Life Goes On

It has been more than a month since we have been back in the USA and we are making the adjustments to our “regular”, pre-Israel/Palestine life. We faced the plethora of regular life things that have accumulated in our absence: a pile of mail, getting a handle on bills and finances, paying taxes, dealing with a tree root clogged toilet. Life goes on.

It is a luxury that we as Americans can jet out of the occupied Palestinian Territory and almost forget about all the suffering and difficulties that we left there. We have gotten used to not seeing soldiers in their full battle dress and automatic weapons whenever we go out. Life goes on. Unfortunately life goes on for Palestinians in the Occupied Territory. They don’t have the opportunity to escape or forget. Ruth and I have not totally forgotten. Via the internet I check in on the areas that became important to me during my three months in Palestine. Here are a few of things I read that remind me that life also goes on for Palestinians in the West Bank:
• You may have seen that a terrible murder of a settlement family (mom and dad and three children including an 18 month old) happened in Itamar, the settlement that surrounded Yanoun where I lived. As a result of that, Awarta, a village that I had visited a number of times and the one closest to the residential area of Itamar was put under total curfew for 4 days as the Israeli officials investigated the murder. This meant not going to work or school or to the doctor or to get groceries, just stuck in your home for 4 days. In the midst of that a jeep went through the street one day announcing that all men 15-50 needed to assemble in the town square. There were nightly arrests with many houses searched with much property damage. More than 300 men were detained. And some news services (certainly not Israeli) are reporting that a Thai worker at Itamar is being investigated for the murders in a dispute over allegedly withheld wages. Palestinians may not have been involved at all. Life goes on.
• The village of Ein Al Hilweh in the Jordan valley, another village we visited often, continues to suffer harassment from the nearby Mashiyyot settlement. Settlers have set up a tent within yards of the tent home of one family who have lived in that particular spot for over 15 years. The IDF intervened and evicted the Palestinian family “for their protection and to reduce tension in the area”. Life goes on.
• Khirbet Tana is the village that had a number of homes demolished by the IDF just before I moved to Yanoun in December of last year and suffered demolitions twice more while I was there. Within a few weeks of our leaving Israel this little village suffered another demolition. Life goes on.

Now that I am back, I am attempting to catch my breath, but I am ready to go to work. I feel a strong sense of urgency to help Americans and particularly those who are evangelical Christians have a broader and clearer understanding of what it means for “life to go on” in the occupied territory and grasp the destructive impact of this military occupation on both Israelis and Palestinians.

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Today I leave Israel/Palestine.  Someday I would love to come back to Israel/Palestine.

Insha’ allah

I would love to come back to an Israel that has secure and internationally recognized borders; that is at peace with all its neighbors, enjoying cultural exchanges and robust trade; that is a less militarized and nationalistic society.

Insha’ allah

I would love to come back to a free and independent Palestine with a thriving economy, with citizens who have genuine passports and can enjoy easy international travel; who can move freely within their own country without fear of being questioned or detained; who enjoy fair and due legal process; who can live in their land without fear of evictions and demolitions; who don’t live in fear of harassment and land seizures by foreign settlers.

Insha’ allah

“Insha’ allah” punctuates and most often concludes many Palestinian conversations.  It  means simply “if God wills.” Some see it as a sort of fatalistic expression or even a means of shirking personal responsibility – leaving it all up to God. But I find it a profound and powerful expression that increasingly permeates my thinking. I see it as simply and humbly acknowledging that despite all our vain human efforts, in the end, nothing will come of anything unless God wills. I don’t see it as avoiding responsibility but simply declaring an awareness of dependence on Divine Providence. I believe this little phrase will be part of my thinking for the rest of my life.

 Insha’ allah

 James 4:13-15 13

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

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How Do You Keep Going?

In the midst of all the injustices associated with the Occupation here in Palestine the question has often come into my mind, “How do these people keep going?” Sometimes hope is hard to find and the signs of progress toward a more peaceful and just situation are few and far between. I have great admiration for the endurance and perseverance of many of the Palestinians I have met. And my hat goes off to the many Israelis who are working for peace and justice, taking stances that are often unpopular among their own countrymen. These folks could, as many Israelis do, turn a blind eye to the injustices their country is perpetrating. They could immerse themselves in the relatively prosperous Israeli society and pretend there is no problem on the other side of the wall. But they don’t. To many of these determined Palestinians and Israelis I have asked the question “How do you keep going?” Here are some of their responses.

 Hanna Barag – A 70 year old Israeli woman; founder of Machsom Watch, an Israeli Women’s Movement that seeks to reduce the dehuminazation and brutality at the checkpoints                                                                                                                                        “I do it so I can look in the mirror. I do it for my God. I do it so I can say I did my best. I do it so my dead parents don’t turn over in their grave and say “she did nothing”.

 Mohammed – A Palestinian resident of Sheikh Jarrah, an embattled Palestinian neighborhood of Jerusalem; he has been  fighting possible eviction from his house for more than a dozen years.                          “God gives me strength.”

Angela Godfrey An Israeli woman in her 60’s who worked for years wi th the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitio(ICAHD)                                                              “ I don’t know. It does get harder and harder but I can’t let myself stop.”

