< Report Six
Last Impressions from the Journey
Daher’s Vineyard, Outside Bethlehem on the West Bank
June 4, 2008
There’s a story in the Jewish Talmud in which a Gentile asks two great rabbis to teach him the whole of the Torah while standing on one foot. Shammai, the first, drives the Gentile away: There’s no way the Torah can be condensed in such a way! But Hillel, the second rabbi, responds quite differently: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah, while the rest is commentary thereon; go and learn it.”
Saturday morning, riding the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, I’ve got Hillel on my mind, and Jesus, too. Kindred spirits. Daring teachers. Radical monotheists. I’m watching the landscape twist and turn and dive through golden hillsides; even now, it’s a wild ride, a treacherous road. And I’m remembering Jesus’ story, the story of the Samaritan who stops to help the beaten Jew. I’m remembering that the busy priest and brilliant scholar pass by. Stories matter, make us accountable. Jesus would have liked Hillel. “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.”
1. What About Widows and Children?
Here on a beautiful hill, Daoud Nassar describes “Daher’s Vineyard” a family peace center—the “Tent of Nations” which promotes vocational training, sustainable farming, children’s programming and intercultural community. The Palestinian Nassars are determined to protect their 100 acres on this hill – though hills in every direction have already been confiscated and illegally developed by Israeli settlers. There’s no running water at the Vineyard and no electricity either. The tents we sleep in are under a day-to-day demolition order. It’s not an easy life.
The golden hills of Palestine and Israel behind him, Daoud Nassar tells us a story about a 12-year-old girl from the Dhieshah Refugee Camp: how she came up here months ago for a summer camp. Going around the circle of campers, on the first day of camp, Daoud asked the children about their hopes, their wishes for the future. The girl from Dhieshah had nothing to say. Daoud insisted; everyone had something to say.
“I want to die,” the 12-year-old said.
Daoud Nassar was unprepared. He gathered his thoughts for just a moment, then asked, “Why?” He knew that Palestinian children are traumatized by violence and occupation. He knew that Palestinian culture offers kids few chances to express such despair. But how could a 12-year-old carry such a burden in her heart? What kind of world was that? He knew she had to talk, had to get it out so her heart wouldn’t explode. “Why?” he asked again.
So she told him. She told him her father had been killed, by soldiers, when she was just a baby. She told him: “When I die, I can meet him and we can be together.” The cost of all this violence – physical, psychological, economic – is harsh and never so clear as it is in Daoud’s story. What happens to the widows and orphans of war? Often, they want to die
2. What is Hateful to You, Do Not Do to Your Neighbor
At Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum, I remember a wall decrying the inactivity of the Christian Church throughout most of the Nazi crisis. There were individual resisters to be sure, but by and large the church waited far too long to register opposition and engage in resistance. It’s a painful moment for me, in a painful place.
I think of that now as I reflect on five weeks of travel in Israel and Palestine. I think of the sin of silence as I recall the faces of impoverished children – CHILDREN! – in the Dhieshah Refugee Camp. I think of the sin of silence as I recall a Palestinian ‘s tears in describing the olive and apricot trees soon to be ‘annexed’ behind the wall. I think of the sin of silence as I recall Tzachi and Anat and their family in Ashkelon preparing every day for missiles from Gaza.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I believe the American church has a moral obligation to speak and act for peace – not just an abstract and peaceful easy feeling, but a just and practical peace in this very specific and holy place. What is hateful to us, we must no longer do to our Palestinian and Israeli neighbors. If we were tardy in speaking to the Holocaust in the 20th century, we must not make similar mistakes in this 21st century. Radical monotheism is not settler monotheism nor suicide monotheism nor detached monotheism. It has something to do with living in awareness of the unity of all humankind within the embrace of divinity and grace. It has to do with prophetic commitment.
I’m sober in knowing that such prophetic commitment will not come easily and will not be received gratefully in all quarters. I’m also convinced that our approach must be collaborative, disciplined and intentional: it’s time to build a coalition – religious, civic, moral – with the capacity to change U.S. policy, with the capacity to turn the Titanic around, with the capacity to insist on peace and human rights as cornerstones of American foreign policy in the Middle East and elsewhere. Battering one another with self-righteousness doesn’t cut it; it’s time to change the conversation, talk about human rights on all sides, and get clear on legitimate American interests around the world.
