Friday, December 20, 2013

The miracle of Christmas

Advent blessings of peace and grace, dear readers.

I didn't notice the outstanding Advent resource distributed by Kairos Palestine. I wish I had notified you of it earlier. But it is not too late to share Hind Khoury's introduction, which could stand alone as the most profound Christmas message from Palestine.

The miracle of Christmas makes us whole and fully human
It never ceases to amaze me how, every year, and as we get closer to Christmas, my burdened heart lightens up with joy and hope, as if through a miracle. I take heart from my fellow Bethlehemites, who over the ages, and through many a war and an occupation, have never failed to celebrate Christmas and to honor the newborn prince of peace and love.
   My heart lightens in the shadow of the Apartheid Wall, at my doorstep in Bethlehem. The wall is a dark reminder of Israel’s occupation, an occupation that strangulates our lives, devours our land, and denies us the freedom to move and visit friends and family.
   It reminds me that we simply aspire to live normal lives amidst the abnormality of colonization. We are submitted to this injustice, and to add insult to injury, our resistance is promoted as terrorism, and our victimhood as aggression.
   This transformation is incomprehensible. How can the heart lighten up when our political prisoners linger in Israeli jails many of whom without legal process? How can it be lifted when our refugees wait in their camps only to be met with more frustration, denial, and further expulsion? More still, what light is there in a region that is seeing millions of new refugees, and that is being divided by wars?
   As I renew my hopes with another upcoming Christmas, and as my heart is filled with the joy of giving and caring, I turn to my fellow human beings with a greater belief in their good will. Life looks promising and worth every bit of struggle and hard work, and I am reminded that I cannot live without Christmas.
   Through this modest birth in Bethlehem, humanity is saved. The simple message of Christmas is the secret of life, meaningful and vital to our very existence. Once the simple truth is revealed to us, we know that we are in this world to contribute so that we have life and have it abundantly.
   My prayer this Christmas is for many of us to capture this miracle of Christmas and to think of the poor, the homeless and the oppressed.
   My prayer this Christmas is for thousands of hearts to commit to work diligently for a better world where justice has some respect and where efforts are invested to relieve pain and suffering rather than banal interests and power mongering.
   My prayer this Christmas is for people to seek their true genuine calling. With so many old and new refugees in our dear Middle East, including the Palestinian refugees who simply want to and have the right to go back homes. With so many homeless, stranded parents, children and elderly, so many more dead and injured, so many homes demolished, so much hardship, so many societies torn apart, there is certainly some joy and hope to give, some peace to construct, some good will to show that we care and to prove we are truly human and deserving of life.

[Hind Khoury is a Palestinian Christian who worked for more than 20 years in the economic development of the Palestinian Occupied Territories. In 2005 she was appointed as Minister of Jerusalem Affairs for the Palestinian Authority and later the Palestinian Ambassador to France.]


Here is Sabeel's Christmas message, written by the Rev. Naim Ateek.

“In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night” (Luke2:8).

“…after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem…” (Matthew 2:1).
The fact that the Christmas story mentions only two groups of visitors to the Christ child in Bethlehem, has, I believe, a theological significance. The shepherds in first century Palestine represented one of the lowest social strata in society. Religious tradition of Jesus’ day labeled them as unclean. They were marginalized, poor, and considered as the scum of society; while the wise men represented the well to do, the educated, and the scholars of their day. The theological implication is clear: God’s love for all people was expressed in and through the coming of Jesus Christ. This love welcomed both the shepherds and the wise men. True love does not differentiate between God’s children. In Christ, the evil of discrimination and bigotry is obliterated. 

Moreover, the shepherds were presumably Jewish, while the wise men were foreigners. Since the wise men came from “the East,” a number of New Testament scholars have suggested that they came from Arabia. There is a further theological significance here. Both Jews and Arabs came to offer their homage to the Christ child. When we stand before God, not only do our social differences lose their importance, our racial differences are also eradicated. God’s love for all people was being communicated regardless of social and financial status in society and regardless of racial background. Not only do rich and poor, Jew and Gentile stand before God as equals, there are also no political boundaries. All are welcomed and accepted. In other words, when we stand before the holy, our racism and bigotry should melt away and we should become authentically human recognizing the other as a brother and a sister. 

One of our most disturbing issues during this Christmas season is the situation of the shepherds and farmers of today, namely, the Bedouins of the Negev who are citizens of Israel. The Israeli government plans to Judaize the Negev by forcibly relocating tens of thousands of Bedouins from their ancestral lands on which most of them have lived for hundreds of years, long before the state of Israel came into being. Israel wants to force them away from their lands and traditional way of life for the benefit of Israeli Jewish citizens. It is essentially a land grab.* Many local and international human rights organizations have condemned Israel’s actions and policies as discriminatory and in violation of international law.
[To read the entire message, go to this link]


I want to bring to your attention Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives.

As we are nearing the end of the 2013, we would like to officially announce our change of name from the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information to Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives.
There was a time after Oslo, when many NGOs including IPCRI found it effective to meet, think, write policy papers, and produce immense amounts of research. Today twenty years after Oslo the shelves are filled with numerous files on how to solve the various issues in the conflict, including Jerusalem, refugees, borders, and security. Yet, we still do not yet have peace. The only research project that we are engaged in right now is one that investigates an innovative model of the two state solution that is based on one space. This model abandons the separation paradigm of “us here”, “them there”, and takes into account the true needs of the inhabitants of Israel and Palestine.

