Interfaith Peace Initiative

 

 

 

 

 

EYES ON THE GROUND

The following excerpts are from letters by Christian, Jewish and Muslim people on the ground in the region of conflict.  They provide a unique opportunity to learn about the experience of ordinary people and see the impact of events and policies on their lives. 
 
It is important to have confidence in our sources.  For this reason, all letters printed here are from people known to members of the Interfaith Peace Initiative or to respected friends. They may be edited slightly to omit details that would divulge the identity of those writing or their locations.  IPI is grateful to the authors.

 

The letters cover the following topics:

 

Mass arrests in West Bank

The Gaza Massacre

The Cutoff of Western Aid

The Hamas Victory

Daily Life and Education

Daily Life and Land

Democracy in Action

Land Confiscation

Checkpoints

Restrictions on Christian worship in Jerusalem

Restrictions on Christian worship in the West Bank

The Wall in the West Bank

Destruction of the Environment

Targeted Assassinations

Suicide Bombings

Nonviolent Resistance

Mass arrests in West Bank

Bethlehem, February 21, 2009

The author is a Palestinian who has lived and taught at a prestigious US university. He writes from his native Bethlehem, where he is a tireless worker for peace.

It is sometimes really hard to even begin to describe our feelings living under brutal Israeli occupation and noting the indifference, complicity, and hypocrisy of so many people in Israel, in America, in Europe and elsewhere. Every day, the Israeli “system” violates dozens of the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Examples just in the past week include imposing a curfew on Jayyus village and terrorizing its population (this after confiscating most of its very rich agricultural lands), kidnapping of over 100 Palestinians in a spat of four days (to add to the 11,000 political prisoners held in Israeli torture cells), denial of right of movement, continued siege on Gaza strip, denial of rights of education, more land confiscation, pillaging a big portion of the humanitarian aid and much more. If I was to write details of these violations, many readers would stop reading very quickly. Visitors to this area think that Israel is doing these things “to defend itself” and sometimes may go overboard in “security measures.” Security measure that puts millions under a siege. This maddening description is like saying the Apartheid White South Africa or Nazi Germany in occupied Poland where acting in self defense and some-times they went a bit too far. Occupiers and colonizers do not have the right of self defense against the resistance of people who they occupy and colonize. International law is very clear on this. In fact if we want peace in this part of the world (which will mean peace elsewhere; e.g. see how Zionists pushed for an illegal US war on Iraq), then the first thing we have to do is aggressively and insistently (yet without malice) put the truth out and challenge all to be “neutral on a moving train” (?heading to a cliff).

Many people (including unfortunately many Palestinians) have become cynical of the direction of humanity. A direction driven more driven by narrow interests (individual, tribal, national) rather than enlightened self and common interests. But one can maintain healthy skepticism of actions and even cynicism while not succumbing to negativism. We should not and we must not lose our faith in humanity, our hopes, and our dreams. I see so many who do such wonderful work for common humanity and for real peace based on justice (not fake “peace processes” intended to pacify natives). In fact if we succumb to the negative thoughts then we lose our humanity and life ceases to become meaningful but becomes robotic and tasteless. So many of us hang around inspirational people who give meaning to positive action, who plant seeds of good will (even when many seedlings get uprooted), who keep the hope alive.

Political Zionists are scrambling and spending billions to maintain the fiction that justifies the plunder by using a blitzkrieg of propaganda and a blitzkrieg of tanks and apache helicopters. But the mass of humanity awakening from its slumber and challenging the collaborative political leaders has become unstoppable. Activists for Palestinian rights are growing and evolving: they are becoming more sophisticated, more nuanced, less prone to rhetoric and hyperbole, and more focused on practical actions (see Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions actions, see Free Gaza Movement actions, and also as we speak a convoy of 100+ cars is moving by land from England to Gaza). Even outside of the issues of Palestine the trends are evident for progressive thoughts, towards practical actions, and away from tribalism and narrow nationalism will all mean that Zionism will increasingly find itself an alien force in this world.

Despite the current difficulties, I am thus 100% convinced the future is pointing towards peace with justice. Our task is really to shorten the time frame to get there. Each day reduced saves lives and decreases the misery of the occupied and colonized people of Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan (and may prevent a Zionist inspired attack on Iran). That is the essence of why we should all work hard. The harder we do it, the sooner we arrive. But the road is actually more important than the destination and we who are walking on road to peace with justice are closer to our humanity and so reap the benefit as we go along even if some of us may not get to that destination. We who continue honor them.

I Can't Hug My Mother in Gaza

Ghada Ageel is a third-generation Palestinian refugee who spoke at two IPI sponsored events in RI in 2007. She grew up in the Khan Younis refugee camp in Gaza and is currently in the United Kingdom and cannot return to Gaza because of the closure of Gaza's borders by Israel.

January 1, 2009

There is nothing worse in life than being glued to the TV screen, watching one's nation being slaughtered on an hourly basis while able to do nothing. There is nothing more painful in this universe than hearing the tears and cries of one's mother on the phone and be unable to hug her, to wipe her tears or to comfort her with any words or means. There is nothing more terrifying than living through every night in fear that the coming morning will bring the worst possible news a person can bear, that a member of one's immediate family has been killed. And last but not least there is nothing more horrible on this globe than something happening to a family member when he or she is barred from returning to his or her family and home.

