< Report Two:  Understanding Occupation, Feeling Oppression >

African Heritage Delegation to Palestine/Israel
November 1, 2012

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

Much has happened since the first report.  The days are filled with bus travel, walking, hiking, meetings, and meals.  We have intense discussions on the bus and some evenings. 

The oppression is overwhelming to us as observers despite our having experienced oppression in various forms in the famous “land of the free.”  We are learning about ourselves and each other as we take our understanding of oppression and our activism to new levels.

This report includes a snapshot of activities and broad summaries that reflect some of our feelings about them.



This is not a Conflict: It is an Occupation
By Rev. Joi Orr

I’m writing you from the hotel lobby of St. George’s Meeting House which is about a ten minute walk from Damascus Gate to the old town of Jerusalem.  The hotel is more like a catholic monastery or embassy.  Old town Jerusalem looks like a scene from “Indiana Jones” or “National Treasure.”  Everything is old - 400 year old walls of limestone are considered modern here.

Our days are jam packed from 8 am – 9 pm (at the earliest) about every day.   Here’s a snapshot:  

Two days ago we woke up after a home stay in a rural Palestinian village called Bil’in.  Every Friday in this village they protest the concrete wall the Israeli military built on their land (I’ll get to the wall later).  Additionally, they are denied consistent water, and, out of spite, groups of Israeli fanatics (“the Settlers”) burned down their olive trees which is a source of income for them.  There’s a documentary one of the residents has filmed called 5 Broken Cameras that has chronicled their struggle, the occupation, and the abuse of the Israeli military.  It’s in the states now so see if it’s showing near you.

So back to the morning - Out of respect we didn’t take a shower that morning in Bil’in because their water supply is always iffy.  Look, I’ve always had a respect for water.  Each time I wash and detangle my nappy hair in the shower I thank God for the access and pray forgiveness for the excess.  But I know that the water will always be there. . . imagine otherwise.  (Our host and her family didn’t speak English but she was incredibly hospitable).  

We board the bus around 8 am and drive close to an hour for our first tour – the Jahalin Bedouin camp near Jerusalem.  The Bedouins who hosted us were kicked off their land after the war in 1948.  Israel grants them no aid whatsoever, only the UN and foreign groups pay them any mind.   They live in a shanty town with no water or electricity.  Oh, I failed to mention that to get to the camp, our driver had to quickly drop us off on the side of the highway, then we had to climb over the guardrail, and climb up a hill to the camp.  We couldn’t drive to the camp because the Israeli government won’t allow easy access.  Check out these pictures regarding the Bedouins.

Yea so after they served us lunch and we heard the story of the Bedouins, we hop back on the bus and tour the Israeli Settlements. In short, the Israeli Military/Government is stealing Palestinian land and shipping Jews from America and Europe to live on it.  The Settlements look like any White American suburb.  There’s a mall with an H&M, perfectly manicured grass, nice clean and wide sidewalks, and constant security 24/7.  Consider this: the Bedouins had to make a school out of tires and cement and have no running water and electricity; across the street the Israeli settlement has a damn water park - in the middle of the desert.

By this time, it’s 1 or 2 pm.  

After the settlement we drive to Bethlehem.  It took us about an hour to make what should be a 20 minute trip.  Not because of traffic - because we took the Palestinian route.  For those of you in the DC area, imagine trying to get to Gallery Place/Chinatown from Silver Spring, Maryland.  For efficiency you’d take 16th street straight into the city – that’s a 30 min trip by car at the most.  But if you were Palestinian, you'd have to take the beltway all the way around to Route 50 (imagine that during rush hour) and go through at least 1 military checkpoint.  

Each checkpoint is like going through airport security.  The checkpoints are monitored by the Israeli military and you may wait for HOURS to get through, and then there’s always the possibility that the military might up and decide to close gates for no reason.

And no, you can’t just walk to where you have to go to avoid the checkpoints and crazy traffic because the Israeli Military has built a 25 foot wall around the Jerusalem.  That’s like building a 25 foot wall around the National Mall.  Israel tells the world that the wall is for security reasons. This is a farce.  The wall is a diversion for the land and water grab that the government is perpetrating.  In a nutshell, they are stealing the Palestinians’ land and their water while pushing them out.

After a long ride we finally made it to Bethlehem to see Jesus’ birthplace at the Church of the Nativity which was just as crowded and underwhelming as most of the holy sites (with exception to the Garden of Gethsemane) .  After that we met with another Palestinian advocate doing work around empowering women leaders to be better community builders.

Finally, we slept. . . then did it all over again. I’m drained and so is everyone else (see, we’re different than the usual delegations they bring here because we're the African Heritage Delegation, meaning “we get it”.  Not only do we automatically understand and sympathize with the oppression we see - we really FEEL it and it’s so taxing.  Oppression is exhausting.)

