Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Trees are life

Readers, please note this important story from EAPPI, the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel.  The post can also be read at the EAPPI "eyewitness reports."

`Trees for me are life'

Yusef Ali Kados is 77 years old. His family have been in Burin for generations. He worked as a primary school teacher for thirty years and has raised ten children with his wife. Israeli settlers have set fire to his olive trees on three occasions by Israeli settlers in the ten years since the attacks began.

Yusef is now left with only the 45-50 trees that are planted in front of his house. His olive trees, planted east of the private road to the Yizhar settlement, were amongst those burned two weeks ago by settlers. He lost all 350 of his olive trees and 50 almond trees, these were the last surviving trees of his on this land.

"For ten years now we have been suffering from the settlers burning the trees. We have also been attacked when we try to harvest the olives. When the trouble started ten years ago we went to harvest the olives and we were told by the settlement security not to come there anymore. When the olive trees were burned this last time, I sent my son to see because I am too old. I was in the mosque praying and he told me afterwards that everything was gone, destroyed."

"The army support and provide cover for the settlers. We want them to arrest the settlers. They see the settlers and know what they are doing. If one of us hits a settler then we will be arrested, if a settler hits one of us nothing is done. To defend yourself you must stay silent. I have not made any official complaints. The village council has taken the names of all of those who lost trees and report this to the agricultural ministry in Nablus with hope of compensation."

"These trees provided an extra income for the family. We could produce 40-50 jerry cans (18L a piece) of oil, which we could then sell some of. Every year there is less oil produced as more and more trees are burnt every year. These trees took 60 years to grow, if we plant new ones it would take 10 to 15 years to have them mature enough for harvesting. But we cannot plant again because the land is so near the private settlement road."

"Trees for me are life. I am 77 years old. I planted these trees myself in 1952. After school I would go straight to the olive trees before I would go home. It is paining us in our hearts to see the trees destroyed. The earth is the life of the farmer. My blood is burning with anger because I see my land burning and I can do nothing."


Thanks to the EAPPI team at Yanoun for this report.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

ELCA Assembly starts Monday: How to be involved NOW

To my friends in the ELCA, it is a privilege to work with you.

Our Churchwide Assembly is about to begin, offering a primary opportunity for the ELCA to reinforce its commitment to ending the illegal and unjust Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and to contribute to the goals of two states and normalized relations (and recognition) of Israel with its Arab neighbors — goals favored by the majority of Israeli and Palestinian peoples and by the world community.

Several synod assembly memorials have moved through the process toward the upcoming Churchwide Assembly, filtered and organized by the churchwide Memorials Committee.
See Pre-Assembly Report, Memorial Committee Section VI, pages 39-43
Category A7: Investment for Positive Change in Palestine – at this link.   

Now is the time for you all to inform yourselves about the ways the issues are likely to be presented to voting members next week. We can all contribute to constructive and accurate deliberation. Your synod office can put you in touch with your voting members. Ask for phone numbers or emails, since people are already en route to Orlando and won’t receive postal mail. 

We can take part in at least three important ways:
  • advise our voting members to read carefully the excellent background material (and footnotes) in the Memorials Report. The memorials document is huge. It’s very common for voting members to skip around and read only the “resolved” portions, often at the last minute. Even if this step is the only one you take, it’s very valuable.    
  • encourage voting members to affirm recommendations 1, 2, 3, on Kairos Palestine, nonviolence, and positive economic investments
  • encourage removal of the clause about "boycotts, divestments, or sanctions."     
An excellent resource at the assembly will be Bishop Bruce Burnside from Madison, Wisconsin. He chairs the bishops' Middle East Ready Bench. He can be found with all the other bishops in their section up front.
Here are some background points: 

The synod resolutions are reproduced and bundled in the online report of the Memorials Committee 

Note that the Northeastern Pennsylvania and Lower Susquehanna Synods include this clause in the RESOLVED:   “…while at the same time opposing any movement toward boycott, divestment and/or economic sanctions against Israel.”

The Metro Washington DC Synod omits this last clause of the RESOLVED.  The Memorials Committee has combined elements of the pertinent Middle East peace memorials from these three synods.  

