Friday, October 30, 2009

'Because THEY are here," or The Olive Press-ure: keeping the farmers off-balance in the busy season

Ecumenical accompanier Elice Higginbotham writes: 'Because THEY are here," or The Olive Press-ure: keeping the farmers off-balance in the busy season

Elice has spent three months in Jayyous in the West Bank as an accompanier in the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) - check it out at this link:

Here is the opening portion of Elice's most recent blog post. Find it at

Olive cultivation is as old as history itself in this part of the world, well-known in biblical times and before. The agricultural lands of the West Bank, as they are in the late fall of every year, are consumed with olive-harvesting these days. Although it has been a dry year and this harvest is not expected to be good, it is nonetheless one of the more important income-producing times for the olive-growers of Jayyous and other agricultural towns and villages, and every family has kicked into full-bore harvest mode.

If a farmer with a permit to access lands behind the Separation Barrier can afford it, this is the time of year he will hire extra hands and seek permits for them many weeks in advance. Additional family members who are eligible make every effort to get a permit in this season; larger numbers of women are seen crossing through the gates. Carts, wagons, trucks carry extra water and food for the pickers. Schoolchildren spend their weekends in the fields with their parents, aunts, uncles and cousins. The number of people seeking to pass through the agricultural gates may double during these weeks.

It seems the worst possible season in which to make life unnecessarily difficult for a farmer. So our EA team was shocked and annoyed to discover that our South Agricultural Gate had been closed – “permanently,” according to the Humanitarian Hotline – about a week before the start of the harvest.

Read the full post at Elice in Palestine:

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Anna Baltzer and Mustafa Barghouti will appear on the Daily Show Wednesday

Tune to the Comedy Channel on Wednesday night when Anna Baltzer, Jewish-American lecturer and author, and Mustafa Barghouti, Palestinian social and political activist, will appear on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Oct. 28).

Here's the link to the Daily Show:

Baltzer is on the board of the Council for the National Interest (CNI) -

WASHINGTON, DC (October 27, 2009) -

Anna Baltzer, Jewish-American lecturer, author, and activist for Palestinian rights, will appear on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Wednesday, October 28th. The CNI Board Member and CNI: Jerusalem Calling host will be joined by Palestinian social and political activist Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, who finished second in the 2005 Palestinian presidential election

On her recent CNI: Jerusalem Calling broadcast, Baltzer was joined by former Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldier Micha Kurz, who was co-founder of the IDF soldiers' truth-telling group Breaking the Silence. The two discussed the role of IDF soldiers in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and reactions to regional issues concerning the peace process.

Listen to the archived podcast of their conversation by visiting:

Don't miss this Thursday's broadcast of CNI: Jerusalem Calling with Jeffrey Blankfort, hosted by Alison Weir from 12-1pm EST at

Jeffrey Blankfort was raised in a Jewish non-Zionist family. Blankfort produces radio programs on three stations and has written extensively on the Middle East. He was formerly the editor of the Middle East Labor Bulletin and co-founder of the Labor Committee of the Middle East.

In February 2002, Blankfort won a lawsuit against the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which was found to have had a vast spying operation directed against American citizens opposed to Israel's policies in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza, and the apartheid policies of the government of South Africa. Host Alison Weir is the head of "If Americans Knew", and a member of CNI's Board.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

The Role of the Media in Holy Land Conflict

Muslim, Christian and Jewish experts discuss the Role of the Media in Holy Land Conflict - 11th HCEF International Conference Oct. 24 in Washington, D.C. (Holyland Christian Ecumenical Foundation).

Does the media coverage advance or hinder the peace process? How impartial is the media? Does the Israeli military impact the coverage? Can the media be an instrument for dialogue in the peace process?

Three distinguished, long-time observers of the Middle East from film, print, and radio/TV media will debate these issues. They will examine how the media can be a strong positive or negative force in advancing the prospects for reconciliation and peace in the Holy Land. They will discuss how Israeli occupation policies restrict journalists' access to timely coverage of the events and lead to subtle forms of censorship. The critical duty of media for accuracy of coverage and analysis of the events will be examined.

