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From Nonviolent Protest to Worship and Healing

Thursday, May 31
Nonviolent Accompaniment: Christian Peacemaker Teams

After returning from our visit to the Ibrahimi Mosque and Synagogue through the heavily guarded checkpoint on Thursday, we met with a very brave and modest volunteer with CPT, Christian Peacemaker Teams. CPT is an international, interdenominational peace group strongly committed to nonviolent assistance to people and groups who are victims of oppression.

In Hebron, a small group of a couple hundred ultra-right-wing Israeli settlers have taken over several buildings in the downtown. Israel has moved in IDF troops to guard the settlements and essentially deny access to a large section of downtown Hebron to the 150,000 Palestinian residents of the city. The settlers, and occasionally the troops, have, at times, harassed and even attacked the Palestinians.

The CPT volunteers have been invited into the area by the Palestinian residents of the city to try to prevent this aggression. The volunteers patrol the area and try to prevent confrontations by their obvious presence. When confrontations do occur, they attempt to calm the situation, and, if necessary, they will physically intervene in a nonviolent manner to prevent physical abuse of the Palestinians. On past occasions CPT volunteers have been injured and suffered broken bones. Others have been deported by Israel. If all else fails, CPT will document and/or photograph the abuse. CPT has also started nonviolence workshops in the area and there are now large nonviolence programs in nearby villages in the Hebron hills.

When children in the villages were attacked on their way to and from school, CPT volunteers were asked by the villagers to accompany the children to school as protection. Masked Israeli settlers attacked the children and the CPT volunteers causing some serious injuries. Eventually the Israeli army agreed to take over protection of these children from the settlers, but, because of the often close relationship between the IDF and the settlers, CPT volunteers still monitor the situation.

We were then taken on a tour of the former main market area of Hebron. The shops, sidewalks and street had been refurbished with money from USAID. Since the settlers and the troops moved in and checkpoints were set up, this part of town is now deserted and the shops shuttered. The street is now used only by the Israelis as a connecting road between the settlements. The city residents are prohibited by the settlers from using this part of their own city.

--Jack Robinson

Hebron Nursery School

During our trip to Hebron and our meeting with CPT, we had the opportunity to meet with Zleikha Muhtasib. Zleikha is a woman of quiet power and very engaging. She talked about her life in Hebron and her determination to care for the children of the Old City of Hebron. She has, for many years, fought for her rights and the right of the children to get to school safely. I have met her twice before and both times she talked about the physical and verbal confrontations she has had with the soldiers. Many of these confrontations had to do with the soldiers abusing their power and she has gotten in the middle to protect the person involved. She does not accept the Occupation passively. This time Zleikha told us that even more there is the “slow killing” of Palestinians after everything they have experienced since the year 2000, the beginning of the Second Intifada.

Before, Zleikha worked with the community in many different ways. Now she is focusing on having a Nursery School to help the children, which, she says, also helps the parents. She has counseling at the school which helps the young ones cope with the daily life of checkpoints, soldiers, and zealous settlers all of which make life in the Old City extremely difficult. One of the more challenging and persistent aspects Zleikha has to deal with, is the fear in the children. So, along with the counseling, she has the children confront their fear. For example, she has them go through the checkpoint by themselves, but she is always nearby and watching, and supports those that cannot go through. This is not a minor event, since even I have seen this fear in the eyes of the children in the streets of the Old City of Hebron.

-- Richard Moss

Friday, June 1
Women In Black

On Friday we were privileged to join the weekly demonstration of the Women in Black. These women have been protesting and calling for an end to the occupation since 1988. They gather on a center island at a prominent intersection in West Jerusalem wearing black clothing and holding signs calling for an end to the occupation. In addition to the core group of women, several other people had joined them including a Jesuit priest who was a friend of a member of our delegation. They provided us with signs and we began to interact with passersby along with the women. We had a good conversation with two American seminary students who seemed to be quite uninformed about the whole issue. After the demonstration Gila Svirsky spoke to us about a peace group she works with, the Coalition of Women for Peace. They support a two state solution and do many educational things in addition to the protest.

