Category Archives: From Leaders

Delegation Home and Taking Action

Thank you for following this twelve-day journey with us. All 28 delegates are now home. This blog will remain up for you to read as an archive. Visit http://presbypeacefellowship.org/israel-palestine for more on the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship’s continuing work on these issues.

Immediately after returning to the U.S., the IFPB-PPF delegation announced their unanimous support of the PC(USA) divesting from three companies that support the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands: Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett Packard.

What the delegates heard over and over, among young Israeli Jews, Palestinian Christians, Israeli Palestinians, and Palestinians in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank, was the same: “You have the power to force the State of Israel to make a change of direction it will never make on its own. Please support our nonviolent struggle by engaging in boycotts and divestment and supporting strategies that will force Israel to be a country that conforms to basic standards of international law and respect for human rights.”

Please read and share the official announcement from the delegation at http://presbypeacefellowship.org/delegationdivestment

Leave a comment

Filed under From Leaders, Peacemaking

Nothing Has Changed/Everything Is Different by Mark C. Johnson

So many things look familiar when I return to Palestine and Israel. This delegation has an ambitious agenda and is covering a good deal of territory. Friday we left Jerusalem for Nazareth and after visits in the Jordan Valley and a night in Bil’in we are on a short break in Ramallah before our drive to Bethlehem tonight. The roads are well trafficked. Stores in the town centers are busy. The group of 28 wanders off alone or in pairs for a couple of hours without concern, seeking out falafel, shawarma, fresh citrus, coffee. The pendulum seems to have swung to the time just before the first and the second intifada, frenetic but sober.

The holy sites have been refreshed for various celebrations, the Church of the Annunciation glows with a relatively new facade, hotels have been updated whether in East Jerusalem or Nazareth or Ramallah, streets bear Times Square like jumbotron advertising screens. Posters and graffiti are less common but still present.

The externalities reflect what Jonathan Cooke describes as a long term and largely uncontested Judaization of the nether reaches of the country. Enormous Israeli flags mark the entrances to Nazareth Illit or Moi’din Illit as well as to settlements in the West Bank and Jordan Valley. The wall, more seriously contested, especially where its 708km snaking through Samaria and Judea cut communities off from their cropland to further increase the footprint of illegal settlements, is a scar that has become all too familiar. Check points still operate like cattle pens, channeling movement through electronic sieves all day long, day after day. Jordan Valley kibbutz/settlements are surrounded by chain link fences with barbed wire coils, oases in cages.

The physical evidence of occupation are ever present and serve the slowly acculturated narrative of this 21st Century artifact of colonialism.

What is different is the conversation about where the resistance, the struggle for human rights and human dignity, stands today in terms of the way forward. Voices from three different communities seem to be moving toward a shared consensus, that of West Bank Palestinians and their families in the diaspora, that of Israeli allies working through awareness and advocacy collectives like ICAHD and the Boycott Within in Israel and their cognates abroad such as Jewish Voice for Peace, and Palestinian nationals living as citizens in Israel. There is a sense of a tipping point, a watershed.

The discourse over a Palestinian State has already abandoned the “two state solution” and is settling on a single state in which the struggle is for civil rights, equal access to societal resources including health, education, economic resources, mobility, full electoral participation and full municipal services (water, electricity, roads, garbage and waste disposal). The most blank statement of the position was offered by Sam Bahour in walking us through the analysis of his children and their peers at Bir Zeit University, or MIT, or the London School of Economics, or Hebrew University, Harvard, the Sorbonne, Al Quds: ” you win”. The 60+ years of conflict, occupation, cantonization, has convinced them that Israel has succeeded in acquiring full access and control of the land and peoples of this land from the Mediterranean to the Jordan, from Eilat to Nakourra.  Conceding that, the full responsibility for the people living under the State of Israel, as citizens or as occupied, will now seek for the full complement of civil and legal rights that come within a legitimate democratic state, without consideration for age, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, national origin or religion.

