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Trees of Peace: Olive Harvest Delegation to Palestine/Israel
October 26, 2012

This delegation traveled concurrently with
the 2012 African Heritage Delegation > > >

We invite delegation participants to comment on and react to the experiences they have during our Israel/Palestine delegations in written Trip Reports

Individual delegates contribute pieces to these reports.  As such, reports are not comprehensive accounts of every meeting or experience, but impressions of those things that most impact individuals.  Submitted reports may be edited for clarity or brevity. Trip reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Peace-Builders, trip leaders, or delegation partner organizations.  We hope you enjoy reading and we encourage you to share these reports with others.


My Lemon Tree in East Jerusalem
By Hanan Idilbi

The garden of the St. George's Cathedral Guesthouse, where I sit under a lemon tree, is an oasis.  There, I can just be without thinking about the occupation.  But that changes the moment I walk outside the gate.  

The occupation is everywhere.  It is in the blue and white flags atop the settlements in the Muslim quarter of East Jerusalem.  It is in the need for constant vigilance at the Dome of the Rock, the third holiest place in Islam, where praying men and women must keep watch for settlers.  It is in the wall that separates Palestinian from Palestinian and the illegal settlements surrounding Palestinian villages, choking them.  It is in the streets, in the land, in the air.

On our first day here, Jeff Halper, of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions said that, to Israeli society, the occupation is invisible.  How is that possible?   


Steadfast Resistance
By George Meek

Daher Nassar welcomed us to the "Tent of Nations," his family farm perched on a hill surrounded by Israeli settlements. I admire the family's steadfastly resisting legal efforts and harassment intended to drive them off the land to put up more Israeli settlements. He has documents proving his grandfather purchased the farm in 1916.

"The farm is like my mother, and I won't sell my mother," he says, recalling that would-be buyers invited him to name any price.

When settlers destroy one of his trees, he plants 10 to replace it. He planted 1,000 trees last year.

Since this is an "Olive Harvest" Delegation of Interfaith Peace-Builders, we harvested a few olives. Daher's father, a minister, taught him to love all people, and the aim of Tent of Nations is to build bridges. They had 5,000 visitors last year, including German volunteers who installed a solar power system.

Daher's sister Amal, a nurse in Bethlehem, says once when they were taking grapes to sell there, the grapes were spoiled before arrival because they were delayed five hours in the sun at an Israeli checkpoint. She says the Tent of Nations teaches mothers alternative medicine, handicrafts, and how to transform pain into creativity through poetry. "We refuse to be enemies," she says.

Steadfast resistance also came through loud and clear at the Deheishah Refugee Camp, administered by the UN, which is home for 12,000 Palestinians in Bethlehem.

The director of the Palestinian Youth Action Center for Community Development at Deheishah, Naji Odah, says "We keep struggling. Nobody can give you freedom; you have to earn it."

Naji showed us a film in which a 10-year-old refugee, Tamar Faraj, said poignantly, "Why am I not free and why is my country closed?" He longs to visit the sea. Half of Deheishah's population is under age 15.

Naji's wife Suheir says when the checkpoints are active, it can take more than 3 hours for what is usually a 45-minute ride to her job as a dietitian in a Hebron hospital. Women in labor die at the checkpoints. Suheir and Naji's mother cried all night after a released prisoner told them about deplorable conditions where Naji was imprisoned for six months in the Negev Desert.

She says, "We are not terrorists; we have rights to live in our country. The Jews can remember the Holocaust, but they do not allow us to remember the Nakba [when 700,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes in 1948]."

She favors a one-state solution with freedom for all.

Two young Israeli professionals have a different narrative. They say Palestinians "fled" back in 1948, and that a two-state solution is the best option for peace. They agree that it is not in Israel's best interest to continue the occupation, but in their view the two countries might not be friends for 50 years.

"Peace is not loving each other, it's divorcing each other," they told us.

One who was nearly killed by a suicide bomb says he doesn't like the separation wall, but "it's a necessity."

Their parents taught them that everybody is out to kill the Jews, which helps me to understand their need for security.

This report is excerpted from George's blog. Read the full post at http://seekpeaceinpalestine.blogspot.co.il/2012/10/steadfast-resistance.html


By Maya Harris

Imagine:  You’re 16 years old, in High School and you’ve organized a peaceful walk out against the war in Iraq, but it results in gunfire and arrest. Suheir, a mother, wife, community member and friend within the Deheishah Refugee Camp, was 16 years old when she did a peaceful demonstration against the occupation that resulted in the group of students being shot at, escaping to their school for safety to be captured and arrested for 4 days.

