Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Haifa and Ibillin

The train from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv winds through beautiful canyons slowly dropping to sea level and rich agricultural lands along the coast. Israeli trains are more on the order of the luxurious European than American variety. I changed trains in Tel Aviv and managed to find a seat on a very packed train going north to Haifa. I am more accustomed now to seeing Israeli soldiers everywhere, their weapon slung over their back or along their side. It’s a little harder getting used to sitting next to one on the train with his or her weapon lodged between us.

Haifa is a stunning city. I treated myself to a hotel on Mt. Carmel overlooking the city and the Mediterranean. It was pouring when I arrived and cleared shortly thereafter to reveal a sparkling city and port. The Baha’i World Center and gardens are a 15 minute walk along the Panorama; a little farther to the Carmel Monastery. Magnificent.

I had called Mar Elias, the school built by Elias Chacour in Ibillin several times during the week to arrange my visit. A very kind woman advised me to catch a bus for Ibillin at the Lev Hamefraps terminal at the northern end of Haifa. I found my way there well enough, but discovered buses for Ibillin ran only in the evening. A little bargaining with a taxi driver got us launched for only 100 shekels. My driver, however, failed to tell me he didn’t have a clue how to get to Ibillin. With many stops to ask directions, we arrived in a very much larger village than I anticipated. Mar Elias sits atop a steep hill which, on the clear day I visited, afforded a magnificent view of the Mediterranean.

The school arranged for a wonderful young American woman, Kathryn Pharr, in her first year of teaching, to give me a tour. The physical plant is quite impressive with well-equipped classrooms, science and communication labs and building continuing at several locations. The school serves over 2,000 students, about 60% Muslim, 40% Christian. There are Jewish, Christian and Muslim faculty. Tuition runs $200 a year, a fee some families still cannot afford. Gifts from abroad and from the faculty make up the difference. Because of finances, classes are large, around 40, but standards are very high and 80% of their students go on study at universities. As we walked through the campus during a break in classes, Kathryn introduced me to two of her students, Aseel and Hend, pretty Muslim girls and best friends. They said what they liked so much about Mar Elias was the open atmosphere and the permission they feel to talk about whatever they want. Nothing is out of bounds. In a conversation with the vice-principal, Elias Abu Ghanima, I learned that because Arab Israeli young people are not required to serve in the military (and few want to), they must wait three years after high school to apply to university. That supposedly keeps things “even”. Having fewer children and somewhat higher incomes, Arab Israeli Christians often don’t wait the three years and send their children to college in the US, Europe or other Arab countries. Experiencing life in a freer society, they frequently emigrate from Israel, reducing the Christian population in the Holy Land even further.

Mar Elias’ vice-principal, Elias Abu Ghanima, has been at the school “forever”. He was a student in Chacour’s first ninth grade class, graduated high school, went to Hebrew University and then returned to Ibillin to teach. Abuna Chacour is his godfather. He is a man with enormous energy and passion. As our conversation moved from education to politics, he reflected that unique combination of fatigue, frustration and hope that characterizes so many Palestinians. Regarding the difficulty of finding strong national leadership, he told me of the Arab Israeli elected to the Knesset who is now in exile in Jordan. After publicly calling for an “Israel for all its people” (Jew and Arab alike) he was charged with some sort of traitorous communications. If he returns to Israel, he will be imprisoned. Some of the tough determination I’ve heard from other Palestinians was reflected in his blunt comment, “We will never be the Jew for the Jews”. He left our conversation with the reminder that I (Cotton) am a Christian because his ancestors were followers of this man, Jesus. I’ll not forget.

Before gratefully catching a ride back to Haifa with the school’s head of maintenance and his family, I came upon teen age students practicing an exuberant form of Arab dancing. They were perfectly wonderful, reflecting all the energy and silliness of teenagers everywhere. I even learned a few steps.

Jeff Halper and House Demolitions

Jeff Halper is a Jewish Israeli anthropologist and the director of the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions (ICAHD). I’ve heard Jeff before and I suspect (and hope) he is a burr under the saddle of the Israeli government. He talked to us of the continuing Nakba.

