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Thursday, December 13, 2007
Last Saturday -- December 8 -- some teammates and I spent an afternoon in Bethlehem. It was supposed to be some time to relax and get away from the ways in which the military occupation of Hebron manifests itself. In Hebron (or Al-Khalil, in Arabic,) the sights of any given day are checkpoints, metal detectors, turnstiles, and Israeli soldiers (who sometimes patrol through the Old City.) And, of course, there are the settlement enclaves, some of which are planted directly on top of Hebron's Old City.
In Bethlehem, the occupation is different. Instead of soldiers and checkpoints, the occupation of the Palestinian territories manifests itself in the wall surrounding the city on three sides and in the settlements perched on the Bethlehem hillside.
So, between a stick in the eye and a stranglehold, a stranglehold is a nice change of pace.
We arrived in Bethlehem and looked around some souvenir shops. One of the store owners was giving us an update on Bethlehem’s situation. Right now, it is a 10 km journey to ship goods (such as olive wood carvings, found in many tourist stores) from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. Here is an oversimplified map of the journey:
(On this map, the line from Bethlehem to Jerusalem is straight. In reality, Palestinians often need to travel on long circuitous routes – there are roads on which Palestinians, if they are able to on them at all, need a special permit on which to travel.)
But, the storeowner told us, this is changing. Israeli authorities are soon going to require goods from Bethlehem to go through the checkpoint at Tarqumiya – southwest of Bethlehem – now making the journey 60 km. Here is the new (again, oversimplified) route that goods will have to take to get to Jerusalem:
Of course, this increases the price of shipping for shops, an added financial burden Palestinians who already bear too much as a result of the occupation. After explaining these new travel restrictions, my teammate commented, "So much for Annapolis [peace summit]." The store owner chuckled and replied, with typical dry Palestinian humor, “This is a new gift.”
This is life here. I wanted to scream (or cry.)
A teammate once told me that Palestinians, after hearing him talk about CPT’s work, would often ask, “Wein salaam?” – “Where is peace?”
That’s what I’m wondering, too.
(The above maps are edited from those produced by UN OCHA – United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. For a the full map, click here.)
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Now, living in a dry, dry region, we hope and pray for rain. "Enshallah (‘God willing’), it will rain tomorrow,” we say. Here, rain means new life. Rain means full cisterns. Rain now means the provision of a resource necessary for life. We need the rain now, during the wet season, to sustain us through the months of dry weather that follows.
"I hope it rains." I mean the sentence with all my heart, but it still rings funny in my ears.
I have another reason for wanting rain. Deep in my fanciful, childish heart, I wonder if the rain has cleansing capacities for this land. Water cleanses people; can it cleanse lands, too? Maybe if it rained enough, it could wash away the grief, displacement, and oppression permeating this land. Could torrents of rain sweep away racism? Could a downpour erase enmity? Could a deluge cleanse the land, making it new, readying it for peace?
Will you join me in praying for rain?
Sunday, December 2, 2007
Yet this lovely event stands in stark contrast to the reality of the settlements here in Hebron. The economy in the Old City of Hebron (okay, throughout the whole of the occupied Palestinian territories)is very poor. People are afraid to come to the Old City, because of the presence of soldiers that came to "protect" the settlers living literally on top of the Old City. So instead of fine banquets, here most Palestinians get food from the local soup kitchen. Instead of dancing, Palestinians mourn when the Israeli military beat and arrest Palestinian youth for "security." Instead of the privilege of being able to get on a plane and fly from Tel Aviv to NYC, most Palestinians are rarely even allowed permission to travel to Jerusalem, only approximately 20 miles away.
Would people still give money to this cause if they knew the ramifications of these settlements? If they knew what harm comes from them? I honestly don't believe so. But from a distance, it probably all looks so respectable.
I think Jesus had something to say about this. It was something about whitewashed tombs, and how the outside looks beautiful, but inside there is nothing but death(Matthew 23:27).
And, lest I become too proud, I know I am not immune to this failing. Jesus' words are for me, too. As I was looking at these pictures, I wondered how often I was complicit with the workings of the "powers that be," because the powers decked themselves in respectable attire. When have I been blinded to injustice, because of the power I have inherent in my race, class, and (worldly) citizenship? When have I foolishly been taken by the beauty of a whitewashed tomb, ignoring the death within?
"But if [Abbas] should disappear from the scene, the deal's off. So, maybe we should pray that Hamas get to him ASAP. They know how to do the job and he's more than likely in their sights. Why should the Jews of Hebron have to be the first sacrifice of Annapolitics?"
Again, I'm speechless.
Friday, November 16, 2007
One of my favorite posts is "A day in the life of a CPTer living in At-Tuwani." I like her pictures, and the little cartoon bubbles adding the CPTers' conversations. I laughed when I saw them, because they are funny, in a dry, tongue-in-cheek sort of way.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Asking for justice and recognized rights hinder peace talks?
