Guest post by Ecumenical Accompanier Jan McIntyre

Jan McIntyre is a Canadian woman just finishing her sencond term as an EAPPI member with the Jerusalem Team.  The post below is lifted from her blog A Mosaic For Peace.  It is a first hand witness to the rapid escalation in settlement expansion and the devastating impact this illegal activity has on Palestinian communities.

There is also an urging for action in terms of joining in international efforts for economic sanctions against the settlements through insisting on labelling goods from the illegal settlement and perhaps active boycott of products that support settlements directly or companies that continue to benefit from the occupation.

I encourage you to read and act.

Thank you Jan, and EAPPI for you faithful solidarity and for your empassioned advocacy.

Dianne Baker

Settlements – The Time to Act is Now

by A Mosaic For Peace

More than anything else, the one thing that absolutely astonished me upon my arrival here in February was the rapid settlement growth that has taken place over the last 15 months.  The changes are blatantly obvious.  Existing settlements have expanded and numerous new ones are sprouting up on the hillsides. It is an undeniable reality.  Ariel Sharon’s famous words “Grab every hilltop; what we take will remain ours” are becoming truer by the moment. (found at http://www.palestine-primer.com/Palestine_Primer/Maps_%26_the_Land.html)  If the Israeli’s are intent on creating “facts on the ground,” they are succeeding.  As the current political stalemate continues, settlement building continues – putting up more and more Israeli housing units and supporting structures (shopping areas, roads, water and electrical infrastructure)  as well as businesses and factories, on Palestinian land.

What do expanding settlements mean for Palestinian people?  Obviously, there is a loss of land.  In the West Bank, settlement growth continues to overtake the countryside, separating Palestinian villages from their neighbours and gobbling up prime agricultural land.  The contiguity of the West Bank is severely jeopardized, and people often speak of the West Bank as being divided up like a piece of Swiss cheese.

Here in East Jerusalem, in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, there are ongoing court battles over homes the Israeli’s want to take over.  Just last week, we visited with a man who had half of his house taken over by settlers in 2009.  Now, an American settler who has been in the country for 12 years, lives in the front portion of this man’s house while the man and his family live in the back portion of the building.

 

Mohammed al Kurd, standing outside his family’s home in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Israeli settlers took over the front part of their house, leaving the family to live in the back.

On Thursday, we stood on a hillside outside of Bethlehem, looking out over what had been Palestinian land.  Across the hilltops was one settlement after another.

 

Vast settlement expansion outside of Bethlehem.

On Saturday, we visited the community of Al Khalayleh, located a few kilometres north-west of Jerusalem.  The community is surrounded on 4 sides by Israeli settlements.  As we stood on the hillside, among the ruins of a Bedouin village that was demolished just before Christmas and the people moved to the Jordan Valley, we looked over at the nearby settlement encroaching further and further onto Palestinian land.  It was like looking at several layers of a multi-layered cake, as each row of housing progressed further down the hill.

 

Settlement expansion moving down the hillside, near Al Khalayleh, outside Jerusalem.

That afternoon, we visited the Bedouin village of Khan al Ahmar, located a few miles outside of Jerusalem.  The building of the nearby neighbouring settlement, K’Far Adummim, located only a short distance away from the village on the nearby hilltop, began in the 1980’s.  Progressively, they have taken more and more land from the Bedouin, making it impossible for the Bedouin to graze their goat and sheep herds. In the 1990’s, the villagers had approximately 1600 head of goats and sheep, with 25 camels.  Today, with little access to grazing land and livestock feed prices at 2000 NIS/ton, villagers can only feed about 140 head of sheep and goats and no camels.   Furthermore, with the building of their school in 2009, the neighbouring settlers then blacklisted anyone from the 5 villages the school serves from employment on the settlements.  Now, the Bedouin face imminent displacement against their will, in a move that will free up their land for further settlement expansion.

 

K’far Adummim settlement, located on a hilltop and encroaching upon the grazing land of Bedouin village Khan al Ahmar.

These are a few of the very real effects of Israeli settlement development and growth in the occupied Palestinian territory.  What is happening is that Palestinian people are losing more and more land to these settlements.  It is being taken from them, and they have no say in the matter.  As the land goes, so too goes much of their livelihood, given that the land being taken in the rural areas is agricultural land.  In Jerusalem, people are literally pushed out of their homes, while Israeli’s move in.

Settlements are in direct contravention of International Law, which could not be clearer.  “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” (Article 49, Geneva Convention IV)  “This has been confirmed by the International Court of Justice, the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention and the United Nations Security Council.” ( UN OCHA Factsheet “The Humanitarian Impact of Israeli Settlement Policies Update December 2012”, found atwww.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_settlements_FactSheet_December_2012_english.pdf)  All world bodies have spoken.  The United Nations Security Council Resolution 446, of 22 March 1979 was strongly worded: “… the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”…  “Land seizure for settlements is illegal.” (www.diakonia.se/ihl).

But still it goes on.  As the world stands idly by, Israel continues to illegallymove its citizens into the occupied Palestinian territories.  And not only that, the residents of settlements are given far greater privileges and services than Palestinians are allowed, and all too often are violent towards the Palestinians. (see previous blog postings)  It is a profound injustice.

This past week, Israeli human rights group Yesh Din published a new report “The Road to Dispossession:  A Case Study- The Outpost of Adei-Ad” found at http://www.yesh-din.org/postview.asp?postid=254.   Outposts are the initial buildings of a future settlement.  In the report, they identify how “the observation of a single outpost helps understand the general phenomenon and the method of the outposts as a means to take over Palestinian land.”  This is a highly recommended report that will help the reader understand the Israeli settlement enterprise and their effects on the Palestinian and Israeli populations.