Jeff recently sailed into Gaza with the Free Gaza initiative and has sailed out from that port with Palestinian fishermen. He points out that with the Oslo accords the Palestinians were allowed to fish up to 20 miles off the coast. That has since been restricted to 3-6 miles, an area pretty well “fished out”. Internationals testing those limits with local fishermen were arrested by the Israeli navy earlier this week. On one of its incursions into Gaza, Israel destroyed its sewage treatment system. The European Union offered to rebuild the system if Israel would promise not to destroy it again. Thus far, Israel has not promised. While I have been here, rockets from Gaza into Israel have resumed and an Israeli blockade has been reinstated. In yesterday’s Jerusalem Post (11/19) Israeli generals admitted the blockade is not working, but it continues nonetheless. The population of Gaza (particularly children) and the Israeli towns within range of militant rockets continue to suffer while these warring parties persist in battling each other.

Jeff’s analysis of the situation asks whether this is a ’48 problem or a ’67 problem. As the demographic threat is so keenly felt by Israel, Jeff describes it as more the former than the latter. With the intent to “redeem” all the land from the sea to the Jordan (and for some, beyond), Israel is stuck with all these Arabs. The problem is one of exclusivity, what Jeff labels an ethnocracy. Israel contradicts itself by insisting on being a Jewish state and being called a democracy. Given centuries of persecution, I have some sympathy for Israel’s insistence on a Jewish state, and clearly the issue is deeply felt by even the most progressive Jews. The claim rests, however, on perpetuating the definition of Jews as victims, a claim that may not wash in decades to come. Regardless, it perpetuates an historic injustice to Arabs who remain second or third class citizens of Israel, occupies the land of millions more, and makes the return of refugees non-negotiable.

On Tuesday, I visited the site of an Arab home demolished on the Mount of Olives. As in this case, the claim is most often that a building has been constructed without a permit, but Arabs may wait years for a building permit and frequently never get it at all. The Israeli government claims permits are given out on an equitable basis, but that appears patently false. In another incident last week, bulldozers demolished a tent set up by an elderly Arab couple on land in East Jerusalem. The Al-Kurd family had previously been evicted from their home on the basis of a court finding that a Jewish family was the rightful owner of the land on which their house was built. The article in the Jerusalem Post noted “the dispute was the latest Israeli move against Arab squatters in east Jerusalem” (what Halper calls a creative reframing). Block by block, demolition by demolition and neighborhood by neighborhood, Israel creates “facts on the ground” which make a Palestinian East Jerusalem more and more improbable.

Ronny Perlman and the work of Machsom Watch

Machsom Watch is a project of Israeli women providing a watchful presence over IDF treatment of Palestinians at Israeli check points. And Ronny Perlman is one of the women who goes to checkpoints twice a day – in the morning when Palestinian adults are going to work and students are going to school – and at the end of the day when they are returning home. Her observing presence is intended to encourage humane treatment of Palestinians. Ronny and her cohorts write a report after each watch which they believe will become a history of the occupation they vehemently oppose. Ronny described an Israeli bureaucracy which makes life miserable for Palestinians. 200,000 Palestinians are denied admission to Israel “for security reasons”. Undoubtedly some are security risks, but others are put on the list “because they took chemistry in college and that may mean they know how to build bombs”. Getting a traffic ticket in the occupied territory may mean the offender’s name appears on a computer list, denying him/her entry to Israel. Removal of the name from the listg may take years.

Ronny believes the recruitment of Palestinians informers has played a larger role than the “security barrier” in reducing suicide attacks against civilians in Israel. She cites the example of a woman who took her son to Jerusalem three times a week for dialysis. That permission was suddenly denied, leaving the mother vulnerable to being pressed into service as an informer. Such a practice degrades both oppressed and oppressor.

Ronny is a remarkably loyal Israeli. She describes her two sons, one a physician, the other an ornithologist, as kind and compassionate men – and loyal IDF soldiers. Ronny says they cannot talk politics at home, but, recently, her sons called her at the checkpoint she was observing to wish her happy birthday. "Sweet", she said. She acknowledges Machsom Watch is not growing. Like many in the peace movement, they are tired and, probably, discouraged. “It is amazing”, she says, “the Western world allows Israel to continue its oppression of Palestinians.”