Like many other members of my community, I wonder what is happening to humanity in the 21st century that makes it deaf to the cries of Gaza's children and of its entire population, trapped in their open-air prison for more than two years now. Why is this so-called free world blind, deaf and dumb towards these atrocities, again and again?

There must be something wrong when families all over the world gather to celebrate the eve of a new year while Palestinian families remain shattered and scattered. There must be something wrong when five sisters of the Balousha family -- Jawaher, Dunia, Samar, Ikram and Tahreer, all children -- were buried under the rubble of their home in Jabaliya camp when their home was bombed by Israeli war jets, and no world leader has condemned this barbaric crime. There must be something wrong when Gaza universities, mosques, United Nations and government schools, homes, clinics, ministries and charities are bombarded from US-manufactured and -supplied F-16 war planes on the pretext of stopping the rockets coming out of Gaza. How can the world accept the Israeli claim that this bloodiest of air strikes, the worst in Gaza since 1967, is an act of self-defense against the crude rockets launched by Hamas and other resistance groups?

Does the world ever dig deeper behind the reasons for the launching of these rockets after they were fired so rarely during the past six months of the cease fire brokered in June by Egypt? Does the world know that ending the siege imposed on Gaza's 1.5 million people, opening the borders and stopping Israel's ongoing invasions and killings, which were the Palestinians' three main conditions for truce, have not been fulfilled by Israel? All international and human rights reports released during the past few months confirm this unequivocally. During the truce, 23 Palestinians were killed by Israel and Gaza's borders remained sealed, and the entire population was starved.

Is this really a war against Hamas and the rockets it launches from Gaza or is it something else? Is the goal of the aggression to bring peace to the people of Sderot or is it to destroy any potential opportunity for peace? And if Hamas and other resistance groups are terrorist organizations because they demand an end to the siege on Gaza and opening the borders for basic humanitarian needs, then doesn't the near-starvation of a population, the lethal power cuts, the bombing of infrastructure and the killing of hundreds of Palestinians make Israel a terrorist state as well? If Israel has the right to such heavy-handed self-defense exercised against the civilian population of Gaza, how would the world wish the Palestinians to defend themselves and end the siege? And if the world understands that protecting civilians involves the bombing of other civilians by F-16 jet fighters, then how would the world want the people under occupation and siege to defend themselves?

Like the people of British, the US, the UK, and elsewhere, the Palestinians are humans and belong to humanity. The blood of all Palestinians including those in Gaza is just as valuable as the blood of Israelis. If these barbaric acts and this systematic, criminal destruction of a nation are acceptable to the world then Palestinians, as all oppressed people in the world, have every right to declare the death of humanity.

This article was originally published at http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article10090.shtml.

Nonviolent Resistance

The author is a Jewish American who is traveling in the West Bank.

"In two years of demonstrating, Bil'ain villagers have prayed on their land. They've constructed giant dioramas. They've marched with a giant paper-maché grey snake with a dove in its mouth to symbolize how the Wall is suffocating peace and the village. They've held a wedding on their "forbidden" land, and World Cup parties. They've invited drummers to give a beat to their marching for freedom. Bil'ain has dressed up like Abu Ghraib prisoners, and worn masks of Bush and Condi. They've spelled out their message with mosaics on their streets. They've resolved to build a hotel on their stolen land, where any person will be free to stay no matter what ethnicity or religion.....

 
Bil'ain has paid a price for its determination. Villagers have withstood kidnappings, rubber bullets, sound bombs, tear gas, beatings, live ammunition, arrests, threats of deportation, arson, and more, yet they continue. When the Army declared overnight curfew on Bil'ain, villagers held a volleyball tournament from midnight to 3am between teams of Israelis, internationals, and Palestinians. When the Army declared internationals were forbidden from entering the village, they invited foreign musical groups to sing and dance on their land with them. When they lost their first court case, they filed another. When a nearby settlement continued expansion on Bil'ain land, villagers built their very own outpost!--a trailer resembling those used by ideological settlers to illegally squat Palestinian land, but this one open to internationals, Israelis, and villagers to affirm Palestinians' right to live on their land. They call it the "Center for Joint Struggle," and although the original was destroyed, another towed, and yet another burned, the villagers return each time to reassert their rights and build a new community home on their stolen groves."

On the Cutoff of Western Aid

The author of this letter is a Protestant minister in Jerusalem and a good friend of an IPI member.  This member was hosted by the minister and his wife on a trip to the region.

One of the decisions of “western” governments has been to cut off financial support for the programmes of the Palestinian Authority, and also to reduce or cut off financial support for organisations working with the Palestinian Authority.  This is a response to the election of the Hamas Government in Palestine, which is classified as a “terrorist” organisation.  During my conversation with [a parishioner who directs a school for blind children], she said that two of her staff, who are paid by the Palestinian Authority, have not had their pay for March as yet.  It is when you come face to face with people whom you know, and whose work is very definitely helping others, such as the children who are blind, and when you realise that they have not been paid – that the impact of these “security” and “political” decisions becomes real.  Fortunately, I was able to offer some assistance, so that the teachers would have some money, and as and when they are paid, they can refund the “loan.” 

There is much talk of the fact that Hamas does not recognise the State of Israel.  One of the pre-conditions for any resumption of aid is that it does recognise Israel, and pressure must be exerted on Hamas to do this.  Listening to people who are not necessarily Hamas members or even Hamas supporters, they again and again make the point that Mr Arafat did recognise the State of Israel, and all that they saw following this recognition was an increase in Settlements, in road building, and in taking over land.  In their eyes, recognition produced no positive results at all. 

