Monday, December 24, 2012

Mitri Raheb: Bethlehem Then and Now

Pastor Mitri Raheb's Dec. 9 sermon, "Bethlehem Then and Now" is circulating. It is well worth reading and sharing (below).  In addition, Pastor Raheb offers an Advent greeting on video.  Pastor Mitri Raheb's Advent greeting on video here.

Bethlehem Then and Now
Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb's Sermon
December 9, 2012

“O little town of Bethlehem” is one of the most famous Christmas Hymns. Bethlehem has become almost a mythological place: Children imagine it with a few “huts,” a few camels and the holy family. At the time of Jesus, Bethlehem was a little town of 300-1,000 inhabitants. What people might not know is that the city of Bethlehem today is not in Israel but in Palestine, and that it is a bustling city with 28,000 people. One third of them are Palestinian Christians. 

When Christians today sing “O little town of Bethlehem” they seldom think of the real city with the real people. When it comes to Bethlehem and to Christmas, Christianity has become so spiritualized and so commercialized. 

It’s all about Santa, the Tree, the gifts, and the food. But what happened in Bethlehem 2000 years ago was something real. Jesus was born as a refugee. His family was forced to leave Nazareth and go to Bethlehem. Later his family had to flee the brutality of King Herod and go into hiding in Egypt for two years. Today Bethlehem has almost 20,000 Palestinian refugees who lost in 1948, when the State of Israel was established, their land, homes and belongings and came to Bethlehem seeking refugee. They are still living in three refugee camps waiting for a just solution. 

The Christmas story of the Bible has nothing to do with what we know today as Christmas. Take the story of the Magi or the kings from the East. That story is read in a nostalgic way and is being performed over and over again. But a closer look at the story will show that it talks about the Roman Empire and their occupation of Palestine. Empires do not control only the native people they rule; they also work to ensure that visitors coming in contact with the land and its native people are controlled. In 2010 a well-known evangelical preacher came to attend a theological conference in Bethlehem. Upon arrival at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israeli officials told him that they would like to invite him for a cup of coffee in their offices and have a chat. For almost four hours he was questioned about his decision to attend a conference in Bethlehem, what he thought of the Palestinian Kairos Document, and how he knew some of these “radical” Palestinian theologians. This was supposed to be VIP treatment. Others who are part of solidarity movements with Palestine are often detained at the Israeli airport and sent back to their home countries. 

When this highly reputed American evangelical preacher told us his story I told him, “Welcome to Palestine. As someone who knows his Bible well you should not have been surprised by such treatment. The same VIP treatment was also extended to the Magi from the east that came to see Jesus in Bethlehem. Herod too invited them ‘for a cup of coffee’ to ascertain why they wanted to travel to Bethlehem, and how they knew about the newborn child. So now you have experienced something biblical. Welcome to the Holy Land!” 

I still recall how everyone in the group laughed. Then an American woman attending the conference asked me, “So what should we tell the Israelis at the airport when they question us about where we have been? What should we say?” I replied “I wish I could tell you what the angel told the Magi, after visiting Jesus; basically showing them another route not controlled by the Empire. Unfortunately, all roads, airports and borders are controlled by Israel. By the way, an invitation to drink a cup of coffee by Israeli or Arab intelligence authorities is known in political jargon as interrogation.”

We seldom read the story of the Magi as them being interrogated by the occupation that holds the power. But this is what it was. 

Bethlehem at the birth of Jesus was a besieged city. Today Bethlehem is again a besieged city surrounded from three sides by a 25 foot high concrete wall. So what if Jesus were to be born today in Bethlehem? If Jesus were to be born this year, he would not be born in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph would not be allowed to enter from the Israeli checkpoint, and so too the Magi. The shepherds would be stuck inside the walls, unable to leave their little town. Jesus might have been born at the checkpoint like so many Palestinian children while having the Magi and shepherds on both sides of the wall. 

So where is the Gospel in all of this? The good news is this: God came into no other than this troubled, wounded and real world. He is real and wants to enter into our real world with all its complexities and fears. Christmas is real. It is not a myth or a wonder world. The Gospel is that God became one of us, one like us. He came as a child, vulnerable, and weak. And yet through his vulnerability was able to overcome the empire. Christmas is God’s promise to us that we will have life, peace, and future. For us Palestinian Christians and citizens of Bethlehem the Christmas story of then is our story today. Praise God that Jesus is the same: yesterday, today and forever.

Pastor Raheb's sermon at the Bright Stars of Bethlehem website here.

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Advent resources from Bethlehem, Peace Not Walls, Sabeel and more

Pastor Mitri Raheb of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem shares an advent greeting from the Holy Land. Christmas Lutheran does a simulcast Christmas Service between Bethlehem and the National Cathedral in Washington DC each year.

