Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Dear friends, I am on a little time-out as I visit friends following meetings in Jerusalem related to my work with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel.

I noticed this article from Christian Peacemaker Teams.  Last week I made a day trip to Hebron and Yatta and other parts of the south Hebron hills, and I saw the devastating effects of draught and lack of access to water - so Reinhard Kober's article struck me.

Al Khalil (Hebron): Water shortage - a daily Palestinian experience
by Reinhard Kober

Abu Jamal is head of a well known family in Halhul, to the north of Al Khalil. It is a beautiful town, on top of a hill, surrounded by fields and lovely gardens. Like other cities in the Palestinian controlled area A it’s population has grown from some 3.000 in the sixties to 30.000 now. Because of this, the infrastructure must expand greatly. Every year there is a need to open a new school.

Living east of the green line border Abu Jamal and his sons, as many other people, lost the possibility to work in Israel. Developing their own business, they invested in greenhouses, cultivated eggplants and tomatoes and were generally successful, at least at first. But that has changed . When asked him how farming is going, he shrugs his shoulders, and his face shows immediately, that things are becoming worse. “We don’t have the water we need. Just three hours of water access per week is not enough. Buying water in tanks is too expensive. We can’t do anything.”

Listening him I am reminded of my last walk to the vegetable market in Al Khalil / Hebron. When the Israel army shut down the old market next to the Avraham Avenu settlement, which violats the Sharm-Al-Sheikh agreement between Israel and Palestine, the entire city suffered. Reading piles of boxes with Hebrew labels, you get an idea of how Israeli companies make much profit by taking advantage of the inadequate water resources. According OCHA (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) and an Amnesty International report Palestinians are denied next to their own water aquifer, which is under their own land. On average Israelis use 300 liters of water per day, Palestinians only 60 liters. Palestinians are not even allowed to dig their own wells. The situation in area C, which is controlled by Israeli forces is worse. Cisterns, which collect rainwater, are often destroyed by the Israeli army, to make life in this area more difficult. An official said: “It’s easy to make the fields bloom in dry areas (in Israel) when you deny others the use of their own water. “

For Abu Jamal it is important that his children get good education. He wants them to study in Abu Dis University, which is very expensive. That’s why he is risking a lot, sneaking across the border to earn money with an illegal job in Israel and sleeping without a shelter. On the one hand he finished his report, saying again: “What we can do?” On the other hand I am still thinking, he is still hoping for a better future for his growing family – not giving up.

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These issues of water deprivation, loss of economic opportunity and injustice do not get much attention in the conventional media. Please do more reading on this and encourage others to be informed.  See the most recent OCHA Protection of Civilians Weekly Report (it's a pdf file).

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Urge members of Congress to unfreeze aid to Palestinians

This important action alert from Churches for Middle East Peace

Urge your members of Congress to unfreeze U.S. aid to Palestinians
U.S. Aid is helping lay the foundation for Peace

Last week we found out that members of Congress have placed a hold on about $340 million of U.S. aid to Palestinians in response to the Palestinian application for statehood recognition in the United Nations. This hold impacts the aid funds already allocated for the 2011 fiscal year that ended on September 30.

Your Representative and/or Senator serves on a key committee that is responsible for blocking these funds. Therefore you can have a very real impact on this detrimental policy by writing your elected official today. Let your Representative or Senator know that you oppose this freezing of U.S. aid funds. 

Call or write now to urge your members of Congress to move past punitive measures and continue the funding that is helping to lay the groundwork for a future peace.

The freezing of these funds, which was actually put in place in August, has already impacted some of USAID’s projects on the ground in the Palestinian Territories. Municipal infrastructure projects such as road and building construction have stopped and there is a distinct chance the cut-off in funds could harm health care projects in the region that are seeking to train medical workers and rehabilitate hospitals. Funds have also been frozen that directly impact the Palestinian Security Forces that keep order in the West Bank and therefore the Palestinian Authority as well.

