Saturday, 22 March 2014

Ibellin and Israel March 2014

The church of Elias Chacour
The steps leading up to the
church with the Beatitudes
 in several languages
I travelled to Israel on March 2nd 2014 primarily to visit Ibillin in the hope of a personal interview with Abuna Elias Chacour who was the  Archbishop of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth and All Galilee of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church from 2006 to just before I arrived. He had only just retired. St John's Church has been supporting his work since Rev. Graham Trasler took groups on pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the 1980s and 90s. Elias Chacour has written several books recounting his childhood in Bir'em, a Palestinian Christian village in the North of what is now Israel. 


In 1948 the villagers were forced to leave their homes and the village except for the church and graveyard, were destroyed by Israeli forces. Much later he became a priest and was sent to Ibellin, where he found Palestinians who were cut off even from books and education. 


The Ash Wednesday Ashing ceremony 
performed by Bernhard, the German priest
Inside the church
Elias set about creating schools and a college and opened it up to Muslims, Christians and Jews, because as the title of an early book of his states, they are all 'Blood Brothers'. His work and journey have not been easy and he has been a frequent attendee of Israeli courts as planning requests were inevitably turned down. 

Even the people I sat with on my flight over gave a taste of the divisions in this land. Next to me was an Israeli avidly reading a huge tome on the background and cults of Islam, and on the aisle seat, was a very tired looking Roman Catholic priest. On the way back it was journalists who occupied the two seats next to me.


 So my journey in Israel began with a rather low powered car that struggled with hills and a useless Sat Nav from Ben Gurion airport, Tel Aviv. The Sat Nav did not recognise the name Ibellin and nor did most of the people I asked for help on the way. A late night drive on the other side of the road, with all controls in opposite positions to what I was used to was pretty awful, but getting very lost indeed without a clue as to where I was, was so bad that I resorted to approaching an Israeli police car at some road works. One of the many God moments on my travels. The policeman drove me in convoy to Ibellin with lights flashing and saved the day! A few days later that same police officer, off duty, stopped me in Nazareth to make sure I was OK!




An English lesson for 14 year olds
The Mar Elias guest-house is situated above the secondary school. Ibellin is an amazing place; much larger than I expected, with steep hills that were challenging for all cars and almost impossible for mine. I never once found my way around Ibellin without getting lost. The campus has several schools, gym, church and other assorted buildings on it. The rest of the town has several churches and mosques where the Christian and Muslim community live side by side speaking Arabic. Parts of it are very like Bethlehem.



Michael (Mica) Chacour
Although Elias Chacour was away for most of the time I was there, I was fortunate to have coffee with Michael Chacour, his nephew, early on in Abuna's home. He is quite a character and very different indeed to his uncle. In one photo you can see a bullet hole in the front door. Michael told me that they don't always feel safe and later on Abuna himself showed my how the bullet had hit metal and had therefore stopped it from doing any real damage.


Elias Chacour's front door
Staying at the guest house at the  same time, was a German Roman Catholic group lead by a Priest who had been in his parish for 25 years,  but was shortly to retire. This was his last Parish visit to the  area. I was very fortunate that they offered to take  me out with  them and I accepted their offer on a couple of days.




Church of the 12 Apostles
  On one of my days there I drove   to the Sea of Galilee. It was a     beautiful day and very calm. My   favourite place was a church I  have never been to before on the water's edge. It is Greek Orthodox and called the Church of the Twelve Apostles. The murals are stunning and I almost had it to myself as it seems to be off the usual tourist route. It was in a small national park, which was also beautiful. My Sat Nav refused to recognise either Arab towns, except for very large ones like Nazareth, or any Christian sites, which meant that I had to find a nearby Jewish settlement or site and get as close as possible to where I wanted to go! I ended up going wrong a great deal! Thankfully I had a really good map with me from a previous visit. 


Inside the church of the 12 Apostles.
Sea of Galilee

The following day I visited Nazareth. Nazareth is very much like old Jerusalem in places and I felt very at home. I first visited the Greek Orthodox church where they were having an Ash Wednesday service. It is a beautiful church so I was glad to be able to listen and even to see the murals and the spring in an older part that feeds the well that Mary is reputed to have used.



Greek Orthodox Church Nazareth 
Inside the Basilica
I was also fortunate that the main Basilica in the town square below had lovely organ music playing. Chiefly, I was delighted to have a long conversation with the warden of the Anglican church and recorded some of it. He told me about the situation for local Christians and his hopes and fears. 


Church warden of Anglican Church 
Anglican Church Nazareth
Before coming back to Ibellin I managed to find, despite my Sat Nav and car, the church at Cana, of wedding fame, though I am told now that there are 2 contenders for the title.








Mica looking out over Safed
The next day I was very pleased to visit Safad and Bir'em as well as Rosh Hanikra on the border with Lebanon with the German group. Mica came with us and so I was very glad that the commentary was in English and not German, although it was efficiently translated for the others. Mica sadly found Safed very difficult as, what was once a thriving mixed community is now Jewish only with many old Palestinian buildings either left empty and derelict or taken over by Jewish families. An old Mosque is now an art gallery while another has been built over. It was still a beautiful town, but now it has a terrible history. 