In addition, the article states that the NSU does not deal in reality, because it ignores the Hamas takeover in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority's (PA) lack of power in the occupied Palestinian territories. The latter statement is of particular interest to me. It doesn't make much sense until one has lived in the occupied Palestinian territories for a while. Technically, there are sections of the occupied Palestinian territories that are under "full Palestinian control." But Palestinian government and authority are only as powerful as Israel allows. These territories are non-continuous clumps of land in the occupied territories. (This map gives an idea of what I'm talking about. "Area A" is under full Palestinian control. "Area B" is under joint Israeli/Palestinian control, and "Area C" is under full Israeli control. Settlements are sometimes also called "colonies" -- areas in which Israelis live in the occupied Palestinian territories.)
Needless to say, I would imagine such a political landscape would make governing difficult.
In other news, soldiers denied Ahmad Qurai',a head of the Palestinian negotiating team for the Annapolis conference, entry into Jerusalem on Sunday. He was on his way to a scheduled meeting between the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams. The soldiers that turned him away did not give him a reason for his denied entry. Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni is said to have called Qurai' and apologized.
What strikes me about this incident is the power imbalance it reveals. Something must be wrong when one of the negotiators cannot get to the table because of the systems and structures set in place by those with whom they are trying to negotiate. How can negotiations occur with such an uneven playing field?
Saturday, November 10, 2007
We're all in this together: CPT Colombia calls for Urgent Action to ask Colombian government to investigate threats against CPT partners
Sunday was a really rough day. I was thinking of how to share it with you all, when a coworker posted these photos. Please check them
out. While I have heard many difficult stories here, and seen the results of violence and fear, Sunday was the first time I felt so
intimately connected with the reality of violence here in Colombia. I spent the whole day with this woman, and her coworkers.
We (CPT Colombia) have an urgent action release ready, asking you to call and contact local officials to make sure that this woman who was threated Sunday will be taken care of, and the incident truly investigated. Colombia is different than the US, in that often when i
call elected officials in the US i feel like nothing will be done. In the case of Yolanda, the paramilitaries who are strongly believed to
be the men that broke into Yolanda's house, pushing her, holding a gun to her head and telling her "the story is over," are directly tied to
the government. Showing the government and elected officials that she would be missed and there would be international recognition is
essential to her safety. The organization she works for has done incredible work for 35 years, Organizacion Feminina Popular (The
Popular Women's Organization- check it out www.ofp.org.co). Please call, send an email or fax. All the information is included below in
the release CPT has sent. Feel free to email with any questions.
Thanks for your support! Sitting in the meeting of human rights workers in the city Sunday night after the threat and break-in I was
amazed how many times it was repeated that international presence and solidarity has been essential to protecting them and there work in a region where human rights workers are targets of violence.
7 November 2007
COLOMBIA URGENT ACTION: Ask Colombian government to investigate threats
against CPT partners in Barrancabermeja
Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) asks for your help in demanding a full investigation into the threats made against Yolanda Becerra Vega and Jackeline Rojas, members of the leadership team of the Popular Women's Organization (OFP Organización Femenina Popular). The Popular Women's Organization is one of CPT's most important partners in Barrancabermeja.
On 4 November 2007, at approximately 7:30 a.m., two armed, masked men entered Yolanda Becerra Vega's apartment in the city of Barrancabermeja. Several minutes earlier, two women from the OFP had left Yolanda's home, so when the armed men knocked on the door she thought that the women had returned and opened the door. The men pushed open the door, pinning Yolanda against a wall. One of the men pointed his gun at her, called her an obscene name, and told her "Time is up. You have 48 hours to leave or else we will
finish off your family and you will not escape us."
During the next fifteen minutes, the two men ransacked Becerra's residence, destroying many items. As they left, they were going to take her computer but in the end left it in the entrance of the house. The guards at the front gate of the residential complex declared that they had not seen the two armed men enter the area. [see pictures: < http://www.cpt.org/gallery
That same morning, Jackeline Rojas Castañeda found that someone had jammed a foreign object in the lock of her third-floor apartment, preventing those inside from opening the door, and that the security gate on the second floor had been opened by unauthorized persons.
Before these incidents, OFP had sent a document to the national government--with a copy to the different government authorities and to the international community--detailing incidents that put Yolanda Becerra others of the OFP at risk. The OFP demanded immediate action from the Colombian government. These new events illustrate the gravity of the danger that Yolanda Becerra, her family, and the entire team of the OFP are facing.
Please write (Sample letter bellow) or call the different offices listed below, demanding:
1. Protection for Yolanda Becerra Vega, the members of her family and all the members of the Organización Femenina Popular including Jackeline Rojas.
2. An investigation into the above mentioned events leading to the prosecution of those involved. (One of these events includes the kidnapping of Katherine Gonzalez Torres, sister of an OFP member. See 15 March 2007 CPTnet release, "COLOMBIA URGENT ACTION: Call for full investigation into kidnapping of Katherine Gonzalez Torres.")