IPCRI’s central objective today is to create “sustainable peace building” through projects that translate directly into positive changes in people’s lives. Instead of sitting behind closed doors and talking about how to solve the conflict, we are out there, creating more jobs in Palestine, and bringing down the psychological barriers that separate the two peoples. True peace building means acknowledging people’s rights to live in prosperity and dignity, and to where proper education, job opportunities, and freedom of movement are guaranteed. It also means that negative perceptions about the other group are transformed. Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives celebrates its 2014 objective to use innovation and creativity to challenge the status quo, and to implement projects that don't just "think", but "do". 


A lot of good information in this blog by Jim Wall, Netanyahu's Flawed Vatican Charm Offensive.  Wall gives well-deserved attention to an important new book by Scott Anderson, Lawrence In Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East.  Anderson details an important historic episode, a successful propaganda campaign orchestrated by, among others, Aaron Aaronsohn, described by reviewer Alex Von Tunzelmann as “a Zionist agronomist of Romanian origin, who had settled in Palestine.” I won't repeat all of Wall's excellent points here, but I urge you to read the whole piece.

ON THE SIDE OF THE ROAD is an important new film.  Watch for it or check the website for distribution information.
   Filmmaker Lia Tarachansky grew up in a settlement. When the second Intifadah broke out in 2000 her family moved to Canada. There, for the first time she met Palestinians and "discovered" their history and learned why they were fighting Israel in the first place.
   When she became a journalist, she returned to Israel to become the local correspondent for The Real News network. Returning for the first time to her settlement, she "discovers" the Palestinians next door as she travels the West Bank covering the Israeli military occupation.
   In this film she meets with those who played a personal role in the events of 1948 and like her, "discovered" that which they had not only erased from their consciousness, but erased from the map. For years she tries to convince veterans of the 1948 that set off the conflict as we know it today to face the most difficult questions and dig deep into their memories. This is a film about the questions Israelis cannot ask, about memories that cannot be uncovered, and the history that's fighting to come to light.
   It was then, in 1948, three years after the holocaust that the nascent Jewish state was created in a bloody war that led to two-thirds of the Palestinian people becoming refugees. Those who fled or were expelled to this day remain in camps throughout the Arab world, the West Bank and Gaza. In 2009 the Israeli government proposed a law that forbade mourning this history. A law that attempted to criminalize history itself.
   You can view the trailer and meet some of the principle characters at the website for ON THE SIDE OF THE ROAD.  

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Samia Khoury’s book is `Reflections from Palestine’

Samia Khoury’s book, `Reflections from Palestine’
is launched at Sabeel anniversary

Jerusalem - The twenty-fifth anniversary of Palestinian liberation theology was the setting for the launch of Reflections from Palestine – A Journey of Hope, a memoir by Samia Nasir Khoury. The celebration in Jericho was part of the Sabeel International Conference.

About 350 people from Jerusalem and the West Bank, Nazareth and the Galilee area of Israel, and 15 other countries took part in the celebration. Khoury was a founding member of Sabeel, the ecumenical liberation theology center in Jerusalem.

Reflections from Palestine tells the story of life under Israeli occupation. It is a story that Khoury¸ who celebrated her 80th birthday on the day of the book launch, has told for many years. The book opens at the outset of 1967 “Six-Day” war” and describes the relentless series of “temporary measures” that became the binding, suffocating reality of occupation leading up to and following the Oslo Accords.

Khoury explains the wide-ranging social and political problems facing Palestinians under occupation through the sweet and sorrowful experiences of family and community life.

The Rev. Naim Ateek, founder of Sabeel, said Khoury “makes her reader live with her the anxiety of a mother and grandmother, yet she never sounds bitter and never loses hope because she strongly believes in the justice of the cause of her people, the Palestinians.”

Khoury is a founding member of the Board of Trustees of Birzeit University in the West Bank. She was for many years a leader in the East Jerusalem YWCA. Khoury wrote for more than five years for The Witness magazine, a publication of the Episcopal Church Publishing Company.
Reflections from Palestine – A Journey of Hope is published by Rimal Publications.

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For more reports from the Sabeel Conference, "The Bible and the Palestine/Israel Conflict," go to the website of Friends of Sabeel-North America.

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Holy Land travel, Chicago Sabeel Conference, Israeli army in Hebron, and more

Greetings friends.  In a few months our Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Mission Area (ELCA Synod) will send a delegation of travelers to Israel and Palestine for 13 days. Our tour is called Seeking Peace and Following Jesus in the Holy Land.  
A web page at ELCA Peace Not Walls provides outstanding resources for Holy Land travelers.
Why Visit the Holy Land?

