Alternative Tour Options: Today’s Voices

As individuals travel to Israel/Palestine, we will be asking some of them to send back brief, current, first-hand reflections on what they are encountering on their travels.  This page will be updated every few days on an ongoing basis.  If you would like to contribute your own personal observations while on tour, please let Kay Plitt know at:  kay@fotonna.org.  We will be in contact with you.”


Finding Hope, Committing to Action

                              DIGEST #4  | MAY DELEGATION REFLECTIONS                              

Most members of the delegation have returned from Palestine/Israel this week, but they took the time to submit this final set of reflections before doing so. Casey Aldridge kicks it off with a stirring summation and a commitment to solidarity; Nawal Musleh, Thomas Banyai, Laila Liddy, and Cathy Sultan comment on the situation facing Palestinian children and youth; Cecilie Surasky’s submission is a collection of photos featuring faces of the delegation; Noble Larson writes about the delegation’s visit to Hebron; David Young shares his notes from Lifta; and Jennifer Susskind writes eloquently of the hardships faced by the Palestinians Bedouin population living in the Negev Desert inside Israel.

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading the reflections from this fabulous delegation! Use the menu at right to see previous submissions and find out more about upcoming IFPB delegations!

Several pieces below are excerpted; click here for the full online report.


Time to Get my Hands Dirty    Casey Aldridge – Charlotte, North Carolina

On the first day of our four day, three night stay in the West Bank, our delegation met with Sam Bahour in Ramallah. Sam gave us his story, but the thing he said that I remember most was a particular observation about the post-Oslo situation in Palestine.

Sam remarked that the West Bank in particular has become a “scrambled egg” that we cannot ever unscramble. That model makes sense out of the way the West Bank is carved up into zones A, B, and C, and how Palestinian, Druze, and Bedouin communities still exist across Israel. It helps put some perspective too on how settler colonialism has and does operate against Native Americans back home, both in terms of territory and reservations, and in terms of racial identity. It makes sense of the fact that the annexation and separation wall falls mostly in the West Bank and not along the green line, and it makes sense of how settlements attempt to choke out Tent of Nations and towns like Nabi Saleh. . . .

Read more from this reflection.


The Future of a Free Palestine   Nawal Musleh – Chicago, Illinois

Mohammad

When I signed up for the IFPB delegation back in February I was more than thrilled this year’s focus was on child detention, incarceration, and political prisoners.  I work on the No Way to Treat a Child Campaign, which focuses on Israeli military detention of Palestinian children. I worked closely on a film, Detaining Dreams, showcasing the reality of four Palestinian youth who were detained in 2014.

When I saw on our schedule that we would be meeting with Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI) and touring Al-Aroub Refugee camp I felt an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. What an opportunity to meet with the amazing individuals who direct DCI in Palestine and tour the village where some of the Palestinian youth in the film are from.

At the DCI office in Al-Khalil we met some of the most inspiring youth. Here is Mohammed. He is the president of the Youth Protection Team at DCI. He is 16 years old and despite all the hardships and obstacles of the Israeli occupation we have witnessed on this trip, I left him feeling hopeful and empowered to continue to demand change for the treatment of Palestinian children. It is the children of Palestine who lead the future of a free Palestine.

Click here for more videos and photos from the delegation on Instagram


Youth in the Jordan Valley   |   Thomas Banyai – Decatur, Georgia

Aside from a bruised knee or a broken arm, a kid growing up in the Atlanta suburbs where I live do not have to deal with unexploded military ordinance.  This is part of the normal life for many children in the Jordan Valley.

For example, I was shocked to learn that there are many areas populated by Palestinians in the Jordan Valley where the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) regularly hold their military exercises.  At those exercises, the military use live ammunition.  This was described to me in the Palestinian village of Attuf & Al-Raas in the Jordan valley.  I had the rare opportunity to meet and hear the stories of six youths from that area talk about their lives.

In addition to their lack of educational resources, I was amazed to learn that many of the friends of the youths were injured by military ordinance left by the IDF military after they had their exercises.  Also, if their houses were damaged as a result of those exercises, the IDF would not compensate the residents for the repairs.  Furthermore, if those homes were damaged beyond repair, those homes would be demolished without any support from the IDF.  The residents from those homes would need to find lodging elsewhere in the community.

So, an uncertain present and future awaits the the youths not only from the Jordan Valley but throughout the Palestinian territories.


Traumas Children Face   |   Laila Liddy – Tuscaloosa, AlabamaPalestinian Children

On June 1, we met with a representative of the Palestine section of Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI).  We learned there currently are more than 230 children, children innocent of any crimes, in Israeli prisons.  The majority of the children are between the ages of 14-16.

When Israeli soldiers arrest children, they usually do so between midnight and 5:00 a.m.  The home is ransacked, and photos are taken of all the children before the arrest is made.   While in prison, the children are tortured physically, as well as psychologically.  The prison experience leads children to be mistrustful of others (even close friends) and damages the relationship between them and their parents.

Our speaker shared with us that his own 15-year-old son had been arrested.  Soldiers came to his home at 2:30 a.m., broke down the door, and began asking for his son.  When soldiers saw the son, he was thrown onto the floor, and a soldier put his foot to the boy’s chest, holding him down.  At that point, the father tried to pull soldier off his son, but the soldiers beat the father. . . .

Read the rest here.


Imagine  |   Cathy Sultan – Eau Claire, Wisconsin

How do you tell your five-year-old son that you can’t protect him from being pulled out of his bed in the middle of the night by Israeli soldiers who might bash his head against the wall then beat you, his father, when you will try to intervene.

Like his four brothers before him, he will be blindfolded, his hands tied tightly with a plastic cord that will cut into his wrists at the slightest movement. His mother’s protests will not deter the soldiers who will forcibly drag him to the waiting Jeep, taking him to the nearest settlement police station before transferring him to prison where his official interrogation (often with torture) will begin.

His crime? Being Palestinian.

 


Issa

The Tour of Hebron   |   Noble Larson – Arlington, Massachusetts

Issa Amro gave us a harrowing tour of this beleaguered city: a focal point of settler attacks and harassment. Before that, our redoubtable guide, Said, gave us a tour of the Tomb of the Patriarchs and the Mosque. The Mosque was the site of the infamous 1994 attack by settler, Baruch Goldstein (a Brooklyn native) on worshippers attending the dawn prayer, in which 29 were killed and 200 wounded. The “punishment” was to section off part of the mosque as a Jewish synagogue.

The tensions and desperation in this city are palpable. It’s the only place we visited in Palestine where children were begging in the streets. Part of the city is a boarded up “no man’s land”, which happens to include the home where Issa was born (and which he cannot visit). H2 has around 500 shops that are closed under Israeli “security orders”.  The description “hell on earth”, which I had heard before, was accurate.

Issa is fearless and spoke out boldly to nearby Israeli Occupation Force (IOF) soldiers – no doubt at considerable personal risk. At one point in our walk, he was pulled aside by an IOF commander. We tried to surround him (following our contingency plan), but the soldiers had already cut us off. He was released a few minutes later, and the confrontation ended without further incident, but I’m sure it’s just a taste of what Issa lives. . . .

Read more here.


Brief History of Lifta   |   David Young – Shawnee, KansasLifta

Umar Al-Ghubari is part of a group called Zochrot, which means “remembering”.  He talked about how Israel is trying to erase the original Arab names of villages and streets.

Lifta is typical of this, along with many others.  He told us how a group from South Africa donated money to the JNF to plant trees near the village and later came back to apologize after they realized how they JNF had used their money. The JNF (Jewish National Fund) was founded in 1906.  Many forests in Israel are planted on top of old Arab villages.

Lifta is a Canaanite name.  The village goes back to the time of the Romans. During the Ottoman Empire in the year 1600, 100 people were registered with the government.  Many of the homes have a bottom structure built about 200 to 300 years ago and an upper structure built in the 20th century (mostly in 1930’s).

The campaign to rid Lifta of its Palestinian inhabitants began in 1948. . .

Read more here.



Bedouins in the Negev   |   Jennifer Susskind – Berkeley, CaliforniaTouring the Naqab

In 100 degree weather, Khalil Alamour, our guide, brings us to a rocky point overlooking the town of Hura in the northern region of the Negev Desert. Established in the ‘90s, Hura is one of seven “recognized” Bedouin towns, and is home to 10,000 people.

The town is dusty and grey, practically treeless, with nondescript industrial looking two story apartment buildings, placed haphazardly across the landscape. The apartments house large families and also, surprisingly, their ancestral sheep and goat herds. He points to a vacant plot of rubble and explains that this spot is slated for the soon-to-be displaced villagers of Um Elheran and Attir.

We get back in the tour bus and drive 10 miles to a small village that is not on any official map. This village, Um Elheran, was founded by refugees of ’48, who left voluntarily after being promised that they could return at the conclusion of the war. Sixty years later, in spite of no recognition by the government, no running water or electricity, they have planted olive trees and built their homes in the desert. The same tribe also live in the nearby village of Attir. In addition to herding and farming, they have helped the Jewish National Fund plant a forest of 28 million trees in the adjacent hills. . . .

