From journal entries from the Mosaic of Peace trip to Israel & Palestine
April 28 - May 10, 2014
by Cara Bissell
Tuesday, May 6 - Bethlehem - Part of the West Bank "occupied" by Israel.
Three people share information with us:
Jessica Montel has worked since 2001 as the executive officer for the Human Rights Network - Israel Women's Network. There have been editorials in the Washington Post among others.
Jessica grew up in northern California as a Jew. At age 16 she came to Israel on a 6-week tour which was a positive one dimensional experience – a perfect view. Then she took the opportunity to study in Israel a college semester and she says, "I saw systemic oppression and then the dilemma: What to do? How do I reconcile the conflicts?”
Jessica needed a special permit to be here in Bethlehem to speak to us. May 5 (yesterday) was Holocaust Memorial Day. Today is Independence Day, yet Palestinians have it as a day of expulsion of an entire society and the Israeli occupation. That Palestinians were historically with the Axis Powers and against the Allied Nations which along with the United Nations decreed the state of Israel into its latest existence went unmentioned.
It has been 25 years since the organization was started by Jessica. How are universal human rights violations addressed in particular situations. Palestinian infighting is also a significant dynamic (places where responsibility is not recognized, where women are subjugated to the men, where “infidels” are too stereotypically thought of as all non-Muslim & universally held by most Muslims if not the Muslims in power).
Occupation: A legal framework, not a moral one. Amorphous - temporary - (yet 47 years ongoing) with respect to equality and justice. What are limits and guidelines? There are conditions that keep occupation 'entrenched':
+ Exploitation of natural resources (land, water, etc.)
+ Two systems of law
+ Military system tries Palestinians with lack of due process
+ At least three different territories Gaza (border between Gaza and Egypt is sealed), Jerusalem, West Bank
+ Creation of the Palestinian Authority where day-to-day activities are controlled by the Palestinian Authority
The above conditions enable occupation to continue and be entrenched. Information is in good supply and yet Israelis don't see it. There are areas that are forbidden for entry by both Israelis and Palestinians. Rabbi Hartman, one of the two Rabbis we heard said, “it is peace, it is not justice”. [While the Palestinian Authority is made up of Palestinians controlled by the Israelis, it has charge of the West Bank. For the “PA” to be allowed to control The Gaza Strip – something that has been proposed long before the August military efforts by Israel in Gaza – a solution to the blood shed may be won.][i]
PROJECT Video Camera - 220 cameras in the West Bank. Hebron is the most severe case of extremism in occupation in the West Bank. Hebron is a surreal situation. The cameras’ purpose is to document and reach people outside and to aid the legal system. Unexpected results: victims become enabled, empowered people are able to use cameras to help more Jewish and Palestinians to be more understanding. The bottom line is small successes are making positive change, indicating that working together is possible. It was mentioned by Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike that visitors should not go to Gaza because it is an open-air prison. [While inside the West Bank, it did not seem the Palestinian Authority had any oversight here – similar to The Gaza Strip][ii]
Sam - Sam's father is 74 years old, living in Youngstown, Ohio. Sam moved in 1990s to West Bank from Ohio. Business initiatives western style shopping centers are his specialty. Sam used his children to eloquently express the Palestinians’ differences from Israelis in their homeland of Palestine occupied by Israel.
Sam says: "We Palestinians are about to redefine our self-determination from 2 states to Civil Rights. The model for how the game will end is over. The time may be 100 years. Secretary of State Kerry remarked: 'The 2- state solution has two years left' and I think we're in the second year now. The paradigm of 1 state or 2 states is limiting - not needed. Equality with any political system is necessary. We're unreasonably reasonable and Israelis won't accept that. A Palestinian in Haifa longingly wants to go home, forgetting temporarily there’s an airport where his house was. 'Israel is the Jewish state' cannot be accepted as it denies inalienable civil rights of non-Jews.”
Jessica interjected: "Israelis life is very comfortable & we choose not to know the plumbing that enables this comfort, not dissimilar to United States Citizens part in all this. Most Israelis are not subjected to that litmus test just as we United States Citizens are not. Most Israelis as U.S. citizens do not refer to them (our) -selves as Zionist. I am an Israeli Patriot Jessica went on to say. There are four kinds of Palestinians: 1) Citizens of Israel[Father Elias Chacour is an Israeli citizen], 2) Palestinians outside of Israel, 3) 1967 Palestinians occupied by Israel, 4) Palestinians in Gaza with no rights”
When Sam moved back to Israel, his friends said,
‘Calm down, Sam, there is no military occupation that lasts forever;
the Turks were here for 400 years and left.’