On the Hamas Victory

The author of the next five letters is a friend of the Interfaith Peace Initiative who visited  the West Bank in the spring of 2006.  These are excerpts.

Most of the folks I've talked to in Fatah feel that the majority of voters did not expect or want a Hamas victory but voted for Hamas to strengthen its position as a minority player in the government in order to force reform within Fatah. Another factor which generated votes for Hamas was reaction to the US saying that if Hamas won they would stop financial support – people were  outraged that the US would dare to try to tell them what kind of "democratic" choices they were allowed to make.  

Every single Fatah supporter that I've talked to has told me that they have big issues with Fatah on many levels, but that they still feel there is alive within Fatah the most mature and principled element of the leadership of the national struggle which is working hard to overcome the problems within the party. Many Fatah members have told me that they think Hamas' political positions and statements are excellent and very sincere, but that some of their tactics are unprincipled and that they do not have the political maturity to survive the sharks in the international arena, and simply do not have the administrative experience to deal with the realities of the people's needs. In the municipalities of villages and towns around here where Hamas took over a long standing Fatah municipal leadership, there have been numerous problems with delivery of utilities and other municipal services. 

These new Hamas administrations are also being given the cold shoulder by many international groups which visited in the past pledging their support to the people of these villages and offering various types of aid, but now disapprove of the people's choice of Hamas. Some people have expressed to me that they have no faith in any party at this point; all of the principled leaders have been assassinated or jailed by Israel and Israel is constantly fostering mafia and thug elements to fill the power vacuum; the choice of a 15 year old child  to carry out the bombing in Haifa last week being cited as an example of evidence that the leadership of the resistance in those towns is now in the hands of leaders without the kind of principles of the heroes of the past.

On Daily Life and Education

A few days ago I went to visit the family of a university student whom I first met three years ago when I visited his high school.  He met me in the middle of the village and we walked a long way down dirt paths to his home.

His family home is one room, the size of a two car garage, for the family of 6, but sweet and clean and pretty; the front doors open out to a porch area with lots of plants and a much loved cat. Instead of beds they have a stack of foam mats to take out to sleep on at night, and there is no table in the house; his mom brought a tray of food to sit around on the floor. She told me her husband worked in Israel until the 2nd intifada and now struggles to find work each day.

With her oldest son a freshman in college and two teenage boys behind him, they don't know how they can get all the kids through university. Didn't I know anyone in the US who might be able to help with a scholarship. I tried to explain that Americans are very reluctant to send money to Palestine, and also that there is a values difference; it is hard for Americans who support Palestinians to understand why university education would be a priority to such a poor family over even basic needs like food, and the best bet would be for him to apply for a scholarship abroad, where he would be appealing to the interests of a university to maintain diversity rather than seeking a much smaller amount of financial aid to be able to be educated here in his homeland. How to explain to someone from the most terrorized and victimized society in the world, how ….in the wealthiest society on earth so few are willing to take the risk of helping them financially?

On Daily Life and Land

I went to lunch in the nearby village with the woman I told you about. They have an old family home and eat their meals under the intertwining lemon and askadunya (loquat) trees. It is about as heavenly a place as I could possibly imagine, surrounded by mossy stone walls, climbing orange and pink mujnuneh (bouganvillae), maddeningly sweet smell of bomali flowers, flowering cactus, pear, peach, and apricot trees, enormous artichokes, the space between the trees ploughed up with a donkey ready for summer crops, and birds singing endlessly. She fried us each a fish from Haifa and we fed the faces to the black cat. We had potatoes and bread cooked on the outdoor fire and grape leaves and stuffed zuchinni. After that we drank green tea which she picked from her garden, with mint…. 

Since I couldn’t get back into the town I had to spend the night there. After a nap we took a long walk through the olive groves to two nearby villages,  the olive groves planted with wheat and colorful with all kinds of spring flowers, the hills green and the breeze warm and full of a million scents. She talked a lot about visiting her land and trees on different sides of the town, as if they were relatives. Her family history in this village goes back at least 500 years; she doesn’t know if their history goes back to the first Christians or not. When we got back to the village we stopped to visit some friends. The wife had gathered wild thyme, zatar, from the hills and it was piled kneehigh on newspaper on the living room floor. While we visited we stripped the leaves off of the stalks, and she baked the leaves inside big rounds of flat bread. Her husband sat with us helping the kids with their homework, and then shooting us questions from a crossword puzzle. We watched the news on TV and heard that 80 jeeps and tanks had entered Nablus. ….  

Today the faculty at the university invited me to a party, to celebrate one getting his doctorate, and another just giving birth. We went to a park just inside the wall  and ate olives and lamb and kanaffe, and laughed for quite a few hours. Any mishap here seems cause for gales of laughter, from everyone old and young. When I comment on it people say, well life is so sad here, of course we need to laugh really a lot. I think there are a lot of quiet ways this society has been hardwiring itself with resistance to depression, despair, fear. There is just an incredibly capacity to maintain health under tremendous suffering. Now for the past month none of the teachers anywhere have gotten paid, because the US won’t let Hamas get the international funds the society depends on. Every day people are hungrier. And to all human strength there is eventually a limit.  