Participating in the panel will be: Ronit Avni, internationally acclaimed producer and director of documentary films; Fr. Drew Christianson, S.J., author and educator, editor-in-chief of America Magazine; and Mohamed Elshinnawi, veteran radio/TV journalist of Voice of America. The panel will be moderated by Dr. Saliba Sarsar, Associate Vice-President, Monmouth University, NJ.

The panel will discuss these issues during the 11th HCEF International Conference co-hosted by and held at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, DC on Saturday, October 24, 2009. Visit online at

Register for the conference:

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

ELCA bishops write to President Obama: Remain firm in your commitment to a just peace

The bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) sent a letter to President Obama yesterday expressing "profound concern" and detailing the areas in which "bold U.S. leadership" is needed: an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and to Palestinian violence against Israelis, the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Here is a link to ELCA News coverage:

Lots of resources are linked from the ELCA Conference of Bishops webpage:

In November another group of ELCA bishops will visit the church in the Holy Land.

Here is the letter:

October 13, 2009

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

As bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), we write to express our deep appreciation for your timely and courageous leadership in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian impasse and applaud your recent meeting with President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu.
We strongly urge you to remain firm in your commitment to achieving a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The U.S. plays a key role in negotiating necessary compromises and in holding both Israel and the Palestinian Authority to their obligations.

We express profound concern at the stalemate that persists and at the fading hopes for a two-state solution due to the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

It is our firm belief that a just resolution is within reach if the United States remains unwavering in its determination to help the parties finally reach agreement.

The ELCA has a long-standing relationship with our Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) which includes congregations, schools, vocational training, medical care, and social services in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Jordan. Additionally, we have a vigorous affiliation with the Lutheran World Federation whose many projects include Augusta Victoria Hospital, located in East Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives.

These commitments lead us to write to you at this critical juncture to express our conviction that now is the time for bold U.S. leadership. We urge the U.S. to insist upon an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land as well as an end to Palestinian violence against Israelis. We raise before you our concern that the continued growth of settlements and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza are immediate impediments toward finding a just peace. The ELCA has long called for a halt to settlements, and we reiterate that call now with a deep sense of urgency. The suffering of people in Gaza who are unable to obtain adequate food, clean water, necessary medical attention, and building supplies due to the border closures must be alleviated now. The deteriorating conditions in Gaza make a resumption of violence more likely; however opening the borders in a carefully monitored way that respects Israel’s security needs will contribute to the well being of Palestinians in Gaza and the safety of Israelis in Sderot.

We continue to offer you our support and prayers as we hold fast to the hope that this region of turmoil can be a land where all of God’s children dwell in peace.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

EAPPI News: House demolitions, evictions, denial of Palestinian's basic freedoms

The e-newsletter of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel arrived recently. Here's a link:

EAPPI News July-September 2009

EAPPI presents the third edition this year of our web-based newsletter, covering the period July-September 2009.

Recent diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict in the Holy Land have taken place against the grinding daily reality of occupation. House demolitions, evictions of whole families and denial of the basic freedoms of Palestinians have continued to strangle life in the Occupied Territories as well as damaging the fabric of Israeli society. EAs continue to stand with Israelis and Palestinians campaigning for peace, working to expose the brutality of the occupation and supporting those who seek justice and human rights for all.

Also included:

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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Iowa Sabeel Conference: A Free Palestine and a Secure Israel

This is a late notice of an important event, the Sabeel Conference in Cedar Falls, Iowa: A Free Palestine and a Secure Israel: From Occupation to Liberation and Reconciliation

October 9-10, 2009
Schindler Education Center
University of Northern Iowa Campus
Cedar Falls, Iowa

Registration includes all presentations, workshops & Saturday box lunch; does not include Friday Middle Eastern banquet. Price: $90.00. Saturday program includes box lunch.

Friday Night Banquet is a Middle Eastern meal, served on campus (a limit of 250 reservations will be accepted) $25.

Contact with special dietary needs, special requests or requirements needed (mobility, hearing, etc.).

The presenters:

Naim Ateek
Palestinian Anglican Canon, the founder/director of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem []. The author of A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation.

Fahed Abu-Akel
Former moderator of the Presbyterian Church USA. Helped to found the PCUSA Middle Eastern Caucus. Founder of Atlanta Ministry with International Students Inc.

