Hope and Passion: Two CCS Students in Palestine/Israel
In late May two CCS students joined a Christian Peacemakers Team tour of Palestine/Israel as part of the Global Perspectives Experience. (All students in the CCS diaconal training program are required to engage in some sort of learning experience in another country/culture.) Below are some of Barbara and Kelley’s journal entries and updates to their supporters at home from the trip. It was an intense time, and they both admit that they have a lot more reflecting to do in order to make sense of their experience and to integrate it into their lives. So don’t expect these entries to represent people who “have it all worked out.” But what I think you will find is the perspective of two people who are committed to learning and to wrestling with the injustices of the world…
Barbara – May 1
Family and friends have accompanied me on my diaconal ministry journey and it seemed appropriate to continue to share with them how I arrived at the decision to apply to participate with Christian Peacemakers Team, an organization that responds to invitations to be in places where there is conflict, and that I would be going to Palestine where CPT has maintained a presence in the West Bank since 1996. This is a summary of what I wrote:
It was not a decision made lightly. It had been a process. I questioned why I should spend several thousand dollars and contribute to climate change by flying thousand of miles to do my GPE (Global Perspectives Experience). I assumed my years of living on various continents and work across cultures shaped my already existing global perspective. Yet there is something to being a lifelong learner. I initially thought an organized study tour to the “Holy Land” would suffice but then I thought about how I learn. I benefit from being “on the ground” and in relationship with people, families and children. CPT would allow me to accompany the Palestinian people as they live each day. What we would give is our presence, our willingness to witness and to stand in solidarity with the Palestinians who live under occupation. What I could learn was where they find hope.
My decision was influenced by meeting a visiting Palestinian Christian who spoke of her life and her work and the impact on her family’s life with their home now surrounded on three sides by the wall/separation barrier. I reflected upon the fact that unlike my Palestinian acquaintance, my family and friends were able to gather freely, without risk and with few hassles to share in the marriage celebration between my son and his partner. My son and his partner had the freedom to marry without barriers of religion or race. I was reminded how accessible my nieces and nephews and their children are and how we are able to have meaningful relationships even though they live hundreds of miles from me.
And I thought about the lived experiences shared during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Hearings. I was humbled by the courage of those able to give voice to a part of our history so many of us do not know. I identified similarities between my settler people’s impact on our indigenous peoples over generations with what I understand to be happening to Palestinian people. I live a life of privilege as a settler. I knew I would take this awareness with me to Palestine even as I stand in solidarity with Palestinians against Israeli settlers. It is from this place of privilege I was in fact able to prepare to make this trip.
I am going to Palestine because I want to learn. As a Christian, I am called to stand with those on the margins and those oppressed by systems. I learn more through contact with people than just reading about issues. I know what I learn will be only a small piece of a much larger picture but it will give me a place to begin.
Kelley – May 18
I have just packed and repacked my backpack several times forced to make choices about necessity. I am trying to embrace this ‘voluntary simplicity’ as I prepare to go to Palestine. I giggle as I exchange the full size towel for a hand towel, pack two pairs of pants instead of three and leave behind the runners in favour of hiking boots which I will wear onto the plane. I am under no illusions. I must confess I probably don’t need the number of Band-Aids I brought with me – but past experience has taught me that blisters can have a devastating impact on any trip. I wrestle with vanity knowing that every item squeezed into that bag is going to make me into a vision of wrinkly wonder at the other end.
I attach a bag with a few children’s toys to the side of my backpack because I can’t leave then behind. My partner insists the bag looks like I am traveling with doggie doodoo and so I heed his observation and exchange the bag for a day pack for the toys.
Emotionally I have mixed feelings about the trip. I recently read The Yellow Wind by David Grossman that offers stories of many voices calling Palestine/Israel home. I will share only a few in brief. Some of these voices include a Palestinian kindergarten teacher who is the third generation of her family to live in a refugee camp under crowded and harsh conditions. Her rhetoric is fueled by a deep hatred for the Jewish people; a hatred which she teaches her students.