Read more here.


 From the Wall to Wall and Back Again

The third collection of reflections from the delegation keeps it 100. That’s 100% real. Martin Friedman kicks it off with a powerful reflection on internalized superiority. Such superiority is on blast in Katie Huerter’s video from Hebron and Emily Sedgwick‘s sharing of Omran’s story. Elizabeth Rucker reflects on the leadership of youth in the Palestinian village of Atouf, a theme Jennifer Susskind also touches on in her recounting of the delegation’s overnight in Nabi Saleh. Christy Wise shares her thoughts on the overnight at Tent of Nations. Salem Pearce’s reflection cuts to the core of questions around religion and identity in Palestine/Israel. Last but not least, Cathy Sultan and Johanna Jozwiak reflect on steadfastness – captured by the Arabic term “sumoud.”

Several pieces below are excerpted; click here for the full online report.

Internalized  Martin Friedman – Seattle, Washington

From the wall to the wall and back again. This reflection is less about specific activities on specific days and more about overall reflections especially as it pertains to racial disproportionality in Israel/Palestine and in the US.  We have been from Jaffa and south Tel Aviv to the Aida Refugee Camp in the West Bank to Jericho and Ramallah, Hebron and Nabi Saleh.

Walls. Everywhere I turn there are walls.  The giant physical wall that separates, annexes, isolates and relocates. The wall that we are told to wail and pray at.  These physical walls defined by Israelis dominate Palestinian life.

And what about the walls we can’t see, the internal walls, the wall of traditions and interpretations. The wall of fear and the Shoah and never forget and “not what will happen to kill us but when”.  For so many Jews; the wall of “a land without people for a people without land”.  Internalized. . . .

Read more from this reflection.


VIDEO: ISRAELI SOLDIERS QUESTION ISSA AMRO IN HEBRON  | Katie Huerter – Omaha, Nebraska

Issa Amro and Youth Against Settlements hosted the delegation in Hebron and was stopped and questioned by the Israeli soldiers occupying his community. The incident was captured on film by Katie Huerter.

Issa

Click here for more videos and photos from the delegation on Instagram


Omran’s Story  |   Emily Sedgwick – Boston, Massachusetts

On Saturday morning, we left the comfort of the Holy Land Hotel in Jerusalem for a three-day road trip. We had a number of incredible experiences hearing from people who are subjected to discrimination, harassment, and brutality on a daily basis just for standing up for their rights as human beings. One of the many stories really hit home to me. We had a “water tour” by Omran from Al Haq, a Palestinian non-governmental human rights organization.

The bus stopped at a dry stream bed next to an Israeli pumping station. Omran described to us how the dry stream used to be a river with plenty of water to make the whole area green and create the Palestinian bread basket, growing many crops. Then he described how when he was a boy his family used to come there on holidays to swim and fish in the river; To a beautiful place full of fun and adventure. Then in 1995 Israel built a pumping station there, taking the water from the river for a nearby Israeli settlement. I have always loved river swimming, both when I was a kid, and then later with my own kids. It is a small thing compared to all the indignities suffered by Palestinians, but it still broke my heart to hear Omran’s story.


Youth to the Front  |  Elizabeth Rucker – Allston, Massachusetts

On Monday and Tuesday, I had the privilege of hearing the stories and dreams of 10 Palestinian young people. The mornings were full of adults describing the horrors of child detention, but in the bright afternoon sun, I heard Nawab speak.

Nawab stood, fully 15 years old, in a warm conference room in Atouf, a small town a spitting distance from a former youth detention center, and told us about her work documenting human rights abuses with Defense for Children International – Palestine. This young woman reminded me that the other side of child detention and torture is youth moving to the front of their society, taking power back from the military and police, and leading the movement for human rights and peace with justice.


Bassem in Nabi Saleh

Nabi Saleh  |  Jennifer Susskind – Berkeley, California

Oh, where to start? The visit to this village with its 600 residents has been the most inspiring experience of my trip. The descendants of these villagers have lived on this land for at least 400 years. Bassem Tamimi, a member of the town’s Popular Committee, says, “My grandfather was a Christian, and my great grandfather was a Jew”.  Meaning, that they do not perceive Jews as their enemy, but rather, the State of Israel.

The town has been practicing creative resistance against the occupation and the Israeli military since 2005. While the houses are in Area B (partial Palestinian control) 97% of their land is in Area C (controlled by the Israelis). Bassem’s house is in Area C and has been under a demolition order for years.

Across the highway, we can see the neighboring Jewish settlement, established in 1976. The settlement uses 5 times the amount of water per capita as the village. The land around Nabi Saleh is brown and barren due to settlers repeatedly cutting and burning down their trees and occupying their water source.

Bassem says, “Our duty and our dignity is to resist. We’ve studied Gandhi and Martin Luther King. We want to act as an example of nonviolence”. . . .

Read more here.


Stay at Tent of Nations  |   Christy Wise – Washington, DC 

I’m grateful for the opportunity to visit the Tent of Nations. It’s a completion, of sorts, for me. Our Palestinian Olive Oil ministry, benefiting Palestinian olive growers and Tent of Nations, brought me into this movement and then led to my position on the advisory council for the Friends of Tent of Nations of North America, but I’ve never been on the land.

It was incredibly meaningful to step onto the soil of the farm, smell the air, hug Daoud, hear him tell his family’s story while at his home, and share a meal.

Conversely, it was devastating to see the settlements so close to the farm, and expanding even closer, and to be awakened by the sound of settlement bulldozers and earthmovers this morning.


The Wall

May You Be Free  |   Salem Pearce – Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts

Today was Hebron, a place I’ve been hearing about for a long time. It’s cited as one of the worst examples of the effects of the occupation on the Palestinians. And that’s just the everyday conditions: When parshat Hayei Sarah comes around each fall, it is somehow able to get worse, when thousands of right-wing, fanatically religious Jews make pilgrimage to the area and there are inevitably clashes between and among the settlers, visitors, Palestinian residents, and Israeli security forces. In response, a couple of friends started Project Hayei Sarah, using the Torah cycle to raise awareness about what is happening in the city that is the supposed burial place of Avraham, Sarah, and their descendants.

The trip started with visits to the Tomb of the Patriarchs and the Ibrahimi Mosque. I decided not to enter either: The latter because Jews aren’t allowed inside (I could have entered by lying or under cover of the rest of the delegation, whom the guide identified as “a Christian tour group,” but didn’t want to do either) — and the former because I don’t want to ascribe holiness to a place that has been violently wrested from the Palestinians and used to justify military and settler violence. (Plus, I’m pretty sure that “the patriarchs” aren’t buried there.) I am clear about my reasons, but it was a hard decision to make, and I was feeling overwhelmed with emotion. So while most others visited both places, I sat on a bench in the sun and meditated, doing a blessing practice I learned from one of my teachers. I repeated in my head, “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe. May you be free,” sending the mantra to all the residents of Hebron. . . .

Read more here.


Suppression of Resistance – Sumoud   |   Cathy Sultan – Eau Claire, Wisconsin

According to Israeli law a Palestinian arrested in either East Jerusalem or the West Bank is tried in a military court. Any Israeli, regardless of his age or crime, is tried in a civilian court. Palestinian children are also tried in a military court with one caveat. According to Israeli law, they must be at least fourteen years old.

Currently, if a child younger than fourteen is arrested – and they number in the hundreds – they are held in detention, without legal counsel, without parental visitation, tortured, and often put in solitary confinement, until they reach the designated court age of fourteen.

Children 17 or 18 who are arrested face additional hardships.  They are often purposefully kept in jail and their trial delayed so that they miss most of their school year which means they are unable to prepare and sit for the state exam that allows them to go on to the university. Often times, a child is released but is kept under house arrest for an entire year, essentially missing an entire year of school.

Israel calls this policy suppression of resistance.

To a Palestinian to exist is to resist. Sumoud – steadfastness.


Hard to Stop and Process   |   Johanna Jozwiak – Midland, Michigan

It has been hard to write about the last few days.  The experiences in Nabi Saleh, a former child prison turned youth center near Al-Faraa Refugee Camp, Tent of Nations, the village of Attouf and the Old City of Hebron, were, once again visits that were so hopeless and yet hopeful at the same time that the constant swing in emotions has made it hard to stop in one place long enough to process.

Such courage and steadfastness are humbling and hard to digest in the face of the knowledge that it is my money helping to place these families of husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, children, and siblings, who are no different than any other family in the United States, in such horrifying situations.


Interfaith Peace-Builders’ 27-member delegation to Palestine/Israel arrived on May 23 and is IFPB’s 57th delegation to the region since 2001. This delegation is co-sponsored with the American Friends Service Committee.

The purpose of the delegation is to educate North Americans about the region and deepen their understanding of its conflicts. Trip Reflections, photos, and videos from the delegation will be posted on IFPB’s website, facebook page, andtwitter stream.