Given the practices and legal constructs that discriminate against non-Jewish citizens of the current State of Israel, and some argued that similar discrimination’s are leveled against Jewish citizens who are not Orthodox Jews, no one is naive about the hurdles of extending the same rights to a fully annexed West Bank, Gaza and Golan Heights.   The thinking seems to be that as long as it may take (and for many this is on the order of decades not years) the moral clarity that has emerged from the last 65 years points to a struggle that is fundamentally about human rights comprehensively applied rather than about land ownership or ethnic identity. This is what is different.

We ended the day in Bethlehem receiving at just the right time in our journey, a refreshment of the call issued by our Palestinian brothers and sisters, and their beloved enemies, to be responsive to the moral, theological, political, economic and social imperatives that must be at the nexus of our faith, hope and love as Christians. Kairos Palestine issued in 2009 a statement from the 13 recognized Christian denominations to their compatriots urging patience, steadfastness and nonviolent resistance. Subsequently the statement was translated from Arabic and became the basis of a global discourse on the place of the indigenous Christian community in the future of Palestine and Israel. It continues to be an excellent resource for discussion groups and personal reflection.

The moment of Kairos, urgency and justice as a measure human accountability, may move at a different pace than our Gregorian calendar or Greenwich clock, but there is still an end time implicit in the counting of days, a time after which something that was still possible no longer is. Rifat Kassis’s growing fear is that the moment of the possibility of peace is passing, not just for the moment but forever.

This is what is different.

photo 1 photo 2 photo 1                photo 2

Mark C. Johnson

Bethlehem

January 13, 2014

1 Comment

Filed under From Leaders

Bil’in – A Small Village with a Large Heart by Rick Ufford-Chase

It is dark and quiet in the home where several of us are being hosted by a Muslim family in the town of Bil’in in the Palestinian West Bank. As I write these words, seated on my sleeping mat on the floor and covered with a blanket to ward of the chill, I hear the predawn call to prayer from the loudspeakers of the mosque in the center of the village.

Bil’in, along with a dozen or so sister villages, is arguably the world capital of the nonviolent direct action movement in the world. Last night, as twenty-eight of us crowded into the living room of Iyad, the president of the local committee of resistance, we watched nearly an hour of short video clips from the weekly, nonviolent vigils that have taken place here each Friday for nine years.

Bil’in is nearly seven kilometers inside of the green line that supposedly marks the beginning of the Palestinian territory. However, when the wall was built in the early two thousands, it snaked all the way to this village, cutting its territory in half, in order to include two new Jewish settlements. The people of Bil’in lost their land, and many their livelihood, in the process.

As the people of Bil’in responded with weekly, nonviolent demonstrations, they actually forced the Government of Israel to tear down the twenty eight foot high concrete wall and move it fifteen hundred meters back toward the edge of the two Jewish Settlements.

Though this is a story of creativity and a remarkable success and affirmation of the people of Bil’in for their faithfulness in adhering to strategies of nonviolent resistance, it has come at a high cost. There were moments of laughter as our delegation applauded the creativity of the people who were documented in the video. In one instance, three people dressed in remarkable likenesses of King, Gandhi, and Mandela to lead the march. In another, villagers chained themselves in their olive trees in an unsuccessful attempt to keep the trees from being bull-dozed.

 But the laughter faded and the group grew serious as we also saw the brutal repression of the nonviolent resistors by the Israeli Military. They were sprayed with “skunk water”, a euphemism for a dangerous concoction of chemicals that smells like rotten corpses and feces. They were routinely tear-gassed, which sounds unpleasant but harmless, until one watches someone who is shot directly with a tear gas canister from as a high pressure projectile. They were shot with “rubber bullets” that are actually lead balls about half an inch in diameter and coated with a thin layer of rubber. We saw video footage of a demonstrator being shot twice in the head with these so-called rubber bullets, and there is nothing innocuous about it. They are beaten with clubs and arrested – women, men and children taken away for two to three weeks to be held without charge in a ten by fifteen foot room with thirty to forty other people, and released only upon the payment of fines that are the equivalent of seven hundred to five thousand dollars.

