Archive for the ‘Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories Church Leaders’ Trip’ Category

Part of a bigger jigsaw

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

Today’s blog is more a record of events than reflective thoughts. With so much input, both visual and heard, minds are struggling to assimilate all the data and emotions felt over the past days and how to link this to our faith.

Our second Sunday in the Holy Land started with worship at the Anglican Cathedral of St George the Martyr in East Jerusalem. We attended the Arabic speaking service at which the Bishop, Rt Rev’d Suheil Dawani presided over communion. The Road to Emmaus reading reminded me of the journey we have made over the last few days, sometimes not recognising Jesus in situations we have encountered.eas1

Worshipping at the service were two Swedish Ecumenical Accompaniers from the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme for Palestine and Israel. We had met two other Ecumenical Accompaniers during our trip to Hebron and were greatly impressed with their work. To find out more about their monitoring work see www.quaker.org.uk . EAPPI received a grant from Commitment for Life in 2008.

Bishop Suheil Dawani,Bishop of Jerusalem

Our meeting with the Bishop added another piece to the jigsaw as he spoke of the community work in which the church is involved in Syria, Jordon and Lebanon. One such institution is a hospital in Gaza that suffered much during the recent crisis. Lunch with other members of the community helped in further understanding of day to day restrictions caused by the occupation.

Following the theme of the role of the church in Israel today we met the Dean of St George’s College, Revd Stephen Need. He shared with us some of the work of the college. Two members of the group had attended courses in the past.

Another meeting beckoned so it was off to B’tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation. They record instances of human rights violations. These are collected by nine people living in the West Bank and two in Gaza. Their statistics and data are respected and used by many groups to take cases of violations forward. Recently they trained over hundred Palestinians to film their daily lives and in so doing have come across incidents of violations that have been passed to the media and diplomats. Commitment for Life Churches support the video work of B’tselem through Christian Aid.

The day concluded with another meeting, again with a URC connection. ‘Kids for Hope’ and ‘Youth for Hope’ are two projects supported by the URC. Indeed a group visited Windermere in recent years. This year, as in the previous two years. Youth Workers will help young Palestinian Christians develop leadership and confidence building skills. With a diminishing Christian presence and the pressure put on young people as a minority, these skills will help them be part of the future of Jerusalem. We must hope and pray for that future.

We have been reminded often on this trip to go home and tell the stories of those we have met. There are many pieces still missing from that jigsaw but we can share what we have seen and heard of those living under occupation.

In the UN Deheisha Refugee Camp in Bethlehem we came across this poem. It is written on the wall of the community space We end our blog with it.

Peace
If I could change all the world
I’d dismantle all the bombs
I’d feet all the hungry
I’d shelter all the homeless
I’d make all people free
I can’t dismantle all the bombs
I can’t feed all the hungry
I can’t shelter all the homeless
I can’t make all people free
I can’t because there is only one of me.
When I have grown and I am strong
I will find many more of me
We will dismantle all the bombs
We will feed the hungry
We will shelter all the homeless
We will make all the people free
We will change the world
Me and my friends, together at last
Jojo – Aged 11

On the wall of the U.N. building at Deheisha Refugee Camp, Bethlehem

Members of the group will be available to speak about the many experiences from the trip. If you are interested in having a speaker please email [email protected]

Linda Mead

Participants on Exposure Trip to Israel & Occupied Palestine Territories

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

From Top Left:

Brian Jolly – Minister in Altrincham and Group Leader

Helen Garton – Administrator for World Church & Ecumenical Relations

Frank Kantor – Secretary for Church and Society

Simon Loveitt – CRCW in Bradford & Public Issues Spokesperson

John Campbell – Principal of Northern College

Bottom Left:

Andrew Prasad – Moderator Thames North Synod
Kevin Watson – Moderator Yorkshire Synod
Linda Elliott – Convenor of International Exchange Reference Group
Linda Mead – Programme Co-ordinator for Commitment for Life

group-photo6

Demolition! No right to exist!