 

May 2016 Delegation
Incarceration, Detention, and Political Prisoners
Co-Sponsored with the American Friends Service Committee

Overview:   This second collection of reflections from the delegation could have been called “complexities and cages.” As Johanna Jozwiak explains, “complexities” is the word the delegates chose to describe their second day in Palestine/Israel. Salem Pearce captures these complexities powerfully in her reflection.

The rest of the submissions deal with “cages” of some form or another, powerfully symbolized byKatie Archibald-Woodward‘s observation. Cages can be physical, psychological, historical, institutional, and bureaucratic. All of these come into play when David Kerr speaks of segregation; Cathy Sultan of demolitions; Emily Sedgwick of military plans; Laila Liddy of permits; Thomas Banyai of systems of domination; and Jennifer Susskind of ghettos and expulsions.

This is Segregation | David Kerr – Omaha, Nebraska

After attending a silent protest for Women in Black, an anti-oppression mobilization organization, I experienced Israeli people yelling things in retaliation. Statements like, “there is no occupation” and “there never was a Palestine”. Yet I walk around and have my eyes wide open.

Call the country and the people what you will, criticize their apparent lack of national identity but it’s all irrelevant. There are 2 sets of laws, 2 court systems, 2 road networks, a wall, checkpoints and different identity cards for different people. Make no mistake. This is segregation. This is oppression. This is an occupation.


Demolition Order | Cathy Sultan – Eau Claire, Wisconsin

She’s twelve years old. She’s heard her parents talk in whisper when they think she’s asleep. They’ve received a house demolition notice. They have two choices. They can either pay to have their home demolished or they can wait for that as yet unspecified day when soldiers will pound on their door in the wee hours and give them fifteen minutes to leave before the bulldozer arrives.

She’s seen the devastation, heard the inconsolable sobbing of her neighbors as they’ve watched their prized possessions destroyed. This won’t happen to her. She puts her stuffed animals, her precious few toys in her book bag and carries them with her to school every day.

There are 22,000 Palestinian homes under demolition order.


Plan Dalet | Emily Sedgwick – Boston, Massachusetts

We had another very full and incredibly informative day today.  We spent the day in Bethlehem, and our first meeting was with the organization BADIL, which researches issues relevant to the rights of Palestinians, and how Israel has systematically taken them away from 1948 until the present.

One part of the presentation that really struck me was how Zionists were able to overcome three obstacles to creating the State of Israel. I will just talk about one of their strategies that particularly disturbed me.

The first obstacle was there were already Palestinians living in the land. The plan that Zionists developed was called “Plan Dalet”. Their soldiers would surround a Palestinian town on three sides and then move in, forcing the Palestinians to flee in the desired direction, where a ship or trucks would be ready to take them into exile. 530 Palestinian villages were wiped off the map.  And until now, Palestinians have received no justice for the lives that were destroyed in this process.

This “ethnic cleansing” set the stage for all the injustices we are learning about throughout this trip.  I feel honored to be a part of this delegation.


Palestinian Man With a Bird Cage  |  Katie Archibald-Woodward –Atlanta, Georgia

A Palestinian man passes the annexation wall and checkpoint tower as he walks through the streets of Aida Refugee Camp, just 2 km from Bethlehem in the West Bank of Palestine. The camp was established by internally displaced refugees mainly from the Jerusalem and Hebron area in 1950 as a result of the war and establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. In 1953 the UN took down the tents and began to build houses in their place.

The refugees have mostly remained, awaiting their right to return to their homes, many of which are in areas now known as Israel.


 

Installment of Permit Regime  Laila Liddy – Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Over one hundred types of permit are issued by the Israeli government for the purpose of controlling every aspect of the daily life of every Palestinian.  Examples of activities that require permits are: travel from one village to another, going to medical appointments/treatments, leaving home to go to college/university, construction work (whether building a wall for one’s garden or adding a room to one’s home, etc.), working as a tour guide, working in construction, etc.

Applying for a permit is a long process. Once a Palestinian has applied for a permit, it goes to an “Admission Committee.” The committee then does a background check not only of the applicant but all members of his/her family as well. Every case is unique, with many factors (including age, marital status, security records, etc.), playing a role in whether or not a person is granted a permit.


Visit to Yad Vashem and Aida Refugee Camp  Thomas Banyai – Decatur, Georgia

Today I had the privilege of going to the Yad Vashem, The World Holocaust Remembrance Center, in Jerusalem.  I am haunted by what I experienced in that place.  Growing up as American, I had been exposed time and time again to the World War II story.  I had seen movies, documentaries, and dramas revolving around the rise and fall of Nazi Germany.  I had thought that I was emotionally immune from the impact of the story.

That was until today…

Read More.


 One of Them  |  Salem Pearce – Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts

I step back into my hotel room from the balcony and turn around to put away my tallit and tefillin. I’ve just davenned Shacharit, the morning service, and ended my prayers with the traditional refrain: oseh shalom bimromav, hu ya’aseh shalom, alienu v’al kol Yisrael, v’al kol yoshvei teveyl, “may the one who makes peace above make peace for us, for all of Israel, and for all of the earth’s inhabitants.” As I turn I catch a glance of myself in the mirror, the thought flashes through my head: “I look like one of them.”

I’m in East Jerusalem, traveling with Interfaith Peace-Builders on a delegation to the West Bank, with a special focus on the effects of incarceration and detention on Palestinian society. This hotel is our home base for the 10 days we’ll spend learning about the occupation. There are 27 of us, mostly non-Jews from the States (with a Scot thrown in for good measure), plus a handful of Jews. . . . .

Read more.


Stories of Oppression, Stories of Hope  |  Johanna Jozwiak – Midland, Michigan

Another full day filled with “complexities” – the word chosen to close our group meeting this evening.

We toured Jaffa and listened to the stories of the historical and current Jaffa, following the expulsion of 97% of the Palestinians; met with and listened to the story of a Sudanese refugee about his treatment and imprisonment upon arrival in Israel; and finally met with Achoti (a Mizrahi Feminist Organization) who shared the story of the oppression of the Mizrahi Jews and provided a tour of South Tel Aviv (“the ghetto”).

Today I struggle. I am physically and emotionally tired. I vacillate between a sense of hopelessness and hopefulness. Yet, the people here living in the midst of horrible injustice every day and who must continually be physically and emotionally exhausted, continue to hope and share in their stories of oppression, stories of hope.

What a blessing it was to see at the close of this day this picture posted by one of the great photographers in our group!


Ajami  Jennifer Susskind – Berkeley, California

We toured the Ajami neighborhood of Jaffa with a Palestinian graduate student and member of the Balad political party. Ajami is a “mixed” neighborhood (rare in Israel) home to about 5000 individuals within 1 sq km.

Here are a few highlights of our visit to Ajami:

  • Jaffa was the economic center of the region before 1948.
  • 148,000 Muslims lived there, but 97% were expelled/fled during the war, with only 3,900 remaining.

The Israeli government rounded up all residents into the Ajami neighborhood. At first, the military general in the region refused to participate, but then Ben Gurion dismissed the general. . . .

Read more.


Interfaith Peace-Builders’ 27-member delegation to Palestine/Israel arrived on May 23 and is IFPB’s 57th delegation to the region since 2001. This delegation is co-sponsored with the American Friends Service Committee.

The purpose of the delegation is to educate North Americans about the region and deepen their understanding of its conflicts. Trip Reflections, photos, and videos from the delegation will be posted on IFPB’s website, facebook page, andtwitter stream.


Notes of Arrival and Return

This first collection of reflections from the delegation is highlighted by Cecilie Surasky’s infographic exploring privilege by contrasting the very different experiences of three delegates arriving at Ben Gurion Airport. The collection begins with Katie Archibald-Woodward’s reflection on her return to Palestine/Israel, and additional submissions by Martin Friedman,Johanna Jozwiak, and Thomas Banyai address the theme of arrival. The situation facing Palestinians in East Jerusalem is the other major topic, addressed by Christy Wise and Jennifer Susskind, among others.

Several pieces below are excerpted; click here for the full online report.

Arrival  |  Katie Archibald-Woodward

My Interfaith Peace-Builders/American Friends Service Committee group and I have arrived!  Admittedly, with so many months of preparation to go to Israel and Palestine the reality of in fact going came as a bit of a surprise to me as we wrapped up our orientation in DC and headed out for the airport.  Then, two flights, many hours, a decent amount of sleep, and some surprisingly good meals later, I found myself in quite a different place than where I started.  Once I emerged from my travel stupor, at some point along the bus ride, I noticed my heart aflutter with exceeding happiness.  I have returned. http://static1.squarespace.com/static/540f4aede4b060128209fb36/t/5744987701dbaed7f13e5788/1464113302452/?format=1000w

En route to our hotel in East Jerusalem, where mostly Palestinians live, we passed through many other neighborhoods where quite a mixture of people call home, including this young Jewish boy racing his little sister down the sidewalk, almost losing his kippa to the wind.  It was an adorable and humorous scene to witness.  Yet, sadly, the sweet sentiments did not last long for me.  They were followed by an almost immediate twinge of anguish. . . .