•For an unforgettable, faith-deepening pilgrimage to the setting of Jesus' life and ministry

•To meet, worship with, and get to know the descendants of the first Christians

•To build a relationship with the members and leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and see how the world's only Arabic-speaking Lutheran church ministers to its context

•To experience the daily lives and challenges of Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the Holy Land

•To go behind the headlines and inform yourself about a political situation of significance to the world

•To learn about efforts toward a permanent and just peace.
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Chicago Sabeel Conference October 4-5, 2013

All the plenary sessions at the recent Sabeel Conference in Chicago were videotaped. To watch and listen, go to this link at the Friends of Sabeel-North America website. Click "7 updates" to view recordings of the plenary sessions. You must set up a Livestream account to screen these presentations, but that's a simple process and gives you easy access. 

Keynoters and panelists include Rabbi Brant Rosen, Dr. Hatem Bazyan, Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek, Ali Abunima, Sam Bahour and others discussing the challenges of constructing a "wide tent of Justice" in the Holy Land and here in the USA.

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First-hand report of recent events in Hebron
Tammie Danielsen, SW Texas Synod, shares a personal account of events that have happened over the last two weeks in Palestine, particularly in Hebron.  

Tammie writes: The message comes from an organization we (EAPPI) worked with closely when I was in Hebron.

Dear friends,
As Palestinians across Palestine took to the streets in a day for Al Quds (Jerusalem), the capital of Palestine, residents of Hebron stood firm against attacks by the Israeli Army. A number of young Palestinians were injured as the Army opened fire with live ammunition against unarmed protestors.

As in previous days, clashes between Palestinian youths and the Army focussed in the middle of the city, as camp the refugee camp in the east of the city. A young child, Musab, was hit in the eye and was transferred for treatment to the Eye Hospital Jerusalem.
The Army used live ammunition, rubber coated steel bullets, tear gas and stun grenades. In the confines of the narrow city streets it can only be concluded they disregarded Palestinians lives. As a result there were a number of injuries, in addition to the young Musab. At the time of writing 12 have been injured: Mohammed (20 years old) injured in his neck and back; Mohammed with a head injury; Mohammed Jabari injured by a rubber coated steel bullet to his head; and an unidentified young man injured in the Shalaldeh street area with live ammunition. 
Shadi Sidr, a volunteer with the group, Youth Against Settlements (YAS) was also beaten by the Army while filming the attacks. He has been taken to hospital for treatment. Many more residents suffered tear gas inhalation. 
The ferocity of the Army's actions and use of live ammunition against unarmed protestors, appears to indicate the Army's desire to murder.
Hebron is in a state of boiling fury since the uprising days earlier. There numerous injuries and violent confrontations continue at the time of writing.
Illegal settlers reside inside Hebron, and residents are subject to regular Army and settler violence. Streets and areas are closed to Palestinians as Israelis policy of occupation, oppression and Apartheid are practiced on the Palestinian population. 

For more information follow our Facebook page:
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Watch for this new film: The Village Under the Forest

Where greening is an act of obliteration
[Marthie Momberg writes about a new film from South Africa in her blog, marthiemombergblog.]
Unfolding as a personal meditation from the Jewish Diaspora, "The Village Under The Forest" explores the hidden remains of the destroyed Palestinian village of Lubya, which lies under a purposefully cultivated forest plantation called South Africa Forest.

Using the forest and the village ruins as metaphors, the documentary explores themes related to the erasure and persistence of memory and dares to imagine a future in which dignity, acknowledgement and co-habitation become shared possibilities in Israel/Palestine.

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Thirty-five years after Israeli confiscation, one Palestinian village returns to its land
Mondoweiss provided a recent story about a West Bank Palestinian village restored to its owners, no long an Israeli settlement or closed military zone.  

After 35 years, deliverance has finally come to the village of Burqa. Decades ago the West Bank hamlet on a hilltop near Nablus lost part of its agricultural grounds when it was confiscated for an Israeli army post, and then later converted into the settlement of Homesh in the 1980s. But in a first in the West Bank, Israel’s high court has restored the former settlement back to the original Palestinian owners.

“Homesh was evacuated and demolished, but still the military order to seize the land remained valid, and the Palestinians could not enter,” said Burqa’s counsel Anu Deuelle Luski, an attorney with the Israeli legal rights firm Yesh Din. [Read the full story here.]

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A Jewish journey towards compassion in Israel-Palestine

[Richard Forer, author of Breakthrough: Transforming Fear into Compassion – A New Perspective on the Israel-Palestine Conflict, writing for Ma'an News Agency.]

A Jewish journey towards compassion in Israel-Palestine
For the first 58 years of my life my perspective was that at its core, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people resulted from irrational, even genocidal, hatred toward Jews. 
In 2006, while Israel was bombing Lebanon, I began to ponder whether such a one-sided understanding reflected reality. Were the people of Israel so innocent and the Arab world, especially Palestinians, so guilty? 
Or was something missing from my understanding? I decided to find out. Thus began an intensive course of study into the history of Israel/Palestine. 
When I began my research, my uncompromising identification with Israel and the Jewish people encompassed countless beliefs and images. For example, I assumed that a significant part of the world's population held anti-Semitic views and that Israel, the Jewish home, was a shelter from a violent world.  
I had never questioned these beliefs, nor had I recognized that a disturbing corollary had been added to them: insuring Israel's existence justified its aggressive policies toward its neighbors and the Palestinians. [Read the full article at this link.]
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Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Texas Lutheran Holy Land Tour in 2014

Holy Land Tour in 2014

[Sorry I clicked the "send" key prematurely last evening. Here is the complete posting I had planned.]

