Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Advent resources from Peace Not Walls

The ELCA's Peace Not Walls campaign provides a number of good links to Advent resources. I especially love the Advent calendar put forth by the Church of Sweden and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land - Look at it here.

And the Peace Not Walls home page features a video with the Rev. Mitri Raheb, pastor at Christmas Lutheran Church and director of DIYAR Consortium in Bethlehem, giving his "Keys to Understanding" the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. 

Advent Resources

On the way to celebrate what happened in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, let us not forget the people who yearn for peace with justice now in Bethlehem and all over the Holy Land.  Here are some Advent reflections by various people and organizations to help us remember:

Churches for Middle East Peace Advent Reflections

Jan Miller: A Pilgrim’s Tale – Advent Reflections

Loren McGrail:  Returned Ecumenical Accompanier – Advent One Bulletin Insert

Church of Sweden and ELCJHL Advent Calendar 2010

All Peace Not Walls resources are at the home page for ELCA Peace Not Walls.

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Family to be Evicted from East Jerusalem Home

An advocacy alert from the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). This information comes from Peace Now.

Family of 12 to be Forcibly Evicted from their East Jerusalem Home

Nov 24, 2011 6:13 AM

The 12-member, Palestinian, Sumarin family received a court order to vacate its home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan by Monday, 28 November 2011 or the Israeli Police will forcibly evict them. 

The Sumarin family has been living for decades in their home. Yet, the Israeli government under the Absentee Property Law confiscated the family’s home, and then gave it to the Jewish National Fund (JNF), which leased the home through its subsidiary, Himnuta to Elad.

Elad an organization engaged in settling Jews in East Jerusalem; it also runs the nearby City of David national park. Elad built the visitors center of the “City of David” tourism site next to the Sumarin family’s house. Therefore, the house is a strategic site for settlers, as it would give them a large contiguous area at the entrance of Silwan.

The immoral and irresponsible acts of the JNF, its subsidiary, Himnuta, and Elad are only possible with the direct complicity of the Municipality of Jerusalem and the Government of Israel, and directly threaten the two-state solution and the possibility of realizing a just peace.

The prospect of being cut off again horrifies Ahmed Sumarin.

"I don't know what to do if they come with force. This is our home. My grandfather still lives here. Where will we go? If they take your home away, you can only go onto the street." 

Click here for more information from Peace Now

Under international law, East Jerusalem is considered occupied territory and the international community has never recognized Israel’s annexation of the area in question. Consequently, Israel is vested only with temporary powers of administration, cannot impose domestic Israeli law, and perhaps most significantly, cannot transfer its own population to such an area. As discussed above, the cases of displacement in Silwan have been adjudicated in domestic Israeli courts contrary to international law and as a result of the evictions, Jewish Israelis have moved into occupied territory.

We encourage you to:
·       Forward this email to your networks
·       Inform your representative in parliament about what is happening in Imneizil
·       Contact the following officials and call on them to allow Palestinians in Area C to have free access to electricity, water and sewage infrastructure without the threat of demolitions:
o   Your Ambassador and/or Consul General in Israel
o   The Israeli Ambassador in your country   


Nader Hanna
Advocacy Officer
Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine & Israel (EAPPI)
P.O. Box 741
Jerusalem 91000
Tel: +972 2 628 9402
Fax: +972 2 627 4499
Mobile: +972 54 815 7652

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Coming up in Chicago: Ingathering of the Faithful in Solidarity with Palestine

Chicago area friends, please share information about this good event and plan to participate yourself!
Interfaith Service
Nov. 29, 2011, 7:00 PM
Reception following the service will enable networking for future action

Wellington United Church of Christ
615 West Wellington
Chicago, Ill.

Here is a link to a flyer...

On the 29th of November, 1947, the United Nations adopted RESOLUTION 181, which stated that the British mandate of Palestine was to be partitioned. In what had been largely Arab territory, there were now to be two states, with 55 percent of the land given to the quickly expanding Jewish minority. 

International Solidarity Day was declared by the United Nations in 1977 to encourage Israel to honor UN RESOLUTION 181 and stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination. 

Come, let us gather and offer each other spiritual support to continue working for a just peace. Come, also to learn about new ways to act faithfully in our continued advocacy to end militarism, promote steadfast nonviolence, and challenge unjust US policies.

Ad hoc planning/working group:
American Friends Service Committee,
American Muslims for Palestine,
Chicago Faith Coalition on Middle East Policy,
Christian Peacemaker Teams — Chicago
Jewish Voice for Peace
MiddleEast Task Force of the Chicago Presbytery, and
Wellington Ave United Church of Christ

Contact Rev. Loren McGrail for more information
Contact for information on transportation and parking

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Russell Siler: Challenge the distorted, one-sided narratives heard in our churches and communities

Readers,  Correction: It was not the Silers I saw in Jerusalem but other good friends.

