Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Listening to the voices ...

  • Israeli authorities come unannounced twice a year to inspect my books. If they find something unrecorded, I can be in big trouble (owner/manager of a grill on Salah ad Din)
  • I keep fat files of receipts (electricity, water, rent ...) to prove my Jerusalem residence to Israeli authorities; without them, they can deport me (Palestinian friend living in Beit Hanina)
  • As he flips through the book detected in my luggage, Palestine Monitor Factbook 2012, Where did you get this? Salah ad Din? Where is that? Oh, okay. Have a nice trip. (Security personnel at Ben Gurion)
  • I came back through Ben Gurion last night from meetings in Canada, was pulled out of line and strip searched (Palestinian Anglican dean of St. George's Cathedral)
  • Israel needs its security - they just need to be nicer at the checkpoints; they can keep the wall - they just need to keep passage through it more open; they can keep Jerusalem - they just need to give us all access (Palestinian pastor of an Anglican church on the West Bank)
  • What was most painful was when they built the wall down the middle of our street, dividing my best girlfriend - whose home was just across the street - and me. (23 year old Palestinian woman)
  • Yeah, Jimmy Carter did visit me after the Israelis demolished my home ... but we talked mainly about music. (Palestinian musician at The Jerusalem Hotel)
  • We are glad to have Christian tourists visit our village (about 500 a month). I just wish they would notice the three settlements and Israeli military base that surround us (Palestinian medical student in Taybeh)
  • What do I want you to tell Americans when you go home? Just tell them I'm a human (Palestinian neurosurgeon in Ramallah to American patient on whom he performed critical spinal surgery)
  • Tell them there is nothing Jewish about home demolitions, walls which divide, check point closures, confiscation of another's land, uprooting olive trees, seettler violence against unarmed farmers (Rami Elahan's answer when asked how to respond to groundless charges of anti-semitism)
  • A very prosperous Palestinian family was celebrating their daughter's 12th birthday with 25 extended family at the next table at an elegant East Jerusalem restaurant. And when they finished, another, equally prosperous, took their place. I could just as well have been in an upscale Chicago restaurant (this blogger)
  • Obama's visit in March was a joke. It was the language of partnership with Israel; with the Palestinians, it was 'take this $, and shut up' (Bethlehem Palestinian friend)
  • What do you want me to tell Americans when I go home? Tell them we're not terrorists; tell them to be fair; do the right thing - tell the truth; if American would say 'no' to Netanyahu, our situation would change overnight; peace does not come without justice; come visit us - see who we are and how we live (Palestinian answers to this blogger's question)
  • Few Palestinians trust the PA (Palestinian Authority) and their VIP leaders. The PA is doing Israel's job for them. (former PA staff) 
  • There is no reason for optimism, but I am confident I will see it in my lifetime; I will be able to walk to Gaza (Vivien Sansour, Bethlehem)
  • Jesus is a verb (Palestinian Christian)
  • How do you cope? How do you live with the hassle of occupation? My work (art therapy) is my hope. I pay no attention to politics; I go inside where I love the children I teach, the teachers I train, the friends I love. My 10 sisters and brothers would be here within three hours if I needed them. (Palestinian friend who will celebrate her 50th birthday on September 2)
  •  About a week ago they made me get out of my car, open the trunk and brought dogs to sniff the  car inside and out; it took a good half hour (Anglican bishop in Jerusalem on experience at check point returning to Jerusalem from Beit Jala)
  • The structure of Palestinian culture is breaking down. Palestinian parents invest everything in their children - raising, educating, launching them. Family bonds are strong. Then when the parents are old, the children take care of them. But that is less and less possible. There are so few opportunities for young Palestinians to build a life here (Jean Zaru, Palestinian Quaker in Ramallah)
  • Commenting on the confidential letter from President Gerald Ford to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, ... what it basically gives Israel is veto power over American proposals on the Palestinian issue; ...  (the U.S.) would refrain from putting forward anything that (Israel) found unsatisfactory (Rashid Khalidi in his 26 April interview with WBEZ's Jerome McDonnell on Khalidi's new book, Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East)
  • What you describe experiencing in East Jerusalem, Cotton, is called 'ethnic cleansing by bureaucracy' (A Palestinian American friend)
  • Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ  to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way .... (Collect for the Fifth Sunday of Easter)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Sitting in at Sabeel

I missed Thursday's Bible study and eucharist at Sabeel (see Morning with Vivien), so called first thing Friday to discover a large group was visiting later that morning (Tree of Life, led by David Good and Rebecca Fadil). I was cordially invited to sit in.

