<   Report Five: Like the Water  

An Honest Broker? The US Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Delegation to Palestine/Israel
June 6, 2013

Living Waters
By Ann Hunter

Last Sunday morning, at the urging of some of the Christians in our delegation and by the whole group’s consensus, we changed our itinerary and traveled east from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee. What a sacred experience for me to wade in the water, remembering ancient stories of Jesus and his disciples at the Sea of Galilee. And later, passing the site along the Jordan River where John baptized Jesus, I was reminded of the living, baptismal waters in this holy land.

We have talked a lot about water during our time here in Israel/Palestine – simple, but important things, like our need to conserve water use in our hotel and especially during the two nights when we stayed with Palestinian families in their home; reminders to carry water during our daily travels to stay well-hydrated in this hot, dry land. And we have talked about much more complex issues – the socio-economic and political aspects of water in Israel/Palestine.

In the Jordan River Valley in the West Bank, we saw beautiful date palm groves on Palestinian land being illegally cultivated by Israelis, using water drawn from the aquifer below.  In the West Bank water use is controlled by Israel with Palestinian farmers having access to only 20% of the water - a very unfair distribution.

We have heard reports of the Israeli military destroying Palestinian farmers’ water cisterns in the name of security for Israelis living nearby. We learned that even if Palestinian farmers can secure a permit from the Israeli government to drill a well, permits allow drilling only to depth of 100 meters, while the aquifer is reached at 120 meters – a futile effort.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has noted that the World Health Organization recommends all individuals have access to 100 liters of water per person, per day. In the West Bank, Palestinians are given access to about 70 liters per person, per day, in stark contrast to Israelis who use 300 liters per person, per day! The Israeli government restricts Palestinians’ water access to every 2 to 3 weeks. Palestinians store water in large tanks at their homes, hoping the water will last until the next time they are allowed access.

In the midst of these harsh, illegal water restrictions for Palestinians, Israelis have more than enough water for their daily needs, while many also enjoy the pleasure of using swimming pools and the delight of lovely gardens overflowing with flowers.

And so, in my visit to this complicated, troubled, beautiful, holy land, I rejoice in its living waters, from ancient times ‘til now – enough water for all those living here in Israel/Palestine. And yet I also weep that these waters are not shared equitably, fairly, freely with all of God’s beloved children.

This report is excerpted from the blog of the Central Presbyterian Church of Atlanta. Click here to read in full. 


Dheisheh Refugee Camp
By Bobbie Wren Banks

Our tour of Bethlehem wandered off the beaten path into the dusty streets of Dheisheh Refugee Camp. The UN Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) built Dheisheh on one square kilometer of land, a tiny allotment for the thousands of Palestinians from 46 surrounding villages forced to flee in the 1948 war. 

Dheisheh's narrow streets are a maze of crowded homes piled on top of each other. Privacy is impossible. Graffiti helps tell the story of these people longing to be free but locked in, denied passage even to nearby Jerusalem. Many have never seen the sea. Theirs is a story of poverty and violence within a world of walls.

A group of Dheisheh's residents, young men and children, guided us through the camp.   One spoke of being jailed for a year and a half at the age of sixteen:  "I was a kid, forced to be a man.  Once out, I was in physical and psychological hurt . . .  But our faith will lead us to handle these problems. If I have convinced you to help us, I will not mind to spend another one and one-half years in jail."

It was a powerful moment, one of many on this trip when we see so clearly the suffering and injustice and know that we must do what we can.


Tent of Nations
by Shelly Altman

Standing on a crest at Tent of Nations farm 7 kilometers southwest of Bethlehem in the early morning, I feel the breeze of the ages. Around the farm, I see plantings of olive, fig, almond, apricot trees, corn and wheat. On a small structure, I see the solar panels which provide all of the electricity for the farm. I see a catch basin for rainwater. The 9 inch border which encloses the catch basin is illegal by Israeli law because it is built without a permit on land in Area C of the West Bank. Area C is wholly within the Occupied Palestine Territory (OPT) but which is subject to Israeli administration and “security”. Other reports from this delegation document the disproportional allocation of water between the Israeli settlements and Palestinian residences.

Across the hills, as the sun rises, I see several Israeli settlements, built illegally according to international law, on Israeli occupied Palestinian land. One settlement has a futuristic home built by a Russian engineer. The settlers have dropped boulders in the road to the farm to block vehicle access to it. Our delegation had to walk in the hot afternoon sun for 20 minutes to reach the farm.

