Friday, March 25, 2011

CMEP: Challenges and Obstacles

Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP's) recent bulletin is full of information and links. I'm a little tardy in getting it out. Been busy with EAPPI planning and a debriefing of marvelous accompaniers from Groups 37 & 38.

I've re-arranged the CMEP bulletin just a smidge, putting the important statistical info up top. Ann

CMEP Bulletin
March 18, 2011
Challenges and Obstacles
View this email online

Statistics update
In the past two weeks, the Israeli government has demolished 65 Palestinian structures and displaced 119 Palestinians, including 42 children, according to the latest report from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Meanwhile, a separate OCHA report revealed that in February, Israeli authorities rejected 364 applications submitted by Palestinian West Bank ID holders to legalize their current residency in East Jerusalem.

You can learn more about the UNOCHA’s work in the Palestinian territories here.

Itamar Atrocity Fallout
Late on Friday March 11, a young Israeli couple and three of their young children were brutally murdered in the West Bank settlement of Itamar, located near the northern city of Nablus. Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad immediately denounced the murders and President Mahmound Abbas expressed his horror in an interview on Israeli radio and in a phone call to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

In response to the tragic killing, the Israeli government on Sunday, March 13 approved the construction of several hundred new homes in West Bank settlements. Settler groups have complained recently that approval of new construction by Israeli authorities has been slow, and Netanyahu has complained to his party members that he is under intense international pressure not to go ahead with new settlement construction. In a visit to Itamar after the announcement of authorizing new construction, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “they murder, we build.” In response, a surviving sister of the murdered children replied, “Will the Americans let you?”

Israeli Foreign Minister and leader of the opposition party Tzipi Livni said in response to Netanyahu’s announcement, "The cycle of terrorism and building that the prime minister has been caught up in is not the correct cycle. We do not set long term policy based on a singular event, even one as terrible as this… It is not enough to call for the world to criticize terror. Our ability to gain legitimacy to fight terror depends on our attempts to reach agreement [with Palestinians]."

The United States also criticized the announcement of new construction, saying that the U.S. saw “these settlements as illegitimate and as running counter to efforts to resume direct negotiations.”

CMEP released a statement this week that condemned the murders and decried such violence as symptomatic of a stagnant peace process.

Netanyahu in Bind
The Israeli response to the murders in Itamar throw into sharp relief the divisions within Israeli society and the challenges that Prime Minister Netanyahu faces in confronting internal Israeli politics.

On the one hand, the European community—and particularly the United Kingdom, France and Germany—is increasingly impatient at the lack of progress in negotiations. As Philip Stevens notes in the Financial Times, the Europeans view the current instability in the Middle East as making such talks all the more urgent, and have recently indicated that they may push the Middle Eastern Quartet to publish specific parameters of a peace deal, a move that Israel opposes.

On the other hand, Netanyahu is under pressure from his right wing to press on with settlements. The decision to allow further construction was a gesture to this base in the wake of the horrific violence in Itamar.

In the face of these competing pressures, Netanyahu’s strategy appears to be delaying action whenever possible. He recently made known that he is planning to make a major policy speech; this was enough for the Middle East Quartet to postpone its meeting scheduled for this week until mid-April.

Given the rising tensions in the region and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is not clear how much longer the Prime Minister can delay making a proposal to the Palestinians on final status issues.

Unity Movement
The popular uprisings that have roiled the Middle East for the past two months have not gone unnoticed within the Palestinian Territories.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians took to the streets of the West Bank and Gaza on March 14 to call for an end to the Hamas-Fatah dispute that has divided the Palestinian people since 2007.

In response, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas announced he will travel to Gaza in order to attempt to form a new government. The visit would be Abbas’ first to Gaza since Hamas took power in June 2007.

Israeli officials viewed the unification efforts skeptically. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his commitment not to deal with any Palestinian government that included Hamas.

Arms into Gaza
In a reminder of just how precarious Israel’s security context is, two arms shipments to Gaza were intercepted over the past week.

The first shipment was intercepted in the Mediterranean Sea and contained 50 tons of Iranian-made weapons, including sophisticated missiles that Hamas is not known to possess. In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argued that the weapons seizure justified Israel’s ongoing blockade of Gaza. “To all of those who questioned and attacked and criticized Israel for stopping Gaza-bound ships in order to check them, there is the answer,” he said.

The second shipment was intercepted in southern Egypt, along a Bedouin smuggling route. The shipment included ammunition and rocket-propelled grenades and was seized by Egyptian forces along its border with Sudan.