Saturday, April 25th, 2009

Day 8
“They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud a man of his home, a fellow-man of his inheritance.” (Micah 2:2)
demolished-houseToday we were accompanied by Angela who works with the Israeli Committee Against House Demolition. We visited 3 different communities and heard the stories of demolition of homes and displacement of ordinary Palestinians. 24,000 buildings have been demolished by Israeli authorities since 1948. ‘Abu Silman’ said, “The plan is to take Palestinians out of East Jerusalem and let them vanish”. Yesterday we traced the route by which Jesus was taken 2000 years ago from Gethsemane to Golgotha. I believe, today we travelled through the route perhaps Jesus would taken if he walked through East Jerusalem
We visited Bustan Centre (a protest tent) of a Palestinian community in Silwan in Kidron valley. The area is squeezed by Jewish Settlements overlooking it and a section is marked off as an archaeological site, which is an excuse to seize land and eventually build on it. Here, 88 homes in the area have been served with the demolition notice since 2005. We saw rubble from a demolished home.

house-demolition-protestWhile the leader was still speaking, we were overwhelmed by 100 children who arrived in the tent. They sang in Arabic. The words were,
‘Be patient about our sufferings.
We go on living in our homes, not matter what happens.
They demolish our home; we shall build them again.
If they arrest us, eventually we shall be released; we shall come back and build our home.”
Everything, including identity and home are taken away from these communities. The only thing they have is ‘hope’. They are not prepared to give it up.
Our second main stop was a Peace Centre. This was the home of Salim and Arebiya. Having his home demolished three times, the place has now been turned into a peace centre. The trauma the family had gone through is beyond words. A poster in the centre read ‘demolition of a home is a demolition of a family.’ Arebiya cooked delicious lunch for us and another large group of mainly young people from Israel and Europe.
From the peace centre we went on to visit Bedouin in the Ma’ale Adummim area. The people moved there since they were forced out from their previous habitat in 1948. They have eviction notices but they have no place to move to. They are determined to build a school for their children. Support from the International Community would be of great help to them.
Angela repeated what a group of Palestinian women once expressed:
We (Palestinians) live in dreams;
They (Israelites) live in denial;
One day we all shall live in reality.
Andrew Prasad

NO EXPLANATIONS INSIDE THE CHURCH

Friday, April 24th, 2009

 

john-campbell 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outside the Church of All Nations in (or by what has now been shrunk into) the Garden of Gethsemane,there is a sign declaring ‘No explanations inside the church.’ Despite the sermon value in the notice, we are at a point in our journey through the Holy Land when we are crying out for an explanation from the church.

 

We began the day on top of the Mount of Olives, gazing across to the famous and much photographed panorama of the city, with the Dome of the Rock at the centre, shadowed by the Holy Sepulchre. Here on the mount, Jesus taught the disciples the Lord’s Prayer: Andre reading it to us in Aramaic and Hebrew, Frank reading it in Swahili and Dibeli, Andrew in Gujarati, Linda E in Mandarin, Kevin in Welsh. Here, Jesus wept over the city, where the many pilgrims around the world squeeze into Dominus Flevit, worshipping and photographing as they go. Here, at the foot of the mount, Jesus wrestled with his fear and terror and resolved not to escape back up the mount and down the other side, across the Judean desert. Instead, here he embraced betrayal and gave himself up to the occupying forces and religious leaders who had dreaded that his message and following were too disturbing a force to be reckoned with.

 

Back in the old city, via St Stephen’s/Lion Gate, we walked the traditional Stations of the Cross, stopping only for lunch at a place of Jerusalem that is forever Austria. From the roof of the Austrian Hospice, we looked again over the densely populated city (50,000 people packed into 1 square km). Resuming the Via Dolorosa, we ended up at the Holy Sepulchre, with a bit of shopping en route.

 

I found today to be restorative after all we had experienced on our journey to date. The journey from Bethlehem to Jerusalem had been the most painful part of our trip for me, because it had changed almost beyond recognition. The Wall. The settlement. The checkpoint. The land covered not with grass and rugged beauty, but with overspill housing from Jerusalem. The injustice of a people oppressed, restricted, constrained. I wept too. This is not how I want to picture the Holy Land.

 

Why is it that humans at their worst can make ugly the things that once were beautiful in their own right? The people. The land. Why is it that churches at their worst can make beautiful the things that are ugly? The cross. The crucifixion. The agony. The betrayal. Why is it that we at our worst cannot make the connection between our reverencing of moments in the story of our faith, with the honouring of human life all around us, where Christ’s final journey has no such difficulty?

