Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Nakba Remembrance Day


Greetings on this day of remembrance of the Nakba, the catastrophic displacement of the Palestinian people from their homes and lands. 

Nooran Alhamdan writes for the Voices of UNRWA blog
"I remember my father pointing out to me the school he attended as a child in the camp for twelve years, its blue and white logo faded but bright in the midst of the lean grey buildings. United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, was written on the sign.

"The school my father attended was an UNRWA school. The food he and his family relied on was UNRWA food assistance. The clinics he went to for basic healthcare were run by UNRWA.

"My first introduction to UNRWA was made years before I was even born. UNRWA has been a part of my family’s story and the story of millions of other Palestine refugees across the Middle East."

Like so many in Gaza, a Palestine refugee in Beach refugee camp, western Gaza City, uses the only means at her disposal to cook, wash clothes and heat her home. © 2017 UNRWA Photo by Tamer Hamam
Like so many in Gaza, a Palestine refugee in Beach refugee camp,
western Gaza City, uses the only means at her disposal to cook,
wash clothes and heat her home.
© 2017 UNRWA Photo by Tamer Hamam


Thank you, Chuck Lutz

Thanks to Charles P. Lutz, now retiring from his long-held volunteer position with Churches for Middle East Peace. As Minnesota coordinator, Chuck provided regular information about resources, events, opportunities to advocate for justice, and alternative Holy Land travel. About my colleague for more than 30 years, I can only say, he does all things well. Chuck's keen insight, justice theology and can-do ability has accomplished much in the quest for justice and peace. And I am glad. 


Opportunity Palestine

Check out the good work of Opportunity Palestine which supports Lutheran schools and educational programs in Palestine. Supporting Opportunity Palestine is a great way to make a positive impact on the future of Palestine's marvelous children. Click this link for some fantastic pictures and more information about Opportunity Palestine

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Friday, March 22, 2019

Call on Congress to ensure access to worship; Jonathan Kuttab on Apartheid in the West Bank; Bright Stars

This blog post starts with an action alert from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I've also included an article about Apartheid in the West Bank by Jonathan Kuttab and a reflection by a pastor who traveled to Palestine with Bright Stars of Bethlehem.

Call on Congress to strongly urge Israel to ensure access to places of worship in Jerusalem. 

In the past couple of weeks, the issue of access to holy spaces in Jerusalem has been highlighted in the news. Earlier this month, Israel closed off access to the Haram al-Sharif (“the Noble Sanctuary”), also known as the Temple Mount, to Palestinian Muslims who sought to pray at its Al-Aqsa Mosque, and prohibited entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City for all except its residents. The order provoked physical clashes in Jerusalem and rebukes from Muslim leaders locally and globally.

This most recent episode highlights people’s deep sentiments toward and affinity with holy sites in Jerusalem, the tendentious nature of attempts to control access, and the impact of denying believers the opportunity to visit, pray, and worship at places dear to them. Click this link to find the ELCA action alert 

Tell your congressional representatives that this season of Lent, leading to Easter in April, is the right time to urge Israel to ensure free access to places of worship in Jerusalem. 

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Jonathan Kuttab on Apartheid West Bank

The word apartheid has become a lightning rod for criticism of the Israeli regime in the West Bank.  The word itself is closely connected with the defunct policies of the white-dominated regime in South Africa that collapsed under international pressure and was replaced with that country’s current non-racial political system. Read the entire article at this link to Americans for Middle East Understanding.

The seminal feature of the crime of apartheid seems to be systematic or legislative actions providing for (a) a regime of domination over one group and (b) the creation of a separate and unequal system of governance to the detriment of the victim group or its members.  Mere violations of human rights and oppression of individuals or groups are not enough to make this charge.