Addresses: Álvaro Uribe Velez, President of the Republic, Cra. 8 # 7-26,
Palacio de Narino, Santa Fe de Bogotá, Fax: 011-57-1-566-2071, E-mail:
* Sr. Francisco Santos, Vice President of the Republic, Tels:
011-57-1-334-4507, 011-57-1- 772-0130, E-mail: email@example.com;
* Human Rights Program of the Vice Presidency:
* Dr. Volmar Antonio Perez Ortiz, Office of the National Human
Rights Ombudsman, Calle 55 # 10-32, Bogotá, Fax: 011-57.1.640.04.91,
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
* Doctor Mario Hernán Iguaran Arana, Attorney General,
22-B # 52-01, Bogotá, Fax: 011-57-1-570-2000; 011-57-1-414-9000,
Extensión:1113, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org;email@example.com
* Dr. Edgardo Jose Maya Villazon, Prosecutor General, Cra. 5#,
15-80, Bogotá, Tel: 011-57-1-284-7949, Fax:011-57-1-342-9723, E-mail:
* Dr. Juan Manuel Santos Calderon, Minister of Defense, Avenida
El Dorado con Cra. 52 CAN, Bogotá, Fax: 011-57-1-222-1874, E-mail :
firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com ; firstname.lastname@example.org
* Dr. Carlos Franco, Director of the Presidential Programe for
Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, Calle 7 N° 5-54 Bogotá,
D.C., Fax: 011-57-1-337-4667, E-mail: email@example.com
* Dr. Carlos Holguin Sardi, Minister of Internal affairs and
Justice, Avenida El dorado con carrera 52 CAN Bogotá D.C., Fax:
011-57-1-222-1874, E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Please send copies of your messages to: Popular Women's Organization
(Organización Femenina Popular) E-Mail: email@example.com
Sample letter in Spanish: Respetado Dr. ______________: Reciba un saludo cordial de ____(your name)____ de ___(your state or province and country)___ Escribo a usted con una gran preocupación por la situación de YOLANDA BECERRA VEGA, quien recibió amenazas en Barrancabermeja el 4 de noviembre de 2007. A través de mi apoyo a los Equipos Cristianos de Acción por la Paz, conozco algo del trabajo de la Organización Femenina Popular, y me preocupa la situación de seguridad de las mujeres de la OFP y de sus familias.
Muchas gracias por la atención prestada,
Send the letter in Spanish. But the letter's translation is as follows:
Cordial greetings from your name and state. I write to you with great concern for Yoland Becerra Vega´s situation, who recieved threats in Barrancabermeja the 4th of November at 2007. Through my support for Christian Peacemaker Teams I have become familiar with the work of the Popular Women´s Organization and I worry about the security of the
women who work at the Popular Women´s organizations and their families.
Thank you for your attention,
ADDENDUM: (Correction to urgent action)
Some of the e-mails provided by a Barrancabermeja human rights organization for the Urgent Action that posted on 7 November 2007 (Ask "Colombian government to investigate threats against CPT partners in Barrancabermeja) were outdated. The following contact information does work, and if you have been unsuccessful getting your letter to other addresses, CPT urges you to send it immediately to
Doctor Mario Hernán Iguarán Arana, (Attorney General)
Fiscal General de la Nación, Diagonal 22-B # 52-01, Bogotá. Fax: +
57.1.570.20.00 ; +57.1.414.90.00 Extensión 1113, E-mail:
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Anyway, back to this letter. It is very interesting. I'm thinking I might post it later (right now I only have a hard copy), but one sentence in the letter jumped out at me. I have read the sentence read several times, mostly out of incredulity:
"Even if Arabs have personal human rights, they have never had any collective national rights in this country."
"Even if Arabs have personal human rights"? I'm hoping desperately that this is simply a poorly chosen word, that the authors really meant, "Even though". (Though, frankly, I would still disagree with the statement, even if this is what the authors really meant.)
But, from this letter and the interactions my teammates and I have had with the settlers, I'm skeptical that this was a slip of the tongue. Earlier in this letter, the authors write that "[t]he Arabs . . . never contributed a thing to [Israel's] development. Under Arab rule, most of the country was unpopulated and desolate . . ."
Near one of the schools in Hebron, there is settler graffiti that says, "Gas the Arabs," and "Arabs are sand nigg**s."
"Even if the Arabs have personal human rights." That phrase knocks the mental "wind" out of me, like someone hit me too hard in the chest.
Israeli authorities are building a separation barrier within the occupied Palestinian territories, in effect annexing approximately 12 percent of the land in the Palestinian territories. This separation barrier affects Palestinians in a number of ways, including dividing villages, restricting travel, and threatening Palestinian homes with demolition, to name a few. This separation barrier currently surrounds Bethlehem on three sides -- if Mary and Joseph were traveling from Nazareth to Bethlehem today, they would encounter the separation barrier. Therefore, this Advent and Christmas, we are asking folks to set up a wall around their nativity sets to raise awareness about the situation in Bethlehem and the occupied Palestinian territories in general. It probably seems far too early to start talking about Advent and Christmas already, but we're sending this out now so that churches (and individuals, too!) have some time to plan how they will participate in this action. I invite you (or your churches, small groups, etc.) to consider participating in this action to raise awareness of the separation barrier going up in Palestine. The official "action alert" we sent out on CPT's mailing list is as follows:
31 October 2007
HEBRON ACTION ALERT: CPT Palestine announces “No Way to the Inn: Bethlehem behind the Wall” Campaign
If the Christmas story were to happen today, Mary and Joseph would have a hard time getting to Bethlehem.