I'm very pleased to announce: "Seeking Peace and Following Jesus in the Holy Land," Feb. 5-17, 2014. Our 13-day journey will take us to places associated with the Jesus’ life and ministry. We will meet the leaders of today’s Lutheran ministries in Palestine, working in a context of struggle. We will encounter the reality of the Occupation that affects Palestinians and Israelis, including the Separation Barrier that has been built across the Palestinian landscape.

Our trip is sponsored by the ELCA's Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Mission Area, but It's not just for Texans, and it's not just for Lutherans. For a detailed brochure, check this link.
Online registration is available here.
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`History is not made by cynics'
Here's a bulletin from Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP)
Negotiators Meet in Washington

Monday night over dinner, Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli and Palestinian negotiators Tzipi Livni and Saeb Erekat broke an almost three-year deadlock without direct negotiations. By the time the negotiators left town, little was revealed except that the parties would meet within the next two weeks in either Israel or the Palestinian Territories in order to begin the process of formal negotiations. Click the link to this bulletin for a number of helpful links provided by CMEP.

Read Warren Clark's analysis here: The Impossible Dream - It's Soon or Never
"The impossible dream of peace in the Holy Land -- the end of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian West Bank; secure and recognized boundaries for Israel and Palestine; a just solution of the refugee problem; a shared Jerusalem with East Jerusalem for a Palestinian state; recognition and normal relations between Israel and the 53 member countries of the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference; and an end of conflict and an end of claims  – seems less impossible today than it did only a short time ago. This week Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in Washington for the first time in three years and have set a nine month timetable for an agreement.

I said here on June 7 that President Obama’s visit to Israel and the West Bank in March and the subsequent efforts of Secretary Kerry seemed to create a fundamental improvement in the outlook for direct talks and progress toward an agreement.
Since then, two other developments have helped cause a tectonic political shift. First was the realization of Israel’s increasing international isolation in response to its settlement expansion. This month the European Union published regulations that distinguish between trade, investment, cultural and other cooperation with Europe and Israeli entities located within the 1967 lines and with those Israeli entities located east of the 1967 lines, including East Jerusalem. 
While the immediate economic impact of the regulations will be limited, the political message was strong. The European governments not only do not recognize settlements but are willing to sanction Israel for continuing to build them."  Read the entire post at this link.
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Our Shared Witness
Seems like a good time to take a look at a new book by Bishop Munib Younan, Our Shared Witness. In the world in which he lives – where Palestinians struggle for life and coexistence with their neighbor Israelis – one might imagine that despair and hopelessness dominate. However, in reading Bishop Younan’s writings readers will find unending hope for a future of peace and goodwill, along with an optimistic determination to be part of the solution for this troubled Holy Land.
This collection of writings, speeches, and sermons reveals Bishop Younan’s context, his perspective, and his hope. Readers will find his theology to be contextual—deeply rooted in his daily reality as a Palestinian Christian —while at the same time being universal, offering insights and principles that apply to other situations in vastly different parts of the world. Click here for more information about Our Shared Witness.
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New Christian Zionism resource
Robert Smith of ELCA Global Mission is the author of a new book on Christian Zionism The book is More Desired Than Our Owne Salvation: The Roots of Christian Zionism (Oxford, 2013). More info on the book can be found here. Pastor Smith is Area Program Director for the Middle East & North Africa. He serves as co-moderator of the Palestine-Israel Ecumenical Forum of the World Council of Churches.
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Attacks on Arabs in Israel
Spiegel Online provides a report on racist attacks on Israeli Arabs
Arabs are being beaten and insulted in Israel, where the number of racially motivated attacks has risen dramatically. The unresolved conflict, fueled by nationalist politicians, is shifting from Palestinian areas into the Israeli heartland.
"For decades, Jews and Palestinians have been fighting over the same piece of land. Some of them even share the same citizenship. Three quarters of Israel's 8 million people are Jews, and 1.8 million are Israeli Arabs. However, their paths rarely cross in everyday life. Israel's Arabs are not required to serve in the military, and many of them live in primarily Arab towns and neighborhoods, with their children attending Arab schools. They earn less on average and are not as well educated as Israeli Jews. Officially, they have the same rights as Jewish citizens, but in reality they are often the targets of discrimination."  Click here to read the full article.
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Israeli law tears Palestinian families apart
A report from Australians for Palestine points to systematic deportation of East Jerusalem Families.
"A system of `quiet deportation' of East Jerusalem families has developed as a result of the restrictive laws applied to Palestinians in the city. Between 1967 and 2011, more than 14,000 Palestinians have had their residency status revoked.
"Since Israel’s 1967 annexation of East Jerusalem, a move unrecognised by the international community, Palestinians have rarely been granted citizenship rights, only residency rights. Palestinians live with the threat of having their residency revoked.
"As a result, a generation of Palestinian children have grown up living in uncertainty and fear. Children tell Defence for Children International Palestine, a local Palestinian child rights organisation, that they are often afraid, sad, or feel different to peers who are afforded different entitlements."  Read the full article here.