Russ Siler has revived his series of email comments. While this post is a little long for sharing in church newsletters, it is very worthwhile reading. I encourage you to find ways to share Russ Siler's message.

Russ writes:

What I have heard, seen, read, and watched in recent months has moved me to resume writing my occasional posts regarding the situation in Israel-Palestine. (...) If you do not wish to receive future posts, just let me know. If you have received this message from someone else and wish to be added to the e-list, again just let me know.
For Peace with Justice,
Russ Siler 

Home From Jerusalem # 1
27 October 2011

History tells us that some people can be good teachers in areas where they have no practical experience. Priests and other celibate ministers and practitioners can be excellent marriage counselors. Many athletic head coaches have excelled at their craft without having been players at a high level--or even players at all. We can receive valuable advice and guidance about extricating ourselves from deep financial difficulties from those who have never known financial adversity. However, I have reached the conclusion that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and occupation is so overwhelmingly complex, nuanced, and oppressive that very, very few people can grasp the depth of its inhumanity without having witnessed firsthand the daily physical articulation of its brutality and the steady erosion of freedom and dignity which it engenders.

Certainly commentators can grasp the history and the politics of this tragic drama. They can recite the chronology of the battles and the lists of primary figures and the litany of conferences, accords, and agreements. They can propose one path to peace or jumpstart to justice after another. But if they have not lived in the bleak shadows of humiliation and bondage, they will know neither the sense of urgency nor the despair which are the constant companions of those who live in the land we in the West call “Holy.”

This conviction forced its way into my consciousness as an unwelcome thought some months ago. I have always tried to suppress the feeling that some can understand the pain and suffering better than others. I can no longer do so in good conscience. Israelis and Palestinians who walk in daily fear and hopelessness know better than anyone else. You and I can never say we know what they are going through. We can never know as they do. But it is my firm contention that those who have lived among the people there--watching through tears as their friends and neighbors, co-workers and colleagues, sisters and brothers struggle with the growing realization that the rest of the world does not care enough to demand justice--are far better equipped to comprehend what the headlines report to the world.

Time after time in these past months I have seen headlines and heard stories about how the Israelis “want peace” or are willing to “negotiate terms of peace” or are ready to make “painful concessions,” but the Palestinians just “refuse to come to the table.” While there may be a grain of truth to some of these stories, it is virtually impossible for most observers in this country to discern such a meager morsel buried within the layers of misperception, misdirection, and media mouthing of a narrative that is anything but accurate or neutral. However, when one has lived in the heart of the matter, the realities become much more obvious. There is one of these realities which transcends all the others--when seen up close without the dimming distortion of distance: Israel is doing all it can to delay actual negotiations with the Palestinians on territory, borders, refugees, and Jerusalem until it has taken as much land as the rest of the world will allow. While the world hears of peace processes, pre-conditions, demands, and time lines, the Israeli settlement enterprise moves inexorably forward. There is a clear pattern, now more than a generation old. The government announces that it will build 1100 housing units in the settlement of Gilo, or somewhere else in occupied territory; various government officials in other countries issue statements of displeasure and concern; the Israeli Prime Minister’s office offers an innocuous explanation; the 1100 disappear from headlines; and the building continues as announced.  Soon the public conversation about “facts on the ground” will include these new houses which are illegal according to international law. This is nothing new; it has been going on for decades. Small wonder the people living there long ago learned that justice is what nations of the world demand for themselves, only not for others.

The people who live in Israel-Palestine--except those who choose to cover their eyes and block their ears to avoid the truth--know well this pattern. They also know full well that those whose actions support the pattern are handled gently by the authorities. Thus, militant settlers who openly violate even Israeli laws by building what are euphemistically termed “outposts” are often given years of grace before their ramshackle dwellings on expropriated Palestinian land are finally removed. Elected officials such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman can openly advocate the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and still maintain his high office. Most people in this country have never heard of Lieberman, because he never comes here to represent Israel. If he did, America would hear his racist rant. But to Israelis and Palestinians and, indeed, to all who live there his hatred is constantly apparent.