Since 2002, Israeli authorities have been building a separation barrier snaking through the occupied Palestinian territories, in effect annexing valuable Palestinian land and water resources. To clear the way, Palestinians living near the security barrier often face the threat of home demolitions. According to Israeli human rights monitoring organization B’Tselem, the separation barrier affects nearly half a million Palestinian residents, and currently the barrier separates almost 12 percent of the land within the 1967 Green Line from the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories. When completed, the barrier will be 780 km long (for more statistics, visit: http://www.btselem.org/english/Separation_Barrier/Statistics.asp .)
The separation barrier surrounds Bethlehem, located in Palestine, on three sides and cuts off the city from Jerusalem only six miles away.
During the seasons of Advent and Christmas, erect a wall around nativity sets in your homes and churches to raise awareness of the separation barrier the Israeli authorities are erecting in the occupied Palestinian territories. Inform local media and use this action as an opportunity to spread the word about the separation barrier. After erecting your wall, take pictures of the nativity, and send them as attachments to firstname.lastname@example.org. The team will compile the pictures for broader distribution (more details to come.)
CPT Palestine will also be producing related worship materials for reflection during Advent.
For questions and concerns, contact the CPT Palestine team at email@example.com
For photos of the separation barrier, visit http://www.cpt.org/gallery/album224
The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem writes about the separation barrier: “In June 2002, the government of Israel decided to erect a physical barrier to separate Israel and the West Bank in order to prevent the uncontrolled entry of Palestinians into Israel . In most areas, the barrier is comprised of an electronic fence with dirt paths, barbed-wire fences, and trenches on both sides, at an average width of 60 meters. In some areas, a wall six to eight meters high has been erected in place of the barrier system. . . The construction of the barrier has brought new restrictions on movement for Palestinians living near the Barrier's route, in addition to the widespread restrictions that have been in place since the outbreak of the current intifada. Thousands of Palestinians have difficulty going to their fields and marketing their produce in other areas of the West Bank . Farming is a primary source of income in the Palestinian communities situated along the Barrier's route, an area that constitutes one of the most fertile areas in the West Bank . The harm to the farming sector is liable to have drastic economic effects on the residents - whose economic situation is already very difficult - and drive many families into poverty.” (To read this article in full, visit http://www.btselem.org/english/Separation_Barrier/Index.asp)
For a range of information about the separation barrier, visit:
http://www.arij.org/index.php?option=com_cases&Itemid=27&lang=en (contains articles regarding separation barrier – also known as the segregation wall – in addition to general information about the Israeli occupation of Palestine)-----
I am so excited about this campaign, because it carries about it an air of holy mischief. I think many times the work of the prophets was (and is!) to "tell it like it is," sometimes in surprising and unexpected ways. I hope you'll consider joining us in this campaign.
All right, dear ones. That's all for now -- as always, there is so much to write, and not nearly enough time! To be continued.
Sunday, November 4, 2007
In the United States, wouldn't this be called segregation?
How freely were people of color allowed to study in "white" universities in the United States during its practice of overt segregation?
When I was here in Palestine on my CPT delegation, a speaker commented, "Israel is the only country without borders." When I see maps of Israel from Israeli sources, oftentimes includes the occupied Palestinian territories as part of its territory. Yet in cases like these, Israel behaves as though the occupied Palestinian territories are a different country.
Israel, what are your borders? When will you realize this isn't in your best interests? When will you realize these games are not sustainable?
Does Israel hope to make peace, endear itself to the Palestinians, by limiting their educational opportunities?
Furthermore, I desperately wish Israelis and Palestinians could study side by side -- part of the problem with the current situation is that Israelis and Palestinians have so few opportunities to interact. If Israelis and Palestinians never get to know each other beyond stories and stereotypes, how will there be peace?
Friday, November 2, 2007
I mean "today" in the Jewish sense of the word, meaning sunset today until sunset tomorrow. Today is the day Jews will be reading Genesis 23, in which Abraham purchases the Cave of Machpelah, in which he buried Sarah. Later, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their wives were supposedly buried there (and some folks throw in Adam and Eve for good measure.)
This cave is located in Hebron; we live about ten minutes' walk away. Now the Cave of Machpelah is half synagogue and half mosque (called the Ibrahimi Mosque), sacred to both Jews and Muslims (and Christians.)
I can imagine how exhilarating it would be to be Jewish and spend this Shabbat -- Hebrew for "Sabbath" -- here in Hebron. To celebrate in the very place where the "action" takes place in this week's Hebrew Scripture reading. I wish, with all my heart, we were living in a world where I could be genuinely happy for those Jews celebrating their holy day here.
But I can't, because I know what the celebration means for my Palestinian friends.
It means the checkpoint near the Ibrahimi Mosque/Cave of Machpelah -- one of the commonly used gateways into and out of the Old City -- is closed to Palestinians. It means Tel Rumeida, not far from the Old City, where we have Palestinian and international friends and colleagues, has been declared a "closed military zone."
Translation: Because of this Shabbat, Palestinian travel is restricted.