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Despite Settlement Freeze, Buildings Rise 
The New York Times ran a story on the continued building of settlements.
JERUSALEM — One of the most contentious issues facing the Middle East peace talks is whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will extend the 10-month-old building freeze in West Bank Jewish settlements, as the Palestinians and Americans want.
The Israeli construction freeze, which did not extend to East Jerusalem, was politically difficult for Mr. Netanyahu, with his right-wing coalition partners. He has called the stoppage “exceptional” and “extraordinary.” But an examination of the freeze after more than seven months suggests that it amounts to something less significant, at least on the ground. In many West Bank settlements, building is proceeding apace. Dozens of construction sites with scores of Palestinian workers are active.
Read the full article here.
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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Peace Talks Resume

President Jimmy Carter and other Elders met with Secretary of State Kerry and other leaders in Washington today. See the story here.

The Elders visited Washington DC yesterday to discuss Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts with high-level officials, including US Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Advisor Susan Rice. At a public debate that evening, they welcomed Kerry’s efforts to restart negotiations and explained why there can be no military solution in Syria.

Carter acknowledged that conditions are far more difficult now than during his presidency, with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas constrained by their respective constituencies. Both leaders “would show great courage to come to the table and make concessions,” he said.

For more information about the Elders, see the website:

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Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) reports on the possibility that peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine may pick up again.

Peace Talks Resume   See the report from CMEP here.
Agreement to resume talks announced

Reports indicated that Secretary Kerry may have succeeded in his efforts to resume direct Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations!

On Friday night, during his sixth visit to the region in four months, Kerry told reporters in Jordan, “We have reached an agreement that establishes a basis for resuming direct final status negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis…

The agreement is still in the process of being formalized."

Next week, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat will travel to Washington, DC to hold preliminary talks and hammer out the details for negotiations. His message to reporters was brief and did not mention what the basis of the talks will be.

On Thursday, President Obama spoke on the phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and encouraged him to continue to work with Kerry to resume negotiations. On Friday, Kerry made the surprise decision to go to Ramallah to personally meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas despite two meetings Kerry already had in Amman with Erekat earlier in the day. It appears this pressure has worked.

Churches for Middle East Peace reports are found here:

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ELCA Peace Not Walls  reports on the new European Union guidelines which ban fund for Israeli projects in the occupied Palestinian territories.  See the blog post here. 

Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi welcomed the EU announcement as a “significant move.”

She said, "The EU has moved from the level of statements, declarations and denunciations to effective policy decisions and concrete steps which constitute a qualitative shift that will have a positive impact on the chances of peace. The Israeli occupation must be held to account, and Israel must comply with international and humanitarian law and the requirements for justice and peace."

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Friends of Sabeel-North America (FOSNA) reports on the campaign for Palestinian farmers and families in the Cremisan Valley,

FOSNA Campaign for Cremisan Valley - Action Alert
More of you are needed to speak out for Cremisan Valley! Write letters to your local newspapers. Post opinions to Facebook and Twitter.
Click here to learn more and feel confident writing or speaking about the issue.

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Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding (EMEU) also reports on new possibilities for peace talks.  Click here to see the website.

New Movement on Peace Talks between Israelis and Palestinians? 
Read news at this link.

You may have heard this week that US Secretary of State John Kerry has reached an agreement with Israeli and Palestinian leaders that would restart peace negotiations.

While there are many questions about the details and even the significance of this news, there seems to be a growing sense of urgency in the Israeli government to reach an elusive peace deal.

Please continue to pray for a just and lasting peace on both a political level, and also between the everyday Palestinian and Israeli people.  Political peace alone cannot change societal norms, but peace between people on the ground can!  Check out the video here.

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Join the International Prayer Vigil

Prayer Vigil
ELCA Peace Not Walls urges us to join the International Prayer Vigil. Please join the prayer vigil for the Christian communities in Palestine and Israel, for all those who are suffering in the Holy Land, for Palestinians and Israelis, and for peace in the Middle East and the world. Pray together as a family, as office/parish colleagues, or as a congregation, on the 24th of each month.

The ACT Palestine Forum has invited the world to pray for peace in the Holy Land on the 24th of every month until the occupation of Palestine ends, all violence ceases and there is a just negotiated peace. Gather a few people together at lunch time or join with area churches to host a prayer vigil together with an educational time after prayer.
Find much more info at this link.

Rick Steves
Intrepid travel writer Rick Steves is making his way through Palestine and Israel and blogging as he goes. Find his blog here. While Rick's first impressions often bear the signs of the pro-Israel influence that is so much a part of American culture, he has contacts and guides who are showing him for the first time the complexity of the Occupation. Rick is a wonderful teacher, and I look forward to his work when he's had time to digest and think about everything he is seeing in these days.

If you are not acquainted with Rick's Travel as a Political Act, I urge you to check it out. I am hopeful that Rick's time in Palestine and Israel will eventually lead to his interpretation of the reality there through the lens of travel as a political act.

In South Hebron, 'new rules' are rather like the 'old rules'
Security forces are targeting Israeli activists and Palestinian shepherds in new ways in the South Hebron hills. It’s as if they’d decided to circumvent the whole irksome apparatus of the courts and to resort instead to brute force. It’s much simpler, and maybe more effective, according to David Shulman professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a long-time activist in Ta’ayush, Arab-Jewish Partnership.
Read the article at 972magazine here.

