Monday, December 31, 2007

A report from Ursula's Holy Land trip

In a day or two I will be posting an update to the alternative travel listing that can be found at the web site of Friends of Sabeel - North America -

In the meantime, I found interesting this report of a Holy Land trip written by Ursula, a member of a Presbyterian Church in the Puget Sound (Washington) area, provided by John Berg of Middle East Fellowship -

I've taken the liberty to add a few links to Ursula's report.

Ursula writes:

My trip to Israel was very exhausting with 16 hour days, getting up at 6 am and usually finishing up our group meetings around 10 pm. We have seen much sadness with incredibly much injustice. We have met with wild settlers as well as with many people on both sides working for a just solution. We have driven and walked through refugee camps in Jenin and Bethlehem, seen the destruction, have walked through the market in old Hebron, with settlers throwing garbage onto the netting strung above the colorful vegetable and spice stands. We have seen the helicopters flying ahead of us to the Gaza strip for an attack and spoken to Israelis living in Sderot, the Jewish town frequently attacked by Quassat rockets from Gaza.

All through this we have admired the incredible strength and determination and grace of the Palestinians standing up to the hedious [sic] occupation with an unbelievable creativity and much hope. Still in Washington, DC, during our training, we have been encouraged to look for the hopeful positives and we have found many:

1. The first day we drove up to the North check point to Gaza where the security\police chief from the frequently attacked Jewish town of Sderot talked to us about the threats from Gaza while getting help with translation from our Palestinian guide, who spoke excellent English. Later, when we were shown all the rocket fragments, our Palestinian bus driver marvelled at his freedom to fotograph all the fragments in the Israeli police station of Sderot. (Repeatedly I heard ordinary people yearning for their old friends from the other side. So also the police chief. He missed his old Palestinian buddies in Gaza.)

2. We talked to an Israeli organization of families whose children are refusing to be drafted ... the refuseniks. We were told by their leader, that the Israeli high school seniors are refusing in some schools close to 50%. They were so pleased and proud. We shared a meal with them during which one of the young girls and her mother talked to us about her imprisonment for refusing ... 4x. A very proud young Israeli lady. []

3. We met with the leaders of "Bereaved Families" and listened to their pain and compassion for each other. At the end we all were crying. []

4. The last week we visited an organization of "brain power"in Bethlehem that leads the communications between the two camps for justice and peace.

5. I had a chance of stumbling across a trio of young students singing under a stairwell at Birzeit University in Ramallah of hope and dreams of walking along a river and seeing the Mediterranean Sea. They were singing of peace and justice and better days. Their leader told me that they frequently sing on campus to bring hope and encouragement to other students.

I cannot tell you how emotional listening to all the positive forces reaching out to those on the other side was. All of us, even our"cool" leader, have had tears welling up in our eyes, when listening to the pain and the determination to overcome, with hope in their eyes and deep, incredible love for their land in their hearts. We picked olives with delightful Palestinian families, stayed overnight with them, even slept on the floor in their living room ... 6 of us - a mixed group ...even a young Palestinian U student favoring Hamas among us ... yap.

We had a chance to visit an Israeli settlement ... the [stark] contrast between it and the Palestinian villages with denied garbage pickup, often surrounded by rubble from bulldozed houses tore our hearts out and left us silent, each of us contemplating our own thoughts on the bus. In the settlement we could see water was aplenty for swimming pools and beautiful landscaping with often century old olive trees transplanted from Palestinian villages, while Palestinians had barely enough drinking water. The inequities are haunting.

High above on the horizon for me stands the Christian Peace[maker] Team (CPT), working in Hebron accompanying school children through check points, walking with old people as observers and most of all standing in the way between the irrational, wild settlers and Palestinians farmers, especially when faced with house demotions [sic]. Some of these volunteers return each year for 1-3 months, others stay and support for several years. Their work is so essential in calming the enorm tension between those two sides ... often at the peril of their own lives. No, they do not usually succeed in stopping the destructions of houses, but their being there is an enormous mission of presence. []

May we all find ways to help in this situation. The Presbyterian Church is presently buying cases of organic olive oil, selling them in the US... I ordered one case for now ... more is possible.

I am sending you love and warm thoughts, Ursula

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Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas message from the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem

The Christmas message from the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem didn't get my attention until a couple days ago. Here is is, provided by the Bethlehem Media Center -

Tuesday, 18 December 2007


"He came to his own, and his own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."
St. John, ch.1 vv.11-13

Dear Sisters and Brothers,


1. Another Christmas is upon us and still we seek Peace for this Holy Land amidst continuing hardships. At the sane time it is important for us to reflect carefully on what the Evangelist is trying to put before us about God's gift to us of Jesus, born in Bethlehem's manger, together with the clear response God asks of each one of us.