Luai Amro
President of the Islamic Center of Des Moines, a growing and diverse community for over 40 years.

Anna Baltzer
Volunteer with the International Women’s Peace Service and is the author of the Witness in Palestine. Committed to sharing eyewitness experiences from the West Bank:

Phyllis Bennis
A Fellow with the Institute for Policy Studies, analyst and activist on Middle East and UN issues. Phyllis is the author of numerous books focused on Middle East issues, including Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer.

Jeff Halper
Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions in Jerusalem, dedicated to rebuilding Palestinian homes and resisting the occupation in all of its forms. Author of An Israeli in Palestine: Resisting Dispossession, Redeeming Israel.

Jonathan Kuttab
A member of the bar in Israel, Palestine and New York, Kuttab is an expert in international law. Jonathan co-founded the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence and the Mandela Institute for Political Prisoners.

Don Wagner
Professor and Director of North Park University’s Center for Middle East Studies, seeking to foster awareness, understanding and reconciliation among peoples of the Abrahamic tradition. Author of Anxious for Armageddon: A Call to Partnership for Middle Eastern and Western Christians.

Friends of Sabeel North America:

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

CMEP: Support Hands-on U.S. Leadership to bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to an End!

Churches for Middle East Peace urges: Don't Accept the Status Quo!

Add your name to show the president you support comprehensive Middle East peace:

Support Hands-on U.S. Leadershipto bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to an End!

September 28, 2009

On September 22, President Obama held tri-lateral meetings on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas to try and jump start final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

In response to this effort, Christian leaders from a variety of traditions, along with a diverse group of ethnic and religious leaders, issued a statement of priciples supporting strong U.S. leadership to acheive a negotiated, sustainable resolution to the conflict.

The opportunity to change the status quo is here now! Don't waste this precious moment! Add your name to show the president you support comprehensive Middle East peace:

Text of Statement:

Letter in Support of a Comprehensive Middle East Peace:
An American National Interest Imperative

We come from varied ethnic backgrounds and religious faiths that are diverse. We are Democrats and Republicans. We are veterans of war and of the struggle for peace. Together, we are all Americans.

We find common cause in supporting strong U.S. leadership to achieve a negotiated, sustainable resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict - a fundamental American interest that crosses racial, ethnic and religious lines.

We support President Obama's determination to provide sustained, hands-on diplomatic leadership to bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to an end through the creation of two viable, secure and independent states living side by side in peace and security.

The President has made resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a top priority since his very first day in office, and we commend his leadership. We applaud the vision the President has laid out for peace in the Middle East and the challenge he has laid down to all of us to help work for peace and a more positive future for the people of the region and the world.

This is a moment of great opportunity and urgency. After decades of tragic conflict, many Israelis and Palestinians despair of the possibility of peace. While the international community and majorities of the Israeli and Palestinian people are committed to a two-state solution as the best option for achieving peace and security, the window of opportunity is rapidly closing.

We express our support for U.S. leadership to chart a path to a better future and to the following principles:

• We support both Israel's right to exist in security and the right of the Palestinian people to a viable, sovereign and secure state of their own.

• A peace agreement will need to fulfill UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 and resolve critical issues of importance to the parties including refugees, borders, Jerusalem, settlements, and security.

• The Israelis and Palestinians, however, have not - on their own - been able to reach agreement. After nearly two decades of negotiations, we believe bold American leadership can help Israelis and Palestinians make the difficult decisions necessary to achieve lasting peace and hold the parties to account should they fail to honor their commitments.

• We support the sense of real urgency that the President brings to the issue and his determination to reach a negotiated resolution to the conflict during his first term in office.

• At the appropriate time, we will support the Administration if it decides to present proposals for a just and equitable solution that provides dignity, security and sovereignty for both peoples.

• Finally, we believe a peace agreement should be comprehensive - encompassing Syria and Lebanon as well as normalization of relations between Israel and the countries of the Arab world. We support the idea of a comprehensive regional peace that builds on the Arab Peace Initiative, with its offer of recognition and normalization of relations between Israel and all Arab nations in exchange for resolution of all outstanding issues.