In the context of the West Bank, therefore, our inquiry must go to the practices and legislative scheme perpetrated by the Israeli authorities, and to the oppressive and discriminatory treatment of the Palestinian Arab population as compared to the Jewish civilian population living in the Occupied Territories.  These include: the use of ID cards that must be carried at all times and that are far more invasive than the “pass law” system of South African apartheid; the pervasive system of permits required for all aspects of life; the Separation Wall; the myriad checkpoints and travel restrictions throughout the Occupied Territories; the extensive use of administrative detention (no charges/no trial); and various other instruments of control.  All these elements are actually enacted into laws and military orders in an elaborate legislative system. 

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African American pastor witnesses shared struggle - and hope- in Palestine 

Bright Stars of Bethlehem shared this report from the Rev. Everett Mitchell, senior pastor of Christ the Solid Rock Baptist Church in Madison, Wis. 

"I recently returned from a Bright Stars trip to Palestine. Allow me to share my take-aways with you - Although I previously visited Israel, this trip was different. Read Pastor Mitchell's full story at this link, which includes a video with Pastor Mitri Raheb about the shared struggles of Palestinians and African Americans. 

"During the past trip, we mainly focused on historic and Biblical sites in Israel.

"During this trip, however, we spent much of our time in and around Bethlehem, Palestine. In this walled-off city, we had the opportunity to interact with many families in the region and to listen to the everyday struggles of Palestinian people. We also witnessed, first hand, the hope that resides in the dreams and talent of the youth.  We visited local schools and colleges, attended cultural performances, and enjoyed laughter-filled moments with these young people.

"We saw worlds that were supposed to be separate, come together." Read more at the Bright Stars website

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Sunday, March 10, 2019

A March of Return action step, `1948: Creation & Catastrophe,' and helpful news media resources

I want to share an advocacy alert related to the March of Return, a new film on the Nakba, and two media reports that I think are especially helpful. 

ELCA Advocacy alert

What would happen if Palestinians marched nonviolently and in large numbers towards the boundary fence between Gaza and Israel to demand respect for their rights and call attention to the Israeli-imposed blockade that has created hardship for millions of people for more than a decade? In 2018, Palestinian writer Ahmed Abu Artema asked this question in a Facebook post from his home in Rafah, Gaza. The result was Gaza's March of Return. A U.S. tour, sponsored by American Friends Service Committee, will get underway March 1-22. Get information here; please check for a location near you and share.

During the Washington stop, Artema and Abusalim will present a congressional briefing at 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 19, in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, Congressional Meeting Room South (CVC 217). Please ask your U.S. senators and congressional representative to attend and/or send a staff member on their behalf. Sample language for your message follows. Sample language for your message is at this link.


1948: Creation and Catastrophe

A new film on the Nakba is out, “1948: Creation & Catastrophe." I count filmmaker Andy Trimlett as a friend, since we worked together on some FOSNA projects. Andy told Mondoweiss, "Once I understood 1948, everything that is happening today made sense – the settlers, the home demolitions, the checkpoints, the wall, the violence. This is basically a conflict over land and who lives on that land. Throughout the entire history of the conflict, one side has been pushing the other side off the land through a variety of means. In recent years this process has taken place by creating unlivable conditions for Palestinians and by confiscating Palestinian land through the construction of a wall that runs deep into the West Bank. In 1948 it was done by means of active expulsions."

The film is available on Prime TV and at this link: 1948:Creation and Catastrophe. I watched it twice and was fascinated (and saddened) by the first-person stories and memories. Honestly, this may have been the last chance for many of these  witnesses, Israeli and Palestinian, to tell us what happened. 