Another story exposes the deep mental psychosis that can develop in the minds of the occupying military whose service in is mandatory for young Israelis. One Israeli military intelligence officer has deceived a village under his control by offering an inauthentic hand of friendship, making deals for information on other villagers. In the story he longs to reveal the deep joy he feels about the birth of his first son with the villagers but to do so would be to reveal the fictitious story about being a father already. His joy gives way to a deep and raw depression that makes the reader think that this depression appears to dominate his emotional being.
The constant reconfiguration of the land has had a devastating impact on many communities. One particular community was split in two, one side remaining under Jordanian control and the other Palestinians had Jewish settlers move into the neighbourhood with them. Families were estranged from their relatives for several decades. Culturally they developed differently over time and now opportunities for contact are difficult. Accusations of infidelity to the traditional culture are hurled by the one side and condescending criticisms of being backwards by the other.
The Holocaust has left a huge shadow on the collective memories of the Jewish peoples and has fueled their determination to create a homeland where they can live peacefully. One young man proudly shows the author the orchards on his kibbutz that some said could not be brought forth from the arid and uninhabited land.
The narratives of both Palestinians and the Israelis have developed differently since 1948. Palestinians describe flourishing villages that have been emptied and destroyed by the Jews. The Jewish narrative believes modernity and technology has enhanced a previously antiquated and destructive society. These stories and others reveal the complexity of the situation there.
So as Barbara and I go to Palestine/Israel I go with some trepidation but confident that peace work is the call to action that Jesus modeled. We will spend a couple of weeks meeting the people, hearing the stories and once again look for where God is at work. My hope is that our presence will show Palestinians and Israelis that we care. In caring we will also stand against unjust practices that demean human rights, that are creating obstacles and harm to both peoples.
Barbara – May 24 to 28
The days are hot – full and amazing. There is little time (and energy) to blog as we begin early and seem to meet until 9:30/10:00. I only have access to a shared iPad. It seems I was not the only one reluctant to face the possibility of having my computer confiscated.
Yesterday we visited Sabeel where we attended worship and shared a wonderful lunch! Sabeel is an ecumenical centre that works with all Palestinian Christians (9% of the Arab Israeli population and less than 2% of the total population), promoting a theology of liberation that looks at the contemporary situation and how it impacts the Christian community.
Omar, a staff member of Sabeel, is Chair of the CPT Steering Committee but it is difficult for him to be granted travel documents from the Israeli authorities to attend meetings. His family became Christian at the original Pentecost! We went to the Ministry of the Interior building where Palestinians are required to go to get house building permits. I believe he said he has applied 96 times, spent $60,000 and continues to live under a demolition order on his house. What kind of Palestinian you are depends on what your papers say. A “mixed marriage” means partners with different coloured cards because their family of origin live in different zones. Not easy to marry, children don’t have birth certificates.
We stopped by the prison where children are kept – children as young as 12, possibly younger, often for days! The prison is in Israel so parents have to get passes to visit them – not easy to do. Totally illegal according to international law! When parents pay for their release, this indicates their guilt. Children are pressured to become informers. We held a prayer vigil, were questioned by the guards… I encourage people to look up some sites re: arrests of Palestinian children.
Today we went to the Holocaust History Museum – Yad Vashem. (The weblink probably doesn’t tell you that when you exit the Children Memorial you overlook what was the community of Deiryassin where the greatest genocide of Palestinians took place in 1947 – now covered by beautiful Israeli homes.) It was overwhelming and weird, weird because there were so many times when the guide or the write-ups were describing the abuse of the Jews and I could readily substitute “Palestinians”. In describing the collective Jewish memory under occupation how is it possible to overlook the present Palestinians living under Israeli occupation?
We also spent time in the ancient community of Lifta, a Palestinian community on the western edge of Jerusalem. The residents fled in the 1948 war. It has not been repopulated and a number of the original buildings still stand, although an attempt to develop the area into luxury housing threatens its existence.
Saturday (May 25) we went to the Negev Desert, accompanied by a fascinating Israeli activist named Amos who was a key figure in setting up “Organization Against Home Demolitions”. He has a deep compassion for the Bedouins. They have experienced awful racist treatment through policies of the Israeli government, including the existence of their villages not being acknowledged when the area was mapped, thus are considered invaders even though it’s their ancestral land.