And then our sense of outrage changed to horror as we watched the footage of Bassem, a local leader in the nonviolent resistance movement, being shot in the chest and killed by the soldiers as he yelled to the military captain to stop shooting people in one vigil that turned particularly violent.

Lest we think of these as unusual events of the past, Iyad was shot in the leg at one of the demonstrations in the last month, and he described a young guy who was shot in both legs just three weeks ago. The nonviolent resistance continues, he explained, because the illegal expansion of the settlements has been a daily reality, continuing without ceasing even through the moments in which peace negotiations are being carried out and the Israeli government has insisted that they have temporarily stopped construction. The people of the two settlements built on the land of the people of Bil’in, and controverting both Israeli and international law, now number more than 60,000.

Later in the evening, I talked with Iyad about the challenge of raising his nine year old daughter, Myar, who had clung to his arm throughout the evening and stolen the hearts of everyone in the group with her coquettish antics. “She seems brave during the day,” he said, “but her terror comes in the night.” She has been raised on night raids and watching her father get arrested repeatedly. She was born as the struggle of the people of Bil’in to resist the wall began, and her nine years mark both the struggles and the successes of that movement.

This is what principled nonviolent resistance looks like. There is a high cost, and successes are typically measured in the smallest of increments. May we find the courage to show similar creativity, courage, and commitment as we struggle to support these people in the United States.

The story of the people of Bil’in has been documented in an Academy Award-wining film called “Five Broken Cameras.”

photo (1)

P1020931

5 Comments

Filed under From Leaders

Stones and Books by Judy Lee

The other night Bassam Aramin, a Palestinian Muslim, told us about going through a checkpoint.  “What’s in the trunk?”, the Israeli officer demanded.  “Full of stones,” he replied.  Immediately the automatic weapon was aimed at his face.  He opened the trunk and brought out a book, opened it, and showed the checkpoint guard the book about peace.  The guard looked at the book with Bassam, commented about how Bassam was calm and unafraid.  The story ended with a hug between Basaam and the guard.

Both Bassam and Rami Elhanan had young daughters.  Both daughters are dead, Rami’s daughter killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber over 15 years ago, Bassam’s shot in the back of the head by an Israeli soldier as she was skipping home from school.  These two men love each other as brothers.  All they want is for the occupation and violence to end so they can live calm lives in peace.  How can we help make this dream a reality?

Leave a comment

Filed under From Leaders, Peacemaking

The Delegation

Our apologies for not introducing ourselves earlier.

Orientation D51 (21)

(Starting at the top left) Will Christians, Laura Newby, Sarah Craven, Samamtha Hudson, Paul Rich, Jeri Perkins, Aric Clark, Mark Johnson, Rick Ufford-Chase, Jean White, Matt Skolnik, Mitch Trigger, Rhonda Everdyke, Emily Brewer, Margaret Woodcock. (Second row from left to right) Ruth Kuo, Megan McCarty, Luke Rumbold, Kori Phillips, Kelly Baker, Elizabeth Jernigan, Mindy Vande Brake, Judy Lee. (front row from left to right) Kathleen Day, Yenny Delgado, Jessie Light, Besty Simpson, and Teo Ufford-Chase.

4 Comments

Filed under From Leaders

Orientation at Stony Point Center

photo (40)

Interfaith Peace-Builders training

1 Comment

by | January 5, 2014 · 5:21 pm

Orientation Starts This Weekend

Our peaceseekers will gather at the Stony Point Center in New York this weekend for their orientation before their trip. To receive an email alert of every post on this blog that will document their thoughts and experiences throughout their journey, please sign up on the right.

7 Comments

Filed under From Leaders