The United Church of Canada’s General Council 41 met last August and passed a resolution regarding the Israel-Palestine situation.  Part of the resolution dealt with economic action against settlement products, given that these settlements are illegal.

In Feb 2013, Nora Sanders, General Secretary of the United Church of Canada, wrote to Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird asking for legislation requiring that settlement made products be labeled as such.  In the letter, she wrote “The United Church is deeply concerned about the impact of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. We, with many others, see the existence and expansion of the settlements as making the creation of a viable Palestinian state increasingly unlikely. As stated on your government’s Foreign Affairs web site, “Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The settlements also constitute a serious obstacle to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace.” As Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon recently said, “All settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, is illegal under international law.”  She went on to say “The settlements are supported by an economic infrastructure that includes the export of products made in the settlements to Canada. These products are not distinguishable from products made within the 1967 internationally recognized borders of Israel.”  As such, she requested “that the government introduce guidelines for retailers that would encourage them to label goods from the settlements differently from products made in Israel. Both the U.K. and Denmark have introduced such guidelines, which are also now being considered by other governments.”  (for a full copy of the letter to Minister Baird, go to http://www.united-church.ca/files/getinvolved/takeaction/130308_letter.pdf

This is a request consistent with action taken by other nations, including Austria, Belgium, Finland, Ireland and several others.

 (http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/04/european-union-start-labeling-products-settlements.html?utm_source&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=6991#ixzz2RE0Rf71R)

Part of the General Council 41resolution reads as follows: “Call on United Church members to take concrete actions to support the end of the occupation by: 
a. directing the Executive of the General Council to give high priority to establishing a church-wide campaign of education and economic action directed against one or more settlement products that can be identified as produced in or related to the settlements or the occupied territories;”

The General Council Executive will be meeting during the first week of May.  Part of their agenda will be to discuss two options regarding the timing of implementation of the decisions of the 41st General Council concerning Israel and Palestine. The agenda for this meeting can be found at http://www.united-church.ca/files/general-council/gce/2013/gce_1305_workbook.pdf, with relevant information on pages 87-92.  GCE will be voting on two options:

Option A calls for the Palestine/Israel Education and Economic Action Campaign to be activated beginning spring 2013.
Option B proposes that the launch of the campaign be deferred until further direction from the Executive to allow more time for “study, prayerful discernment and personal action by the members of the church”.

Of these two options, Option A is by far the best option to address the above mentioned portion of the resolution.  It is imperative that we act now.  It is essential that we act with substance. To wait is to stand by watching, while more and more settlement expansion and growth continues.  I cannot emphasize enough how quickly settlement construction is occurring. 

Our Jerusalem team met last week with Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights.  In his comments to us, Rabbi Ascherman quoted Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the leading Jewish theologians and Jewish philosophers of the 20th century, who said “in a democracy, some are guilty but all are responsible.”  His words ring true.  While the actions of others may not be our actions, in a democracy we all share the responsibility for what is happening.  As such, and following the ways, the words and the actions of Jesus, we are called to do our part to work towards justice.   

I ardently encourage our General Council Executive to vote in favour of immediate implementation of the Palestine/Israel Education and Economic Action Campaign, as outlined in Option A. Time is of the essence. We cannot delay any longer.  Aware of this profound injustice, we as Christian people must act.   I also strongly urge all United Church members to lobby their General Council Executive representatives to vote for Option A.   Please, please contact your representatives and make your voice is heard.  For a listing of who your representatives are, go to
http://www.unjppi.org/newsletters.html   and click on “Write to Conference GCE reps.” The time for discussion and debate is long since passed.  General Council 41 were clear in their decision and their call for action.  Now is the time to act!!

 

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Jan

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Avoid Israeli Settlement Goods. Don’t buy the Greenwashing!

My friend and colleague, Jan McIntyre is back in Palestine as an EA, having been called in to serve when another EA from another country had to step down.  jan is serving in East Jerusalem and I encourage you to check out her blog at amosaicforpeace.wordpress.com

Her recent blog is below, with encouragement for action, writing to the Canadian Government and to United Church of Canada General Secretary, Nora Sanders.

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Dear Canada,

Since returning to Palestine, I have been appalled at the level of Israeli settlement growth (on Palestinian land in the West Bank) that has occurred since I left here 15 months ago.  These settlements are built in direct contravention of International Humanitarian Law.

Many people in Canada are confused about settlements and settlers and what the terms refer to.  Part of our work as EA’s is to write a blog.  Over the past few weeks, I attempted to help people understand these terms through a blog post “Settlements and Settlers”  (click here) and another post “The Human Costs of Settler Violence” (clickhere).

As you are aware, the issue of Israeli settlement products was discussed at the United Church’s General Council 41 in August 2012, with General Council taking definitive action.  On February 28, 2013, Nora Sanders, General Secretary of The United Church of Canada, wrote to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird  [PDF: 2 pp/217 KB] asking that products produced in Israeli settlements in the West Bank be clearly identified and distinguished from products made in Israel.  You can learn more about her letter on the United Church website (click here).

Included on that webpage is a request to write letters to local MP’s and to Minister Baird, in support of Nora Sander’s letter.As a current United Church overseas personnel serving with the World Council of Churches EAPPI in Jerusalem, I am strongly encouraging your congregations  and individuals to send letters to your MP’s and to Minister Baird in support of the letter written by Nora Sanders.  Please also circulate this request through your circles.   Letter writers can be people of any denomination, and no denomination.  We are all Canadian consumers.Thank you.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Jan

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In Winnipeg, an ad hoc group including UCC members, folks from Independant Jewish Voices, members of Peace Alliance Winnipeg, and folks from the student movement have been staging a weekly campaign outside The Bay downtown, offering education about Israeli Settlement products with particular focus on SodaStream. SodaStream is a home carbonation system that is touting itself as a ‘green’ product, emphasizing environmental values.  A concern we hold is that this product seems to put environmental values above human rights.  The product is build in an industrial zone just outside of Jerusalem in the Ma’ale Addumim Settlement.  It is labelled as “Made in Israel”, but is made on stolen Palestinian land in the West Bank.