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Tiberias, Samakh and Beisan

We left Nazareth Friday morning in groups of 15-20 to visit villages and towns in upper Galilee that were depopulated or destroyed in 1948. As we drove north, we saw how the ring of Jewish settlements surrounding Nazareth has effectively prevented the city's Arab population from expanding. It is difficult not to ascribe intent to this type of urban "planning". On our way to Tiberias (now Tveria), we passed through Mashad (of Jonah fame), Cana (of new wine fame) and Toraan (where "it is said" Jesus told the parable of the sower and the seed). Tiberias itself is a thriving lakeside city which, in places, resembles the Atlantic City boardwalk. Naim Ateek told us as a child he swam regularly in the sea of Galilee. Water pumped from Galilee has significantly lowered the lake today and pollution makes swimming inadvisable. Ashkenazi Jews began settling in Tiberias at the end of the nineteenth century and by 1948 comprised a little over 50% of the population. Arabs and Jews had generally good relations until the 1947 Partition Plan was announced, the British began their withdrawal and war between Palmach and Arab Liberation Army forces threatened. As in so many other places, with few weapons and no training, Arab defenders were no match for well-organized and strongly motivated Jewish soldiers. Late in April, 1948, all Arabs were evacuated from Tiberias.

Today, no Arabs are allowed to live or own land in Tiberias. Not by law, but by custom. It reminds me of large parts of Coral Gables where, when I was growing up there, no Jews lived anywhere near us. "They just don't live here." We viewed the remains of a Greek Orthodox Church, a Roman Church and a mosque which, by Israeli law, are preserved but not allowed to provide worship services.

Samakh was a small village (a little over 3,000) southeast of Tiberias at the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee. It sat at the crossroads of commerce between areas east and west of the Jordan River with a railway which which ran from Samakh west to Haifa, stopping at 42 villages on the way. A former resident of Samakh who accompanied us candidly described the population as victims of colonial power and Arab mistakes. Citizens were caught between Jewish and Arab forces from Syria. All that remains of the former Samakh is the old railway station.

The final stop of the day was in Beisan where Naim Ateek grew up. Naim's father was a successful jeweler who built three houses on property filled with every sort of fruit tree. Naim described Beisan as blessed with many springs and a stream which flowed through their property. As a child he played often with Muslim classmates and loved climbing to the top of the local minnaret from which the daily calls to prayer were sung (without benefit of electronic amplification). Naim was 11 in 1948 when Jewish forces entered Beisan. Citizens were worried, but did not resist. Shortly after Israel declared independence, the Haganah commander ordered all citizens to bring what they could carry and gather in the city square - where we were standing listening to Naim. When Naim and his family got there they found the square encircled by soldiers. Muslims were ordered to one side, Christians to the other. Muslims were loaded on trucks, carried to the Jordan and told to find their way east. Christians were loaded on other trucks headed for Nazareth, a city at that time outside the UN partition. Naim's sisters had just baked bread in their oven (few citizens had their own) so they carried a basket of fresh bread they shared with others. As they were driven out of town, they passed their home which soldiers had already entered and were playing one of Naim's brother's accordian. As they left Beisan, Naim's sister heard her father, a very pious Orthodox, utter, "Naked I came into this world, naked I shall return, blessed be the name of the Lord".

From the square we walked to the location of Naim's home where a bank and parking lot now exist. Naim explained that there is an Arabic saying, the one who owns the land (his family still has the deed to this land) owns all that stands on it. With a wonderful smile, he said he hopes that when he comes to claim ownership of the bank, it will not be bankrupt.

That evening, after dinner, we processed our day in small groups. I sat next to Josef Ben-Eliezer, an extraordinary man who later told his story to the whole conference. He was a Holocaust survivor who, with his family, narrowly escaped the SS only to be shipped to Siberia by the Russians. As a teenager, he managed to immigrate to Palestine and, while still a teenager, joined the Haganah to fight for his survival as a Jew. In 1948 he was among the troops who depopulated Palestinian villages. As he began to witness the harsh treatment of Palestinians - and the murder of some - he began to question what was happening. He questioned his colleagues and escorted some Palestinians to safety, but began feeling terrible guilt at what was happening. After the war, Josef left the military and, later, very sadly, left Israel for England. In the years since the War of Independence and the 1967 War he has become an advocate for an end to the occupation and a just peace.