Read more from this reflection.


What White and Jewish Privilege Looks Like  |   Cecilie Surasky

Privilege InfographicOn Monday, Nawal H Musleh, (on the left in photo) a US citizen of Palestinian descent on the delegation, was detained at the airport and held for 7 hours.

Her colleague at AFSC, Katie Huerter, went through passport control in one minute, but came back for Nawal and was then also detained for 7 hours.

After extensive questioning and a search through Nawal’s phone, they were both denied entry. Only after high-level UN involvement, were they allowed in. Nawal has been working for Palestinian children’s rights for 2 years.

In marked contrast, although I’ve been with Jewish Voice for Peace for 14 years – a group that supports BDS and has protested the Israeli Prime Minister – I walked through passport control in under one minute. I should note that unlike Nawal, my parents and grandparents have never lived in Israel/Palestine.

Nawal notes that the detention room was filled mostly with Palestinian American families with children.

Click here to see a bigger image of the infographic.


 

Here I am  Martin Friedman

Here I am!  Heneni!  My first full day in Israel/Palestine.  Ever.  Our day started with a tour of the old city.  Full of meaning and religiosity.  I can feel the age and weight of this part of the world.  And my first falafel here!  All the different rulers and occupiers of the area and what they would do.  How they would dominate and exclude and oppress.  Even as it may have been done to them. Jerusalem View

In the afternoon we met Grassroots Jerusalem. Operating off of what are familiar principals of organizing.  Taking leadership from those most oppressed and putting a high value on networking.

We are toured through Jerusalem.  The oppression is so visibly overt.  From a lookout point we are told to count the cranes in west Jerusalem (10+) and in east Jerusalem (0). We see Jewish settlements protected by armed guards and contrasted by razed empty lots where Palestinian homes recently stood.  We heard about the control and disempowerment and we saw the Wall.  The Wall that is said to be about security but is really a land grab. Further separating the people from their traditional land.

It was a day that for me was more about emotion than facts. About feeling in that (oh so traditionally) Jewish middle place.  It was painful and eye opening and necessary. I never thought this would be an easy trip and it’s not. I pray to the creator to allow me to hold the complexity of this journey.

Heneni!  Here I am.


Fayrouz, Grassroots Jerusalem

Excitement and Tears  Johanna Jozwiak

Today was a day filled with extremes. Excitement and gratitude to be able to visit the sites holy to my Christian faith and deep sadness to have

visual confirmation and personal experiential stories of the oppression of the Palestinian people living in this Holy Land.

Our delegation toured Jerusalem today from the Palestinian

perspective with the organization Grassroots Jerusalem. Just a few of the “sights” we saw included the disparity in services provided to the settlements versus Palestinian districts, the strategic placement of the Separation Barrier and the expansion of the settlements, sometimes near the rubble of demolished homes.

The statistics we have been studying for months in our adult education class are now emblazoned in my mind with pictures of the “situation on the ground”.

There is way too much to tell in one update, but perhaps these words that brought tears to my eyes today may compel you to learn more about the situation. “You may see children walking to school with toys, this is because they fear coming home to a home demolished and do not want to lose their toys to the rubble.”

I imagined how I would have been able to send Maeanna off to school every morning with her having to worry about whether she would have a home when she ended the day. And the tears still come.


Micha, Grassroots Jerusalem

Israel’s Plan in Jerusalem  Christy Wise

We had a thorough and eye-opening tour of Jerusalem led by Fayrouz Sharqawi of Grassroots Jerusalem who described numerous and multi-faceted methods that Israel uses to limit and monitor the lives of Palestinians in Jerusalem.

“The Israeli plan is very clear. It is to displace as many Palestinians from the city as possible,” Fayrouz said.

Israel’s control methods include: restricted development, housing and land confiscation, inadequate schooling, housing demolition, midnight checks to enforce residency laws, and checkpoints and the separation wall that prevents Palestinians from easy access to work, school, farms and families.

Many laws and policies violate Israel’s own laws as well as international laws. One example of many limitations on Palestinian lives: after construction of the separation wall, the drive to university for many Palestinian students has grown from ten to fifteen minutes to one-and-a-half to two hours.


Said, Jerusalem Tour

First Experiences  |  Thomas Banyai

I am very new to the political, religious, and cultural conditions that have and are going on in this region.  Also, I am new to writing about my reaction to experiencing those conditions. Therefore, it is taking me a bit longer to process, digest, and write about what I am experiencing.  Consequently, these reflections will attempt to cover my experiences of yesterday.  Perhaps starting with my tour of the Old City in Jerusalem will be a good place to start.

Our guide Said lead us on a 2-hour long tour of the Old City in Jerusalem.  From the time I entered Herod’s Gate to the time I exited at Damascus Gate, I was inundated with awe of the layers religious history of the place but also the secular commerce of all the many street vendors.  If Christianity, Islam, and Judaism were similar to the tectonic plates on which the continents rest, then this region is the major place where those religious plates collide, merge, or break. And like the geological plates, if stresses build and quickly release, then earthquakes can happen.

Aside from the Old City in Jerusalem, this was my first experience seeing young men and women dressed in military uniforms, publicly carrying M-16 rifles.  I was shocked to see this.  I had never seen a military presence in such a way before.  What was also surprising to me was how normal this was for the local population.  These soldiers stood at the gates of the Old City. What also shocked me was not only seeing the Separation Wall but also touching it. . . . .

Read More.


 East Jerusalem  |  Jennifer SusskindThe Wall

Today we toured Jerusalem with Grassroots Al Quds (Jerusalem).  The tour bus wound up the narrow streets of East Jerusalem to a vista point where we saw the geographical manifestations of 50 years of Israeli municipal administration.

We look north towards West Jerusalem, and see a dozen construction cranes, open space greenery, and modern high-rises. To the right is East Jerusalem’s vernacular gray architecture. Water tanks on roofs to compensate for frequent shut offs. No infrastructural development; no parks; no open space. Beyond, towards the east, is no-mans-land, and then the “separation” wall (more on the wall later).

Fayrouz, our Palestinian citizen of Israel guide (born within the ’48 Israeli border), described Israeli government laws and actions crafted to maintain “demographic balance”, defined as 70% Jewish:

1. Palestinians in Jerusalem are assigned “permanent” resident status. . .

2. Other acts of displacement include economic hardship. . .

3. Over 94% of Palestinian housing permits in Jerusalem are denied. . . .

4. Palestinians leave because it’s crowded and expensive in East Jerusalem. . .

5. Two years ago Palestinian land adjacent to two Palestinian neighborhoods near Hebrew University was confiscated for a development of a “National Park” to supposedly protect endangered species (though the environmental minister does not recognize any endangered species).  . .

Read more detail on the points above, the separation wall, and more here.


Interfaith Peace-Builders’ 27-member delegation to Palestine/Israel arrived on May 23 and is IFPB’s 57th delegation to the region since 2001. This delegation is co-sponsored with the American Friends Service Committee.

The purpose of the delegation is to educate North Americans about the region and deepen their understanding of its conflicts. Trip Reflections, photos, and videos from the delegation will be posted on IFPB’s website, facebook page, and twitter stream.


 

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IFPB Delegate Laila Liddy Returns Home on Delegation

Born in Ramallah, Returns Years Later with IFPB | By Christy Wise

Laila Liddy’s first Interfaith Peace-Builders delegation to Palestine/Israel in summer 2007 was a trip home. Laila was born in Ramallah and had family in Jerusalem and Jericho. When she was eight years old, her mother died. Laila and her three siblings moved to Alabama and were raised in an open adoption by family friends. Although Laila stayed in touch with her natural family and traveled to Palestine several times, her IFPB visit was revealing and affirmed her belief that the Palestinian story wasn’t portrayed by the mainstream media.

Before Laila’s 2007 delegation, the first of four IFPB delegations and soon-to-be five that she has joined, Laila had not visited a refugee camp or many other places. “IFPB has educated me in a way that I could not be educated any other way,” she said. “Going for yourself and meeting both Palestinians and Israelis who are called to work for a just peace really gives you a view that you’re not going to get unless you experience it first-hand.”

Laila returned to Alabama determined to share the stories of people she’d met. “You come back and you feel like you know, with much more authority, what’s going on,” Laila said. But many friends and acquaintances weren’t open to what she had to say, nor was the local media. “I can’t get my foot in the door on a radio station or talk show.”

Laila found a way to share her knowledge about the Palestinian struggle and, at the same time, support olive growers and oil producers. She ordered Palestinian olive oil and gave bottles to friends for birthdays and holidays, enclosing brochures about farmers and distributors. The olive oil often begins a conversation about Palestine, Laila said. “The whole purpose is to make them curious. It does. The uprooting of the olive trees is symbolic of the whole occupation and the erasing of the culture. The Palestinians are just earning their livelihoods.  I think the olive trees are almost synonymous with Palestine.”