 

Even so, I fell in love with the city once again, much as I have wanted not to at times. Perhaps we all did. And it was amusing to have the Moderator of the Yorkshire Synod forbidden to pray (once we had recovered from the shock), by an orthodox priest. And it was ironic to find ourselves incensed incessantly as we traipsed through the Holy Sepulchre. And it was inspiring to be amongst crowds of pilgrims from all around the world. And it was great for me to honour my namesake, St Helena, by visiting the chapel where she is said to have discovered the Holy Cross and to revisit her cistern on the roof of the Holy Sepulchre.

 

Helen Garton

Towards Jerusalem

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

Journey to Jerusalem.

 

Today was a day I have been looking forward to since I first saw the itinerary for this trip. To many Commitment for Life churches that support Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, PARC (Palestinian Agricultural and Relief Committee) will be familiar.  For many years we have shared stories of their work and welcomed speakers from this organisation. Today I had the privilege to meet Rula and the people she supports. This was someone who has visited many of our churches and spoken at General Assembly in 2003. I have to admit to being nervous that my hopes may be shattered but in the event they were exceeded.

 

Arriving in Jiflik, we stepped into another scenario in this land of contrasts. Here were Muslim Palestinian farmers struggling against a system that does not want them there and seems to be doing everything in its power to make sure they leave. Over 30% of the village have already left.

 

Despite all the hardship they endure we saw determination, pride and a desire to see a future of hope. We saw how PARC is empowering the women of the village by creating income generating schemes such as starting a nursery and helping set up the farming co-operative and saving and credit scheme.

abdullah-and-son-jiflik-palestine

 

But it was when we met with the local farming co-operative that I realised how our support can bring hope. Abdullah, the local co-operative manager, shared how they had started to offer training to their farmer and had been amazed at the response. They have held over 100 training courses under a tent shaped wire fame covered in plastic. He sees hope in what they can achieve together as a co-operative and said “We are really optimistic for the future. We know we grow good produce that can be exported one day.” As we left I asked Abdullah if I could take a picture of him outside his house. He beckoned myself and another member of the group inside to meet his wife and introduced us to his young daughter born with down syndrome. It was a very special moment as we said hello to her whilst realising what responsibility and difficulty this placed on the family. As we left, Abdullah shook my hand. Men rarely shake the hand of women so this was indeed a rare moment of connection and significance. It is something that will stay with me always and makes me determined to tell their story.

 

So we continued our journey towards Jerusalem with the many emotions and memories that were palatable on the mini bus as we passed through several checkpoints and into Jerusalem. Tomorrow we continue our search to make sense of all we have seen and heard.

 

Linda Mead

 

High Temperatures and Holy Tourists

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

Day Five -

sea-of-galilee
Mostly about 600 feet below sea level and bloomin’ ‘ot!
Today we both sailed on and circumnavigated ‘The Sea of Galilee’. We mingled with tourists. We visited the remains of the key sites of Jesus’ Galilean ministry and we shared in various engagements with related biblical texts, both through the able and thoughtful recounting by Andre, our Palestinian Christian guide from Nazareth, and in a late afternoon Bible study under the date palms by the edge of the same sea.
It was wonderful getting a sense of the physical setting of Jesus’ ministry (his core ministry triangle of Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida was much more compact than some of us had imagined – no bigger than many a 21st century URC pastorate).
Seeing the uncovered remains of Capernaum and Bethsaida was impressive and, when added to our earlier experience of the narrow streets of Hebron and Bethlehem, enabled us to imagine more vividly the in-town aspects of Jesus’ ministry. Our morning experiences of sailing on the sea from Tiberias to Magdala and walking down the hill from the Mount of Beatitudes to the shore at the Church of the loaves and fishes helped us to visualise the water bourn and out of town settings of much of what Jesus did and said.
What of today’s Israel / Palestine? We crossed the upper Jordan near Bethsaida and travelled down the eastern side of the sea, through the lands that from 1948 until 1967 were a part of Syria. We also experienced the prosperous but rather tacky feel of Tiberias, the largest, very Israeli, town on this inland sea and noticed the alarming shrinkage in the size of the sea due to years of reduced rainfall and increased consumption of water as modern Israel expands its population. Then we bumped into the world of the modern religious pilgrim – a world of air-conditioned coaches, car parks, manicured gardens, churches and invitations to share an equally-manicured religious world.
As one still struggling to make sense of our earlier experiences in Bethlehem and Hebron in the occupied West Bank, I could not commit to this safely-religious world. I have found in the text and now in the land the echoes of the presence of a Jesus who engaged with a politically challenging and often shocking world. I could not surrender him to a manicured world of religious tourism and personal pilgrimage – not when he seemed to challenge every complacency and injustice of this land in his own time.
John Campbell