Now this lack of knowledge is largely understandable. It is extremely difficult to grasp even the obvious nuances of the circumstances across thousands of miles. In my opinion it is essential to listen to a variety of voices and perspectives, but it is vital to hear the viewpoints of those who have lived there. Based on such an opinion, there are then two groups of people for whom I have a great deal of concern. First, I am deeply troubled, even embarrassed, by those who seem to listen only to individuals and groups who have an absolute bias in one direction or another. Those who believe the Palestinians have a monopoly on truth and integrity are wrong, but at least their views do little, at the present, to further support the occupation of the Palestinian people. Their Israeli-supporting counterparts, on the other hand, do strengthen immeasurably our American government’s one-sided, unquestioning partnership with Israel, while simultaneously undermining the efforts of my church...and yours. 

Second, I am literally ashamed of the Congress of the United States, with the exception of those Senators and Representatives who steadfastly seek a balanced truth. In contrast to ordinary citizens who must rely on the witness and testimony of others, Members of Congress have long known the truth about conditions in the Holy Land. They are well aware that the “conflict” is not a conflict. It is an occupation in which Israel is in complete control. Furthermore, Members of Congress know explicitly that the illegal Israeli settlement enterprise may be the single greatest impediment to peace that now exists. Some months ago when a joint session of Congress gave Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not only the opportunity to speak to them, but also a standing ovation, I fear that oppressed peoples the world over felt the hope of freedom diminish palpably. The day after Netanyahu’s appearance I struggled mightily to avoid thinking that Congress had sold their positions as arbiters of fairness and justice for a boost in their re-election chances. My struggle failed; I could not avoid that realization.

Hope is not lost. It seems to me that--no matter the outcome of the Palestinians’ actions in the United Nations--so many, many more people will be moved to take a closer look at what is going on and, possibly, will begin to question the assumptions they have always taken for granted. You and I can help immeasurably by challenging the distorted, one-sided narratives we hear in our churches and communities. We can support those religious and secular organizations and movements who demand an honest rendering of the realities; that, in and of itself, will go a long way toward peace with justice. We can stand with Israeli and Jewish groups like J-Street, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions as they courageously attest to the need for all people in Historic Palestine to live with security and freedom. Finally, we can communicate with our nations’ decision-makers the truth that there are two peoples, not one, who live in that land. Both are in need of justice.

Russell O. Siler

Russell Siler
412 William St. NW
Leesburg, VA 20176

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Shepherd's Scouts of Beit Sahour Organize "Freedom Marathon"

Here's an uplifting story from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL).

Shepherd's Scouts of Beit Sahour Organize "Freedom Marathon"

JERUSALEM, 30 October 2011 – Earlier this month the Shepherd’s Scout group of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Beit Sahour invited their community to come out, come together, and run, bringing back to life a long-standing tradition of ‘town marathons’—races that traverse the streets (and hills) of the small West Bank community of Beit Sahour.

Generations of Beit Sahourians have grown up watching and participating in races like this, but due to lack of funding, town races had not occurred for the last few years.
And so, the young leaders of the Shepherd’s Scout group decided to take on this year’s planning, preparation, and execution themselves.  “We are capable of organizing such an event,” the youth said, “and we will prove it to the community.”

The youth decided to call their race the “Freedom Marathon” to inspire the community to continue along the long path toward peace, justice, security, and freedom for Palestine and Israel.

The enthusiasm of the youth was so infectious that soon the Beit Sahour municipality, many local organizations, and the community at large were eager to support and to be a part of the upcoming event.

More than four months of preparation and countless hours of work later, it was a joy for these young leaders to see 380 participants line up to run and countless more community members turn out to cheer on the runners and join in the festivities.

See the complete story are this link.

Visit the website of the ELCJHL to read about other recent events, to browse photos, or learn about the mission and ministries of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land.

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Faith leaders urge action at the White House

Dear friends,

Excellent post from the ELCA's Peace Not Walls team...

Bishop Hanson and other faith leaders visit White House officials to urge action on Israel and Palestine peace

12 Nov 2011
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the ELCA, and other ecumenical faith leaders met with White House officials to express urgency and encourage action on the situation in Israel and Palestine.   According to Hanson, continued meetings with the Obama administration are “a priority because of our commitment to our companions in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. It is also carried out in the commitment we have made in the ELCA’s Churchwide Strategy for Engagement in Israel and Palestine.

“As we began our conversation with Mr. Ross, I expressed disappointment. We hear our Christian partners in the region question the United States’ commitment. They wonder why the U.S. has not been more vocal about the increased settlement construction. I told Mr. Ross that we repeatedly hear Palestinian churches say they see this as a moment of abdication by the U.S. administration.”

Hanson said afterwards that, “More progress must be made toward the goal of a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine. Since our meeting a year ago, the prospects for peace seem to have diminished with the expansion of settlements and the absence of face-to-face negotiations.”