Oh! Let me tell you this:  To make a long story short, we visited a Palestinian family who had a house in Jerusalem that belonged to their family for generations.  The man of the house “illegally” built an addition onto his home because his family was growing.  It was illegal because the Israeli officials wouldn’t give him a permit to build because he’s Palestinian (the legality of course is more nuanced, but that’s the gist).  The government retains control of the addition of the man’s house and has allowed fanatical settlers to move in.  Yes, that’s right - crazy Israeli Zionists are living in part of this man’s house.  That’s like you waking up tomorrow and Tea Party crazies are living in your enclosed patio – legally.  Not making this up. . . I saw it with my own eyes.



Wearing Love and Peace
By Elandria Williams

I only want to wear something that says peace and love and if it says peace and love let it be in the language of the masses not the few

One church divided into four

Africa and the “middle east” divided into states

Borders fluid only for those with the power to draw them anew when a whim strikes them

Where is love when 5,000 people live in a refugee camp without basic services and 50,000 have no clean water

Where is love when police and soldiers knock on your door at 3 am to arrest your 10 year old son for protesting the stealing and raping of his land

Where is the peace when people seek solace and sanctuary in a church and the soldiers shoot inside killing innocent bystanders

Where is the peace when Jewish boys and girls are taught that Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims are going to annihilate them

Where is the love and peace global residents, refugees, and citizens, when we stand by and let this happen in the holy land

Where is the peace and love when one piece of land is deemed holy and not belonging to God but people

Where is the holy when peace and love are not your guide and when the rock that you stand on is one of hate, fear and oppression

It's time for our rock and guide to be peace and love in all of the languages we communicate in both in our words and deeds.

We can go to the rock and build a new language and story for our future while not forgetting and honoring our past and loving ourselves through healing, transformation, collective leadership, culture and nonviolence



Something Doesn’t Fit
By Dr. Martha E. Banks

In a little over a week, we have visited Palestinians in their homes, met with African refugees, seen people of African descent living in former prison cells in Old Jerusalem, walked in solidarity through a checkpoint, driven through the opulence of Israeli settlements, and talked with a variety of activists who are working for social justice. 

In a landscape dominated by gigantic walls, donkey trails, modern highways, garbage, raw sewage, and armed military, we have listened to and observed the plight of people whose land, infrastructure, livelihood, and free passage have been taken from them. 

There is an aura of fear.  People who have everything to lose are risking all to share information that is out of sight and earshot of the rest of the world.  The rape of the environment is obvious in the places where olive trees have been cut down.

There’s more to this picture.  We visited Palestinian urban and rural homes with marble floors, large rooms, big screen televisions, and kitchens with the latest models of appliances; watched people using their iPhones as they walked and drove; and ate sumptuous meals.  Even in a Bedouin camp under pieces of galvanized iron laid on wooden frames with “rooms” defined by hanging pieces of cloth rather than walls, solar technology powered television and computers with access to the internet.  Yes, the Bedouins we met were able to determine how Brazilians constructed schools and were able to construct their own.

Let me go back to the African refugees.  Oh, yes, they were all supposed to be gathered together and deported to their war torn countries yesterday!  And the Palestinians in the gilded cages?



Hopeful while Homeless in a Homeland:
By Jennifer Lee

During this journey I have traveled along the crooked and twisted roads; as well as up mountain tops and down steep pathways. I have traveled from the Holy Land in Jerusalem, throughout the villages in the West Bank and to Bethlehem; the birthplace of Jesus. I have traveled to the refugee camps, walked through the olive groves and through the ravaged remains of ancient villages in which communities were previously intact for thousands of years.

Although the locations may have changed during my journey the common denominators that have been woven into each scene are havoc; devastation; struggle; resilience; and devotion.

The environment tells its own story, but during my travels I have listened to the voices of many people as they persevere in their struggle to no longer remain homeless in their homeland.

Read more of Jennifer's observations and reflections from the delegation on her blog: www.simplesite.com/Palestine-myexperience/


Photo Collage
by Daniel Castillo and Jamie Witter

Introduction by La Mikia Castillo: As we prepare for our last day here in Israel/Palestine, we reflect on all that we have learned and encountered on our journey. From the 25 foot high, barbed wire lined wall and militarized check points that create a façade of safety, to refugee camps, Bedouin communities, demolished homes and vacant fields that were once flowing with olive trees, our African Heritage delegation has had the privilege to witness both the beautiful and painful realities facing the people who inhabit the Holy Land.

The following collage of photos by Daniel Castillo provides images that encapsulate much of what we have observed.  Additional photos can be viewed on the delegation’s slideshow.


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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