Sam continued: “Ideology promotes ‘whatever.’ A culture of violence of Israelis against Palestinians occurs where
i) Companies such as Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard, Motorola, and SodaStream promote violent and nonviolent actions in occupied land such as the West Bank.
ii) Countries have
- given Israel the nuclear bomb (France)
- been post 9/11 suppliers of Security Industry - Israel is the testing ground [drones, biometric software, ... suppliers of violence!
When the U.S. sells a plane [or other armaments], it is hard for the United States Government to take a position against Israel, its “Battleship in the Middle East”. There is a culture of fear. The Holocaust is used to perpetuate occupation - An 18 year old can easily be indoctrinated through the cultural environment to do atrocities.
WHERE IS PEACE?
Peace is found in the:
1) Family (holds us together - something we've lost in the U.S.)[iii]
2) Spiritual Home (whether synagogue, church or mosque)
3) Community (whether real or virtual)
b) work office
c) Facebook - internet(we can promote peace or not!)
Peace has become a bad word in Palestine Sam stated. We have to focus on Justice to address interfaith issues.[iv]
1) Look for small groups to form pockets of peace
2) Take actions to make things better
3) Commit to nonviolence
Choosing nonviolence is a choice and will work. A prolonged situation that defies the definition of Occupation – It’s too long. Start from now for the 50th year of occupation to tell Israel to:
1) give us our country
2) give us humanitarian rights
1948 was like thousands of 9/11s in Israel. The result has been massive settlements in non-authorized Palestinian and UN-officiated living areas.[v]
1994: 100,000 settlers [exclusively Hasidic Jews]
2014: 500,000 settlers [exclusively Hasidic Jews - predominantly from the United States]
My (Sam’s) challenge as a Christian and as an Evangelical –
My call - to point out alternatives to Zionism.
People in the Holy Land are hungry for Peace with Civil Rights.
I must help answer ‘How come most of my people [U.S. citizens] are so strong for Israel and so much against Palestinians?’
It is tragic how much Zionism has taken all.
Israelis are powerful - militarily dominant
Muslims are powerful - they are many
Christians are most vulnerable and are in danger of being eradicated from this part of the planet
Question with statements: What are Alternatives to Christian Zionism?
Given that: The New and Old Testaments hold the answers.
1) Old Testament - Jews are God's People (land is promised to Jews)
2) New Testament - All people are God's People and My Kingdom is within you.
and NO ETHNIC GROUP IS SINGLED OUT. ALL people are included!
Answer: Minister to Muslim's needs – English as a Second Language (for all faiths); coexistence is primary. Rumors and fictions must be dealt with and dispelled.
Question: How vital is Christianity in Bethlehem under occupation?
Answer: We are to speak out. It is vital. 600 Evangelical Leaders from around the world have come here and are going back to spread the word. Lees College - now a Tennessee University - Christians in Mexico, Guatemala, Bethlehem - and occupation students and other groups. It’s so strange to them that ‘there is a God-ordained blessing for a Jewish state.’”
Next on the agenda of speakers after Jessica and Sam finished…
Alex Awadii – A Bethlehem Bible College Professor for 24 years; Pastor Emeritus at Jerusalem Baptist Church since 1994. He's a Palestinian Christian. He was born in 1946 living in Masada, a part of Jerusalem. During the 1948 war (Zionists vs. Jordanians), Alex's father was a worker in a local hospital. His father was killed by a sniper. Alex was one of seven children, ages 2 to 11. His Mother had the philosophy "never look back; look forward." She put her children into "boarding schools" (orphanages) as she went back to school to become a nurse. The boys went to “Boys Home of the Boys” and the girls to "Girls Home for the Children." Alex's mother was energetic - dedicated in her faith. When Alex tried to interview her for a book he wanted to write, she declined. Alex went to his uncles, brothers, and sisters. His book is titled Palestinian Memories.
In reality, the conflict started way before 1948. Alex’s brother, Bashar Awadii, was arrested and imprisoned for advocating active nonviolence.[vi] In 1967, Alex took a course in Switzerland and he was asked to be a pastor in Jerusalem. Having finished his study, "Switzerland didn't want me. Israel didn't want me either. So, I wrote and studied in the U.S. and became a U.S. citizen. I lost my right of citizenship in Israel/Palestine.” He obtained a visa/passport as a pastor of a church in Bethlehem lasting a year at a time. Missionaries with the Methodist church through Methodist Women wrote letters to Israel and he was allowed to return.
A former Israeli Soldier in support of Breaking The Silence:
"I believe all people regardless of his or her faith should have the right to self-determination."
“I am an Israeli Zionist.”