Pastor Raheb spoke to a travel seminar group from Yale earlier this year, and that group posted video. [See the two video clips a this link to the Yale blog]  

In a recent article Pastor Raheb reflected on the Christmas story in his hometown of Bethlehem:
"Bethlehem at the birth of Jesus was a besieged city. Today Bethlehem is again a besieged city surrounded from three sides by a 25 foot high concrete wall.  So what if Jesus were to be born today in Bethlehem? If Jesus were to be born this year, he would not be born in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph would not be allowed to enter from the Israeli checkpoint, and so too the Magi. The shepherds would be stuck inside the walls, unable to leave their little town. Jesus might have been born at the checkpoint like so many Palestinian children while having the Magi and shepherds on both sides of the wall." [Read the article at this link]

For more Advent reflections see the ELCA Peace Not Walls blog.

Sabeel, the ecumenical liberation theology center in Jerusalem, issued a Christmas message from the Rev. Naim Ateek, director, A Child in a Manger: Liberation through Nonviolence

Here is a little bit: In reflecting on the Christmas story, what stands out to me this year are the words of the angel to the shepherds, “This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” The people of first century Palestine were looking for salvation and liberation from the oppressive yoke of the Roman Empire.  They were looking for a military leader to overthrow their oppressors and lead them to victory.  The angel, however, declared that their savior had come in the form of a helpless child.  Today’s Palestinians are looking for salvation and liberation from the oppressive yoke of Israel.  Tragically, and too often, it is through the clamor of the instruments of war and violence that we seek our liberation.  Yet true and lasting liberation can only come through the power of nonviolence.
[See the entire message at this link]

I hope you will also take some time during Advent to read Cornerstone, the regular publication from Sabeel.

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From the World Council of Churches:
WCC sees positive step in Palestine upgrade at the UN
The newly upgraded status of Palestine in the United Nations (UN) is viewed as a positive step in the direction toward peace and a reaffirmation of the World Council of Churches (WCC) long-term commitment to a two-state solution, Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, WCC general secretary said on Friday.
“It is now up to the two sides, Israel and Palestine, to move this process forward,” said Tveit. “The vote in the UN confirms that the two-state solution is the best way to peace in the region. Without that, the future holds yet more violence and insecurity, and continuing tragedy for both peoples.”  [Read the article here]

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

U.N. votes today on Palestine membership

ELCA Bishop Mark Hanson urged President Obama to support Palestine at the United Nations

In a letter to President Obama on Nov. 26, ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson advocates for the US to support the upcoming Palestinian bid for non-member observer state status at the UN in the General Assembly:
With the present Palestinian effort to seek observer state status in the United Nations, the U.S. has another opportunity to demonstrate its support for self-determination and freedom. The U.S. should support these announced plans by the Palestinians when they come before the General Assembly later this month.

Over the past year, we have witnessed efforts to restart talks with the objective of achieving a two-state solution. We have also witnessed worrying developments on the ground which have inhibited those efforts, mainly the continuing expansion of illegal Israeli settlements and the increased displacement of Palestinians from their homes and villages. U.S. support for observer state status at the UN for the Palestinians would be an important signal to the parties that reaching a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement, where both communities may live in peace and security is still the fervent goal of our government.

Advocating for observer state status for the Palestinians does not preclude the necessity for returning to confidence-building measures and negotiations that support a just peace. We should support both paths.

See the blog post at Peace Not Walls, and be sure to comment there.
Read the full letter HERE.

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President Jimmy Carter and Gro Harlem Brundtland wrote in the New York Times...

Two-State Solution on the Line
If the recent rocket attacks on Israel and Israeli air strikes on Gaza tell us anything, it is that the status quo in the Middle East is not a safe choice for Israelis or Palestinians.  In the current political climate, it is highly unlikely that bilateral talks between Israel and the Palestinians can restart. Action is needed that will alter the current dynamic. As Elders, we believe that the Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations is such a moment.

On Nov. 29, U.N. member states will be asked to vote on a resolution to grant “non-member observer state status” to Palestine, a significant upgrade from its current “observer entity” status. We urge all member states to vote in favor.

In going to the General Assembly, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is not carrying out a provocative act. Nor is he undermining trust and distracting from the pursuit of peace, as his critics have said.

This is a vote for human rights and the rule of law. It is completely consistent with decades of commitment by the United States, Europe and the rest of the world to peace in the Middle East based on the creation of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state existing side by side with Israel. It is a lawful, peaceful, diplomatic act in line with past U.N. resolutions and international law.  [Read the full article HERE.]

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Rabbi Brian Walt wrote in Haaretz defending the recent letter to Congress by leaders of Protestant churches that called for U.S. military aid to Israel to be contingent on Israeli compliance with American law. His piece was picked up by 
Mondoweiss ...

Christian leaders will not be cowed into silence about widespread human rights violations

(...) Over the past two weeks, I had the privilege of leading an interfaith delegation including several leaders of the civil rights movement, younger civil and human rights leaders, Christian clergy, academics, and several Jews, on a two-week trip to the West Bank.