This is but one example of the kind of mislabelling that we want to see addressed by the Canadian government.

Boycott israeli Settlement goods!  Demonstration in Winnipeg

Boycott Israeli Settlement goods! Demonstration in Winnipeg

This Saturday, March 30th is Palestinian Land Day.  The Winnipeg Demonstration will continue at 12 noon.  If you are nearby, consider joining us.  Perhaps use this day as a time to consider writing a letter stating your support for a Palestinian State, with self-determination for the people, and a viable land base for an economy that is not dependent on the occupiers for employment.

May ‘next year in Jerusalem’  be a time of peace and promise for all, for Muslims, Christians, Jews, Bedouin, Druse, Palestinians and Israelis.

Peace, Shalom, Salaam.

Dianne

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Build peace through the actions of a broken-open heart!


Dear friends and blog followers:

Last night, I watched as the athletes of the world gathered to celebrate a common humanity through peaceful competition in the Olympics.  Israeli athletes, Canadian athletes, Palestinian athletes, American, British, Zambian, Saudi, Afghani…. so many, many faces of pride and joy.    Despite the extravagences of cost and other distortions, the Olympics do present an opportunity for the world community to celebrate.

I also remembered (of course reminded by many) the horrors of terrorism that affected the Olympics in 1972 when Israeli athletes where used as targets to bring the world’s attention to the plight of Palestinians through the dreadful acts of terrorism by a group aligned with the PLO.  This 40th year after that event, it is important to remember those innocent young Israelis who were killed.  Terrorism exacts a dreadful toll, and is not justified, no matter the cause.

The broken-heart feels deep sorrow, sadness, and at times helplessness.  The complexities of the reality in Palestine and Israel can break one’s heart.   But to become immobilized is not an option, when one has been among the people, Israeli and Palestinian, who want to see peace, who want to live in their land as neighbours with just, and kind relationships.  If one allows one’s heart to ‘break-open’ and not be shattered by the stories, one can feel the pain and still be capable of working towards change.   Today, this is the stance I find myself living into: to hold the tensions of both narratives of sorrow and dispossession (The Holocaust and The Nakba) and to pray that hopes for peace and justice will guide both peoples into a desire for community.

Today, I can do no better than to refer you to a blog posted by my friend and colleague, Jan McIntyre.  Jan is also a Canadian who served with EAPPI, and in fact lived and served in precisely the same placement as I did, sleeping (after I left!) in my bed in the Yatta EA house.

Today, Jan posts about the impending threat of destruction to 8 villages in Massafer Yatta (South Hebron Hills) and the impact on the lives of Palestinian, families, children and land.  This demolition is to make way for the Israeli defense force to expand their military firing range in the South Hebron hills.  This whole area is in Area C, under Israeli control.  But the Palestinian communities have been in these lands since long before the establishment of the State of Israel.

As an occupying force, Israel is supposed to adhere to the laws of the Geneva Conventions, protecting the livelihoods of the people in occupied territory.  I urge you to read with care, and to express your concerns to Israeli officials, through your diplomatic channels and through your own government officials.

http://amosaicforpeace.wordpress.com/

It is my conviction that these policies and practices of destruction in the West Bank do deep damage to the State of Israel as they do to the Palestinians.  This targetting of innocent farmers and shepherds, children and mothers, children of God, a Semitic people… this devastation is tantamount to ethnic cleansing.  The beliefs that justify these actions distort the beliefs of justice and care for neighbor that are inherent in the Jewish religion.  Villanizing an entire people is a distortion  the image of God in the perpetrators and the victims.

My heart aches for the people of Palestine, for the gentle loving mothers of Jinba, and the spirited children of Mirkez and the strong, lively young men of Shib Al butum.

My heart aches too, for the generations of Israelis who have paid the price for the rage and sorrow of those Palestinians who express their hopelessness in acts of violence.   The cycle must end!

Inshallah…  May peace come… may shalom be built… may the peoples know one another… may the walls come down… may children know a future of peace.

Non-violent protest, telling the stories of these injustices, economic measures such as boycott of setlement products,  upholding International law, and praying for peace:  these are all acts that each person of conscience can do.

Follow your own ‘broken-open’ heart.

Dianne

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United Church Conferences actions on Palestine/Israel

Across the United Church of Canada in the months of May and June Conference Annual meetings are occurring.  At these meetings, proposals that lift up concerns about Palestine and Israel are being debated.  The recently formed United network for a Just Peace in Palestine and Israel (UNJPPI) drafted a sample proposal which some conferences modified for presentation in their own contexts.  Here is a copy of that proposal:

PROPOSAL TO ACCEPT THE KAIROS PALESTINE 2009 DOCUMENT AND TO ACT ON ITS CALL TO THE CHURCHES OF THE WORLD

Title: Accepting the Kairos Palestine 2009 document and acting on its call to the churches of the world.
 
Submitted by: From the floor of the 2012 Conference of Manitoba and Northwest Ontario
Presbytery Action:
Conference Action:
Original Source:
Financial Implications: Unknown cost of Theology and Interfaith Committee work.
Source of Funding: General Council
Staffing Implications: Utilizes existing staff.
   