Giving olive oil is meaningful for Laila because her family grew olives. Some of her fondest childhood memories revolve around that business.

“Going for yourself and meeting both Palestinians and Israelis who are called to work for a just peace really gives you a view that you’re not going to get unless you experience it first-hand.”

“When I was a child, my grandmother would let me go with my grandfather when he was harvesting olives,” she said.

Now, the olive oil is so popular among her friends that Laila takes requests before ordering and sells oil to her friends at cost. Laila would like to do more to spread the word about the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation, but is pleased with the impact of olive oil gifts and sales. Even a staunch pro-Israeli friend is changing his mind about the Israeli government, she said. “He loved the olive oil. It was something he could relate to.”

Many other IFPB delegates remain active after their delegations as well. To see what others have been up to recently, view the IFPB Delegates in Action blog.

 

Click here for the rest of the reflection: IFPB


 

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Podcasts Present Palestinian Voices

2015 IFPB Delegate and Scholarship Recipient Rebecca Katherine Hirsch Features Palestine in Podcasts | By Christy Wise

Through her podcast, “Humble Mumbles,” Interfaith Peace-Builders delegate Rebecca Katherine Hirsch presents the voices of people she met on her summer 2015 IFPB delegation to Palestine-Israel. In “Palestine Part III: Firas in Hebron,” listeners hear Rebecca and Firas walking through Hebron’s streets, sharing impressions about the city and about the lives of Palestinian residents who live under severe Israeli occupation, against a background of the sounds of adult and children’s voices, shopkeepers and customers, and car tires on pavement.

“One thing I’m trying to do with my podcast is bring peoples’ attention to Palestine by way of stories and under-stories, direct oppression and indirect implications,” Rebecca said. “The ultimate goal of the Humble Mumbles podcast is that Americans, or whomever listens to it, should have increased humanity for Palestine via personal stories, weird analysis, and the viaducts of fear, desire and complications.”

Rebecca is a feminist, artist and activist based in Philadelphia where she is active in Jewish Voice for Peace, the BDS movement and Permanent Wave Philly. Humble Mumbles is “a bumptious feminist podcast featuring piercing political analysis, pointed verbal dialectic…and rhyming poems.”

“The goal of my Israel/Palestine series is to communicate information about the conflict in a way that is accessible, fun, interesting, respectful, unusual, and easy to listen to, as a podcast can be heeded with various levels of engagement,” Rebecca said.

Rebecca learned about IFPB from a friend who traveled on a delegation several years ago. “I didn’t expect it to be just as amazing as it was. I really wanted to learn so much more,” she said. The delegation provided Rebecca with the opportunity to interact personally with people in Palestine/Israel and create relationships, even for a short time, she said. Rebecca stayed for two and a half weeks after her delegation ended, giving her a chance to talk in greater depth with Palestinians and Israelis about their lives. During this time she conducted many interviews for Humble Mumbles.

“The summer was really monumental for me,” she said, adding that the scholarship she received made it much easier for her to travel with IFPB. On a philosophical level, Rebecca said, the trip did not change her outlook. “I came in with an agenda and I left with the same agenda, but it has a different tenor now.”

One challenge facing Rebecca upon her return from Palestine/Israel is that “it’s difficult to know how most to be helpful. Balancing altruism and egoism is impossible for me…I feel like that’s part of the conflict that I’m trying to understand in myself. I’m really interested in peoples’ stories and I’m also interested in my own. Am I helpful? What is helpful?”

Readers can hear Rebecca’s podcasts here: https://humblemumbles.bandcamp.com/releases.

Selected Videos and Excerpts from Just-Returned Olive Harvest Delegation

The 35 members of IFPB’s November 2015 delegation authored over 45 written reflections and uploaded almost 15 videos from the experience.  In case you missed them, we’ve picked eight exceptional written reflections that capture some of the delegation’s experiences.  A video playlist is also below.

 

VIDEOS  Mike Dalynov15-reflect9

14 video clips (each about three minutes long) capture impressions of the delegation experience and feature some of the speakers this delegation met with. Videos includeJonathan Cook in Nazareth, Sahar Francis of Addameer,Omar Barghouti of the BNC, Issa Amro‘s tour of Hebron, amusical performance in Aida Camp, Nora Karmi of Kairos Palestine, and Daoud Nassar of Tent of Nations.

Click her for a playlist of the videos. . . .

I WILL LISTEN  |  Barbara Briggs-Letson

The unthinkable has a face, and a purpose, which somehow makes it less understandable. Today, after walking the path which Jesus took on his way to being killed, then tucking a paper wish for PEACE into the Western (Wailing) Wall, I listened to lots of particulars about how Israel skillfully, even brilliantly, makes life miserable tor Palestinians. Israelis make the law.  Israelis enforce this law.  So, Israel “legally” takes homes or property. Read more…

RENDERING PALESTINE INVISIBLE  |  Allie Perry
On our flight to Tel Aviv, two flight attendants gushed with excitement about Israel.  It’s an “incredible country, incredible,” one said; “spine-tingling,” said another.  Surely neither one had seen there the Palestine that we would be seeing, I thought.  Their comments reminded me that a close friend’s young adult son, traveling to Israel on a Birthright (all expenses paid) trip, never saw the wall.  Not by accident.  Read more…

TURNING THE WEST BANK INTO A THEME PARK  |  Nancy Murray
“Everything here
is very very complicated,” we were told by Miri Maoz Ovadia, the young settler spokeswoman for Mateh Binyamin Regional Council, which oversees 44 Israeli settlements that border the Palestinian city of Ramallah.  But the more she talked, the more simple things became… As we left the settlement of Psagot and drove on Highway 60 towards Nablus in the rain, the West Bank appeared a melancholy dreamscape.   It was nearly unrecognizable from the countryside I had first visited in 1988… Read more…

AHMAD’S LOVE FOR EVERYONE  |  John Copenhaver

Four IFPB delegates had the pleasure of staying with the family of Ahmad in his home in Anin, a small town near Jenin and the Canaan Fair Trade center in Burqin. “Near” is something of a euphemism. From Burqin, the four of us crammed in a car with a driver who spoke only Arabic, which none of us spoke. We drove 40 minutes on narrow, winding roads through deep darkness only occasionally broken by the lights of Palestinian villages and Israeli settlements… Read more…

Omar Barghouti BOYCOTT, DIVESTMENT, & SANCTIONS: IT’S WORKING!  |  Duncan McFarland

Activists around Boston ask whether BDS can really be effective.  Listening to Boycott National Committee co-founder, Omar Barghouti, and others meeting with us, it is clear that BDS has been successful much faster than the expectations.  The Israeli security chief, upon taking office, listed BDS as the second biggest security threat to Israel, next to an Iranian nuclear bomb.  Could there be more clarity on the importance of BDS?  Read more…

SEEING THE VIOLENCE  |  Wendy Love

In Bil’in, we meet Iyad Burnat who is one of the leaders of the non-violent resistance to the occupation in Bil’in. He gives us a presentation, including many photos of demonstrations, the soldiers tear gassing the people, shooting at people and the arrests. But one video stands out. It shows one man named Bassem who lived in Bil’in moving away from the soldiers during one of the demonstrations. The soldiers fire within a close range and he falls after a tear-gas canister hits his chest. Within minutes he is dead. Read more…

Iyad Burnat
Kathleen at Homestay

SO MUCH I DIDN’T KNOW   Kathleen Densmore

Prior to this trip I had no idea of what life was like for a Palestinian.  I knew nothing about how big and intricate the web of laws is or the practices governing nearly every aspect of a Palestinian’s life. Laws and practices governing, for example, when and for how long Palestinians can have water, when and for how long they can work their own land, where they can live, which roads they can drive on and when and where they can go to school, who they can marry — if they want certain rights. I had no idea that settlers would feel free to walk through Jerusalem with their rifles swinging from their shoulders. . . Read more…

SEE YOU ON THE STREETS  Carolyn Knoll

Our last few days in Palestine were impactful for me. We visited the Aida refugee camp outside of Bethlehem. We were forced to go in the “back” entrance due to soldiers throwing tear gas in the camp as a response to a protest. We saw small fires here and there and could smell the tear gas. The murals on the Wall were beautiful and made very powerful statements. The Wall separates the Jewish settlements from the Palestinian neighborhoods but also separates many of the Palestinians from their agriculture lands. Standing on one of the building’s roofs, we could see the wall weave its way through the area like a snake. . Read more…

Lifta Ruins

To read all of the delegation reflections, start with reprot 1 here: http://www.ifpb.org/del55/report1.html


 

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First Impressions and a Transcendent Capacity for Hope

July-August 2015 Delegation

This first collection of reflections from the delegation begins with impressions from Stephanie Langer, Nina Stein, andBarbara Jean Keilt of the drive to Jerusalem and their first day in the Old City of JerusalemCindy Tanner writes about one boy’s experiences living in Silwan and Jacob Pace brings in a touch of music and hope. Amber Gilewski writes about a video conference with Gazan students. Excerpts are included below.  Click here to read the full report.