Amidst our difficulties, we need to meditate upon what links us in the same time to God and this land. In this Land, we ask for our freedom, for the end of the Occupation. We mention the difficulties coming form “the Wall of Separation” that has transformed our cities in big prisons. With God, we are linked because our dignity comes from His dignity, and we are His children and the work of His hands. And we must keep in mind that it is not fleshly descent or human effort which makes us the children of God, and it is not human strength alone that makes us strong. Rather it is faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word of God. Christmas reminds us that our faith is not only a human belonging to a group, or to a community different from the others by its religion, We are called to make a personal commitment to Jesus. Such a commitment tells the world and particularly those around us that we are prepared to witness and live by our reliance on Jesus the Word of God, born in Bethlehem, and who brought to us durable and firm peace in our hearts.

2. So often human beings believe they are capable of making peace through their own efforts; demanding conditions of their own choosing. However, when God gave us His Son to be born of a human mother and to experience all aspects of human life He did so in order that we might discern the way to resolve our difficulties from His example and teaching. Therefore we pray for ourselves in order to understand the strength God gave us when He gave us His Eternal Word born in Bethlehem. So we pray for our political leaders that God may inspire them and make them examine their conduct and demands in the light of God's commandments always remembering their own accountability to Him, in this very life and in the process of the conflict itself..

So dear Sisters and Brothers whilst we are truly conscious of the many problems of unemployment, poverty and frustration which many of you continue to face each day, we would still urge you to remember the words of the Apostle:

May "the peace of God rule in your hearts ..." and "the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom." Colossians ch.3 vv. 15, 16

We as Christians must continue to offer our prayers to God for all those around us who are struggling to care for their families, not least the young children and the elderly. We rejoice with those families now enjoying the company of those recently released from prison whilst persisting in our efforts to encourage the release of thousands more who have the same right to have back their freedom and return to the joy of their families and children.

Amidst our sufferings, we share the sufferings of the others. We have a particular thought for the countless thousands across the world who have endured great disasters as a result of the devastating cyclones and subsequent floods of recent months. We pray for them. And for all of us we repeat the verse of the Gospel:

"God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth
in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." St. John ch.3, v.16

3. To our Sisters and Brothers across the world: we are greatly encouraged by your continuing pilgrimages to this Land: we thank you for your presence with us. During your pilgrimage as well you learn at first hand of the difficulties of your fellow Christians here as well as following in the footsteps of our Blessed Lord. Thank you for your prayers and the many expressions of your love and care for everyone here.

If Peace is to come to this Land it needs even greater effort from all concerned - ordinary citizens as well as Political leaders. Christmas reminds us that God gave us the Prince of Peace to be born in Bethlehem so we must all seek that peace for everyone in this Holy Land, be they Palestinian or Israeli, Christian, Moslem or Jew and Druze. He tells us that we are able to make peace and overcome all obstacles with the power which the Prince of peace, born in Bethlehem, brought us.

We wish everyone a truly Happy Christmas and God's richest blessings on their homes and families.

Jerusalem, December 2007
Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem

Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem
Patriarch Michel Sabbah, R.C. Latin
Patriarch Torkom I Manooghian, Armenian Orthodox
Fr Pierbattista Pizziballa, ofm, Custos of the Holy Land
Archbishop Anba Abraham, Coptic Orthodox
Archbishop Swerios Malki Murad, Syrian-Orthodox
Archbishop Abouna Matthias, Ethiopian Orthodox
Archbishop Paul Sayyah, Maronite
Bishop Suhail Dawani, Anglican
Bishop Mounib Younan, Lutheran
Bishop Pierre Malki, Syrian-Catholic
Bishop George Baker, Greek Catholic
Fr. Rafael Minassian , Armenian Catholic

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Established in the fall of 2003, the BMN is administered and operated by the Bethlehem Media Center (, the goal of which is to echo the “voice of the voiceless”, especially that of children, the youth and women. By providing training in journalistic skills and developing the opportunities for people to say their opinion, Bethlehem Media Center can offer a more exact and democratic voice to the outer world.

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To receive bulletins from Ann Hafften, go to "A Texas Lutheran's Voice for Middle East Peace" -

Friday, December 21, 2007

ELCA Peace Not Walls followup to Annapolis Conference

An action alert came from Peace Not Walls, the campaign of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to learn, pray and act for peace with justice in the Holy Land -

We are urged to be informed and take action in the wake of the Annapolis conference. The entire alert is at this link:

Here's an outline:

1. Urgently Needed Reciprocal Steps by Israel and the Palestinian Authority
As a followup to the Annapolis conference, the National Inter-religious Leadership Initiative - - of which ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson is a member, has issued "Talking Points for Public Advocacy."