It means that Israeli military are everywhere in and around the Old City. It means Palestinians more likely encounter harassment, either verbal or physical, from Israeli settlers or Israeli soldiers. It means that already, Israeli settlers are throwing stones at the home of one of our Palestinian friends -- who is committed to nonviolence, and for the past three weeks we have been helping him with his olive harvest.
All this, because of this Jewish festival. I wish with all my heart I could rejoice that Jews were able to celebrate in this place. Instead, I know the price my Palestinian friends are going to pay.
Instead, it makes me want to cry.
Please, remember Hebron in your prayers today and tomorrow, as tensions will likely be high. Pray for the safety of the Palestinians. And pray for the day to come soon when Jewish festivals can be celebrated in peace, without restrictions and threats to the Palestinians.
I dream of a day when Jews, Muslims, and Christians can observe their faiths together in this land: being happy at one another's holy days, weddings, and births; and mourning at one another's funerals and solemn holy days. Enshallah ("God willing" in Arabic), it will happen
in my lifetime.
Saturday, October 27, 2007
The old adage that the stars connect folks who are far away is true, I think. Looking up from our patio, I am connected to folks back in the States. We share the night sky (even if it comes hours later to the States.)
Being in Palestine is wonderful -- I am falling madly in love with this place. If only I could bring all the beautiful people that I know onto the same continent. :o)
Next time you see Orion out at night, say a prayer for me, the team, and Palestine. I'm thinking of and praying for the beautiful folks in the States.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
It was a beautiful Palestinian "autumn" day: the sun was shining, the sky was beautiful, and the air was pleasantly warm. We got to work, picking the olives out of the trees. They weren't ripe yet, but our friends decided to harvest now, because Israeli settlers, who live on the top of the hill, have begun helping themselves to the olives. A path to the settlement runs through our friend's land, and the olive trees are located on either side of the path.
While we were harvesting, my teammate suggested I intentionally keep an eye out for settlers. I was also the one with the video camera. So I was harvesting olives with one hand and holding a camera ready with another.
We internationals were present because it is not safe for Palestinians to harvest their land, especially when their land happens to be in the shadow of a settlement, as in our friend's case. Settlers may come and attack, or soldiers might arrive and tell them they do not have the right to harvest their crops. Even our presence does not prevent this from happening, though anecdotal evidence suggests that we are a deterrent, as most folks do not want the negative international press.
Though one never knows how one of these actions will go, this harvest was quite ordinary, to my understanding. We harvested in peace for a while. Members of the media arrived. Israeli settlers, Israeli police, and Israeli soldiers arrived, none of whom did much but stand around and watch. A couple of settlers tried to instigate some trouble, but it all fizzled out relatively quickly.
All very ordinary.
And it hit me: it shouldn't be. No one -- regardless of nationality -- should need to be accompanied on their own land. An international presence while one harvests one's own crop on one's own land to possibly reduce the threat of violence or removal -- it should be anything but ordinary.
Friday, October 19, 2007
This is in Jerusalem. Camels make me so darn happy.
This is the mouth of a camel that is the descendant of a camel David rode. The camel was sitting on a spot where a biblical event of your choice occurred.
Just kidding. I just took a silly picture.
This is the Church of All Nations, in Jerusalem. I am a sucker for mosaics.
The Mount of Olives. All those grayish stones are grave markers. It is a Jewish cemetery.
A picture of the wall surrounding the Old City Jerusalem.
The Mount of Olives, looking onto Old City Jerusalem. (The huge gold dome is the Dome of the Rock, a holy site for Muslims.) While on the Mount of Olives, we wandered about and found this beautiful little chapel marking the site where (tradition has it) Jesus wept for Jerusalem.
Jesus said, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'" (Luke 13: 34-35.)
After Jerusalem, we went to Qumran, where (or near where) the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. We wanted to hike up to one of the caves (see the one on the right?), but we unfortunately did not have enough time.
After Qumran, we went to Massada. The short story of this place: It is on top of this very high, and very steep, hill/plateau. It was once the palace getaway for King Herod -- the guy in the New Testament. Then, when the Jews revolted against Roman rule, rebels took it over to make it one of the last strongholds of the Jewish rebellion. The Romans held Massada under siege. When it was clear a Roman victory was near at hand, the leader of the Jews urged them to choose death over slavery under the Romans. So folks drew lots, and ten men killed everyone in the community. Then they drew lots again, and one man killed the other nine and then himself. The history of Massada is more fully explained here.
This is a picture of the storehouses -- fit for a king, as it were. They were huge, suiting the purposes of royalty (to cater to a life of luxury) and rebels (to sustain life during a siege) alike.
This is the area which the Jews used as a synagogue during the revolt. It was not a synagogue during the time of Herod -- I want to say it was a stable, or something like that, but now I don't remember. But I was inspired by these folks' creativity in making a sacred space in this complex.
Me in the Dead Sea! I knew all the salt in the water made a person extremely buoyant, but I never guessed how buoyant. I am quite convinced one would have to exert a considerable amount of effort to drown in the Dead Sea -- as in, hold one's head under water and breathe very deeply. Otherwise, I don't know that it is possible, because it is so easy to stay afloat. One does not even have to think about it. Here, treading water is completely superfluous.