Today we have the New Rules. In some respects they’re rather like the Old Rules. The aim and sole rationale remain the same: dispossession, expulsion, taking more land. The army has, it seems, given up on its favorite device of declaring Closed Military Zones, week after week; perhaps the outright illegality of this practice ended up causing them too many problems in court. Instead, the soldiers simply chase us — Palestinian shepherds, farmers, Israeli activists—physically away, pushing, shoving, threatening, beating. They also have decided they won’t allow us to document their crimes on film; as soon as we start filming, they rush at us and block our cameras with their cell phones. It’s as if they’d decided to circumvent the whole irksome apparatus of the courts and to resort instead to brute force. It’s much simpler, and maybe more effective.

At the same time, there’s been a wave of further annexations. The settlers are paving new roads, which become de facto boundaries, far beyond the settlements’ periphery. Plots of land that the Palestinian owners have worked for some years, or have reclaimed, often with our help, have been declared “in dispute” — which means that settlers have access to them, but the rightful owners don’t. All over South Hebron there are attempts from above and from below to roll back the gains we’ve made in recent years. Probably officers in the Civil Administration have been devising creative schemes. And there have been the usual, routine detentions, harassments, lethal threats, arrests — more, in fact much more, than before. Add to this a wave of pure nit-picking and pestering, for example by handing out tickets to activists, Israeli and Palestinian, for absurd traffic violations; several of our people have recently been fined large amounts for crossing the road while not on a marked pedestrian crossing. Remember we’re talking about the vast open spaces of a desert; the nearest pedestrian crossing is either in Jerusalem or Beersheva, 40 miles away. I myself witnessed the police administering just such a fine the last time I was in the area, some three weeks back.
Read the full article here.

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Monday, April 22, 2013

Disturb us, O Lord

Kairos South Africa shared this prayer by Bishop Desmond Tutu, Disturb us, O Lord. I encourage you to explore the Kairos South Africa website.

Disturb us, O Lord

when we are too well-pleased with ourselves
 when our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little,
 because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, O Lord

when with the abundance of things we possess,
 we have lost our thirst for the water of life
 when, having fallen in love with time,
 we have ceased to dream of eternity
 and in our efforts to build a new earth,
 we have allowed our vision of Heaven to grow dim.

Stir us, O Lord

to dare more boldly, to venture into wider seas
 where storms show Thy mastery,
 where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.

In the name of Him who pushed back the horizons of our hopes
 and invited the brave to follow.


[Attributed to Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu adapted from an original prayer by Sir Francis Drake]

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Settlers raise Israeli flag over West Bank church

RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- Israeli settlers on Friday took over a monastery in a village near Ramallah and raised an Israeli flag over the building.

Priest Aziz Raei told Ma'an that Israeli settlers used force to occupy the monastery and its adjacent chapel in al-Taybeh, a Christian village in the central West Bank.

This news was issued on Friday, April 19. I wish we had more information. 

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Organic Farming in the Shadow of the Wall

Ecumenical Accompanier Dee Poujade is wrapping up her time in Tulkarem, in the West Bank. In this blog post she tells us about the organic farmers she met there.

"Fayez and Mouna Taneeb are farmers who are making a difference.  When we caught up with them at their organic farm on the outskirts of Tulkarm, Fayez was preparing for a month-long trip to Europe.  There he will give workshops on “One Million Trees,” a project that will educate the Europeans on the difficulties faced by Palestinian farmers, while raising money to plant trees to replace ones that have been uprooted by wall construction and burned by settler violence.

"A long-time peace activist, Fayez is a leader in Palestinian Popular Struggle, an organization that works to find creative, non-violent ways to demonstrate the difficulties faced by Palestinians."  Click the link to Organic Farming in the Shadow of the Wall

Dee's blog is
A Walk Through the Valley

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School Threat Assessment in Urif

Another accompanier (from Canada) wrote in her blog, "
A Mosaic for Peace" about a situation in the town of Urif.

 She writes:  "The concept of school security took on a whole new twist last week when we visited a boys secondary school in the picturesque north central West Bank community of Urif.

"Urif is located half way up a very large hill.  It is accessed along narrow winding roads that climb upwards until well past the community.  Olive groves and pink blossomed almond trees surround the village.  Green fields dot the landscape. Looking out across the valley, one can see the Mediterranean Sea on a clear day.   The school is located on the upper outside edge of the village.  Visible on the hilltop adjacent to the school is the nearby Israeli settlement of Yizhar Huwwara.

"(...) Settlers from the nearby settlement of Yizhar Huwwara have been increasingly attacking both the village and the school, as well as the students.  Mr al-Najar explained that the settlers are taking more and more land from the villagers, and are preventing farmers from going to their fields for sprig planting.  Olive and almond tress have been destroyed.  The community mosque was set ablaze 2 1/2 months ago.  The school and students have suffered numerous attacks, which occur most frequently as students are being dismissed from school.   Settlers, including men, women and children from the neighbouring settlement, have been attacking the building and the students, swearing at staff and students, and throwing stones that break windows and damage school equipment."  Click this link for the full story


The Gatekeepers

If you haven't seen The Gatekeepers, the film nominated for an Oscar featuring all the past heads of Shin Bet, the Israeli secret police, make every effort to see it.