Efaf Azun A – Palestinian woman who is a principal and teacher in Jayyous and serves on the town council                                            “ Life goes on and we keep going.”

Eric Yellin – An Israeli living is Sderot which has been subjected to missile strikes from Gaza; founded Other Voices which tries to establish dialogue and relationship between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza    “Somehow I guess I am wired this way. There has got to be a better way than lobbing bombs at each other and demonizing each other.”

Fathey Khdirat-  A 50 year old Palestinian, former mayor of a major town in the Jordan Valley and founder of the Jordan Valley Solidarity Campaign which tries to keep Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley “What else can I do? I won’t run away and I won’t sit quietly and see the land stolen. So this is what I do.”

Meir Margalit An Israeli member of the Jerusalem City Council who is active in issues of equity and justice for Palestinian residents of Jerusalem                              “When I look at my sons I know I must do this for them. It is not for me. It is for the country I turn over to them.”

Pauline Nunu – A Palestinian women who has worked with EAPPI in the Jerusalem office for 7 years and is the current director    “This is my country. This is my fight. With EAPPI I am giving the chance for others to see the conflict. This is my heart. No one can give up on their heart.”

Majid Affif Hanani – Majid is a Palestinian whose home in Khirbet Tana has been destroyed 5 times. “How do I keep going? I am Palestinian. This is my land. Right here my father lived and my grandfather lived and my sons live and my grandsons live. As long as my nose is taking air, I will stay.”

Ruth Hiller Israeli woman who has founded New Profile, an organization committed to the de-militarization of Israeli Society. Her organization provides support to young people who do not want to serve in the Israeli Defense Force.                               “First of all I am really stubborn. Secondly I believe in the kids that need us. Despite the nationalistic trends in our country right now, the number of kids needing help in resisting joining the military has not diminished. It is increasing.”

 Father Yousef – A 70 year old Palestinian Melkite priest in Nablus                                “It is only by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Israelis build walls between people. Every day I have to tear down the walls of division that build up in my heart.”

Ghassan Beni Faddel – 50 year old driver and translator for the EA’s of Yanoun      “You see this is how it is with my people. We are Palestinian. This is our home. Where else can we go? So we keep going. What else can we do?”

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Hebron – One Crazy City

During our time here we have had the opportunity to visit the EAPPI placement in the city of Hebron, a city of 165,000 people, making it the largest city on the West Bank.  Hebron is a city with a tortured history, a troubled present and an uncertain future.   It is a city blessed (or cursed) with a religious site revered by Muslims, Jews and Christians, the site regarded as the tomb of Abraham.   It is a city that has had a long history of having a small Jewish presence over the centuries which has suffered hostility from the Muslim community at various times.  In 1929 there was a terrible onslaught of mob violence by the Islamic community in which 67 Jewish people were killed and 60 wounded.  438 survived through the protection of their Arab neighbors who took them in and kept them hidden.   Soon after that, the British, who were in charge at the time, evacuated all the Jews to less vulnerable areas of Palestine.  In the 1948 partition of Palestine Hebron ended up on the Jordanian Arab side of the border.   When Israel militarily occupied the West Bank in 1967 there was an immediate push by ideological and religiously conservative Jews to move back into Hebron.   The Israeli government relocated these first urban settlers to a site on the outskirts of the old city, called Kiryatt Arba whose population has swelled to close to 10,000.  But this did not deter those Jews who wanted to return to the old central city Jewish quarter, claiming a right to return to their historic location near the tomb of Abraham (giving no consideration to the issue of the right of return of 700,000 Palestinians who fled Israel in 1948).  Ultimately the Israel government allowed these urban Israel settlers to settle in the heart of this, the largest Palestinian city.  To protect these settlers the Israel Defense Force has a large military presence and has established a policy of a “separation priniciple” cutting off large portions of the center of Hebron from free Palestinian access.

So this crazy city, at its very center, has a special area designated H2 which is totally

Urban Guard Post

 controlled by Israel and is home to about 500 Jews, hundreds of Jewish soldiers and 30,000 Palestinians.   The Palestinians in H2 have very limited rights and very little freedom of access.  It is crazy.  It is a powder keg of hostility that is always threatening to go off.  In 1994 it did go off when Baruch Goldstein, a Jew, went into the Abraham mosque when people were at prayer and opened fire with an automatic rifle killing 29 people.  The Israel settlers here are at their ideological worst and Goldstein is to this day revered and honored by them.   Part of the Hebron Team’s job is to escort Palestinian children coming and going to school because little

Bustling City Center to Ghost Town - Shuhada Street

children are taunted and sometimes have things thrown at them by these settlers.     For security purposes the IDF has, by military order closed 1,200 shops, including one of the most prosperous and bustling trading areas called Shuhada Street.    Hundreds of more shops have closed because of the economic impact of this restricted area in the middle of the city. Where the old city shopping area adjoins the Jewish settler area, the merchants have had to put wire mesh overhead to ward against the settlers throwing garbage, rocks and debri on the shoppers below.  