While I was writing this a friend called to say the soldiers have entered the town and have been shooting a bit; don’t leave the house.   

On Democracy in Action 

4/29/06
Tomorrow is election day for the student government at the university; the students have been campaigning day and night for Fatah or Hamas. Every day for the past couple of weeks the university has been plastered with new slogans, colorful and creative decorations and propaganda. Nearly every day there has been a big rally for one or the other party, some of them citywide, with dancing in the streets, speeches by students and community leaders, performances of traditional dabke dancing, and members from the military wings of the parties appearing with masked faces shooting their weapons in the air and pledging that they will never give up the liberation struggle….  

The university was founded in honor of Yasser Arafat (AbuAmmar) and has always been strongly Fatah, however no one is sure at all that Fatah will win this time. Last week Hamas won the elections at Birzeit university, indicating that Christians and traditionally loyal Fatah members voted strongly for Hamas. Sixty-five percent of the student body at this university are women, and support among women is higher for Hamas than for Fatah; the explanation one man offered to me was that women in general incline towards spirituality more than men do, and there is appeal in the religious groundedness of Hamas. Hamas won every seat in the municipal elections last year, and Fatah won representation for this area in the legislature this year, and so the stakes are high for both parties with the university elections representing a tie-breaker in terms of current public sentiment. The student council plays a powerful role, so if Hamas wins these elections, there are likely to be sweeping changes in the administration and in the cultural life of the campus.    

Apart from the tension around the election, there has been a lot of tension on a larger scale this past week due to statements by top leaders of both Hamas and Fatah to the international press insulting the opposition, which are perceived by everyone I've talked to as a betrayal of people on the ground by feeding into the international agenda to divide the people along partisan lines. My impression is that most people believe that the US and Israel facilitated Hamas' victory then pulled the plug on funding for a Hamas government in order to divide and conquer the people through extreme pressure on the level of basic needs, and whatever criticisms and differences there are between the parties must be handled internally within Palestinian society and not displayed to the world where they can be easily manipulated, and that within the society people must maintain a high level of respect for the opposing party and consciousness that the two parties represent different strategies towards a single goal and are brothers united in a single liberation struggle.  

5/5/06
I got back to town and the university was in a frenzy with the elections. Non-stop dancing and partying. Eventually the results came in that Fatah had won with about double the votes of Hamas, and the partying burst out even stronger, with revelers in the streets, speeches and rallies touring the town, lots of shooting of firearms and music and dancing, continuing through today. It was a very big day for all those who had worked so hard for the past month; all of them young college students, to experience this victory and know that their fellow students had put their trust in them; maybe the most thrilling moment of their lives, for some of them. Everyone urged me to take lots of pictures. Maybe you can show the Americans what real democratic elections are like, one student suggested. Putting " America" and "democracy" in the same sentence is enough to make anyone around here double up with fits of laughter.
 

On Land Confiscation 

This week I went to a nearby village to visit the mayor, who is from Hamas, and is the brother of a friend of mine who is a Fatah leader in the area. In the municipality Hamas is in the majority over Fatah by just one member. Two seats are reserved as a minimum for women; in their village one of the women is Fatah and one is Hamas. This grandfatherly man worked as a school teacher for many years. He and his wife owned 100 olive trees, many of them ancient "Romi" trees that are 2000 or more years old, and they also own several citrus groves. They put all of their five daughters and four sons through university with the income from the citrus groves. After school every day he would go out to work his land until dark, and on Fridays the family would spend the day picnicking in the orchards.   After more than 25 years, the school department was forced by Israel to let him go. He then worked for a few years in town here as the director of an organization for handicapped people. When closures and checkpoints made it impossible for him to travel the few miles to work here every day, he left that job and decided to devote the rest of his life to his land.

 

After three years, Israel uprooted every one of their 100 olive trees for the path of the "security" barrier (securing more Palestinian land for Israel). Now all of his citrus trees are behind the wall and of course no one of his immediate family members can get a permit from Israel to go to their land. He hires a man to water and irrigate his citrus trees, but cannot harvest or market the fruit because the cost to transport it through the wall and checkpoints would be more than he could sell it for. But this way he keeps them alive, he says he has hope he will one day see them again. He became emotional as he talked about his trees. He said that he had a feeling for them like the feeling he has for his children, it is a terrible grief to carry that 100 trees that had been part of the family for so many generations were killed by "the enemies of the land" as he called the Israelis. He said all of his sons have been to prison; 3 of them for their association with Hamas and one for his association with international peace groups. Now his citrus trees are the part of the family that is in Israeli prison, and he carries the pain with him, worrying about their welfare, like he did when any of his sons was in prison.

 

He took me up to the roof where we could see the wall snaking around in absurd loops as far as the eye could see to the south and the north. He told me….

They really want our land, and they really don't want us. They want us to move Palestine to Jordan, but Israel is part of Palestine, it is the land, they can't change that. They say that Allah gave them this land, but England gave them our land and our homes, not Allah. How does the whole world call Hamas terrorists when we fight for the survival of our land and people against foreign colonization? The Europeans admire their own heroes who died to keep their homeland free, and glorify de Gaulle for his efforts to unify resistance movements against German invasion and occupation, but those who work to do the same here are condemned as terrorists.