   
WHEREAS The General Council of The United Church of Canada has previously recognized (2003, 2006, 2009) that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land conquered in the 1967 War is illegal under the 4th Geneva Convention; and
 
WHEREAS Section 1 of the Kairos Palestine 2009 document describes the Palestinian reality as one of Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, and of deprivation of Palestinians’ freedoms, including the separation wall, the ravishing of the land by Israeli settlements, and the restriction of movement for Palestinians; and
 
WHEREAS Our Christian brothers and sisters in Palestine have called on us, through the Palestine Kairos 2009 document, to respond to their situation; and
 
WHEREAS The leaders of all Christian denominations in Palestine have endorsed the approach of the Palestine Kairos 2009document to a just and peaceful settlement to the Israel/Palestine dispute; and
 
WHEREAS It is the established policy of The United Church of Canada to be guided by our Christian partners as we carry out our mission in their homelands,
 
THEREFORE we propose to the 2012 Annual Rise of The Conference of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario that the 41st General Council (2012) accept the Kairos Palestine 2009 document with gratitude for its affirmation of Christian faith, hope, and love; and with respect for the theological foundation of its presentation; and on the basis of its acceptance of the document, adopt these policies:
   
  The United Church of Canada:
   
 
  • Repents of its past indifference to the continued plight of Palestinians living in land occupied by Israel, and of its complicity in accepting the continued occupation of Palestinian land;
  • Calls on all Christians to set aside theological positions that support unjust political positions in regard to the Palestinian people;
  • Tasks the Theology and Interfaith Committee to engage with the rest of the Church to develop theological positions in which “justice with love” is the standard by which we measure and determine our relationships with those involved in conflict over territory and the actions we take within those relationships;
  • Encourages and enables Church members to visit Palestine to see for themselves the situation in which Christian Palestinians and all Palestinians live;
  • Condemns and opposes all forms of racism – religious or ethnic – including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia;
  • Reaffirms that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is illegal under the 4th Geneva Convention;
  • Responds to the call by our Christian brothers and sisters in Palestine to engage in nonviolent actions toward ending the illegal occupation of Palestinian land through divestment and economic and commercial boycott of everything produced by the occupation; and
  • Requires all General Council units, and encourages conferences, presbyteries, congregations, and United Church members to follow this call.

The debate was respectful, and many, many people came to my display table to see maps of the region, and took copies of some Primer material on the history of conflict between Palestine and Israel, and also to get prayer suggestions and other material for the ‘Week of Prayer for Peace in Israel and Palestine”.

The Conference was very gracious and made me a corresponding member of the court so that I could offer clarification of the proposal and answer questions about The Kairos Palestine document that may have arisen during the debate.

Here is the statement I offered in speaking to the motion just prior to the discussion before the question:

Rabbi Hillel, in the first Century BCE said:  “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellows.  that is the law and the prophets: All the rest is commentary.”


Madame Chair, Sisters and Brothers, I think it would be most helpful to you, the court, to talk  about the intention of The Kairos Palestine Document and the nature of the call to us in the world Christian community.  To try to encapsulate the entire historical context is challenging at best, and in the time I have available would grossly oversimplify the situation to a disrespectful degree.

The primary stance to be upheld is a call to stand with those who are oppressed, and to uphold universal standards of human rights and International Humanitarian Law. There is a clear need for the Israeli occupation of The West Bank and The Gaza Strip to be ended.  Military occupation is never to be viewed as a permanent situation.  It is to be temporary and there are international standards and obligation that fall to the occupying force.  United Nations reports, observers from both Israeli and Palestinian and international Human Rights organizations  (such as EAPPI) document Israeli army abuses of Palestinians’ human rights, and these abuses are increasing and intensifying in recent months.  Checkpoints, roadblocks, home destructions, control of access to water, lack of access to  medical services, crop destruction, prevention of family reunification, destruction of electrical infrastructure and water sources, are all daily occurrences for Palestinians. Violence and intimidation by Israeli settlers occurs frequently to Palestinians, and the army does little to offer protection to them.

While the Geneva Conventions uphold the right of a people under occupation to resist the occupying forces, the Kairos Palestine document denounces the use of any violent means and instead advocates for non-violent protest and resistance “with the logic of love”.  The writers of the Kairos Palestine document state that the military occupation distorts the image of God in both peoples , by creating hatred, and anger, and preventing the peoples from being able to know one another.  Other voices from the region would echo this claim, such as Rabbis for Human Rights. Former Israeli soldiers who comprise ‘Breaking the Silence’, say that enforcing this inhumane occupation is costly to Israelis themselves in terms of exposure to trauma and the inhumanity of  controlling and humiliating Palestinians.


Bishop Desmond Tutu has said, that when one remains neutral in the face of injustice, one is choosing the side of the oppressor.  Our Christian Brothers and Sisters are telling us that inaction is no longer an option.  If the Israeli government, in the face of widespread international condemnation continues to build illegal settlements, transferring their population onto occupied land, creating nature preserves and industrial zones in former Palestinian villages, there soon will be no  viability of a Palestinian state at all.


Yesterday, we heard Cheri Di Novo state, “if we stand with the marginalized, we can trust that what is meant to happen will happen”.  I encourage you today to ‘Stand in hope’! Do not be afraid.  To oppose Israeli Government policy is not being anti-Semitic.  The call of the Kairos Palestine document is to create the conditions of dignity and safety so that true, good faith negotiations for self-determination and security can be established for both peoples.

Please vote in favor of this proposal which is before you today. 

I am delighted to say that this motion passed, with a significant majority. There were a sizable number of abstentions.

I understand that Montreal-Ottawa Conference passed a proposal similar to this one; Hamilton conference had healthy debate and passed three proposals on Israel Palestine, all from Halton Presbytery.  First calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions for ALL settlement products (not products produced in Israel).  Passed with concurrence.