We were all shocked by the widespread human rights violations that we saw with our own eyes and that we heard about from both Palestinians and Israelis. Several black members of our group, including those who participated actively in the civil rights movement, remarked that what they saw on the West Bank was "frighteningly familiar" to their own experience, a systemic pattern of discrimination that privileged one group (in this case, Jews) and denigrated another (Palestinians).
Read the full article HERE.]
Rabbi Brian Walt is the Palestinian/Israeli Nonviolence Project Fellow of the Dorothy Cotton Institute.
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The Jewish Daily Forward magazine published an article...
Why Jews Should Back Palestinian U.N. Bid

Statehood Move Affirms Need for Two-State Solutionttp://

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Warren Clark, director of
Churches for Middle East Peace has written about the Palestinians' U.N. action.

"A drama is unfolding this week in New York over plans for a resolution in the UN General Assembly (UNGA) this Thursday, November 29, that would recognize Palestine as a non-UN member state.  That is the anniversary of the UNGA vote on resolution 181 in 1948 for partition and creation of a Jewish state and an Arab state in Palestine. It was declared an “International Day of Solidarity With the Palestinian People” by the UN in 1977.

"UN recognition of Palestine as a state could have far-reaching political and legal implications. Even without being a UN member, for example, it might give Palestine the legal standing to bring cases against Israel in the International Criminal Court.
"The U.S. and Israel have firmly opposed recognition of Palestine as a state by the UNGA, saying Palestine’s status can only be determined as the result of direct negotiations between Palestinians and Israel.  The U.S. has sought to dissuade the Palestinian Authority (PA) from proceeding with recognition now, saying that the U.S. needs more time to work something out.  What that “something” might be and how long it would take was not made clear.

"Recently PA President Mahmoud Abbas called President Obama to say that he plans to go ahead with the UN vote on November 29, notwithstanding US objections.

"The reasons for the defiance by Abbas are not hard to find.  Since leading the PA in 2005 he has sought self-determination for the Palestinian people, but despite years of close PA security cooperation with Israel and the U.S., he faces a Palestinian public disappointed by his inability to stop settlement growth and make progress towards ending the Israeli occupation.  Abbas and the PA also have been weakened by their inability to have much influence over stopping violence in the Gaza Strip. In the past Abbas paid a high political price for bowing to U.S. wishes, for example by withdrawing a resolution from the UN Human Rights Commission at U.S. request that raised questions about Israel’s conduct in the Gaza war of 2008-09.

"According to press reports the U.S. informed Israel that it was not successful in getting Abbas to back down and that it sees no way to block a vote in the UNGA. Prime Minister Netanyahu then changed his stance, sending his chief negotiator to the U.S. this week to discuss the wording of a resolution in an effort to limit the damage.  Israel is thought to be seeking assurances that Palestinians will not ask to be a member of the International Criminal Court; that recognition grants no Palestinian sovereignty over the West Bank, the Gaza Strip or East Jerusalem; and that Palestinians will commit to enter into direct negotiations without preconditions.

"Indeed President Abbas has said that once Palestine is recognized, he would be willing to enter into direct negotiation with Israel, as he will be able to do so on a state-to-state basis.  This pre-positioning is important to both sides. As a recognized non-UN member state the PA may believe it will be in a stronger position to negotiate on the basis on the 1967 lines with agreed territorial swaps as suggested by President Obama. 

"This also was the negotiating position of the last Israeli government under Ehud Olmert in 2008, but it was rejected by Prime Minister Netanyahu in his meeting with President Obama in May 2011.

"The prime minister reportedly has also prepared some sticks in case the UNGA resolution goes forward. These include a freeze on tax revenues that Israel collects for the PA; the announcement of hundreds of new housing units in West Bank settlements; and approval of sections of the Levy report that recommended legalizing and easing restrictions on construction of outposts in the West Bank.

"One of the reasons that Israel has sent its chief negotiator, Isaac Molho, to the U.S. may well be to seek assurance that there will not be undue adverse U.S. reaction to Israel’s retaliation measures.

"This suggests that the U.S. still has some influence over the unfolding of events in the next few days.

"Let us all watch and pray for an outcome that takes us a step closer to real peace and better lives for all people in the region."
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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pray with Sabeel to calm the senseless storm of violence

Every Thursday the community at Sabeel joins together in prayer and fellowship. Sabeel is the ecumenical liberation theology center in Jerusalem. To join in the prayers, subscribe to the weekly memo with prayer concerns at this address: Friends of Sabeel--North America, PO Box 9186, Portland, Oregon  97207;

This week's prayers address the new escalation in Gaza, the suffering and violence there, and the harm that the building of settlements brings to the work toward peace. Please join us in prayer at 12:00 noon in your time zone, or whenever you are in your time of prayer and meditation.