According to a Nov. 10 news release from Churches for Middle East Peace, the church leaders who attended the Nov. 8 meeting said they are disappointed with developments since their 2010 meeting at the White House.

“The position of the Palestinian Christian community is precarious,” stated the release. “There are constant problems of obtaining visas for clergy who must travel outside Jerusalem and the West Bank. Restriction on movement between Bethlehem and Jerusalem is a problem that undermines Christian life. Church leaders are humiliated at check points.”

Ecumenical leaders at this year’s White House meeting included Hanson; Katharine Jefferts Shori, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church; Denis James Madden, auxiliary bishop of Baltimore and chairman-elect of the Committee for Ecumenical and Interfaith Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Neil Irons, executive secretary of the Methodist Council of Bishops; and Sara Lisherness, director of compassion, peace and justice for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A).
The meeting was arranged by Churches for Middle East Peace, a coalition of 24 national church denominations and organizations working to encourage U.S. government policies that promote a just and lasting resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Read full ELCA story.

Not just my morning bus driver
12 Nov 2011

As a YAGM (Young Adult in Global Mission) serving at the Dar Al-Kalima School (DAK) in Bethlehem, but living in Beit Sahour, I am privileged with the opportunity of riding the school bus with the kids everyday to and from school (I have to admit that I really do find this as a great privilege since I was “denied” such privilege growing up as a child).  While the kids are pretty fun on the bus, quiet in the morning and crazy loud in the afternoon with lots of singing and sometimes even a impromptu ice-cream stop, it is the morning bus driver that I would like to post about.  To be honest, I don’t even know his name.  He picks me up every morning with one of the biggest grins on his face, we exchange polite sabah ilher’s (good morning) and kif halak’s (how are you) and then start on the morning route to pick up the rest of the kids.  Now, the buses aren’t like buses in America.  1) They aren’t yellow  and 2) they are the same buses that also run from Beit Sahour to Bethlehem everyday so it is more like DAK rents the bus every morning and afternoon, but when school is not in session the bus drivers are the same bus drivers who drive the other routes throughout town.  The typical bus pick up is at the main village intersection where one would also go to catch a taxi, go to the supermarket, or even buy fresh produce.  As I visit this intersection quite often for one reason or another, without fail every time my morning school bus driver sees me he rushes over to check to see where I am going, what I want, or if I need anything.  Most the time, I am really just buying some veggies, but it is always reassuring when I am trying to catch a taxi that he stops me, asks where I am going, and tells the taxi driver to make sure I get there.  1)He makes sure that I get a fair price on taxis (which sometimes can be hard when you don’t always know what a fair taxi price is and you look like a tourist) and 2) he just makes the whole process a lot more comfortable (as I actually get intimidated trying to get from one place or another).  I don’t always know what he is saying (he doesn’t really speak any English and well, my Arabic is also quite limited), but he continues to put a smile on my face and I know if I ever needed anything I could always run down to the intersection and if he was there he would help me with anything.
I guess I am telling this story, not just to tell you about my bus driver, but to illustrate how friendly people are here in Palestine.  The people you meet here, even briefly, even if you don’t know their names, become those who you can rely on in any situation.  People here go out of their way to say hello to you if you past them in the street or invite you over for coffee even if you met them only briefly going to the market.  I think, or I guess I know, that there are many misconceptions regarding Palestinians, but to be honest I feel safer, more welcomed, and more at peace here, when I am among Palestinians than I did back home.  Despite what might be read in the news or what is going on at the negotiation tables, my morning bus driver, the English teacher at my school, those I work with at the Lajee Center in Aida refugee camp, the taxi driver who tells me about his love for America are the true peacemakers here and I can only pray that others of the region, others of the world, can learn the true meaning of peace from them.
-Laurin-Whitney Gottbrath, YAGM, J/WB 2011-2012

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

US Churches and Palestine's bid for UN membership

From the World Council of Churches' Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum

US Christian leaders say yes to Palestine UN membership

1 Nov. 2011

Dear friends,

We write to you to share with you a statement from four denominations in the USA on the question of the Palestinian Authority’s bid for membership in the United Nations.

The statement was signed by Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Geoffrey Black of the United Church of Christ, Sharon Watkins of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and Jim Winkler of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society.

Their endorsement argues that United Nations membership is not only deserved on the basis of international law as well as basic fairness but essential to be able to “preserve a multi-religious holy land that includes Christian Palestinians”.