Second one, removing the word “Jewish State” from our 2003 word.  Debated.  Had to have scrutineers count, passed without concurrence. (This goes to the discussion of the nature of a democracy with respect for all citizens equally, regardless of religious orientation, as there are Christians, Druse, Muslim and others who are citizens of Israel.)  Third one, affirming and adopting the Kairos Palestine  document, passed without concurrence.  Not sure why (wasn’t clear).

Overall, not bad, a good debate.

Kairos Palestine Document  was written in 2009 as a call to the world community to hear the voices of Palestinian Christians, and was written by representatives of the Christian churches and endorsed by The Heads of Churches in Jerusalem

This weekend as well, BC Conference debated similar matters and came to the following decisions:

BC passed the resolution about modifying our recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.  Defeated a general boycott resolution.  And passed a boycott resolution focussed on items from the settlements.  And passed the proposal about expanding dialogue with other Jewish groups and Muslim groups.  Three of these motions are on the BC Conference website – the fourth was written at Conference.  Good respectul debate.  The wording of these motions can be found at the BC Conference Website.

The Middle East Working Group which was commission by General Council 40 released its report for previewing on the United Church Website on May 1st. http://www.gc41.ca/sites/default/files/israel-palestine-report.pdf

It has not yet been debated as it is to be presented to General Council 41 in Ottawa in August, and is not policy of the Church until this occurs and is debated and adopted.  It is gratifying that so many of the conclusions and the recommendations parallel the content of the UNJPPI Proposals.   As Commissioners discuss the report, they will also be aware of the mood of the church as input from each of the conferences will also be reaching the floor of the council meeting.

I a scan of Haaretz, Ma’an and a press release from Operation Dove (An Italian religious NGO in The South Hebron Hills) the past few days have seen crop destruction, home demolition and continuing harrassment of Palestinians in the areas nearby the Suseya settlement in South Hebron Hills, where I served as an EA nearly nine months ago.  Harvested barley for sheep fodder was burned where it lay overnight.

Israeli peace activists for The Israeli Committee Against House Demolition are calling for additional support for their work as they are so overstretched in their advocacy work.  Peace Now continues their educational campaigns to stop settlement expansion, while supporting the clear need for security and safety of the State of Israel.  Women in Black hold their weekly vigils in West Jerusalem; Ta’ayush visits Palestinian communities facing hardships in the West Bank.  ‘New Profile’ works to support young conscientious objectors in Israel, Jewish youth who, on grounds of conscience, refuse to serve in the military due to the occupation (or other moral reasons).

There is a strong presence in Israel of an activist community of Jews who support the establishment of a Palestinian State, and who work for an end to the military occupation of The West Bank and Gaza by Israel.  Their voices also need to be supported and uplifted.  They face hostility and alienation (and in some cases death threats) in their own country for holding views that encourage dialogue and peaceful encounter with their Palestinian neighbours.  I pray for their courage and their sustained strength and vision.

The United Church of Canada because of its support for The Kairos Palestine Document, its engagement with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program for Palestine and Israel, and by accepting the recommendations of the Middle East Working Group will surely be on the receiving end of criticism and will be labelled ‘anti-Semitic’.  This has indeed already begun (National Post, etc.).  To criticize Israeli state policy and military practice is not the same as to hate ‘Jews’; just as to critique Canada’s policies around purchasing fighter jets is not the same as to hate ‘Christians’; we ought not to allow these things to be conflated out of a fear of labelling.

It is my prayer that we stand firm, that we, with the ‘logic of love’ spoken so eloquently by the writers of The Kairos Palestine Document, uphold a vision of the peace of Christ, and the inclusive, loving, accepting community of justice that is called for through the Living Word.

May the God of Hope and Peace be honoured by the way God’s children celebrate one another, and protect the diversity of the human family and the beauty of creation.

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Some exploration of Christian Zionism

I am reposting here a link to a video about Christian Zionism and Dispensationalist Theology.

There are strong links between Christian fundamentalism and extreme Zionist views of Israel.

There are direct monetary links between the religious right in the US and funding for illegal settlements in Israel (all settlements in the West Bank are illegal under International law and the 4th Geneva Conventions.  Occupying powers are forbidden from transferring their population into occupied territories.)

The political influence of the religious right in the US and the dollars they raise for pro-Zionist organizations will influence the outcome of elections.

In Canada, although the influence of this theology is less obvious organizationally, it is apparent among some politicians.  One wonders just how much this philosophy is affecting the uncritical support of Israel in Canadian foreign policy AND domestic policy, such as recent parlimentary committee on Anti-Semitism..

The video is about a half and hour long.

Onward Christian Zionists

In the video, one commentator states that this is primarily a US phenomenon, but I beg to differ. Christian Zionism is also growing in Europe and in Scandanavian countries.  One of the folks who spoke to my EAPPI group had just completed his doctoral work studying Christian Zionism in Europe, and discussed how enormous the movement was in Finland, his home country.

Some Churches in the US are engaging in “Adopt a Settlement” practices, where they twin with an illegal settlement.  At the core of Christian Zionist belief is a deeply anti-semitic view that Jews will be either destroyed or must convert in the last days.  This seems to me to set up a highly cynical view of the current days expedience of the relationship between Jewish Zionist groups and Christian Zionist groups.  Strange bedfellows, for a purpose beyond this world.

And meanwhile Christian Palestinians suffer; Israeli and Arab Muslims suffer, and truly, Israeli Jews suffer from the ongoing hatred, misunderstanding, anger and dehumanization that grow in the so-called “Holy land”.

Halas!  Enough!  We are all created in the image of God, and God longs for us to love one another.