In so many ways, we’re all on that treacherous road from Jerusalem to Jericho. And in so many ways, we choose the kind of world that road becomes. It’s more than getting our politics right; it’s a matter of faith. It’s a matter of practicing our commitments to human rights, nonviolence, dialogue and bread for the world. It’s a matter of working deliberately with some whose opinions and perspectives seem unenlightened or worse. It’s a matter of praying for the commonwealth of God and living with every expectation that it’s possible. That beaten traveler is bleeding in the street. Priests and scholars, activists and rabbis, laborers and dreamers are coming along. What will we do?
Hillel had it right: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.”
Blessings, peace and courage, to all of you! You’re in my prayers during these last days of my Holy Land trip.
Originally posted here.
I maintained relatively good spirits after leaving Yad Vashem, but the weight of internalizing our collective suffering still burdened me. Fortunately, just like last time, the activity for the rest of the day restored me to a much more peaceful state of mind. We spent the rest of the day at a place called the Tent of Nations. This is actually a plot of land including an entire hill, owned by a Palestinian family that refuses to leave despite 14 years of obstacles in obtaining official recognition of their rights to the land. Now they have a small structure, a tent for guests (the Tent of Nations), a chicken coop and goat pens, all of which have been threatened with demolition by the government. The road to their farm has two roadblocks on it to make doubly sure that vehicles of theirs need to take three times as long to reach nearby Bethlehem as it would take without the blocks.
On this farm they host both Palestinian and international organizations and provide activities to help build teamwork, increase dialog and foster partnership. My impression that a majority of these groups involved children and youth. The genius of this place is that they put the groups that come to them to work, and we were no exception. Our hosts informed us that there would be a group of children from Palestine and abroad coming the following week to play soccer to promote team building. Our task was to assist the family in moving the large rocks from the field to reduce the risk of injury to the children. Exerting myself in physical labor was nothing short of liberating. It succeeded beyond any expectation I had in alleviating the weight I carried out with me from Yad Vashem. I lifted and rolled stones the size of onto and off of, sweated and built a wall for the field, I even bled into the soil.
Was this a lesser version of the euphoria experienced through labor and working the earth in order to empower the frightened and insecure victims of the Holocaust? I don't know if the comparison is legitimate because my work had very little to do with my own livelihood or survival. The stakes were very low, and the labor was for another. But this was part of what was so important to me. I worked, sweated and bled on Palestinian soil, working for a family that was under threats I could never imagine coping with, from my own people. If anything, then, my labor was liberating because it represented proof, to myself if to no one else, that I am freeing myself from the self-imposed paranoia, xenophobia and violence of our national self-blame for failing to resist the Holocaust. After we had cleared the stones for the field, we inaugurated the new field with a game of soccer, which I am positive I would not have enjoyed had it not been for the chance to work with my hands. If only this path had been the one adopted by the society of the emerging Israeli state in the wake of the Holocaust, and not the one ultimately leading to arms and pain and terror and death. Had we worked the soil together, perhaps the girl from Dheisheh camp would have never gotten it into her head that she wanted to die.
Originally posted here.
“We Will Not Be Moved Out”
June 4, 2008
Fri. morning, and I am reflecting on our visit to the Tent of All Nations. The story is familiar, Daoud's family has lived on this land, this farm for years, from well before the Nakba/Founding of Israel in May 1948. But, Israel continued to increase her takeover of the West Bank through expanding the settlements, particularly since 2000. And, it is squeezing every Palestinian landowner out of the way of its relentless expansion. And so, in 1991, Daoud's family started what should have been a relatively simple matter, applying for a permit to build on their own land.
2008, and they have gone through a series of court battles costing upwards of $130,000 US in legal fees to prove that the land Daoud's family has held the deed to for years and years is there land. They are last family to survive on this small hill, nestled in the rich farmland near Bethlehem. And Daher, one of the family members tells me with a sparkle in his warm and lively brown eyes, "we will not be moved out." It is difficult to comprehend how much courage, fortitude, resiliency it has taken this family to survive on this hill, with no services (Israel will not permit basic services such as water and electricity to reach the farm). But Daoud and his older brother Daher tell us, if they won't let us build a house on our land, we will continue to live here, to farm the land. And, in an amazing testament to "building from the ashes," rather than leave, they have created a program for peace, formally called “Tent of All Nations,” and invite internationals from all over the world to come and visit them. We do, there were two German students who were there for their civil service. Our group, some 18 U.S. citizens of all backgrounds spent the night in the tents after having helped a small bit to clear rocks from a field where they will be playing football on Sunday. While we are working, a young Israeli couple stop by to share with Daoud their knowledge about more ecological ways to conserve water and other ecological solutions to their concerns. By force of circumstances, Daoud and his family are becoming models of environmentally sustainable living.