Nazareth

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

Day 4 – Nazareth

sunset-over-sea-of-galilee

Today’s blog is a little more theological and reflective in nature occasioned by our visit to Nazareth and reflections on the first 30 years of Jesus’ life in the context of his family and community. Nazareth is situated high in the hills above Galilee (approximately 400 metres above sea level) and is a bustling Arab town of about 80 000 people. We were surprised to discover that there is also a Jewish Nazareth called Nazareth Illit, comprising 45 000 people situated above the Arab city. Although no wall divides the two towns, the sense of separation and division between the two remains distinct and the Jewish town is clearly better resourced than the Arab one.

However, the Arab town is the place where Jesus lived with Joseph and Mary and his siblings and despite the religiosity of the holy sites and density of the population and buildings, we got a sense of the reality of Jesus’ rootedness in a historic social context of family, community and Jewish religious culture. This was made more real for us through a contextual bible study led by John Campbell sitting on the edge of the Sea of Galilee on our return to the kibbutz where we are staying where we reflected on the passage from Mark’s Gospel where Jesus in effect ‘disowns’ his mother and brothers who think he has lost his mind. This led to engaging discussion on our understanding of our genetic and spiritual families and the implications for the those of us who belong to the Abrahamic faiths.

Today was also Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel which raised interesting questions about the role of memory in forging a national identity for Israeli Jews. The Nazi’s final solution to the Jewish question remains a horrendous memory for Jewish people worldwide and is something they and the rest of the world must rightly never forget. It also raises the issue of antisemitism which is best defined as ‘unprovoked and irrational hostility towards Jews’ which remains a very real threat in Europe and elsewhere, and is something we must continue to expose and vigorously oppose in all its subtle forms.

We need to also remember that an additional million and a half were exterminatd by the Nazis and that a number of other genocides have taken place subsequent to the Holocaust.

However, memory is also about remembering and identifying with those who are oppressed and the Jewish Scriptures are full of references to fact that the Jewish people are to remember that they once were slaves in Egypt to ensure that they do not oppress the strangers in their midst. The application to the modern State of Israel is clear in the light of the suffering of the Palestinian people and memory needs to be extended beyond Jewish national identity to include healing, forgiveness and reconciliation if there is to be any sustainable peace in the Holy Land.

And of course, for us as Christians this is made possible by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ ‘who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility’ (Eph 2:14). Shalom! Saleem! Peace! from the land of paradoxes!

Frank Kantor

Plant for Hope

Monday, April 20th, 2009

hebron

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A visit to Hebron which would include visiting the Tombs of the Patriarch would seem to be a non controversial trip. We entered the town to meet a Palestinian lady who immediately was approached by a soldier insisiting that she had not asked permission to walk on that part of the road. She vigorously challanged him and she led us down a road of houses, now deserted after the families had been displaced by the Israeli army. An illegal Jewish Settlement was visible at the end of the road. Our friend could not join us as we walked to yet a further check point in order to look at the settlement. We joined her again to visit those Palestinian homes still occupied, then went into the Mosque in order to visit the Tombs. The building housing the Tombs of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and Rebecca are divided into two. One half is a Mosque, the other a Synagogue. iron doors separate the two halves. Later we walked through a near empty market where there now is little business possible. Our guide talked of homes taken, businesses lost. Above us netting prevented the refuse, rocks and human excrement thrown by settlers falling on the market traders. Where is God in all this? Why can’t all the sons and daughters of Abraham live together in peace? An Israeli soldier passed by as we waited. Our eyes met, I smiled and he smiled back. Today I did not like what the Israel was doing to Palestine. But the soldier was someones son. Then I heard the news of what had happened at the Geneva Council. Are we listening to what is happening in Palestine? Do we care?
Our guide around Hebron was asked about how she coped in this situation. “I plant flowers”, She said, ” and I encourage my children to plant flowers too”. Maybe the human spirit in the strength of God can do that which Geneva fails to do.

Linda Elliott

I’ve been on some Sunday afternoon outings, but nothing like this!