It is indeed humbling to sit with some of these people, hear their story of courage and faithfulness and wonder with them how long it will be until a just peace is accomplished.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The NAKBA: Memory, Reality, and Beyond

Sabeel's Inernational Conference focussed on the Nakba (the "catastrophe" experienced by Palestinians in 1948) convened Wednesday night with an ecumenical worship service at the magnificemt Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth. Well over 200 of us sang lustily and prayed quietly in a setting that tempts one to the sin of architectural idolatry. Following the service we gathered in a cavernous meeting hall for a reception and viewing of the wonderful tapestries created by the more than 2,000 square patches stitched and painted by advocates for justice and peace all over the world.

Thursday was a day of presentations at the hotel where I am staying. The Golden Crown sits at the edge of the mountain on which Nazareth sits and looks out over the rich agricultural plain that stretches for miles to the west. Ironically, the hotel was completed in 2000, just before the second Intifada totally shut down the tourist business. As a very large invesrment sat empty, it was turned into a prison complete with a watch tower for undocumented immigrants. It was reopened as a hotel two years ago and is now doing a thriving business. In fact, all of Israel is thriving with hotels in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Nazareth totally full.

One of the benefits of these conferences is the opportunity to sit with remarkable people. Ever since I read Jean Zaru's Occupied with Nonviolence, she has become one of my heroes. She's probably in her sixties, is the moderator of the Quaker meeting in Ramallah and is now one of the strongest Christian voices for non-violent resistance to oppression and reconciliation between oppressed and oppressor. A remarkable woman with whom I've been delighted to hang around with for the last few days. We've talked a lot about the situation with Hamas and Fatah and the basis, theological and cultural, for the competing claims of Israelis and Palestinians for this land as their homeland.

Opinion about the struggle between Hamas and Fatah is clearly divided among Palestinians. Fadi is very distrustful of Hamas (he believes members on the West Bank are arming to overthrow Fatah) and believes a Palestinian state might be created out of the West Bank alone, allowing the Palestinians to work out over time some reconnection between the West Bank and Gaza. Estephan is frustrated with both Hamas and Fatah and wishes for a third party to lead the Palestinian people to force these warring parties to get their acts together. Palestine needs a unified government; and he fears this historical moment is critical for their future. While not a supporter of Hamas, Jean thinks Fatah has continued making political arrests of Hamas on the West Bank simply to maintain their hold on power. Their refusal to release these prisoners, accused of no crimes, led to the abandonment of the meeting in Egypt last weekend. The struggle for power, however described, is clearly making it harder for the Palestinian people to negotiate from strength. The political machinations of both Israelis and Palestinians surely rivals any of the best we can produce in the US.

The central question of a homeland was addressed yesterday by a Palestinian scholar and an Israeli Zionist (admittedly very liberal) rabbi. A fascinating discussion. I was most admiring of the rabbi's willingness to speak and be quetioned by this bunch of wild-eyed peaceniks. (Actually, most seem remarkably sane; there are always some professional protesters with whom I struggle). Rabbi Ascherman talked about God's covenant with the Jews as not an exclusive covenant but one that gave them a right (no less and no more than that of the Palestinians) to this homeland. Referring to the scriptural basis for this right always sounds to me like the trump card. "God gave us this land. So that's the end of the discussion." I thought the rabbi's interpretation opened the way to a shared understanding.

Later, Jean talked about her not so positive eperience with Jewish-Christian dialogue at the level of the World Council of Churches. Her take has been that the Jewish side has required three criteria be met before convesations could begin. First, that Christians accept Jewish self-understanding of themselves including their connection to the land. Secondly, Christians acknowledge their guilt for the persecution of Jews. And third, criticism of Israel is personal and inheritantly anti-Semitic. I doubt all have been so dogmatic, but I'm aware Jewish-Xn dialogue in Chicago about the Is/Pal conflict has not been possible for similar reasons. This rabbi and a Jewish theologian at Hartford seminary (Landau?) sound a very different and promising note.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


My friend, Estephan Salameh, picked me up in Jerusalem Tuesday morning to drive me to the Ramallah bus station where, if it had not been for Estephan, I would still be wandering around the three level station asking "Which bus to Zababdeh?" With no one understanding me. With six other Palestinian passengers we left for Jenin sometime after 9:00. Less than two hours and 400 speed bumps later (Palestinians don't want anyone to drive fast for very long), we were in Jenin where the very kind driver pointed in the direction of some minibuses and said "Zababdeh". When I approached the driver, he asked "Catholic"? I replied "No, Anglican. I'm going to see my friend, Fadi Diab". "Oh, Abuna Fadi!" The road to Zababdeh is not long, but it makes up for that in potholes which my driver carefully maneuvered around. We went right to Fadi's house where Ruba with two year old Andrew welcomed me. Fadi went to pick up Philip ( 6 years) at school and after tea and some catching up we sat down for dinner.