Old City Tour

. . . . It seemed to me that the shadow of Israel was even more evident within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. On the surface the old city is vibrant, and beautiful. There are vendors selling spices, clothing, and freshly pressed juice. When viewing it through the lens of a tourist it is an amazing place to visit.

However, if you take a moment to scratch beneath the surface it quickly becomes clear that people living in the city are not truly in harmony. There are cameras on every street, and barbed wires and fences separating different sections. Israeli parents hire security guards to escort their children. More and more Israeli settlement homes are appearing. We passed a Mosque, which will soon have a settler home next to it. Street names have been changed from their original Palestinian name.

To me the old city was like a trip through Disneyland. Many areas were sanitized of their history, and visitors only saw what people in power wanted them to see. Read more.


 

A Land of Walls | Nina Stein

Wall

What struck me most on first arriving in Israel was the pervasiveness of the occupation.  Airport signs were in Hebrew, frequently accompanied by English, but only one contained Arabic: a single sign saying “welcome” in four languages.

On the bus ride from the airport to our hotel, our guide, Said, pointed out three tree-covered hills, an area calledCanada Park.  The trees, planted by the Jewish National Fund from donations contributed by Canadian Jews, covered three destroyed Palestinian villages.

An armed soldier on a ridge along the road was a visible sign of the Israeli military presence, as well as military installations and further on, a prison. Read more.


 

The Limestone City | Barbara Jean KeiltVia Dolorosa

Indigenous limestone everywhere!   White limestone houses on tiers of land ascending the hillsides. Limestone walls running for miles along segregated highways for occupiers only, to protect them from the occupied who live on the other sides of the barrier. Limestone cobblestones in the narrow walkways of Old City Jerusalem. Limestone steps smooth and polished from millions of pilgrims and tourists treading. Heavy limestone headers over doors inviting us into ancient limestone block buildings of various Christian and Muslim sects. Read more.

 


 

Silwan meetingWhat a powerful day this has been. Coming from a Christian background, it was thrilling to walk the Via Dolorosa and to see where Jesus may have been buried.

After lunch we spent an emotional few hours at a community center in the Palestinian village of Silwan, a neighborhood of Jerusalem just east of the Old City.  In Silwan, we met a 15 year old Palestinian boy who has been arrested by Israeli police 9 times since he was 9 years old.

The Israeli police first came for him at night. He was accused of throwing rocks. Over the years he has been questioned for up to 8 hours without a parent present. He has been beaten and imprisoned.

His story is in complete contrast to the rights Jewish Israelis enjoy under Israeli law. It is one of many examples of how Israel is treating Palestinians. It is unconscionable.


 

Music of Hope | Jacob Pace

Alaqsa

A group of us were treated to a musical feast tonight when we attended a concert by Le Trio Joubran at the annual Jerusalem Festival. 

Le Trio Joubran is made up of three brothers from Nazareth in the north of historical Palestine.  Each brother plays a custom built oud designed by their father.

The beautiful sound of the music lifted our spirits after a long day filled with stories of suffering and resistance.  But it was not surprising to hear such gorgeous melodies here.  The youth who we met this afternoon had already shown us that in the midst of pain and hardship, there is also a transcendent capacity for hope.

In Silwan, a Palestinian neighborhood of Jerusalem just east of the Old City, a group of 12 youth met us at the local community center.  They spoke to us of the myriad ways that the Jerusalem Municipality curtails their rights and makes it ever more difficult for them and their families to remain in their ancestral village.  88 homes (housing close to 1,500 people) in Silwan are threatened with demolition by the Municipality.  The community is not large, and if these demolitions were carried out, it would be a death-blow to the life of the neighborhood.  Just this morning, the youth told us, the Municipality sent bulldozers and a wrecking crew to destroy a house in the neighborhood.


 

AFSC Palestine Youth Together for Change Program – Gaza |   Amber Gilewski

Said, the guide

Since virtually no one can enter or leave Gaza at this time, we Skyped with Palestinians from the AFSC Palestine Youth Together for Change Program in the Gaza Strip.

When asked what life was like in Gaza we were told how the Israeli government is trying to fragment Palestinians by making them in different lands and it will make them weaker.

One woman quickly corrected someone who referred to last summer’s assault as a war and stated instead, “It’s not a war, it’s an aggression.”

Many of the Gazans we spoke with had to turn down educational opportunities such as attending medical school in Jordan, college with a scholarship in Tunisia, and more as they aren’t allowed to leave Gaza. They reminded us that the situation in Gaza is very bad, but they feel they need to stand for their rights. We stand with them.  Read more.


 Snapshots from the Delegation
May 2015 Delegation to Palestine/Israel
co-sponsored by the University of Georgia’s Catholic Center
and the Central Presbyterian Church of Atlanta

In the final collection of reflections from the May 2015 delegation, participants offer final thoughts and poignant observations on their last days on the ground. Danny Beagle reports on his homestay in Deheisheh Refugee Camp; Dan Fishback tells us to leave our stereotypes behind when it comes to Palestinians; Gary Charles contributes a poem; Vicki Collier evokes the power of memory; Regina Willis discusses the imperative of decolonization; David Evans offers a series of powerful reflections; and delegation co-leaderIlise Cohen contributes her thoughts on the future of the land shared by Palestinians and Israelis.

GAMAL  l  Danny Beagle – Oakland, California
Near Bethlehem in the Palestinian refugee camp of Deheisheh. I stayed at the home of Gamal and his family. Gamal is in his 20’s, he volunteers as an IT guy at community center in the camp. They run art, theater, health and other programs. He is extraordinarily frustrated by the lack of resources to go abroad to study architecture and by his lack of mobility. Read more…

 

 

WE CAN BE LESS AFRAID  l  Dan Fishback – Brooklyn, New YorkAs my time with IFPB winds down, I keep thinking about fear. So many people in the U.S. resist advocating for Palestine because they are afraid of religious fundamentalism, afraid of terrorism, afraid of so many things. And in that light, I will be coming home from Palestine with good news: we can be less afraid. Read more…

 

 

 

lifta mosque

DECOLONIZATION  l  Regina Willis  – Decatur, Georgia
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about decolonization. I’ve been thinking a lot about how little I know about the indigenous peoples of my home state of Georgia. I’ve been thinking about how state power divides people. The ignorance that comes with privilege never ceases to amaze me – how very obvious things can remain hidden because our privilege..  Read more..

 

 

small - The remains of the Mosque in Lifta Jerusalem (Dan Fishback - d53

REMEMBRANCE  l  Vicki Collier – Sandy Springs, Georgia
Remembrance . . . It is an acknowledgement of your existence, of the value of your history, of the validity of your perspective, of your worth as a fellow traveler on this planet. There has been so much erasure here. Ultimately, the lack of acknowledgement of another’s experience is a dismissal of that person, that people.  Read more..

 

lifta mosqueSOME REFLECTIONS  l  David Evans – Atlanta, Georgia
Remembrance . . . It is an acknowledgement of your existence, of the value of your history, of the validity of your perspective, of your worth as a fellow traveler on this planet. There has been so much erasure here. Ultimately, the lack of acknowledgement of another’s experience is a dismissal of that person, that people.  Read more..

 

lifta mosque

ISRAEL/PALESTINE  l  Ilise Cohen – Decatur, Georgia
Being the co-leader with Julie Norman for this Interfaith Peace-Builders delegation these last two weeks has been powerful. Usually, I find myself more in touch with the heartbreak and grief, the impossibilities of making change.  This time I found myself constantly unstable – listening deeply to each perspective being offered, waiting for a sense of direction that seemed feasible – and each time more unsettled, trying to unravel the insidiousness of the occupation.  Read more..

 


 

There is a volunteer organization being formed in the Netherlands in support of the Nassar family and the Tent of Nations Peace Project.  A group of these volunteers visited TON in early March 2015 with the purpose of planting trees to replace those that had been uprooted by the Israeli Defense Forces in May 2014.  It was a wonderful gesture of solidarity with all of those who are working in non-violent ways to protest the unjust and illegal actions of the Israeli military and political system.  Along with so many other international groups, these volunteers have shown faith in the future of a peaceful and just Palestine and Israel.  We all hope that one day they can return to harvest the fruits of their labor.

 

boom planten, gaas eromheen

boom voor Els Möller

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

werkhandschoenen

bomen planten

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elisheva Goldberg – Want To Fight the Occupation After Bibi’s Victory? Here’s How –  March 23, 2015

w-one-worker

Activists from Center for Jewish Nonviolence replant trees on the Nassar family farm / Courtesy

Nothing has more depressed American Jewish progressives than the recent revelation that Israel will be facing four more years of Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu’s renewed reign spells continued rancor between the two countries American Jewish progressives care about. It means more troubling conversations about Zionism for campus Hillels. Most conspicuously, it means four more years of occupation, oppression and denial of rights carried out in the name of the Jews. The question for progressive Jews is, now what?