The author of this letter is a Christian farmer near Bethlehem whose orchards an IPI member has visited.  His grandfather purchased the family’s farm in the early 1900’s and the family has all the records.  Nonetheless, settlers from surrounding illegal settlements came and destroyed the family’s olive trees and water tower and told the family to leave, that this was their “Promised Land.”  The family has spent many thousands of dollars pursuing their case in the Israeli courts, and they must maintain a constant presence on the land to keep it from being confiscated.

Dear Friends, 

As we enter the tree planting season, we are full of hope that this year will bring justice and peace to the people and to our land. Though we can’t ignore the new changes from the Palestinian side, after Hamas won the elections and the threatens from the US and the Europeans to stop the financial support for the Palestinians, and from the Israeli side, the continuous construction of the apartheid wall in the West Bank in general and specifically in Bethlehem area. Which will, in the end put the villages and our farm in one enclave. Yet we are holding on, with great perseverance to pursue for a dignified life and take our rights back.

During this season, we are trying to bring more life to the land…. we prepared the fields and planted about 100 Olive and other trees. ….Planting is not an easy process, but at the end when we looked at the work of our hands, we realized the wonderful and meaningful work we have done. We hope that these trees will grow and cover the area with the beautiful green color, which symbolizes hope and freedom, and will protect the whole area from the danger of land confiscation.

            15 years until now and our legal fight didn’t cease. ….At the moment, we find it very challenging to continue with our project while we still struggle with the Israeli high court from one side and the settlements growth from the other side, yet we have to be optimistic and work with a positive approach, in order to overcome the oppression we face everyday. ….

We started fighting for 100 acres of our land … and ended up fighting for 300 acres, [including] 200 acres of land belonging to other Palestinians who are living in the villages around [us].  Mr. x, the Israeli land expert is finished with his report, he presented a draft copy for our lawyer and he will give us the final copy, when we pay him the last payment, which is $19,000.…Our lawyer believes that the final report …. is very strong and it makes it clear that, the land is a private property …..

            We would like to extend our thanks to all our friends and solidarity groups who stood firmly by us and prayed for this case, we also thank all those who visited our land and heard it’s story. We believe that sooner or later the sun of justice will rise again.

 

On Checkpoints 

This letter is from a Palestinian man whose family hosted the IPI Moderator on a recent trip to the West Bank. 

Two Days Ago on Beit Iba Check Point

The way to Nablus is a nightmare to all people who go there. Since the beginning of the Second Intifada I go to Nablus three or four times a week. In the first three years, I have to explore all dirt roads and through mountains to reach my work. In the way to Nablus,  I had seen people died or killed, women gave birth and children were crying and kids frightened by the soldiers. These roads are scary and risky, if not by the soldiers shootings; then by the unsafe driving on a steep and very rough roads. Every time they discover such roads, the bulldozers come and close them and we have to find alternative routes. This applies also for thousands of people who have to travel daily to Nablus either for their work like me or the students who study at Al-Najah University, or to the hospitals or for shopping.  All times we have to run, escape, or return back to home before reaching Nablus.  

Since three years almost, the soldiers changed the system and created three main check points to Nablus, and one of them is Beit Iba. Three years passing this check point means a tremendous waste of time and rich experience of humiliation and suffering. I’m sure everyone passes this check point has hundreds stories of bad treatment and chastised oppression.  In the first three years we were physically suffering the long distances on foot, and the scary or risky roads, but I think they created these check points to destroy the people psychology.  Everyday we have to face at least two flying [mobile] checkpoints and to wait on them, then comes Beit Iba as a fixed check point. The time to reach Nablus from [my town] is around twenty minutes going, but now it takes in average two and half hours.

I can say much more, but  let me go to the title.

Two days ago I left my work in Nablus at three p.m, I reached Beit Iba at 3:20 and  like most of times there are two lines, one for young males and the other for women and elderly people (elderly is a flexible term: one day means a doctor or disable or above forty or fifty, and next day it is according to the soldier mode and with no respect to age or profession or case). I found my self standing in  a long line of ladies and elderly!, and it took me around one and half our to reach the two soldiers who are checking this line (one checks and  the other snaps).

Then I noticed a lady looks pregnant in the last month and carrying another kid 2-3 years old sleeping on her hands. She came directly to the soldiers from a narrow passage specially for people entering to Nablus . She was very tired and exhausted, and asking the soldier “please let me pass, I was waiting  for a long time in the line and see I’m so tired see; here is the identity” The soldier shouted on her go back no way, then another old man came through the same way asking for similar help. The soldier start to talk with the old man, then I asked the lady “come beside me I will talk to him” The soldier finished with the old man and pushed him back to the line. He shouted on her “I told you go back”  then I said to him “look I told her to come beside me, and don’t you see she may be nine months pregnant and carrying her kid also? look she will fall down in any moment like another lady few minutes ago” the soldier said “give me your identity” I thought he wants to check me, but then I noticed he wants to teach me a lesson how to listen and obey the orders and decisions. He said “I’m the commander here and the one who decides not you”. “ I told him its okay, I am asking you to help her” He said “you also go back to the young’s line you are forty five not fifty (I think he is not good in mathematics, because I am 40). “I told him, but today you let 45 also, I think you want to punish me”

(The soldier or the commander speaks good English). He said  “I’m the commander who decides  (I think he is around 22 -23 years old) take your ID or I keep it”.  I took the ID, and I told him “ still I don’t know my mistake,  (I was thinking of the woman beside me) I will go but try to help this lady”  Then he said “she will also go back” I stepped to go back then I told him “remember one day you were in your mother’s womb or sleeping on her hands, help your mother” then I walked back to the end of line, and when I turned my face I saw the lady following me while she is crying, exhausted and desperate.