Gila Svirsky pointed out that although military service is mandatory for all Israeli young people a significant number find ways to avoid joining and many others drop out during their first year. All together only 50% do more than one year of military service. She explained to us that there needs to be a complete reframing of the security issue. Real security is not military but economic prosperity, education, opportunity and clean air and water. As she talked with us a woman came by who was extremely upset at seeing the signs, so we had a firsthand experience of the reaction of some Israelis.

The Women in Black demonstrations have spread around the world. In the USA and Europe they are in opposition to war and in India the demonstrations are being held to oppose religious extremism.

While standing on the traffic island interacting with passersby we were given the opportunity to better understand the intensity of emotions provoked in the settlers. An orthodox women approached the us saying we were obviously Christians who knew nothing about the “real” world and should go home.
Continuing, she said “these “animals” wrecked then destroyed the beautiful settlement in Gaza. Her face contorted with anger, she yelled even louder now supporting house demolition. We asked her to lower her voice then attempted to establish a line of communication, adding nothing of our own perspective. Even this level of mirroring only incited a greater response. As others of our group entered the conversation things only got worse. Demonstrating intense agitation, constantly leaving and returning, at one point going through her shopping bags finding and passing out Shabbat candles in pity. Walking away a few steps muttering to herself she again returned yelling and gesticulating then a few steps more and back.

Lesson to be learned “seek first to understand then and then to be understood..”

--Nancy Parlin

Rabbis for Human Rights

Remarks by Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann:

Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) was created in 1988 at the time of the first Intifada by reform Rabbi David Forman and two other US rabbis, one orthodox and one conservative, in response to the killings of Palestinians and other acts. Their initial focus was purely moral rather than overtly political.

RHR currently has 100 members, 12 of whom are orthodox rabbis; the rest conservative and reform. At first, their work entailed visits to the Occupied Territories around human rights issues. Subsequent projects have included a focus on rights of the unemployed, lobbying around social issues, and educating Jewish children about the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

Agricultural access for farmers is their main project now. The Oslo peace process intensified the struggle for land, and many radical settler groups took land by armed force during this time. In addition, Palestinian land that is deemed “unused” by Israeli officials is often confiscated by the state. Crops, including olive groves, are destroyed. Agricultural access work includes accompanying people to their farmland, a role that is dangerous in some areas.

Two recent incidents occurred in which the local Army command helped protect farmers from aggressive settler harassment. There is a certain level of sympathy in the local Army and police, and among some of the settlers. Also, there was a recent court ruling in their favor. RHR has been more successful than originally expected.

After Rabbi Grenimann’s presentation, the group asked some questions:

Q: Do you respond to statements such as that of the Chief Rabbi who advocated “carpet bombing” of Gaza?
A: Yes, but press access is difficult to obtain, and there is no way to respond to him directly. We will sometimes assign one of our rabbis to investigate a statement of this type.

Q: What is RHR’s stand on the Wall?
A: The Wall was quite popular after the second Intifada, and there was a debate within our Board over it. But the Board only makes judgments about the Wall when it unfairly infringes on the rights of Palestinians.

-- Paul Bennett

Synagogue Kol HaNeshema

We attended Shabbat services this evening after an encouraging session with Rabbis for Human Rights.

The Shabbat service of Progressive/Reform Jews was attended by at least 100 people of all ages. The service had an unusual quality in that the entire congregation could both read and understand the Hebrew. Many American Jews might be able to “grunt and groan” the prayers in Hebrew but actually have too little comprehension of the Hebrew and are often dependent on the English translation that may not fit with the Hebrew.

The evening’s chanting and its associated drumming carried us away, perhaps to an earlier and more authentic time. The entire congregation was singing, which to us marked the difference between a service in the United States with one in Jerusalem. This Israeli synagogue is rare in a primarily orthodox Jewish community.