Peter Beinart sat on a J Street conference panel on Sunday and gave some recommendations. In particular, he rang a bell for American Jewish solidarity activism. In his words: “We need to think very hard and very creatively about how we amplify Palestinian nonviolent protest in the West Bank…the best way we could do that is to be there ourselves.”

Yes, Beinart was suggesting that American Jews who oppose the occupation fly to Israel to stand in nonviolent solidarity with Palestinians in the occupied territories. What Beinart didn’t mention is that there is a new organization doing just that. It’s called the Center for Jewish Nonviolence. (Full disclosure: I have worked very closely with the Center and hold a position in its organizational structure.)

In the United States, Jews who seek an end to the occupation have tended towards various types of activism. At J Street, the discourse is political. At Jewish Voice for Peace, it’s international. This has left the grassroots nonviolent direct action model relatively unexplored by North American Jews. Until now.

The first pilot delegation of the Center for Jewish Nonviolence came to the territories last month to do tree replanting on the Nassar family farm (Tent of Nations) after the army uprooted many hundreds of trees six months prior. They also protested denial of access to areas in Hebron.

And they’re ready to do more. Schlepping Jews to the territories for splashy activism is central to the Center. But to challenge the status quo, the situation must be met face to face. Recognizing that there is much work to be done on the ground in North America, the Center is also taking on American Jewish establishment organizations complicit in the injustices of the occupation. It is organizing an alternative “Congress” to protest the World Zionist Congress, for example. It is also in conversation and partnership with other organizations — both Jewish Israeli and Palestinian — that do similar work. As for its “views” on one state or two, BDS or no BDS, it stops short of taking a stance, and instead focuses on the impact of nonviolent direct action.

Perhaps the more burning question is: Why might nonviolent direct action by American Jews work? First, says Beinart, this will force the occupation higher up on the agenda. “Once America’s rabbis have to face the parents whose children are being tear gassed and shot with rubber bullets in the West Bank [and] once the American Jewish local newspapers have to write about it because it’s the kids from their day schools who are at those protests, then the American Jewish community will not be able to ignore it anymore,” he said.

More symbolically, American Jews have a powerful history of standing in solidarity in other struggles. Ilana Sumka, who founded the Center and who previously worked for five years as the Director of Encounter’s Jerusalem office, put it this way: “The legacy of civil rights activism is strong in my parents’ generation. It’s one I inherited, and it’s one I intend to use. The Center’s activists put themselves on the line for a just Israel and justice for Palestinians; there’s no greater challenge and no greater opportunity facing our generation.”

Larry Rubin, a veteran of the 1964 Freedom Summer campaign in Mississippi, was on the Center’s pilot trip in February. He is now on a speaking tour with Open Hillel, talking about the American civil rights struggle, and Israel-Palestine.

Of course, Beinart and Sumka are not the first to take this road or make this argument. Privilege leveraging of this sort has been taking place in Israel almost since the occupation began some fifty years ago. Israelis and internationals of various stripes have been tear-gassed and shot at, engaged in resourceful and imaginative protest, and have done their vigilant best to help Palestinians stay on their land and in their homes. From Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity to Ta’ayush to Rabbis for Human Rights, these organizations and organizers are tireless, and should be commended. Even some Diaspora Jews who live in Israel have joined the fray — the All That’s Left collective is a good example.

Now it’s time for American Jews to do the same.

Ilana Sumka – Netanyahu’s Success: A Call to Action – March 19, 2015

This call to action is by Ilana Sumka, the founder and director of the Center for Jewish Nonviolence, which is cultivating a practice of Jewish Nonviolence in support of Palestinian and Israeli nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.

Hands planting

 

This week, Netanyahu’s Likud party triumphed in Israeli elections, based on fear-mongering and race-baiting. He promised that a Palestinian state will not be created under his watch. While his electoral victory may be disheartening it is also a wake-up call, a call to action, and the newly-founded Center for Jewish Nonviolence is issuing that call.

When a government fails to act justly by ruling over another people for nearly fifty years, when a government discriminates against its own minority population by race-baiting and discouraging participation in the electoral process, there is a way forward: nonviolent direct action.

Social movements around the world have employed nonviolent direct action to challenge unjust uses of power. It’s time for those who are committed to a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians to do the same, by practicing nonviolence and noncooperation to pave the way towards a just future by highlighting the injustices of the Israeli government and the complicity of far too many American Jewish institutions.

Many of us have already begun to walk down this path. Last month, twenty-three Jewish leaders from the US and the EU traveled together to the occupied West Bank with the Center for Jewish Nonviolence. We went to respond to the Israeli government’s uprooting of hundreds of fruit trees on the Palestinian farm Tent of Nations, a place internationally known for its commitment to peaceful coexistence.

Through our activism, we stood in solidarity with a Palestinian farmer whose land is threatened; we expressed our opposition to the Israeli government’s ongoing policies of occupation and its attempt to claim more Palestinian land as “state land;” and we joined in strategic partnerships with Israelis and Palestinians engaged in nonviolent resistance to the injustices of the occupation.

When we traveled to the Palestinian farm a few weeks before the Israeli election, many of us had high hopes but low expectations for how the upcoming election would turn out. After this week’s results and after nearly fifty years of Israeli occupation, Jewish communities around the world have a choice to make: will we continue to allow Netanyahu’s racist rhetoric speak for us as he claims to represent the entire Jewish world, or will we speak for ourselves and act in direct protest to the segregation and discrimination that come part-in-parcel with ruling over another people?

The cohort from the Center for Jewish Nonviolence that traveled to the occupied Palestinian territories to participate in nonviolent activism represented a remarkable array of diversity from the Jewish community. Half of us in our twenties and thirties and the other half in our fifties, sixties and seventies, we are rabbis and a doctor, academics and union organizers, educators and a retired foreign service officer, civil rights activists from the 1960’s and emerging Jewish leaders in solidarity with today’s Black Lives Matter movement.

Considering the extent to which Jews of all ages and backgrounds find themselves in opposition to the current Israeli government, this diversity isn’t surprising.  It’s representative of the ever-increasing numbers in the Jewish community who are fed up with Israel’s status quo. We don’t agree on everything when it comes to Israel – and we see that as a strength – but we are unified in our commitment to use nonviolence to end the occupation. We will work in solidarity with Palestinians and Israelis as well as in our home communities where far too many mainstream Jewish institutions are complicit in defending and sustaining Israel’s unjust policies. We share a basic belief that whatever future political agreement is reached, it must honor the fundamental equality and shared humanity of Israelis and Palestinians alike.

The commitment to personally put ourselves on the line in the face of injustice is nothing new in Jewish tradition.  Our tradition is rich with calls for morality in the face of immorality and justice in the face of injustice.  Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, known throughout the American Jewish community for marching with Dr. King, wrote the following in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays: “Who is a Jew?  A person whose integrity decays when unmoved by the knowledge of wrong done to other people.”

We are not just moved, but moved to action, knowing that wrong has been done to the Palestinian people, and done in our name.

We know that nonviolent movements hold the potential to create just and lasting change.  As Larry Rubin, a veteran of the 1964 Freedom Summer campaign in Mississippi and one of the leaders in the Center for Jewish Nonviolence, said, “I believe deeply that history has proven the need for Jews to have a safe haven and I believe just as deeply that the Jewish people will not be safe from the threats of oppression, hatred and hostility until all people are.”

The Center for Jewish nonviolence is issuing a call to Jews everywhere: Join us. Plant trees with Palestinian farmers defending their land from Israeli attempts at appropriation; join Israeli and Palestinian activists in the South Hebron Hills to protect Palestinian villages from hostile threats from neighboring Jewish settlers; and protest Jewish American institutions that are complicit in supporting Israel’s oppressive and discriminatory policies.

Those of us who are compelled by Jewish history to stand on the side of the oppressed have not only an opportunity, but an obligation, to stand up against the oppression being committed in our names.  It has never been more urgent to engage in what may be the toughest yet ultimately most redemptive social justice challenge of our day: to hold our own Jewish leaders accountable, whether they are seated in the US and support the occupation from afar, or are seated in the Knesset and support the occupation from Jerusalem.  A just future for Israelis and Palestinians depends on it.

T’ruah – The Rabbinic call for Human Rights- February 19, 2015 

securedownloadAs I swung my pickaxe down into a patch of soil filled with rocks and stubborn shrubs, Daoud Nassar walked by. “What should I be doing?” I asked. He showed me how to dig at the roots of the shrubs, how to pry large rocks from the ground, how deep to make the hole for an olive sapling.

As I pushed the pickaxe into the ground, I considered how deep we have to dig to rid ourselves of the roots of hatred; I thought about the obstacles that block us from achieving peace. And I prayed that the presence of American Jews on a Palestinian farm might be a step toward planting justice.