Qalandiya gallery

Mondoweiss has published a photo gallery that is perfect for showing in a presentation on the checkpoints. "On a typical day at the largest Israeli checkpoint in the occupied West Bank, hundreds of mostly West Bank Palestinians line up and patiently stand in between metal bars, their hands gripped around their 1hawiya,' or identity cards, waiting to cross the maze of concrete called Qalandiya." Use this link - Qalandiya: How Palestinians experience the largest Israeli checkpoint, in photographs


The New Yorker tours Hebron

There's an outstanding overview of the situation in Hebron in The New Yorker. I have shared it extensively. "Hebron is a microcosm of the West Bank, a place where the key practices of the Israeli occupation can be observed up close, in a single afternoon. For several years, two activist groups, one Israeli and one Palestinian, have been leading tours of the occupation of Hebron. I recently went on both, crossing from the living city of Hebron to its hollow shadow and back several times." Find the article at this link:  A Guided Tour of Hebron, from Two Sides of the Occupation

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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Room for Hope: The Jerusalem Conference

The Jerusalem Conference
Franz and I made a road trip to Houston for the Oct. 11 Jerusalem Conference, presented by Bright Stars of Bethlehem amid its Texas-wide Room for Hope Festival. The goal was to advance the vision of an inclusive, diverse, and equitable Jerusalem. It was just one day of programming, but that day was jam-packed. 

We gathered under the theme Jerusalem: What Makes for Peace? It was a thrill to be among excellent organizers, activists and supporters from all over the USA who are taking part in the struggles for justice and peace in their churches and communities.

The Rev. Mitri Raheb and his planning group put together a stellar group of presenters and panelists. A standout speaker was Tarek Abuata, director of Friends of Sabeel-North America. (Sabeel is the liberation theology center in Jerusalem.) He was born in Bethlehem and grew up in a Lutheran church in Houston. 

Abuata told us that his story is tied to our Christian history as a people. Churches’ oppression against the Palestinian people is united with the US empire. The sins of Christian Zionism are responsible for “the pillar of sins that form Jerusalem and Palestine today, built on white savior-ism and “Christian” dominance.” 

“Palestinian Liberation Theology is the prophetic Christian antidote to this sin that flips the tables in the temple,” Abuata said. Christians should act and flip the tables in their churches and out in the streets.

Abuata gave a stirring, challenging speech that can’t really be summarized briefly. He remembered, “My 10-year old Christian child self in Bethlehem” reflecting Christian dominance this way: They didn’t want to know me. In the shadows of the Holy Land, they rushed by my Christ to genuflect to their idols. And my people’s wound was for them a showcase for a pilgrim who was enamored more by the churches of Narcissus than the Streets of the Divine. He said, “Don’t mold me into your image, forgetting that I am already molded into His Image!”

I was pleased to see ELCA leaders like the Rev. Rafael Malpica Padilla, Dennis Frado, Bishop Michael Rinehart, and former bishop Dean Nelson, along with a number for former ecumenical accompaniers and other friends. Breaks were few, but we managed to get in a little fellowship.

Christian, Jewish and Muslim speakers were both inspirational and difficult. There were testimonies to suffering, struggle and endurance. While the subject of Jerusalem came from our president’s move of the US embassy, a number of speakers pointed to much earlier factors such as the sequestering indigenous people on reservations, the “western project” that created the state of Israel, Christian Zionists truncating American Christianity, and a culture that makes extremism acceptable, 

Dr. Iva Carruthers said we are engaged in “a conversation on what it means to be human. What does it mean for us to allow the humanity in us to lead? The question is who we are becoming. In Flint (Michigan) and in Palestine, water is being weaponized. We have to speak truth to power in a way that allows us to stand and do what we must do.” Carruthers is general secretary of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference

She outlined some action steps for church leaders, including: Create a framework to exegete the appropriate scriptural texts; use the arts to create a “non-marginalized narrative”; raise consciousness about Israel and Palestine; address policies; cease the “devastating policies of weaponizing natural resources,” challenge and interrupt anti-BDS legislation. 

There was just too much to share effectively in a blog post. The event ended with powerful calls for justice and peace. The Rev. Mae Cannon, director of Churches for Middle East Peace, said, “We need to continue to encourage the choir but also nominate people across the aisles. Talk with people! Talk with conservatives in rural Iowa. Inform them! Change the face of the Palestinian people for those who do not know them.”

Raheb said the occupation continues because of hardware provided by the international community to Israel ($38 billion from USA) and software given to them by Christian seminaries. They connect the Israel of today with biblical Israel and view the occupation as part of a divine plan. 