The BBC has a fine article,
The Gatekeepers: Israeli Shin Bet chiefs on film, that includes clips from the movie. 

Here's a little excerpt:
The film centres around six very personal outspoken accounts from men who oversaw Israeli operations, from targeted assassinations of Palestinian leaders, to surveillance and torture.
Their emotions range from professional pride to expressions of unease over the exercise of their formidable power.

"These men had to make highly difficult security decisions, on the spot, leaving politics aside," commented Paul Charney, chairman of the Zionist Federation of the UK, who joined our discussion.

"Now they can discuss, for the first time, their own moral fibre, their own politics, for the rest of the world."

"What comes through powerfully in the film is their sense that the best they can do is create some political space for others, the political elite, to step in to do what must be done," remarked Daniel Levy of the European Council of Foreign Policy, who's had extensive experience in Israeli-Palestinian peace-making.
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Friday, March 29, 2013

Easter brings rejoicing amid struggle

Bishop Munib Younan's Easter message is in circulation. He serves the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. An excerpt is below; click here to read the full text of the message.

Bishop Younan writes, "Do we give in to despair? Do we give up? Do we emigrate to lands abroad? The narrative of Easter, the power of the cross and resurrection is the only source of our hope. On the Via Dolorosa, Jesus encountered all the dark forces that we experience in the Middle East today. He sacrificed himself so that we might hope and we can trust his power. We will not allow extremism, oppression, violence, bloodshed, hatred, walls or confiscated lands to diminish our hope, to make us give in to despair. The hope of living with dignity, justice, and reconciliation will triumph over the dark forces we face. This is the power of the cross today. This is the hope of Christians in Jerusalem and the whole Holy Land. This is the task of the Church universal, to work with love and tenderness to protect life and the human rights of every nation. As long as the church of Christ in every land, especially in the Holy Land, claims this responsibility within the spirit of Easter, I will be filled with hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Click here to learn more about the ELCJHL.

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Churches for Middle East Peace has provided a series of Lenten devotions. Now with Easter at hand, they sent a summary of Holy Week in Jerusalem.

"Thousands of Christians from around the world are gathering in Jerusalem to celebrate Holy Week, joining many Palestinian Christians, the “living stones” of the Holy Land. On Palm Sunday they climbed the Mount of Olives to re-enact Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem, a powerful scene punctuated with activism as many Palestinian worshipers took the opportunity to raise awareness of the approximately 50,000 Christian Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza."

CMEP's Good Friday bulletin features a photo from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land.

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Pastor Mitri Raheb's Holy Week greeting is in the Bright Stars of Bethlehem news.

"I bring you greetings during this sacred Holy Week. We are all reminded of the gift of forgiveness and newness in Christ as we together journey to the cross.

"While there are dark days ahead, I look forward with anticipation to the hope of Easter morning. For many of my fellow Palestinians, we live in this Easter hope daily. We are able to do that, in part, because of shared ministry through Bright Stars of Bethlehem."

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Looking back at President Obama's visit, I was impressed with Sandy Tolan's analysis in Obama is missing the real Israel. Readers may know Sandy Tolan from his book, The Lemon Tree.

Here's an excerpt: "Occupation and freedom: These concepts are just as legitimate for consideration and action as is any Israeli’s right to feel secure. For a just and comprehensive peace, these ideas need to share equal status. Yet the notion of occupation is increasingly ignored by the American press as some quaint remnant of a revolutionary past. More important, the corrosive nature of the occupation, and the struggle of a people to free itself from it, has been essentially dropped as policy issues by successive American administrations eager to speak, as President Obama did Wednesday, of the “eternal” American bond with Israel. The irony is that by refusing to publicly confront the occupation, and meaningfully back the Palestinian quest for freedom – instead of blocking it at the United Nations – the Obama administration is undermining the Israeli security goal at the center of its policy. Permanent occupation in reservation-style enclaves is not a long term answer for Israel and Palestine, and in the end it will not make Israelis feel secure."

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

News and notes around President Obama's visit

There will be lots of news out of President Obama's trip to Israel and Palestine. Here are a few articles published just before and during the visit.

This link takes you to President Obama's speech in Ramallah, from Maan News.

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Here is a link to the text of the president's speech in Jerusalem from the Wall Street Journal.

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From the Washington Post, In West Bank, faint hopes for Obama's visit.
"Previous American presidents have come and gone, people say, and nothing has changed. Israel’s occupation of the West Bank has deepened, its settlements have expanded, and there is no sign on the horizon of a political solution that will bring Palestinians independence."

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In The Daily Beast, Mr. President, Don't Forget the Nakba
"At Yad Vashem, President Obama will be told to “never forget” while conveniently ignoring the ghost of the Nakba just outside. A peaceful solution can never be achieved while ignoring the rights of Palestinians prevented from living in their homeland by the state of Israel. If President Obama wants to be honest with Israelis, he should tell them that explicitly and take a moment to recognize the victims of Deir Yassin while he is there."