And, with all the salt, the water had a bizarre texture. It felt thicker.
On my first visit to Palestine/Israel, I was shocked to see civilians openly carrying guns -- sometimes big ones, too. While we were in Jerusalem, walking from the Mount of Olives to the Old City, we passed what looked like a tour group on the road below us. At first glance, it looked very ordinary.
Then we looked again.
A number of the tour's participants were armed. They were far enough away that I couldn't get a good picture of the group and their guns, but one can see them, if one knows where to look. I've circled in white the two most visible guns in the group.
I live in Hebron. Every day, I pass through turnstiles and metal detectors at checkpoints. On Thursday, I watched Israeli soldiers search the backpacks of twenty Palestinian children over the course of forty minutes. A metal fence, a concrete barrier, and a smattering of razor wire separates the street on which I live -- it used to be part of the bustling marketplace, but it is empty now -- from Shuhada Street, which used to be one of the main roads in Hebron. Now the road is closed to Palestinians, with the exception of a couple of Palestinians who can travel on the road, because they have special permits. Of course, permits don't protect them from Israeli settler harassment.
All this is the fruit of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank/Palestine. This "Go in Peace" sign as one is exiting a beach on the Dead Sea is quaint, and unspeakably ironic.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
This man is simply lovely. With a smile as bright as day, he always has a warm hello and a friendly Arabic phrase to greet me, and he is patient as I fumble around in my head for the appropriate Arabic response. The other day he appeared in CPT's apartment, as I was in the middle of two or three different tasks (with two or three others in my mental "to do" list) when he greeted me with "marhaba" ("hello".) I stared at him blankly for a few seconds, blurted out something in Arabic (which may or may not have been "marhaba" or "marhabteen" -- both appropriate responses), and muttered something apologetic about my inability to think quickly enough in Arabic. Ever smiling, he accepted my greeting and began chatting with other teammates as I continued about my work. All this is to say, this man is a good friend of the team, and he is one of the many beautiful folks I have met since coming to Palestine.
Back to the story: my teammates and I ran into him on our way to Jerusalem. We exchanged greetings. Seeing our bags he asked, "Are you leaving the country?"
"No," I said, "we're just going up to Jerusalem."
"So you're leaving the country."
At that moment, I felt a pang of grief stab my heart. I remembered: This man -- a beautiful person, father, friend -- cannot go into Jerusalem. He is a Palestinian. He needs a special permit from the Israeli authority -- a very difficult thing to attain -- to enter the city.
Talking about it with my teammates later, one reflected, "I suppose Jerusalem might as well be another country."
But for many Palestinians, the gap between Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank is greater than that of two different countries. For U.S. citizens, there is no comparable equivalent. The travel restrictions between the United States and Cuba is the closest parallel my teammates and I could identify, but most U.S. citizens do not have the same emotional, religious, and/or familial ties to Cuba that many Palestinians have to Jerusalem.
When will Jerusalem cease to be another country for so many of the Palestinians living in the West Bank?
In the words of a friend, "Enshallah bukrah!" ("God willing, tomorrow!")
Friday, October 12, 2007
I treasure these moments of play here in Palestine. The presence of the Israeli army and Israeli settlers here is so constant and pervasive. The daily reality of the Occupation-- going through checkpoints, being surrounded by razor wire, and interacting with soldiers -- gets tiring. Yet -- this is one of the things I love about the people I meet here -- folks still play, joke, and laugh. Not even the Israeli occupation of the West Bank/Palestine can stop that.
The other day, one of my teammates and I were walking through the market, and my teammate stopped at a shop to buy a new cane. As she was pulling canes out of their display and examining them, this lovely Palestinian man with a cane, dressed in traditional Arab garb, tapped his cane against the cane she was examining. And there, right in the middle of the souq (Arabic for "market"), they had a brief, playful "duel" with their canes. We were all laughing and enjoying the play.
Thank God for laughter and the strength of the human spirit! It gives me hope and joy.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Also, the article says, among other things, "According to a recent UN report, an increasingly separate road system is being built by Israel in the West Bank. About 1,660km of West Bank roads are for mainly for Israeli use, while Palestinian access is restricted by military checkpoints." To clarify: this means there are some roads that are for cars with Israeli license plates only. (Cars have either Israeli or Palestinian license plates.) Some Palestinians do have cars with Israeli license plates, but Palestinians with Palestinian license plates cannot travel on these "bypass" roads (which, compared to Palestinian-only roads, are generally in better condition and take a more direct route from one city or place to the next.)
I comment on this because I have seen (and traveled on) both the bypass roads and the roads for Palestinians. Just think -- segregated roads. They exist here.
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
"God has asked me to do nine things:
1. To be sincere inwardly, and in outward expressions
2. To do justice in happiness, and in anger
3. To be moderate when rich, and when poor
4. To forgive the one who takes my rights
5. To visit the one who stops visiting me
6. To give to the one who deprives me
7. Whenever I speak, speak as if I were speaking to God
8. Whenever I am silent, be thinking
9. Whenever my eyes are open, be learning."
Made me reflect on the teachings of Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount.
