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African Heritage Delegation to Palestine/Israel
October 28, 2012

This delegation traveled concurrently
with the Olive Harvest Delegation > > >

As we come to the close of our fourth day in Palestine/Israel, we are sharing several perspectives.  The days were long and the experiences, intense. Although we came here from over 11 different states and many heritages, our experiences as Black people unite us. 

A Palestinian activist working to save his home and community in Sheikh Jarrah stated “we together are the little people who understand oppression and colonialism and our greatest strength is when we come together, see our struggles as linked, and stand up to change the systems in Israel and in the United States.” 

The US provides the model and the money for Israel’s policies and practices.  That is why we are here.




Initial Welcome, Lasting Impressions
By Dr. Gilo Kwesi Cornell Logan

My initial welcome to Israel was being detained and interrogated for nearly 3 hours at the airport; the psychological and spiritual harassment was interspersed with questioning and waiting, waiting and questioning; condescending tones non-rhythmically thrown at me that I was expected to dance to, private questions piercing the peace of my heart, as intimidation attempted to suppress something from deep within.  But it is from this very same place within that this experience thus far has validated an essential part of my being as an African American; it has since shown me that it does not define the totality of the experience participating on this African Heritage Delegation to Israel.

I have come to see that my experience as an African American living in America has prepared me to – not only cope with the interrogation in a way that has turned what may be perceived as a negative experience into a strong positive – but to learn of things once unimagined... like meeting Black Ethiopians of the ancient Christian tradition, speaking with Black Sudanese and experiencing their plight, meeting Black Eritreans refugees who have recreated dignity in a foreign land, sitting with Arab Palestinians whose struggle for human rights, autonomy, and liberation mirrors, in many ways, our own as African Americans; and walking with Jews from North Africa who migrated to Israel decades ago and have modeled essential elements of their struggle for equality and dignity after the Black Panther movement in America – all in Israel!

To learn about this is powerful.  To experience this reality is transformative.  To live at one with these people – even if only for this moment – is liberating.  It puts into perspective the reality that oppressed people the world over hold African Americans in a higher esteem and a brighter light than many of us hold for ourselves.  It is only through this type of travel and experience on the other side of the world, and the knowledge gained from it, that we as an African heritage delegation have come to better know and understand ourselves, our situation, and our authentic beauty and boundless power as African Americans in living in America.



Repercussions of a Militarized Environment
By Jennifer Lee

How does one respond under the tight noose and choke hold of security personnel and soldiers who monitor all facets of entering, exiting and living?

I am going to respond to maltreatment of my global family by traveling across the sea to assist.

I am going to respond with inquisitiveness; both verbally and in writing; when you engage in discriminatory practice by detaining and interrogating me for countless hours because I wear a head scarf or head wrap.

I am going to respond with global outreach efforts when you further victimize and displace native people of this country; as well as refugees to this country who looked forward to a better quality of life.

I am going to respond with advocacy and an appeal within the spiritual community when I continually see soldiers armed with loaded guns at the entrance, on the site and at the exit of my place of worship.

I am going to respond with a global appeal for immediate attention and protection when my children are told they are free but in actuality are imprisoned and confined within walls that are monitored by soldiers who stand in uniform and with loaded guns as the children play.



Come Sunday
By Melanie Smith

My eyes have been open to the pain that exists – it no longer is an enclosed distant realm. I saw the pain, the hurt in that man’s eyes. Now I feel it, and it’s personal…  And I know its true… I’ve seen a glimpse of this in my own land but to know that my brothers and sisters across the globe suffer from the oppression of a force that has forgotten its own face… and now relentlessly consumes to satisfy its bloody mouth of superiority…  Part of me feels empowered and part of me feels helpless.  But in my reverence I begin with this prayer song sung by Mahalia Jackson…

Oh dear Lord above
God almighty, God up above
Please, look down and see my people through

I believe the sun and moon
Will shine up in the sky
When the day is grey
It´s just clouds passing by

He´ll give peace and comfort
To every troubled mind
Come sunday, oh come sunday
That´s the day

Often we feel weary
But he knows our every care
Go to him in secret
He will hear every prayer

The leaves in the valley
They neither toil nor spin
And flowers bloom in spring
And birds sing

Up from dawn till sunset
Man work hard all the day
Come sunday, oh come sunday
That´s the day



Excerpt from The Way of the Black Panthers”
By Reverend Joi Orr

Today we visited a neighborhood in western Jerusalem made up of Jews of North African descent, living in the homes of Palestinians who were kicked out by Israeli forces in 1948. In 1971 this community formed a branch of the Black Panther party to gain equal rights and political representation in Israel which considered them second class citizens because of their African heritage.  The parallels between their struggle and the American black struggle of the 60 and 70’s are obvious; discrimination, segregation, second class citizenry, etc. 