We met a couple of community leaders. Khahil is a teacher and speaks English very well. Extremely hospitable, he shared the history of the Bedouins. His village has had a demolition order for some time, which they are fighting in court. He has such hope. They pay all taxes but receive no benefits – no water, power, etc. He installed solar panels as have his neighbours. They laid their own pipes for water. He runs an internet connection off his solar power, has creatively worked out solutions to numerous challenges including setting up a way to use grey water for irrigation of his plants. He represented “Hope” for me. It was difficult for each of us though, as we realize how quickly it all can change. So many issues… how they have been moved off of fertile areas to be forced to live in confined communities with no benefits, thus high crime, etc, how a village gets moved only for a settler family to take over… I am not sure how I am going to work through all this info. I make connections with our First Nations, with squatters in Cambodia, indigenous people everywhere. We debrief every night, yet so much more to unravel.
Sunday we went to the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, then met in the afternoon with a settler. He was a pastor in Holland, had made numerous trips to Israel (as a Christian Zionist, I assume) and then was able to determine he had a Jewish ancestor so was able to readily immigrate to Israel and has become comfortable living as a settler! His truth includes living in fear of the Palestinians and comfortable with settlers being armed for “protection”.
Monday (May 27) we arrived in Bethlehem, passing though the “tourist gate”. It was a breeze. Our intent was to enter through Gate 300, used by most Palestinians yet our decision as a group was to enter using the path of least resistance. A member of our group is Muslim. She spent 7 hours being quizzed at the airport upon her arrival and when given the choice, did not want to repeat that experience. I had been prepared to stay with her – as were two other younger women but I suspected as the “elder” I would carry some credibility. We all understood her desire and our decision reflected our intent to stay together as a group. (We did take Gate 300 later during our stay.)
We travelled by bus from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. Peter assumed a 15 minute trip from his memory 6 years ago but now it is 50+ minutes because of the wall and various checkpoints imposed on the Palestinians. We transferred from the bus to taxis, with Kelley and I travelling with our Muslim sister between us. The taxi driver stopped, stated we had arrived at our destination and wanted us to get out. Slight problem. We had been travelling with a taxi with two male group members in it and they were not in sight. Kelley and I went into “female response” mode insisting we needed to stay with the other taxi. Then our male friends appeared. Our wonderful leader Peter had thoroughly prepared us for the checkpoint, suggesting the border police would come on the bus to check our passports if we didn’t need to get off the bus. To our knowledge we still had to cross the border. No one had told us otherwise. We were in fact at our destination. We had actually crossed the border without our passports being checked, nothing! Poor taxi driver. He was the recipient of strongly expressed distrust by two older women! Perhaps the disadvantage of us having international experience with taxi drivers!
May 28 and we have now arrived in Hebron. It is a very interesting place both for the history and the present political activities. We had a meeting with the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee. Check out their website. Their work is very comprehensive. We also toured the Ibrahimi mosque, (the site of the 1994 massacre of 29 worshippers and 125 injured by Baruch Goldstein), visited shops that are no longer accessible to the Palestinians yet owned by Palestinians, learned more about CPT’s history and impact here. Peter finds things considerably worse since his last trip 6 years ago. There is a need to be cautious, in part because CPT has permanent team members whose situation and advice we need to consider.
May 29 – Barbara
We have had another full and amazing day, beginning with school patrol. We had to pass through one checkpoint to stand at another. Quite interesting. I was standing on the corner when a car came roaring down the street – only accessible to settlers – then almost stopped in front of me before continuing on. I looked at the driver and she looked at me. Only later did I learn she is a very aggressive settler, mother of 7 who has thrown stones and chased CPTers, but who is also in at least one of the youtube videos I watched re: arrests of Palestine children. Guess it was my lucky day.