Sabeel Wave of Prayer

Wave of Prayer for Thursday, November 15, 2012     
Sovereign God of justice and peace, our hearts are broken once again by this week's escalation of violence in Gaza. Please bring about a just peace between the two sides. Lord, we mourn everyone killed in the attacks, especially lamenting the loss of several children. We cry out that the lives of these people, are not dispensable, but are valuable beyond measure. We beg you, God, to calm the senseless storm of violence, and move politicians to make real and diligent progress toward peace. Lord, in your mercy...
As we mourn events in Gaza, we also pray for general movement toward peace with regard to every aspect of the conflict. Lord, would you work in the hearts and minds of Israeli politicians and impress upon them the irrevocable harm which illegal settlement-building causes to the work towards peace. May they recognize the need to stop all such building. Lord may we all remember that our lives are bound up together as members of one shared humanity, and may we never seek only our own interests, but also those of our neighbors and of the whole world. Lord, in your mercy....
Father, in light of these needs, please mold us into agents of peace and effective witnesses to the Gospel - that we may love our neighbors in action and in truth. We pray specifically that you would bless this week's Sabeel programs and the U.S. women's witness visit led by Reverend Ann Franklin. Lord, in your mercy...
Lord, we look beyond the struggles in our home region to other corners of the world that are suffering. We specifically lift up the citizens of Guatemala and Myanmar, many of whom were impacted by significant earthquakes last week, including terrifying aftershocks that exacerbated damage and injuries. Lord would you heal the wounded, provide emergency relief for victims, and comfort the families of the dozens who lost their lives. Lord, in your mercy...
Finally, along with the World Council of Churches, we pray in solidarity with the people of the Republic of Congo, Gabon, and São Tomé e Príncipe. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Following the 2006 Sabeel International Conference, the Friends of Sabeel coordinators met and discussed the idea of "Waves of Prayer." The premise is that in their respective time zones, individuals and groups around the world will pray together at 12:00 on Thursdays, in solidarity with Sabeel in Jerusalem and with "Friends of Sabeel" worldwide. Starting in the Pacific Islands, passing through Asia, Africa, Palestine, Europe, the Americas and on around the globe, we pray for peace with justice. 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.

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Monday, November 12, 2012

East Jerusalem hospitals suffering from Palestinian economic crisis

My last post addressed the economic realities in Palestine at this time. Here's more related information.

LWF’s Augusta Victoria Hospital among East Jerusalem hospitals suffering from PA financial crisis

Six hospitals in East Jerusalem, including the Lutheran World Federation’s Augusta Victoria Hospital, face difficulties because of the Palestinian Authority’s financial crisis.   The PA is dependent upon foreign aid, which has been reduced from the Gulf States and Washington.  Washington withheld $192 million because President Abbas has said he would continue to strive for observer status at the UN.  The PA has built up debts of $18 million to the specialized healthcare centers this year.  The World Bank forecasts a $1.5 billion deficit in the 2012 PA budget due to the shortfall in foreign aid.

“The moment the PA faces any financial difficulty, it stops paying. But the hospital must still take in patients,” Tawfiq Nasser, head of the Augusta Victoria Hospital, told Reuters. “We can no longer offer the same services and that is putting patients at risk, endangering their lives.”  [Read the Peace Not Walls bulletin at this link.]

Educational Opportunities on Hold

Students in the West Bank and Gaza face many obstacles in their quest for higher education. Several indicators show that Palestinians are among the most educated in the Arab world despite the hardships caused by the occupation and blockade. The students’ struggles received worldwide attention this week after the U.S. State Department withdrew scholarships for students in Gaza after Israeli authorities would not permit them to travel to the West Bank from Gaza.

Gaza student Amal Ashour, 18, is a student who recently studied in Minnesota during her senior year through a U.S. government funded program. This fall she planned to study in a West Bank university with financial support also provided by the U.S., however a month before school started, she was informed that her U.S. scholarship was no longer available. 

According to the Associated Press, “Under Israeli pressure, U.S. officials have quietly canceled a two-year-old scholarship program for students in the Gaza Strip, undercutting one of the few American outreach programs to people in the Hamas-ruled territory.” [Read the full story at this link.]

Jimmy Carter and the Elders in Jerusalem
In case you didn't see news coverage of President Carter's most recent trip to Jerusalem, together with other Elders (Nobel Peace Prize winners), see the story at this link.

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Romney, Economic Realities and one Palestinian's story

After today's election, the issues discussed in this good article will still factor in to the economy and the human rights situation in Palestine. It's from Aljazeera, written by Kristin Szremski, director of media and communications for the American Muslims for Palestine.  

Romney, economic realities and one Palestinian’s story
Murad's story typifies Palestinians' experience of running into proverbial roadblocks at every turn of their development

The combined results and fall-out from the Oslo peace accords, Israel's siege on Gaza and the loss of freedom of movement under a military occupation are some of the reasons why the Palestinian economy barely sputters alongside a more robust Israeli one. The anaemic economy has nothing whatsoever to do with a less-than-desirable Palestinian culture, as presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told Israeli guests at a $25,000-a-head fundraiser in Jerusalem on Monday. 