However, knowing and discussing the parallels isn’t what brought me to tears.  What made me feel like I had golf balls in throat was the commemorative street sign erected by the “Muslala” activist-artist community collective.  The street sign read “The Way of the Black Panthers” and was the bookend to a series of alleyways that coursed throughout the North African community.


Oh Holy City
By La Mikia Castillo

I didn’t know what to expect coming to the Holy Land. I suppose I expected to have an amazingly spiritual experience traveling through the land where Jesus lived and died; visiting the place of the cross, where he was crucified and resurrected. But my impressions of the city, and whatever expectations I had, were turned upside down as I got to see a side of the Holy City that I never imagined existed.

This poem, Oh Holy City, is a reflection of what I’ve felt during the short time I have been in Jerusalem.

Oh Holy City

Holy City, oh Holy City…
How holy are your soldiers and settlers?
How holy is your profiling and interrogation?
So holy are your sacred sites and history;
But not holy enough to stop the occupation and demolition of Palestinian homes and communities.

Holy City, oh Holy City…
How holy are your checkpoints and dividing walls?
How holy is your segregation, discrimination and racism?
So holy are your churches, synagogues and masjids;
But not holy enough to serve as a true safe haven for asylum seeking refugees.

Holy City, oh Holy City…
The land where the prophets were persecuted,
The land where my savior lived and was crucified;
God calls you to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
How have you forgotten this command?

Holy City, oh Holy City…
“Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is.
Hate evil, love good;
Maintain justice in the courts, and perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.” (Amos 5: 14-15)

Holy City, oh Holy City…



By Jamie Witter

In coming to Israel I have now seen the Israeli morality in person. This system of morality when applied to the Palestinian conflict imposes a strict us versus them mentality, and as a result the settlers see the world in terms of a war against the forces of evil which must be fought ruthlessly. Due to this, ruthless behavior in the name of the good fight is justified: a settler cannot respect the views of their Palestinian adversaries as they do not deserve it and deserve to be attacked at all costs.

This morality underpinned Ariel Sharon’s philosophy in 1973 when he said “We’ll make a pastrami sandwich of them, . . . we’ll insert a strip of Jewish settlements in between the Palestinians, and then another strip of Jewish settlements right across the West Bank, so that in 25 years’ time, neither the United Nations nor the United States, nobody will be able to tear it apart.”

This week I witnessed the fruits of this 39 year old dream as I saw the apartheid wall in person and the plight of Palestinian people.



Looking Through the Stained-glass Window
Composed by: Daniel Castillo

After looking out of a stained-glass window in a Chapel and a series of recollections of systemic oppression experienced by a large majority of the Sudanese refugees and Palestinian people in various parts of Israel, inspired me to compose this poem.

The poem was stringed together by a collection of Old Testament verses from the Bible.  I have included the photo of the stained-glass window in the delegation slideshow.  Click here to view the slideshow.

Looking Through the Stained-glass Window

Jerusalem, what a strong
And beautiful city you are! (Psalm 122:3)
Your shade brought me pleasure (Song of Songs 2:3)
Your love is better than wine,
And your smell is so sweet,
The very mention of your name is like spreading perfume (Song of Songs 1: 2-3)

Looking Through the Stained-glass Window

“What do you see?” (Zechariah 4:2)
Open your eyes! Look around!
Crowds are coming (Isaiah 60:4)
Do you hear that noise
In the city and those shouts
Coming from the temple? (Isaiah 60:66)
Just look at what’s happening (Haggai 1:5)

Looking Through the Stained-glass Window

You put in big windows
And used Cedar paneling
And red paint
But you were unfair
And forced the builders to work
Without pay (Jeremiah 22:14)