The Nassar family has owned the farm since 1916, when the grandfather of the current generation of owners purchased it. They are not deterred by the boulders. Nor by the endless Israeli legal process, now over 20 years old, to drive them from their farm and demolish it. Nor by the uprooting of 350 olive trees by residents of the settlement. Nor by the settlers showing up at the farm with guns. Nor by the loss of a grape crop due to a six hour delay at the checkpoint.

The Israeli authorities are trying to force the Nassar’s from their land as part of Israel’s overall plan for the Judaization of the West Bank. The Nassar’s present the papers dating back to the Ottoman period that their grandfather was wise enough to acquire. This requires numerous legal processes and trips to Ramallah made lengthy by the Israeli checkpoints and circuitous routes around roads made off limits to Palestinians. To the uprooters of olive trees, the Nassar’s say “uproot 10 and we’ll plant 20”. A group from England came and planted 250 to get things going. To the settlers with guns, Amal Nassar says “You must put your guns down. All religions say know your neighbor and love your neighbor”.

Amal Nassar and her family refuse to back down in the face of the brutality of the occupation and the harassment of the settlers. Instead, they have stayed true to their mission of “building bridges between people and between people to the land.”

“If we knew the world was ending tomorrow”, Amal says, “we’d go out and plant an olive tree.”

Infinite Humanity
By Noura Erakat

Palestinians are being herded into enclosed enclaves both within Israel Proper and the West Bank. This violence is not a restriction on their freedom of movement - it is tantamount to their captivity.

We drove from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee, headed eastward towards the Jordan Valley, and then southwest to Bethlehem. All along the way we observed the same phenomenon: Israelis forcing Palestinians into concentrated areas, prohibiting them from expanding horizontally, and surrounding them with Jewish-settlers and cities. To prevent them from leaving these enclaves, Israel uses a matrix of laws, civil, criminal, and military to criminalize their movement.

The Palestinian town of Nahalin is just 50 kilometers outside of Bethlehem, it is in Area C, which constitutes 62% of the West Bank and which remains under full Israeli military and civil control. Nahalin is surrounded by four Jewish-only settlements: Gush Etzion, El-Ezar, Betar Illit, and Neve Daniele. Its location, or more aptly, the endurance of its Palestinian inhabitants with land deeds since 1916 is an 'inconvenience' to Israel's Judaization process.

Because of the Nassar family's land registration, Israel has been unsuccessful in demolishing their homes and removing the family to Areas A or B. Instead, it has cut off their water supply and denied them electricity. Worse, it enables the surrounding Jewish-Israeli settler population to violently harass them.

In the early 2000s, settlers used bulldozers to place boulders on the main roadway from Nahalin into Bethlehem - it is a makeshift roadblock. Palestinians could easily remove the blocks but doing so comes with an exorbitant fine as well as a criminal conviction for the men who move the blocks and prison sentence. And so instead, the residents trek 30 minutes up and down the hill each way. That is on a good day.

On one bad day in particular, the settlers uprooted 350 of the Nassar family's olive trees while Israeli soldiers watched them. Today Amal Nassar explained that she once ran into a settler woman on her walk home and the woman asked Amal which settlement she lived in. Amal responded that she is Palestinian and she lives in the middle of the settlement ring. The woman, with a straight face, said, "No, you don't. No one lives there." Amal must have imagined her existence - or perhaps she read it in a Palestinian text book.

In Dheisheh refugee camp, a group of young men explained that although the sea is only 50 kilometers away from them, the only time they had seen a large body of water was during an professional workshop they attended in Germany. They could not travel beyond Bethlehem which is enclosed on all sides by the wall. They cannot visit their original villages even for a day, they cannot visit a settlement - even if they wanted to - they cannot travel to other Palestinian cities in the West Bank unless they had 12 hours to spare, and they certainly could not go to Gaza. Remaining in Palestine for them means remaining in Bethlehem ONLY - and for the rest of their lives.

Ibrahim, a psychology and English literature graduate from Bethlehem University explained, "All I want is choice - the ability to decide where I want to live and how. I am not sure that I would return to my original village if I were given the right of return. I may choose to live in Haifa or Safad instead. But I want to choose. I think choice defines what it means to be human."

In this struggle, the battle is over whether humanity is mutually exclusive, as ardent Zionists would have us believe, or whether it is infinite, as the Palestinians stuck in 1 square kilometer camps and surrounded by state-sponsored Israeli settlers claim instead. 

This report is an excerpt of a post which originally appeared on Noura's facebook page.