By now, Romney's comments have been thoroughly dissected, deconstructed and also, from Romney's camp, even denied. But they bear looking into again in light of the personal story of a Palestinian agronomy student who wants to contribute positively to his society, finding himself thwarted by the occupation and the maze of rules governing international aid agencies. His story typifies Palestinians' experience of running into proverbial and actual roadblocks at every turn of their personal development - while it also helps explain that economic problems are occupation-induced, not the result of a population devoid of a "divine Midas touch", which Romney intimated "Providence" bestowed upon Israeli Jews.

Murad Amro, is a 23-year-old agricultural student from Hebron who goes by the name of "Murad Palestina" on Facebook. According to his timeline, Murad divides his time between his studies, his horses and participating in non-violent resistance to Israel's occupation with the group Youth Against Settlements. When his posts aren't related to the group's efforts to open Shuhada Street, which is closed to Palestinians, or documenting violence at the hands of Jewish settlers, they reveal the reflective and romantic side of a young man who says he wants to "plant peace in the hearts of all people."

(...)  [Murad was distressed upon learning] he did not get an internship with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a special agency of the United Nations - not because his credentials were lacking, but simply because of who he is. He graduated on June 20 from Al-Quds Open University with a degree in plant production and hopes, one day, to go on to earn a PhD, he said. The internship would have been an important learning tool toward his goal of contributing to Palestinian agriculture. But IFAD refused to consider his application because Palestine is not a UN member state.

"Unfortunately we require our interns to have a nationality from a member state and Palestine is not part of this … So unfortunately, we would not be able to consider the application. I hope this helps," a human resources clerk reportedly wrote in an email response to his application.  PLEASE READ THE FULL STORY AT THIS LINK.

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Monday, November 5, 2012

For EAPPI's Tenth Anniversary, Ecumenical Accompaniers in the United States provided reflections for the Tenth Anniversary of EAPPI. They add specifics about their advocacy work to emphasize the importance of ongoing advocacy in the USA.

(Above, a glimpse of the anniversary greeting compiled by accompanier Loren McGrail and laid out to be an attractive  document. Below, the entire text of the reflections.)
Happy Tenth Anniversary EAPPI
Where was the Holy in the Holy Land?
Where was the Holy?
Did I touch it? Was it here?Was it chased out by the bombings?
By the bullets?  By the fear?
If we chased out all these people,
would the Holiness come back?Whats the sound of One God loving

when it seems no ones loving back?
I went to see and touch and smellall the Holy shrines and places.

But most Holy, to me, was the One who came
For simple, hurting faces.
The Holy is not just something far beyond or high above.
God’s Holiness is in the world

Where people find the courage to love.
To accompany, to walk beside, is to tread on sacred ground.
A Holy quest, one truly blessed, The most Holy land I’ve found.

To all my fellow accompaniers
Rev. Julie Rowe, 2003-2005
Blessings of peace and hope to everyone gathered for the anniversary event Nov. 3, 2012, our Palestinian and Israeli companions in country, and the EAPPI community around the world. Ecumenical Accompaniers in the United States, from the earliest to the most recent, respond to the Tenth Anniversary of EAPPI with individual reflections on their experiences as EAs. They add specifics about their advocacy work to emphasize the importance of ongoing advocacy in the USA.
 Our Experiences and Gratitude
Looking back over the ten years of US involvement in EAPPI, it is really encouraging to see how much the Program has grown and produced.   I feel very blessed to know some of you personally and admire all the things that you all have accomplished.    I know that we all have come away from Palestine and Israel deeply changed by the experience.  I carry daily the pain of separation from those I love in Palestine as I am sure you all do.  It is difficult being away, feeling a sense of helplessness and inability to alter their situation. Yet, we all know that there is much still to be done here at home in the US to help bring about peace and justice by educating and
advocating here with our churches and government.  We all have found our ways to work; I am awed and humbled by all of your work and witness, Accompaniers! 
 (Meg Kiekhaefer, Group 1)  

Probably the most significant comment that I heard was from a Jewish woman from the West Bank who shared, "We must move beyond the Holocaust.  The abuse and oppression of the Occupation is stripping the joy out of Judaism."…God's blessings to all who will attend the EAPPI 10 year Anniversary Celebration!  I am most grateful for the opportunity and privilege of being a part of this great organization (Lynne Rigg, Group 2).  

I bring what I learned about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through EAPPI into my lessons, hopefully opening the minds of about a 100 high school students every year who might otherwise simply believe the biased information they get from the U.S. media and, unfortunately, at times their parents.  For this I thank EAPPI and hope fervently that we will all live to the see the day when EAPPI will no longer be necessary.  In the meantime, we are thankful that it is still there (Larry Fata, Group 4).

