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Statement on Israel – Palestine Blog

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

In March 2013 a group representing the United Reformed Church’s Commitment for Life programme visited Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The blog posted here is a series of reflections offered day by day by members of that group. On behalf of the United Reformed Church, I would urge readers to engage deeply with what is written here and to use it as the basis for prayer and action.

In particular, I wish vigorously to emphasize that the reflections posted here do not constitute anti-Semitism. While the United Reformed Church encompasses a wide range of political views, it has twice explicitly affirmed the right of the State of Israel to a secure and lasting future. It is not anti-Semitic to hold the State of Israel to a high standard in matters of justice; on the contrary, it is because of our sharing in the Hebrew scriptures that we Christians understand the sort of justice which God requires. Criticism is sometimes the best expression of loving concern and commitment.

This has been the stance of the General Assembly on two occasions. In 1988 the following resolution was agreed:

Assembly, recognising that both Jews and Palestinians have a need for a secure homeland, urges members of the United Reformed Church to inform themselves about the situation of the Palestinian peoples, to pray for a just and lasting reconciliation, and when visiting Israel and the occupied territories, to make contact with the Palestinian Christian community.

In 2004 Assembly considered the matter of the Separation Barrier then under construction by the government of Israel, noting the profound social and economic problems that it was causing for Palestinian individuals and communities. The resolution passed in 2004 contains these words:

[Assembly] condemns unreservedly terrorist attacks upon innocent Israeli civilians but believes that the best way for the Government of Israel to provide long-term security for its people is to engage in a peace process that will result in the end of the occupation in accordance with long-standing UN resolutions… [Assembly] pledges itself to support the work of peace groups within Israel and the Occupied Territories and UK based advocacy groups…

Further, the United Reformed Church recently approved a grant to enable volunteers on the EAPPI (Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel) to stay with Jewish host families as part of their experience so as to become more deeply aware of the earnest desire for peace on the part of many Israeli citizens and their active striving for reconciliation.

Day 10

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

 

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Today ends our visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory. The visit to Temple Mount went ahead despite raised tensions in the area because of the death of a Palestinian  internee in jail. Making our way up the large slope to the Mount we could see over to the Western Wall where young boys were celebrating their Bar Mitzvah Day. There was music and shouting and much celebration. Other Jews, clothed with their phylactery and tallit, stood praying in front of the wall.

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Upon entering the Mount we found an area of peace and tranquility. Large groups of men and women were huddled round  discussing teachings.  The buildings were spectacular, with the golden dome of the Shrine of the Rock gleaming in the early sunlight.  The Dome of the Rock is not a mosque, but a Muslim shrine. It is built over a stone believed to be the place from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven during his Night Journey to heaven. It was considered holy before the arrival of Islam. Jews believe the rock to be the very place where Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac. In addition, the Dome of the Rock is believed by many to stand directly over the site of the Holy of Holies of both Solomon’s Temple and Herod’s Temple.

In many ways this volitile  Holy Place echoes the tensions we have seen and heard about over the last  ten days.  We have met strong women such as Naila and Violette and  heard stories of hope in adversity from Nader and Addemeer.  We have heard stories of Christians trying to find their identity and Palestinian  agencies walking alongside those struggling to make a living under occupation.

This has been a journey of discovery for us all, from whatever place we started.  The question hangs in the air; what can we do?  Every place we visited we heard the same five cries.

  1. Tell others of our stories
  2. Read and understand more about the situation
  3. Pray
  4. Bring others to visit
  5. Help financially

 

for more information  visit www.urc.org.uk  or to contribute to projects www.cforl.org.uk

 

views expresed here are not  necessarily the views of the United Reformed Church

Day 9

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

Today was a contrast between peace and conflict.

Firstly this morning we had the norm of church worship in the peaceful setting of the Cathedral of St. George the Martyr, in the ritual of an Anglican service conducted in two languages – showing the hospitality of the Palestinian congregation in that they welcomed many people from all over the world to their service, meaning that the Arabic speaking congregation shared their service in English and Arabic. This included the babble of sound as the hymns and chants were sung simultaneously in two languages.