 I don’t know the lady, and I couldn’t do any thing for her. All I know that she is a mother and pregnant and  I see her like any mother in this world.  I feel sorry for this lady and  for this mother too. Then  I have to start again my chances with the young’s lines through the rotating gates. Finally, I reached [my town] at 7:30 p.m, back to my home full of sadness and waiting tomorrow to start again a new tormenting travel.

A day before and after two stories waiting somebody to write them. 

 

On Restrictions for Christian worship in Jerusalem 

The author of this letter is a retired director general of the Jerusalem International YMCA, which established an endowment in his honor.  He is also a respected Rotarian. who has been praised by Jews, Christians and Muslims for his work toward peace.  He is a  Palestinian Christian whose family roots in Jerusalem go back 500 years. 

Jerusalem, Saturday April 22, 2006 – Easter Weekend in the Orthodox Church 

If Jesus came to Jerusalem today, he would weep with the people of Jerusalem who for 15 centuries have worshipped freely in their Holiest sites. Yet today, the Church of the Resurrection was out of bounds for them. Only persons who went to the central Police station and secured permits after having spent hours waiting in line to get a permit were admitted. 

I went to the Old City in order to worship at the Tomb, today being Holy Saturday in the Orthodox Church. This is the day when the holy fire comes into the tomb and lights all the candles held by worshippers who came from around the globe on pilgrimage to their cradle of faith.  

Six barriers at various intervals stopped me and hundreds of others from entering. Israeli  soldiers with their full armor held up Christian pilgrims who had come once in their lifetime to pay homage to their Risen Lord. They held up local Christians who lived in this City for hundreds of years..... Security is their answer.

Usually after the visit I would go to the cemetery and visit the graves of my parents and ancestors, but Alas I was so tense, enraged and angry that I went away without the visit to the graves. 

Perhaps if some of the so-call Christian leaders of the free world came incognito in order to worship, they world be held up at the barriers by troops in full armor and taste the indignity of being barred from entry. How would Mr. Bush or Mr. Blair or other leaders react to this? 

I witnessed priests and nuns weeping at being held up so unceremoniously and being barred from entering. Perhaps the State of Israel that depends on tourism ought to announce to would be pilgrims and tourists that if they came they would be barred entry to Holy sites in order to secure their safety. 

I am convinced that I am not wanted in this my City and so my decision to depart this city is strengthened. Let the United Nations, the leaders of the so called free and democratic countries, the leaders of the Christian Church world wide exert the needed pressure to make this City of Jerusalem an open city NOT only for Jews.  2.2 billion Christians inhabit the world but there is ONE Jerusalem 

 When the Jewish people celebrated their Passover last week, all means were made to facilitate their free and unhindered access and exit from the Western Wall. Those of us who are non-Jewish understood  this was necessary and accepted the difficulty of movement. But for me, being barred entry to my Church of the Resurrection is an unforgivable act perpetrated by people who do not want me around because I am a danger to security. 

Jesus would weep today. 

On Restrictions for Christian worship in the West Bank 

This letter is from a Scottish Presbyterian minister visiting in Bethlehem.  

Sitting in the office of the Pastor of the Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, I had heard a litany of woe.  He had arranged a conference for University students last week in Jericho.  But although all the participants were from the West Bank, and although Jericho is within the West Bank, and although no travel into Israel would have taken place, permits for the people to take part in the conference were refused.  It is said that the only people who can get permits to enter Jericho at the moment are people with a Jericho ID, or those who are passing through Jericho on their way to Jordan.  It is also said that this is part of the Israeli Government’s plan to annex the Jordan Valley and retain control of the land and its resources. 

He had also made application to go with members of his congregation for a trip to Nazareth and the Galilee.  Frequently the Israeli Government issues permits to Christian people at the time of major Christian festivals, to enable them to visit significant sites in Israel.  This year, during the Easter celebrations, the reports are that very few permits were issued at all – just before I had left for Bethlehem, I had heard about another church group from Ramallah being refused permits to go to Nazareth for services at Easter time.  Members of the Lutheran congregation in Bethlehem were granted one-day permits to go to Jerusalem – not a 2 day permit to go to Galilee. 

The reason that I was able to see the pastor at all was that he had been refused a permit to travel through Ben Gurion Airport to go to a conference in Germany.  The Israeli army office had kept delaying and delaying giving him an answer, and finally when it was too late to go to Amman and travel that way, he was told that his application had been refused. 

So, as you can imagine, he was not a particularly happy man.   

     Just for information, for someone to travel to Scotland from Bethlehem, for instance, will normally mean:

a)  getting permission to get to Jericho, and from Jericho to the Allenby Bridge between Israel and Jordan;

b)  making the journey, which will take most of a day to cover the 90 kms;

c)  spending a night, or part of a night, in Amman, as most of the flights to Europe leave after 0330 hours – as they do from Ben Gurion airport;

d) repeating the process in reverse when returning to Bethlehem.

All told, it adds up to 4 extra days on to a trip, plus up to $250 of extra costs.  So, for someone to attend a 3 –day meeting in Edinburgh will take a week, and cost not only the air ticket, but also all the extra costs of travel to and from Amman. 