I've heard Cedar Duaybis a number of times, but never tire of her story. She's now 77, one of the founders of Sabeel, and as passionate and articulate a spokesperson as it has. The history of the people, her own personal story of being forced from her home in Haifa, Naim's development of liberation theology, their continuing struggle for justice, peace and reconciliation. Such integrity.

Sabeel served lunch (always a favorite - maqlouba) to all of us and then introduced representatives from the Parents Circle Families Forum, the amazing group of bereaved families - Palestinian and Israeli - who support peace, reconciliation and tolerance and an end to the cycle of violence which took one of their own. If you don't know of these courageous people, do look them up on the internet, http://www.theparentscircle.com/, and give them your support, lots of it ($$$). It was only as the Israeli's story unfolded that I realized this was Rami Elhanan, Miko Peled's brother-in-law. In 1997, with four others, Rami's 14 year old daughter, Miko's niece, was killed by a suicide bomber. The Palestinian, George Sa'adeh, (former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, now an educator) and his family were victims of a special Israeli squad sent to ambush Hamas fighters in Bethlehem in 2003. George, his wife and one daughter were seriously injured and Christine, their other daughter, was killed. The car in which they were driving was found to have 300 bullet holes.

There is surely no grief any of us suffer greater than the death of one of our children. George and Rami's stories are painful to hear and, of course, indescribable to experience. As they said yesterday, there is nothing more powerful than the power of pain. Parents Circle Families Forum use their power to help end this tragedy. It has made more than l000 presentations to Israeli and Palestinian young people.

One more thing. Someone asked Rami how to deal with their anticipation of being labelled anti-semitic when speaking to people at home about this situation. Rami said, "Tell them there is nothing Jewish about home demolitions, walls which divide, check point closures, confiscation of another's land, uprooting olive trees, settler violence against unarmed farmers."

Cedar Duaybis
Rebeca Fadil
David Good and friend
Rami Elhanan
George Sa'adeh
Bereaved Parents
Naim Ateek

A Morning with Vivien

I first met Vivien (I think) in Jenin in 2010. She had just taken a position with the Palestinian Fair Trade Association and was "orienting" internationals to this wonderful collective of Palestinian Farmers and the recently-built Canaan Fair Trade facility in Burgin, just outside Jenin. I met her a couple other times and, when preparing for this trip, wrote to arrange a meeting. I learned she was living in Bethlehem in her family home. What I also learned was that she had produced a wonderful film called The People and the Olive: The Story of the Run Across Palestine (the people and the olive.com) I commend it to you unreservedly. These young people (from my elevated position, most everyone younger than me) and the millions like them are the hope of our significantly screwed up world - and they deserve all the support we can give them.

A conversation for which I "scheduled" an hour (maybe a bit more) easily stretched to two+. Vivien is a bright, very savvy, engaging woman. She works with IMEU (Institute for Middle East Understanding), is a consultant, journalist and photographer. Despite confirming that what is going on here has gone from bad to worse, she lives and acts hopefully. Her view of the Obama visit? With Israel, the language of partnership; to the Palestinians, "take this and shut up." In the face of our shared cynicism, Vivien says, "I will see it in my lifetime; I will be able to walk into Gaza."

My next stop was at Sabeel, in Jerusalem. A call to Naim Ateek warned of my lateness and his appeal to Vivien (old and loving friends) to come with me. We tried every way we could, but it was not to be. So Vivien, bless her soul, put me on a bus from Bethlehem to Ramallah (to connect with Estephan for library visits) that became the most hair-raising adventure of my life. This route, taken daily by Palestinians, skirts Israel, and comes out just the other side of the Qalandia check point. Hurtling down precipitous descents at a waste-no-time speed, around hairpin turns ... indescribable! Mainly because my eyes were closed and I was deep in the kind of prayer I don't believe in - "Dear God, save me!"

But we made it safely to Ramallah, right on time ... even a little early.

Seraj Library at Deir Ammar Refugee Camp Is Thriving

Estephan and I spent Thursday afternoon visiting three Seraj libraries - at the Deir Ammar Refugee Camp, in Jifna and Kufor Ni'meh. In short Deir Amma is thriving, Jifna is happily overcrowded and Kufor Ni'meh is preparing to open May 1 under a new mayor and village council  and 7 new computers and desks which arrived while we were there.

But first, to the "rugs" at Deir Ammar.

Not the usual way to start, but these are the most wonderful floor coverings I've ever seen. They're rubber and, as you can see, colorful and interesting. The library now has two spacious rooms, with reading tables in one and the computers in the second. It was a wonderful scene.