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This afternoon we learnt about the work of Addameer, a Christian Aid supported organisation that supports prisoners and advocates for human rights through provision of free legal aid, documenting human rights abuses, advocacy including through organisations such as the EU and UN and training in the local ‘legal’ systems.

We learnt that the Palestinians in the West Bank – even in Area A – where the Palestinian Authority supposedly has full responsibility are subject to 1650+ Israeli military orders – which can change at any time and are not made public – so you can’t even tell if what you are doing is ‘legal’ or ‘illegal’.

Arrest can often be arbitrary – even being present at a demonstration or being the researcher for a law firm can get you arrested – usually at night by the Israeli’s breaking into your home on a night raid, destroying property and blindfolding you. Your family are not told why you have been arrested or where you are being taken to.

Presently there are 4812 political prisoners held in 4 interrogation centres, 3 detention centres and 17 prisons – the majority of which are in Israel. Of these 219 are children under the age of 18 years old and some are as young as 12 years old. Imprisonment can be for as little as throwing a stone – for which you can be sentenced to 20 years. And the court system is one we would not recognise – it is a military court, where the judge, the prosecutor and the translator are appointed by the Military Commander; where only about 65% of the proceedings are translated from the Hebrew.

And all this goes on behind closed doors – with little reaction from the west and against international law.

Prisoners are subjected to long interrogations whilst chained, kept in solitary confinement and tortured.

No wonder there is a 99% conviction rate – when a court case will take 3 minutes and you know that confessing by signing a confession written in Hebrew which you do not understand, will get you 2-3 years but to fight your case will mean a sentence of up to 20+ years. There is no choice where there is no justice. At least you know when you should be released.

However many prisoners are held in Administrative Detention – in 6 month bouts due to secret evidence you cannot refute and at the end of the 6 months you may be detained again.

At present there are 2 administrative detainees and 2 convicted prisoners on hunger strike trying to protest for their human rights. These prisoners are very ill and supported by both Addameer and Doctors for Human Rights. There is concern that one of them may die if the situation doesn’t change soon and what will happen if this occurs.

And Addameer although supported by Irish Aid, Christian Aid, the Spanish government and the UN Development Programme is not excempt – having had its researcher arrested, its offices broken into and its Chair banned from travel outside East Jerusalem (the offices are in Ramallah!).

We asked what could we do to help – a big question with many answers but 4 things were suggested:
• Inform ourselves
• Inform others
• Organise ourselves
• Put on political pressure – such as joining the boycott of Israeli products etc.

We left Addameer with a high respect for its work and the commitment of its small dedicated team.

On our approach to Kalandia checkpoint on our way back to Jerusalem we saw at first hand a little of the tensions that can occur. Young teenage boys with stones some way from the checkpoint were met by soldiers in helmets, visors and guns. One shot at a group of youngsters – the youngsters were 100+ yards away – not even a good cricket throw could have done any damage – to be met by such lethal force. On this occasion no one was injured – but it doesn’t bode well for any state when its young men in their 20’s are trained to shoot at young lads in their teens – when they should all be enjoying a game of football – and the freedom of youth.

Freedom is coming was a song sung in deviance and hope by South Africans under apartheid – but no such song is heard here. Whether there will be freedom here in my lifetime is a very distant hope – whilst the rest of the world stands by and does very little.

I feel it is up to us to put pressure on our politicians at home and to take what action we can to support oppressed people – because it is right to do so.

Day 8

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

‘The freedom to live your identity’.

So much of what we are is based around our identity. We can be Welsh, Scottish, Irish, English, or as we know, so many other nationalities within the UK. Just imagine being restricted because one’s national identity limits movement, freedom of education and faith. When you have a ghetto mentality then you look after your own, you become insular and fearful of outsiders, fearful of the landlord that can evict you, impose restrictions and enforce the demise of you language, which can and does in so many ways bring about  the assimilation into a foreign regime.