Mica at the door of Bir'em Church

Inside Bir'em Church
Bir'em is the village where Elias Chacour lived as a child. It was a surprise in many ways because the cemetery and the church are still complete and in good condition and although all the houses are ruins, there is more to them than I had expected. The old villagers still return to bury their dead in the cemetery and now a couple of them stay in the village to protect what is left and to keep it alive as much as possible, but the area has been turned into a National Park and Israel refuses to allow them to return in a meaningful way. That is no doubt partly because of the ancient remains of 2 synagogues from Roman times that lie right next to the village. The village had existed there for 150 years in proximity to these ancient ruins, but now the Israeli tourist guides only refer to the Synagogues. Nothing else matters. After we had finished there and had lunch we arrived at the coast right on the border with Lebanon. You can see the actual border in the photo. It is a beautiful shoreline with interesting caves, but we arrived too late to visit them.
The remains of Bir'em



The Lebanese Border
I joined the German group again the next day for a visit to the Golan Heights, and the Tel Dan and Banias Nature Reserves. It was a day full of mixed motions and incredible blessings. Much too much to share here, but we visited, nature reserves, archaeological sites dating back to Canaanite times, waterfalls, Paneas, otherwise know as Caesaria Philipi, both the Lebanese and Syrian borders, eaten the most amazing picnic cooked by our coach driver, attended a celebration at Ibillin with a lot of singing and cake with Micah Chacour and friends and finally met Elias Chacour who would give us a talk the next day and agreed to meet me as well!  We did rather more walking than intended as we got a bit lost in at the Banias nature reserve after already having completed the 2 1/2 hour trail at the Tel Dan reserves in 1 1/2 hours, but on a beautiful day, it was wonderful exercise!.


The Caananite Gate

Israeli leaflet
I am interested to know of the views of others on this information found in the Israeli tourist leaflet for Tel Dan Nature Reserve? Usually killing is either instructed by God or is because the Jews were either afraid or fighting for their lives. But here it seems to clearly state that the Philistines were 'a people tranquil and unsuspecting', and they slaughtered them just because they did not get on with them! It seems to be a surprisingly honest statement. 

We then travelled further into the Golan heights very close to the border with Syria. It was a strange place to be and felt very quiet and 'peaceful' - very eerie.

A Syrian town in the distance


Picnic at Caesaria Philipi

After a morning talk by Elias Chacour, I finally had a private meeting with him on the afternoon of Saturday 8th March.  I have two recorded messages  from him. One is about Islam and  the relationship between Islam  and Christianity in the Holy Land, which I include here. the second  is a personal message to St John's which I will share when I do a presentation on June 3rd.



I arrived safely in Jerusalem despite the Sat Nav and it was a relief to hand the car back. Having had a glorious week it began to rain and steadily got colder. Little did I know what was in store!

Elias Chacour gives his views on Islam
 in  the Holy Land
Entertainment, food, company and fun
at the Ibellin Guesthouse
On my first day in Jerusalem I went to visit a member of Combatants For Peace in West Jerusalem. It is an Israeli human rights organisation for Israelis and Palestinians who have put down their arms and want to take the road of non violence towards a just peace. I am honoured to be helping to set up the UK part of this organisation, but that is another story.



Palestine March 2014

Nawal looking very fed up in her shop
A neighbour's shop not so well 
cleaned up
I had a very sad meeting with Nawal at her shop in the Old City of Hebron. Leila, her sister, who I have got to know well over the years, is very ill, and on Sunday night the old City was flooded very badly. They discovered it at 6am on the Monday when they found dirty water a metre high in the shop and much of their stock ruined. In the past few months because there has been so little rain, Israel has reduced the amount of water available in Palestinian areas and so the PA have had to ration it. There was therefore no clean water available to clear up the mess. CPT, EAPPI and others came to help and thankfully the PA did allow water for a while. They are expecting floods again on Thursday night. The drains and sewers in the Old City, which is under Israeli control, badly need repairs and Israel refuses to allow this. So while the farmers are thankful for the rain the Old City fears it.

I could see the damage to theirs and other shops and you can get some sort of impression from the photos. The sadness was palpable and like everyone else I have met in both Israel and Palestine on this trip, they say as one, that they have no hope and that the so-called peace talks are making things worse for them.A good rhetorical question they ask is, if Israel says it is willing to make land swaps and evacuate some settlements, why is it spending so much money building more of them on stolen land? In all my time here I have never felt so much despair. 



