Friday, October 18, 2019

Two fascinating podcasts. plus news


I've always been a fan of the radio. "Radio" today includes podcasts, basically audio programs available on the internet that we can listen to any time we want. Some of them never air on the radio at all. I have two podcasts to recommend here. 

NPR's Snap Judgement - "Turncoat"
In this episode, an Israeli solider is feeling anything but proud and has an impossible decision to make. When Dean Issacharoff was a commander in the Israeli Defense Forces, he patrolled the Palestinian city of Hebron and later fought in Gaza. After he got home from the army, Dean made a decision to go public and joined Breaking the Silence to speak about his violent actions. In a twisting turn of events those actions from the past came back to haunt him. Listen at this link.  

Shehada Street, Hebron, closed to Palestinians 


Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting, presents "The Right to Boycott." 

Supporters like me say that Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is a nonviolent protest to pressure the Israeli government over its treatment of the Palestinian people. Opponents say its goal is to eliminate Israel as a Jewish state. 

Several U.S. states (including my own, Texas) "...have tried to stop BDS by banning boycotts of Israel. We look at where this legislation comes from and weigh it against the First Amendment right to free speech. 

"Then we travel to the occupied Palestinian territories to meet a man who wanted to protest the Israeli occupation by starting a purely Palestinian business. His answer was to start a mushroom farm. After initial success, he ran into unexpected challenges."

For a good explanation of the way these state laws affect individuals and businesses, click this link to listen.  


In other news... This report makes me nervous. 
Like the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque is also under threat

"Although OCHA does not document Israeli attacks on Palestinian holy sites specifically, two of these have been under attack for many years. The Ibrahimi Mosque is in Hebron and is also known as the Tomb of the Patriarchs; it sits in the centre of the city which has been taken over by the Israeli occupation authorities, which now control access to the mosque. The local Palestinians resisted attempts by illegal settlers planted in the city after the 1967 war to control the mosque. The occupation authorities, though, took actual control of the site after a Jewish terrorist-settler massacred 29 Muslim worshippers on 25 February 1994 before he was overpowered and killed.

"The Israeli authorities then closed the mosque and divided it into an area for Muslims and another for Jews. On the days of Jewish or Muslim festivals, the authorities only allow Jews or Muslims to pray in the mosque." (...)

"Palestinian fears about a full Israeli takeover of Al-Aqsa are entirely justified. They remember the closure imposed by Israel following an attack on security forces at one of the mosque’s entrances, and that the state installed security gates at the main gate used by worshippers. Palestinians refused to accept any changes to their access rights and protested through peaceful prayer for two full weeks, forcing the Netanyahu government to remove the gates.

"This was a blatant attempt by Israel to change the status quo that has existed since Jerusalem and its holy sites were occupied in 1967." Read the full article at this link. 


And... See this important report from Al-Haq.   
Occupying Jerusalem’s Old City: Israeli Policies of Isolation, Intimidation, and Transformation [Al-Haq is an independent Palestinian human rights NGO based in Ramallah, established in 1979 to protect and promote human rights and the rule of law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).] 

'Following the start of the occupation in 1967, Israel moved to annex East Jerusalem and establish the city, alongside annexed West Jerusalem, as its `united capital.' Since that time, Israel has worked to entrench its control over Jerusalem, instituting a variety of policies and practices that aim to drive Palestinians out of the city while acquiring land and property in the process. As a result, the Old City, the heart of Jerusalem, has suffered from the same issues as other Palestinian neighborhoods in the city. 

"This includes, in part, the confiscation of property, a discriminatory planning regime and inadequate services, the transfer of Israeli settlers, the targeting of Palestinian institutions, the targeted de-development of the economy, and harassment by Israel’s municipal authorities." 

Al-Haq’s new report “Occupying Jerusalem’s Old City: Israeli Policies of Isolation, Intimidation, and Transformation” seeks to highlight some of the seen and unseen, widespread and systematic policies that Israel uses to deepen its control over the Old City, resulting in the forcible displacement of Palestinians there. 

Click this link to reach the report, then scroll up. The website is

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Saturday, August 3, 2019

Summer reading - Dig in, friends

Casting back over recent months, I want to share with you some good reading choices.

A view from Australia - "George Browning: Is Christian Zionism contributing to the Israel Palestine Impasse?" Browning is the retired Anglican Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn. This blog post goes beyond the definitions of Christian Zionism with which many of us are already familiar to provide analysis of President Trump and US policy. 

Here's a taste: "Just as Christian Zionism’s concern for Israel resides in a very different priority; similarly, US Middle Eastern politics is driven not by events in the Middle East, but by US domestic politics and the base from which Donald Trump relies on for support – the Evangelical Christian right. We are confronted with utter hypocrisy and disdain for truth on every corner. It is very unlikely that Donald Trump believes the nonsense of the Christian Zionist position, but being their champion keeps him in the White House." Check it out at the link here.  