Fadi told me that the last six to nine months have been easier in the northern West Bank. IDF have not been seen in several months and checkpoints between Zababdeh and Nablus have been removed. Ruba, who had not been allowed to leave Zababdeh for three years for lack of identity papers received her papers in July. Her reunion with family in Amman was a joyous event. On the other hand, Fadi has not been able to get a permit to go to Jerusalem since Israel gives out only so many to clergy at any one time. He has to wait in line and that may take months. Translated to life at St. Luke's, it's as though Jeannette (much less the rest of us) would not be allowed to cross Howard Street into Chicago until someone gave up their permit.

I had a wonderful visit with Fadi. He was delighted at the cameras and the profiles of Chloe, MacKenzie, Kaethe and Eleanor and will get to work finding matches for them. St. Matthew's has purchased a building next door to the church and is preparing it to house a guest room, small library and meeting room for young people. Last summer's program in Ireland went splendidly and he's planning an (American) woman-to-(Palestinian) woman program for next fall.

That evening we visited with a Methodist group from West Virginia helping build a new meeting room for the Greek Melkite Church (where Fadi's brother is priest), went on a pastoral call to a mentally ill woman in his parish and witnessed the birth of a lamb at Fadi's next-door neighbor.

The gift of knowing Fadi is that he knows the Israeli commander overseeing the check point at Jalameh where I was "detained" in 2006. A call to Moshe Iva did wonders for the security process when they learned I had been to Jenin ("a military closed area") and was carrying a "zuchini tool" which closely resembles a dangerous weapon. The tool was a gift from Ruba so that I can replicate her wonderful recipe for stuffed zuchini. Fadi waved to me from the West Bank side when I emerged back into Israeli territory on my way to Nazareth.

As in earlier visits with Fadi and Ruba, I'm impressed with their hospitality, generosity and kindness. Before we left Zababdeh for Jalameh, we went by his brother's parish where he loaded me up with herbs, bottles of virgin olive oil and olive oil soap Abuna Fira's Melkite parishioners are producing. We have much to learn from these "living stones".

Masada and the Dead Sea

One of my hopes for this trip was to have a day touring the first century mountain top garrison where Jewish zealots held out for months against the Roman army (and then committed suicide rather than become Roman slaves). It's a spectacular piece of geography on which Herod the Great built an equally spectacular palace where he hid out when he was feeling particularly paranoid. To get to Masada, you drive east from Jerusalem, descending 1200 meters (and 400 meters below sea level)to the rift valley which formed the Dead Sea and the now agriculturally-rich Jordan Valley.

Although not planned this way, I contracted with an Israeli company for the tour. One very Gentile-looking tourist among 20 of my closest Jewish friends - which turned out to be a particularly rich experience. As conversations with several busmates developed, we talked about our experiences and our impressions of Israel. As I had heard, Jewish tourists rarely encounter a Palestinian and almost never cross onto the West Bank. These people mentioned they had wanted to go to Bethlehem but were told it was too dangerous. There are indeed wonderful things to see in Israel and much to be proud of there, but they are denied the chance to see the whole picture. They leave knowing nothing about Palestine except that it is a place to avoid - and they never have the opportunity to meet a Palestinian. Very sad.

On the way home from Masada we stopped for a few hours at a Dead Sea resort. The sea itself is shrinking rapidly. Jordan and Israel have an agreement to withdraw all fresh water coming down the Jordan River before it reaches the Sea. Agriculture is flourishing along both sides of the valley, but every field draws water from the river. Regrettably, I had not brought my swim suit so I missed the full experience which includes bathing in black mud. People bob around on the surface of the sea, tryng their best to immerse themselves under the surface of the water. Without much luck.