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In the New York Times Magazine, a fine, lengthy piece, Is This Where the Next Intifada will Start?
“`This is the worst time for us,' Bassem confided to me last summer. He meant not just that the villagers have less to show for their sacrifices each week, but that things felt grim outside the village too. Everyone I spoke with who was old enough to remember agreed that conditions for Palestinians are far worse now than they were before the first intifada. The checkpoints, the raids, the permit system, add up to more daily humiliation than Palestinians have ever faced. The number of Israeli settlers living in the West Bank has more than tripled since the Oslo Accords. Assaults on Palestinians by settlers are so common that they rarely made the news. The resistance, though, remained limited to a few scattered villages like Nabi Saleh and a small urban youth movement."

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Mohammed El Kurd, 14, hero of the vibrant documentary, My Neighbourhood, addressed Obama in the article, ‘Mr President, I’m sure you know everything’ — a Palestinian boy expelled from half his home urges US action, published by Mondoweiss.  Click this link for the article.

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For general information, the Center for American Progress has issued recent findings from discussions in the Middle East.  Read the full report here.
"President Obama will arrive in the region at a time when many voices are questioning the ability and willingness of the United States to lead. Budget battles in Washington combined with the rebalance to Asia and the complexity of the challenges in the Middle East cause many in the region to doubt the United States. President Obama’s visit offers an important opportunity for the United States to assume a leadership role in dealing with security threats such as Iran and Syria, political challenges such as the historic changes sweeping many countries in the Middle East, and diplomatic challenges like the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"The window for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is closing. Many Israelis and Palestinians told us that if no progress toward a two-state solution is made during President Obama’s second term in office, it may never happen. The Palestinian Authority is facing a severe political and financial crisis, and its collapse would create even more problems in a region of turmoil."

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Friday, March 15, 2013

President Obama to Palestine and Israel

I'm sorry I've been away... tending to matters here and there, my responsibilities on the Board of Friends of Sabeel-North America and preparation for an exciting conference in Dallas on racial disparity in the criminal justice system.  Back to work!

ELCA Peace Not Walls encourages us to lean on the president's itinerary and provides good action steps. Ask President Obama to meet with religious leaders when he visits the Middle East next month; call for a halt to settlement activity; ask his delegation to visit Augusta Victoria Hospital. See the full action alert which provides links for writing to President Obama, Secretary Kerry and your Members of Congress.

Some highlights from the bulletin:
The president has often sought out the views of U.S. religious leaders through his White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and other meetings. It will be important for the President to hear the voices of faith leaders during his visit to the region as well. The Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land consists of leaders of the three Abrahamic faiths, including Bishop Munib Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land.

Please contact the White House and ask President Obama to meet with the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land during his visit.

As noted in a report issued late last year by the United Nations (U.N.) on the humanitarian impact of the Israeli settlement policy on Palestinians, since 1967, Israel has established about 150 settlements (residential and others) in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem; in addition to some 100 “outposts” erected by settlers without official authorization. Three new settlements were approved in 2012 by retroactively ‘authorizing’ such outposts. More than 500,000 people live in these settlements, which are against international law. Additionally, in 2012, one Palestinian was killed and approximately 1,300 injured by Israeli settlers or security forces in incidents directly or indirectly related to settlements, including demonstrations.
Please contact the White House and ask President Obama to urge him to demand, during his visit, a halt to all settlement activity.

The Lutheran World Federation has operated the Augusta Victoria Hospital for the benefit of Palestinian refugees since 1950. The ELCA and other churches around the world have been strong supporters of this effort to meet human need and be a sign of hope over the years. 
Please contact the White House and ask President Obama to have one or more members of his delegation visit the Augusta Victoria Hospital.

Click these to contact President Obama, Secretary Kerry and your Members of Congress.
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This comes from Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).
Encourage President Obama's Nativity Church Visit
As the president works toward fostering a real and hopeful peace agreement between the Israeli and Palestinian governments, we need to encourage his visit to the Church of the Nativity. Your message will provide President Obama more moral and political support to do the hard work of facilitating an actual peace.
CMEP has been encouraging the president to visit the church since his trip to the region was announced.Click here to send an email of encouragement and hope to the president today.

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Jim Wall writes about the president's itinerary in his Wall Writings blog:
"Unlike 2008, on next week’s trip Obama will not travel to Ramallah. Would the West Bank be too “dangerous”, as Israeli tour guides like to tell tourists or pilgrims? Or could it be that by avoiding Ramallah, Obama would not have to visit the Ramallah burial site of the late Palestinian leader, Yasir Arafat.

"Not to visit Arafat’s Ramallah burial site would be especially egregious since next week’s itinerary already includes Obama visits to several symbolic Israeli sites:

 `In addition to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial that is an obligatory stop for every visiting head of state, the president will lay a wreath at the grave of Theodor Herzl, the writer who is considered the father of modern Zionism.'

"Instead of traveling to Ramallah, President Obama will go to Bethlehem, where he will be received by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"By going to Bethlehem, Obama will see, up close and personal, the wall that surrounds the birthplace of the Christ child.

"With all the excitement over the elevation of Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope, this is a good time to recall that when the now-retired Benedict XVI made a 2009 papal visit to Bethlehem, he was photographed standing in front of a wall with graffiti behind him, illustrating how locals feel about the the occupation wall."

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