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“They Have Not Occupied Our Souls”
Friday and Saturday, October 30 - 31: Deheisheh Refugee Camp and Bethlehem

 

Borders

This is my first trip to Israel and Palestine.  I am finding it difficult to find bearings here.  From the Tel Aviv airport, we rode up to Jerusalem, into rocky hills where roads curve around, up, and down.  Stone and cement buildings cluster and sprawl across hillsides, sandy colored like the smooth rocks that outnumber vegetation.  The gray concrete separation wall wanders over and around the hills too, often right through towns, whose names again are foreign to me, all presenting a confusion that I cannot sort out.

In humility I think confusion is appropriate in a situation as multi-layered and complex as life in this land that does not have one name, or where the distinction between the two names, Israel and Palestine, is contested, blurred, changing, and inconsistent from one dimension to another.  The internationally recognized "green line" marking the border of Israel and the Palestinian Territories prior to the 1967 war is invisible in Jerusalem, often running along streets in which daily life is the same on both sides, and no signs or border "checkpoints" or differences in architecture mark a border.  Does this mean two societies are integrated and a border has been erased? Not at all.

The border between Palestinian life and Israeli life is carried in identification cards that assign status variously to Jewish Israeli citizens, Palestinian Israeli citizens, Palestinian Israeli residents (such as the inhabitants of East Jerusalem), Palestinians inhabitants of Zones A, B, or C (where the Palestinian Authority has more, less, or no recognized role in administering and policing Palestinian communities).

The border between Palestinians and Israelis in the Old City of Jerusalem, in the predominately Palestinian East Jerusalem may be the concrete floor between a street level residence and upper stories of the same building. The upper stories displaying Israeli flags marking the residence as a "settlement" by Jewish Israelis, those residents usually claiming their location as part of Israel, and the Palestinian bottom floor neighbor referring to international law recognizing East Jerusalem as outside Israel.  Patrolling Israeli border police enforce this border, patrolling neighborhoods where Israeli settlements intersperse with Palestinian houses.

The border between Palestinians and Israelis is the dramatic distinction between a hillside housing development that looks as though it could be a suburb of San Diego, California, like the Jewish-only settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, and the Palestinian town of Bethany right across the street, that reminded me of Saudi Arabian villages I saw as a child in 1960--or poor neighborhoods in Managua, Nicaragua.  Another border like this was simply a bend in a road, where the road itself changed from a suburban street with curbs, gutters, traffic lanes and landscaping as it passed a seven building apartment complex exclusive to Jewish citizens of Israel only, to a curbless alley between crumbling concrete block structure housing auto repair shop, butcher, and residences.

And then there is the dramatic border, the Separation Wall, usually 25-30 feet high, and a foot thick where I saw it.  From hilltop vantage points, I saw it running right through Palestinian neighborhoods, where similar houses stood on both sides. 

Contrary to the claim by many that the Separation Wall is built to protect Israeli citizens from attacks against civilians by enemies in the Palestinian population beside Israel, the Separation Wall does not run on the internationally recognized border of Israel.  The Separation Wall does not even surround new settlement towns like Ma’aleh Adumim when they are placed in the midst of surrounding Palestinian neighborhoods.  At one place the Separation Wall simply runs right across the ancient and still vital Jericho Road, a wall across a major thoroughfare, without a gate or checkpoint to control passage, simply a blockade requiring Palestinians on both sides to drive an extra hour to reach jobs, hospitals, colleges, stores on the other side, but in the one community they used to consider whole.

And then there are the borders of political party, religion, right wing and left wing, language, collaborator, resister, patriot, activist, privilege, oppression, those with hope, those in despair, those in apathy, those who assign blame to a whole people and those who distinguish between people and powers, those supported and funded by the United States and those abandoned by the United States, and more and more.

When I first arrived in East Jerusalem, and walked the street named for Sultan Sulaiman of the Ottoman Empire, I felt a gentle chaos, in which I could not easily distinguish Jew from Palestinian from Armenian, saw teenage girls laughing, boys playing, and heard an Imam's sunset call to prayer echo off the two thousand year old stone walls of the old city.  In fact, I have heard that call to prayer each morning before sunrise too, about 4:30 AM, and have not been able to sleep after, though I have been able to pray. I pray for humility to begin to meet this city and land and people of inspiration and conflict, salvation and oppression, despair and hope. 

I cannot begin to say how disturbing this meeting is, and exhausting.  I just hope, and the Palestinians and Israelis I have met hope even more, that I will be able to convey the need for you all to join me in calling our nation to responsibility for this situation we fund with $3.5 billion per year, not controlling responsibility, but responsibility to act on our values of equality and dignity for all.