You can see the Rajabi building in the
distance
That is not just water flowing down
the steps!
After my very brief visit to the old City I had a lovely lunch with my friend Naheel who works for the UN before going to the UNOCHA offices where I met with Hamed. While with him I kept on hearing more and more sad news about the success of the settlers in the courts over a large Palestinian house, The Rajabi building, which has been in dispute for along time. The fear is not just the loss of the house, but the celebrations that will bring misery to the local Palestinians. This is a house in the middle of a Palestinian area that has been acquired in a very underhand way by local Israeli settlers, who it seems have won their case in the Israeli courts to take ownership of the building. The case has been going on since 2007. It is a very strategic building for the setters and there is one more hurdle for them before they can actually move in. If they do so, the humanitarian impact it will have on the locals will be very great indeed and these people are already suffering at the hands of the large settlement of Kiryat Arber. Last night I watched torrential sewage flow down into Hebron from that settlement adding to the flooding misery below. You can see it pouring down the steps.

Israel always goes on about their security, yet no one seems to care a jot about the security of the Palestinians who live here by right and have never hurt anyone.  There are also reports of 5 Palestinian deaths just today. 3 in Gaza and 2 in the West Bank, not to mention the Jordanian judge who was shot at the checkpoint coming in from Jordan. Whatever you may read, there were witnesses and the truth is that the Judge told the IDF off for the way they were treating the Palestinians so they just shot him 3 times and then said he had tried to grab their weapons!



Rabbi Ascherman and others climbing
down to the cave
The cave dwelling in Beir il Id where
the meeting was held
The following afternoon I finally met Rabbi Erik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights. He is someone I greatly admire. Hamed toured around picking up leaders from the South Hebron Hills communities of Susyia and Um Al Kher, having first picked up an ex-inhabitant of Beir il id to attend a meeting at Beir il id. We met Rabbi Ascherman and Quaman, the head of their legal department, to discuss the terrible situation that Beir il id faces. 




The man, Ismail Ibrahim al-Adara,  Hamed first picked up had been beaten up badly by the settlers and on return to the village his son was murdered by them as well, though it is a longer story. He does not want to go back to the village for fear for his own life. However, the village is in a very strategic area and it is essential that villagers continue to live there. One way might be to persuade villagers from Jimbe to move there, but it would mean supplying fodder for their sheep at a cost of 90,000 shekels a year. The local settlers are trying to obliterate Palestinians from the area, as they have already done with the road signs and they want to join the various settlements up. Many settlers are paid by Israel to live in the area, so to help the indigenous Palestinians in this way is a small thing except that there is no money to do it. 

Hamed had also taken me to a very interesting meeting in Hebron in the morning. It was at HRC in Hebron and was a multi agency meeting that was instigated by the Christian Peacemaker Team, 
 because of the recent school invasions, detention of children, teacher and other staff, and even tear gas and stun grenades thrown into schools by the IDF for no obvious reason, if there ever can be a reason for such behaviour. On one occasion a cleaner was abducted and just abandoned in the Negev to try to find his way back. Even head teachers have been detained for short periods. Children are frequently detained and some arrested and this is happening in regard to many schools and not just those whose pupils and teachers have to use checkpoints 209 and 29, which were of particular concern to CPT. We were told that children from Cordoba School suffer from nightmares and bed wetting because of the stress. The purpose of the meeting was to look at ways of dealing with all the issues. There were people from the Ministry of Education, DCOs from the Palestinian army, a lawyer, Betselem, EAPPI, CPT, ISM, TIPH and others. It was a useful meeting and there seems to be a united effort towards rights information for pupils and parents as well as contacts for the various organisations to ring when events occur. The fact that these are basic human rights violations were not something that could be addressed realistically.



Bob Roberts
That night in Hebron was as cold and windy as I had every experienced it. There was torrential rain, thunder and lightening directly overhead and the high winds made doors bang and windows rattle all night! I sleep better when it is cold, but this was extreme and I spent both night wearing my coat and a fe other things! The following morning I left Hebron early to go to Bethlehem where I attended one day of the Christ at the Checkpoint conference. I did not arrive in a very good mood, but only a short while into the first speaker I heard, I was glad to be there. Bob Roberts of North Wood Church, Dallas said that he had been invited to preach in mosques after Muslims had visited his church. He said he believed in a totally inclusive Christ and that many Christians are too obsessed with speculative theology. I don't think I would have enjoyed a full 5 days of it and was worried it would be too evangelical for me, but it was about the sort of inclusive Christianity that I believe in and antidote to those in a God who loves only His chosen and condemns the rest of his creation to abuse and even annihilation! Far too many Christians and Jews seem to have created a god in their own egotistical image and forgotten the foundation of peace and justice that all 3 Abrahamic religions are based on.
Andrew addressing the gathering


In the evening a very enjoyable 50th Birthday party was given by Andrew Ashdown in Beit Sahour. Delicious food and great company. 




Some of the American Jewish 'Encounter'
group listening to Hamed's talk



It was also wonderful to have Andrew's company with Hamid from rather too early the following morning for a remarkable meeting with a group of American Jews who were on an 'encounter visit' to the West Bank. Their party also included some local Jewish settlers. 