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We started out this morning with a visit to the Al Habra Kindergarten on the top of the Mount of Olives, an oasis for infant children of local and international families funded and supported by the Lutheran World Federation. Although the children were home for the weekend, Margo, the principal spoke so well and answered so may nagging questions many had about Palestinian identity, especially for those who lived in East Jerusalem; maybe following on from the identity of those Israeli Palestinians, (Arabs as referred to by the state government) throughout Israel.

I have heard the adjective, ‘The cage’ used by people on the West Bank and of course in Gaza, and even up in Galilee, but now it was a simple word, ‘Jail’.

What is it to have Jerusalem ID and with the freedom of travel that brings? It is true that a Jerusalem ID allows you the freedom to travel through both sides of the wall, international travel is also possible. However, this comes at a cost, a financial cost. The taxes paid are double that of the Israeli – utilities, National Insurance, you name it. If you live in East Jerusalem then you pay for that right. Do bear in mind that if you leave to, for example, study abroad you have to make up for lost tax payments, and vacant property could be under threat as seen on the Mount of Olives, where a family went on holiday and upon returning found their large house had been taken over by settlers. They cannot get their house back, in fact the highest Israeli flag in the whole of Jerusalem flies from that building.

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From there we walked through the area of Gethsemane, stopping off at Pater Noster, where the Lord’s Prayer is translated and displayed in over a hundred languages on the walls of the site. Then to the place where Jesus is supposed to have wept over Jerusalem, from there to the ancient Garden considered to be the place where Jesus prayed and was arrested.

Re-entering the busy city with the mix of peoples and religions again brought back to me the feeling that freedom comes at a price. So many people trying to keep their identities all within such a small area, restricted by walls, this time not keeping the enemy out as was the case so many years ago, but now marking enclaves that identify who you are.

In the evening we were treated to the reality of walking through one of the three check points into Bethlehem.  We then saw what the wall means to just one of the many small family businesses that are affected by the wall. One shop visited was less than 20 feet away from the wall; an identity hidden behind a 20 foot concrete barrier.

The journey back through the checkpoint took an hour whereas, I remember that same journey took ten minutes just a few years ago.

But what of the identity of the people? It is not just that people are separated by the barrier, cage, jail, but that when you begin to lose your language; your right to live as a free person; your freedom to live and worship as a people then your sense of personal and ethnic identity is eroded. Living either side of the separation wall finds Palestinians  subsumed into the Israeli state. This diminishes their identity,  faith and history, (especially of the Palestinian Christians) who are indigenous to this area.

So with freedom of movement of Jerusalem ID comes reduction of real liberty, as the price paid is too much to sustain.

As Jesus wept, then so should we.

JON

(Rev Dr. Jon Morgan)

Day 7

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

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The visit to Yad Vashem was a disturbing one. To avoid a repeat of the inhumanity that Jews suffered and their betrayal by European countries, they needed a land of their own so that they could control their own destiny. Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial is “an ongoing commemoration of the holocaust for future generations,” something that must never be forgotten.

Yad Vashem records the treatment suffered by the Jews from the Nazi German state. The aim of the Nazi state was to create a racially cleansed society based on their principles of Ayranism – one in which Jews, homosexuals and gypsies were considered undesirable and, therefore enemies of the state.

On walking around the museum, these words particularly struck me.

In 1938 “Property and possessions of European Jews who had been part of the country’s economic and cultural life for hundreds of years, were systematically plundered…They [the Nazis] confiscated all types of property – homes, real estate, factories, businesses, artistic and cultural treasures.”

“From the beginning the Nazi regime created a reign of terror by openly attacking groups and individuals considered opponents of the regime” denying them all human rights.

In 1938 the Nazis took the “unprecedented steps to force mass Jewish emigration; in October of the same year about 17000 Jews of Polish citizenship were expelled from Poland. There was widespread destruction of synagogues and Jewish owned stores.”

“In Eastern Europe the Germans incarcerated the Jews in severely overcrowded ghettoes, behind fences and walls. They cut the Jews off from their surroundings and their sources of livelihood, and condemned them to a life of humiliation, poverty, degradation and death.”