Please consider using these when speaking with your elected officials during the current Congressional talking points include:
--Agreement on principles for resolving final status issues
--A united Palestinian government for peace
--Progress toward comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace

To see the full text:

2. Advent Resources from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land
-- 2007 Pictorial Advent calendar -
-- Videos of Christmas 2006 -

3. December 2007 National Geographic Feature Story on Bethlehem -
-- Article:
-- Photos:

4. Recent Documents of Note
-- New ICRC report on West Bank and Gaza
-- New OCHA report on Gaza
-- International Crisis Group: The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Annapolis and After
-- International Donors' Conference for the Palestinian State

Inclusion of information in MENET listings does not necessarily reflect the views of the ELCA.

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Christmas greetings from Lutherans in the Holy Land

Christmas greetings and news come to us from the office of Bishop Munib Younan in Jerusalem and Pastor Mitri Raheb

Do You Hear What I Hear?
A Voice Cries Out in the Desert: Prepare the Way of the Lord (Is 40:3)


Bishop Dr. Munib Younan

Christmas is the time to sing Gloria in Excelsis! It is the time to stand side by side around the manger with the shepherds and the Wise Men, amazed and awed by the miracle of God's birth among us.

But Christmas is also a time when we hear many other voices. But which voices bring us salvation? It is the voice that cries in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His paths."

After Annapolis, we hear many voices crying out that, finally, it is time for peace in Palestine and Israel. Many voices are joining together to call for that peace that we so desperately need.

Yet there are other voices. More than before, it seems a cacophony of confusion and chaos as world leaders and everyday people try to discern what really will make for peace, in the world and in our hearts.

Despite the voices of peace and reconciliation from the lofty levels of the leaders, on the ground, illegal settlements, the wall and land confiscation continue. Rockets and missiles continue to fly. People continue to talk of revenge and counter-revenge.

And in the midst of this peace talk, the voice of extremism drones on, finding ripe recruits in people who see no place at the inn for themselves. These voices of extremism all claim to speak for God, and waste no opportunity to turn a political conflict into a religious war. And they all claim that it is only their actions and perspectives will bring justice and liberation to the Middle East.

There are even voices this Christmas that claim that the Christians who are leaving Bethlehem are leaving because of conflict with the Muslims, ignoring the continued good relations for centuries between Palestinian Christians and Muslims. Also, conveniently ignoring the reality of occupation, the prison-like existence behind the wall in Bethlehem and the fact that it is hard for them to hear the voice of hope in a hopeless situation.

And, as always, there is the voice of cynicism and despair that sounds its refrain that nothing will ever change here, that the hatred is too entrenched and the pain too deep.

Jerusalem is a city surrounded by desert and rough terrain. In ancient times in the East, the road was easily erased by the blowing sands of the desert. In the West, the road was hard to follow in the rugged terrain that sloped downward to the sea. When an important person came to Jerusalem, it was necessary to make a better road. Brush was cut away, holes were filled, obstacles were flattened, bridges were built or repaired. This has also been done throughout the years to receive pilgrims. This is what inspired Isaiah and John the Baptist: "A voice cries out in the desert: Prepare the way of the Lord."

Someone who is greater than everyone is about to come: He who must come, the desired of the nations. A road must be made for Him, the path must be prepared so that He can arrive.
This is also true of the heart and in one's life. To prepare, we must still our hearts and celebrate the voice that sustains and that penetrates all the clouds, confusion and chaos… it reminds us:
"Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight the paths!"

Prepare to hear the true voice of peace, which echoed in the song of the angels to the shepherds and still tells us in the midst of our dark nights:
"Be not afraid! I bring you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord."

It breaks into our world and silences all other voices.

Today is no different than the world into which Jesus was born. Many leaders of that day followed voices and values that made the blessings of life only for the wealthy and the powerful.

Then, like now, there are the Herods, whose voices of power, might and the sword leave innocent children dead and cities devastated.

Then, like now, there are the Caesars, whose voices will command anything to keep their empire in place and on top.

They, like many leaders today, would create a "peace" by the sword, built on submission to power, military might, exclusion and injustice.

This season we remember that we follow a different voice. It is the voice of one crying in the wilderness, the voice of the Babe in a manger testifying to the way, the truth and the life.

This voice creates a peace that passes all understanding based on inviting all to share in the warm glow of the manger and God's blessings of life abundant. Here there are no swords, but a young woman who bears eternal Light into a dark, Bethlehem night. Only poor shepherds who were once afraid and are now at peace. Only wise men who journeyed long to kneel at the feet of a child.

As poet Ann Weems writes:
The World Still Knows
The night is still dark
And a procession of Herods still terrorizes the earth,
Killing the children to stay in power.
The world still knows its Herods,
But it also still knows men and women
Who pack their dreams safely in their hearts
And set off toward Bethlehem,
Faithful against all odds,
Undeterred by fatigue or rejection,
to kneel to a child.
And the world still knows those persons
wise enough
to follow a star,
those who do not consider themselves too intelligent
too powerful
too wealthy
to kneel to a child.
And the world still knows those hearts so humble
that they're ready
to hear the word of a song
and to leave what they have, to go
to kneel to a child.
The night is still dark,
but by the light of the star,
even today
we can still see
to kneel to a child.