As always, pictures tell the best story. But it's important to know about another initiative at Deir Ammar, their work with mentally challenged children and their families and their hope to integrate these children with those with normal development. Here are wonderful people who oversee these programs.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Learning The Secrets ...

I have a Palestinian friend (who will remain nameless) who ever so kindly has driven me all over the place, through Jerusalem to Beit Jala, Ramallah and any number of West Bank villages over the past couple weeks. All these journeys are interesting, but what caught my interest recently is his skill in coming BACK into Jerusalem/Israel through check points to deposit me back at my hotel in East Jerusalem - without being stopped. Now, he has a yellow license plate which obviously gives him an advantage - and he is doing nothing illegal - but that doesn't guarantee anything. He's Palestinian, and all Palestinians are suspect. Returning to Jerusalem/Israel last night, I asked him his secret. He listed 7 but thinks there are more he couldn't remember.

1. Never smile at the soldier. Many Palestinians smile, thinking that will please the soldier and he/she will let them through. Not so. A smile means you are Palestinian for sure.
2. Drive slowly through the check point, but never stop unless ordered to.
3. Keep looking straight ahead, lift your hand to the window in a gesture which says, "Hi guys, have a good evening." Very casual - as though you're one of the tribe.
4. If you wear a beard, shave it off.
5. Keep your car washed regularly.
6. Don't hang any of that stuff (Christian, Muslim symbols) on your mirror.
7. Try to get behind a Palestinian car that knows none of the above. Soldiers will pull them over and you will drive through unnoticed.

A footnote: I do remember one time we were stopped. It was a number of years ago and elements of the Second Intifada were lingering. We were going to visit his family in a West Bank village and were LEAVING Israel. The soldier refused to let us through. My friend explained we were going to visit his father who was ill (true). No deal. Back up and don't come back. My friend did as directed, drove back maybe 50 meters and headed off cross country on a road which barely made the definition. It circled the check point and came out on the other side. Because it was clear we could be seen from the check point, I shrieked that we would both be gunned down. He responded calmly, "No, the soldier just wanted to give me a hard time; he knew what I would do."

So much for Israeli security measures.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Mabrook to Many Children at Al-Mizra Al-Sharqiyyeh

We happened to visit the Clyde L Campbell Seraj Library at Al-Mizra Al-Sharqiyyeh on the day they were giving mabrook (I think that means congratulations) to the crowd of young people who had completed and turned in their "Passports for Reading" and writing about books they had read. About 350 young people took a passport booklet and an amazing 170 returned them with books read and stories written. They weren't all present for the awards, but nearly 60 were - with prizes for the winners and acknowledgements for everyone.

The library at Al-Mizra is clearly the best equipped of our Seraj libraries - with shelving they made, tables, chairs, rugs, computers - but it is also a community which is using the space to the very best advantage. It's open from morning to night and is used by women, men, young people and young adults - for meetings, tutoring, research, reading, computer use, films, games. Al Mizra is a Muslim village, but, unlike some, boys and girls are not segregated here. They have very reason to be proud of what they are doing for their community.

One more thing, you can see and read more (if you're fluent in Arabic) about this library by going to the Al-Mizra Seraj Library Facebook page.

The Winner! 
Remembering Clyde Campbell, a great educator
Guidelines for use of the library!

This Church's Challenge

A variety of tensions exist in my Episcopal church and its ministries - as it does in every other. They come in many shapes and colors. The one that interests me most - and is expressed in a variety of ways - is that which exists between what we used to describe as the vertical (love of God) and the horizontal (love of God's world), the spiritual and the pastoral/prophetic. The vertical and horizontal can and should exist as two sides of the same coin. In my parish they are called formation and discipleship. People engaged in personal formation through study and a spiritual discipline - leading to a deepening experience of the God who exists beyond our flawed projections - are most likely, but not necessarily, to feel called to discipleship. Living as a disciple (serving the needs of our sisters and brothers; confronting the distortions of our world; calling out oppressors) most likely, but not necessarily, surfaces an awareness of the need for the study and spiritual practice that sustains discipleship.

For many reasons, the institutional church has difficulty holding these ministries together so they reinforce and support each other. My Episcopal Church - like others, a very human and flawed institution - has had periods in which it has contributed bountifully to one or the other. Occasionally, it finds a balance... but not for long. My personal constitution leans toward the prophetic, so I must work hard to practice a spiritual discipline that deepens my experience of what I prefer to call holy mystery, a place where 'prayer' is primarily listening. I am and will likely always be a novice in this department.