At the top of the page with this writing were the words: "A word from God to Mohammed." This message is posted in the right front corner of the Glassmaker's Mosque in the Old City of Hebron.
Interesting, n'est pas?
Saturday, October 6, 2007
I grew up fed on a diet of quaint European American vocabulary of conquest: "pioneers" and "settlers" filled my history books with paintings of open -- uninhabited, of course -- prairie. Certainly, we learned about the horrendous things done to First Nations people/Native Americans, but the story of genocide was kept tucked safely in the history books. The political climate in which I was raised covertly taught me: "This was a sad chapter of our country's history that -- thank goodness -- is now over. Now, why do the Native Americans get so upset about treaty violations? Why can't they just get over the past?"
I see now that settlement and conquest is not so sterile. I see myself and the United States' history very differently now that I have have spent some time in Palestine. I feel as though I am watching my history unfold in a time warp, in the present day. I see the process of settlement and colonization. I see settlers and settlements as Israelis take more and more land in the West Bank. (This map shows the area to which I am referring -- the West Bank is land on which Israelis are currently settling.) And it is not a quaint, picturesque image of folks moving onto uninhabited land. The land was inhabited, and this process of settlement causes daily and very real pain to people, created in God's image. Many Palestinians have been made refugees and many Palestinians in the West Bank have suffered as a result of the lack of recognition of the fact that people were living on the land prior to the establishment of Israel as a country in 1948.
Slowly, over the last few months (I started to think a bit about this after I was last here in June), I am beginning to think of owning up to my country's history. When I traveled across the United States last month, I saw the hundreds of miles of land stretching on either side of the highway. After being here in Palestine, I couldn't just watch the land pass by anymore. It made me feel sick. I see now I was traveling on stolen land, that was taken through force, genocide, and human rights violations. And I wonder: if this is how the United States gained its land, what spiritual scars has it left on the country? How does such a bloody history shape the spiritual wellness (or lack thereof) of the nation?
It is uncomfortable to see myself and my country in such sharp focus. But, I think as people of faith, we are called to engage this world, in the words of a good friend, "with eyes wide open."
And this is what I see, on this side of the looking glass.
Thursday, October 4, 2007
Dear friends and family: don't you feel called to work with CPT, particularly the Hebron team? :o)
I miss the wonderful people at home, but I love the people I am meeting and working with here in Hebron. My experience with some wonderful young women last night might give you an idea of the beautiful people here. I met them at a break fast party. Hebron is a predominently Muslim city, and almost all the Muslims here fast during the month of Ramadan. They neither eat nor drink during daylight hours, so after the sun sets, families and friends gather to break the day's fast together. A good friend of CPT decided to organize a huge break fast party -- perhaps roughly the equivalent of a neighborhod block party? Only this was bigger -- for folks in the Hebron community. She invited CPT join in the meal. We went, and I was very excited for an opportunity to talk to some of the women and children from the community.
Well, in my excitement, I had forgotten to calculate my minimal (actually, "non-existent" is a more accurate description) Arabic conversation skills. Yet a fellow teammate, who also does not speak Arabic, and I found ourselves in conversation with three wonderful young women.
I never cease to be amazed at how much conversation one can have with another person, when neither speaks more than a rudimentary level of the other's language. As far as I could tell, we each asked each other for names, and they asked us where we were from. This I was able to manage to answer, very haltingly and with a lot of thought, in Arabic. The next thing I know, the young women were asking me what I was doing in Hebron, what I thought of Israel, who were Christian Peacemaker Teams, and something about the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) -- to which my fellow teammate responded, "Um . . . Jesus?"
It was the Tower of Babel all over again.
One of the three young women was very intent in the conversation, and she was leaning far into our little circle gathering. I, too, was really excited, and I was leaning deeply into the circle. She was speaking Arabic, with a little English, and I was speaking English, with a little . . . well, English.
I still smile to think of our conversation. From our nonverbal communication, we both made it clear that we wanted desperately to communicate with each other. I think, buried in my subconscious, was this desperate belief that if we both wanted badly enough and tried hard enough to speak in our own languages, we would somehow be able to understand each other fully.
Then again, when I think about how much we did communicate to each other, I would say our efforts were not too shabby. I had a friend who would always say, "Care and compassion transcends every racial and cultural boundary."
Perhaps it applies, on a limited level, to language, as well. In any case, it seems the language of peace and love translates easily to any tongue.
Friday, September 7, 2007
In any case, in the midst of all this organizing, I came across a poem a good friend sent to me this past spring. A friend of hers wrote it. I thought it was very powerful and eloquent, so I printed it out and taped it to my computer at the time. I came across it once more during the course of all this recent organizing. I thought it was appropriate to post in a blog about nonviolence, active peacemaking, and work for social justice. My hope is that is provides food for thought in a culture that crowns "fair and balanced" as an ultimate virtue. Of course, a level of objectivity is vital and necessary for critical thinking and situation analysis. Yet that objectivity should be a tool to aid us in making moral decisions guiding how we live in relation to our brothers and sisters in humanity, and how to live as followers of Jesus. The poem is as follows:
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” ~Archbishop Desmond Tutu
“I try to see both sides,” –
as if uttering those words
wraps them in the furs
of automatic and indisputable
as if their non-committal stance
to new and exclusive heights
a superior breadth of view
and bequeathing a 3-D vision
to those who say
that taking sides
Both sides –
as if the elephant and the mouse are equal:
Colonist and Native American
Turk and Armenian
Nazi and Jew
White Afrikaaner and Black South African
Rapist and Raped
American and Iraqi
Israeli and Palestinian.