CMEP Advocacy Conference
Register today for CMEP’s 2011 Advocacy Conference, For the Peace of Jerusalem. We are excited to announce that Archbishop Elias Chacour will be speaking at the conference. We are working on an exciting line up of speakers and workshops for the May 22 – 24th event. Add your name soon to make sure you get the Early Bird registration rate (enter code "gets the worm). Find out more.

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Friday, March 18, 2011

Sabeel's March 17, 2011, Wave of Prayer

I meant to get this out yesterday, Thursday, to coincide with Sabeel's weekly "Wave of Prayer." Last fall I joined the staff and friends of Sabeel for a service of reflection and Holy Communion built around the concerns expressed in that week's Wave of Prayer.

To subscribe to the Wave of Prayer devotions, go to this link:

Each Thursday at noon in Jerusalem, Sabeel holds a Communion service that is open to the community. It is a time to join together to discuss how the scriptures apply to our lives today, to pray for the needs of this region and our world and to share the Eucharist. Starting in the Pacific Islands, passing through Asia, Palestine, Europe, the Americas and on around the globe, we pray for peace with justice.

Sabeel Wave of Prayer, Thursday, March 17, 2011
We hold in prayer the family and friends of the five members of the Fogel family who were horrendously and criminally murdered last Friday in the illegal Israeli settlement Itamar, close to Nablus. As the investigation continues with no obvious suspects, we pray for the quick apprehension and trial of the murderers.

We also remember the Palestinian families who have suffered from violent settler attacks protected by the Israeli army in retaliation to the murder in Itamar this past week, even though those who committed the crime remain unknown. We pray that the cycle of violence, repaying one wrong with another, will be broken.

Our prayers are with everyone in Japan as they face the ongoing trauma and damage from last Friday's major earthquake, aftershocks, tsunami and ensuing nuclear crisis. We especially pray for comfort and relief for those who have lost loved ones, homes and workplaces, for the safety of everyone in danger of nuclear radiation and for insight and strength for those responding to this disaster, including those working to keep the nuclear damage under control. We also remember the nuclear facilities around the world, many of which are in tsunami or earthquake prone areas, including in Israel, and pray for people and politicians as the question of the safety of nuclear power plants is revisited.

We pray for all the participants and leaders of current and upcoming Sabeel programs. On Tuesday, Sabeel started its community Lenten Program; this year's focus on fasting, charity and prayers will include visits to nursing homes and orphanages over the next three weeks, as well as taking part in the Contemporary Way of the Cross. In addition, this Friday and Saturday young adults from Jerusalem, Nazareth and the West Bank will join together to plant olive trees in Beit Jala.

With the Prayer Cycle of the World Council of Churches, we pray for: Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam (

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Don't fail to read the concluding statement issued by Sabeel's Eighth International Conference, held in Bethlehem last month:

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Monday, March 14, 2011

The Cave strives to help Bethlehem artists and preserve traditional crafts

The Cave announces new gift ideas from Palestine. Click here for the new Easter Collection.

The signature Olive Leaf jewelry collection is inspired by the thousand-year old groves that symbolize abundance, steadfastness and rootedness in our land.

The hand-made stained glass ornaments are crafted by our artisans from glass bottles and broken windowpanes. The broken glass pieces are symbols of brokenness in our world, and in assembling them into work of art we recall God’s saving grace, transforming what seems to be hopeless and worthless into a beautiful and whole creation.

The Cave Arts & Crafts Center strives to help local artists and preserve traditional arts and crafts by offering courses, improving access to materials and equipment, and providing a market for the sale of art items. Since so many of the artists are women, there is an added benefit of helping women to have some financial independence, which is a rare thing in a patriarchal society such as Palestine’s. Many women artists also feel a boost in their self-confidence from their work – they enjoy expressing themselves and creating beautiful objects for others to enjoy, and they also feel like they have more control over their lives when they are productive and earning an income. In this way, they are creating a better future for themselves through their work, and elevating the status of women and artists in Palestinian society.

For more about Palestinian women and handcrafts, see this link:

At The Cave, our Palestinian women make handicrafts for different occasions: Easter Decorations, Church Textiles, Spring Ornaments, Baptism and confirmation gifts, Mother’s Jewelry, Graduation presents, and more….

Please check our website at and choose your desired gift to help a student or family in Bethlehem, Palestine.