This is not Occupy. This is not the 2008 RNC Protest in St Paul, Minnesota. This is everyday life for the Palestinians within the occupied territories. Palestinians in a never ending refugee camp. A life where your sons, children and husbands are thrown into jail for an undetermined amount of time. This jail is a lot like what we know of our U.S. Prison Industrial Complex that allows torture, death and unimaginable mistreatment of not only the prisoners, but their families. This one goes a couple steps further in a lot of ways. Here is one story:

Naji, (one of the main organizers for Laylac, an organization that’s mission is to empower youth in their communities by making them the leaders of tomorrow, that we met and the brother of Suheir) described a story of two of the Deheishah Refugee Camp community members who were in prison and participated in the recent hunger strike. In this incident, the Israeli Military proceeded to force feed them and shoved it down the wrong tube, resulting in death. Instead of holding themselves accountable for their injustice and maltreatment, the Israeli military confiscated their bodies – some believe they harvested the dead prisoners’ organs. Their mothers were not allowed to give them a proper burial let alone one last kiss on their sons’ faces.

That is when I found out this is a common practice and these people have to fight for the bodies of Palestinian Martyr’s to be returned. We were told a story of Palestinians hiding their dead in the fridge, just so a mother can say goodbye. A world where you bury your sons? This is something I think different areas of the whole world can relate to, but why do we continue to delegitimize the Palestinian story?

Today was incredible. All that I have learned from my college education and personal studies, I am finally seeing it In Front Of My Face. Through these interactions and conversations, we are validating these people’s stories. And that is what they are, real life stories, histories, memories. So many quotes today. So many stories. So much pain. But one thing that never ceased to overcome all this pain is hope and love. It seeped through them, body and soul. Hope for a brighter future and love for all living things, and yes, even Israelis.

I will end this post with the last thing our tour guide of the Deheishah's Refugee Camp:  Murad, our guide for the day, said to me. “I do not want people to look at me and automatically label me as Muslim, because I am not, as a terrorist, an Arab, or anything but who I am. And I will do the same.”

Murad is not a number, or a statistic, but a 25 year-old that has lost family members to jail and death. Seen 11 of his friends die in front of him. A man with a story, but with all of this tragedy throughout his life, still a loving human who has hope, compassion, and forgiveness for the Israeli people.

Amen to him and all those struggling under occupation man.

This report is excerpted from Maya's blog. Read the full post at http://jardingarden.tumblr.com/post/34329569711/imagine-youre-16-years-old-in-high-school-and


Bureaucratic Violence
By Elissa Goss

We have the full right to build in it. We built in Jerusalem, we are building in Jerusalem and we will continue to build in Jerusalem"- Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu (read more here).

This was on the front page of the Jerusalem Post yesterday. The article referred to his comments after being criticized by members of the international community for the illegal settlements Israel has built and continues to build in East Jerusalem and the surrounding areas.

Yesterday, our day was like that of zoom camera (to quote Mike) with us starting out in the Old City visiting many of the Holy Sites (such as al-Aqsa mosque, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Dome of the Rock, the Wailing Wall) and then focusing in further on Jerusalem learning about the zoning laws and military mandates that create an apartheid system between Israelis and Palestinians. We then ended the day visiting a Palestinian family with a heartbreaking story of having been evicted from their home multiple times, harassed and humiliated over and over again.

So we started from the wider view, a similar one to the 3.5 million tourists who visit Jerusalem annually, many making pilgrimage to the various holy sites. But then our gaze became more focused.

After about 2-3 hours of walking around the Old City and learning of the political fights between various religions and sects within those religions, such as how all the Christians sects who use the Church of the Holy Sepulcher fight so much over who gets to hold the key that they had to give it to a Muslim to open and unlock it every day, we began to look into "divisions" of land, or walls, of our ideas of each other.

With Netanyahu's comment and policies outlined above, he speaks to an attitude similar to Manifest Destiny in the United States. The song I grew up singing in grade school came to mind..."Your land is my land....my land is your land your land..." errr....well, actually, you're land is your land within the restrictions of what I think your land should be. It became clear that this is the sentiment of the government of Israel in regards to Palestinians' right to land and existence.