Both sides must take steps to move the process forward, and we support the President's efforts to end Israeli settlement growth and to halt Palestinian violence and incitement. It is now time to move to the next stage of diplomacy and to address the tough issues that must be resolved to bring this conflict to an end.

There are many who will attempt to block the path to peace. They may believe that the status quo favors their interests or that time is on their side. The President should know that we understand the status quo is unsustainable and time is of the essence. We will stand with him as he promotes a fair and just resolution to this long-standing conflict and asks all parties to make the difficult but ultimately necessary compromises for peace.

We pledge to work with the President, to forge the path to peace and security for the Middle East. We also pledge to work with those in both societies who seek peace, justice, and security, and to stand up for those who hope for a better future for themselves and for the generations that follow.

Frank Anderson
Former Chief, Southeast Asian Division, CIA
President, Middle East Policy Council

Dr. Ziad Asali
President, American Task Force on Palestine

Robert Barkin
President, Jewish Reconstructionist Federation

Jeremy Ben-Ami
Executive Director, J Street

Ambassador Warren Clark
Executive Director, Churches for Middle East Peace

Debra DeLee
President, Americans for Peace Now

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson
Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
President, Lutheran World Federation

Father Theodore Hesburgh
President Emeritus, Notre Dame University

The Most Rev. Howard J. Hubbard
Bishop of Albany
Chairman, Committee on International Justice and Peace United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Dr. Joel C. Hunter
Senior Pastor, Northland Church
Member, Executive Committee of the National Association of Evangelicals

Rev. Bill Hybels
Senior Pastor, Willow Creek Community Church

Lynne Hybels
Advocate for Global Engagement, Willow Creek Community Church

Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon
General Secretary, National Council of Churches

Rabbi Peter Knobel
Former President, Central Conference of American Rabbis

Rabbi Charles Kroloff
Former President, Central Conference of American Rabbis

Salam Al-Marayati
Executive Director, Muslim Public Affairs Council

Rev. John McCullough
Executive Director and CEO, Church World Service

Rev. Peter Morales
President, United Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick
Archbishop Emeritus of Washington

David Neff
Editor in Chief, Christianity Today

Stanley J. Noffsinger
General Secretary, Church of the Brethren

Rev. Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (USA)

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf
Imam of Masjid al-Farah, New York City

Dr. Bob Roberts, Jr.
Senior Pastor, NorthWood Church, Dallas, TX

Hon. George R. Salem, Esq.
Chairman, Arab-American Institute Strategic Advisor, DLA Piper LLP

Rolando Santiago
Executive Director, Mennonite Central Committee

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate, The Episcopal Church

Ron Sider
President, Evangelicals for Social Action

Rev. John Thomas
General Minister and President, United Church of Christ

Dr. James Zogby
President, Arab American Institute

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For more about Churches for Middle East Peace go to

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Helena Cobban writes about `A Week of Dimming Peace Prospects'

After all the analysis of last week's meetings, this piece by Helena Cobban sums up pretty well President Obama's struggle toward a peace process. We found it at

US-MIDEAST: A Week of Dimming Peace Prospects

WASHINGTON, Sep 25 (IPS) - Eight months after Barack Obama launched his presidency by promising a speedy push for Palestinian-Israeli peace, that effort has stalled badly. And there are now growing fears that the top levels of Obama's peace team are torn by internal disagreements that may undermine the whole peace effort.

Some of these problems were on view during two high-level appearances Obama made in New York this week.

On Tuesday, speaking to the media after the three-way meeting he held with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Obama notably avoided saying anything about the failure of the high-profile campaign he and his chief peace envoy, George Mitchell, have pursued to "persuade" the Israeli government to stop building settlement housing in the occupied West Bank.

Obama instead announced a new project: the resumption of the long-suspended negotiations between the parties over the terms of their final peace.

Most observers - in Palestine, Israel, and the U.S. - interpreted Tuesday's events as marking two distinct victories for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Obama had in effect been forced to abandon his campaign for a settlement freeze. And Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the interim Palestinian Authority (PA), was forced to meet with Netanyahu despite previously vowing he would not negotiate with him until the freeze was in place.

For some pro-peace Americans, one bright spot in Tuesday's encounter was that Obama spelled out to the media that peace is a key interest not just for the parties directly involved, but also for the United States.

