to hear Yehuda Shuel of Breaking the Silence. Yehuda, a 25-year old, served 3 years in the IDF on the West Bank and, along with several others, put together a photo display of his tour of duty in Tel Aviv. The display was viewed by over 7,000 people, and the Israeli press featured it in headlines for several days. This was the genesis of Breaking the Silence, which is an organization that interviews Israeli soldiers to learn about their experiences on the West Bank and Gaza. So far they've interviewed over 500 soldiers, and their testimonies have been put into print and web form.

Yehuda shared with us his own service. He was trained to combat the Syrians in open battle, but his tour of duty ended up primarily on the West Bank. He was given the command, which he followed, to lob rocket propelled grenades across a no-man's land onto a Palestinian structure in a village around .5 kilometer away.He did this night after night until it became a game, but he was haunted by the likelihood that his RPGs likely fell on innocent civilians, given the inevitable inaccuracy caused by distance. He decided it was his responsibility to tell the truth about what he did so Israeli society could come to grips with the moral and social cost of the occupation.

I asked Yehuda whether he would live in an Israeli settlement on the West Bank, and he did not say he would not live there. He did say that his attempt was to get Israelis to ask the question, "What is Israel for if it is hurting innocent people?" I'm proud of Yehuda and glad he broke the silence. He's a good man, an Orthodox Jew, and he declined dinner with us on kosher grounds, but it would have been great to break bread with him and enjoy his obvious good humor and strong character built out of tough times.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Some photos from the past few days

A home demolition in East Jerusalem

Palestinian policemen in Ramallah

Jean Zaru of Friends International Center

Arafat's tomb at the Muqata in Ramallah

Mustafa Barghouti of the Al Mubadara

Inside the West Bank - Our visit to Ramallah

Our trip takes us to meet representatives of many elements in the Middle East conflict. After focusing on Israeli peacemakers yesterday, we turn to leaders in Palestine today.

I have to admit it was with a little trepidation that I headed with the group to the West Bank town of Ramallah. This is my fifth time visiting Israel and Palestine, but I'd always been told Ramallah was too dangerous to visit. Images of the 2002 Arafat siege by Israeli forces added to the sense of Ramallah's danger.

Over the last years, with East Jerusalem increasingly difficult for Palestinians, Ramallah has become capital of Palestine. Just 10 miles outside Jerusalem, the town has a large population, served by what appears to be a large police force. Any concerns about safety quickly evaporated by the scores of women and children out on the streets.

Our first stop of the day was with Jean Zaru, director of the Friends International Center. Quakers have been in Ramallah since the 1860's and their children's schools there are an important part of the educational system here. Jean, a lifelong Quaker, presented the Palestinian issues from her perspective as a woman and as a proponent of non-violence.

News cameras, Jean said, cannot capture the daily violence the Palestinians live with. She identifies the violence as "structural violence" that includes dehumanizing checkpoints, economic disruption, environmental degradation, and many other forms of harm inflicted on Palestinians. In her opinion, violence against Palestinians is of far greater scale than the violence perpetrated by Palestinians against Israelis in suicide bombings and rocket attacks. Much of the current trouble within Palestinian society is related to past attempts by Israel to intervene in Palestinian affairs. Hamas, for instance, was initially nurtured by Israel to counterbalance the power of the PLO. I'm looking forward to reading Jean's new book, Occupied with Non-Violence: A Palestinian Woman Speaks, due out in July of this year.

After our visit with Jean Zaru we headed across town to meet with Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, Palestinian legislator and probably the most prominent Christian in Palestinian leadership. She's familiar to American audiences as frequent spokesperson for Palestinians during the first Gulf war and afterward. Ashrawi leads an organization working for the economic development of Palestine.

Ashrawi has a bleak assessment of the current situation in Israel-Palestine. "A time of promise is dissipating," she said. "Promises in word are being negated in deed." The growing number of settlements in the West Bank, the Wall, the escalation of violence, and the devaluation of human life are all signs the conflict is worsening. As the Palestinian leadership looks to the facts on the ground, it believes the Israeli goal is to create isolated pockets of Palestinian population centers, spread around a small portion of the West Bank and economically and socially isolated from the rest of the world. She sees Palestine as "de-developing" now, with its population going backwards in education, health, and social services.