Write to your member of Congress today.  Tell them that the current hold on funding is detrimental to long-term peace efforts.

Many experts and analysts have voiced opposition to this move to cut off funding to Palestinians because it could destabilize the region and damage prospects for future peace. Officials from the Obama Administration, State Department, and development agencies are in negotiations with key members of Congress to unblock the aid.

But your members of Congress are key in changing this policy. Because of their positions on the congressional committees that control these funds, it is vital that they hear from you that you oppose the block on aid to Palestinians. Tell your elected officials in Washington that it is time to move past punitive measures and provide the funding that is vital for U.S., Palestinian, and Israeli interests alike. 

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Formed in 1984, Churches for Middle East Peace is a coalition of 24 national Church denominations and organizationsincluding Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant traditions. It works to encourage U.S. government policies that actively promote a just, lasting and comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ensuring security, human rights and religious freedom for all people of the region.

info@cmep.org | 202-543-1222
110 Maryland Avenue NE | Suite 311 | Washington, DC 20002

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

North Park College to host Naim Ateek

Friends in the Chicago area, see this notice regarding an Oct. 16 opportunity to hear Rev. Naim Ateek, founder of Sabeel, the liberation theology center in Jerusalem. 

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Amy Kienzle: Life lessons from the people of Palestine

Pastor Amy Kienzle served as an ecumenical accompanier in Hebron and introduces us to the community there in her excellent feature story, "Life lessons from the people of Palestine," published in The Epistle, the magazine of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.

Here is a sample:
"In May, I returned from three months in the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestineand Israel. My placement was in the city of Hebron in the southern West Bank. Our work was to live with and accompany Palestinians and Israelis working for peace and an end to occupation. This included monitoring checkpoints every day as children went to and from school, being a protective presence in places where there has been tension with Israeli army and settlers, visiting with people in their homes and listening to their stories, and documenting and reporting human rights violations.

"This work has profoundly changed me in ways that I can’t articulate or even discern yet. It will be through sharing the stories of the people and my own experiences that I will begin to understand what it all means for my life and work. I would like to share a few of the things I learned in Hebron and from the Palestinians, who so generously welcomed us into their lives.

"Dignity and hospitality are inextricably linked
The village of Amniyr in the South Hebron Hills was demolished three times while we were there. On March 29 we went to see the damage done that morning, when the Israeli army bulldozed the tents that the Red Cross had given the people to live in the last time their homes were destroyed. We walked from family to family, offering our sympathy for their loss. At every demolished home site were small fires with kettles atop them. The people offered us tea and invited us to drink with them around the rubble of their homes. Even though they had lost so much, still they gave what little they had. Their dignity remained intact. They didn’t need houses to provide welcome and hospitality to a stranger."

Please read Amy's full article at this web link: http://www.lstc.edu/media/pdf/epistle/2011-summer/epistle-magazine.pdf 
Go to pages 10-11 to find Amy Kienzle's story, "Life lessons from the people of Palestine."

Amy concludes:
"Although my work as an Ecumenical Accompanier is done (at least for now), I now begin the work of being an Ecumenical Advocate. I will speak on behalf of the people I met in Palestine, whose voices are often lost when we talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is work to which everyone who cares about justice is called.

"If you are one of those people, you can help bring peace by telling our Congress that we support real negotiations for peace and we do not want our tax dollars spent on home demolitions and checkpoints that keep people from having the freedom God promises to all people. It is the work of God’s kingdom, to bring peace with justice to people everywhere. Wouldn’t it be a sign of God’s promise if this could be a reality in the Holy Land! Insha’allah (God willing).

"To learn more about the situation you can check out the links on my blog at http://thingsthatmake4peace.wordpress.com or the Peace not Walls website of the ELCA (http://www.elca.org/Our-Faith-In-Action/Justice/Peace-Not-Walls.aspx). There is a new blog there that keeps people informed of the issues and what we can do to help bring peace with justice to the Holy Land."