By Nuala Cabralroadblack

Israeli soldiers put up this roadblock for security reasons, to protect the settlement nearby. Now, the villagers have to take an hour long route to get to the main road. If the villagers move this roadblock they would be arrested. What I'm learning is that the settlements (and infrastructure - i.e. Israeli only roads) totally interrupt Palestinian lives . . . this occupation restricts the mobility of the people . . . making life difficult. So difficult that people are forced to leave. .


This Is Not a Religious Problem
By Ralph Watkins

Earlier this week we had the privilege of hearing Father Jamal Khader and Nidal Abu Zuluf talk about the Palestine/Israel issue.  A number of interesting and challenging things came out as these two indigenous theologians shared the story of the Kairos Palestine: A Moment of Truth document, “A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering.” 

Father Khader was clear, “this is not a religious problem.”  What we have is a justice problem.  We have a problem with how we read the Old Testament.  We have a problem with how we read the Old Testament in light of the New Testament.  We have a problem that demands a hearing and attention from the church.  The church of Jesus Christ can’t sit by and watch human rights being violated on a daily basis.

Nidal Abu Zuluf challenged us in the end that all must come and see. He, like I, am convinced that if you come and see then you will be compelled to act. 

Father Khader made it clear that to be pro-human rights is not to be anti-Jewish.  To hold the state Israel accountable is not to be anti-Jewish.  To stand against the Israeli Occupation and the abuse of Palestinians and Palestine is not to be anti-Jewish.  We have to separate these issues and be able to talk about human rights and holding states accountable who abuse other human beings. 

As we come the Holy Land we should embrace the totality of pilgrimage and enjoy those spaces and places we have designated as sacred/holy and we must also engage the injustices that are presently happening in this place we call Holy. 

Pilgrimage involves sacrifice according to Nidal Abu Zuluf. We have to pick up our cross and follow a Luke 4:18 Jesus.  When you come to the Holy Land what will you see, who will talk to and what cross will you pick up?

This report is excerpted from Ralph Watkins' blog. Click here to read in full.

Water and/is Life in the Jordan Valley
By Noura Erakat

Remember the Jordan Valley? It constitutes 30% of the West Bank and is fully in Area C (62% of the West Bank under Israeli civil and military control according to Oslo).

As you travel along the expanse of the Valley, a gravel-paved road divides the stretch of land into two. On one side acre upon acre of land . . . is a green ocean of palm trees whose branches dangle with dates that constitute a one-billion dollar settler-colonial industry. On the other side are rolling dunes, parched earth, with cactus and, here and there, a lone resilient palm tree where 400,000 Palestinians used to thrive.

Since 1967, Israel has controlled the access to the most significant water sources lying under the West Bank - the Northern, Eastern, and Western Aquifers. 60% of the Western Aquifer lies under the West Bank and Israel allocates 80% of it for Jewish use and leaves the rest for Muslim and Christian Palestinians.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says that at minimum, each person should receive 100 millimeters cubic squared (MCM) of clean water. Palestinians in the West Bank consume 70 MCM, those in the Jordan Valley consume 20 MCM, and Israeli settlers each consume 300 MCM daily.

The ethnic-based distribution of water intends to force Palestinians to leave Area C and move to Areas A and B where they can consume (a bit) more water. The Oslo Accords cemented this structural discrimination by disavowing international law and by agreeing to Article 40 which declared all water in the West Bank as "Israeli State Property." Oslo also created the Joint Water Committee that controls the development of all Palestinian water projects wherein Israel has the right to veto any project. It is no coincidence that today the Palestinian population in the Jordan Valley is 56,000 and dwindling . . .

This report is an excerpt of a post which originally appeared on Noura's facebook page. 


VIDEO: We Shall Overcome (Homestays in Bil’in)
By Ralph Watkins

Ralph posted these two touching videos from the delegation’s visit to the village of Bil’in.  Bil’in is in the West Bank northwest of Jerusalem.  It’s people are well known for creatively resisting Israeli attempts to colonize and annex their ancestral lands.  For the past 6 years, Bil’in residents have demonstrated every Friday and have even been successful in forcing Israel to reroute part of the Separation Wall built on their lands.

The first video shows the Wall and features village leaders talking about their resistance and the weapons Israeli soldiers use against them:


The second video is shot the next day during breakfast, after group members spent the night in the homes of families in Bil’in:

My new neighborhood
By K.T.

Unlike Atlanta, in Palestine you will never see people sleeping on the streets. That’s not to say there are no homeless people. On the contrary, the mind-boggling rate of evictions and house demolitions has resulted in a high number of families without a home. However, the strength and power of the extended family in this culture is such that all families are taken in. If only this were true in Atlanta.