The Al-Kahf Arts & Crafts Center (and The Cave gift shop) aims to revive the local community’s sense of beauty, strengthen Palestinian cultural identity, and cultivate local artistic talent. The Cave is part of the Diyar Consortium, Bethlehem, Lutheran based, ecumenically oriented institutions serving the whole Palestinian community with an emphasis on children, youth, women & the elderly through unique programs that are contextual & holistic in nature.

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Searching for a Path Toward Peace

CMEP Bulletin
March 11, 2011

Searching for a Path Toward Peace


Letter to the President
The state of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is in flux as Prime Minister Netanyahu weighs his government’s response to major changes underway in Arab countries and the increasing impatience of European governments with the stalled negotiations with Palestinians. The United States for now is focusing efforts on the collective diplomacy of the Middle East Quartet (the U.S., EU, UN, and Russia), though the Quartet meeting scheduled for March has now been postponed until April.

In the context of this uncertainty, Churches for Middle East Peace sent an open letter to President Obama this week signed by 20 national church leaders urging him to take bold action in concert with the Quartet and other stakeholders to reduce the fear and mistrust that has prevented an agreement, promote readiness of the two sides to reach a deal, and travel to the region soon to propose specific steps to achieve peace. The letter also expressed regret at the U.S. veto of a resolution on Israeli settlement activity in the UN Security Council last month.

Middle East Quartet Meeting Delayed
The Middle East Quartet announced on March 10 that it will not meet as planned during next week’s G20 summit in Paris, but will instead meet at a later date in April. A scheduled meeting of Israeli and Palestinian experts this week did not take place.

However, the Jerusalem Post and others have speculated that the postponement is intended to give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu further time to prepare a “bold” new peace initiative. Netanyahu has probably not yet decided whether to present plans for a comprehensive agreement or more limited temporary measures. Many analysts are expecting the latter course of action, but the Prime Minister is being pulled in opposite directions by the international community and the right-wing members of his own party and constituency.

As the Los Angeles Times reported on March 11, polls released this month show that Netanyahu’s approval rating has dropped to 32% and that more Israelis now support the centrist Kadima party than Netanyahu’s more conservative Likud party.

Britain Ramps Up Pressure on Israel
Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague indicated on Tuesday that the United Kingdom will increase pressure on Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians.

Hague claimed that the UK, France and Germany will call for the international community to describe what a peace agreement might look like. In the past, Israeli leaders have strongly resisted an specific proposals for a peace framework and have insisted that any solution must come from direct negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian delegations.

Hague’s announcement is in keeping with recent British, French and German policy. Three weeks ago the three countries released a joint statement in favor of a UN Security Council resolution that declared Israeli settlement activity illegal.
In the recent letter CMEP sent to President Obama, an international effort to put forward the framework of a peace agreement between Israel and its neighbors is one of the key tenets of forward progress toward peace, national church leaders indicated. The absence of true and lasting negotiations between the parties involved for more than three years shows that the international community needs to try a bold new move that hasn’t been tried before. Interim agreements, like the proposal that may come out of Netanyahu’s government this spring, is a dangerous substitution to making the hard choices inherent in pursuing direct negotiations on all final status issues.

Barak: Israel To Seek $20 Billion More In Aid
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that Israel may request up to $20 billion more in military aid from the United States.

Barak explained that the additional aid may be needed in response to the changing security environment in the Middle East. With popular uprisings sweeping the region from Morocco to Bahrain, Barak claimed that the aid would not only benefit Israel. “It might be wise to invest another $20 billion to upgrade the security of Israel for the next generation,” he said. “A strong, responsible Israel can become a stabilizer in a turbulent region.”

Whether the United States would fulfill such a question is unclear. The United States already gives Israel $3 billion in military aid annually, and the request would come at a time when Democrats and Republicans are deadlocked over deep budget cuts.

Funding Fears
While Israel is appealing for more military aid, the U.S. government’s spending on projects around the world is under scrutiny as Congress works toward yet another continuing resolution in the absence of finalizing a 2011 budget. One of the aspects of U.S. aid that is facing the chopping block, and sharp criticism, is our government’s contribution to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), which provides a broad range of essential services to 4.7 million Palestinian refugees in the Middle East. More than 3,000 messages have been sent by folks around the country in response to CMEP’s Action Alert this week calling for you to write your members of Congress in support of continued U.S. funding of UNRWA. Add your voice to the support of this vital agency that helps sustain a capable and healthy Palestinian society that will be a good neighbor to Israel when peace comes.

Talking to Congress
More than 2,600 people have signed on to a letter telling the 112th Congress that peace in the Holy Land must be a priority. Add your name to the letter today. It’s also incredibly valuable that you get the chance to meet with your elected officials and their staff face to face so we encourage you to sign up to participate in meetings in your district this month.