Although Ashrawi is an opponent of Hamas, she pointed to American hypocrisy in encouraging elections then boycotting Palestine when a plurality of its voters supported Hamas. To Hamas she has two priorities: 1) Never target Israeli civilians, and 2) keep any military actions inside the 1967 boundaries of the West Bank and Gaza.

She also believes, as clearly many Palestinians do, that the key to unlocking the problem is the active engagement of American political leadership. The Americans have ignored this issue for 7 years and during that time illegal settlement outposts have increased in number from 32 to over 200. There are now over 450,000 Israeli in "formal" West Bank settlements, something Ashrawi identified as illegal land grabs.

The biggest sadness for Ashrawi has been the departure of much of the Palestinian Christian population. Of her 5 sisters' children, none currently live in Palestine any longer. Ashrawi maintains she will never leave, and hopes a future Palestine can be created that will allow Palestinian families to remain in peace.

The outlines of a final peace for Ashrawi are a full return to the 1967 borders, including Jerusalem. Israeli citizens on the West Bank should be offered full Palestinian citizenship. I think we all left Ashrawi's office less hopeful but also pretty impressed with Ashrawi's passion and commitment to a solution.

Afterward we spent the noon hour at Bir Zeit University, a modern, 8,000 student university outside Ramallah. The hundreds of Palestinian students on campus were finishing finals and, though we'd hoped to talk with them, we settled instead for an engaging conversation with Omar, the university's PR director.

The afternoon took us to Arafat's former headquarters, the Muqata, which has now been rebuilt into a shrine for the late Palestinian leader. Arafat was never a sympathetic figure to me, but I did enjoy the architecture of the place and the peaceful setting that had been created in his honor.

Afterward we headed to the offices of Mustafa Barghouti, leader of a new Palestinian political party called "The Initiative." Barghouti is a physician who believes the Palestinians need a competent, professional, honest political alternative to Fatah and Hamas. His new party managed second place (around 30%) in the last election, and it seems to have become the choice of Palestinian professionals and women.

Barghouti shared an excellent slide presentation about the effects of the current conflict. In his analysis the Israelis are creating an apartheid system, with isolated "Bantustans" for Palestinian residents. He feels Israel's ultimate plan is to take over the Jordan Valley, leaving only small pockets of territory for Palestinians. The Wall, which defines the new Palestinian border, is three times the length and twice the height of the Berlin Wall, but few in the international community are outraged about it. He sees two solutions to the conflict: 1) a return to the 1967 borders, something he sees as increasingly unlikely given the Wall and the increasing number of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, or 2) a one state solution with one-man, one-vote for all Israelis and Palestinians. He sees this as the unintended consequence of current Israeli policy in the West Bank. Barghouti's new movement, called Al Mubadara in Arabic, has four values: 1) Non-violence, 2) Democracy, 3) Social justice for women, the poor, and the disabled, 4) Palestinian unity. Barghout is an engaging man. He excused himself promptly at the ending time for our talk so he could go across town and treat a woman who had been hurt in a non-violent demonstration at the Wall. While some may disagree with Barghouti's description of Apartheid as the intent of the Israeli government, it is hard not to be impressed by Barghouti's vision and commitment to a better future for Palestinians.

After an ice cream cone we headed to the Israeli checkpoint an a return to Jerusalem. The two soldiers, a man and a woman, who boarded our bus for a passport check couldn't have been much older than 21. I wanted to hold them in my arms and tell them that, somehow, with God's grace, they would be able to live in peace in their land, side by side with Palestinians like Barghouti, Ashrawi, and Zaru.