Yet in 2008, when I was here serving with the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program, I saw a family living on a street in a neighborhood of East Jerusalem. They had been forcibly evicted from their home by Israeli settlers and police, their possessions thrown out of the house onto the street. Out of protest, they refused to leave and instead slept on the street outside their home, risking harassment and violence from the settlers now living in their house. Israeli leftist and international organizations showed up en masse to support this family and other families under threat of eviction in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. There were demonstrations every Friday that attracted hundreds of people, all urging the courts to recognize these families’ right to stay in their homes.

You can imagine my grief upon visiting Sheikh Jarrah five years later, on this delegation, learning that not only that first family, but many families have now been displaced, and the courts have ruled in favor of the settlers consistently. There are no more Friday demonstrations. The Israeli and international communities seem to have short attention spans, yet those who remain on the street continue under fear and threat all day every day.

They were all settled in this neighborhood, north of the Old City, in 1956 by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) after spending 8 years as refugees in Jordan. The Jordanian government provided them with plots of land while UNRWA sponsored the construction of housing units, with the condition that they would pay rent and forfeit their refugee ration cards for three years, after which they would receive legal title to the property.

Although they fulfilled this contract, the families never received the titles, and after the 1967 war, the Israeli government took control of the neighborhood and it was soon targeted by the Israeli settler movement. Settlers claimed ownership of the land since 1885, providing a document for which registration and authenticity have never been verified. The court ruled against their first claim in 1972.

Yet, the settlers continued. They didn’t wait for favorable court decisions before taking action to evict families from their homes. In 1982, an Israeli attorney representing 17 families, reaching an agreement without consulting the families, which acknowledge the settlers’ ownership of the land, and the Palestinians families to be considered “protected tenants” on their land, requiring them to pay rent. Since that time, the courts have used this agreement to approve the evictions of Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah.

Meanwhile, the Jerusalem’s Town Planning Scheme includes the construction of 250 settler homes in Sheikh Jarrah, as well as the confiscation of an olive grove and an area designated for the future site of a conference center. The plans and evictions make it clear that Sheikh Jarrah is seen as a pivotal location to establish continuity of Israeli Jewish control through the corridor that links West Jerusalem with strategic locations in East Jerusalem.

We visited Rifqa, an elderly woman whose family home has been under constant threat of eviction and who lives her daily life under threat of violence and harassment from the settlers. Half of her home - an addition she built for her son and his family - has been forcibly occupied by Israeli settlers. The family now crowd in her home - the back half of the building. She told us they live in misery.

I’m shocked at how little influence those demonstrations and the public outcry had five years ago. I’m angry that people now seem so silent. And I feel some despair at how things in this place only constantly get worse. And here’s the thing. I’m moving to this neighborhood. My fiancé is being transferred to Jerusalem for his work with the Carter Center, and they rent an apartment (from a Palestinian landlord) in Sheikh Jarrah for whoever holds the position.

How horrible it is to think how easy it will be for me to live safely in this neighborhood, while these families live in constant fear. I can only pray that our presence provides some protection to the Palestinians who will also be living in our apartment building, trusting that Israel would not be audacious enough to demolish or evict a building where internationals live.

I pray that we can be vocal witnesses to the policies and practices of Israel’s courts, settlers, and police. I pray we might offer these families some assurance that they are seen and heard and their story is being told.

This report is excerpted from the blog of the Central Presbyterian Church of Atlanta. Click here to read in full. 

Some things are simply evil
By Rod Hunter

We stood in the hot sun, in the empty landscape of southwest Israel, just yards from the armed checkpoint that controls Erez, one of the northern entrances to the Gaza Strip.  We couldn’t go in — no advanced permission had been sought — so we stood there in the hot sun, chatting with one of a handful of men waiting for a taxi. 

No long lines were waiting to get in or get out.  Gaza is sealed off; its inhabitants trapped in what someone this week called an open-air prison.  But we knew, from detailed reports, about the horrors inflicted on this people in recent years — the bombing of homes and schools, the horrendous burning of the flesh from white phosphorous munitions (illegal by international treaty), the terrible tales of innocent men, women, and children blown apart and burned to death, others horribly injured, unable to get medical transport which Israeli authorities had denied.  We knew also of the desperate health and safety conditions that prevail in Gaza today — filthy water, deficient nutrition, sanitation, and healthcare, cruel and illegal restrictions on fishing, mass unemployment — as a result of the Israeli government’s imposing of this inhumane blockade by sea and land, conditions so bad the World Health Organization has declared that the whole place will be simply unlivable by 2020.