Do you hear what I hear?
The voice of life and love that calls us to kneel to a child, to prepare the way for a better future for all of our children, for salvation, peace, justice and hope. The voice of the ones who don't have a place at the inn. The voice that today calls Palestinians, Israelis and our whole world toward justice and non-violence and away from war and extremism. The voice that calls our leaders to take up their power and lead in a different direction: Preparing the way of justice, for justice is the only way that will lead to a comprehensive peace, security and freedom for all.

Muslim, Christian and Jewish faith leaders in Jerusalem have formed the Council of Religious Institutions to make religion part of the solution and not part of the problem, to break down the barriers that stand in the way of justice and peace by seeing God in the other and accepting the right of the existence of the other. We are committed to education for our children that teaches tolerance and mutual respect, preparing fertile ground for the healing and future of our children. We are committed together to liberate ourselves from fear and conflict to live in freedom, security and justice. Please pray for us.

Do you hear what I hear? The Word has become flesh and lived among us, and it is possible that justice and forgiveness can become flesh among Palestinians and Israelis. This voice calls us to join the symphony of peace and justice which cries out with the angels:
"Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace among all human beings."

Wishing you a peaceful Christmas
and a Blessed New Year in 2008!
Bishop Munib Younan

From Pastor Raheb at Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem:

“The Word became Flesh”: this is the Christmas message.

God came to Earth to dwell among us, to be present with us, and to be manifest in this world. This REALity of God in Christ is our focus for this season, as we strive to create here on Earth signs of God’s continued presence in Palestine, 2000 years after Emmanuel, “God with us”, was born in Bethlehem.

To see some of these signs, we invite you to have a look at our website.

Featured on the special Christmas edition of

Azwaj Supports Young Families in Bethlehem -

The ICB in the International Spotlight: Video Clips -

A Response to National Geographic’s “Bethlehem, 2007 A.D.” -

Advent Recital Series and Christmas Services -

Blessings to you this Christmas and all through the year. We are grateful to have such committed individuals around the world supporting our work here in Bethlehem.

Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb
Diyar Consortium
Tel: +972 2 277 0047

Diyar is a consortium of 3 Lutheran based, ecumenically oriented institutions (Dar Annadwa, ICB, Dar al-Kalima College, Dar al-Kalima Health & Wellness) serving the whole Palestinian community, from “the womb to the tomb”, with an emphasis on children, youth, women & the elderly through unique programs that are contextual & holistic in nature.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Good work being done at Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem

This notice honoring ELCA Pastor Mark Brown, Lutheran World Federation director in Jerusalem, comes from Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn.

Someone who sticks with something from start to finish is often described as “faithful.” The 2008 Faithfulness in Ministry Cross Award recipients have demonstrated that it takes special tenacity and vision to bring new life to communities struggling to survive. They’ve used their God-given gifts to nurture diverse communities around the world. Among those that Luther Seminary and its Alumni/ae Council honor this year is Mark Brown.

Mark writes to me:

The hospital has been at full capacity these last months. Dr. Nasser and the whole AVH team are doing extremely well to serve and care for so many patients in the current political and economic environment.

At the same time, we continue to improve and expand what AVH has to offer. We have received funding to upgrade the pediatric unit and are well into the renovation process. Hopefully all the work will be completed and new equipment installed by next spring or early summer. Our busing system continues to bring patients and staff to AVH from the West Bank. This is much needed and appreciated especially by the cancer patients and children in need of kidney dialysis who come several times a week.

In the AVH Cancer Care Unit we are preparing to build a chamber that will house a second linear accelerator for radiation therapy. This addition is desperately needed. The one machine at AVH is the only one operating in the West Bank and Gaza serving a population of over 3.5 million. We are also confident that special funding will be available in 2008 to establish a cancer diagnostic center and a psycho-social care center at AVH.

As you can see, a lot of good work (and more than is mentioned here!) is being done at AVH.

The Rev. Mark Brown, Lutheran World Federation, Jerusalem

From the Luther web page -
If Rev. Mark Brown had intended to get in the middle of an intractable problem, he could have done no better. As Regional Representative for the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) in Jerusalem, Brown negotiates the complex politics of the region while overseeing the LWF's humanitarian programs serving Palestinian refugees and others in need. []

Brown is responsible for the administration and implementation of the LWF programs in Jerusalem and the West Bank. For decades the LWF has provided essential humanitarian services, helped to protect the religious and human rights of the Palestinian people, strengthened the presence and witness of the Christian communities in the Holy Land, and promoted understanding peace and reconciliation.

