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 - http://www.fosna.org/
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 - http://www.middleeastfellowship.org/
I've taken the liberty to add a few links to Ursula's report.
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. [http://www.refuz.org.il/]
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. [http://www.theparentscircle.com/]
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. [http://www.cpt.org/]
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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