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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Communion: Reflections from an Alternative Holy Land Tour

I read a fine blog entry by Frank Rogers at a blog I ran across:

Rogers' entry is part of a blog diary kept by an alternative Holy Land tour called Ancient Stones, Living Stones. The whole blog is worth reading:

Rogers writes in a post called Communion: "By far, the vast majority of Palestinian and Israeli people that we met have chosen against violence, hatred, and an endless cycle of blame and revenge. They simply want peace; and they are seeking it through truth-telling and understanding, justice and compassion, creativity and hope in the human spirit."

Alternative travel in Palestine and Israel is the best way to be made aware of the situation of those struggling for justice and peace. Find a list of alternative Holy Land travel opportunities at the website of Friends of Sabeel - North America:

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Friday, March 4, 2011

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba calls barrier "a wall of strangulation'

My third news release from the Sabeel Conference in Bethlehem. Look for all our releases and the conference statement at - on the right under "Recent News."

4 March 2011


Bethlehem, Occupied West Bank – The Rev. Thabo Makgoba, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, called Israel’s separation barrier “a wall of strangulation.” Makgoba addressed participants of the Sabeel International Conference, preaching at the Church of all Nations at Gethsemane in Jerusalem 25 February 2011.

More than 200 international participants came to Bethlehem for the conference under the theme, “Challenging Empire: God, Faithfulness and Resistance.” Sabeel is the ecumenical liberation theology center based in Jerusalem.

“We must not be na├»ve in speaking about South Africa while standing in Jerusalem,” Makgoba said. “The wall of strangulation or `beautification’ is worse than the South African pass laws, the Bantustans or homelands, and racial discrimination,” he said. Visiting with Palestinians in Bethlehem and Hebron is “an experience I will treasure,” he said, and, “I will rededicate myself to the pursuit of justice.”

Makgoba called for “prophetic theology.” He said, “We must do this especially from the perspective of the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, the outcast, the powerless, the voiceless, the Palestinians – for all of whom God has a particular option, as Jesus affirmed when he (…) set out what we might call the `manifesto’ of his ministry.”

Makgoba shared aspects of Christians’ struggle against Apartheid in South Africa. “Faith helps us resist the assumptions of empire,” he said. “For we subvert all its norms when we dare to live as Jesus lived and taught (…) when we dare to believe that blessings come when we love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, and practice radical forgiveness – even as we raise our voices for justice and act to transform unjust structures,” he said.

In Bethlehem, bible study leader Ched Myers presented a radical Jesus unfamiliar to most Christians today. Myers is the author of Binding the Strong Man and a partner in Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries, Oak View, Calif., USA.

“Jesus publically identifies with the notorious John the Baptizer, whose message of repentance was directed not just to a personal change of heart but to the whole nation. Jesus and his followers were complicit In John’s rebel movement,” Myers said.

Jesus did not propose “a utopian dream that can only be realized in heaven or the afterlife,” Myers said. “Jesus’ gospel leaves no room for otherworldly religion: `The time is now; the sovereignty of God is here.’ (Mark 1:15),” he said.

Myers called the destruction of Palestinian olive trees by Israeli settlement development “economic warfare” and compared it to Roman economic oppression of formerly self-sufficient fishermen in Jesus’ time. Fisherman had "fallen to the bottom of an increasingly elaborate economic hierarchy. It stands to reason that peasant fisherman would have been particularly responsive to a call to resist,” Myers said.

Myers explained that Nazareth in Galilee, Jesus’ home town, was located in the neighborhood of the demolished city of Sepphoris, re-built by the Romans as a powerful administrative center. “It was a dramatic case of imposing a colonial settlement on an indigenous landscape. Sepphoris would have towered over Nazareth, like the [Israeli] Har Homa settlement does over Bethlehem today, even more so,” Myers said.

Jesus the carpenter might have walked about an hour to get work in the new imperial city. “The trauma of Sepphoris’ destruction and reconstruction as an imperial city right at his doorstep would have had a profound impact on his consciousness, infusing in him a keen sense of the travails of empire,” Myers said.

Myers outlined some aspects of “the Jesus of the gospels that tend to be overlooked by churches today,” including “going to the roots of our tradition and of our social crisis” and apprenticing ourselves with “older traditions of
resistance and renewal.”

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Reporter: Ann Hafften
Sabeel Media Coordinator: Nicolas Atallah
phone: 0526822443

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