Another great day.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Negotiations-Depressing/Hopeful Developments-Al Ithad Municipality

A bit more from yesterday: A big plus of travelling with Estephan is that he knows a lot about what's going on. Most interesting was his description of the negotiations between Hamas and Fatah facilitated by the Egyptians. A general draft of unification has been completed and submitted to both. Now the difficult part, getting down to specifics. Both agree to a unity government and Hamas seems ok with giving Abbas another year before elections which would be for both President and Legislative Council. Among other things, designating the power and duties of prime minister is a tough one. PM was created at urging of US to diminish Arafat's power. President still has power to apppoint and fire the PM - and present PM is Hamas. Estephan believes achieving this unity critical and difficult - an historical and important moment for Palestinian people. US will probably not want unity govt., would rather disempower Hamas. So much for supporting democracy.

(Late addition: With Hamas refusing to come to Cairo yesterday (Saturday) for the meeting with Fatah, it looks like the US doesn't have to worry about disempowering Hamas; they're doing a good enough job all by themselves.)

On the other side, the Israeli elections will be held this February ... and many here believe Netanahyu will win, meaning a probable end to negotiations. Without unity among Palestinians and a strong leader - and without a strong Israeli government, neither will be able to implement an agreement, even if they could achieve it. One Israeli I talked with commented: "We lurch back and forth between liberal and conservative governments, becoming disappointed by both, never keeping one in power for very long."

Sounds depressing, eh what? Yet I keep hearing of remarkably promising things happening. Although Tony Blair has little international clout, Estephan says he has been very helpful - launching economic initiatives, getting some agreements for a new sewer project in Gaza and negotiating with the Israelis to allow more essential goods into Gaza (or was that the Carter Center?). And last night we had dinner with Estephan's wife who works with World Vision. They invest about 10 million a year into very interesting projects on the West Bank and in Gaza - with a clear policy that what they do is not from "compassion" but because education, health care, etc. is a basic human right. When they agree to partner with a village or municipality, it is at their invitation and the agreement is to stay with the project for 15-20 years. When they leave, they want the accoplishments to be the village's, not World Vision's.

I had brkfst this morning with the director of the Carter Center in Ramallah. He confirmed what Estephan said about the Hamas-Fatah negotiations and described the very quiet work the Carter Center is doing: teaching non-violent conflict resolution, entering tense situations to negotiate agreements. Their work is very often behind the scenes.

Finally, after leaving Bil'in yesterday, Estephan and I went in search of a very small Palestinian village which has joined with two others and a refugee camp to form a new municipality called Al Ithad (about 11,000 people in all). After many wrong turns and a road to the village closed by the IDF(for no apparent reason), we found our way and met with the mayor and a contact who turned out to be a physiotherapist who had treated Estephan's father in Ramallah(we discussed exercises for hip replacement patients). Estephan's mission was to evaluate this location for the next Seraj library. As the available building space is next to the local school and near a kindergarten beneath a nearby mosque, it looked promising to us. They would supply space and staff to manage the library and develop program; Seraj would supply furniture and books. The mayor was enthusiastic.

Harkening back to the demonstration at Bil'in, the mayor told us he had persuaded the IDF district commander to visit the road closed to their village. Apparently the DCF agreed there was no apparent reason for the closure. If the road is not opened in two weeks, the mayor will call for demonstrations. Hopefully not necessary.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A Day With Estephan

My Palestinian friend, Estephan Salameh, picked me up after breakfast this morning and we headed north in his faded red VW through Beit Hanina where the wall has made a four lane highway toward Ramallah into two two lane roads separating a Jewish area from a Palestinian. Coils of razor wired have been added to the top of the wall since my last visit giving it a more ominous appearance. Our first destination was Jifna, a small Christian village near Ramallah where Estephan's family lives. Jifna is also where Seraj, the little non-profit begun by Estephan, Laurie and some faithful Chicagoans, has launched its first children's library. We stopped for a tour and to meet Miriam, its librarian - who was for many years a nurse in Kuwait. The library is in a wonderfully bright room with fanciful designs on the wall on the second floor of a building also housing a dentist's office and a clinic. Children fill the room after school from Monday through Thursday and now some women have begun offering free tutoring there several other days. Altough books are very costly, Seraj has managed to fill the shelves. It's a great project.