I write to you from the Nassar family farm in the West Bank, just south of Bethlehem. In partnership with the Center for Jewish Nonviolence (fiscally sponsored by T’ruah), I have joined other American Jews to plant more than 200 trees so far – olives, plums, apricots and grape vines – to replace some of the 1,500 mature fruit trees that the Israeli army bulldozed last May.

Thank you for making this possible. You donated enough for us to purchase 305 trees, while also sponsoring donations of fresh produce to a soup kitchen in a Jewish neighborhood of West Jerusalem. We are sustaining both Israelis and Palestinians to live in health and in peace. 

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Later this week (weather permitting–we’re expecting sleet and snow!), we’ll be joined by future rabbis and cantors taking part in T’ruah’s year-long human rights program for North American rabbinical students spending the year in Israel. T’ruah board member Rabbi Ellen Lippmann and members of her synagogue, Kolot Chayeinu, will join us as well, along with local Israeli friends for a day of planting and learning together. I’ll be teaching about nonviolent action in Jewish sources, and what it means to be coming as a Jewish group to plant trees on a Palestinian farm during a shmitta year – a sabbatical year for the land.

As we left Jerusalem on Sunday morning, we read the traveller’s prayer, which includes the words: “ten bracha b’chol ma’asei yadeinu;” bless all of the work of our hands.

Many of you have asked how to make a positive impact on the seemingly desperate situation here. You already have. This week, I feel as though you and all of T’ruah’s rabbis and supporters are here with me, putting the work of our hands toward planting justice for one Palestinian family. I believe that the power of all of our hands can eventually create justice and peace for all who dwell in this holy, crazy land. With Blessings, Marisa Elana James

Mary Grey – 2/1/15  A Struggle for Education

We have been keeping a sharp eye open for this on our journeying and have uncovered some heroic struggles. Imagine, first, the journeys of two young girls from Jerusalem to the University of Birzeit each morning through the checkpoints and Ramallah in the West Bank.  This is a journey that should take 20 minutes but now takes one and a half hours each way, every day – or longer if there are checkpoint delays.  One daughter, let’s call her Leila- is studying medicine and the other, Salwa, is studying architecture – courses that will take 5-6 years.  Think of the persistence of the two girls and the anxiety of the parents who await their safe arrival home each night.

Then again, some of our group have been teaching physiotherapy/occupational therapy at Bethlehem University – and indeed pioneering an MA in Rehabilitation therapy.  Some of their graduate students had amazing stories.  One of them heads Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation at Augusta-Victoria Hospital on the Mount of Olives.  This has become a specialty hospital for Oncology (Cancer treatment) and Nephrology (kidney diseases) for Palestinians especially from the West Bank.  This man himself must travel from Ramallah and back each day – and, again, faces delays at the checkpoint and traffic deadlock.  (Augusta Victoria is a story in itself:  founded by the German Kaiser before World War I, named after his wife, Augusta Victoria, it became the Headquarters for the British Mandate government in 1922).

But, we also saw and heard stories of younger pupils.  Visiting the Friends’ School at Ramallah, we talked with pupils ranging from 14-17 years in age. These are students relatively privileged whose ambitions are high – going to the UK or US for study.  One of them already had a place to study Law at Warwick University, UK – wanting to specialize in Human Rights Law.  Loyalty to Palestine and consciousness of their history figured high in the students’ stories.  Although they admitted that they had difficulty in distinguishing their own memories from what had been told to them by parents and grandparents.  One girl told that when she was two years old, the Israeli soldiers had come and commandeered their house in Ramallah.  She and her sister had hidden under the dining room table.  The soldiers had put a gun to her father’s back and herded the whole family – and members from other apartments – into one room.  They were forced to stay there for several days while the soldiers took over the house.  No consideration for water/bathroom needs was given. These memories had made a big impact on the students, and their sense of awareness of politics was high.  Some were adamant about returning and working in Palestine – others ambivalent, conscious of the attractions of not living under Occupation.

Yet another scenario was the school I visited in East Jerusalem – “Rawdat El Zuhur” (Garden of Flowers).  It was funded in 1952 by the aunt of Samia Khoury (Board Member of Sabeel) who had encountered small girls begging in the streets.  Initially she took them in herself, fed and clothed them and began to educate them. This developed into the present school, numbering about 250 pupils, boys and girls.  But the struggle here is a financial one.  The school accepts no money from the government for teachers’ salaries, maintenance and so on.  To do so would mean losing their own curriculum and accepting a Zionist view of history.  Yet the children seemed unaware of this struggle.  I was greeted warmly – even affectionately – by every class I visited – the children were all eager to sing to me and in one case four classes combined in an energetic Palestinian dance!  The needs of this school were evident – computers for the children, for example.  So fundraising is an urgent priority – always.  It would be a great sadness to lose such an impressive resource.

Again and again I heard it said how powerful is the Palestinian enthusiasm for education – over 90 % achieving Higher Education.  This must  be counted as one of the most hopeful signs for Palestine – one which must bear fruit for peace in this land.

Mary Grey (1) – 1/22/15

This message comes from Living Stones of the Holy Land Trust’s pilgrimage to Palestine/Israel especially to be in solidarity with Christians for Unity Week 2015. We began by arriving late last night – after a two- hour drive from Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv, to the Mount of the Beatitudes set high above Lake Galilee – staying at the Franciscan Convent a few yards behind the Church itself

It was a breath-taking view that greeted those of us – we are 11 in total- who managed to rise early enough to greet the dawn the next morning – before 7a.m. The sun’s golden rays gradually illuminated the tall pines surrounding the Church, all the time gleaming over the lake as the morning mist dispersed

Regretfully, we left this magical setting early to visit Elias Chacour, Archbishop emeritus of the Galilee in his village of Ibillin where he has achieved a magnificent project of an educational establishment at three levels, a beautiful Church as well as a Peace Center. En route, our Palestinian guide, Bishara, brought us up to date with some of the latest struggles of Palestinian Arab Israelis: for example, if they try to buy property in the West Bank, they automatically lose their Israeli identity cards.

A feeling of sorrow came over me as we met the former Archbishop. He now is very frail and looks smaller than I remembered him. But his fiery spirit remains as he tells his story of the struggle to construct his school/Church. His message was stronger than ever. What are you prepared to give up if you really want to help us? Will you get your hands dirty? Please do not identify so much with one side so that you are unable to see both sides of the story and work for reconciliation. He is himself an icon of reconciliation, I thought, refecting on the beautiful icons/frescoes/decorations.

Mary Grey – 1/29/15

News from the Holy Land (2) – The Struggle for Adequate Health Care

We are on the Mt. of Olives overlooking Jerusalem: here is one of the most important institutions for the health of the Palestinians. It is “Augusta Victoria Hospital” – the initiative of the Lutheran World Federation(LWF) – and our host is Pastor Mark Brown, who is responsible for Palestinian Medical Services reporting to LWF.

But this building has a longer history going back to 1910. Built by the German Kaiser – who also built the Dormition Abbey and the Church of the Holy Redeemer – it was called after his wife, “Augusta Victoria”. After the German defeat in WWI, Augusta Victoria became the headquarters for the British Mandate until the British left in 1948 and the State of Israel was formed. At the point the UN and UNWRA (United Nations Works and Relief Agency) converted Augusta Victoria into a hospital for refugees.

This hospital has now become one of the six hospitals serving the West Bank and Gaza; its specialty is oncology (cancer) and nephrology (kidney complaints) – although in the recent war in Gaza, its team of doctors went there – and patients were brought to Augusta Victoria for treatment.

Despite its recognized standard of excellence, the hospital has many problems. The first is its position in East Jerusalem and the encroachment of settlements even on the Mt. of Olives – “Beit Orote” is the name if the a new settlement; the Mayor of Jerusalem has laid the first stone for an apartment block which will contain 32 instead of the 24 agreed-upon number of apartments.

Secondly, the financial situation is grave, and the hospital has come to the brink many times. Israel is withholding 100 million $ owed in customs revenues to the Palestinians – but the PA (Palestinian Authority) also owes money to the Hospital and the US has not yet paid money promised to the PA. The situation has been alleviated by a scheme called PEGASE which is an EU scheme which paid 40% of the debt to help the Palestinians through funding difficulties. Yet, the hospital has manage to stay “in black” and if the PA paid its debts, there would not need to be such a drive on funding.

A third area is social need. Because patients are traveling a long way from the West Bank, they need to stay nearby; accommodation and care for them need to be found – funding very necessary but not on the same large scale

A fourth area is the fact that many staff travel from the West Bank through checkpoints, diverted into lengthy routes because of the Wall. They can travel over three hours a day to work and back. These are the untold stories of heroism to keep up provision of health care for people under occupation.

Despite the problems, this is a Palestinian success story – there are 400 Palestinian staff here. Support is coming from many Churches internationally – yet much more is needed!

What would Jesus, weeping over the city from the Mt. of Olives, have made of this situation?