The museum tells an overwhelming story, of appalling atrocities that have never been equalled in terms of the sheer brutality.

But I found myself remembering things I’ve seen on this trip. I’ve seen how property is being taken away from Palestinian Arabs who have rights going back at least to the first Christian presence in Palestine. We heard that attacks on young Palestinian men are not uncommon. There is withdrawal of permit papers and arbitrary arrest and imprisonment. A significant number of Christian Palestinians have felt that they had no choice but to leave and live abroad in exile. They have no right of return.

People have been separated from their farms because the Separation Barrier does not follow the internationally agreed Green Line. The Israeli Government has extended their area of occupation and restricted the areas occupied by the Palestinians, leaving them overcrowded and isolated.

The visit was a deeply disturbing experience. Two stories, both deeply shocking and disturbing. The question is – how do we move beyond our shock to make a difference so that the past is not repeated and present conflicts are resolved into a peace that is just?

Jackie

Day 6

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Thursday 21 February

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Today among other things was a day of smells and sounds and sights: roses and eucalyptus; bird song, wild cyclamen and grasses, and a glass calm sea.

It started clear and blue and glorious as we drove by the Sea of Galilee to Kursi – the site which according to tradition was the setting for the story of the Gadarene swine. We walked around the ruins of a 5th century monastery and church, admired the mosaics and then climbed a hill to look over the Sea of Galilee to Tiberias.

In the midst of the noise and bustle and crowds of Bible tourism it was very special to find ourselves alone with just the sound of the birds – even a woodpecker put in an appearance. The history of this troubled place was ever far away however, as when we looked over to Tiberias we were standing on the Golan heights – formerly Syrian, but following war and annexation now in Israeli hands.

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We travelled on to the Mount of the Beatitudes, overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Here under a eucalyptus tree we celebrated Communion. The place was heaving and groups of all description and Christian affiliation were doing the same at little sites constructed for the purpose, yet somehow it was possible to experience quiet and meaning and the holy. The words of the Beatitudes were displayed in the chapel of the Sermon on the Mount and along the path to where we worshipped together; and the seventh beatitude seemed to have particular force in the context of our trip: “Blessed are the peace makers for they will be called the children of God.” Peace making – not just a nice comfortable pouring oil on troubled waters, but the real, active work, hard and costly work, that many of those we have met are engaged in. John Durell who so splendidly and intelligently led our Communion reflected this in one of his intercessions:

We look across to the hills

which for Jesus provided quiet and even escape from the crowds,

but which now mark boundaries and divisions.

Conflict seems to be at the very heart of the place

where he proclaimed peace, both to those who were near and those far away.

We lift up to you all who work for peace and justice today.

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A leisurely walk down the steep hill to the lake shore took us through wheat fields (we think) and wild flowers and butterflies. Swallows came as close as we had ever seen and still the sun shone bright. Our first destination was Mensa Christi, the table of Christ, a small chapel commemorating the story when Jesus cooked fish for his disciples on the lake shore. There is a rock in the chapel where the cooking is reputed to have taken place. It is a lovely little chapel with brilliantly coloured, modern stained glass windows. When you look through the window the sea is just a few metres away. Again biblical tourism is busy, with multiple groups of travellers lining up to have photographs taken by the lake. The rocks have pieces of paper rolled up and placed in crevices – presumably prayers. The tourist trail can at times become a bit tiring and confusing – one pilgrim was heard to say: “I am trying to remember what mensa means. I think it is something to do with intelligent people.”

Next door to Mensa Christi is Tabhga, the church of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. This site celebrates the story of the feeding of the five thousand. At this very early site of worship the remains of a church built around 350AD have been discovered. The church is modern, but its floors are 5th century mosaics and the highlight is a mosaic of the loaves and fishes. Tabhga itself was a village of 330 Palestinians in 1944. In 1948 following arrival of armoured Israeli vehicles the inhabitants fled and were never able to return to their homes, even to collect their belongings. Here, as in other places, there a small heaps of stones – all that is left of people’s homes and lives.

