Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Message from Ecumenical Accompanier Doug Whitmore

United Methodist Doug Whitmore of Kansas City is serving as an ecumenical accompanier in the World Council of Churches programme in Palestine. He has sent a number of journal notes. Here is one example. He is staying in the Palestinian village of Jayyous in the West Bank. Doug mingles serious reporting about human rights abuses with sweetly chatty notes about life with his EAPPI teammates. For reports and information about Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, go to

JAN 16 It's 5:00 pm here in Ramallah. I was planning to go back to Jayyous today but Valentina (*in the World Council of Churches Jerusalem office) sent all EAs an email that a world-renowned Quaker lady in Ramallah was giving a lecture at the Meeting House here at 4:30. Jean Zaru is her name and she was to speak about opposing Domination Systems. British EA Christopher, being a Quaker, wanted to hear her also. So we made arrangements and I reserved a hotel room at one recommended by Pauline of the staff. Christopher was to travel back to Janoun after the lecture because they need 2 people there overnight.

Anyway we arrived at the hotel at 2:30 and wanted to leave our luggage so I checked in. Then we walked a half-mile to Arafat's Memorial, which is quite nice, and took pictures. Then we walked back through the center of town and down Main Street to the Quaker Meeting House where Christopher had been to church one Sunday. There on the gate was a notice in magic marker that the lecture was postponed until next Wednesday. Apparently the 19 killed in Gaza yesterday caused a day of mourning and shops closed early.

JAN 17 I´m back in Jayyous using Tzegha´s computer as not ready to change settings on mine tonight. Jenny´s got a bad cold and in bed. Tomorrow the office staff is coming here for six hours.

This morning I traveled to Jit from Ramallah to help plant olive trees and my teammates were already there. Rabbi Arik Ascherman, head of Rabbis for Human Rights, was leading the effort and brought six or eight Israelis with him. We also had Palestinians from Jit and altogether must have been 25. We had half a dozen Israeli soldiers watching in case settlers came from their nearby outpost. The soldiers made it pretty clear they were more interested in helping the settlers than us.

We must have planted 60 twenty-inch high trees before Arik had a long phone conversation and let us EAs go. Before I arrived, more work had been done on the cold and very windy hilltop. We had great misgivings that as soon as the soldiers left the settlers would pull up the new plantings.

Back in Jayyous we were buying some falafel when a village youth told us an Israeli jeep was in town. Guilliam, EA from Tukarem, and I searched for the jeep and were directed by more young men and told to go quickly as the soldiers had a boy. We approached and found the youth seated in the back of the vehicle being questioned by a major or colonel. That was unusual to see a 45-year old officer on patrol because it´s mostly young soldiers that do that. Anyway, seems other boys had thrown stones at the jeep but this one had been sitting on steps and watching instead of going inside. He was being asked, I´m pretty sure, to give names of the throwers and was not cooperating. An older Palestinian man was on the scene and seemed to be translating or mediating. Eventually the boy was released to a brother not very happy with him. JAN 18 The Jerusalem staff could be showing up at any minute. Jenny feeling less congested. Tzegha and I went this morning to Falamya gate and then took naps.

Arik Ascherman is one of the best people over here. Seems to be well respected by Palestinians and EAs and Jewish peace people. I shook his hand and greeted him yesterday as I had a couple weeks ago at a synagogue service we attended. Told him I’d seen him in KC (*when Allan Abrams of Kansas City Brit Tzedek brought him to speak). One of our contacts, Zacharia, works for him.

Our landlord Abu Azzam´s son, a law professor in Nablus, was arrested at 2 AM a couple days ago by Israelis, of course. He is in a prison in Israel and I'm hoping they question and release him. His wife told us he is not political. She and the 5 children are staying here with Abu Azzam and his wife. We are going there for lunch as are some of Abu’s Israeli friends.

JAN 18 (later) Met with Jerusalem staff most of day and ate a big lunch at Abu Azzam's. Tonight the soldiers came at 10:00 and we went out in the street in our vests. A jeep stopped and a couple of armed soldiers got out and we asked them what was going on. They said it’s an army operation and that we had to go inside as it’s a curfew. After an hour people began appearing back out on the street so guess the curfew is over.

If you could see the BS these folks have to endure every day you would be glad we are trying to help them. This village of 3500 is getting poorer and poorer as 70 per cent have lost their income because of land and permit loss.