The LWF work includes Augusta Victoria Hospital, a humanitarian project of the LWF since 1950. [] It is the primary medical facility for Palestinians living in Israel's West Bank. The hospital, hostage to the political winds of Israel and the institution's donor countries, faces continuous financial challenges. Further, the Israeli government's concrete security wall makes reaching the hospital difficult for employees and patients.

"Despite the complex legal issues, Brown has worked cooperatively and creatively to give the hospital a viable future," wrote Professor Craig Koester, '80, in nominating Brown for the award.
Under Brown's leadership, the LWF also runs a job-training program for Palestinians, manages a LWF olive grove and is exploring ways to provide affordable housing in Jerusalem.

“In a region divided by political and religious disputes, the need for such humanitarian work is crucial,” Koester said.

Wrote Pastor Said Ailabouni, ’79, of Nazareth [now Barrington, Ill.], “Mark has been a prophetic voice in the ELCA and globally regarding the need for a just resolution of the Middle East conflict. He refused to be quiet even when it was not popular to speak on behalf of the Palestinians.” He noted Brown’s ability to promote cooperation among disparate groups while not compromising standards of justice.

“I give thanks to God for the gift of Mark Brown, who has been a faithful advocate on behalf of the oppressed and a champion for the poor and powerless,” wrote Ailabouni.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Bethlehem Update December 2007

There is so much to report about conditions in the Bethlehem area.
Mapping Palestinian Christians in the West Bank
The International Center of Bethlehem (ICB) - - announces ... 
...a new, exciting initiative that will begin the path toward developing a strategic plan for Christians and Christianity not only to survive, but to thrive here in Palestine.  Based at the ICB complex, this new project hopes to fill the gap in what is known about the Palestinian Christian community in the West Bank, and eventually in Gaza and Israel as well.  We plan, together with the National Coalition of Christian Organisations in Palestine (NCCOP), Jerusalem Interchurch Center (JIC), and other partner organisations to investigate and map Palestinian Christian communities and organisations, gather information from Palestinian Christians on their resources, needs, hopes and concerns, and provide a forum for discussion and development of new structures and initiatives.
We hope that, through this mapping exercise, this initiative will increase awareness among Palestinian Christians of their own needs and capabilities, individually and as a community, and lead to further development and cooperation, and eventually to greater civic participation.  This project will be headed up by Rifat Odeh Kassis, who has recently come to join us at DIYAR.  Mr. Kassis is the president of the international council of Defence for Children International, and worked most recently in Geneva with the World Council of Churches.

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs sent an action alert Dec. 13 regarding a London Times article by columnist Michael Gove. []

Please make your views known regarding a brief but deeply flawed article in the London Times by columnist Michael Gove, published on December 11, 2007, entitled “Bethlehem and Bigotry.” (It’s at the end of his column.) Groves is a Conservative Member of Parliament as well as a frequent contributor to The Times and BBC broadcasts.
Gove’s comments are easily and factually rebutted by reading a special report about Bethlehem Christians, published in the January/February 2006 Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, pp. 16-19, “Bethlehem Voices: Hopes and Fears.” -

Please also see a report entitled “Costs of Conflict: The Changing Face of Bethlehem,” published in December 2004 by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and the Office of the Special Coordinator for the Peace Process in the Middle East (UNSCO). [ ]  Extracts from the report are available at:

Write to The Times and Michael Gove to make your views known. Palestinian Christians please show that he does not speak on your behalf. Write to, and/or post your comment in the feedback section at the end of the article. ... The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, PO Box 53062, Washington DC 20009,  [], published by the American Educational Trust.

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See this month's edition of National Geographic
National Geographic magazine features a beautiful article on Bethlehem in the December 2007 issue:

I have some quibbles with the text and the pull-quotes, but the photographs are astounding.

The article begins:

"This is not how Mary and Joseph came into Bethlehem, but this is how you enter now. You wait at the wall. It's a daunting concrete barricade, three stories high, thorned with razor wire. Standing beside it, you feel as if you're at the base of a dam. Israeli soldiers armed with assault rifles examine your papers. They search your vehicle. No Israeli civilian, by military order, is allowed in. And few Bethlehem residents are permitted out—the reason the wall exists here, according to the Israeli government, is to keep terrorists away from Jerusalem.

"Bethlehem and Jerusalem are only six miles apart (ten kilometers), though in the compressed and fractious geography of the region, this places them in different realms. It can take a month for a postcard to go from one city to the other. Bethlehem is in the West Bank, on land taken by Israel during the Six Day War of 1967. It's a Palestinian city; the majority of its 35,000 residents are Muslim. In 1900, more than 90 percent of the city was Christian. Today Bethlehem is only about one-third Christian, and this proportion is steadily shrinking as Christians leave for Europe or the Americas. At least a dozen suicide bombers have come from the city and surrounding district. The truth is that Bethlehem, the "little town" venerated during Christmas, is one of the most contentious places on Earth."