The image that stays in my mind on our last morning in East Jerusalem, is the light from Daher's eyes as he walks me around his farm. He tells me when each of his olive trees were planted, points out the olive tree that was planted by an Israeli peace group last year. The new trees will require water for the first 2 years. I wonder that Daher does not express resentment to the Israeli settlers who are now living on the tops of every hill surrounding this farm - and receiving all services including water, while every ounce of water the Nassar family receives comes from the rains which have been light this year and from the gallons that they carry in large tanks from Bethlehem.
Instead, he proudly shows me the 2 year old olive tree that is thriving much more than the two that are nearest, and planted at the same time. "Look at how this one grows," he exclaims. He takes my hand, "If you have never seen an almond tree, come, let me show you." In a week or so, the almonds will be ready to harvest, but Daher says, see you can still eat one now. He pulls an almond off his tree and cracks it open for me. For this Chicagoan who has never seen an almond growing - did not know that the nut is covered with a green shell - it is an amazing moment.
A Day in and Around Ramallah
June 5, 2008
A whole day in Ramallah. Compared with all the other places we've seen, this was the most bustling, the most open, the most normal. Aside from the remaining rubble in the Palestinian Authority compound from when it was shelled during the Second Intifada, and being shown the former site of the debilitating Surda checkpoint, this feels like the one Palestinian place where one can forget about the occupation. From the center of the city I could only see more city: no settlements, no IDF, no Wall, no strangled ghost town.
Our first stop was at Birzeit University, where we listened to both faculty and students talk about the difficulties of studying and teaching for Palestinians under occupation. The geographical range of students shrinks drastically in accordance with the restrictions on movement caused by the checkpoints, road blocks, settler bypass roads, etc. We were told about the days when the Surda checkpoint still existed, when students could not anticipate how long it would take them to get from Ramallah to Birzeit, normally a 10 minute drive, and whether or not they would be beaten simply for being profiled in a dangerous age group. Restrictions on international travel, visas and residency have chased away a formerly vibrant presence of visiting academics from other countries, and have reduced the potential for cooperation with other international institutions. We must never forget the invisible aspects of occupation that allow a city like Ramallah to appear normal, when, in fact, no one really has the luxury of escaping the Occupation.
In Ramallah we were introduced to the American Friends Services Committee (one of the two groups that has organized this delegation) center in Ramallah. There we ate lunch and heard from one of the founders of the Right to Enter Campaign. Having had much contact with the campaign, I was not surprised by how well articulated our presenter's points were, offering us a much clearer perspective on the whole effect of the Occupation. The Right to Enter campaign itself focuses on the lack of a transparent Israeli policy with regards to issuing Palestinian residency, the lack of family reunifications, and the sudden change in implementation of visa renewal policy all of which contribute to an environment where foreign nationals, especially those of Palestinian origin, are in danger of losing their right to reside in the Palestinian Territories.
After some free time in Ramallah, we undertook what was, for me, the most nerve-wracking part of the entire trip. We were to walk on foot through the Qalandia checkpoint. Previously we had been given absolutely no trouble at the checkpoints because for all intents and purposes we are a tour group on a bus with Israeli plates. Now, however, we would be forced to show passports, and this was where I was running the risk of being confronted about the illegality of my presence in Area A Palestinian Territory. The worst part was between the two turnstiles, where we placed our bags in the machine to be scanned, and where we had to show our passports to the guards through what I can only imagine is bullet proof glass. They were asking not only for the picture in the passport - but for the visa as well. There went my bright idea of using my American Passport, which I showed anyway. When they asked for my visa I was forced to show them my Israeli Passport, and I was sure that I would at least be questioned… nothing. They smiled and told me to move on.
Have I just been paranoid for no reason? I don't think so. After all, they did question one of our leaders for over four hours upon entry. Whether it was reasonable for me to have been so worried or not, I think this demonstrates one of the invisible effects of occupation: unpredictability. I was lucky enough to have very little else to stress about for the rest of my time in Israel, while those living under occupation need to worry about this sort of thing every day. Not knowing if you will be held for three hours or pass through in three seconds, the safe thing to do is assume it will take you all day to get to and from a destination that could be 10 minutes away without these obstacles. And like the roadblocks near the Tent of Nations, or the Wall in Bil`in or East Jerusalem, or the prohibition on Jordan Valley Bedouin to sell their goods in Jericho, it is unclear how exactly this contributes to Israeli security.
Originally posted here.
This report piece is a slightly edited version that first appeared on this blog.
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