Thursday, June 5, 2008

Pastor Arland Jacobson's travel report

Pastor Arland Jacobson of the Charis Center in Moorhead - - led a group visiting the Holy Land over Orthodox Holy Week. They arrived back in Minneapolis Monday the 5th. Courtesy of Charles Lutz, here are (slightly abridged) reflection highlights from Arland, shared May 7. I've added some links. Thank you, Arland, for your thoughts.

Beginning with the positive... I was honored to concelebrate mass at the Melkite Catholic Church in Bethlehem and to assist in the baptism of the grandson of Micheal Zoughbi on Sunday, April 27. The priest kindly helped me in negotiating the Arabic service, asking me to read a number of parts in English.

This was the second time I have done this. Melkites are an Eastern Rite church using a somewhat abbreviated version of the Orthodox liturgy of Chrysostom; they are in communion with Rome, but maintain a number of Orthodox traditions (e.g., a married clergy).

Our group included three Egyptian-Americans with American passports, one of whom was detained by Israeli security for FIVE hours at the Allenby Bridge crossing. I sat with the three helplessly while the young Israelis, mostly young women, VERY slowly processed us and a few other detainees for hours for no apparent reason. We were never told why. I was questioned as well. The rest of the group continued while we were detained; we took a taxi later to meet them in Jerusalem.

I came away with two main impressions. First, the Christians we met with (Melkite Archbishop of Galilee, Elias Chacour; Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan; Lutheran pastor Mitri Raheb; director of the Wi'am Center for Non-violent Conflict Resolution, Zoughbi Zoughbi; and ELCA pastor Mark Holman) took the same basic point of view, with varying accents. Namely, we refuse to be defined by our victimhood, and to wallow in pity or resentment; we will maintain a defiant hope despite the enormous obstacles presented by the Israeli occupation; and we will be non-violent, but very active in doing constructive work on behalf of our people.

One of my biggest surprises was a visit to Dheisheh Refugee Camp in Bethlehem -

On the previous visit, the elderly head man graciously hosted us, but talked only of the problems they had. Now, a new generation of (almost certainly Muslim) young men has taken over. They are organizing dozens of groups of youth, women, and the elderly to do things for themselves. [For more see] The change in spirit was stunning. I wonder if they have been inspired by the work of Mitri Raheb, who is developing an amazing number of programs and institutions that are progressive and effective in helping the community.

My second impression was negative. All these wonderful and brave efforts, while improving the lives of people living under occupation, are doing nothing to change the basic situation. Israel's apartheid system is getting solidified, and talk of some kind of peace agreement by the end of the year is totally meaningless (even if it happens). It is not just the Wall, ugly and horrible as it is. Israel is developing myriad ways to keep Israeli Jews and West Bank Palestinians separate and grossly unequal--roads, walls, fences, checkpoints, systems of "justice," etc. They use whichever of the at least five systems of law (Ottoman, British, Jordanian, Israeli military, Israeli civil) that works to their benefit--or simply change the laws to suit them.

It is clear to me that Israel's intention from the very beginning (i.e., pre-1948 on) has been the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, the takeover of every possible inch of land in the West Bank, and a deliberate policy of making life as miserable as possible for Palestinians. The idea of trying to suppress "terrorism" or resistance by helping to BUILD Palestinian society and to develop collaborately has NEVER been Israel's aim, though it would have been much more effective than the brutal and racist system they are using. The number of Palestinian CHILDREN killed since the beginning of the second Intifada began in Sept. 2000 has now climbed past 1,000!

While we were there, Israel was in the process of destroying an orphanage in Hebron serving 240 children because the organization running it supposedly provided funding for a group Israel doesn't like. [news report at] Israel stole $157,000 worth of goods (including rice, oil, sugar, clothing, etc.) from the organization's warehouse, destroyed the oven in their bakery, etc. The theft of land continues unabated, as does the rape of the land (the destruction of olive and other orchards, the flattening of hills, the destruction of ancient terraces).

Israel has no interest in peace, except the "peace" of submission to systemic and brutal oppression, the "peace" of death and of apathetic resignation. But Israel is smart: its apartheid system is one of slowly choking Palestinian life to death, mostly avoiding the blatant (and now largely forgotten) massacres and forced evacuations of 1947-48 and 1967. It loves the "peace process" because it presents to the world the mask of peaceful intentions, but it has no interest whatever--absolutely none--in doing what would be necessary for real peace with justice. Only extreme pressure from the U.S. is likely to make any difference, and I see no prospect of that from any of the presidential candidates, certainly not McCain or Clinton.

One more thing. Extreme pro-Israel groups in this country put out detailed accounts of how Palestinian schools are promoting hatred of Israel. But the principal of the Lutheran K-12 school in Bethlehem pointed out that Israel has to approve the curricula used in Palestinian schools (just as they control everything else), so the notion that Palestinian school curricula are promoting hatred is highly unlikely (which is not to say such hatred does not exist). Perhaps reports are based on curricula no longer in use.

Meanwhile, Israel's children are told in their schools that the whole land was given them by God, so Palestinians are wrongfully occupying the land. The vast majority of Israelis generally have not an inkling of what life is like for Palestinians, and an apartheid system insures that they will remain blissfully ignorant of anything except Palestinian resistance, always branded as "terrorism."

Inspired as I was by the Christians we met, I came away in despair, not only for Palestinians but for the hollowed hearts of Israeli Jews like the ones who detained a young Egyptian-American woman at the Allenby Bridge, or the ones who kill Palestinian children, bulldoze Palestinian homes (with residents sometimes still in them), or humiliate Palestinians at the many checkpoints within the West Bank and between the West Bank and Israel. Military occupation corrodes the hearts of those who enforce it as much as it does those who are its victims, making ever more unlikely any deviation from the present disastrous course.


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