Perspectives from another traveler

Michael Ramos' thoughts on Sabella and Shabbat dinner:


We met with Dr. Edward Sabella from the Middle East Council of Churches. He noted that the Christian population in Israel/Palestine is less than 2% of the population. The Christian community provides schools, clinics and social services that are critically needed within the Palestinian population. Despite the small and diminishing number of Christians in Jerusalem and Israel/Palestine as a whole, Dr. Sabella believes there is an important role for Christian communities in the United States to play in this area.

These include: 1) strengthening the Christian presence here; 2) conveying that the conflict is political and that the solution is political and not religious; and, 3) ensuring that the core of our faith is put into play to help resolve the political conflict. In addition, the Christian community provides an important third dimension to the communication among Christians, Jews and Muslims. Our mission is to foster common ground based on mutual respect.

While we began our conversation on a down note, based on concerns about President Bush's willingness to follow through on the difficult issues on the road to peace, we felt energized hearing about his efforts to form a Christian-Jewish group in Galilee to provide a joint training of trainers in conflict resolution.

In the end, I detected hope in his presentation: rooted in the fact that peace benefits all the parties involved; rooted in schools which welcome children from a variety of backgrounds; rooted in the historic living together here of diverse people who could one day live in a Jerusalem that is an open city in the midst of an Israel and Palestine with clearly defined boundaries. The faith community is invited to, practically-speaking, build relationships across political lines and articulate how our lives are intertwined as we seek a just solution to this political conflict.


Four members of our delegation enjoyed a lovely Shabbat dinner with a Jewish family in Jerusalem. After sharing prayers for the occasion, we savored turkey soup, halibut, potatoes, steak, rice and a delicious cake. The husband in our host-couple has been a Jerusalemite for 5 generations and works for a technology firm. His wife came to Israel as a teenager. Born in New York like me, she came to Israel as a teenager. She is a teacher of gifted children. Their two sons are in their early 20s, one of whom is serving in the military currently; the older son who was with us had just finished his three required years of duty. We were impressed when he served us and cleared the table.

I think we were all struck by the great openness and hospitality of this family to complete strangers. Our discussion was wide-ranging, including the diversity within our various Christian and Jewish traditions, travels in China and policy toward to Palestinians and to temporary workers and immigrants to Israel.

The work of peace begins with dinners in homes such as these. The teacher described how she helped one Palestinian child who was acting out toward another Palestinian child (the only two in her class). She had the children form a circle and asked each of the children to give one compliment to the boy who was having a hard time. Each spoke to the child, who was touched by the praise, and his behavior changed. When Israeli and Palestinian children can sit together in a circle, affirm each other's dignity and bring out the best in each other so that both may live to their full potential, we may have a key to positive future relations between peoples. The woman from Palestine at the dinner from our delegation and the woman who cooked our delicious meal ended the evening with a profound embrace.

Two Rabbis Speak

Rabbi Arik Ascherman shared with us on Saturday afternoon and I came to really appreciate his depth of religious conviction and the power of his social justice witness. Ark has been to Seattle several times on behalf of his organization, Rabbis for Human Rights. He described a wild scene near a checkpoint where he put himself between a young Palestinian boy and Israeli guns. The boy later said he was saved by a tall man in a kepa, which was the first time he'd ever met a Jew who cared about Palestinians.

Asherman described to us his upbringing in the U.S. in which he learned that being a Jew meant being concerned about human rights and social justice. He had two shocks when he came to Israel years ago. First was how hard it was to find a bagel. Second was that fewer Jews than he thought were interested in the importance of human rights for all.

Secular Jews tend to be more interested in human rights, Ascherman indicated, and religious Jews (who tend to be conservative) are more often "particularists" who believe that God's interest in well-being for humans is intended only for his Chosen People. The purpose of Rabbis for Human Rights, which includes hundreds of rabbis in Israel, is to promote the foundational Israeli values of freedom, justice and peace in contemporary Israel.

To Ascherman both sides have work to do to make peace. Palestinians must learn that violence destroys the peace process. Israelis must learn likewise that settlements destroy the peace process. Clearly Ascherman feels as well that Israeli Judaism must get back in touch with the Talmudic tradition that mandates a person allow themselves to be killed before killing an innocent person. He feels the best way to create peace is to build a truly just society. Thank God for the Rabbi Arik Aschermans of the world.