This report is excerpted from Elissa's blog. Read the full post athttp://actsofcommonhumanity.blogspot.com/2012/10/bureaucratic-violence.html


Faith, Justice and Grace in Israel
By Brad Ogilvie

“The thankful heart sees the best part of every situation. It sees problems and weaknesses as opportunities, struggles as refining tools, and sinners as saints in progress”  - Francis Frangipane

This is now my third day here in Jerusalem with Interfaith Peace-Builders.  It has been an eye-opening experience to see and learn more about this amazing region of the world.  It has also not been an easy trip for me. 

As so often seems to be the case, while I share the passions and concerns that the current state of things here is perpetuating immense harm on many Palestinians, I don't necessarily share in the sentiments expressed or the specifics of the calls to action. 

There are stories of farmers being disconnected from their farms, and idle farms are then deemed vacated and taken by the government.  Because of limited movement, Palestinians cannot enter into parts of Jerusalem to argue their cases for land and home.  Institutionalized harassment is pervasive. 

On the other hand, I know that there must be more to the story. Good friends of mine talk about the importance of Israel in their lives, the bombings suffered by attacks.  I see people of deep faith - Muslims, Jews, and Christians - just going about their daily lives, some trying to co-exist, others just living.  The more I learn, here and see, the less certain I am about anything - sometimes by what is said, other times by what is not said.   

I do know this: people are suffering from violence and if things remain on the present course there will be much more suffering. I also know there is anger, hatred, hurt and mistrust of scary proportions.  From terms like "the Arabs want to eradicate Israel" to "my 10 year old nephew wants to kill all the Israeli soldiers”, this goes deep.  

I guess much of this is understandable, but a speaker we heard today spoke my mind when she said "All violence is unacceptable.  No buts".

So what is mine to do?  I don't know.  Will BDS (boycott/divestment/sanctions) promote peace and justice? Given that, as one person working against home demolitions stated, “the Palestinians need to figure out what they want,” and how powerful the army is here, I can't even venture an educated guess.  I hear too many opinions. 

In my role as Clerk of a Quaker committee (where reaching consensus can be a black hole of time to little positive effect) and what I hear from folks, it's a tricky thing.   I think what I am seeing more clearly that mine is to stay committed to my belief (that has been backed up by experience) that there is God in all things, and mine is to joyfully seek it.  To be a bridge-builder.  I have a long way to go, but it seems to be what I do. 

I hope to return with some possible actions people can take that don't need consensus.  I hope to bring back a deeper appreciation of why Israel is so important to both secular and religious Jews.  Perhaps I can help to develop a Workcamp trip here to tour the holy sights, reflect on their meaning and role in lives and conflict, spend time on a kibbutz and at a Palestinian farm. Perhaps even help build a personal relationship or two across the divide, building on where some already exist.  Basically be in fellowship.  Nothing dramatic, but all with a clear vision of justice and harmony. 

I find it a challenge to give voice to this whilst among people who are clearly well-informed passionate activists, many of whom say "the facts are in, and the time for action is now," reflecting a justified sense of urgency that current trends are dooming much of the Palestinian community.  I don't disagree, although I am not sure that referring to doers of misdeeds as the "f#%cking Israelis" helps.  

I can't help but go back to where I place my bets: try to practice grace, dedicating myself to hearing what people have to say rather than having them demand what I have to say.  Continually try to put my ego aside, soften the heart and not try to lord what I think needs done over other people but hardening my own resolve for a more just world.  I suspect many people think this is wishy-washy, but hopefully people who know me know that I am not shy about speaking my truth, but I try to do so in a way to really hear another's truth, not deny theirs, seeking to understand rather than be understood.

The issues here are a mess.  There are signs of hope, such as the Palestinian farmer who responds to countless efforts to intimidate and take his farm with love and hospitality, or the woman at the kibbutz leading the Other Voice for peace, but the hope is in their spirit, not their situation.  The least, and perhaps best, I can do is simply be that constant appreciative voice for hope, trusting that love may not prevent bad things, but can help make whatever happens do less harm.  It's a lot of work, much of it lonely, but seems to be my lot. 

This report is excerpted from Brad's blog. Read the full post athttp://williampennhouse.blogspot.com/2012/10/faith-justice-and-grace-in-israel.html


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