My prophetic leaning may be partially genetic; it's certainly been shaped by gifted mentors, beginning with my exposure to the life and writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer when I was 15. Many more since then. During my professional years as a clinical psychologist, that leaning hung around on the sidelines. When I partially retired in 2003 and was coerced by a most insistent woman friend to pursue an emerging interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a Sabeel Witness Trip to Israel/Palestine in 2006, I was appalled, blessed - probably most of all, humbled. Humbled by the hospitality and generosity of the Palestinians people; humbled by the courage and faithfulness of Palestinians and Israelis who pursued a non-violent resistance to the Occupation and the many human rights violations and racism that exist here. Many trips, conversations, articles, books, conferences since then.

All of the above is prologue.

I am here again, lodged in East Jerusalem, visiting Palestinian and Israeli friends here and in villages on the West Bank. While very proud of my church's leadership in ordaining women, consecrating bishops who happened to be gay with committed partners, blessing gay marriages, I am sorely disappointed by my church's leadership in addressing the terrible injustice that exists in this land. Prophetic voices at the 2012 General Convention were suppressed. Our Presiding Bishop declined an opportunity to join other Christian leaders in calling on Congress to enforce U.S. law making military assistance illegal to countries with significant human rights violations. Episcopal Voices of Conscience were ignored at TEC's Executive Council meeting in February.

Because the Anglican Church has important parishes, schools, medical and human service institutions here that serve the Palestinian people, the ecclesiastical authorities must walk a fine line. There is no doubt Israeli authorities can shut down or at least cause these institutions untold hassle if they feel provoked (and sometimes even if they don't), but my experience here is that church leadership rarely even approaches that fine line. I was pleased on Sunday to hear the celebrant at St. George's, in the prayers of the people, explicitly name the suffering of his fellow Palestinians (humiliation at check points, demolition of homes, uprooting of olive trees, violence at the hands of settlers) and, later, to hear John Peterson, former dean of St George's College, tell a visiting delegation from the Diocese of Northern California of the same realities. There are voices that tell the truth - but it does not appear to be diocesan policy.

Earlier in this visit I was graciously received by the Rev. Hanna Dally, priest in charge at St. Andrew's Church in Ramallah. He has a lovely wife and four children, is dedicated to preaching the Gospel, teaching and serving his people. Hanna describes himself as evangelical - an approach which reflects the vertical, sometimes - in my experience - to the exclusion of the horizontal. Hanna is no stranger to the frustrations experienced by all Palestinians. He described waiting at a check point for two hours and then being told the check point was closed - he must go elsewhere. But in terms of resistance to the occupation, Hanna's language turns moderate in the extreme. "Israel must have security, but their soldiers should be nicer to us at the check points. The wall can stay, but the gates should be more open. They can have Jerusalem, but we should all be admitted." My worry is that this approach - or something like it - characterizes the official stance of the Diocese of Jerusalem.

I do not live here; they do. I have the luxury of visiting and returning home where I enjoy freedoms they only imagine. They have all experienced the pain of occupation; they know the truth. At the very least, Episcopalians in the U.S. should be able to speak and demonstrate against a biased U.S. foreign policy that supports this oppression without being limited by the caution exercised by our Anglican Palestinian brothers and sisters.

And while I'm at it ... one more rant.

I am truly sick to death of the hordes of Americans and Europeans and others who come here to "walk in the footsteps of Jesus." Scrambling, pushing and shoving to get into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Church of the Holy Nativity is not my idea of spiritual nurture. Too many - far too many - sincere Christians come here and see nothing of the realities in which an oppressed people live. And our tourist presence generously supports the Israeli, far more than the Palestinian economy.  I asked a sincere pair of Americans who professed to have come to "walk in Jesus' footsteps" if they wondered where Jesus might be walking if he were here now. When the conversation turned to the wall and check points and visits to the West Bank, they replied with what they have been taught - "it is not safe there."

Looking toward the gate off Salah Ed-Din into the compound of the Diocese of Jerusalem, St. George's College and the Anglican Cathedral of St George the Martyr

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

"Pray God It Wasn't an Arab ..."

It is a strange experience to be sitting in my favorite little restaurant in East Jerusalem, watching the BBC and Al Jazeera accounts of the deadly mayhem in Boston, watching from a land which has experienced more than its share of deadly mayhem. So many Arab friends have expressed their sorrow at our loss. It was my host, Mo Tahan, watching with me, who uttered the prayer of many ... "Pray God it wasn't an Arab ...."

Monday, April 15, 2013

If Samer Issawi Dies ...