Read Amy's entire story on pages 10-11 of The Epistle, Summer 2011 edition.

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Monday, October 3, 2011

Lutheran news: new and old

I missed a news story from the ELCA news service last week.  Scroll down past recent news for a story from last spring.

September 23, 2011
ELCA Bishop extends support for Lutherans In Jordan, Holy Land

CHICAGO (ELCA) - The presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Mark S. Hanson, sent a letter on Sept.  22 to Bishop Munib Younan and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), expressing the support of this church for a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

             Hanson drafted the letter in response to growing tensions in the Middle East as Palestine submitted a formal proposal for full membership in the United Nations. The United Nations Security Council is expected to consider the request next week.

      “As leaders of government debate Palestinian membership in the United Nations, we want you to know of our continued commitment to accompany you on the road to a just two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Hanson wrote. He noted the ELCA’s commitment runs deeper than national interest and reflects “active engagement in Palestine and Israel as it is articulated in the ELCA Peace Not Walls Campaign.”

      Earlier in the week Hanson wrote to President Barack Obama, asking the United States not to block an initiative to admit Palestine as a member state of the United Nations. Such a move, the bishop observed, would be acting not only in the best interests of the United States, but of all people in the region.

      Outbreaks of violence have been escalating in the region, especially around security checkpoints, which have raised concerns about the 14 ELCA church workers currently supporting the work of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. Robert O. Smith, area program director for the Middle East and North Africa, and coordinator of the Peace Not Walls campaign, reported that the ELCA has been involved in security and contingency planning for several weeks.

      “We are concerned not only for the safety and security of our ELCA church workers, but for the well-being of our companions in the ELCJHL and all persons who may be caught in potentially dangerous situations,” Smith said. “Our Young Adults in Global Mission are especially concerned for the safety and security of the Muslim and Christian children they accompany every day in the schools.”

      Of the 14 ELCA church workers serving in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, five have long-term assignments, six are Young Adults in Global Mission and three are with The Lutheran World Federation program in Jerusalem.

      The ELCJHL and the ELCA are members of The Lutheran World Federation, a global communion with 145 member churches in 79 countries representing over 70 million Lutherans.

      “At such a time it is important to reach out to sisters and brothers in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land,” said Hanson. “For the unity we share in Christ is stronger than all the forces that might divide us. That unity calls for our public witness as we join with other Christians, Jews and Muslims advocating for a lasting and just two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. It compels us to reject violence by any party to the conflict.”

      The presiding bishop said, “It is my hope that ELCA members are praying for peace even as they deepen their awareness of the issues and advocate for a peaceful and just resolution. We join with Muslims, Jews and other Christians trusting it is God's will to hold heaven and earth in a single peace.”
ELCA Peace Not Walls - 

ELCA Israel and Palestine advocacy -

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And, looking for resources on another subject I came across this great article in last May's edition of The Lutheran magazine:

Green is a color for hope
Lutheran center grows environmental awareness among Palestinians

Riad Abu Saadah holds a small yellow-green bird in his hand. Sitting in a circle around him, schoolchildren from around Beit Jala, Palestine, crane their necks to see it.

A bird is never just a bird; "there is a name for every bird," he said, gently cradling the green finch. "This is a sifri."

The children have come to the Evangelical Lutheran Church Environmental Education Center in Beit Jala to learn about Palestinian natural heritage. Situated on the rolling green hills of the Talitha Kumi Lutheran School, the center is an oasis of green. Its pine trees and local plants are a welcome respite from what most of the children encounter daily — a crowded urban environment of cement, asphalt, roadside pollution and checkpoints.

(...) Launched in 1986 under a different name (Education for Awareness and Involvement), the center began as a joint effort of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and Birzeit University to include care for creation in the Lutheran school curriculum.

Read the whole article at this link.

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