            For the pastor, one item of good news is that there will be a conference in the next few days with approximately 100 Christian folk coming from the USA, and holding their conference in Bethlehem.  Not only will that bring some money into the economy, but it will also give morale a much needed boost.   

On the Wall in the West Bank 

The following description was taken from a letter written by an IPI member visiting Bethlehem and other towns in the West Bank in 2004:  

My first glimpse of the wall surrounding Bethlehem was a shock.  It is staggering in size and scope, a stark intruder in this ancient land where shepherds still herd their goats on tree-lined hills.  Dividing the "Shepherds' Field," it also separates many parts of the town from others.  I spoke with students at Bethlehem University who have trouble reaching their classes.  The Convent of the Emmanuel Sisters, which I visited, faces the 26-foot-high granite wall.  The nuns spoke of their sadness that the children and church families of Bethlehem could no longer reach their beautiful property.  Before the wall, they often came for picnics and services. 

A lovely woman from Bethlehem had to leave home before 5 am to reach her job by 7:30 at the Jerusalem guest house where I stayed.  It is normally a 15 minute drive from her home. Her husband, who teaches in Hebron, had been detained at a roadblock while returning home the evening before.  After more than two hours, he was told to go home through the fields, rather than using the road.  This is a dangerous enterprise for any Palestinian after dark, since soldiers often shoot at anything that moves.  

In Abu Dis, a neighborhood near East Jerusalem, the Wall runs right down the center of the main street.  A large hospital is on one side, and doctors who live across the street from the hospital must now travel almost an hour around the wall to reach their patients.  When the wall is complete, they will no longer be able to reach the hospital, and many of their neighbors are unable to reach jobs, schools, or family members who live nearby.   

In the small farming community of Jayyous, where I stayed for several days, the Wall takes the form of a fence, but it might as well be the Great Wall of China.  It is covered with razor wire and a road for military vehicles has been built alongside it.  On either side, hundreds of fruit and olive trees have been destroyed, and it now separates the villagers from 73% of their farmland and most of their water wells.  My friends in the village now have to buy their water from a neighboring town, and when I was there, they had water only two hours a day, three days a week.  The Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land nearby had swimming pools and green lawns.

On Destruction of the Environment 

This is an excerpt from a letter by Anna Baltzer, a Jewish American Fulbright Scholar, Columbia University graduate, and volunteer with the International Women’s Peace Service. 

Her first-hand account of life in occupied Palestine is included in her book, Witness in Palestine, available at www.annainthemiddleeast.com.

"deir saraf is a palestinian village north of nablus that the surrounding settlements decided to make their personal dump about 2 or 3 years ago. the settlers brought a crusher into the area and dug out a huge quarry a few hundred meters from the village, where they now throw all their waste. what’s worse, the settlements have advertised the dump to regions in israel that don’t have a place to put their trash, as a way to make money. consequently, trash from israel and west bank settlements is now threatening the area’s air, animals, communities, and most importantly the biggest water source in the region, which is less than 300m away. contamination of this source could have serious health implications for the 300,000 palestinians that drink from it, including the majority of nablus’ inhabitants.

villagers from deir saraf are fed up with the noxious fumes and health threats and organized a march from town hall to the dump. when we arrived the mayor welcomed us and said he wished we could be meeting under better circumstances. he gave us a brief history on the issue, and said the village didn’t know what else to do than to try and tell the world about their crisis, through activism and media.

(unfortunately, the demonstration was smaller than it could have been because several activists and journalists were held up in nearby nablus that morning when the army took over a house and threatened to destroy it [this is in spite of the army’s admission months ago that house demolition is clearly ineffective in stopping terrorism]. four men were arrested before the army rummaged through the house looking for a gun that they never found. an international was shot in the shoulder by a rubber bullet, and much of the family’s furniture was ruined.)

and so we walked, a large group of villagers, israelis, and a couple internationals and media, down to the quarry. we could tell we were close when the noxious fumes forced us to cover our noses. before us stood a veritable city of trash, with a football field of freshly cleared ground making room for more to come. the setting could have been beautiful; cliffs towered above and the weather was perfect... but the place was revolting.

a nearby stream flowed urine and feces instead of water. i asked a villager whether the pollution came from settlements like in wadi qana, but he said the sewage came from other palestinian villages. he said the community had asked for permission to build a water purification facility to prevent such pollution but that the israeli government was generally not in favor of allowing that kind of infrastructure in palestine. and so the pollution continued, and yet another hydration source was lost, in a desert land desperate for water."

On Targeted Assassinations:

Loss
The author of this letter is a young Palestinian man well known to executives at the YMCA of the United States who are respected friends of IPI members.  He has worked at a YMCA camp in the US, where he was recognized as a person of high integrity.  His letter about the brutal murder of his friend on Orthodox Easter Sunday, 2006,  is accompanied by disturbing  photographs. The Israeli government is assassinating hundreds of people who resist the occupation without any trial or evidence of wrongdoing.  This is illegal under international law and abhorrent to people of every faith.

Dear friends,

It has been 10 days since the execution of my good friend Daniel took place here in Bethlehem. I had nothing to talk about it, allowed myself to maintain the crises in my heart, without accepting it. I still don’t want to believe that he is gone! Even here, when I’m writing you this email, I deeply want to believe that he is hanging around what is one of his favorite places in the town, or spending time  with my brother and cousin.