After meeting with Rabbi Ascherman we attended synagogue, led by the first ordained female rabbi in Israel (wish I remembered her name). Jet lag was kicking in, though, and to be honest my Hebrew is so poor I couldn't keep up with the service at all. Afterwards we joined Rabbi Barry, his wife Julie and their three beautiful young daughters for Shabbat dinner. My first ever in a Jewish household.

I think Barry and Julie's perspectives on peace were a little more mainstream Israeli. Barry's feeling is that Israel has never provoked the Palestinians, but that it has always been the Palestinians who initiated conflict. Hank Landau, one of our little group of four at the Shabbat dinner, pointed out the problem of the settlements, themselves a provocation. From that we launched into a heated but friendly conversation about peace in Israel-Palestine. I wish I had a picture to share, but Barry reminded me that in their home they do not create anything on Sabbath, even a photo. Our group came away with an appreciation for the joys and pains of being Israeli.

Friday, January 18, 2008

A Christian Leader Speaks

When he walked into the room I already knew I would like Dr. Bernard Sabella. A Roman Catholic and a Palestinian, Dr. Sabella is a leader at the Middle East Council of Churches as well as an elected member of the Palestinian parliament. He had a refreshing outlook on peace between Israel and Palestine and I know that, with more people like him, we'd see real progress toward an end to this conflict.

In Sabella's mind the Christian community is not a key player, but is an important player nevertheless in ending the conflict. The existence of Palestinian Christians ensures that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not simply a struggle between Jews and Muslims. Christian Palestinians, now only 1.5% of the population in Israel-Palestine, have dwindled in population because of the ongoing lack of law and order in the territories.

Palestinians will have to learn how to live in peace among themselves, Sabella notes, because there is now little honor or honesty among them. The long years of the Intifada and Israeli response have decimated the Palestinian judicial system, leaving little institutional strength with which to muster a fair and just society. Palestinians are further divided between Hamas/Fatah and West Bank/Gaza contingents, making little opportunity for internal leadership. Israel, on the other hand, has much institutional strength and quickly outsmarts and outlast Palestinian initiatives.

The way ahead will be to educate and empower young Palestinians to build their nation. He admires the American educational system in which the effort is always toward individual actualization. Palestine needs an educational system that can help its people live up to their potential.

As far as a negotiating strategy goes, if Sabella had his way there would be two states and Jerusalem would remain a united city with subsections for both Jews and Palestinians overseen by a single administrative/judicial structure. A central core of Jerusalem would be an international city owned by all peoples of Israel and Palestine.

Sabella is clearly someone who needs to be heard. I'm glad he'll be in Seattle in April for the Living Stones Conference (

And I'm glad the church includes a man like Sabella who has a vision for how to bring peace to a troubled land.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Highs and Lows of Jerusalem

Our morning began with an introduction by our ground tour coordinator, Dr. Kathy Nichols. Obviously a brilliant woman, Kathy represents the United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Israel. She's put together a wonderful tour for us and we'll meet many Church leaders, members of the peace movement and others too numerous to mention here.

We walked through Herod's Gate into the Old City of Jerusalem, stopping first at Ecce Homo Convent for a look at the ancient Lithostratos stones. We continued along the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulcre, one of my favorite sites in the whole world. There's a holy chaos about this interdenominational church. Given the poor relations among the Christian tribes there, we couldn't quite call it an "ecumenical" experience. But I like the darkness, the antiquity of it, the incense, and the sheer beauty of a building that's so complex and rambling that it could never have been designed by a single architect - unless he was mad!