I felt like everyone in the room, all attentive and diligently taking notes, was connected that day. Raheb said about the networking that is so necessary, “We need more and more togetherness to develop joint strategies.”

The four sponsoring organizations of The Jerusalem Conference (Bright Stars of Bethlehem, the National Council of Churches in the USA, Churches for Middle East Peace, and the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference) affirmed a statement that is worth sharing with your networks. It can be found at this link: Affirmation for an Inclusive Jerusalem


I took part in two other important events in September and October, the FOSNA Conference, Prophetic Action: Christians Convening for Palestine; and the big US Campaign for Palestinian Rights conference: Together We Rise. I hope I can share some ideas from these outstanding events sometime soon.  

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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Action needed for Augusta Victoria

ELCA Advocacy reports that Augusta Victoria Hospital and the East Jerusalem Hospitals Network are facing cuts from U.S. assistance. We are praying for the sick and their families who would be affected. Call your lawmakers. Click for info on how to take action here

Actions requested:
1)    Call the White House hotline (202-456-1111) and use the White House comments page to urge the president to order the release of the $25 million for AVH and the other East Jerusalem hospitals.
2)    Use the sample letter provided at the link above to urge your senators and representatives to contact the White House as well. 

Thank you! 

Room for Hope coming to Texas in October

Encounter the heart of a people through their culture! Join us as we celebrate the rich heritage of Palestinians in Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin and Houston and across the globe through their food, music, dance, and art! This festival aims to showcase and support Palestinian cultural life and strengthen ties between Palestine and the rest of the world.

"In the midst of conflict, art creates room to breathe."
 ~Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb

Festivities include performances by Dance/Theater students from Bethlehem, Palestine, Palestinian appetizers and desserts, live music and presentations by Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb and Bright Stars of Bethlehem. Click this link for details, and please share this invitation widely. 

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Thursday, August 23, 2018

Khan al-Ahmar news and more

The Land of Canaan Foundation

A personal note: I am volunteering with The Land of Canaan Foundation, which supports projects that help farm families in Palestine stay on their land with food security and economic security. I'll write more about this outstanding organization in future. In the meantime, check the website or find us on Facebook

Khan al-Ahmar

The West Bank Palestinian village of Khan al Ahmar is at imminent risk of demolition. The village is located near Jerusalem, between the Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim and one of its elite suburbs, Kfar Adumim. It is one of several Palestinian communities facing forced relocation because it falls within the “E1” plan that would link the Israeli settlements with West Jerusalem (cutting East Jerusalem off from the rest of the West Bank).  All the homes and structures in Khan al Ahmar were issued demolition orders on March 5, 2017, requiring them to demolish their own homes, school, mosque, clinic, and barns.  

Most of the village’s structures are tin shacks, tents or permanent tents that are used to shelter the residents and their livestock. Khan al-Ahmar is also home to the Tire School, a more durable structure, established with European support. Authorities plan to move residents to Al Jabel, a village in the Azariya area, situated between the Abu Dis garbage dump and a chop shop for stolen vehicles. Each family is supposed to receive an area of around 300 square meters in the permanent site.

Here is a link to an excellent current update from +972 magazine. I also recommend this summary provided by B'Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization. 

And follow this link to the ELCA's blog post, Joint Statement on planned demolition of Khan al-Ahmar. "We collectively call on our governments to take action to stop the precedent-setting demolition of Khan al-Ahmar and to denounce this potential war crime. We urge our governments to call on the Israeli government to reverse its decisions to demolish the village of Khan al-Ahmar and forcibly evict its residents before it is too late." 

Please contact your senators and ask them to address this issue with the State Department. 


Lots of events! 

A number of important events are taking place in the next couple months. 