Monday, April 20th, 2009

Day 3

mitri-rahab

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was our privilege today to worship at the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem. It may have been frustrating at times, even with the helpful sheet of translated hymns and prayers, to really engage with the Arabic language, but that was the privilege – to be welcomed into their service as they worship week by week. For me, that set the theme for the day. Yesterday was just too much to take in, such a different world to my home, and so much oppression and hopelessness. Today was a day of context and understanding.
The Lutheran pastor, Revd. Dr. Mitri Raheb, himself a Bethlehemite, set out for us his assessment of this land, which had given him the theological drive to establish the school, the Wellness (great word) Centre, and the International Centre itself. We had visited them all yesterday, but now they made much more sense. I shall do an injustice to him but these are what I heard are his 5 Pillars of understanding the Palestinian situation.
1. Too much talk of peace and peace processes and not enough peace making. They cry ‘Peace, Peace, but there is no peace.’ Through all the projects the church is working at relationships between Muslims and Christians.
2. Too much politics and not enough care for the polis – the city. The church has made a definite decision not to get involved with power games, but to care for the whole person in their community.
3. Too much religion and not enough spirituality. Religions seen as throwing their power around. That is why creativity is so important – “it is about the power of culture, not the culture of power.”
4. Too much humanitarian aid, and not enough empowerment and community development. So the Church does not give fish, but teaches how to fish! Indeed, no services are given for free, but a small charge is made.
5. Too much pess-optimism, and not enough hope. Positive and negative feelings yo-yo with each economic and political event. However, the message of the church is that Hope is not wishful thinking but the reality of God’s love in Jesus Christ.
This last point we see in the lives of Palestinian Christians. At this time of Resurrection we are being shown, as we stare at the offensive wall scarring deeply the landscape, as we see settlements and even planned golf courses thrusting out into occupied land, as we hear the stories of dispossession and of Bethlehem, almost completely cut-off – the real power lies not in the dehumanised aggressors but in the humanity and dignity of the weakest and most vulnerable.
An intelligent, world-travelled American, declared to me today, he has never been in a more politically confusing place. And I feel, the more I see and hear, the more confusing!! But in this chaos is the normality of everyday life, as this people struggle to survive, and make sense of life. And we have met folk who have found meaning in the reality of a risen Saviour in their lives.
Kevin Watson.

The reality of Palestine

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

Israel

17th April – 28th April 2009

Day 1

Bethlehem

After a good flight to Tel Aviv and journey to Bethlehem, through one of the checkpoints in the ‘wall’, we arrived at the hotel, the first of three nights in the city. After dropping off our bags we walked down to the old town to see the Church of the Nativity and Manger Square. Fortunately we are in the city during the Orthodox celebrations for Easter, witnessing the Good Friday service in the Church of the Nativity. For some pilgrims this is all they will see – a sanitised tour of the Holy Land, without meeting its inhabitants and beginning to understand the complex political, social and justice issues which exist here.

img_0115_smallThe wall is nearly two thirds complete, which has divided communities, separating the Palestinians from their communities, schools and businesses. Seeing the wall standing in front of me at 8m high (double the height of the Berlin wall), with sniper towers, razor wire and sensors attached to it, is a sobering wake up call. It left me with a feeling of helplessness for the people of this land, anger that Israel has been allowed to build it and guilt that we aren’t doing more to speak out on this injustice are my immediate feelings.

Day 2

The day began with a visit to the Lutheran Dar al Kalima school and the attached Health and Wellness Centre. Although it was a school holiday, the principle was there to meet us. She told us of the ethos of the school, working for peace, both within its curriculum and its efforts to forge positive links between Muslim and Christian pupils and parents. Impressive facilities, a caring environment and quality teaching are giving hope to the future of their pupils. Linked to the school is the Health and Wellness Centre. It is a successful and very well used resource for the community, providing a much needed support for those suffering from the trauma of living through the violence of war and the poverty which separation and unemployment has brought to Palestine.

img_0102In the afternoon we head back to the Church of the Nativity, with our guide, to see and hear the Easter services and the ‘bringing of the light’ from Jerusalem. To experience the Greek Orthodox and Armenian services occurring simultaneously in the adjacent churches, each trying to sing more loudly than the other was certainly one of the stranger services I have witnessed! Health and safety regulations haven’t yet reached the church, with many children lighting candles and running around laughing and playing.

Into the bus and onto Deheisha Refugee Camp, the largest of the three in Bethlehem. The population of Deheisha totals 11,500 in an area of ½ square mile. Although they are allowed freedom of movement, they have chosen to stay in the refugee camp as an act of solidarity, awaiting their right to return to their homeland from which they were forcibly removed.

Simon Loveitt