Hamed and the head of the village
After a presentation by Hamed we visited a small village south of Bethlehem, surrounded by illegal Israeli settlements. 
Since 1948 the village has been refused any building permits or infrastructure improvements by the Israeli government, who have civil responsibility for the village. 
The all-purpose village school
with demolition order on it

We had a moving speech from the Village Council leader in the small, poorly equipped all-purpose building that the village has built themselves without permission to act as a school, clinic, and meeting place. This building has now received a demolition order. Meanwhile, on the hill overlooking the village in the illegal settlement, you can see the 3-storey new school that has been built for the settlement along with all other modern facilities. When the village children ask why they cant have a nice school like those on the hills around them, their father does not know what to tell them. It was fascinating to see the reactions of the group, most of whom were clearly moved, and who asked some very good questions. Hamed explained the situation so well to the group and in answer to questions, that I was able to learn a great deal from being part of this gathering..


This is what the entrance to the Gilo
checkpoint looks like when empty
I returned to Jerusalem via the Bethlehem Gilo checkpoint that afternoon. Even as an International I find that checkpoint intimidating. There are so many long wire tunnels, and different turnstiles and checks to go through even when it is empty. When full of Palestinians desperate to get to work in Jerusalem, who queue from the early hours every morning, it is inhumane. 
This is what it looks like when safely
through to the other side.


I was thankful to arrive safely back at the very comfortable Austrian Hospice. When I stayed there a few days before, I had been given a room on the ground floor without a view. This time I had an amazing balcony on the second floor! Last time I was woken at 4.30 am with a beautiful call to prayer. This time the same speakers were on a level with my window - perhaps a little too close for comfort, but I certainly didn't complain. The view from my room was a real tonic. All I needed for my last day was a little sunshine and warmth. 


My wonderful balcony view in
Jerusaelm
On my last full day in Palestine I had a lovely time in Nablus with my friend, Manar. It hds been ages since I had seen her in Hebron she is now married with 2 children, but still working for the UN. I was treated to a wonderful Palestinian speciality desert, which was delicious, the old city market and a huge and delicious lunch. It was so nice to meet her children and husband as well as see the apartment in which they all live.
Manar and Palestinian feast for two!


I had thought the 2 hour plus journey from Jerusalem by bus via Ramalla had taken a long time, but the return journey was much worse, because of the checkpoints, particularly the entry to Jerusalem. The traffic was almost at a standstill and all Palestinians under 45 have to automatically leave the bus and go through on foot. Not only did some of them not return to our bus, but the IDF came onto it asking questions of us all and thankfully they accepted my explanation, but 2 German tourists were not so lucky and were removed from the bus. We continued with only half the passengers. After a relaxing day, it was a final reminder of what the occupation means to every Palestinian and anyone else who dares to visit the West Bank!




 My final reflections on my time here:

Ernst, the Austrian monk
I am sitting in glorious warm sunshine at last, just before I make my way to the airport!
Even my bus travel and breakfasts here have led to some wonderful encounters including Ernst, an Austrian monk, who was so interested in everything I have done during my time here. Sadly he is not on the internet, but it was odd how, over the few days I got to know him, we developed a bond and he was always eager to come and listen to me as I was to share with him. We must have looked a very odd couple! I have made several new internet and Facebook friends among Palestinians, Israelis, Germans and Americans. I am sitting in the garden of the Austrian Hospice now listening to church bells pealing and birds singing. The Jews celebrate Purim today and this evening will have big parties and dress up in fancy dress and make merry. It is so sad that their revelry will mean more unpleasantness for many Palestinians forced to share space with those who want to make life so unbearable for them that they leave. 

I think that the words I like best about any religion is that, 'if your religion does not help you to love your fellow human beings, no matter what culture they belong to and no matter what they believe, then you should look again at your beliefs'. Every religion begins at heart with love and justice and both are so lacking here. Though that is certainly not the rule, I have heard words of love, acceptance, and forgiveness from many Palestinians, both Muslim and Christian and some of the Israel Jews I have met. Thankfully I have also witnessed the shock of a party of American Jews who were taken on a field trip by Hamed. I have felt so looked after and blest while I have been here and have surprised people, both Palestinians and Jews, at the way things have just worked out and help has appeared from unexpected places. In fact when I remember the Israeli off-duty police officer who stopped to ask if I was OK in Nazareth, after helping me to find Ibellin, on duty, a few days before, and the complete stranger, a Palestinian who got in my car to show me the way, or the car lifts that materialised from Andrew  when I really was not expecting it I feel quite emotional. 

I don't think I have heard so many people here express despair at the situation in the past. The only ones to express hope have been those who hope through Christ or Allah, not because of anything hopeful actually happening here, but because hope is essential. For many here that is all they have to live by. 

It is almost time to somehow get, my rather overweight suitcase up out of the Damascus gate to the transport. I am glad to be coming home, because it has been very intense, difficult and lonely at times, but hugely worthwhile and I have to believe that it will somehow make a difference, though in what way I have no idea.

Friday, 22 March 2013

"We refuse to be enemies"

At the risk of repeating myself I decided to publish this post that was half finished in Palestine because it has additional information.