That which destroys and that which breeds hatred cannot be of God.

I urge you also to read “Kairos Palestine”  and  “The Bethlehem Call” and to hear the voices of Palestinian Christians speaking to the world community, to the People of Palestine and of Israel.

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“We shall not …

“We shall not be moved”

I spent time last week in the United States, in Arizona, in the desert.  Being in that landscape of rock and sand and sun brought my heart again to the days in Palestine.  The major, major difference I noted was the abundance of water used in Arizona.  Water for swimming pools, water for golf courses, water for decorative fountains.   In Palestine water is so precious and so scarce and is used as a political tool.  Used with somewhat wild abandon by the Israeli settlers, for pools, gardens and massive agricultural projects, while the villages of Palestinians have their water infrastructure demolished, unfairly and illegally restricted by the Israeli civil administration and sometimes deliberately contaminated by the settlers.

Back in Canada I read the ongoing reports of demolitions, the death of animals due to careless and brutal demolition of sheep pens, the threats of demolitions on schools, the continuing disruption of Palestinian communities by so called ‘archeological digs’.  I get so angry.

I have felt overwhelmed.  I cannot write new material for my blog, because I can find no ways to say in words what I am am seeing on line, and feeling in my soul as I imagine the peaceful, kind, hospitable people that I know being stripped of dignity and security.

And I am embarrassed, ashamed and angered that our current Canadian government seems to stand in full uncritical support of the government of Israel that continues to enact these abuses of power and humiliates the Palestinians under Occupation.  Canadians must speak out to make the Harper government take a firm, public stand against Human Rights abuses, and violations of international law. The government stands on a Human Rights record in our dealings with other nations (Libya, Syria, China), but we chose not to support the Palestinians.  Why?

The seeds of despair are being sown with every bulldozer that passes over the West Bank land; with every tree cut down or burned the roots of resistance are growing deeper.  In the villages I accompanied and in the reports I see from EAs on the ground currently, the resistance in non-violent. Sit down protests on the buses, standing in front of the demolition crews to stop bulldozers, lying under a trailer to prevent having their property confiscated.  Yet the world continues to be peppered with the images and rhetoric that paints all Palestinians as ‘terrorists’.  This week, in a bus accident outside of Ramallah, several Palestinian school children died.  Some of the commentary in Israeli websites expressed delight in the death of ‘little terrorists’.  I know that this kind of mutual disdain does nothing to build bridges of peace.

There are many many organizations in the West Bank and in israel that try to bring communities together to find common ground, to share the commitment to a peaceful future.  One such organization is The Tent of Nations, near Bethlehem.  This week, they received a demolition order from the Israeli Defence Force.  Tent of Nations

Rather than continue to write my own heartbreak and anger, I will offer some further links for you to explore and see other things that are occuring in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  May your prayers be informed, that you may pray and live for peace and justice.  May you find ways to reach out to government to express your commitment to resolutions so that both Israel and Palestine may have self-determination, peace and safety.  Please, educate others so that the international pressure to have Israel abide by International Law is increased.

Operation Dove  Is an Italian Peace and Non-violence group maintaining a presence in the South Hebron Hills.

The Villages Group (villagesgroup.wordpress.com) is based in The West Bank and brings Israeli and Palestinian activists together to report on human rights abuses and property demolitions in the West Bank.  They have recently posted about the pending demolition of the school in Susiya.  Susiya is one of the villages I spent a great deal of time in during my stay in South Hebron Hills.

Please read the stories and imagine your way into the hearts of these communities.

I am thinking of trees today.  and remembering the spiritual and protest song “We shall not be moved”  Just like a tree that’s standing by the water, we shall not be moved.  The commitment to the land is firm among both Israelis and Palestinians.  If the roots that are  watered  with anger and hatred, what will be the fruits?  If  respect and fellowship and mutual understanding are lavished on the roots, the crop will be far different.

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The Tent of Nations: a place for international dialogue and peace education

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Epiphany sermon shared at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church in Winnipeg

 

I was invited to preach for Epiphany and to share some of my experiences in Palestine as part of the message.  Using power point, I incorporated many photographs from my time with EAPPI, many that I took and a few from the EAPPI library and two from Google Images.

Epiphany allowed me to focus on the Journey of the Magi and the Slaughter of the Innocents, themes that readily echoed some of my experiences. 

Here is my message with a few of the photos I shared.

 

 

Isaiah 60:1-6   

 

Matthew 2:1-12   (They left for their own country by another road.)

 

Friends,  Let us pray together.

 

“God of Abraham and Sarah, blessed in their old age by new life and promise, give us open hearts and minds to receive your renewing words from unlikely sources.   God of Ishmael  and Hagar, exiled and impoverished because of jealousy and anger, bring to us a word that challenges our sense of righteousness and still comforts us in times of suffering. God of frightened Mary and confused Joseph, help us to know that we will find angels, companions and vision as we walk through times of fear, accompanied by the faith of shepherds and Wise Ones who still reveal to us your Incarnate one.   Bless the words and stories shared today.  Bless us as we work to make your word of justice and peace real in our world.   Amen”

 

For any of you who have visited Israel, seen Jerusalem, walked in Manger Square in Bethlehem, you will know what I mean when I say that having returned from what we call “the Holy Land”  the once familiar stories from scripture  take on new meanings, and bring to mind   images, smells, sounds and emotions more vivid than before our travels. 

 

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 Indeed it is often difficult to return in imagination to the crèche image of a stable rude and bare, once one has seen the ornate and even opulent “Church of the Nativity”  or the “Milk Grotto”.     There is such a huge distance between these two scenes.