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Following our lunch time falafel we boarded the boat names Noah and set off across the Sea of Galilee from Ginosar to the north shore and Capernaum. The quiet and calm was only disturbed by Elvis singing Amazing Grace on the PA system. It couldn’t spoil the sail however. The water was still and the hills on one side shimmered in the mist whilst on the other they were green and lush. Timeless.

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In Capernaum, a Greek Orthodox church of the twelve apostles shone with gold. Pink domes boasted beautiful gold crosses, while inside colourful golden paintings and frescoes told the Bible stories connected with Capernaum. On the shallow water in the lake, an egret; in the garden under the trees, two donkeys; an up beside the path, two peacocks!

What we called our relaxing day ended at the synagogue in Capernaum – site of the ruins of the house of Peter’s mother-in-law and of a 4th century synagogue built on the foundations of the one in Jesus’ time.

It was good to have rest day, but these excursions showed it would be possible to visit this place without ever confronting the pain and hardship and struggles of the people. Much as we have found ourselves at times in harrowing situations and felt emotionally wrung out, we have been privileged to share for even a short time the lives and stories of some of the people who live here.

Ros Lyle

Day 5

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

The Jordan Valley and Nazareth

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“He sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners” Luke 4 18

One more step along the way we go –
Today we leave Jericho for Nazareth on what is a beautiful, warm sunny morning with a sense of hope and anticipation.

“Shall we gather at the river, the beautiful, beautiful river”, but it is no “longer a gathering” place for all. Access is by “permission” of the Israeli Forces guards on duty at the checkpoint and I was amazed and somewhat fearful that the approach road was through a heavily mined military area. Hence there is no access to Palestinians.
Qaser El Yahud, the “baptismal site” is such a bizarre place – under the authority of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, heavily guarded by soldiers who watch every move, a man pruning palm trees with a noisy chain saw, a Korean Catholic Christian group singing praises to God, the luscious banks of the Kingdom of Jordan a stones throw away and a large signs “Do not cross the river”. Freedom – the promised land a step away, but a step too far for many held prisoner in their own land.

On previous days the foreboding, oppressive, physical presence of the separation wall gives way to the invisible wall of a military zone.
Water is a very precious commodity in the West Bank.
Travelling through the Jordan Valley, the desert gives way to lush fertile agriculture but it is noticeable that the Israeli plantations are more fertile than those owned by Palestinian Arabs due to the Israeli’s allowing themselves access to more water.

Bet She’an National Park, a historical site extending over an area of 400 acres was an important city – the lords of Bet She’an displayed the bodies of Saul and his sons on the city walls – King David took the city and it became an administrative centre during King Solomen’s reign. The city was destroyed in 732 BCE but rebuilt. In the 2nd century BCE the city was captured – the gentile residents were exiled and the city became predominantly Jewish.

Israel Palestine 2010 (148)Nazareth is dominated by the imposing Basilica of the Annunication; an awesome building depicting magnificent mosaics of Mary donated by many countries, colourful modern stained glass windows and the intricate spiritual ironwork. In contrast the welcome of the small Greek Orthodox church, built over a source of water, known as Mary’s Well and the smaller simplistic Synagogue Church where according to tradition Jesus preached of his mission.

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Yes, there can – Violette Khoury, a Palestinian, Arab, Israeli, Christian, Malachite Catholic of Sabeel Nazareth, a woman descendent from the very first Christians, a woman who is proud that her family has been part of the Christian presence in the Holy Land, a woman who has experienced war and oppression, a woman whose daughter cannot return home because of unjust legislation, a woman committed to proclaiming freedom for the prisoner, a woman committed to interfaith dialogue and relations, a woman committed to non-violence.

Sabeel, an organisation which sees the other as a person of faith, which accepts people for who they are, which listens when others talk about their way of life, which works towards a better society where hostilities are replaces by love, which works for justice, peace and reconciliation.