Despite having been to many of the places we have visited on this CPT delegation in the past, I have found myself deeply shocked on a number of occasions. I have done many presentations about the situation in the West Bank. I knew that the Israeli settlers could be vicious and that the IDF could be violent, cruel and abusive, but I had not realised before how planned  the occupation and systematic reduction in Palestinian land was.  If you look at the map that was given to us by ARIJ you will see that there are what are called seam zones and corridors where most of the Israeli settlements and even outposts are located. You can see that the Palestinian areas are reduced to ghettos that are totally separated from each other by not just the settlements but by the Israeli only roads and, of course, the separation barrier which itself takes up around 13% of West Bank land. What is worse is that there are Palestinian communities that are being cut off by Israel into a sort of no-man's land. These communities are denied both Israeli or Palestinian citizenship because although they are cut off from Israel by the barrier Israel will not allow them to be taken under the PA wing either. Some of these communities have the barrier almost completely surrounding them with no access to any amenities or resources.

Many of the stories we have heard have been heartbreaking and most of them have been backed up with facts and figures from the many organisations we have had the privilege to visit. I include in this blog a list of links so that you can see the information for yourselves. In Jerusalem we visited the Sabeel Office where we heard a Palestinian Christian tell us of her experiences. We went to the office of ICHAD - The Israeli Committee against House Demolitions where we heard from Israelis who shared the facts and figures of the Israeli demographic policies that refuse both Israeli Palestinians and West Bank Palestinians permits for almost anything from house extensions to water cisterns to animal sheds and even to working on their own land so that Palestinians have to do almost everything 'illegally' and Israel can claim legal reasons for their actions.

We have seen the workings of such policies in the Negev, East Jerusalem, Bethlehem, The Tent of Nations, Jericho, Hebron and The South Hebron Hills. I have personal stories and even videos to back this up as well as so many photos.

In Hebron we heard from a Palestinian called Atta Jabber.  Atta lived with his parents, but when he got married, wanted a home of his own. There were 60 houses in the area, with around 144 people living in them. An Israeli settlement had already been built and the Israeli authorities wanted the land in his neighbourhood to build more. The families started to receive demolition orders on their houses and in 1995 the Israel High Court decided to bulldoze all 60 houses in one day! This was just the start of a nightmare that is still going on today.

The very first round of action won the Jabber family a reprieve, but in 1996 he received a new demolition order with just 48 days to appeal and their lawyer was not informed. When Atta continued to work on his home he was arrested for doing so and was fined $500. In 1997, while he was away from his home the Israeli army forced his wife and 2 daughters out of their house into the winter cold and rain and then damaged everything surrounding it. His wife and daughters fell ill and had to spend a couple of nights in hospital. That March the family received another order giving them just 2 hours to move all their belongings from the house - again into the rain. They did so and the bulldozer did not arrive.

In 1998 the army came again with bulldozers and threatened his family so he removed them himself and watched his home destroyed. He immediately rebuilt it with the help of internationals and CPT. An organisation called Peace Now arranged for Atta to meet the Knesset to request a permit for this second house and they refused. On 19th Sept that year bulldozers came again with many soldiers. When the family were out of the house, his wife remembered their 4 month old baby was still inside and went to get him. Atta in despair told an officer to take his baby and care for him as they could not do so himself without a home. He was arrested and beaten up, taken to a police station where he was tortured. The handcuffs held his wrists behind him so tightly there was blood, his neck was cut badly so that he could hardly speak and he had wounds all over his body. He was taken to a clinic where the doctor said there was nothing wrong with him and was then accused of being dangerous because he had tried to defend his home. He was moved to a prison where he received no medical attention for 8 days and became so ill that he was in danger of dying. When he was finally taken to hospital he spent 4 hours in the emergency room and was then released the next day. However he was then charged for attacking the army with his baby!

Rabbis for Human Rights came to court with the baby and presented the child to the Judge who was so moved by it all that she released him without charge! Atta and his family then spent the next 5 months living in a tent and finally moved into the Old City of Hebron in 1999. In 2000 Atta finally gained a permit for his house. As it was near completion around 100 Israeli settlers attacked him and occupied it. He took them to the Israeli court who instructed them to leave, so they set the house on fire causing considerable damage. The settlers were not punished and the courts refused to allow Atta to return to his home for a further 3 months. A member of CPT then stayed in his home with his family to protect them until he could return.

200 settlers then took the land surrounding his home and attacked his wife who was pregnant. She lsst her baby as a result of the attack. In fact she lost 4 babies over the years as a result of attacks. In 2009 Atta received an Israeli order to demolish everything surrounding his home forcing his family to live in just the house and a very small area, so he took the case to yet court again. In 2011 it cost another $15 - 20,000 in legal fees.

Despite winning case after expensive case, the settlers have continued to harass his family and so it goes on to this day. One constant battle and the loss of most of his land.