Store Welded Shut

Overhead Mesh to Protect From Settler Harrassment

The city is significantly restricted in its north/south and east/west movement because of this central restricted area.     And  on Saturday morning, the Sabbath,  they have a “settler tour” when Israelis process through this area, getting in touch with their heritage, history and religion which is nice enough but it is done with a huge military presence and the 30,000 Palestinians who live in this area are basically confined to their homes for the duration of the tour.  All of this to accommodate 500 illegal settlers.  It is kind of crazy. 

I guess one of the most disconcerting things about this whole scenario is that it is religiously based.  It is all about Abraham’s bones, if they are really there.  It is one of the things that riled Jesus up so much: that religion, rather than fulfilling the Father’s heart of humans loving one another, becomes the basis of such division, hostility and hatred.  Come Lord Jesus and show us your way!

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Do What You Wanna Do – Part 2

Yesterday we were out in some neighboring villages investigating reports of settler harassment, and encountered a representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross who said that  “verified incidents of settler violence have been increasing alarmingly”.   Here is what we found in our brief travels that have happened in the last few days.

Paint Bomb Damage in Burin

Paint Bomb Damage in Assira

Car Fire Bombed in Burin

While we were visiting one house beside the main access road to Yizhar, one of our nearby settlements we saw lots of major construction vehicles going into the settlement.  Obviously they are taking full advantage on the lifting of the freeze on settlement construction and expansion.

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Do What You Wanna Do…

From this end of the world it sure seems like the current government in Israel has an attitude of that old 60’s “Momma and Papas’” song “Do What You Wanna Do”.  When the Obama administration vetoed the UN resolution condemning the extension of illegal settlements in the West Bank (which in some strange, convoluted logic the US trumpeted that they strongly agreed with), the US missed a golden opportunity to signal Israel that there are consequences for resisting the peace process and snubbing their noses at the US’s recent appeal for at least a 3 month moratorium on settlement construction.   It was an opportunity to demonstrate that the US is not in Israel’s back pocket – yet again, maybe they were clearly signaling the  opposite.

The consequences over here in the West Bank seem to be a rash of settlement expansion and Palestinian demolitions.    In our area, the little village of Khirbet Tana, which I have written about three times before (Persistent Palestinians, 2/16/2011; I Just Don’t Get It, 2/10/2011; Give a Christmas Gift to Khirbet Tana, 12/22/2010), was hit by another wave a demolitions this last Sunday, February 20.  The Israeli Defense Force attacked the rebuilt tent homes of the same families they demolished two weeks ago.  This time they also confiscated any unused tents that they could find as well as one tractor and a cement mixer provided by an Italian Non-Government Organization that is helping rebuild the school which was destroyed last December.   When one of the villagers presented some papers which said that the demolition orders were being appealed in Israeli court the IDF commander said, “Put those papers in water and drink it.”

Tea with Village Leaders in One of Their Caves

Will these people in Khirbet Tana get the picture and give up?  No, they had make shift shelters up by the time we got there the day of Sunday’s demolitions. Many are resorting to living in ancient caves in the area.   Why do they stay?  As one of the village leaders said, “Because this is my home.”

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Persistent Palestinians

Yesterday we had a chance to revisit the village of Khirbet Tana which had close to 50 people made homeless by the Israeli Defense Force on February 9 (covered in my last blog post “I Don’t Get It”, February 10).  It is incredible to me to see how resilient and determined the Palestinian people are.

When our team visited on the day of the demolitions people were busy rebuilding even as the IDF were leaving.  In the days following the demolitions the International Red Cross showed up bringing some tents, food and household necessities


(simple stoves, pots, pans etc.) and the Palestinian Authority, lead by the Prime Minister Salam Fayyad came bringing a number of large tents and the metal support frames.

So we were there yesterday, only 6 days after the demolition, and most of the homeless are into shelters and most of

Sheep in Cave Shelters

the sheep are either in caves or tent shelters. Life goes on!

The Destroyed and The Rebuilt and an Open Air Dining Room

Palestinians Hospitality - Sharing What Little They Have in Their Open Air Dining Room

Rari Tlahmud Hanani said “I have lived here as has my father and grandfather. The IDF came back after the destruction and I was rebuilding a shelter for the sheep and they said to me, ‘Why are you rebuilding? Why don’t you go to Beit Furik (the next nearest village?’ I said to him, ‘Because this is my home!”

We visited also with Majid Affif Hanani who has been busy restoring his household and livelihood after having been tossed upside down. I had one question that I have asked others who have dealt with a lot of adversity here in Palestine: “How do you keep going?” Majid proudly said, “I am Palestinian. This is my land. Right here my father lived and my grandfather lived and my sons live and my grandsons live. As long as my nose is taking air, I will stay.

There is a saying in Palestine that says “to exist is to resist”.  This saying is true on two levels.  First just existing here as a Palestinian in the West Bank requires a certain level of resisting simply to exist, to live.  Secondly, it seems at times that there is a concerted intentional effort on the part of the Israeli government to solve the “Palestinian problem” in the West Bank by making life so miserable that they simply leave, abandoning the land to be fully incorporated into Israel. In response to that, existing, stubbornly hanging on here , determinedly rebuilding and not leaving, is to resist.

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