Prophetic Action: Christians Convening for Palestine

Join Friends of Sabeel - North America (FOSNA) Sept. 27-28 in St. Paul, Minn., for Prophetic Action: Christians Convening for Palestine, a gathering of Christian leaders and their close allies in concert with this year’s US Campaign for Palestinian Rights conference. The gathering will begin at 1:00 p.m. on Thursday and continue until 5:00 p.m. Friday. It will be held at Central Presbyterian Church, 500 Cedar St., St. Paul, close to the venue for the US Campaign conference and immediately preceding it. Click this link for details and registration

Together We Rise - the Struggle for Collective Justice from the US to Palestine 

The national conference of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights will be in the Twin Cities, Minn., Sept. 28-30. Together We Rise will be a space for people to connect with and learn from others working in support of Palestinian rights across the country, and renew our commitment to the struggle for freedom, justice, and equality. Venue: the InterContinental Saint Paul Riverfront (11 E Kellogg Blvd, St Paul, 55101). 

The program includes Resilience Across Movements, Updates from Palestine, Intersectional Feminism and Gender Justice, Palestine in US Politics, and Global Struggles for Collective Liberation. Confirmed speakers include journalists Mariam Barghouti and Marc Lamont Hill, human rights lawyers Noura Erakat and Hassan Jabareen, and Indigenous rights activists Waziyatawin and Coya White Hat-Artichoker. Dozens of workshops will teach us about the militarization of the US/Mexico border, how to harness constituent power to make change in Congress, hold a direct action, and more. Here's a link to lots more info and registration

Room for Hope Festival

After postponing last year's festival due to Hurricane Harvey, Bright Stars of Bethlehem is coming to Texas for a multi-city festival of Palestinian culture. It's the Room for Hope Palestinian Festival.

Dallas/Ft. Worth - October 5-7, First Presbyterian Church, Fort Worth, and Trinity Presbyterian in McKinney

Austin - October 7-9, Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church and Concordia University

Houston - October 9-13, at Kinsmen Lutheran Church, the Hilton - University of Houston (Jerusalem conference) and St. Paul’s Methodist Church

All three locations will feature Palestinian dance students and faculty from Dar al-Kalima University. Click this link for info and registration

Bright Stars of Bethlehem presents The Jerusalem Conference

As part of the Room for Hope festival, The Jerusalem Conference is a one-day event on Oct.11 in Houston that brings together scholars, ecumenical theologians, and peace-doers around the topic - Jerusalem: What Makes for Peace? 

The recent move of the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has changed the conversation. Historic commitments to Jerusalem as a city for people of three faiths are being threatened, along with the hope for peace. While the importance of the city for Jews is not questioned, its significance for Christians and Muslims, and particularly Christians is overlooked. For people of faith and for those concerned with peace in the Middle East, an inclusive Jerusalem is a must. So, what do we need to understand about the current political realities in Jerusalem, the implications of theological frameworks of the city, and current US and foreign policy? Finally, what steps can we, as faith leaders take together and in our own networks to advance peace in this region? 

Join the Rev. Jim Winkler, President of National Council of Churches; Rev. Dr. Mae Cannon of Churches for Middle East Peace; Sojourners' Founder and President Jim Wallis; and Bright Stars of Bethlehem President, Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb for a timely exploration of Jerusalem as key to peace in the Middle East. Together, we will identify concrete steps and goals towards advancing the vision of an inclusive, diverse, and equitable Jerusalem.

Click this link to register or for more information. 


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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Other Jerusalem,

This is a helpful presentation concluding with a petition - all from The Other Jerusalem
Let’s stop this. Sign the petition. Palestinians in Jerusalem have lived under prolonged occupation, in unequal and discriminatory conditions, since Israel’s unilateral and illegal annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967.

For 51 years, intersecting discriminatory laws, policies, budgets and practices have impacted every aspect of their daily lives.

Palestinians in Jerusalem live with tenuous “permanent resident status,” under the constant risk of forcible transfer. Between 1967 and the end of 2016, Israel revoked the residency status of 14,595 Palestinians from East Jerusalem. Click this link to read the entire petition