-- Peter Klotz-Chamberlain


Walls and Prayers

Before I left home, the adult group that I mentor in my Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights requested that I bring on the trip a prayer for peace from the 14 of us to place in the Wailing Wall, the only remains from the destroyed Second Temple of Jerusalem.  I was delighted that these 13 friends from my faith community would go with me in this way (although I’am not a big fan of prayer by committee!).  To that end, the group reflected on the biblical story of Cain and Abel and wrote a prayer for a lasting and just peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

On our first day we tour the Old City to get a lay of the land. From a distance I briefly see the Wailing Wall with multitudes of Orthodox Jews praying and placing written prayers into it.  I decide to use free time later in the week to take the prayer to the Wailing Wall. 

Also on Day One we travel to the Jericho Road at the busiest intersection in Palestinian East Jerusalem.  At least it used to be the busiest intersection until the Israelis blocked the Jericho Road with a section of the barrier wall that they are building in strategic locations throughout Palestine.  I experience this Wall as dark and intimidating.  It looms large.  Most importantly it has turned a two minute Palestinian trip from Bethany to East Jerusalem into a 45 minute trip.

On our second day, on the way to visit an Israeli settlement on the West Bank, we start with the 45 minute bus ride to the same intersection on the other side of the Wall.  The urban street is mostly abandoned and the Wall looms just as large on this side. It is covered with graffiti and to my surprise mostly emphasizes peace. 

I have seen and heard enough already on the trip that my heart is hurting from the depth of anger that the Palestinians and Israelis have for each other.  As I reflect on the ugly reality of the Wall, it occurs to me that perhaps this is the Wailing Wall for our times.  I approach the Wall, pray the prayer I have brought with me and place it in the rubble at the foot of the Wall.

I am pretty sure of one thing. God does not care in which Wall I placed this prayer — it is about my understanding of the immediacy of the pain in this part of the world and asking God to be in the midst of that pain.

-- Jacquie Talbot   


Smiling in the Midst of Darkness

Each day it seems like it cannot get more difficult or more complicated or more hopeless . . . and then it does.

Tonight a delegate relayed a poll that he had seen just after the recent Gaza war (December 2008-January 2009).  According to the poll, before the war on Gaza, Israel enjoyed 67% support from the US.  After the Gaza war last winter, US support for Israel decreased to 47%. At the same time, the support for the Palestinians remained the same – at 6 %. 

It seems clear to me that this is because most US citizens know little about the Palestinians and the conflict here on the ground. Let me tell you just one story.

Today we met the Owdah family at the Deheisheh Refugee Camp. The camp is one kilometer square in size and is home for 11,000 people. They get water, which they have to buy, just one time a week. They have no land for growing, they have no jobs and it is very crowded and unhealthy.

We were hosted by Naji and Suheir Owdah at the Phoenix Center, a community center for the refugee camp. As Suheir, the mother said, “life here at the camp is terrible, a place of tears and suffering. And the cause of the suffering is not the checkpoints, or the wall but the occupation.”

Their son, gave our group a tour.  He is 22 years old and very wise for his age. He is finishing up university where he studies social work and psychology.  He is charming and his English is very good (like so many Palestinians we meet). I asked him “What are your dreams?  Do you dream of leaving or will you stay?” He said, “I will stay; I believe in our conflict.”  Then I asked him “Do you believe in non-violence?”  He paused and then answered, “I don’t know. I don’t like weapons but if we are attacked anymore, I don’t know how I would respond. We have no choices. “

I remembered my own recognition of privilege when I went to Nicaragua in 1984.  We stood there somewhat self-righteously espousing non-violence, but I realized I have never been in the place where my family members were tortured or killed; where my water  was taken from under my land and then sold back to me; where  all my rights of movement were taken away; where my house was demolished not once, but maybe twice or three times, where my centuries-old olive trees were uprooted, or a 25-foot-high wall was erected between me and my farm or me and my work.

We have encountered some of the most amazing practitioners of non-violence I have ever met. Palestinians that smile in the midst of the darkness; people that remind us that “we are not fighting the Jews but the Israelis” or “without governments, the people could find peace.” 

Suheir reminded me that “they have occupied our land, but they have not occupied our souls or our hearts.  When they do, then they will have won.”

-- Kate Stevens


Writings on the Wall

On Friday, we spent a little time around the area in Bethlehem designated as Rachael’s Tomb.  I say “around” since the wall Israel has built between Bethlehem and Jerusalem encloses the area, making an entrance for Israelis only. 

People on the Bethlehem side of the wall have drawn graffiti.  Here is some of what they have written:

“Build bridges, not walls.”

”Turn on the water”

“Know hope”

“Israel, is this what you want to be remembered by?”

“Here is a wall at which to weep. (In Arabic under this, “The father of tears”)

“Peace? Justice?”

“The oppressed become the oppressor”

“There is no security on this earth, only opportunity”

“Made in the USA”

“Plant justice, harvest peace”

-- Mary Singaus



ERRATA:


The email version of the previous delegation report (report 2) misquoted Arieh Zimmerman of Kibbutz Zikim. The quote attributed to Arieh in the section titled "Why Expect a Better Solution?" should read:

"If an ordinary Palestinian and Israeli, above a certain age, probably parents, were to sit together in a room, they could probably find an equitable and mutually agreed peace in a couple of weeks."



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