Samer Issawi is the Palestinian prisoner, arrested in Ramallah in April, 2002 during the height of the Second Intifada. He was convicted of a variety of serious charges - belonging to a banned political organization, firing at Israeli military vehicles - and sentenced to 26 years in prison. Mr. Issawi was released in October, 2011, as part of the exchange for the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, and rearrested in July, 2012, for "violating the terms of his release". With other political prisoners, Samer Issawi began a hunger strike in August, 2012. He has continued his strike for 8 months and is now being held at the Israeli Kaplan Medical Center, his life in obvious jeopardy.

Numerous demonstrations have been held here and in the U.S., protesting his continued imprisonment; Israeli peace activists recently attempted to visit him; Amos Oz and other prominent pro peace Israeli literary figures pleaded with him to end his strike, preserve his life. Israel has offered to deport him to another country. Mr. Assawi has refused and continues his strike.

The question is repeatedly asked here, "What will happen if/when Assawi dies?"

My first evening here I had dinner with Estephan Salameh, recently resigned from an important position with the Palestinian Authority, and Paul Parker, on a 6 month sabbatical from Elmhurst College, volunteering at Sabeel. Paul asked, "could the Palestinians muster a demonstration of 20 - 30,000 persons?" Estephan's answer was, "No, the PA security forces would prevent them from getting even close to the IDF. The PA does the work of the Israelis."

I sat with Mo this morning, drinking coffee, when his old teacher friend who taught him English, came in for coffee and conversation. I asked, "What will happen ...?" The answer was quick and sad. "Nothing. A big funeral; lots o f people. 2-3 days of unrest, demonstrations. Then everything back to 'normal'. People are poor; they are suffering."

Friday, April 12, 2013

What Do You Want To Tell The American People?

It's not very original, but it's the question I decided to ask as many as I could on this trip. I've just begun, but here are a few early returns.

LYDIA MUSHAHWAR, the young woman I described in an earlier posting, was reluctant, but after repeatedly pestering her, she said - "Just tell them to do what they think is right, no matter what it costs. It's important to do the right thing - and only they can decide what that is. I just don't want to get my hopes up, and be disappointed again."

ABUNA HANNA, the priest at St. Andrew's in Ramallah said, "Come visit us; come and see who we are and how we live. You will only understand what is happening here if you come see it yourself."

My friend, MO, who feeds me so well was more blunt. He said "If America would finally say no to Netanyahu, our situation could change overnight. Tell the American people to to tell their government to stop siding with Israel."

HAROUT SANDROUNI, whose Armenian Art Center in the old city is a showcase for beautiful ceramics repeats what I hear from others. "Tell them to do the right thing." To say Harout is disappointed with the US government would be a massive understatement. These are not his words, but I have no doubt he would add, "If you don't know what the right thing is, come here and see what is happening to the Palestinian people."

If I'm ever in need of an infusion of positive energy, KHITAM EDELBI is the one to whom I will turn.  As described earlier, she is a talented art therapist whose vocation is healing. Sitting with Khitam and Al Miller at lunch at the Jerusalem Hotel, Khitam answered with a conviction for which written words are wholly inadequate, "Do the right thing - tell people the truth!"

I sat with a friend this morning in St George's garden following Sunday liturgy. We shared medical adventures and she told me of relatively recent surgery on a tumor lodged in the thoracic area of her spine. After other physicians misdiagnosed her condition she went to a PALESTINIAN NEUROSURGEON in Ramallah who identified the problem correctly, verified it with an MRI the next day and operated the following week. The procedure lasted 11 hours, a grueling ordeal for both patient and surgeon. My friend said she was released from the hospital three days later and when she went to see her neurosurgeon later, she asked him my question. His answer: "Tell them we're human".

Jeries Kort, last year medical school

Estephan, Al Miller and I visited the SERAJ LIBRARY AT TAYBEH yesterday. We sat with the amazing young adults who volunteer at the library and talked of the children, opportunities to use drama to help them tell the story of Taybeh to the hordes of "pilgrims" who come there each week, of the need for books for young adults. We asked them what they want us to tell Americans. They were very direct:

- we just want basic rights
- we're not terrorists
- peace does not come without justice
- every time we see a soldier, a settler, we think of the U.S. not being fair
- we are not expecting anything from the U.S. government
- people come to Taybeh for religious reasons ... but they don't look around the village, see the three settlements and Israeli military base that surrounds us

Helda Zayed, 11th grade


Adjusting To Occupation

Humans have an amazing capacity to adjust to many - not all - realities. Relatively few of the world's population have anywhere near the opportunities, access to quality health care and personal freedoms I have ... and have had for 75 years. Some of those advantages exist for the people I meet here, but most don't and even those who do live under conditions that would render me perpetually angry ... and, perhaps, prone to violence. What interests me is how they adjust and, in spite of it all ... cope.

