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