An incredible journey - F. Brinley Bruton, senior editor at NBC News Digital’s London bureau, contributed the fascinating "One Israeli's journey from ultra-Orthodox settler to peace activist." Bruton examines the transformation of Shabtay Bendet, a co-founder of Rehelim, one of the West Bank’s first illegal outposts. He became a journalist covering the West Bank and now serves as the head of Peace Now's Settlement Watch division.  

Image: Anti-settlement activist Shabtay Bendet surveys the highway critics have dubbed "apartheid road."
Photo: Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR/for NBC News

Bruton's story also profiles Palestinian Ali Musa. "Bendet and Peace Now work with the Musas to help them reclaim land that is now the Jewish outpost of Netiv HaAvot, helping navigate what the group describes as a dizzyingly complicated process. Over the years, Musa says he has seen fruit trees wither from neglect because his family could not reach the land to care for them. He’s also watched settlers' trailers multiply and morph into buildings."

Image: Palestinian farm land appropriated for Efrat settlement
Photo: Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR/for NBC News

Here's a bit more: "Bendet surveys Givat Eitam, a Jewish outpost south of Bethlehem that is a handful of buses, trailers and long tent sitting on a bare plot of earth. `The view is so beautiful but when you start to understand what is going on here, you understand it is not beautiful at all,' Bendet says, adding that the development of the location would likely strike a blow to a contiguous and independent Palestinian state by cutting off communities from each other. `All the Palestinians see the dream of building a state going away,' he adds." Find this fascinating article at the link here.


A story from the ecumenical accompaniers - A group of accompaniers (EAs) from the World Council of Churches (WCC) shared Shabbat dinner with the Kol HaNeshama congregation in Jerusalem: Shabbat dinner ‘helps humanize two sides of the story.’ 


“The dinner was really interesting,” said (an) accompanier, from Argentina. Seeing how a large part of the EA's time is spent in placements across the West Bank, she reflected, “it is a big change, and a hard change, to try to understand and focus on an Israeli point of view. I had to sit and really listen, and keep an open mind, and it wasn’t easy. But also, I think it helps you to understand much more. We are a programme to accompany both sides, the Israeli and the Palestinian people.” There are lots of photos with this article. Check it out at this link.


We Are Not Numbers is a website where Palestinian youth tell their stories "the human stories behind the numbers in the news." Mohammed Alhammami, a Gaza resident, wrote the essay, After 68 years of Nakba, is coexistence still possible? He cites "...glimpses of the `good old days' that the elderly remember so vividly, of home, harmony and coexistence; the days before political and ideological strife broke those bonds and drew dividing lines with people’s blood." 

And he shares the story of "a Palestinian student from Jerusalem (who) gave a presentation about the discrimination Palestinians face there, how Israeli laws privileged Jews over non-Jews, making Palestinian life unbearable. Surprisingly, this came as a shock to the Israeli students; they had been so disconnected from the occupation that they did not understand its reality and consequences. `This angered me,' (she) says. `How could they not know what they do to us? How brainwashed could they be?' But the experience also gave her a glimmer of hope. `After a series of presentations and debates, one zealot Israeli changed sides, stating that the Israeli army does not represent her anymore. Another came to the realization that the Jewish dream came at the expense of the Palestinians. Maybe if more Israelis know, things can change."

Alhammami returns to the question: "Can Jews and Palestinians coexist today in historic Palestine? In today's reality, under the status quo, absolutely not. Peaceful coexistence is impossible in the presence of military occupation, discrimination, ethnic cleansing and apartheid. The only way to bring about coexistence is to resolve the root causes of the conflict: the occupation and refugee crisis." Read the entire essay and see some amazing art by Ismail Shamout at the blog. And you can learn more about We Are Not Numbers at the website


I hope you can dig into some of this outstanding reading material. There's a lot to read; it comes to my inbox every day. I think these selections are choice. 


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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Nakba Remembrance Day


Greetings on this day of remembrance of the Nakba, the catastrophic displacement of the Palestinian people from their homes and lands. 

Nooran Alhamdan writes for the Voices of UNRWA blog
"I remember my father pointing out to me the school he attended as a child in the camp for twelve years, its blue and white logo faded but bright in the midst of the lean grey buildings. United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, was written on the sign.

"The school my father attended was an UNRWA school. The food he and his family relied on was UNRWA food assistance. The clinics he went to for basic healthcare were run by UNRWA.

"My first introduction to UNRWA was made years before I was even born. UNRWA has been a part of my family’s story and the story of millions of other Palestine refugees across the Middle East."