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George N. Rishmawi of the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement between People (PCR) writes:

This Year, the Christmas comes in the same week of Eid Al-Adha and allPalestinians, Christians and Muslims celebrate together.

In Beit Sahour, the Palestinian Centre for Rapprochement between People [] and theMunicipality of Beit Sahour have joined efforts to organize a three-dayfestival December 21 – 23, 2007, which will include the Annual CandleProcession for this year which will be held under the title “Light A Candle for a Just Peace” to affirm to all the world that what Palestinians need is aJust Peace a true peace that is based on retrieving the rights of those whose rights are violated.

In addition the festival will also include the lightening of the Christmas tree in Beit Sahour and a number of folklore groups and local singers and musicians, in addition to children activities.

The program is also available at

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U.S. Volunteers Join With Palestinian Musicians for Bethlehem Concert; Christmas Eve Performance in Bethlehem to be Largest Event in Manger Square Since 1999

COLUMBUS, Mississippi (Dec.  10, 2007) -- An all-volunteer U.S. group of professional, collegiate and church musicians and choir singers from seven states will join with Palestinian musicians to perform the first major Christmas Eve concert in Bethlehem's Manger Square since 1999.

The more than 150-voice chorus traveling at their own expense from the United States will join with 20 singers based in Jerusalem and members of The Palestine Youth Orchestra (PYO) of the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music.  Along with world-class operatic performers, led by renowned conductors Dr. Robert McBain and Dr. Eric Thorson, the choir and orchestra will perform portions of Handel's Messiah to deliver a simple message of "Peace on earth, good will to all."

"While the music is the traditional Christmas music of Handel and John Rutter, the presence of the singers, orchestra and soloists transcends the differences existing among peoples of the world, and unites us in friendship and hope in this deeply symbolic season," said organizer Rev. Sam Morris, senior pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Columbus, Miss., and adjunct professor at the Jerusalem Institute for Biblical Exploration (J.I.B.E.).  Morris conceived the idea and engaged with friends and colleagues to coordinate what officially has been dubbed the "Prepare the Way Concert Tour 2007: Peace on Earth, Good Will to All."

"With the hope of a just peace looming on the horizon, it is time to 'prepare the way,'" said Rev. Morris.  "One of the world's greatest tenors, Stuart Neill, will sing those very words on Christmas Eve to a world watching and waiting for peace." 
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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Pay Attention to Gaza

I want to continue to be attentive to Gaza. Here I try to present a few items and sources for information that I find helpful. Ann

Saleh Al-Naami may have foreseen something, given Israel's push into the Gaza Strip this week, when he wrote "Countdown to the offensive" - "Israel is waiting callously for the Annapolis meeting to pass before wreaking intended destruction on Gaza," he wrote in Al Ahram:

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel issued an appeal for medical supplies that can be found at the PHR-Israel web site:

This is the introduction: "The prolonged siege imposed by the Israeli government on Gaza, the closing of its borders, the tightening of policies regarding permission to exit Gaza for medical purposes, and the severe shortage of medications and other medical supplies all severely damage the Palestinian health system and endanger the lives and health of thousands of Palestinian patients.

"This severe crisis calls for an extraordinary response on the part of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-Israel) that is separate from our routine activities. For this reason we intend to implement the following emergency actions:

"- Emergency aid dispatch of humanitarian supplies and a delegation of doctors from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-Israel) to Gaza. The aims of this act: emergency aid, even if limited; documentation and dissemination of reliable information regarding the medical situation in Gaza; expression of protest and solidarity with the residents of the Gaza Strip under siege. In order to receive permission for this act we will probably also need to use legal action.

"- Advocacy: representation of dozens of patients applying to our offices each month, whose access to Israel or passage through it for purposes of medical care is denied for “security reasons;” a campaign against the policies of the General Security Service (GSS, shabac) whereby patients are compelled to inform on others as a condition for permission to access medical care. These campaigns will be implemented using litigation and media, targeting Israeli and international audiences."

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) issued this announcement, "IOF Impose additional Collective Punishment Measures and Reduce Gaza's Fuel Supply - 70% of the Strip's Fuel Stations Shutdown and the Humanitarian Crisis Deepens -

"PCHR strongly condemns the decision by Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) on Wednesday (28 November) for a new reduction in the supply of fuel to the Gaza Strip, which already suffers from serious shortages in fuel. The Centre calls upon the international community, especially the High Contracting Parties of the Fourth Geneva Convention, as well as UN organizations and international humanitarian organizations to intervene immediately to force IOF to stop this decision. This intervention is necessary to avert a humanitarian crisis threatening all aspects of civilian life including the functioning of healthcare facilities, drinking water wells, and sewage
disposal. The fuel cuts threaten to impact the operation of several sectors including health services, environmental services, transportation, education, commerce, industrial production, and agriculture.

