Readers, here is a link to an article I wrote for the newsletter of the Center for Global Education at Augsburg College, Minneapolis: http://www.augsburg.edu/global/generaldocs/gnnfall07.pdf
I was on the staff of the Center in the early 1990s. In this little article I seek to compare the concerns that travel seminar participants looked at then with the key issues of today.
Since Global News and Notes is a pdf file, I'll give you the link to the newsletter page here: http://www.augsburg.edu/global/gnn.html
Here is the text of my article:
KEY ISSUES FACING PALESTINE TODAY
Every time I visit Israel and the occupied Palestinian lands, it feels as if the region's desperate situation is on the cusp of positive change. Sometimes that feeling comes from a political initiative or a new sense of commitment on the part of U.S. and worldwide churches to making a difference there. Other times the feeling is rooted in an impression that things cannot get worse – or cannot be allowed to get worse - for the people there.
It was my privilege to lead two Middle East trips through the Center for Global Education in the early 1990s, once assisting Director Joel Mugge and once leading a travel seminar on my own. At that time we were looking hard at international and military law, human rights, detention and torture, settlements, and self-determination for the Palestinian people, and those issues are still painfully apparent to conscientious visitors.
Land confiscation and water issues were on people's minds 15 years ago and we tried to give them some attention even in the midst of troubles that were more acute for the people we visited.
Today it is the Wall that we see while traveling in the region, an obvious, visible manifestation of ghetto-ization, even apartheid, separating Palestinians from Israelis and, more insidiously, separating Palestinian families and communities from each other. The dreadful Wall is both symbol and enforcer. Its ugly shoulders block the sun and its snaking path is has gobbled up thousands of acres of Palestinian land in favor of the settlements that continue to grow and multiply unabated.
When I have a chance to teach, I now refer to the settlements as “colonies” or “Israeli cities” staking out enormous blocks of land on the Palestinian side of the Green Line. In the years since the Oslo agreement, betrayed by a series of Israeli administrations, these cities and the restricted highways and infrastructure that serve them have grown out of control. The resulting losses are opening talked about as ethnic cleansing.
Israeli Victoria Buch writes, “The prime ethnic cleansing tool is, forever, Palestinian land grab in conjunction with settlement expansion. Various stages of annexation process are in evidence in the originally rural part of the West Bank, constituting 60 [percent] of its area. By now, nine percent of the West Bank land has been transferred to the direct control of the settlements.”
Palestinians' loss of mobility is almost total. The Wall, barricades and destruction of roads, plus “flying checkpoints” cost the West Bank population its health and safety and employment.
Gaza's citizens are completely isolated in their territory, a prison with a bottomed-out economy.
Family unification has become a terrible problem for husbands and wives with different residence permits, and Palestinians face ongoing and increasing demolition of their homes.
So what makes me think there will be positive change? When I feel frustrated I remind myself of the impossible frustration of the Palestinian people and the miracle of their patience and unwillingness to succumb to despair. While official peacemaking efforts have lost all momentum, thanks in part to U.S. attention to the war in Iraq, awareness and understanding are up in U.S. churches and activist communities along with opportunities to volunteer and “accompany” among the grassroots of Palestine.
I continue to urge Americans to visit Palestine and Israel. I hope to return there for the seventeenth time with a group in 2008.
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