Like so many in Gaza, a Palestine refugee in Beach refugee camp, western Gaza City, uses the only means at her disposal to cook, wash clothes and heat her home. © 2017 UNRWA Photo by Tamer Hamam
Like so many in Gaza, a Palestine refugee in Beach refugee camp,
western Gaza City, uses the only means at her disposal to cook,
wash clothes and heat her home.
© 2017 UNRWA Photo by Tamer Hamam


Thank you, Chuck Lutz

Thanks to Charles P. Lutz, now retiring from his long-held volunteer position with Churches for Middle East Peace. As Minnesota coordinator, Chuck provided regular information about resources, events, opportunities to advocate for justice, and alternative Holy Land travel. About my colleague for more than 30 years, I can only say, he does all things well. Chuck's keen insight, justice theology and can-do ability has accomplished much in the quest for justice and peace. And I am glad. 


Opportunity Palestine

Check out the good work of Opportunity Palestine which supports Lutheran schools and educational programs in Palestine. Supporting Opportunity Palestine is a great way to make a positive impact on the future of Palestine's marvelous children. Click this link for some fantastic pictures and more information about Opportunity Palestine

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Friday, March 22, 2019

Call on Congress to ensure access to worship; Jonathan Kuttab on Apartheid in the West Bank; Bright Stars

This blog post starts with an action alert from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I've also included an article about Apartheid in the West Bank by Jonathan Kuttab and a reflection by a pastor who traveled to Palestine with Bright Stars of Bethlehem.

Call on Congress to strongly urge Israel to ensure access to places of worship in Jerusalem. 

In the past couple of weeks, the issue of access to holy spaces in Jerusalem has been highlighted in the news. Earlier this month, Israel closed off access to the Haram al-Sharif (“the Noble Sanctuary”), also known as the Temple Mount, to Palestinian Muslims who sought to pray at its Al-Aqsa Mosque, and prohibited entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City for all except its residents. The order provoked physical clashes in Jerusalem and rebukes from Muslim leaders locally and globally.

This most recent episode highlights people’s deep sentiments toward and affinity with holy sites in Jerusalem, the tendentious nature of attempts to control access, and the impact of denying believers the opportunity to visit, pray, and worship at places dear to them. Click this link to find the ELCA action alert 

Tell your congressional representatives that this season of Lent, leading to Easter in April, is the right time to urge Israel to ensure free access to places of worship in Jerusalem. 

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Jonathan Kuttab on Apartheid West Bank

The word apartheid has become a lightning rod for criticism of the Israeli regime in the West Bank.  The word itself is closely connected with the defunct policies of the white-dominated regime in South Africa that collapsed under international pressure and was replaced with that country’s current non-racial political system. Read the entire article at this link to Americans for Middle East Understanding.

The seminal feature of the crime of apartheid seems to be systematic or legislative actions providing for (a) a regime of domination over one group and (b) the creation of a separate and unequal system of governance to the detriment of the victim group or its members.  Mere violations of human rights and oppression of individuals or groups are not enough to make this charge.

In the context of the West Bank, therefore, our inquiry must go to the practices and legislative scheme perpetrated by the Israeli authorities, and to the oppressive and discriminatory treatment of the Palestinian Arab population as compared to the Jewish civilian population living in the Occupied Territories.  These include: the use of ID cards that must be carried at all times and that are far more invasive than the “pass law” system of South African apartheid; the pervasive system of permits required for all aspects of life; the Separation Wall; the myriad checkpoints and travel restrictions throughout the Occupied Territories; the extensive use of administrative detention (no charges/no trial); and various other instruments of control.  All these elements are actually enacted into laws and military orders in an elaborate legislative system. 

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African American pastor witnesses shared struggle - and hope- in Palestine 

Bright Stars of Bethlehem shared this report from the Rev. Everett Mitchell, senior pastor of Christ the Solid Rock Baptist Church in Madison, Wis. 

"I recently returned from a Bright Stars trip to Palestine. Allow me to share my take-aways with you - Although I previously visited Israel, this trip was different. Read Pastor Mitchell's full story at this link, which includes a video with Pastor Mitri Raheb about the shared struggles of Palestinians and African Americans. 

"During the past trip, we mainly focused on historic and Biblical sites in Israel.

"During this trip, however, we spent much of our time in and around Bethlehem, Palestine. In this walled-off city, we had the opportunity to interact with many families in the region and to listen to the everyday struggles of Palestinian people. We also witnessed, first hand, the hope that resides in the dreams and talent of the youth.  We visited local schools and colleges, attended cultural performances, and enjoyed laughter-filled moments with these young people.

"We saw worlds that were supposed to be separate, come together." Read more at the Bright Stars website

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Sunday, March 10, 2019

A March of Return action step, `1948: Creation & Catastrophe,' and helpful news media resources

I want to share an advocacy alert related to the March of Return, a new film on the Nakba, and two media reports that I think are especially helpful. 