There was a stone-throwing incident that meant a number of military folks arriving to assist the three at the checkpoint. A vehicle arrived with at least four in it, then a group on foot. Some purple berets were replaced with hard helmets. One was wearing riot gear. Nothing too serious, I suppose although I was invited to take a photo. What I did notice was a little girl of about 7 who exited the checkpoint (in a small building), then as she walked in the narrow passage way between a counter and fence of similar height had to figure out how to get around the military vehicle (still running with some folks in it) basically blocking her path. She managed but it is not something she should have had to deal with.
We did some non-violence training in preparation to visit a family who has really been cut off by settlers. Abu Hani is an amazing guy, someone who connected with CPT at the very beginning and together they developed nonviolent actions. We had to pass through three checkpoints, two asked for passports. (The guys are so young!!!!) We walked steadily but rather slowly because all cannot move quickly, with our Muslim sister in the middle. We also made the decision to walk back a different way – on a street only open to Jews. No one threw stones or insulted us, yet we had placed ourselves in situations where that could have happened. We did hang around one guard who was checking the ID of a young Palestinian mother with four little kids, one not her own. Our friend was with us, so he wisely got involved as a way to “explain to us” the process while calmly supporting the woman. His explanation encouraged the young Israeli soldier to defend his position in English. Interesting considering the conversation. I hope he might be one who joins “Breaking the Silence” (ex-military who are opposed to the occupation and also on the internet). Hani has had eight cars burned by settlers, garbage – including dirty diapers – thrown into his yard regularly, yet he lives in hope of peace.
The day also included some of us making a visit to a Palestinian glass & pottery place making traditional stuff, and dinner with a woman who heads up a women’s cooperative. I haven’t visited her shop, but hope to when we return.
Tomorrow we head to Ai Tuwani and Susiya. Ironically, the settler we met with in Jerusalem was from the Israeli settlement Susiya. The settlers there have a reputation for violence. I am not aware of any action planned at this time, but we will see.
We had a discussion about the violence that we are witnessing on a daily basis. Intimidation is violence. There is no way the military are here in such numbers to protect the settlers from the Palestinians. Seeing children being forced to go through checkpoints, have their schoolbags checked, belt and shoes removed in some cases, people like the young mother and children forced to stand in the hot sun while some guy checks their identification is harassment. We are struggling to pull together our thoughts – meaning Kelley and I (and especially me) – to make some sense of this.
I am in need of a shower, but will survive with a sponge bath tomorrow. The CPT apartment ran out of water last month so we do have to be careful.
So much not written, so many more experiences yet ahead.
Kelley – June 10
Back safe and sound, I reflect back over all that we experienced in Palestine/Israel. Sitting and listening to the many stories of the Palestinian people we met, the hardships they endure, their determination and vision for a better future, we were inspired to do some sort of social action. Christian Peacemakers is committed to challenging the injustices at play in this occupied state and to provide an international witness and dispensing information to the world when needed. Our group decided to adapt material provided by SABEEL in creating a contemporary walk through six stations of the passion story using: song, street theatre, information, prayer and a petition against child imprisonment. As we moved we sang a song of peace in Arabaic. The following pictures give a pictorial representation of the event:
Station 1: The Nakba (The catastrophe of 1948) more than 500 Palestinian villages were destroyed and their people displaced
Station 2: Settlements – Today 462,000 Israeli citizens now live in settlements in the West bank and 191,000 in East Jerusalem, blocking Palestinian economic and territorial growth.
Station 3: Home Demolitions – more than 18,000 Palestinian homes have been destroyed for settler expansion
Station 4: Child Imprisonment – since 2,000, more than 2500 children have been arrested
Station 5: Checkpoints and bureaucratic harassment adversely affect the mental health and daily life of Palestinians (and Israelis).
Station 6: Hope for Peace – Pray, Imagine and Act for peace and Justice in the Holy Land
What a wonderful experience you two have had! Thank you for representing those of us in Canada who were with you in solidarity spiritually and mentally. I love the Stations you created and enacted. I, too, will pray and imagine peace in the Holy Land.
So much tragedy and so much hope. Hope seems to be stronger then fear.
Peace has come to other tragic sites and I know it will come here – some day.
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