This ongoing catastrophe gives meaning to the abstract term “human rights abuses.”  In this incredible trip to Israel/Palestine, we have seen, day after day, in the West Bank as well as Gaza, in excruciating concrete detail, what this official rhetoric is really all about.  It’s about the brutal violence of military occupation.  It’s about a knock on the door in the middle of the night from a military force with an order to evacuate immediately, the demolition of one’s home and possessions the next morning by an armored bulldozer.  It’s about arrest on phony charges, lengthy detention, sham judicial process, long prison terms under inhumane conditions and deprivations.  It’s about abusive interrogation and even torturing of young men and boys.  All this appears to be done routinely, frequently, and deliberately as a matter of government policy. 

It’s about driving people from their land and their homes without due process, without compensation, without mercy, and usually without any effective form of legal redress, as government policy.  It’s about myriad ways in which a government can restrict, violate, and subjugate a population by an explicitly racist land-use policy, road building and closing, legal maneuvers, systematic deprivations of education, healthcare, and safety, Kafkaesque systems of bureaucratic procedure and permission (always delayed and often denied), hopelessly long queues and hours of waiting to get to work through heavily militarized checkpoints.  And it’s about outright acts of violence against its own people.  It’s about government acting illegally with impunity, “getting away with murder.”  It’s about organized, institutionalized, legalized, militarized racism of a kind and a quantity we have not seen in the world since the apartheid era in South Africa.

But it’s also about the complex, interrelated world in which we live, in which I am helping to pay for the suffering of the people behind the Erez gate to Gaza by my government’s support of Israel’s military occupation, and my own representatives and governing authorities, for some of whom I voted enthusiastically, have worked, and continue to work, to support and defend policies that have created the inhuman conditions and suffering of Gaza and the West Bank today.  My tax money helps pay for the weapons and munitions, and all the apparatus and infrastructure that implement this inhuman, unnecessary, illegal military occupation. 

However, this is indeed a complicated, interrelated world, and the answers to this country’s ongoing catastrophe, the military occupation and the institutionalized racism and neo-colonial domination on which it is built, are far from simple or obvious.  But some things are simply wrong.  What lies behind the Erez checkpoint is wrong.  “Human rights abuses,” so-called, in all their hideous human manifestations, are wrong.  Institutionalized, legalized racism is wrong.

Correction: some things are simply evil.

This report is excerpted from the blog of the Central Presbyterian Church of Atlanta. Click here to read in full.  


Down and Out in Bil'in and Nazareth (Homage to George Orwell)
By Taylor Weech

A commune straight out of my hippie heartland surrounded by settlements
and lights where there were never lights for the 100 years of living there
in caves and tents without lights but with family and land.

Daher Nassar grew up in the cave in the darkness with God and singing hymns
and today "…we have internet in the caves!" and visitors from around the world,
defending the land with the dogs barking and trees racing bulldozers for the last word. Tent of Nations, outside Bethlehem.

A notebook left behind creates a need for international diplomacy,
accidentally abandoned by an unsuspecting delegate on the "wrong side"
of the wall.

The rendezvous between renegade guides and drivers in a comic, tragic,
and bizarre cycle of checkpoints, interrogations, and shifting ground is still unfulfilled with rumors of plainclothes Ministry of Tourism officers lurking.
Nazareth, Zone A, West Bank.

From Bil'in to Los Angeles and back, the most famous documentarian
celebrate their children’s' birthdays with us, a pack of starstruck strangers
kicking spent teargas canisters [Made in Pennsylvania] down the dirt road
while teenage helmeted heads poke out over the wall to watch and warn.
When Emad came to attend the Oscars, at which he was nominated, he had to
call in Michael Moore for backup, lest security at LAX believe a Palestinian
could be nominated for such a prestigious prize. Bil'in village [5 Broken Cameras].

Here there are many laws and little order as the laws change depending upon
who you are, where you are, and what day of the week it is. According to the initiated, it becomes less baffling as time goes on, which is the most baffling aspect of all. The "greenest" country on earth, measured in terms of trees planted, is planting forests in order to lay claim to land and displace undesirables.

Forests sponsored by friendly countries without the whole story, and by the ideological interests driving expansion of the State. Visit God TV Forest, coming soon to the Promised Land.

Pay for the 51st demolition of your family home rebuilt. Seek refuge and find a jail cell waiting past the border instead. Create safety through ethnic cleansing. Be Jewish during the census, and back to non-white Other when the hard labor needs to be done. In the land of contradictions, the truth is stranger than rumor or fiction, and far more complicated to experience and grasp.

"War is Peace, Ignorance is Strength, Freedom is Slavery" -1984, George Orwell


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