In his big speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday, Obama pledged his public commitment to the pursuit - though tellingly, not the speedy attainment - of a "just and lasting peace between Israel, Palestine, and the Arab world."

He also said, "We continue to emphasise that America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements."

However, numerous commentators in both the Arab world and in Israel's much-diminished "peace camp" noted that since Obama has never moved beyond words in his push to freeze settlement construction, there seemed little reason to hope he would do so in his pursuit of the broader peace settlement, either.

Meanwhile, there have been worrying signs of discord among the team consisting of Obama and top peace-team members. One well-connected Arab observer told IPS that he judged that Obama's shift in focus from the settlement freeze to the final-status issue signaled the president's frustration with the approach that Mitchell has used until now.

This observer said he judged Mitchell had paid too much attention to pushing for the settlement freeze, which was only ever seen as an interim step. It was described by Mitchell and others as part of a package - along with some sweeteners from Arab states -that would help build initial confidence between the parties.

But both Netanyahu and the most powerful Arab states balked at providing what Mitchell asked for. Meanwhile, many valuable months have been wasted - months during which settlement building has continued with little pause.

The Arab observer said his understanding of Mitchell's approach, as demonstrated in his successful mediation in Northern Ireland in the 1990s, was that it involved having negotiators from the warring parties participate in lengthy face-to-face encounters during which their fears and distrust could slowly be melted away.

Another Washington analyst has observed that that approach may have been helpful in Northern Ireland, or South Africa, where the aim was to help warring parties find a way to live together over the long term within a single state.

"But in the case of Israel and Palestine, we're talking about a divorce," she said. "All these two need to talk about is the terms of that divorce, and how to do it in a way that works."

Additional evidence of high-level discord in the White House came in an interview Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, gave to television host Charlie Rose Wednesday night.

Just the day before, Obama had spelled out that peace is "in the interests of the United States". But Emanuel told Rose a couple of times that the U.S. "can't want peace more than [the parties] want it".

That was a formula frequently used during the Clinton and Bush II administrations to signify that, if a difference should emerge between Washington and Israel over the peace diplomacy, then Washington would back down.

Regarding the next steps in the U.S.-led diplomacy, Obama said Tuesday that he had asked Netanyahu and Abbas to send their negotiators to Washington "next week", and he had asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to report to him on the status of these negotiations in mid-October.

Maan News reported from Israeli-occupied Bethlehem today that Abbas's top negotiator, Saeb Erakat, would be participating in the talks, due to start Oct. 1.

In Washington Friday, veteran Palestinian negotiator Hanan Ashrawi warned that Obama's failure to win the settlement freeze and the extreme reluctance he showed toward holding Israel in any way accountable for its defiance had weakened not only Obama's standing among Palestinians and other Arabs, but also that of Mahmoud Abbas.

"The whole process Obama has gone through until now has lost Abu Mazen a lot of credibility with the Palestinian people," she said, using the name Palestinians use for Abbas.

"For Palestinians it's very important that our leadership not constantly be the one to give in," she said.

Ashrawi, who was a member of the Palestinian delegation at the 1991 Madrid peace talks, said she thought Obama's speech to General Assembly Wednesday seemed to "salvage" his policy somewhat. "So, he said the right thing there," she said. "But now we need to see if he can make the right moves."

She judged that the latest developments in the diplomacy had weakened Abbas significantly among all sectors of the Palestinian people - including with the grassroots in his own party, Fatah.

For their part, the leaders of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas issued a statement Thursday that urged Abbbas and Fatah to "stop deceiving and misleading the Palestinian people by attaching more hopes on the 'useless' negotiations with the Israelis." The Hamas statement also strongly criticised Obama's "obvious" bias toward the Israelis.

Fatah and Hamas will be sending high-level emissaries to Cairo on Sunday to take part in yet another in the long series of reconciliation they have held over recent months.

There are few signs yet that the upcoming round of talks will succeed where so many others have failed.

With those two big Palestinian movements still at loggerheads, the Obama administration apparently split and anyway unwilling to confront Israel on key issues, and Israel's peace movement now a mere shadow of its former vibrant self, the prospects for rapid success in the diplomacy look very dim.

[Helena Cobban is a veteran Middle East analyst and author. She blogs at]

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