Violette, I feel is a woman to be greatly admired because she lives in a land where the government aims for her and others to lose their language, lose their identity and lose their spirit.

In her words a quote from Einstein:
“It is easier to split the atom than to change the minds of people who are convinced of the truth”

Glenis Massey

Day 4

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

Tuesday 19th February

Today was a day of contrast as my blog entry for today will show. Starting out at the second largest Jewish settler community in Israel we toured the pleasantly manicured streets and gardens of Ma’ ale Adummin. We have come to realise in our days in Palestine so far that water is a precious commodity, yet here we find it being used to irrigate not crops but the trees, bushes, shrubs and plants that make this appear like a Mediterranean resort village.

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A short while later we were to meet some Bedouin, in a small encampment not more than 5km from the Jewish settlement, but in a sense a different world. After accessing their land by stepping over crash barriers from the main highway, we spoke with Eid, a member of the Jahaleen. He spoke movingly of their struggle to exist. The water they need to keep their animals and survive comes from wells. The army regularly close off access to these wells “for security”, and to grazing land for security reasons. Building of rudimentary shelters to live in is subject to controls, a recent struggle resulted in them being allowed to build a school – but subsequently their work permits were taken away. Without the permits they cannot do work in nearby settlement towns. I was left thinking and asking myself where the justice lay in this situation – but in a way what we had seen within the space of a few kilometres was symbolic of the struggles of the Palestinian people across this land.

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Our afternoon took us to Bethany and the Orthodox school. Established by two Scottish Anglican nuns and later joined by Russian and Armenian Orthodox it started life as a clinic, but later grew to be a boarding school and later a day school as well. The current principal Sister Martha described the experience as living on a volcano, an apt description bearing in mind the position of the school close to the dividing line between East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem where it sits. Her sense of humour and positive outlook cover up a raft of day to day difficulties. The school takes mainly girls (from both Muslim and Christian backgrounds) with a small number from broken homes who stay as boarders. A small number of sibling boys also stay as boarders. They boys go to school in east Jerusalem and since the separation barrier was built now face a 15km road journey. Previously this was a 30 minute walk.

The school has also witnessed political disputes amongst the Palestinians when Fatah and Hamas were vying for power – with threats and intimidation from both sides. Throughout they stayed strong and refused to allow the children to be used as pawns in a local political game. The fact remains they are still viewed with suspicion by a local community which is 99% muslim – but regular visits from supporters like those in the URC and further afield, show the school to be active and keep instances of vandalism against their property limited. Despite all of this their children do well and a small number have recently entered medical training in Russia after first visiting the country through the orthodox church at an earlier time. The school appears to be a beacon of normality in a place where normal is hard to define.

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So on to the ‘Four homes of mercy’ a project founded more than 70 years ago it focuses on long term care and rehabilitation for 70 residents. Patients come from a variety of places in the west bank and are treated as in-patients, although they have now started to provide some out patient services. They have received funding from a number of sources to provide new accommodation and equipment, but funding for on-going salaries of Nurses, doctors and supplementary services such as occupational and physiotherapy is a constant difficulty. Particular problems are being experienced with payments from the Palestinian Authority.

It was good throughout to see the care and attention that was being given to the patients  and many had very severe disabilities – a number of figures in government have questioned how much it costs to provide this care – but I would ask the question of them “What price humanity ?”.

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Our final visit of the day was to the YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association) who have been running  a number of projects to provide economic empowerment for women since 1991. Examples are in food production where local ingredients are made into a range of finished food stuff for local markets. They have also provided training for food production staff.

A range of other technical training is also provided including hairdressing and languages. Some of this work is taken out to villages and rufugee camps nearby. The YWCA also works with Bedouin in the local area.

We had the pleasure of sampling some small examples of the produce and seeing the women producing the finished foods in their factory.

The unique feature of this particular project was the fact that it was led by the women. Governance in the form of a women only board (which is elected) gave them not just a sense of ownership, but also of purpose.