Don’t have to get up till 6:15 tomorrow which isn’t so bad.

JAN 19 Well, it's after 9 now and this is the night of getting up at 3:30. Tomorrow afternoon we go to Jerusalem for Israeli Exposure Week.

JAN 20 This morning we went to Qalqilya North. Same thing that between 5:00 and 6:30 the system of security checks gets the line of workers backed way up. Then between 6:30 and 7 it works down as fewer Palestinians come. We go home with cold feet and tired. Don't seem to be catching cold but nose drips a bit from cool conditions.

B'Tselem folks (*Israeli peace group) due here now for a meeting before we head off to Al Quds (Jerusalem).

Need to tell you about threats the army has made to mayor and people about what will happen if kids continue to throw rocks and things at the separation fences nearby. Like cut off water, electricity, shoot water tanks on houses, bring bulldozers to tear down, dig hole in road at entrance to village, etc. There, I told you. We'll pass this on to B'Tselem and you can pass it on to lists. Also threatening to shoot to kill instead of at the legs of youths. Real cheery stuff. When the army drives their vehicles around town it is as if they are intentionally provoking youths to throw stones at them.

JAN 20 (*later, from Jerusalem) Re your question, at Jayyous we have a three layer wire fence setup. One layer has enough electricity to send a message if disturbed. That may be the source of annoyance that rocks are setting off signals to some army control point, but this is a guess on my part. Will try to verify.

It's quarter to seven here so may head to hotel dining room for supper. You should be returning from church pretty soon. I miss BUMC (*our church, Broadway United Methodist) on Sundays and Wednesdays. Too bad we have to be away from people and places to really appreciate what we have at home. Sunday is by necessity a workday here.

JAN 20 (more) Had a good dinner with my teammates who are sharing a room down the hall. We like each other which is pretty remarkable considering the gaps in age, gender, nationality and communication technology ability. These two are whizzes on computers and complicated cell phones.

Luckily they don't seem to mind helping the old fart. Tell Molly (*our daughter) I enjoyed sharing the fancy chocolate bars with teammates and the office staff. Every one of them likes nice chocolate.

JAN 21 Try to find John Dugard's recent statement on Israel and gaza on line . If it hasn't been in national newspapers please forward to all the lists receiving our emails.(*summary in Britain's Guardian newspaper,,2019547,00.html) We just had our first session of Israeli Exposure Week. Met with about 8 Israeli young men mostly in their mid to late 20s. Well educated and of various politics. One was hard right and some were pretty reasonable and some in between. Had a two hour discussion divided into two groups, then half an hour back together, then all ate together at a nice restaurant. More discussion after dinner but don't think it changed anybody's mind.

Tomorrow we'll go to the Holocaust Museum [sic] and have lunch at their cafeteria. Of course you saw it on your IFPB (*Interfaith Peace Builders) tour.

JAN 22 Kind of a grim day here. We all bussed to Efrat settlement and listened to Bob Lang first thing this morning. He's a settler who lived his first 18 years in a suburb of New York City and his next 33 years establishing settlements around Bethlehem. His current residence is in a town of 9,000 in the Palestinian Territories {Occupied} within sight of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. He told us Jewish people lived there before 1948 and came back after the 1967 War when the Israeli Military took control of the area. He failed to mention that any Palestinians that had lived there are now kept behind sophisticated wire fences while settlements have greatly expanded. Actually he gave us all the rightwing settler spiel about Biblical claims and all the needed security which just happen to aid the taking of more and more Palestinian areas. Of course the settlers in the area have their own modern highways to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

In the afternoon we had lunch at the cafeteria of the Holocaust Museum and a worthwhile tour by Tamar Avraham, a peace activist and active member in Zochrot That was a very sobering 2 hours of how Hitler and the Nazis persecuted and killed around 6,000,000 European Jews between 1938 and 1945. This Yad Vashem Museum has actually collected about 3,000,000 names of victims and is trying to get more.

Many young Israeli military men and women were also taking tours as part of their training, helping motivate them to carry out their duties in the occupied territories.

Adding to the grimness was a rainy and foggy day. (...) Tomorrow we tour Kibbutz Mishmar Ha'emek and go on to stay at the St. Charles Guest House in Haifa.

(* additional information to which Doug refers about the situation in Jayyous at )

(*commentary from Israeli peace group the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions on the general situation “Don’t Say We Did Not Know”

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