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Protests, Anger, Irony, Inward Peace, and Commitment to Action
Final Report from the May-June, 2010 Delegation
Friday, May 28 - Monday, June 7


The Gaza Flotilla: The Protests Continue

While the world focuses on the flotilla and Gaza, Israel's restrictions on Palestinian rights in the rest of Palestine continue to tighten. On Friday, June 5, soldiers surrounded the Old City in Jerusalem to prevent Muslim men from praying at Al-Aqsa mosque. Only those younger than 15 or older than 40 were allowed through. Hundreds of men gathered outside the metal bars installed by the Army around the city gates. Frustrated, many men sat down to wait to pray on the sidewalk, but soldiers on horseback pushed through the crowd, forcing the men to scatter.

Eventually, hundreds of men began to gather next to the wall of the Old City and across the street. If they could not enter, they would pray as close as they could. As the call to prayer rang out (at least sound can overcome walls), a noticeable calm came over the space as they bowed down in unison. The soldiers stood over the group, some filming with cameras. In the middle of the group were an olive tree and a young child who stood by himself, watching.

When the prayers ended, those who hadn't brought prayer mats wiped the dirt off their foreheads and gathered with others across the street where an imam had started to speak. Lara, a Palestinian delegate in our group translated bits and pieces of what he said.

The sermon was about the importance of compassion and justice in Islam. There they were, being denied their religious freedom, and they were talking about compassion. The imam asked that their prayers be accepted even though they could not be in the house of God.

At one point, he raised his finger and called out the following: "Someday, we will live in a place where it doesn't matter what color your skin is, or where you're from."

With every sentence the group resounded in a collective "Amen."

After the prayers, hundreds of women and older men poured out, one of whom told me he had seen a man beaten by the Army for calling out against Israel's attacks on the flotilla. This is likely precisely what the Army wanted to avoid by keeping Muslims from congregating at the mosque, and they had been largely successful, at least so they thought.

Just as I was turning to return to the hotel, I heard a chorus of women's voices coming from inside the city walls. Soon a large group of women emerged carrying a Turkish flag and singing out familiar calls for justice and praising those who gave their lives to free Gaza. The soldiers thought that keeping the men out would be enough, but they had underestimated the women.

Israel has also underestimated the international civilian community, which continues to speak out. Day and night, we watch protests around the world unfold one after another, seemingly stronger and larger by the day: Japan, Paris, India, Oslo, Australia, and beyond. This is being called "Israel's Kent State."

- Anna Baltzer

This is an edited excerpt of a longer post that originally appeared on Anna’s blog.  Click here to read the full post.


Candy for the Israel Defense Forces

On March 31st, our delegation woke up to hear the news that the Israeli forces stormed the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and killed an estimated 9 (the numbers fluctuated in the news that day) civilians in international waters.  We were all very upset about this and so, we joined a demonstration in Ramallah, which involved 300 to 400 people marching from the city center to the Turkish embassy chanting “Where are the human rights?” and “Thank you, Turkey” in Arabic.

I was struck with how much Palestinians were doing to protest the Flotilla killings.  On May 31st, there was a general strike in East Jerusalem and on June 1st there was a general strike in Nazareth in protest.  On the 1st, our IFPB delegation participated in a protest in Sakhnin near Nazareth with about 30 locals.  We stood on a busy intersection in support of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, in protest against the IDF attack, and in solidarity with Gazans living under siege.

The actions are not all from one side, though.  Supporters of the Israeli Defense Forces were, and are, being vocal as well.  When our bus guide was heading home on the night of the 31st, he was offered candy by young men from a settlement, which they explained was their act of celebration of what they thought was a brave defense of Israel against its enemies.

- Charlotte-Anne Malischewski


Trying to Be Normal in East Jerusalem

One night early in the trip, we decided we needed to go out for a beer and try to feel like normal human beings again for a while, but it is hard to escape the reality when you’re in East Jerusalem….

We ended up talking to a security guard at a hotel gate.  He told us there was a new military order issued just three days ago which revoked the residency status of all Gaza-born Palestinians in East Jerusalem (legal residents of Israel) and “deported” (transferred/relocated/cleansed) them to Gaza.  He awoke in the middle of the night to hear someone banging on his neighbor’s door.  He found out later that the father of the family was given five minutes to gather some things before he was forcibly separated from his family and sent to Gaza.  The wife and children are all Jerusalemites and have all their ties here.  The father no longer has any ties to Gaza, but this is now where he must stay.  Like all Palestinians in Gaza, he cannot leave there.

Our new friend has many more stories, about the extra taxes Palestinians have to pay, the lack of services, the arbitrary rules and limits created that make their lives unbearable there.  He says we have no idea…  He says that he believes that Israel just wants all Palestinians to leave.  He says that they will never leave…  They are here!