"If we were animals an organsation would step in and rescue us, but because we are just Palestinians no one comes to our aid." he said.
The stone that lies at the entrance to the Tent of nations, which says in 3 languages
"WE REFUSE TO BE ENEMIES"


Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Itinerary, Organisations and links

During the delegation with the Christian Peacemaker Team we visited and heard from a number of organisations. I also met others on days when I was not actually on the delegation.
There are many other groups who also do valuable work, but in order to keep this information more accessible I have limited this list to those I actually met or who are mentioned in my blog.
I was travelling to Jerusalem to meet the CPT delegation that I would be journeying with for the following 2 weeks so the first organisation to mention is:
CPT - www.cpt.org. Christian Peacemaker Teams. Ecumenical violence-reduction project started by the Mennonites, Brethren and Quakers with a presence in Hebron since 1995. Practises get-in-the-way of nonviolence. Also has teams in other parts of the world.

DAY 1

After arriving at the Golden Gate Hostel my first day in Jerusalem was free. Although some of my plans did not materialise I visited the Jerusalem office of EAPPI and climbed the Mount of Olives (See beauty, truth and good Wine) and met Pauline Nunu, owner of The Jerusalem Hotel (see details below), which has become a centre for the press, human rights workers and Alternative Travel. In the evening I went to see 'The Gatekeepers' at the Jerusalem Cinematheque.

The Golden Gate Hostel - http://www.goldengate4.com/  A very good, clean hostel with both single rooms and dormitories situated in the Old City close to the Damascus Gate. A very good budget place to stay.

EAPPI - http://www.eappi.org/  Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel  brings internationals to the West Bank to experience life under occupation. Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) provide protective presence to vulnerable communities, monitor and report human rights abuses and support Palestinians and Israelis working together for peace. When they return home, EAs campaign for a just and peaceful resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict through an end to the occupation, respect for international law and implementation of UN resolutions.
I was an EA from October 2009 to Jan 2010 and was a member of an international team in Hebron during that time.

The Gatekeepers at the Jerusalem Cinematheque - http://www.jer-cin.org.il 'Charged with overseeing Israel's war on terror- both Palestinian and Jewish- the head of Israel's secret service is present at the crossroad of every decision made. For the first time ever, six former heads of the agency agreed to share their insights and reflect publicly on their actions and decisions. The Gatekeepers offers an exclusive account of the reasons that each man individually and the six as a group came to reconsider their hard-line positions and advocate a conciliatory approach toward their enemies based on a two-state solution.
Nominated for an Oscar Award for Best Documentary and well-worth seeing.
Beautiful view of the monastery and vineyard

DAY 2

Visit to Cremisan Vineyard - http://www.cremisan.org/ now under threat of being divided in two by the Israeli separation barrier with the Monastery and vineyard on the Israeli side and the Convent and school on the Palestinian side.
(See Posting 'Beauty, truth and Good Wine')



DAY 3

Our delegation leader Bob with Naim Atteek

This was the first official day of the delegation. As well as getting to know each other and look at the itinerary we visited the Jerusalem Sabeel Office and were taken on a tour of East Jerusalem by ICHAD.
Sabeel - www.sabeel.org  'Sabeel' means 'The Way' in Arabic.  'Ecumenical grassroots liberation theology movement among Palestinian Christians'.
(See posting 'What does it mean to hope?')
Ruth from ICAHD showing us maps as we
stand by the separation barrier that blocks
the road to Jericho in the heart of East
 Jerusalem.

ICHAD - www.icahd.org  Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (Jeff Halper). A direct action group that co-ordinates with Palestinian groups. It leads tours around areas of concern, especially in regard to house demolitions, evictions and land confiscation.

DAY 4

We stood with the women in Black at their weekly Friday vigil and attended a demonstration at Sheikh Jarrah.
Women in Black - http://www.womeninblack.org/en/jerusalem  These women, and some men, hold a weekly Friday silent vigil on a roundabout in West Jerusalem. They hold placards in Hebrew and English saying 'Stop the Occupation'. They are often verbally abused by passing pedestrians and cars.
(See posting '"He has buried his head in shit"')
Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity - http://www.en.justjlm.org/ 'The Solidarity Movement, which has grown from weekly protests in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, is a grassroots organization working towards civil equality within Israel and an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.'  Sheikh Jarrah is in East Jerusalem where Israeli Jews are claiming that the neighbourhood was originally Jewish and are systematically ejecting Palestinians from their homes. The irony is that these Palestinians are refugees from 1948 Israel and Israeli Jews are living in their old homes. While the Israelis claim the right to return to their old properties, Palestinians have no right to return to their old properties!
(See posting '"He has buried his head in shit"')

DAY 5

We travelled to the Negev where we were taken to Bedouin villages under threat.
Negev Coexistence Forum For Civil Equality - www.dukium.org   NCF considers that the State of Israel fails to respect, protect and fulfill its human rights obligations, without discrimination, towards the Arab-Bedouin citizens in the Negev. As a result, the Forum has set out as one of its goals to achieve full civil rights and equality for all those living Negev.
(See posting 'When Bureaucracy is a Weapon of war')

DAY 6

This water duct in the Jordan valley supplies water usually only after the winter rains. Much of the year it is dry. It is damaged and needs urgent repair , yet Israel denies the Palestinian community living there the planning permission to repair it. If they touch it they risk arrest or worse. You can see that the water is splashing out of the duct and is undermining the structure further.
We travelled down to to the Jordan valley via Jericho and the Dead sea. The river Jordan is only a trickle in places as is full of effluent from the nearby settlements. Can I really blame Israel for that? When Palestinian communities are denied planning permission for improvements or even repairs to infrastructure on their own land, while the illegal settlements have all amenities supplied, but still pollute the water, then, yes, I can blame Israel. We also saw water systems that supply Palestinians villages that Israel does not permit the Palestinians to repair. 