Phil Reeve

Day three

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

DSCF0270Taking the ‘ Road to Hell’ we left Bethlehem to travel north to visit Christian Aid’s partner the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee . In Ramallah we were joined by Dr Abdellatif Mohammed who is the Deputy Director of PARC. Throughout the day we visited three projects initiated and supported by PARC. The first was in Bizzaryah where we saw a land development programme where reclaimed land can now be used for planting fruit trees and vegetables. This programme allows the farmers to get a better income from land that was originally full of rocks. At the second project in Kufrallabad the creativity of the co operatives, set up by PARC, was evident. A series of pipes carries water from the roofs of t greenhouses and collects it for later use. These are great projects and ones I will be sharing over the next few weeks and months through our publications. However, at our final stop in Shoufa we were introduced to Hamdan Abdellatif. His name means ‘ the one who gives thanks’ and ‘ slave to the land’ . Hamdan certainly gives thanks for the expertise from PARC to build a water cistern on his land because it means he is no longer a slave to the land. Hamdan, originally a teacher of English, has a small produce business selling vegetables at the local market in Tulkarem. He is retired so his land is his main source of income. With three sons and twin daughters he needs that income to put them through University. Like so many people we have met, education is vitally important as it is seen as a way out of this situation. We were shown his crop of green beans that is watered during the dry months from the water he collects in his reservoir during the rainy season. He said, ” During the winter the reservoir is very useful. In Summer, around May I close the pipe and use the water from the local well. When that gets low I can use my reserve water. I thank you for the support you give me and my family”. I so often I get asked if the money churches give to Commitment for Life gets to where it need to be, here is your answer.

Yesterday was harrowing seeing the way people have to exist at such close quarters. Today we saw how communities are helping each other to be creative with the restrictions put on them in terms of freedom and justice. The work of PARC can never be truly fulfilled until there is radical change in this part of the world. Just a short distance away men are on hunger strike for their human rights. All must play their part in keeping hope .

Belonging to the World Church/Commitment for Life Trip to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory 15-25th February

Monday, February 18th, 2013

Belonging to the World Church & Commitment for Life trip to Israel/IOPT:

Day 1.

16th February 2013

A busy day within the Bethlehem area: A day of hope, of constructive healing, the reality of constraints, (the separation wall and the ever expanding loss of land) and those still waiting for the ‘Right to Return’ as set in international law through UN resolution 194 in 1948

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The visit to the Lutheran funded private school, Dar Al-Kalima started the day with a wonderful talk from the principal, Naila Kharroub who reinforced the ethos that education is a way forward to continue to help the constrained peoples of Bethlehem and its environs locked behind the stranglehold of the separation wall. She was not just passionate, but compassionate about how the school which is both co-educational and mixed Christian/Muslim through education, (even if the university/higher education is in a different country) work for, and within their communities. This was born out with a question and answer session with a class of 17 year olds. Their positivity was moving; answering questions with; ‘One day we hope to have peace with the Israeli’s, ‘My education will make a difference, but I will need outside help’; and though we might have to leave, we will return to Palestine because this is our home’.

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From there a change of reality; that of the need for practical help with those suffering as victims from disabilities both physical and psychological from all the past and present conflicts. Nader Abu Amsha, director of both the Beit Sahour branch of the East Jerusalem YMCA and the Rehabilitation Programme, (which he founded) spoke about changing not just the lives of those disfigured by physical disability caused through the conflicts with occupying forces as they protested, but the unseen ones left behind from youth imprisonment end the isolation that their own communities placed upon them. From being the ‘Hidden people’ with little hope, now they are beginning to be seen for whom they are, people! The change has had to come from their communities, work places, even the Palestinian Authority that they are part of society and can be helped through rehabilitation and training to be full members of their communities.

Yet with this vision and hope, still as we saw is the ever snaking ‘Separation Wall’, a wall that seeks to divide and at the same time take land for the further expansion of illegal Israeli settlement building. It is not just separating but dividing communities, making simple journeys that we would take for granted; ten minutes from X to Y now at least one hour on a good day.