Lydia Mushahwar
I had a good conversation last night with the young woman I have gotten to know over many stays at the Jerusalem Meridian and who takes such good care of me here. LYDIA MUSHAHWAR is in her early 20's, has a responsible position and is consistently cheerful. When I ask her how she copes with the conditions we've discussed many times, she tells me she has had her hopes raised so many times, only to find them unfulfilled (she didn't use the word betrayed, but it seemed just below the surface) that she decided it is worse than useless to expect things to change; better to decide to live as good a life as she can. "I read the Bible every night and I try very hard to be a good person" (Lydia is Greek Orthodox with a Jordanian father and an Italian mother; she prefers to go to the Latin Church). She did tell me the most painful moment in her life was when Israel built the wall down the middle of her street separating her from the girlfriend she grew up with and played with every day. When the wall was completed, they would go to the top of their buildings to wave to each other.

Lydia is strongly self-disciplined. She went to work at 17 and put herself through college, graduating in the top third of her class. If there were a large demonstration protesting Israeli policies, I doubt Lydia would be there. With some embarrassment, she said as much, knowing that I have participated with Palestinians in several. The one clue she gave at her discontent with "how things are" was when she said, "but when I marry and have children, I don't want them to have to live like this."

Moe and Elena Tahan
MOETAHAN AND HIS WIFE, ELENA, manage the restaurant at the corner of Salah E'din and Ibn Abu Taleb, right behind St. George's. Mo is one of those Palestinians who left for more opportunities in the U.S. but returned to help take care of his parents. They have a good-enough business here and both express gratitude to the American people whom they see as generous and kind. But Mo chafes at the conditions and acknowledges he sometimes gets depressed. He could use his Jerusalem ID to advantage, but to do so he would have to give up his American passport and he won't do that - though he acknowledges he cannot afford to go back to America and start over. Mo adjusts by working hard, raising his son, supplying his customers with food more nutritious "than what is served in America." But he pays a price.

Haroud Sandrouni
I have been visiting HAROUD SANDROUNI at his wonderful Armenian Art Center in the Old City on every trip here since I first met him in 2007. He comes from a distinguished family of craftsmen and artists whose history in Palestine stretches back to the early years of the twentieth century. Al Miller and I sat and talked with Mr. Sandrouni for a good hour (interrupted occasionally by customers purchasing beautiful objects). He told us  he was in fact not coping well and was, obviously, angry. The Christian population is small and the Armenian a tiny percentage of that. 87 Armenians are left in the Old City and 20 of those are priests - about whom Mr. Sandrouni has little good to say (like nothing). Israeli policies are aimed at discouraging non-Jews from remaining in Jerusalem. Everyone, he says, is concerned with their own survival (perhaps understandably) and is less willing to stand with each other.  Mr. Sandrouni's comments echo what I've heard from Jean Zaru and Estephan Salameh - the Occupation is shredding a a once strong and cohesive Palestinian culture.

Khitam Edelbi
I originally met KHITAM EDELBI through my friends Lael Stegall and Al Miller. Khitam spent time with Al at his wonderful theatre in Brunswick, Maine and later studied art therapy in Boston. It was when Lael came to celebrate Khitam's marriage in the fall of 2010 that the first symptoms of Lael's cancer surfaced. Lael had something in common with Khitam, an amazing resiliency, a sense of joy and purpose in life. Oh, we need so many more like them!

Al and I met Khitam for a late lunch Saturday following a teaching gig Khitam had that morning. Khitam is among the more outspoken regarding the insidious effect of Israeli policies and laws and the ineffectiveness of the Palestinian Authority in countering the oppression of Occupation. She is clearly angry. She is also clearly an (amazingly) positive force for good. "My work is my hope. My work with children and teachers, my family, the people I love ... I do get down, but not for long." One more observation about Khitam. She is one of 11 children. She said that if she needed them, all 10 would be there within three hours. The cohesive structure of her family system remains strong.

I have no picture of this fellow, but he was sitting next to us (Khitam, Al and me) at the Jerusalem Hotel dining room. Khitam recognized him as A VERY TALENTED MUSICIAN who plays drums (of a sort) on Friday nights; I recalled his face from an evening he was performing there a couple years ago.  She asked if his house had been demolished by the Israelis ... and he said "yes, it was".  "Did I hear that Jimmy Carter came to see you there?" "Yes, but we ended up talking more about music than the demolition."