Looking Through the Stained-glass Window

At night you lie in bed,
Making evil plans.
And when morning comes,
You do what you’ve planned
Because you have the power.
You grab any field or house
That you want;
You cheat families
Out of homes and land. (Micah 2)

Looking Through the Stained-glass Window

Your silver is fake
And your wine
Is watered down. (Song of Songs 2:14)
The very stones and wood
In your home
Will testify against you. (Habakkuk 2:11)

Looking Through the Stained-glass Window

Jerusalem Stand Up! Shine!
Your new day is dawning.
Open your eyes! Look around!
Crowds are coming (Isaiah 60:4)
Just look at what’s happening (Haggai 1:5)
“What do you see?” (Zechariah 4:2)

Looking Through the Stained-glass Window

The Voice of Jerusalem:
I hear the voice of the one I love,
As he comes leaping
Over mountains and hills.
Now he stands outside our wall,
Looking through the (stained-glass) window
And speaking to me
You are my dove
Hiding among the rocks
On the side of a cliff.
Let me see how lovely you are!
Let me hear the sound
Of your melodious voice (Song of Songs 2:8-14)

Looking Through the Stained-glass Window

And he asked, “What do you see?” (Zechariah 4:2)



Thinking about Palestine
By Darryl Jordan

I have been in Palestine for just three days so far but this has been on my mind since our very first engagement with folks here on the ground.  We have seen a lot: Palestinians who have settlers living in the addition to their house; African refugees classified as infiltrators who live in the park in Tel Aviv; Jews from north Africa who years ago organized themselves into their own version of a black panther party; and Jewish women taking on the state to end stop the militarization of their home and children. 

All I have been able to think about is what if it was 1612 in the state of Virginia and we were being hosted by indigenous Americans.  They would be telling us how they offered to share their land and resources to people they considered similar to themselves; people with families and big dreams but then those white face people decided they wanted to own the land and had begun to chase them out of their homes, kill their family and friends, and proclaim to the world that god had given them this land just for them. 

If we were given the responsibility to share the story of what we saw and experienced; would we be living in a different United States and world.  Just something to think about.


The Wall
By Reverend Stephanie Lee

Day before yesterday, our group visited a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem. On turning one corner we were suddenly confronted by a huge wall being constructed - a wall longer than the infamous Berlin Wall, and twice as high that meanders through the country completely surrounding some Palestinian communities cutting them off from everything, and dividing others. The construction of this wall forces the residents to go through check points that make normal functioning sometimes impossible. The wall is purportedly for the purpose of security... keeping citizens of the Palestinian neighborhood in which it sits, separated from their Israeli neighbors.  It reminded me of some of our African American communities back home that have been segregated by such highways and concrete barriers built to separate us from those who think we are “less than”  or “violent” or whatever just because of our racial difference.  

And yet, there was something different here because what I saw was an imposing structure that divided a poor Palestinian neighborhood from itself, separating these citizens from hospital services, the school, relatives, friends and neighbors. So what really is the purpose of this punishing imposing, stark wall that has devoured streets and homes of those living in this community? Security?  Really? 

It reminded me of a hymn we sometimes sing at my church:

“God weeps 
at love withheld, at strength misused, 
at children’s innocence abused,
and till we change the way we love, 
God weeps.”
                   - Shirley Erena Murray 



Recycled Hate
By Aisha Truss-Miller

No research, publication, or discourse could prepare me, a first time traveler, to the horrific sights of occupied Palestine and African refugee camps in Israel.  As a Black woman of urban America who is no stranger to race, class, and gender-based hate and violence, it is quite evident white supremacy (better known in this context as “Zionism”) is alive and well here in the “Holy Land”.

In Tel Aviv, 70,000 African refugees from Sudan and Eritrea will soon be warehoused in detention centers or deported to their homelands to literally face death by the end of October 2012. The Israeli government has deemed our brothers and sisters seeking aid and asylum as “a cancer” to their society and on every level they are treated as such —children and women are no exception.

Like in the US, undocumented citizens and residents in Israel are mis-categorized as “illegals” and their trauma is criminalized. The lives of people of color mean nothing to the regime of white power amongst Jews in Israel, like most power-driven societies based on exploitation, greed, and fear. As terrible as Jews have been treated throughout history one could mistakenly think minds, hearts, and souls would open to the oppression Israel imposes on others; but the fear of reliving the past has made them consciously decide to spread the hate they experienced to darker people in Israel.