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The final stop was one of ‘present history. The Aida Refugee Camp. Founded in 1950 after the ’48 Nakba by the UN it now house 5200 refugees in an area no larger than half a square kilometre. Four generations still awaiting the ‘Right to return to their lands taken from them in 1948. The thoughts for me from the day, after being here a number of times, things are not getting better. Each time peace is talked and believed and peacefully worked for on one side whilst the other is clearing the land for the permanent settlement of its peoples without any regard for the lives of those established here for 3000 years; living and sharing their lives within cooperating communities.

A difficult day, one that brings back for me the reason for the passion to help through funding but maybe most importantly, acting upon a remark made by the principal of the Dar al-Kalima School this morning: ‘Tell our story, we want to live in peace with the Israelis and we want to be who we are, Palestinians.’

My reflections on the day:

JON (Rev Dr. Jon Morgan)

Day 2

Sunday 17th February 2013

Today, after worshipping at the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, we met up with Angela Godfrey-Goldstein who was to show us around Hebron. Angela is an Israeli Peace activist working for justice and peace for the Palestinian people.

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We were warned not to expect a ‘fun’ afternoon but one which may be harrowing and tense. On the journey (along the main settler road) Angela spoke to us of some of the things she had seen over the years and the political situation.

On arrival in Hebron we were greeted enthusiastically by Mohammed and his father. We were given sage tea and coffee sitting outside Mohammed’s father’s shop. Once again hospitality is graciously offered by strangers who welcome us to their land.

Hebron is partly famous because of the Old City and tombs of the Patriarchs but also because of the huge number of Israeli settlers in and around the city. This makes everyday life incredibly difficult for Palestinians who have lived in Hebron for many generations.

Following the 1995 Oslo Agreement and subsequent 1997 Hebron Agreement, Hebron is currently split into two sectors, H1 controlled by the Palestinian Authority and H2 controlled by Israel. Palestinians cannot approach areas where settlers live without special permits from the IDF.

We saw for ourselves just some of the 1800 Palestinian shops that have been forced out of business either by order of the military or by the fact that people are unable to move around freely as they used to. One such area is the chicken market which now stands deserted, shop doors bolted and the end of the road blocked by a ‘security wall’… It was like a ghost town… Many Palestinians have been forced to also leave their homes to make way for the settlements.

We heard stories of Muslim families wishing to bury their dead loved ones having to travel 15km by road instead of a 300metre walk because it would mean crossing Shuhada street – which is a no go zone for Palestinians. We saw the frustration on a young Palestinian Man’s face as he accompanied us through a checkpoint, we were all allowed to pass freely but he was stopped and searched and his ID checked. It happens all the time… ‘Because I am a Palestinian and young they stop and check my ID all the time – we are living in a prison’. At times Mohammed and his young friend had to leave our group because he could not go into a certain area or street!

Everywhere we looked we saw Israeli soldiers and watch towers, walls and barbed wire… unemployment is high and so poverty is high. The harassment from the settlers towards Palestinians is evident. On the streets where shops are open there is above us, metal netting forming a kind of roof. This is to stop Palestinians being injured by settlers throwing stones and rubbish down from their homes above. One street which was a vegetable market is now known as the rubbish market because of all the debris thrown from above.

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But it is not all despair… There are glimpses of hope… Like Mohammed and Mona Mohammed works for the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee and shared with us the aims of his work. The committee’s aim is to help ‘rehabilitate’ shops and house which have been closed or taken over by Israelis. If a family is forced to leave their home the HRC will go in and take over the house to stop the Israelis from doing so. They are also trying to reopen shops that have been closed down. Offering cheap or free rent in order to help start a new business.

Mona works for the Christian Peacemaker teams who are involved in monitoring areas such as the checkpoints and settler tour groups. Their presence can stop violence from breaking out and diffuse some situations. Like the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) volunteers they also accompany Palestinian children to and from school.

The abiding memory for me will be the conversation I had with the young man who was searched at the checkpoint. He told me that he hoped there could be peace in his land and that that all the peoples could share and live freely! It’s my prayer too..

Rev Jane Rowell