Both sides –
as if the violence of resistance
weighs ounce for ounce
as the violence and murder
carried out in the name of the State
and the powerful.
Both sides –
in the realm of Legitimacy
victim and victimizer
And I have to wonder –
if they were the mouse –
just how quickly
they would rush to remind us
to be sure to see
Interesting, n'est-pas? I find it to be like a breath of fresh air, a window thrown open in a stuffy room of "fair and balanced" morality that avoids naming the imbalance and abuse of power where it exists.
"Housekeeping" note: This blog, like me, is a work-in-progress. So I figured out how to change my "comment" settings so that anyone can post a comment -- you don't have to be a Gmail or Blogger user to comment now. Now, regardless of your e-mail or blogging persuasion, you can comment away!
This is just in case you folks without Gmail or Blogger were losing sleep over the fact that you couldn't comment on my blog of epic proportions -- all three posts of it. :o)
Thanks for your patience as I learn this newfangled blog technology.
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
This will take you to the music of Nancy Ajram, a Lebanese pop singer. I enjoy her music. My favorite on this site is track 16, "Ya Salem." From my really limited Arabic skills, I think she's singing about peace -- at least, "salaam" means "peace" in Arabic.
But then again, I could be wrong -- my Arabic is pretty much limited to "Hello", "Good morning", "Good night", "How are you?", "I'm good, praise God", "Goodbye", "God willing", "yes", "no", and "maybe".
Oh, and I can count to ten.
Anyway, this site has a whole bunch of Arabic music, with musicians from all over the Middle East: Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, etc. I will forever associate some this music with the Old City of Jerusalem, where music stores would play it loudly, filling the marketplace with their enchanting sounds.
I go to this site whenever I need my Arabic music "fix."
Monday, September 3, 2007
Oh, and for those of you who haven't yet seen any photos from my training with CPT this July/August, I thought I would share a few of them (I took these photos myself! You don't understand how rare this is. It is hard for me to view life through a camera lens. I would much rather be present and engaged in the moment than capture it in a picture. Yet picture-taking is also an important part of CPT documentation work, so here I am, learning to take -- and enjoy taking -- pictures.):
This was a cloth/tapestry that hung in my room at the Darst Center -- the urban Catholic retreat center where we stayed during our month in training. I loved this cloth; I spent many a night looking at and meditating on it. I thought it was beautiful to see Mary and Jesus portrayed as not white, and I thought a lot about Mary's risky and radical obedience to God. To be pregnant out of marriage -- that would have been dangerous for her, given her culture, but she said "yes" anyway. What does her modeling mean for my life of faith? Mary's courage so inspires me and encourages me to say "yes" to God when I feel God's guidance, even if that guidance leads me to places and situations where I'm less than comfortable.
The red "flowers" hanging around the tapestry were lights, actually, courtesy of Rachel, whom I love dearly, and who was my amazing roommate for duration of the training. The artificial flowers that surrounded these lights were supposed to replicate the flowers that were from the tree where the Buddha -- found? sought? -- enlightenment.
One day, we talked to the Bible, as one would talk to another person. Ask me about it sometime. Or maybe I'll write about it later; I think folks should do it more often. It was such a freeing and profound experience, I took a picture. This was the Bible we talked to. And the Bible talked back!
This was at our training's graduation. These are some of the fantastic people who make up CPT's Support Team. Someone said, "Make a silly face!" So they all did.
While playing with my camera, I've learned I do much better taking pictures of inanimate objects than of people. I'm working on getting better.
I didn't take this picture -- because I'm in it! That's me giving Kryss, our training coordinator, a big hug after she gave me my diploma at graduation. (How about that -- I had two graduations in one year!)
This picture amuses me, because -- I don't know if you can see it clearly when the picture is this size -- I'm definitely up on my toes as I'm hugging Kryss. This is how I hug everybody, unless, of course, the hugee is someone else who is short, or if I am hugging another person around his or her waist.
This is my CPT diploma, mug, and shirt (in the lower left corner) I received at graduation.
This is me in my new, bright red CPT hat that serves as CPT's "uniform." I took this picture of myself as I was packing to leave the Darst Center and Chicago. Emotionally, I was excited and completely exhausted. I've never worked so hard for a hat before in my life! ;o)
Speaking of exhausted, that's what I'm going to be if I don't make myself go to sleep pretty soon. So with that, my friends, I will bid you good night. As they say in Arabic: Masalaamei! (Goodbye, or literally, "peace go with you")
Note for those less used to computers/the internet: Anything in this blog is underlined, and written with white lettering, is a link. If you click on it, it will take you directly to the website of the organization. For example, you can click on this: Christian Peacemaker Teams. It will take you directly to CPT's website. Anything else in this blog that looks like the above link works the same way.