"It is noted that this decision is preempted a pending decision by the Israeli High Court on a petition submitted by PCHR and several human rights organizations against the IOF decision on 25 October 2007 to reduce the fuel and electricity supplies to the Strip. The Israeli High Court held a session today to review the petition. However, the decision was delayed.

"Sources in the Association of Owners of Petrol and Gas Companies and Fuel Stations" indicated that the Association rejected receipt of the fuel amounts delivered on Wednesday, 28 November 2007, due to the new reductions implemented by the Israeli supplier, Dor Alon Co. The Israeli company informed the Association of reducing the daily fuel supply to Gaza to 90,000 liters of kerosene, 25,000 liters of benzene, and 100 tons of natural gas. The Association's board held a meeting yesterday, and replied to the Israeli supplier that it rejects receipt of such amounts, citing that the reduction will result in a humanitarian crisis on all aspects of civilian life.

"As a result, nearly 70% of the Strips fuel stations (approximately 100 out of 145) shutdown on this afternoon after their stock of fuel ran out. The remaining stations are expected to close tomorrow evening." [For the complete report go to the web page:]

For more information ... E-mail:; webpage:

OCHA's Protection Civilians Weekly Report, 21-27 November 2007, presents a litany of incidents. Honestly, it is a fascinating and sorrowful exercise to read through this lengthy report:

Here is an excerpt specific to Gaza:

"Of note this week - Gaza Strip:
· The IDF killed eight Palestinians and injured 20 others in the Gaza Strip. Of those injured, 12 were in the North Gaza governorate.
· A mother of seven children from Nuseirat refugee camp died on 24 November due to deterioration in her health condition after she was denied access through Erez to receive medical treatment in an Israeli hospital.
· 31 Qassams and 61 mortars were fired toward Israel. In addition, 11 mortars were fired at IDF soldiers inside the Gaza Strip.
· During the reporting period, the IDF carried out levelling and excavation operations near Erez crossing and the former Erez Inudstrial Zone. As of 27 November, the IDF military operation is ongoing and roads near Erez crossing remain inaccessible.
· Although the GoI announced that Sufa crossing will be re-opened on 25 November, the crossing continues to be closed. This week, however, shipments of lamb were exceptionally allowed entry through Sufa into Gaza on 22 November.
· Nine demonstrations were organised this week: four of which were to protest against the closure of the Gaza crossings; one to protest against the non-issuance of Palestinian ID cards by the Israeli authorities; one to demand that the right of return of Palestinian refugees be respected by negotiators at the Annapolis conference; and three to express opposition for the Annapolis conference."

The Palestinian-Israeli Peace NGO Forum is a network of Palestinian and Israeli NGOs working towards peaceful relations. One feature of their web page is a "Media Monitor." Here is the most recent posting from the Palestinian media:

Included is this report from Gaza:
Palestinian Media Monitor, November 27th – December 4th
Gaza and Hamas

Gaza Strip hospitals face "humanitarian disaster" due to fuel shortage, Health Ministry says
Hospitals in the Gaza Strip have been forced to shut down their emergency power generators, resulting in a looming “humanitarian disaster” due to Israel’s severe reductions in fuel supplies, said Muawiya Hassanein, the director of ambulance and emergency services in the Palestinian Health Ministry.

The power cut will result in the destruction of millions of dollars of crucial vaccines and food supplies.

Hassanein said the Gaza Strip’s major hospitals, including Ash-Shifa in Gaza City, the European Hospital in Rafah, and Nasser hospital in Khan Younis are already short on fuel.

The shortage is harming intensive care units, dialysis centers, and operating rooms.

The Israeli High Court upheld the government’s decision to reduce fuel supplies to the Gaza Strip on Friday, defeating a petition by Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups. Israel has gradually reduced deliveries since June to between one quarter and one half of normal levels.

Ahmad Bahar, the acting speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) called on Arab and Muslim states to work towards removing the crippling sanctions imposed on the Gaza Strip by Israel.

[The home page for the Forum is:]

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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Advent 2007 Reflection by Jean Zaru

Friends of Sabeel - North America shared this greeting from Jean Zaru, a Palestinian Christian who lives in Ramallah. She is a Quaker and serves on the board of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center.

Advent 2007

Dear Friends,

It is a delight to wake up in this season and enjoy the birds singing. They seem to love the black olives on my tree in the courtyard. They are constantly singing in spite of the bitterness of the olives. They call other birds to share with them the food, and the whole community of these birds is celebrating. These birds and their positive energy remind me of Mary, mother of Jesus.

Mary, our lady of Palestine, looks unblinkingly at the realities of life lived daily under empire. That is, she bears witness to the rich oppressing the poor, the powerful lording over the weaker ones, the erection of walls of exclusion and confiscation, the stealing and demolishing of homes, the confiscation of lands, the violation of water rights, the restrictions on freedom of movement, and the denial of access to holy sites.