- Jason Bechtel


Needing Peace Within

Last night we met with Leah Lubin of Interfaith Encounters. Leah lives in Occupied Territory in the Jewish Settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. She spoke about her transformation from an ultra-Orthodox follower of Meir Kahane, the militant rabbi, to a secular Jew who holds dialogue groups with Palestinians in her apartment.

Some of the members of the delegation asked tough and appropriate questions of Leah, challenging her to explain the dissonance between advocating a one-state solution without walls or checkpoints juxtaposed against living in an illegal settlement on confiscated Palestinian land.

A few questioners appeared hostile and judgmental towards Leah. Although I expected this would occur, I was disappointed. The hostility and judgment of these questioners arose out of their distress that her reality did not conform to theirs. As a result, I think they projected their fear and anger (and confusion) onto Leah. Had they been able to appreciate how far Leah had come in her personal journey, rather than projecting fear and anger, they might have become interested in the obstacles that prevent her from being more active in fighting for Palestinian equality and justice. They were not able to arrive at this appreciation probably because they themselves had not inquired into their own indoctrination. Had they gotten interested in Leah’s journey and in understanding why she has not gone further they would have made a connection with her and transmuted their fear and anger into compassion and clarity. Leah, then, might have been able to connect more deeply with their passion for Palestinian rights.

In a world of us against them, each side, at least in their minds, mirrors the other. Through parallel enemy images they co-create a world of conflict. Conflict can only be resolved through self-understanding, which leads to peace within. Unless peace is found within it cannot be found without. With this understanding we become aware that we are all Palestinians and we are all Israelis. We are all Muslims and Christians and we are all Jews.

- Rich Forer


From Anger and Rage to Protest and Activism

My greatest fear just before the delegation was that what I was about to witness in Palestine would transform my feelings about this conflict from disgust and outrage into paralyzing anger and hatred. 

This was not the case in Beit Sahour, Sderot, Saffourieh, Ramallah, Nazareth, ….  I felt uplifted by the determination of the Palestinian people to continue living there in defiance of occupation and apartheid.  Hebron was fundamentally different, however.  The Muslims living there are so desperate and downtrodden, subjected to such daily humiliation and harassment, driven to such depths of despair and anguish, my anger soon boiled over into rage.  I was beside myself, unable to speak or laugh or cry. 

My hope now is that I can free myself from this prison of anger and redirect my rage into protest and activism.

- Jason Bechtel


My Generation’s Historic Challenge

Thanks be to God, I have safely returned to my family and community from my two week trip to Palestine/Israel. As most of you know, I was away with a delegation from a group called Interfaith Peace Builders. I would HIGHLY recommend anyone considering such a trip to go with an organization like this.

With the support of so many (including family, churches, and Friends of Sabeel - an international peace movement initiated by Palestinian Christians in the “Holy Land.”), I received an intense course on the Middle East conflict.

Our delegation, co-led by two phenomenal women – Anna Baltzer and Cathy Sultan – was filled with 28 amazing people from all over the country and many parts of the world. Together, we connected with courageous activists who helped show us what it means to be Human while under the boot of apartheid today. I will never forget my new friends and family.  It is impossible for me to be the same person that I was just two weeks ago. In Christian language, it would be most appropriate to say that I have been “born again.”

I went to Palestine/Israel with knowledge grounded in my research, writings, and attendance at Middle East conferences. However, now I possess first-hand knowledge of what is going on in Palestine/Israel. While I was witness and participant in joyful, laughter-filled, fun moments while there, I also had a front row seat to how the Israeli government and much of the Israeli society actively sanctions the oppression and discrimination of Palestinian people solely based on their ethnicity. That, ladies and gentleman, is called Apartheid – a word most commonly associated with South Africa which literally means “separateness.”

The wall is a concrete example (no pun intended) of the lengths to which the Israeli government will go to separate and segregate the Palestinian community. These walls, which are built in the name of “security”, can be found all over the country separating Palestinians from families, fields, jobs, medical support, educational desires, recreational opportunities, and ancestral homeland. I heard about the Apartheid Wall, but actually standing in its shadow was a surreal experience. It has left an indelible mark in my mind about the reality of state-sanctioned oppression and will serve as one of the embers that fuel my activism on this issue for years to come.

The sad part is that the wall is only one pillar in Israeli’s Apartheid program. There is MUCH more that I must share about what I believe to be my generation’s historic challenge and opportunity to strike a blow for justice during our lifetime.

It was good for me to be there in Palestine/Israel, but it is just as good for me to be home so that I can amplify the stories that I saw, heard, and experienced while there.

Thank you for your prayers and support while I was away. I am deeply thankful for you. Stay tuned as I continue to process and unpack my experience in Palestine/Israel.

- Heber Brown

This is an edited excerpt of a post that originally appeared on Heber’s blog.  Click here to read the full post.


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