“You[vii] are responsible as much as the Israelis are!”
We took a bus trip where the Dar al-Kalima College spokesperson greeted us. The Bethlehem Campus of the Dar al-Kalima College started in 1979 with 150 students. Twenty to forty students graduate annually from this interdenominational Indigenous Bible College.
Angie Sahah: The dedication of this building (The Arts College outside of Bethlehem) was May 2, 2014. There is a second floor auditorium, workshops on the first floor, an upper floor library (in the works) where a wish list is put up on Amazon.com and tourists coming to Israel/Palestine are asked to bring books on the list. The hope for a better life offering a B.A. is primary as students are taught how to model a better life. The Israeli ministry thinks of it as a waste of time. Art, dance, theatre, drama, writing, photography, glass and ceramic, jewelry, tour guiding, documentary filming, contemporary art are used as tools for “positive self-expression.”
Question: What would you charge us to do as we go back?
Answer: Peace is good anywhere, everywhere. Peace in the Holy Land is important for Syria and Lebanon (where most of the refugees from the Holy Land are). Put articles in local newspapers; share the realities; write to Congressional representatives; write to the White House; write to the "higher ups" in the PCUSA.
Scripture Mathew 5:21-26 was quoted. Bottom line: Make peace before you pray and make peace with adversaries before going to the courts and before offering gifts to God.
As we left to go to the Refugee Camp, we were told we couldn't take pictures. Selah our tour guide - a Muslim (whose three boys attend a Christian private school) - contradicted this instruction, but I did not take pictures. Others did bring their cameras and did take pictures.
As we walked perhaps a mile up and around a section of the camp, it was obvious that electrical wiring was ancient; many homes are substandard, one with an open window without screens or windows - only a towel draping the opening. The residents (all Muslim at this camp) are, in the vast majority, descendants of the original displaced people from Israel at the time of the 1948 agreements.
The mosque looked to be in very good shape. There is a minority of houses that look even contemporary from the outside and some construction of a modern-style house going up (the refugees must use their own money) towards the top of the hill that looks promising for a small number of refugees. The sewage treatment can only be surmised; urine was smelled during part of the tour. Seeing inside of any of the homes was not possible. I can imagine that some homes have an admirable living standard, but that is only speculation based upon experience with New York City tenement homes.
The population density is high and the medical facilities in the camp are minimal and haven't expanded with the population, we were told. The refugees are, however, free to leave and come back daily as they wish for work/play outside the camp. The fact that a UN advisor is paid $60,000 per month to "oversee" the camp has led to much discontent among the residents who on the average earn a pittance. The camp has "UN" written in large light blue letters on walls and on the trash containers outside the complex that further identify the camp.
Mural-type paintings/posters were noticed on the walls of the streets depicting martyrs killed by Israelis AND also the strong message that killing on both sides should stop - that peace be the norm.
I had reached a point of seeming saturation.
We returned to the International Center in Bethlehem. After dinner at the ICB, we were treated to a play, “Shakespeare's Sisters” by the Al Harrah Theatre. The play was performed with two men, and several women depicted women's rights and the ability of a single woman over "a certain age" who dared to 1) look pretty and 2) help others (represented by manikins). The play addressed the intolerance of “the system” and of individuals who are slowly changing.
"It may take 100 years but, the End Game has been written, There will be Civil Rights for ALL, whether there is 1 state, 2 states, or some other form of government, it does not matter."
[ii] Interjection by Cara Bissell
[iii] Sam here counts himself as a U.S. Citizen as he grew up in the United States and has dual citizenship.
[iv] This statement points to the fundamental difference between Palestinians (Christians & Mulims) and Jews for the Jews such as Rabbi Hartman realize Peace at the expense of Justice is preferable to Civil Rights for all BUT the Palestinians are demanding with an admittedly nonexistent position of power except for ideal logic – “unreasonably reasonable” – to have Justice – “Civil Rights for All People”.
[v] More than one speaker pointed out as well as Veterans For Peace sources Israel is merely repeating the Historical process the United States has used with the American Indian. Push the people of the land into other areas of land, make treaties, continue to expand until more “pushing” is needed and repeat the process with little to no regard for the people being pushed. “They are savages”, “they react inhumanely”, “they treat their women horribly”, “they would destroy us if they could”. It has been said, “In order to have a war, the enemy must be made to be not human – an agent of the devil.”
[vi] This reflects the point of view of the Israeli Military(Cara Bissell’s conclusion) of which Rabbi Hartman was a part as a tank commander who said “by all that is known I should have been killed”. He stated “I cannot support ‘Passive Resistance’ “.
[vii] Speaking generally of The United States – its citizens.