I was dispatched to the village of Jayous, where the Wall had just been completed.  Working closely with volunteers from the International Solidarity Movement, we spent most of our time doing "gate watch" as the farmers of Jayous struggled daily with Israeli soldiers for access to their fields of olives and citrus.  Rammadan fell during the olive harvest in 2003, and many days we crossed through the Wall and accompanied families of Jayous to harvest their olives.  It was hot, exhausting work, and my Muslim friends brought water and food into the fields for me and my fellow accompaniers, laughing that "they needed another picker more than they needed another Muslim"…  I regard the privilege of having learned and served with EAPPI as one of the most transformative and profound experiences of my life.  It gives me great joy to congratulate the World Council of Churches on this bold initiative as EAPPI celebrates its 10th anniversary!  (Don Christensen, Group 4)

I’m grateful for the experiences I had in EAPPI, and have watched the great growth of the program and its awareness-raising.  God Bless all who go, and all of us in our continuing mission to tell the story that needs to be heard round the world! (Julie Rowe, Group 5)

I am grateful to the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem for calling other Christians to "come and see" the situation on the ground in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and to the World Council of Churches for responding to the call by forming the EAPPI…Being an EA made me more alert to systemic injustice, which, of course, has made my life less comfortable and thus, a little closer to most people's lives in the world. I think that is what accompaniment is. Thanks be to God, who keeps us connected (Carolyn Schneider, Group 14)

The village leaders in East Sawahreh, on the road between East Jerusalem and Bethlehem, had asked us to monitor the Bethlehem checkpoint in tandem with Machsom Watch and to help them draw attention to the construction of the separation wall, which was about to sever their connections with Jerusalem. We witnessed the way the wall tore through the property of the Passsionista Monestary in Bethany, damaging the ruins of a fourth century church--an act condemned by the Israeli Ministry of Antiquities. Our group produced a series of photographs about different aspects of the occupation, with captions taken from Bible verses and human rights reports. An article about my experiences, based on a journal I kept, was published by the Workmen's Circle, a Labor Zionist newsletter.
(Leila Richards, Group 5)

It was life changing for me. I, like you, have been compelled to remain engaged in advocacy here in the State, and leading others on trips to visit my friends in Palestine… Keep up the good work EAPPI and Happy Birthday! (Scott Thams, Group 30)

It's encouraging seeing how far EAPPI has grown and the impact it has on so many lives.   This direct, front line approach has been a valuable experience---in big and small ways.  I'm thankful for the opportunity and "plug it" every chance I can. “Happy Anniversary EAPPI!” Keep up the good work. In Just Peace, Kathy Preuss, Group 35

Thank you to the World Council of Churches and the EAPPI staff for developing and sustaining a program of accompaniment with the people of Palestine and Israel. Blessings on your continued efforts to support a just and peaceful resolution whereby two peoples and three faiths can live together.
(Faye and John Buttrick, Group 36).

Ruth and I served with EAPPI from December 2010 to March 2011. Ruth was in East Jerusalem and I was in Yanoun. In Jerusalem, the daily grind of monitoring the checkpoints getting up at 4:00 in the morning and the heartbreak of visiting with people whose homes had been demolished or were threatened to be demolished certainly stirred up my wife's heart of compassion. In Yanoun, we monitored the continual harassment of Palestinians from illegal settlers. While I was there a young shepherd from Iraq Burin was murdered by a Israeli settler some 5 kilometers from a settlement and visited Kerbit Tana three times following major demolitions to this small village clinging to their existence in the Jordan Valley. I have the highest regard for the EA program and recommend it to many. I wish there was a way to help underwrite the expenses for US participants so more could be involved. I greatly appreciate the staff in Jerusalem who trained us, deployed us and served us during the time we were in Israel Palestine. Pauline Nunu has done an excellent job of coordinating the program. Keep up the good work. (Wayne and Ruth Smith, Group 38)

It's actually impossible for me to put into words the impact this program has had on me, and I am certain that its impact on the Palestinian people is great (Chris Cowan, Group 41).

In my three months as an EA in Hebron I learned about hospitality as resistance. On our very first day on the ground we went visiting. At the Jaber family’s house we sat out on the cement patio and were offered a drink as is customary, but lemon drink with mint instead of the usual tea and coffee. We gladly accepted and watched as a group of small children were put to work plucking lemons from the family’s own tree. They marched into the house and returned a minute later to pluck more lemons. They handed us each a lemon as a gift. I still have the lemon; it is dried now, but it still has that faint citrus smell. It reminds me of the perseverance of the families in Hebron and their refusal to give in to the occupation. Tea at Abed’s shop, the families of Amnyr offering us tea after their homes were demolished, breakfast with Laila and Nawal after checkpoint duty – all of these memories I treasure as reminders of Palestinian resilience and life in the midst of hardship and loss. The people I met in Hebron remind not to give up hope that justice will come some day (Amy Kienzle, Group 39).