Just Another Story

I learned this week of a young Palestinian woman with a Jerusalem ID (which means she has medical insurance), nine months pregnant and beginning to go into labor. Because her husband is from Ramallah (no Jerusalem ID; no medical insurance), the hospital informed them he would have to put up $4,000 before she could go into delivery. She can only use her medical insurance if she will state that the father is "unknown". In a Muslim culture, that implies the mother is a loose woman and the child will always carry the label of bastard. Israeli policy has many ways to punish those they wish would go away.
Victoria, having lunch with her student parents at Mo and Elena's grill

A warm welcome to the West Bank at Qalandia

The Center of Ramallah appears thriving; though, as  Jean reminds me, the appearance is misleading.  Unemployment is high, prices are rising and, when Israel is displeased with the Palestinian Authority, it withholds tax revenue that belongs to the Palestinians. When Abbas disobeyed Israel and the U.S. last fall, asking recognition of Palestine at the UN General Assembly (and got it, 138 - 9 with 41 abstentions), tax revenues were withheld and plans to build on the critical E1 area were announced. That's called punishment for seeking what Israel sought in the same venue in 1947.

Conversation in Jean's Kitchen

I actually had a bit of a hard time locating Jean's home in Ramallah, "just across from the Palestinian Legislative Council" (street and # addresses are useless in Palestine).  Just across from what side? She finally made a visual sighting and guided me in.

Hospitality is part of every Palestinian's DNA, but Jean got a double dose. Check out the homemade hummus with pita warmed as it should be on an open burner, fresh French press coffee topped off with sweet delicacies.

Jean is the clerk of the Ramallah Friends Meeting which has a 150 year old history and a ministry as the Friends International Center in Ramallah. She has been a persistent voice for justice and peace for an entire lifetime. Her nonviolent resistance to the Occupation of her people and land is movingly described in her 2008 publication, Occupied with Nonviolence: A Palestinian Woman Speaks.

We talked of many things, mostly revisiting earlier conversations (suggesting that not much has changed since we last talked). Jean had written a powerful letter supporting last fall's call by 15 religious leaders for Congressional hearings to determine Israel's conformity to a U.S. law denying military assistance to any country with repeated human rights violations. We both lamented my (TEC) Presiding Bishop's refusal to add her signature to the courageous 15 - as well as Congress' indifference.

But I understood something new (though obvious now that she described it) from our conversation which seems terribly important. The structure of Palestinian culture has always been anchored in the family. Parents invested heavily in their children - educating them (always a high priority among Palestinians), launching them vocationally, supporting them (often with a new home) when they married. As a result, bonding among Palestinian families has been and still is very strong. Jean and her husband sent one son to ITT (Chicago) to the tune of 50,000 a year. Another son went to Earlham College and was then supported for a Masters degree at Harvard. In return parents expect to be cared for as they age and are unable to support themselves any longer. Remember, there is no Social Security or Medicare available for these people. What Jean pointed out is the slow but significant erosion of that family culture as a result of the Occupation. Employment opportunities are slim in an economy shackled by Israeli controls, and young people make painful decisions to leave their homeland and their families to make a life of their own - often in the U.S., Europe, another Arab country. Even when they remain in the West Bank, walls, checkpoints, permits, and closures limit their ability to visit and support each other. Jean could certainly have left Ramallah and lived with one of her adult children. But she felt it important to remain and not allow the Israelis to drive her out.

Many younger Palestinians still make the decision to remain here, and some return when their parents need them.  I'll be writing about Mo and Elena, Lydia, Hanna, Estephan and Laurie who have or are making decisions based on the needs of their parents. But increasingly, elderly parents are left alone with no health insurance, no pension and, probably hardest of all, missing the comfort only family provides.
The Israeli Occupation of the Palestinian people is devastating, in ways we (observers) don't even recognize.  

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

My (New) Favorite Checkpoint

I've had several favorites - Jalameh (near Jenin, Zababdeh), where I was "detained" for 2 hours, used to be my favorite; then the one near Ariel where every piece of luggage as well as my replacement metal hips were of interest to the soldiers. Now it's Qalandia, the massive checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem. Financed, I understand, by the US government.