This shows one of the springs that flows
into the Jordan river.



Auja Eco Centre - www.foeme.org & http://www.aujaecocenter.org/  'We envision the Jordan River Valley and the Dead Sea as a healthy ecosystem – one in which the water is shared in a just and equitable way between the people who live in the valley; in which the aquifers, rivers, and springs that support all life here are used in a sustainable manner; in which the cultural heritage is protected; in which biodiversity thrives; and in which human communities flourish.We contribute towards this by inspiring and educating people about the history and value of this landscape; by promoting a vision of the valley a whole and interconnected system of ecology and human culture; by generating income and employment for local people; and by advocating for the rehabilitation of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea.'

DAY 7

We had very comfortable accommodation in the Bethlehem Bible College and then went on to visit 3 organisations situated in Bethlehem
Bethlehem Bible College - http://www.bethbc.org/  A very good place to stay.
Sami Award who spoke to our
group.

Holy Land Trust - www.holylandtrust.org   'Nonviolence is at the heart of Holy Land Trust's work and is incorporated into everything we do and strive for. We seek to live out nonviolence as a core spiritual teaching, not only as a pragmatic approach to dealing with conflict.  Our nonviolence projects, training and activities (for children, youth, and adults) provide participants with tools that assist them in building communities founded on the principles of nonviolence and develop strategies and actions that allow them to address all forms of oppression and violence.' Inspiring non-violence strategies.

                                                                                                                    


Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ) - http://www.arij.org/  In its capacity as a national research institute, it frequently provides current data and research necessary to the formulation of position papers and policy strategies on such issues as land and water resources.
Badil - www.badil.org   Resource Centre for Palestinian Residency and refugee Rights. very good source of information.

DAY 8

First thing at 5am we went to the Gilo checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Many workers gather there as early as 4am in order to get to their work in Jerusalem in time. Although it is only a short distance away these workers have no idea on any day as to how long they will be delayed at the checkpoint or indeed whether they will get through at all.

In the photo on the left you can see the queue of workers in the cage running along the wall towards the huge checkpoint building. The people on the right of the photo have given up on the humanitarian gate, which is closed and will have to join the regular queue. two men are seen jumping the queue by climbing in further up. This seems to be accepted by those waiting. Desperation to get to their work leads to desperate measures. Israeli employers can dismiss Palestinians even for sickness and that can lead to the loss of their permit to enter Jerusalem.


We then  travelled to Hebron via the Tent of Nations. Very well worth visiting.

Tent of Nations - www.tentofnations.org  'At Tent of Nations, our mission is building bridges between people, and between people to the land.  At Tent of Nations,  we bring people of various cultures together to build bridges of understanding, reconciliation, and peace. Inspiring creative non-violence.
(See posting 'this is your land, this is my land')

DAY 9 

Children in Hebron have to pass through these checkpoints every day.  Often young children have their bags searched and are sometimes detained. the headmaster of the school can be seen in the background near the barrier checking in case any of the children are having problems. CPT stands at 2 of the checkpoints and EAPPI at another to monitor and protect the children from both the IDF and settlers.
Each morning CPT attends the school patrols at 7am and then again at noon when the children come home. We accompanied them each morning at 7am.
We visited the soup kitchen in the Old City, which is an important resource providing food for many families in desperate need.  We learnt that despite being in Area A, Israel will not give it planning permission to build an upper floor so that they can provide enough food for all rather than having to turn people away. They asked for our help to contact the Israeli authorities to try to get them to change their minds. Can providing food for desperate people be a security issue unless you are trying to drive those people to leave the area?
In the Afternoon we had a very interesting meeting with Atta Jabber who told us his story.  (See posting 'We refuse to be Enemies'). Also mentioned Rabbis For Human Rights -  http://rhr.org.il/eng/ is the only rabbinic voice of conscience in Israel, defending human rights of marginalised communities within Israel and the Palestinian Territories.   The organization was founded in 1988, and today has over 100 members-all Israelis and all ordained Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Renewal rabbis as well as some rabbinical students.
You can see the tear gas clearly here.

We then witnessed a clash between Palestinians and the IDF with ample evidence of tear-gas, rubber bullets, sound grenades and even live bullets. Although it is counter-productive for the Palestinians to throw stones at the IDF, it is hard to prevent children who are brought up in such a violent and unforgiving environment, often who have been evicted from their homes or have family members in Israeli jails, from expressing their anger and frustration in this way. This has become almost a daily occurrence. 