The leaders state that they “stand united in prayer for peace and reconciliation among Jews, Christians, and Muslims”. They strongly assert their conviction that regardless of the outcome of the UN vote, there is so substitute for “two-party, two-state negotiations” through which outstanding issues would be resolved. They hope that the Obama Administration would not veto Palestinian membership in the United Nations, and caution that such a move “would put further pressure on Palestinian Christians and Christian minorities elsewhere in the Middle East”.

They also see as unwise and counter-productive “moves in Congress to cut development aid to the Palestinian Authority to punish it for seeking UN membership”. This would “erode the quality-of-life improvements that have been achieved in the West Bank”.

The statement reiterates the right of both Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security and further argues that “UN membership for Palestine would be a step in that direction”. They also invite those who might be at variance with their stated views to “to visit Palestine and Israel, to go through the walls surrounding Bethlehem and Gaza, to understand the economic chokehold of the occupation”.

This invitation echoes the call from Kairos Palestine, and groups such as Alternative Tourism group who are promoting pilgrimages for transformation to ‘Come and See’ the “truth of our reality” and at the same time to “say a word of truth and to take a position of truth with regard to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land”.

In a recent statement the World Council of Churches general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit had urged strong action by the UN on behalf of Palestine. He referred to the Palestinian membership bid as “a unique opportunity for the UN to take important decisions to fulfil its role and mandate according to the UN Charter”. Tveit called for “different initiatives to build stability in the region” to go hand in hand. Negotiations were not to be seen as an alternative to the Palestinian quest for UN membership.

The Palestine-Israel Ecumenical forum (PIEF) reiterates its call and urges PIEF constituents world-wide to initiate actions that inform and influence public opinion in favour of UN action, and keep up pressure through active lobbying with their governments to vote for the full membership of Palestine at the United Nations.

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For more about the United Nations and Palestine, see these links:

UN News Center - Breaking news from the UN News Center

The Question of Palestine - The United Nations page dedicated to the overview and issues related to Palestine.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Naim Ateek will speak in Milwaukee, Atlanta

Friends, I point your attention to two opportunities to hear the Rev. Naim Ateek, founder of Sabeel.  The first is at Milwaukee, Wis., where Ateek is a presentor at the Nov. 4-6 Call to Action--National Conference.  

Please tell all your contacts in the Milwaukee area about this event. On Nov. 4, Naim Ateek will be speaking on "Palestine/Israel: The Struggle for a Just Peace." Call to Action's conference is called the largest annual gathering of progressive justice-seeking Catholics. 

Now the main event: I urge you to take part in the Nov. 10-12 Sabeel Conference in Atlanta this month. If you are not in the Atlanta area or able to travel there, please share this information widely with your congregation and networks.  This conference is of special interest as it draws upon the heritage of the American civil rights movement.

Find the details at the FOSNA website, or read below.

Sabeel Conference
Atlanta - Nov. 10 - 12, 2011

From Birmingham to Bethlehem:
The Power of Nonviolence in the US and Palestine-Israel

Trinity Presbyterian Church, 3003 Howell Mill Road NW, Atlanta, Georgia 30327

For more information call: 404-842-2198

Full Conference: $75 per person
Includes: Thursday presentation, Friday lunch, dinner and presentations, Saturday breakfast, lunch and presentations

Daily rate: $45 for one day;  $30 for students

  • The Rev. Naim Ateek: Founder and leader of Sabeel.  
  • Anna Baltzer: Award winning lecturer, author, and Jewish-American activist, National Organizer for the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation and author of Witness in Palestine.  
  • Dr. Jesse Benjamin: : Associate Professor of Sociology, Kennesaw State University, his teaching and research interests include: the “Middle East”, race, nationalism, multiculturalism, and forced Bedouin resettlement in Israel.  
  • Dr. Mark Braverman: Jewish-American activist devoted to the Israel/Palestine conflict and author of Fatal Embrace: Christians, Jews, and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land.  
  • Dr. Beverly Guy-Sheftall: Founding director of the Women’s Resource and Research Center and the Anna Julia Cooper Professor of Women’s Studies at Spelman College.  
  • Dr. Maia Hallward: Assistant Professor of Political Science, Kennesaw State University, author of Struggling for a Just Peace: Israeli and Palestinian Activisim in the Second Intifadah; lived and worked in Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Jordan for four years.  
  • The Rev. Dr. Bernard Lafayette: Original Freedom Rider, co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960 and Distinguished Senior Scholar in Residence, Candler School of Theology at Emory University.  
  • Manal Tamimi: Palestinian representative from the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, where community members are using non-violent action to challenge the Israeli Government who are taking over village land for a nearby settlement.
Click this link to see the full conference schedule.

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