Standing in the shadow of empire, Mary saw with clarity and bore witness; she sang to God our savior. And she still sings today with full throated confidence in God’s deliverance for the captives and release for those living under lawless oppression. God will, Mary proclaims, turn the world upside down, bring down mountains, and raise valleys. God will be merciful and strong in ways we do not yet see; empire will be brought down and a new human community of all God’s people will rise up.

“And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
For the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
He has scattered the proud in the
thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
And lifted up the lowly;
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty…’” ( Luke 1: 46-53)

After 40 years of occupation and denial of all our basic rights, how can I continue in joyful witness and singing like Mary?

In Luke’s account, the unwed Mary does not remain isolated with her anxieties, but seeks support from another woman, Elizabeth. Filled with the Holy Spirit who exalts the violated, the two women rejoice in God’s liberating action. In the Magnificat, the pregnant Mary enunciates God’s salvation to the humiliated and downtrodden.

The future of the peace and wellness that God provides to all without exception is not to be awaited passively. Rather, it is being born in us today, from our flesh and blood, from our commitments and struggles for justice. It becomes the hope for those who do not have hope.

We remember that Jesus opened his public ministry in another program of hope.

“`The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed meto bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’” (Luke 4:18).

It was addressed to the poor, the prisoners, the blind and the broken victims. Yes, Friends how then can I keep from singing?

Friends, your gift of friendship is one of the greatest gifts I received. You brightened my days by joining me to light candles of joy, despite all sadness, and candles of hope where despair keeps watch, and candles of love to inspire all my living.

I will light the candle of fellowship this season; I know that the experiences of unity in human relations are more compelling than the concepts and prejudices which divide us. Life keeps coming on, keeps seeking to fulfill it self, and keeps affirming the possibility of hope.

May this Christmas season be a time of renewal of our commitment and hope! With all my best wishes and great gratitude to each and every one of you for your partnership, accompaniment, and love.

Jean Zaru
Clerk, Ramallah Friends Meeting
Ramallah, Palestine

Jean Zaru is a Palestinian Christian from Ramallah (West Bank) and a founding member of Sabeel in Jerusalem. She is a spiritual leader in the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), member of the International Council of the World Conference for Religion and Peace, former president of the Jerusalem YWCA, author of A Christian Palestinian Life: Faith and Struggle and Overcoming Direct and Structural Violence: Truth and Peacemaking in the Palestinian Experience. [She served as a member of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and a member of the Working Group on Interfaith Dialogue of the WCC.]

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For a profile and interview with Jean Zaru, go to the web page of the World Council of Churches' Ecunemical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel:

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Sunday, December 2, 2007

Matt Duss writes on Sabeel's History of Nonviolence

Returning once more to the terrific Sabeel Conference in Boston (October 2007) , it was great to meet Matthew Duss there. He has written an excellent analysis for The American Prospect, entitled "A History of Nonviolence."

The article is at:

A History of Nonviolence

Matthew Duss
November 15, 2007

Palestinian leader Naim Ateek has long advocated nonviolence as the only way to secure peace between Israel and Palestine. So why is he so despised by hard-line Israel supporters?

"The Palestinians need to become really conscious of and sensitive to the horror of the Holocaust. ...We must understand the importance and significance of the Holocaust to the Jews, while insisting that the Jews understand the tragedy of Palestine for the Palestinians."
- Rev. Canon Naim Ateek, founder of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem

"Naim Ateek had just turned 11 when forces of the Haganah, the pre-Israel Zionist paramilitary organization, occupied his village of Beisan in Palestine. Days later, the villagers were informed that they were to be "evacuated," forcibly moved off land that Palestine's Jewish minority now claimed for its own state. Ordered to gather in the village center, the Ateeks took what they could carry, and joined the other frightened families, all clutching heirlooms, photographs, jewelry, and awaiting an uncertain future, away from the homes in and lands on which their families had lived for generations.

It is perhaps surprising then, that even after this experience of forcible dispossession, and even after the shock of the 1967 war, in which thousands more Palestinians were displaced and the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem came under military occupation, even after years of witnessing and enduring brutality at the hands of Israeli soldiers and settlers, Ateek has been a constant advocate of nonviolence as the only course for Palestinian independence. A parish minister to Palestine's small Christian community since 1966, Ateek founded the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in 1989 for the purpose of developing a theology to help Palestinians cope with and overcome the daily oppression and injustice they continue to endure as a subject population under military occupation."

[See the complete article at]

The comments that follow the Duss article provide some interesting reading too. I don't remember if I've seen the "Tikun Olam" web site before, but this connection is insightful:

And I'm familiar with Eileen Fleming's "We Are Wide Awake" - Http:// - good to see her connecting.

Advent blessings of hope, Ann Hafften

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