Daniel is such a sweet heart and an easy going person! The love of Palestine, together with anger on the unjust situation -which the people who he belong to are suffering from on daily basis- are his life motivation. He took this matter very personally and believed in resistance in all means as the way out of this situation. He was involved in resistance, and he was honored to be so! His faith in justice is so strong, and his ultimate dream was always to sacrifice himself for the right reason. I remember the last time we were together. He knew already that Israel considered him as an activist (terrorist) who should be executed or arrested, even though he didn’t carry out attacks on Israeli civilians (if there were any) and what he told me about that was: I will never allow these criminals to arrest me, they can capture my dead body but not my free sole.

As if he knew what will happen five days later. On Sunday, April 23rd, it was the day good Sunday for the Greek Orthodox, his Family was celebrating it and getting ready for Easter. It was a very nice spring day here. He was spending time with friends, and at 17:00pm local time he decided to join another 2 of his friends for a rid. My cousin was busy that day, so he didn’t join them. Suddenly, As they were driving a force of Israeli soldiers in civil clothing blocked the road they were using and started shooting at their car. Ahmed, the driver (who is a friend of my brother) got shot head on the spot. Daniel was injured. And the third person got injured too. After that, the regular soldiers came to collect the hunt. They took Ahmed and threw him on the ground after they knew they finished him, and arrested the other person, and Daniel was still bleeding on the ground! They started hitting him on the face by their feet. And he started hitting back forgetting about the pullet in his chest and the amount of blood he is losing. After that, they dragged him for over than 30 meters, and took him aside and finished him. I don’t know how many times they shot him, but I saw marks of 9 pullets on his Jacket. They story didn’t end here, they stripped his body and took him with them, and after 4 hours they announced his death.

I don’t know how I should relate to this story or what lessons I should get out of it. Forget about human beings, forget about all the nice thoughts we have about the future. This incident was something to drag me back to the ugly reality. And I couldn’t find the power I needed to stick to my beliefs and understand this savage and inhuman thing through it. I don’t know how my inspiring teachers would react to this. I miss him.   

On Suicide Bombings  

Excerpt from a letter received by IPI members from a Christian friend traveling in the West Bank and writing about the daily struggles of people under occupation.   

I was visiting [a local man] a couple of days ago. He said, "Would you like my point of view on why so many Palestinians have strapped explosives to their bodies and blown themselves up in Israel? My answer is this: to anyone asking this question who has been here less than two weeks, there is no answer which they could understand. For anyone who has been here longer than two weeks, there is no way they would need to ask this question." 

Excerpt from a letter from an Israeli mother who is a member of the Parents Circle - Bereaved Families Forum.  Two IPI members met members of  this group when they visited Rhode Island.  

“I have buried both my sons…. 

Amir was killed in a terror attack near Beit Lid on January 22, 1995.  He had joined the army as a paratrooper only a short time earlier, and was securing the intersection after the first suicide bomber detonated himself.  He was killed when the second suicide bomber set himself off near a group of soldiers tending to the wounded.  This second terrorist killed Amir and 21 other soldiers and civilians.   

Elad, his younger brother, was 14 at the time….The first soldier to be killed in what later came to be known as the Al Aqsa Intifada,….was David Biri – Elad’s best friend…..Overwhelmed by pain and grief, Elad took his own life three weeks later.

I have lost two sons, but I have not lost my presence of mind:  the conflict cannot be resolved by military means.  Those who today refuse to communicate with the enemy will have no choice but to do so after rivers of Israeli and Palestinian blood will be shed. 

It is just a matter of time before everyone realizes how foolish it is to believe that whatever cannot be accomplished by force can be accomplished by more force.  This conflict is territorial and could have been kept and resolved as such.  

As Israelis, we can go on targeting terrorists and ticking bombs, but we will never eradicate the Palestinian desire for freedom, liberty and self-determination.  

It may be hard to believe, and it may shatter some false myths, but both sides feel exactly the same pain and have the same yearning for a life of serenity and peace.”

The author of the following letter is also a member of the Parents Circle - Bereaved Families Forum.

“This for me is one of the most difficult letters I will ever have to write.  My name is (  ).  I am the mother of David who was killed by your son.  I know he did not kill David because he was David, if he had known him, he could never have done such a thing.

David was 28 years old, he was a student at Tel-Aviv University doing his masters in the Philosophy of Education. David was part of the peace movement and did not want to serve in the occupied territories.  He had a compassion for all people and understood the suffering of the Palestinians, he treated all around him with dignity.  David was part of the movement of the Officers who did not want to serve in the occupied territories, but nevertheless for many reasons he went to serve when he was called to the reserves.

I understand that your son is considered a hero by many of the Palestinian people, he is considered to be a freedom fighter, fighting for justice and for an independent viable Palestinian state, but I also feel that if he understood that taking the life of another may not be the way and that if he understood the consequences of his act, he could see that a non-violent solution is the only way for both nations to live together in peace….

Our lives as two nations are so intertwined, each of us will have to give up on our dreams for the future of the children who are our responsibility.

Let us put an end to the killing and look for a way through mutual understanding and empathy to live a normal life, free of violence.

Editor’s note:  A Palestinian Christian perspective on suicide bombings is available at http://www.sabeel.org/old/news/cstone25/suicidebombers.htm.  Highly recommended.