However, the bundled recommendation of the Memorials Committee appears to ignore pertinent information in the Background report, which notes that the 2007 CWA action already excludes divestment as an ELCA option and in footnote 12 explains that “The ELCA has a specific and restrictive procedure concerning any possible boycott.”  

It is not explicit in the Background, but it’s important to remind voting members that the ELCA churchwide staff and synod leaders have encouraged individuals to consider not purchasing goods manufactured in Israeli settlements. This modest version of boycott is consistent with the 2005 Churchwide Strategy for Engagement in Israel and Palestine in the Stewarding Economic Resources section. (For more about this see the Selective Purchasing Policy Guide.)   

Despite all this history, the Memorials Committee, in its Recommendation for Assembly Actions (p. 43), has painted with a very wide brush and presents this adaptation of the RESOLVED from the NE Penn and Lower Susquehanna synods:  "To discourage boycotts, divestments, or sanctions and commend the policy, “ELCA Economic Social Criteria Investment Screens” to the members, congregations, synods, and agencies of this church;"

While readers of my blog may have varied opinions of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) as an overall strategy, I hope we can agree that we would oppose any move to lead the ELCA Churchwide Assembly to shut off the possibility for individuals, congregations and synods to make their own choices about use of these tactics.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

CMEP reports about water issues

This excerpt from Churches for Middle East Peace's July 29 Bulletin is crucial.  To see the entire news bulletin, go to this link at the CMEP website.

Seeking Water

Cisterns, large containers built to catch and hold water, have been essential for Bedouins’ livelihood for centuries. However, the Israeli government has demolished 20 rain collection cisterns in the West Bank so far this year [see this link], further limiting Palestinians access to water resource. Israeli officials claim that a few of the demolished cisterns were located in military training zones, which would make accessing them dangerous. There is a constant water shortage in the West Bank, and there are extensive restrictions and permits required to build new water infrastructure. Without the cisterns, the Bedouin community is reliant upon expensive tanks of water that they must buy from Israel. Some Bedouins accuse the Israelis of trying to force them to move by destroying their water sources. Israel denies the claims, but does not deny that they are trying to resettle Bedouins in built communities. Israeli civil administration spokesman said, “They can't keep moving from place to place and land is limited.”

Water resources in Gaza are also scarce and susceptible to destruction.  Last week a water well and water tanks were reportedly destroyed by an Israeli airstrike that also injured seven people. According to Oxfam’s weekly report, the water source served 60 people in the neighborhood. Israel denies that there was an IDF airstrike on the night that the destruction occurred. The arial attack closely followed the launch of three Qassam rockets from Gaza.  Water infrastructure in Gaza has been a previous target of Israeli attacks in the coastal enclave. During Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli military destroyed more than 18 miles of water networks.

Contact info for CMEP: Churches for Middle East Peace | | 202-543-1222 | 110 Maryland Avenue NE | Suite 311 | Washington, DC 20002

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Sunday, August 7, 2011

Naim Ateek: Who commands our allegiance, God or Caesar?

Recycling last winter's piles of magazines I came across Sabeel's Cornerstone newsletter and realized that I had not shared with you Naim Ateek's editorial, "Who Commands our Allegiance, God or Caesar?" Here it is for you now. Find the entire publication at this Friends of Sabeel - North America link: Cornerstone

Who commands our allegiance, God or Caesar?
The Rev. Naim Ateek  

The Middle East has seen the presence of many empires. Once the art of war began to be refined, the movement towards empire was inevitable. Empires are built on military power. They are created and maintained by the power of arms until the empire grows weak and decadent and is replaced by another empire, more superior in military power.  

There is no benevolent empire. When it is threatened or opposed, empire crushes its opponents with vicious force. Some of its citizens might be economically prosperous, but its victims suffer terribly. In essence such is the nature of ancient as well as modern empires.  

Israel is a small country that was created by the victorious western powers of WWII after the disastrous tragedy that befell their European Jewish compatriots under the Nazis. Its greatest champion and sponsor at the time was the British Empire that forty years before gave a promise to the Jewish Zionist leadership to help them set up a home for Jews in Palestine. This promise was fulfilled in 1948 at a catastrophic loss for the Palestinians.  