DAY 10

We travelled to the South Hebron Hills. 
Our first visit was to the village of At Twani where CPT used to have a team, but now Operation Dove has taken over to live with and be a protective presence for the villagers.  The village has Israeli settlements close by with settlers who frequently attack both the villagers and the children on their way to school. The IDF have to provide the children with a military escort and just last week the villagers attempted to erect a tent for the children to wait in as the IDF are often late. Sadly, the same IDF force who accompany the children have destroyed the tent twice as it is considered a structure and the village has no planning permission for it!
The photo to the left shows an abandoned village. Israel would say it was abandoned voluntarily. The villagers would say that they were terrorised out of it and now live in At Twani with the international protection. 

A large swathe of the South hebron Hills has been declared a military firing zone by the IDF. Although there are many villages in the area the Palestinians living in them are now seen as a security risk and Israel is attempting to evacuate them! How can this be seen as anything but another ploy to take more land in Area C?


Operation Dove   -   http://www.operationdove.org   'We are people committed to nonviolence and to finding nonviolent solutions to conflicts and war.  The action aims to improve people’s everyday life in the area of the South Hebron Hills. The objective of the project is to support mutual trust through nonviolent shared actions, build capacity for nonviolent conflict resistance, empower marginalized parties, and support cooperative policies and strategies of civil societies present in the area.' Also has teams in other parts of the world.

We had hoped to be taken down to Jinba, a village in the firing zone, by tractor, but that did not materialise so we climbed down instead. On our journey down we were invited into the village of Bir El Id, which I had visited as an EA. We had helped Taayush another Israeli human rights organisation (http://www.taayush.org/), drive sheep across the the South Hebron Hills to enable the villages to return to a village they had been forced to abandon. the Israeli High Court had given permission for their return, but the IDF and settlers were opposed to it. 
I am pictured with a member of
the family that kindly lent us
their cave for the night. she was
very unusual in wanting to be
photographed.


We spent the night in Jinba where a family very kindly vacated their cave for us. 
This village is constantly under attack from the settlers, supported by the IDF, but is also fighting for its life through the Israeli courts as the new military firing zone is being given as the reason for Israel wanting them to leave their homeland, even though they have proof of ownership going back to Ottoman times.
The father of this child, now 13 years old, shows
the bullet wound in the boy's back, which he
received from an IDF bullet a year ago.

And back to Hebron






DAY 11

After the morning School Patrol I had arranged to meet a couple of previous contacts and friends;
Hamed who works as a Human Rights Officer for the UN and Naheel who also works for the UN distributing food aid. (see posting 'This is your land, this is my land')
In the afternoon we were expecting to join the weekly Saturday Israeli Settler Tour. Hebron is divided into H 1 and H 2. H2 takes up much of the Old City of Hebron and contains a number of Israeli settlements. the Palestinians living there have had their lives blighted by the very violent settlers. I will probably include another posting with the basic details of life in Hebron, but the weekly tour in which the Jews proclaim ownership of various building currently inhabited by Palestinians and often cause damage to the struggling Palestinian shops while protected by the IDF is an unpleasant affair. For some reason and most unusually, it did not take place on this occasion. 

DAY 12

After the School Patrol we travelled back to Jerusalem for the last day of the delegation.

Bob talking with Mordechai.

We had our last meal together as a team in The Jerusalem Hotel where we met Mordechai Vanunu. He is a former Israeli nuclear technician who, citing his opposition to weapons of mass destruction, revealed details of Israel's nuclear weapons program to the British press in 1986 and after many years in solitary confinement in prison in Israel is now under a sort of house arrest, which means that he cannot leave Israel even to enter the West Bank.



The Jerusalem Hotel - http://www.jrshotel.com   This is a commercial organisation and the hotel is not a budget hotel and not where we stayed, but is a very convenient meeting place and restaurant close to the Damascus gate in East Jerusalem as well as being a good hotel for those who can afford it.
Alternative Tours - http://www.alternativetours.ps/ - The tours are designed to help you discover the most interesting places in the West Bank and Gaza . At the same time, they aim at providing you with background information about the life, history and current situation of the Palestinian people. ( I did not go on any on this visit, but have used them in the past).

DAY 13

Met a member of Combatants for Peace, visited the B'tselem office. In the evening another group had a member of Breaking the Silence come to speak to them and the 3 of us remaining joined in.

Combatants for Peace - www.combatantsforpeace.org 'The “Combatants for Peace” movement was started jointly by Palestinians and Israelis, who have taken an active part in the cycle of violence; Israelis as soldiers in the Israeli army (IDF) and Palestinians as part of the violent struggle for Palestinian freedom. After brandishing weapons for so many years, and having seen one another only through weapon sights, we have decided to put down our guns, and to fight for peace'

Btselem - www.btselem.org the Israeli Information Centre of Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, which produces excellent reports and provides video cameras to Palestinians to record violence and human rights violations against them.

Breaking the Silence - http://www.breakingthesilence.org.il   is an organization of veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada and have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories. We endeavour to stimulate public debate about the price paid for a reality in which young soldiers face a civilian population on a daily basis, and are engaged in the control of that population’s everyday life.


I will probably add to this list and may also write further posts to explain how and when I came into contact with these organisations where they are not already mentioned in my posts.