The casual quality of the service and the brightness of the sanctuary facilitated our spiritual feelings. The informal dress of the rabbi wearing a tallit on his shoulders with sandals on his feet lent a friendly and welcoming ambience to the service.

Completing the service was an ecumenical prayer in Arabic for peace given by an American Imam visiting from the United States. Earlier the rabbi told us that an Arabic prayer is traditional at their Shabbat services.

-- Steven Bell and Susie Ravitz

Saturday June 2, 2007
WI’AM, the Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center

Remarks by Zoughby Zoughby:

Wi’am works with farmers, women and other groups on conflict resolution within Palestine, and tries to inspire peacemaking at the cross-cultural level (the larger conflict is “Abraham’s dysfunctional family”). “We don’t just talk about it, we do it”. They are creating a conflict resolution manual.

Wi’am encourages looking at issues from an inclusive point of view; this means celebrating our differences and our similarities. It means listening to the other side compassionately, humanizing instead of demonizing each other, dissolving stereotypes. “Walk a few miles in the other‘s moccasins”.

But traditional nonviolent actions are needed also, in particular:
1. Palestinians resisting non-violently
2. Pro-peace groups in Israel
3. Others to assist the process.

It is time to end all forms of violence, including environmental violence. World collective action is needed. Collective responsibility in the international community worked to banish apartheid in South Africa. We also need divestment and positive reinvestment in Palestinian areas, and fair trade policies. No peace will happen without justice; justice is the issue.

If there is acknowledgement of a problem, there will be a solution. The admitting of a problem breaks the ice. It is time to be creative in our thinking, to think of alternatives, keeping our commonalities in mind.

“I am cautiously hopeful of a solution”. Hope and belief in a successful outcome is necessary. There is strength in truth. We need to transform these ideas into specific actions.

A big part of the problem is that all the children are traumatized. Formerly schools on both sides instilled hateful attitudes. Zoughby’s son Lucas stated that “we are now taught that it is wrong for Israelis to kill Palestinians, and wrong for Palestinians to kill Israelis”.

There are extremists on all sides and they are feeding each other. “They are eating us up inside.”

-- Paul Bennett

Holy Child School

Sister Rose is one of those people who can draw your attention. She is a smallish Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist who has taken on the rather large job of caring for traumatized children in the town of Beit Sahour. She came to the West Bank 24 years ago and created the Holy Child School in 1996. The school started with 4 students and by the end of the year she had 10 students. The next year there were 15 to 18 and the year after that there were 25 students. Presently, there are 30 students.

The school serves young people from the ages of 4½ to 16 and was established because Sister Rose noticed that the children who were infants and toddlers during the First Intifada began demonstrating symptoms of PTSD which included hyperactivity and not speaking. Typically, these young people stay at the Holy Child School for 3 to 5 years and for the kids with more acute symptoms there is summer school. Presently, half of the students are Muslim and half are Christian.

The school program addresses several aspects of these young people’s lives. First, the school provides an adult/student environment of 12 adults to 30 students which allows for a great deal of attention to each child. Secondly, Sister Rose and her staff want to help the parents sustain the treatment the young ones receive at the school. This involves a commitment from the parents to come to meetings when asked, mothers groups, and a focus on changing the home environment to maintain a calm environment. This creates support systems for everyone, since, according to Sister Rose, everyone is traumatized.

The staff are trained therapists and employ therapies such as music, psycho-drama, sandplay, pets, and gardening, with some specifically tailored to individuals. For example, one girl was always referring to dolphins. So the school found a place in Eliat that had dolphins and arranged a field trip there. Another success was the story of a 7 year old girl who was identified by her community as the “crazy child” and Sister Rose was asked to take her into the school. Within the year she was better and after 3 years the girl knew it was time to go back to regular school. She was eventually successful, yet had to do a lot of extra studying to catch up. At this point in time, Sister Rose said that 56 former students have returned to school or found jobs in many different areas, such as beauticians, plumbers, office workers, and other jobs within the community.

-- Richard Moss



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