Jean Zaru - wise, hospitable and faithful
I hadn't planned to go to Ramallah yesterday, but that was the only day Jean Zaru (Quaker Palestinian, author of Occupied with Nonviolence) was available to see me (more about that conversation later). So I left my hotel about noon, got the #18 to Ramallah (standing room only) and found my way via the Quaker Meeting House to Jean's home. I left Jean about 4, got back to the bus depot and headed for Jerusalem (seated this time). Israel is not interested when you enter the West Bank; it's just when you want to return that their interest is aroused. A new routine since I was here last. #18 stops at one section of the checkpoint, everyone exits the bus and groups up at a turnstile, electronically managed from inside the hermetically sealed IDF control room to allow only a few passengers to enter at a time and, just as in US airports, empty everything (save your identity papers) on the revolving belt for x ray that will cause the metal detector to sing as you walk through. I was maybe the 15th or so to be admitted. Everything off and out - belt, phone, backpack (of course), change purse ... whatever. 4 - 5 times through and still the voice from inside, "remove everything; go back through".  Finally, it dawned on me. Metal hips! I explained and, as ordered, held up my open passport to the glass window. He's on the phone, obviously calling for instructions from higher up. "You see that door (one of several)? Go through it. (It's now electronically unlocked.) When I get in there, it says "Inspection Room".  So I stand and wait to be inspected. Minutes past. Nothing. I go back to the window. Angrily, "You saw the other door - go through it". Yep, I saw it ... but by now, I'm just following directions. He had only told me one door. So through both doors I go. Again, from inside his hermetically sealed office, "Let me see". Now, somehow I'm enjoying this. There's a bit of exhibitionism in me. Unbutton, unzip, down with the shorts ... and there's my hip. No bombs attached. Through the glass, his face said ok. "Get your stuff and get out". Gladly.

The point in all this is not me. My American passport is my security (for some, I know, it's not). I'm frustrated, inconvenienced, but it all amounts to a good story. But not for my fellow Palestinian passengers. For the 10-15 minutes I was being scanned, no one else could get through. And they waited patiently outside the turnstile. That's in part what bothered me. It was all normal for them. Palestinian workers who enter Jerusalem every morning must add several hours to their trip to arrive at work on time. You never know when some stupid American with metal hips will tie things up.

This has been written of thousands of times. The sense of total domination, control exercised over an occupied people is dehumanizing. The tonal implication of the soldier as he angrily instructed me to go through the second door, not just the first, didn't really bother me. But it is intended to humiliate, degrade. Palestinians defend themselves by displaying no feeling at these encounters. But it all does damage. The comment Rabbi Brian Walt made, when we went through Qalandia together several years ago, echoes. Standing in what for all the world felt like a cattle chute, tears appeared in his eyes, "My God, this is what the Nazis did to us!" Indeed.

Tribalism Up Close; Not So Personal

Brant Rosen reminds us that we are all tribal creatures. Tribalism seems written into our DNA.

I just had the opportunity to study an easily recognized tribe on my flight aboard United 84 from Newark to Tel Aviv.  I forgot that when I fly United from O'Hare to Ben Gurion through Newark, the likelihood is that the majority of the passenger list will consist of Jewish (Ultra) Orthodox families, a tribe easily distinguished by, among other things, its mens' black suits and wide brimmed black hats; the long black skirts and frequently covered heads of the women; and the abundance of children. I'd say a good third to half the passengers were members of this tribe.

Compared to the tribe I belong to - Christian, Episcopalian, progressive (others might describe us as recklessly permissive), inclusive (we at least wish to appear that way) - this tribe has extremely clear and firm boundaries, is traditional/conservative and exclusive. Observing the lot of them (I was totally surrounded), I found myself admiring the certainty by which they defined themselves and what I imagined to be an unshakable feeling of belonging. While I found them routinely polite, I also found them totally impersonal. There was no encouragement for getting to know your seat mate with a line like "So where are you from?" No small talk with non-tribal members. The other characteristic that was most prominent was their seeming total absorption in themselves and their families. Pleas over the PA to clear the aisles so stewards could distribute drinks, dinner, breakfast were totally ignored. United personnel would finally say to the man 6 inches in front of their cart, "Sir, I must ask you to take a seat so I may get through."

As noted earlier, Orthodox tend toward large families. The family ahead of me had two small girls (looked like 2 and 3), one in their arms and one on the way. And they seemed like very happy children, given considerable latitude to climb over and around anyone in their way. The poor fellow trapped in the middle of this bunch maintained a cheerful attitude as he passed bottles and blankets and children back and forth across the aisle - through most of the flight. Generally, the children appeared well cared for and intensely prized.

I may try Royal Jordanian through Amman next time.

Tribalism is a way of defining ourselves and creating a culture we find supportive of our values. City gangs, corporate executives, homeless people, factory workers, alcoholics, police and fire fighters all form tribes of one sort or another. Not a bad thing in itself. It only turns sour when the tribe sets itself over against others, sees others as threats to themselves, projects negative characteristics on the members of a "rival" tribe.

So here I am, in a land where tribalism of a negative variety is creating untold suffering, liberally contributed to by a dominating Western world which only exacerbates the conflict.

April at the garden at St. George's