Thank you World Council of Churches and EAPPI Staff and the Global Missions Board of the United Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ for supporting this important justice work and providing me such a profound experience of what it means to be both a critical and protective presence in the world. This experience has led me directly to applying for a position with my church to be a missionary in Israel and Palestine. I am a missionary candidate today because of EAPPI and thus hope to continue to serve and learn more about this land that all call holy. (Loren McGrail, Group 39).

It was the most remarkable experience I have had in my life. I learned a lot about Israeli/Palestinian conflict, religious traditions of other faiths and the daily struggles under occupation of the ordinary Palestinian lives with.  Much of my experience was heartbreaking as I witnessed Segregation (Aparthied) in the city of Hebron/Al Khalil being carried out in modern times. This was difficult to witness as an American with our history of Segregation, and feeling like I come from a place that has tried to heal itself (although not completely yet) from this oppressive behavior. At the same time, it was a magnificent experience to learn about the Palestinian culture and make new friends. Experiencing the day to day culture had the strongest impact on me and is what I emphasize in my advocacy talks here in the US. The kindness and overwhelming generosity of the Palestinian people was at times too much to comprehend. (Tammie Danielsen, Group 42).

The experience was certainly life changing. I will never forget being invited to a home in Tuq'a for dinner by the fully veiled mother of five sons who saw us at the school that morning and would not let us leave until we had spoken with her son to confirm the date. One of her sons had been killed by a settler's vehicle, who backed up over her son, then sped off. She expressed to us her deep gratitude that by our presence we were preventing this from happening again. Being that presence was a gift that I will carry forever. At the Bethlehem 300 Checkpoint I always beeped at the metal detector which always gave the soldiers a reason to slow the lines. Now when I purchase bras I am very conscious of the amount of metal they contain! (Mary Morris, Group 43

Our major job at Jayyous was monitoring agricultural gates and the Qalquilya Terminal, along with the more “pastoral” tasks of visiting families that had experienced raids and arrests, hearing the stories of people who’d been released from prison, learning and living with the rhythms of Ramadan and the natural schedule that revolves around an economy centered on agriculture. It is important to tell Americans that I lived in an entirely Muslim village and that religion was simply not an issue.  People did not expect the women in our group to cover our heads.  No one objected or frowned when we found we really needed a drink of water during Ramadan.  People’s faith was a resource of strength, solidarity and identity for them, not a criterion for judging others. I am surprised to discover that when EAs from ensuing groups write about their experiences, especially from Jayyous, I find myself incredibly angry and depressed that things are so much the same… or worse.  I don’t want the people of Jayyous to be endlessly “resilient survivors,” I want to see things change!  I know I will carry those contradictory feelings with me for the rest of my life – or for as long as the occupation lasts. Thank you, EAPPI, thank you World Council of Churches, thank you everyone who makes this program possible for enriching my life, for giving shape to my passion, for confronting me with the Gospel, for tinting my outrage with hope and vision. (Elice Higginbotham, Group 32)


After crossing Kalandya checkpoint for the first time, I called my wife to say that I would rather come home.  The experience brought back those fearful moments in the ‘60s, crossing from the White section of town into a totally Black neighborhood. I told her that I am just too old to go through this again. She reminded me that I was there by choice; I’d just have to stick it out and pray about it. I am glad I stayed.  Stationed in Ramallah, I came to experience city life under occupation, established genuine friendships with people of the Friends School and the Hope Lutheran Church as well as making friends in Jerusalem. I also was able to visit almost all the EAPPI placements and developed strong and lasting friendships with fellow EA's from Norway, Sweden and Denmark and Palestinian and Israeli friends. Participating in EAPPI became another transformative experience that has helped me live a live committed to peace and justice and to speaking the truth in love -- even if ignored, unheeded or rejected.  Martin Luther King, Jr., reminds us that "the arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice" and that "truth, crushed to the ground shall rise again.” As an Indonesian-American, I have experienced many American church folks who were either totally ignorant of, or reluctant to mention, the brutalities and human rights violations in Indonesia. Indonesia is now emerging into a new faze after the fall of president Suharto. And East Timor is now one of the newest countries on the world stage. The people of Palestine will also be free, thanks to the work of faithful people who struggle for peace and justice. (Max Surjadinata, Group 11)


Education and Advocacy

The following is a compilation of activities that EA’s have been doing since they have returned. As promised we have been busy educating our churches and the overall public through our writings and presentations and advocating for peace with our legislators. Many of us belong to denominations who have recently asked congress for conditional military aid for Israel so I imagine we will be busy working with this new direction. Others are beginning to put their support and energy behind various campaigns related to boycotting settler made products while others are investigating how we can have “positive investment” under occupation. We are all at different places but all are working hard for a just peace.