After a quick lunch at Papandreaou's we headed to the Jaffa Gate and an appointment with Angela Godfrey-Goldstein of the Israeli Coalition Against House Demolitions. With Angela's commentary on the bus microphone we toured through sections of East Jerusalem that have been taken over by Jewish settlements. Few in the outside world believe there is any legitimacy to building settlements on land that is still of disputed ownership, but there are literally thousands of homes anyway. I was surprised to see the way the town of Bethany, for instance, had changed. My last time in Bethany was 10 years ago and the difference is even more striking than, say, the level of new development in Seattle's South Lake Union. In the SLU at least there were commercial structures prior to Paul Allen's rapid development of the area. In East Jerusalem there are acres of houses where 10 years ago there were hillsides and goat tracks. Unbelievable.

Saddest, though, was the existence of The Wall. Locally it goes by two names, "The Separation Barrier" to Jews and "The Apartheid Wall" to Palestinians. As low as 6 meters in some places, the height of the wall in Bethany is 12 meters - over 36 feet. Topping the sad structure is electrified barbed wire in case anyone could possibly scale the monstrosity.

The Wall snakes its way through East Jerusalem, separating neighbor from neighbor, Palestinian from Jew. Around 100 Palestinian homes on the Israeli side are demolished each year for the stated reason of lack of permits. It would be hard to argue that the presence of the Wall, far into East Jerusalem as it is, is anything other than an attempt to bump out the borders of Israeli farther and farther into West Bank land. And because Jerusalem's final status is so important to a lasting peace, it's also hard to feel anything other than sadness -- sadness that the Wall will just make peace that much harder to achieve. It would take billions and billions and billions of dollars to remove Jewish settlements on the West Bank. That is if anyone could actually ever succeed at dislodging the powerful settler community from their new homes.

Time now to catch up on sleep and try to get over this jet lag. More to come tomorrow.

Going up to Jerusalem

Thanks to Shannon Parks-Beck my trip was a little more pleasant yesterday. After flying 9 hours to Paris, then managing the subways from the airport, then fighting crowds through a busy but as-always beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral, all I really wanted prior to our Tel Aviv leg was a chocolate croissant. Pain au chocolat, as the French call them. A guilty pleasure that makes life more joyful, as I call them.

And here was Shannon, searching the Paris airport for pain au
chocolat, for me, at 10:00 at night. And she found one! Salvation through chocolate. My personal heresy.

The photo above is our subgroup of pilgrims who decided to head to downtown Paris during our 6 hour layover at Charles deGaulle Airport. From left to right: Mary Romer, Shannon Parks-Beck, Mona Stucki, Joshua Liljenstolpe, Hank Landau, Michael Ramos. Photographer: C'est moi.

After my chocolate salvation we made the final legs of our journey. Paris to Tel Aviv. Midnight through passport control in Tel Aviv. Bus to Jerusalem. Hotel at St. George's Cathedral. Given the quality of company, the happy memories of chocolate, and the feeling of being blessed with a safe journey I barely noticed the lack of heat in the room and only cold water in the shower. We're in Jerusalem. We've "gone up" to Jerusalem, as the Bible would say.

And the way up was interesting. Last time I was here, 10 years ago, there was no four lane freeway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Now the freeway speeds through the West Bank on its way uphill, speeding as though it's happy to ignore the Jewish West Bank settlements and the 24-foot separation barrier keeping Palestinian and Israeli apart.

Even President Bush recognized the injustice of Jewish settlements on
the West Bank last week and urged the Israeli government to remove them. Problem will be that removing the settlements from the West Bank would be like removing Ballard from Seattle. It's a "fact on the ground." The settlements are enormous and spread for miles over the
landscape. How can there ever be peace with facts like these?

We're off to the Old City of Jerusalem in a few moments. Peace!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

This Year in Jerusalem

After a year of planning, our group of 18 pilgrims is set to head to Israel & Palestine for two weeks of touring, relationship-building, and study.  We leave from Seattle, stop briefly in Paris, then arrive in Tel Aviv after a day and a half of travel.  I’m sure we’ll all be bleary-eyed when we wake up in Jerusalem on the 17th, but here’s the sight we’ll see!

Please watch this blog for updates each day, beginning on our arrival in Jerusalem on the 17th.  Peace!