The contribution of nearly $120 billion from US tax payers helps create, sustain, and propel the tyranny of apartheid and associated violence in Israel since 1949. I need my tax dollars to be invested in the education and aid of the marginalized in America and abroad. I want my money back.


The Struggle Continues for the Sacred Homelands of Palestine
by Aaron Dixon

Visiting the holy site of Gethsemane Church helped me to understand the importance of Palestine in the eyes of the world, and how connected Palestinians and Jews are throughout history. I also recognized how the Palestine-Israeli conflict is at the center of world politics.

Meeting the founders of the Israeli Black Panthers underscored the inter-conflict of the darker Jews and the European Jews, and Israel as a racist security state.  The meeting also brought forward the complex issue of land rights and the true owners of East Jerusalem communities, since the Israeli Black Panthers were progressive movement builders who were and still occupy Palestine to this day.

Our delegation had an opportunity to meet with a Palestinian family and observe firsthand the struggle between them and racist Zionist Jewish settlers.  Most striking was the Palestinian family’s determination and strength, which was embodied in their 90-year-old grandmother who had been beaten and hospitalized on five different occasions by Jewish settlers who currently occupy a section of their home and the violent Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).  Click here to watch a video of the meeting.

The family’s desire, courage, and commitment is an inspiration to all oppressed people throughout the world, who are fighting to hold on to their sacred lands.


A Call to Action
By Abbazero

let love be the guide.
i see the change where there will be a nation-free state of being
this holy Jerusalem
understanding one another
being true to the needs of all
oh Jerusalem
the heart of old Jerusalem
the heart of Palestine
where the memory lingers
of the good old days
where my home, my family is secure
where religion unifies as one
let me know, Jerusalem,
where is tikkun olam?
it is now
or never
to mend what is broken so long
police brutality
put down your guns
and let us connect
in the spirit of tikkun olam
too much blood has been shed
too many mothers weeping
too many fathers dying
let us protect the little children
make no distinction
of class, race, or creed

First Impressions
By Dr. Martha E. Banks

I left the United States in the middle of an election campaign in which I was bombarded with lies and stereotypical images designed to divide the American people into those considered acceptable and those who were demonized and dehumanized. 

In the first days in Israel/Palestine, in a country populated by people whom much of the world (1) associates with a religion and (2) perceives as victims of the most heinous discrimination in history, I encountered oppressive struggles experienced by Palestinians, Jews who do not have ethnic roots in Europe, and African refugees seeking asylum in the presence of those from whom they expect empathy.  Stark images of oppression are superimposed on a background of churches, mosques, and synagogues in the religious center for major religions. 

In the midst of these mostly hidden and/or ignored struggles, I find angels bringing attention to and providing support for oppressed people; I am learning much about the hope that those angels can bring not only to the people with whom they work directly, but also those around the world who need similar support.


Meditations on a Security State
By Elandria C. Williams

Jerusalem is a city of contradictions with some of the most powerful religious iconic sites within one of the most high security and oppressive places in the World. The irony of visiting in the morning the Church of All Nations or “the Basilicia of Agony” where Christ prayed his last prayer before he was turned over to the Roman empire and then witnessing an Israeli settler verbally attack a 5 year old Palestinian girl at her own home that evening just a few blocks away with no repercussions is mind blowing. Empire building and security are the name of the game reminiscent to struggles in the US around Native American removal and Jim Crow to the Prison and Military Industrial Complex.

We are in a place where the “other,” whether refugee from Darfur, Haifa in Palestine, or Morocco, as well as others, and people who work for social justice in the United States and around the world, must come together and stand against the inhumane treatment of Palestians around home demolitions, African refugees being considered “infiltrators" and tearing down of shelters, discrimination against Mizrahi  (north African) Jews in parliament and mandatory conscription.

Our guide in Musrara today provided a way: art is one of the most significant tools we have to shine a light and bring people together and through art, recognizing our common struggles and humanity combined with the political sanctions and divestment campaigns we can change not only what is happening here in Israel but also at home in the United States as well.

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.


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