Elice Higginbotham
:  My own advocacy work since I returned has included: Editing/updating the EAPPI-US website; Continued speaking and preaching about Palestine at churches in an around New York; Serving on the New York planning committee for the Tree of Life Conference.  “Tree of Life” is a program that emerged six or seven years ago out of a UCC congregation in Connecticut.  Each year in the fall, Tree of Life brings resource people from Palestine for a series of half-day or one-day events in the northeastern US, featuring people involved in peacemaking activities in Palestine and Israel.  I help with the outreach and publicity, and we usually host one or more program presenters in our home.  The third New York Tree of Life Conference will be on November 11 this year, hosted by a Manhattan Episcopal congregation.          And, of course, signing untold numbers of petitions, writing letter after letter to Congress and the President, showing up at demonstration after demonstration.

Meg Kiekhaefer:  To be honest, I haven’t kept track of the talks given, letters written, and advocacy for peace since I have returned.  For my part, I have found a niche selling Palestinian olive oil and products to educate and to support the cause as much as possible.  There have been periods where I have been motivated to work hard and times when it has seemed overwhelming and hopeless.  I have helped to write a study guide for understanding the current situation as well as participating in an interfaith dialogue group.  I have presented several programs for our synod events and led study groups in our congregation.

Lynne Rigg: I've given over 110 presentations - - primarily to churches, Adult Ed programs, Synod Conference Meetings, Civic Groups, schools and private homes.

Don Christensen: I returned to the West Bank in 2005 and 2006 with interfaith delegations from Interfaith Peace Builders.  During one the these visits I was privileged to accompany Palestinian nonviolent activists as they trained villagers in the theory and practice of active nonviolence.  I continue to be active in education and advocacy for peace with justice in Palestine and Israel.

Esther Nelson: The experience equipped and continues to equip me for advocacy by providing 1) credibility and 2) inspiration. I returned to P/I as an ICAHD home-rebuilder and a fair trade intern, but it is my EA experience that continues to allow me to bear witness on a variety of issues and experiences. I am so grateful. 

Julie Rowe:  After EAPPI in 2003-4, I stayed in Jerusalem from 2004-8 working with Bishop Younan and his communications, speeches, statements, website, etc.  Since then I have been working on the Peace not Walls campaign at the church wide office and with synods who relate to the Middle East and Europe (Julie Rowe). Go to to learn more about our education and advocacy work.

Bob Traer:  The letters I wrote in the spring of 2005, with photos I took, continue to be available on my web site at And a book about my EAPPI experience entitled "Jerusalem Journal: Finding Hope" is available through

Scott Thams: I have taken three groups back and the experience was as amazing for them.  Everyone who visits for even two weeks is moved by the horror of the oppression that is everyday life for Palestinians and moved to engage in changing it. I will spend the rest of my life doing what I can to change it and bring sanity to our foreign policy. I long for the day that we no longer need EAPPI but until that day I am thankful we do.

Wayne Smith: These experiences certainly mobilized me to direct a great deal of my energy into advocacy work and currently serve as the Regional Coordinator for Washington and Oregon for Churches for Middle East Peace.

Amy Kienzle: I have continued to blog about the situation and am now also coordinating my denomination’s advocacy efforts under Peace Not Walls.

Loren McGrail:  Since returning in the Spring of 2011. I created worship resources and a sermon based on the theme “Refusing to Be Enemies” and have been doing presentations called “Time for A Just Peace in the Land They Call Holy: An Ecumenical Accompaniers Speaks out Against the Occupation and For Nonviolent Resistance.” I joined two groups here in Chicago: Chicago Faith Coalition for Middle East Peace and the Chicago Presbytery for Middle East Task Force. In addition I formed a Task Force at my home church. I have continued to blog about issues related to Palestine and Israel and also put up many articles on facebook page. As part of my blog, I have included posts specific for Advent and Lent and will do so again. I coordinated a Palestinian Solidarity Night for activists in the community and spoke at the American Muslims for Palestine national conference. I am investigating what “economic leverage” might mean for us in the UCC and how it might allow us to join with other denominations in their call for boycotts.

Chris Cowan: Since getting back in January I've done just under 20 varied presentations, and I've written letters too numerous to count, just as all of you have. A reply from President Carter yesterday in response to my description of Area C conditions began, "These situations are heartbreaking." So true. There is so much left to do! 

Tammie Danielsen:  Advocacy since I've been back in the US has included presentations in Minnesota, Austin (Texas) and Chicago; Representing the ELCA’s Peace Not Walls at a regional conference; Participating in efforts of Interfaith Community of Palestinian Rights in Austin. I have visited with Senators and Congressman with information such as copies of Human Rights reports that I sent weekly to the US Consulate's office while I was in Hebron/Al Khalil; 7.) Now I am in beginning to plan an "Open Shuhada Street Campaign" in my local community. I continue to post articles of interest from other organizations on my blog and to post advocacy alerts and info on Facebook and Twitter. And I share my story as an EA with individuals everywhere I go!

David Lindberg: After my return to the U.S. from Bethlehem, I did 50 presentations, mostly in churches, from 2005 to 2007.  I urged my listeners to go to the Holy Land and see the situation for themselves.  I now live in Newport Beach, California, where there is an active interfaith group in which I participate. 

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