 

 

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What resonates with me about the stories we read of the Christmas manger, and the words of Isaiah that are told in Christian community as foreshadowing of the visits of kings and magi, the bringing of a new light to the people, is the backdrop of Empire, persecution, militarization and Occupation of the Roman powers.  What one sees in visiting Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Palestine today, is a community affected by occupation, controlled movement and the powers of Empire.

 

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As the bulletin cover suggests,  if Magi were to try to come to Bethlehem today, their progress would be impeded by the huge, 9 metre concrete separation barrier that continues to grow around the edges of Bethlehem, sealing in its Palestinian population and dividing communities from agricultural land.

 

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  I want to speak to you today about the lives of the vulnerable, the ways that the common people of Palestine in The West Bank are struggling to live in the face of Empire, terror and violence, and the fear and reactive need for security at the cost of humanity that dominates life in both Israel and Palestine.

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EAPPI photo- South Hebron Hills

From mid June to the end of September this year, I volunteered with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel, under the auspices of the World council of Churches and on behalf of the United Church of Canada.  I served in the South Hebron Hills, based in the town of Yatta,  a city of about 70 thousand people in an entirely Muslim area of the West Bank. 

The Hills of this region are the same hills referred to in the gospel accounts of Mary visiting her cousin Elizabeth in the ‘Hill country of Judea’… and when John is born he grows up ‘strong in spirit and he was in the desert (wilderness) until the day he began to appear publicly to Israel’. These South Hebron Hills are ‘John The Baptist land’ to me.

 

The Palestinian people, of this area, in the many small villages and hamlets of the South Hebron Hills, are mostly farmers and shepherds.  They have lived by subsistence farming and by grazing their sheep and goats over the hills, for hundreds of years. 

 

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As they were able to prosper, some families began to have homes in the towns and to engage in entrepreneurship, to sell some of their goods in the growing centres of the region.  But mostly, they continued to live on their lands. 

 

 

Farther south, in the real desert territories, were the Bedouin peoples who were truly nomadic.  They travelled along with their animals from oasis to oasis, grazing and moving, grazing and moving.  This was their culture and their lifestyle.

 

When the State of Israel came into being in 1948, many Palestinians living in areas of what became Israel left their homes, left quite suddenly, to avoid the warfare that erupted.  Most left, assuming that they would be able to return to their homes, when the fighting died down.  Instead, what happened was that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians became refugees.  Many of their homes were confiscated and given to the newly immigrated Jewish people, coming to a safe homeland after escaping the pogroms, and surviving the persecutions and the genocide of the Holocaust.

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Yad Veshem- Holocaust Memorial Centre- Jerusalem

 

 

Many Palestinians who fled carried with them the large iron keys to the doors of homes they would never see again. These symbols of homes lost are passed down from generation to generation, along with the stories of distress and dispossession.

 

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The Bedouins of the Negev desert area also soon found themselves being pressured to move.  Because the desert bordered on Egypt and Jordan, it was a huge area and hard for the new State of Israel to keep safe and secure.  The Israelis opted to move the Bedouin peoples out of the desert, and gradually to begin bringing Israelis to the desert, to ‘make the desert bloom’ and to grow food for the population of the burgeoning new state.  

 

Even though the Bedouin did not have ‘homes’, the desert land was their home.  They felt deeply connected to the land that they viewed as a gift from Allah.  Groups of Bedouin found places to settle, to buy land from Governates in the West Bank, at this time under Jordanian rule.  And so, the Bedouin began to have ‘homes’, permanent tents, animal pens, gardens, schools and the other trappings of a more settled lifestyle.  Nomads no more.

 

After the Six Day War, in 1967, Israel became an Occupying Power in the West Bank.  Today, 64 years later, the occupation continues, and the loss of homes for Palestinians and Bedouins continue at an alarming rate. 

As Israel seeks to build communities and homes for its growing population, it is confiscating land and annexing territory in the West Bank for settlements, gated enclaves for Israelis, with security forces to keep Palestinians out.  This policy of settlement is a direct violation of the Geneva conventions and has been denounced by nearly all member countries of the United Nations, including the United States.

But still they build. Image

EAPPI photo- Karmel Settlement beside Umm All Kher, Bedouin village 

 

There is an undeniable need for a safe and secure homeland for the Jewish people.  What has happened though in the years of defending the land and transferring their people to Palestinian land in The West Bank is that the land base for a home, ‘ a state’ for the Palestinians is become less and less viable.

 

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Map from Palestine Israel Action Group, Ann Arbor Friends Meeting.

 

In the  name of security, Israel destroys homes in Palestinian villages.  Because large parts of the West Bank are under Israeli military and civil control, they will not grant building permits to Palestinian families, even when the family may need to make their homes larger to accommodate more children or a married son and his family.  If any structure is built without a permit, it is subject to a ‘demolition order’. 

So the bulldozers come, and homes are destroyed,

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EAPPI stock photo-Dkaika, Palestine

 

And lives are disrupted, and children cry 

 

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Aftermath of settler arson attack on Palestinian home in Susiya

 

and gardens are uprooted and olive trees are burned.

 

The magi were warned to not return to Herod.  They went home by another way.  Returning to the land through the desert and over the wadis into what is now Jordan and continuing east to their homelands.  I returned to Canada, by travelling through Jordan as well.  And it was indeed a safer and more simple journey than going home via Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.  From my group of EAPPI friends,  10 of the 30 who left Israel via Ben Gurion were subjected to intense airport scrutiny, due to having spent time in the West Bank.  Seven of these people were strip-searched, and had items confiscated.  The EAs were only carrying the stories of what they witnessed about the treatment of Palestinians home to their communities.  No  gold, no weapons, only stories of suffering.  Perhaps these stories of injustice are the true threat that results in the need for control which masks fear.