As the British Empire waned, the Zionist state cleverly and shrewdly connected itself with the rising American Empire and gradually was able to occupy strategic positions within all of its governing branches – the Congress, Pentagon, State Department, and the White House. Furthermore, the state was able to create links with church groups, such as evangelicals and more particularly Christian Zionists, that, due to their interpretation of the Bible, have become staunch supporters of the state of Israel.  

Over the years, the state of Israel has become an integral part of American Empire. In fact, there seems to be an unbreakable bond on the economic, military, and political levels. “As of 2005, direct United States’ economic and military assistance to Israel amounted to nearly $154 billion (in 2005 dollars), the bulk of it comprising direct grants rather than loans.”1 Politically, the United States has consistently protected Israel in the UN Security Council. 

Between 1972 and 2006 the United States vetoed forty-two resolutions that were critical of Israel.2  Due to American military help, Israel has become one of the strongest military countries in the world today, and definitely the strongest in the Middle East. Moreover, Israel has itself been manufacturing and exporting arms to various countries of the world; consistently it is rated one of the top five countries in the world in regards to arms exports.  

Due to this special relationship between the United States and Israel, it has become impossible for the United States to be an honest broker in the Middle East peace process. At a time when it is in the interest of the United States to find a just solution to the conflict over Palestine, this favoritism of Israel has been one of the great hindrances to that peace. Israel has become indistinguishable and inseparable from American Empire regardless of whether the President is Republican or Democrat.   

It is interesting to point out that when I was researching speakers for Sabeel’s 8th International Conference, ChallengingEmpire: God, Faithfulness and Resistance, I discovered that most of the scholars who have published on empire are American. For over twenty years, one biblical scholar after another has written on various biblical themes relating to empire. It is an amazing group of first rate scholars who recognize the hegemony of an American Empire today and are seeking to address it.  

As Palestinians living under the Israeli occupation, we have come to realize that Israel in its laws, policies, actions, and treatment of Palestinians, conducts itself like an empire because of its link with American Empire. In fact, its special relationship with the United States allows it to do what it deems necessary for its own interest with little regard to international law because it knows it can get away with it. To a large extent, Israel guides and dictates American foreign policy in the Middle East. It is important to point out that although President Obama has tried repeatedly to make the Government of Israel stop settlement building, he has not been successful. At the same time, the United States’ Administration is unwilling to support a UN Security Council resolution that censures the Israeli Government for repeated violations of international law. On the one hand, the United States admits that the settlements are an obstacle to peace and violate international law; on the other hand, the United States is unwilling to condemn them in the UN Security Council. What contradiction and what hypocrisy! Is the United States so weak that it cannot take a stand for what it knows is just and right?  


Jesus lived all his life under the occupation of the Roman Empire and was killed by the occupation forces. From the beginning of his ministry, he preached about a different empire -- the kingdom of God. Jesus recognized that the empires of the world are built on the ideology of military and economic power. Such an ideology fills leaders with hubris, arrogance, and brutality. Empire might preach peace and prosperity but in reality it suppresses and enslaves its enemies. Empire’s power is shown through domination and exploitation while God’s power is shown through love and mercy, justice and peace.  

Like in the time of Jesus, we stand before the presence of two empires – God’s and Caesar’s. The first is built on the power of justice while the second is built on the justice of power. The first preaches peace through justice while the second imposes “peace” through the power of the gun. We know that we live under an empire that dominates, exploits, and oppresses. Can we, though living under this empire, remain faithful to God and continue to challenge and resist the lure and snares of empire – not only for our own sake, but for the sake of our brothers and sisters in the world that are crying out for justice, peace, and freedom? May we all keep high before us the vision of God’s Kingdom and continue to work and pray for its realization.

The Rev. Naim Ateek is the Director of Sabeel

1 Mearsheimer, John J. and Walt,
Stephen (2007). The Israel Lobby and
U.S. Foreign Policy. New York: Farrar,
Straus and Giroux. p. 24.
2 Ibid. p. 40.