Etephan's mother had been planning brunch for us for the past week which included lentil soup, the essential Palestinian salad and a pan of well season chicken and potatoes. Estephan's brother, Samer, and two of his children dropped by and, as Harold Kimball has named her, "Lovely Ludna" was there too. Ludna is Estephan's sister who works at Birzeit University. I'm pleased to report that Estephan's father is much improved since last year. He's mobile now with walker and cane. Lovely people; warm hospitality.

Leaving Jifna, we headed for Bil'in where Friday protests have been maintained for several years at the path of the wall. The wall cuts off Bil'in residents from portions of their land where they have grown olive trees for many years. Residents took their case to the Israeli high court which ruled in their favor. But the IDF claimed "security needs" and the fence remains. When we got to the site, the demonstrators were about 75 yards from fences on either side of them (in this case electrified fences with razor wire) with IDF on the military roads behind both fences. Tear gas was being lobbed at the demonstrators about 150 yards from where we were. We walked a little closer - still a long way from the demonstration - when we heard one of the cannisters sailing in a large arc toward us. We moved quickly and the cannister landed right where we were standing. We both got a nose full then and some later that drifted our way, but were fine in a few minutes. I was reminded I don't care for tear gas.

My observation of the demonstration is that it has become a kind of game protesters and the IDF play each Friday. With some Israelis and internationals joining in, it has gained some useful press coverage, but it is hard to tell if it is effective any longer. On this occasion we saw far more Israeli than Palestinian demonstrators ... perhaps because the Palestinians have observed participants taking pictures of demonstrators resulting in later interrogations. Toward the end we observed some kids - still a good way from the fence - using slings to throw stones at the soldiers. Some real lack of discipline to maintain non-violence weakens the protest.

And that was just half of Friday! More tommorrow.

Chicago - Newark - Ben Gurion - Jerusalem

The flight from Newark to Tel Aviv is remarkably easy. Leaving at 2300, they serve a good dinner, turn out the lights and you wake over the Mediterranean with Orthodox passengers preparing for morning prayers and flight attendants bringing breakfast. Quite a pleasant flight. We arrived at Ben Gurion as the sun was setting on Thursday. Wonderfully warm weather. Balmy.

I've asked everyone I've met what they think of the American election. At the cell phone store, they thought it not so good for Israel. "They say he's a Muslim". Same with the driver of our minibus into Jerusalem. "I liked McCain ... he goes straight at things" (hand gestures). I drove in, though, with a particularly happy and friendly collection of Jews from London who all thought it was "brilliant" and that Sarah Palin was an idiot. One woman confessed she wanted Hilary, but she's pleased enough just to be rid of George. Today (Friday), all the Palestinians I met on the West Bank were delighted with Obama and then very wary of his selection of Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff. When asked who won the election, Estephan Salameh's 4 year old niece said "OBAMA" (her emphasis).

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes, we can!

I will be flying to Tel Aviv later today as a very proud American.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Getting Ready

Preparing for departure tommorrow for Newark and ultimately Ben Gurion airport in Israel, I've been figuring how to carry four small digital cameras on board without raising too many questions from security and Continental's luggage restrictions. The cameras are bound for four young people at St. Mathew's Anglican Church in Zababdeh, at the top of the West Bank, near Jenin. With any luck I'll be able to catch a bus from Ramallah next Tuesday morning to Jenin and then find a bus or a taxi back to Zababdeh. (The any luck part is responsive to an email I just got from Joan Deming, director of Pilgrims of Ibillin, who was blocked recently from visiting Zababdeh even though Bishop Chacour had obtained verbal permission for them from the Israel Interior Department) The cameras will help launch the Zababdeh Connection between four young people at St. Luke's, Evanston, and four young people of approximately the same age at St. Matthew's. It will be good to see Fadi, Ruba and their children again.

Other plans include a day with Estephan Salameh, visiting a Palestinian village the little non-profit Seraj is considering for a second small children's library and a stop to see the situation in Bil'in where Palestinians and internationals are protesting the building of a "security" wall which will separate farmers from their land. We'll observe, not demonstrate - and join Laurie, Estephan's wife, for dinner that night. I hope to get to Masada and later travel up the coast from Jaffa to Haifa and from there to visit the Mar Elias school built by Elias Chacour in Ibillin. The Sabeel International conference will occupy the middle week of my visit, beginning in Nazareth and traveling back to Jerusalem.

For now, we eagerly await tonight's election returns.