The Magi went home by another way…  perhaps to protect themselves, but also to protect the innocent young child in whom they saw such potential.  Herod too, perceives the child-king’s potential and it frightens him to the core.  The story we often gloss over, that is the sequel to the sweet images of Christmas, is Herod’s rampage that slaughters the innocent children under age two.  “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

There is much weeping in Palestine.  Weeping against the militarization in Israel that steals the lives of young men and women, weeping against the home demolitions and loss of life, livelihood and land for the Palestinian people,  weeping  in Israel over the rocket fire and acts of destruction committed by the desperate and the unheard and the enraged fringe of extremists in some Palestine communities, weeping for the future of children in both Palestine and Israel who grow up believing only that the other hates and wants them dead.

But there are voices of hope, and courage and comfort and solidarity as well.  And those stories refuse to be silenced.  There are many activists in the Jewish Israeli community who are challenging the exclusionary motif that God promised the land only to the Jews.  Rabbis for Human Rights has written extensively that if the Israel does not treat its neighbours with justice and righteousness, that the promises of God are not deserved.  There are many voices in the Jewish, Muslim and Christian community who believe that this land can be home to all, with justice and peace.

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Women in Black demonstration in Jerusalem

 

This land is the place where God called Abraham, the forefather of Jews, Christians and Muslims,  this is the land of the Temple of Jerusalem; 

it is that land of Jesus, birth, death and resurrection; 

 it is the land where Prophet Mohammed  ascended into heaven.  

The land itself is home to the Bedouin. 

 

It is spiritual home. 

 

The ways I travelled this summer were not straight.    

 And the road to a peaceable Kin-dom will still have twists and turns. 

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Road to Yatta from Susiya, Palestine

 

 

And I do not claim to know the final destination.  

 

The parties of the conflict, the Palestinians and the Israelis,  the Christians and Muslims and Jews of this area known as Palestine and Israel, must make a way in the desert for God’s word of peace to take root. 

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Photo from google Images

This is the blooming of the desert that will be most pleasing to God; this joining of God’s children in the land called Holy, but so embroiled in unholy violence.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Church of the Nativity- Bethlehem

The Church of the Nativity- Bethlehem

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Children’s rights to education, even under occupation.

When school classes began in September, familiar scenes unfolded in neighbourhoods across the country .  With eager faces, newly sharpened pencils, clean blank note books, lunches packed, and bright clean clothes, children walked out the doors of houses and apartments, joining the cheery noise and bustle on the streets heading to the school.  Parents smiled (or teared up behind their hands) as their young ones moved into a world of growing independence and delightful challenge.

Classes started on September 4th in Palestine this year: a Sunday morning, following the holiday of Eid al Fitr at the end of Ramadan.  For the children of La Seefer, of the Abu Qbeta family, this day meant having to once again face the challenge of crossing a high security checkpoint, and then walking up the long steep hill to Imneizel school. Every day after school each child is subjected to being searched physically and having their belongings rifled through, their permits checked and walking through a metal detector.  Little seven year old  Khaleel  Abu Qbeta was scared when I visited his family the week before school opened.  He looked at the ground; he trembled.  Any excitement about the learning adventure ahead was completely overshadowed by the fear he had of facing this checkpoint without his parents there to support him.

His parents are Palestinians, residents of the village of La Seefer, and they do not have permits to cross the checkpoint.  They live in what is called “the seam zone”, small pockets of territory  created when the separation barrier extends into the West Bank beyond the ‘Green Line’ (the internationally acknowledged 1967 border of Israel) to take in settlements built in the West Bank.  This then subsume any Palestinian villages  on that land into Israeli controlled area.  The Palestinians in these pockets are not given Israeli citizenship and receive no services or supports, such as water, electricity, medical care or schooling.  Their movements are severely restricted, since they are not permitted to move within Israel, and are also limited in accessing the West Bank as they need to pass through a controlled border checkpoint.  Khaleel’s parents risk harassment and questioning if they even walk with him on the road that passes by the end of their small patch of land, as this is ‘in Israel’.

Ecumenical Accompaniers  meet the children of La Seefer village on the road at 6:45 in the mornings and walk with them through the checkpoint and on to school. They ensure that the children are not unduly harassed or searched by the checkpoint staff.  In the past, the children have had guns pointed at them, or been told to stop and wait for an undefined period of time, resulting in them being very late for classes.)  EAs will also accompany them again on their return home at the end of the school day.  Each child is subjected to metal detectors, shoe removal, backpack search and permit check every single day. Some children have complained that they have been touched roughly or in humiliating ways by the checkpoint staff.  EAs will document the treatment and forward any concerns to UNICEF, who have visited the checkpoint and are very concerned about the welfare of the children.

This is not a question of security…. checking 7, 9 and 11 year old children with packed lunches and pencils.  This is an act of intimidation, designed to make life in ‘the seam zone’ intolerable so Palestinian families leave.

Meanwhile, in the village where their school is located,  the Israeli Army has recently given notice of a demolition order on the community’s solar panels, several dwelling s and also on a newly built classroom and toilets at the school.  There is no other source of electricity, so should the panels be destroyed, the school will be without lights; the village homes will be without refrigerators, electric lights or power for radio, television or cell phones.

When this news began to reach the international community, enough letters were written and enough pressure applied that there is currently a reprieve on those demolition orders, but who knows how long this will hold.

If EAPPI presence can ease the fears of Khaleel, and can help his parents feel supported and more stalwart in their resolve to stay on their land, then accompaniment is serving its purpose here in this small corner of Palestine.  The larger task is to question why Israel continues to create such hardship and misery among the people of these territories, and to do everything possible to uphold the right to dignity and self-determination for the Palestinian people.

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