ELCA Advocacy alert

What would happen if Palestinians marched nonviolently and in large numbers towards the boundary fence between Gaza and Israel to demand respect for their rights and call attention to the Israeli-imposed blockade that has created hardship for millions of people for more than a decade? In 2018, Palestinian writer Ahmed Abu Artema asked this question in a Facebook post from his home in Rafah, Gaza. The result was Gaza's March of Return. A U.S. tour, sponsored by American Friends Service Committee, will get underway March 1-22. Get information here; please check for a location near you and share.

During the Washington stop, Artema and Abusalim will present a congressional briefing at 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 19, in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, Congressional Meeting Room South (CVC 217). Please ask your U.S. senators and congressional representative to attend and/or send a staff member on their behalf. Sample language for your message follows. Sample language for your message is at this link.


1948: Creation and Catastrophe

A new film on the Nakba is out, “1948: Creation & Catastrophe." I count filmmaker Andy Trimlett as a friend, since we worked together on some FOSNA projects. Andy told Mondoweiss, "Once I understood 1948, everything that is happening today made sense – the settlers, the home demolitions, the checkpoints, the wall, the violence. This is basically a conflict over land and who lives on that land. Throughout the entire history of the conflict, one side has been pushing the other side off the land through a variety of means. In recent years this process has taken place by creating unlivable conditions for Palestinians and by confiscating Palestinian land through the construction of a wall that runs deep into the West Bank. In 1948 it was done by means of active expulsions."

The film is available on Prime TV and at this link: 1948:Creation and Catastrophe. I watched it twice and was fascinated (and saddened) by the first-person stories and memories. Honestly, this may have been the last chance for many of these  witnesses, Israeli and Palestinian, to tell us what happened. 


Qalandiya gallery

Mondoweiss has published a photo gallery that is perfect for showing in a presentation on the checkpoints. "On a typical day at the largest Israeli checkpoint in the occupied West Bank, hundreds of mostly West Bank Palestinians line up and patiently stand in between metal bars, their hands gripped around their 1hawiya,' or identity cards, waiting to cross the maze of concrete called Qalandiya." Use this link - Qalandiya: How Palestinians experience the largest Israeli checkpoint, in photographs


The New Yorker tours Hebron

There's an outstanding overview of the situation in Hebron in The New Yorker. I have shared it extensively. "Hebron is a microcosm of the West Bank, a place where the key practices of the Israeli occupation can be observed up close, in a single afternoon. For several years, two activist groups, one Israeli and one Palestinian, have been leading tours of the occupation of Hebron. I recently went on both, crossing from the living city of Hebron to its hollow shadow and back several times." Find the article at this link:  A Guided Tour of Hebron, from Two Sides of the Occupation

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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Room for Hope: The Jerusalem Conference

The Jerusalem Conference
Franz and I made a road trip to Houston for the Oct. 11 Jerusalem Conference, presented by Bright Stars of Bethlehem amid its Texas-wide Room for Hope Festival. The goal was to advance the vision of an inclusive, diverse, and equitable Jerusalem. It was just one day of programming, but that day was jam-packed. 

We gathered under the theme Jerusalem: What Makes for Peace? It was a thrill to be among excellent organizers, activists and supporters from all over the USA who are taking part in the struggles for justice and peace in their churches and communities.

The Rev. Mitri Raheb and his planning group put together a stellar group of presenters and panelists. A standout speaker was Tarek Abuata, director of Friends of Sabeel-North America. (Sabeel is the liberation theology center in Jerusalem.) He was born in Bethlehem and grew up in a Lutheran church in Houston. 

Abuata told us that his story is tied to our Christian history as a people. Churches’ oppression against the Palestinian people is united with the US empire. The sins of Christian Zionism are responsible for “the pillar of sins that form Jerusalem and Palestine today, built on white savior-ism and “Christian” dominance.” 

“Palestinian Liberation Theology is the prophetic Christian antidote to this sin that flips the tables in the temple,” Abuata said. Christians should act and flip the tables in their churches and out in the streets.

Abuata gave a stirring, challenging speech that can’t really be summarized briefly. He remembered, “My 10-year old Christian child self in Bethlehem” reflecting Christian dominance this way: They didn’t want to know me. In the shadows of the Holy Land, they rushed by my Christ to genuflect to their idols. And my people’s wound was for them a showcase for a pilgrim who was enamored more by the churches of Narcissus than the Streets of the Divine. He said, “Don’t mold me into your image, forgetting that I am already molded into His Image!”

I was pleased to see ELCA leaders like the Rev. Rafael Malpica Padilla, Dennis Frado, Bishop Michael Rinehart, and former bishop Dean Nelson, along with a number for former ecumenical accompaniers and other friends. Breaks were few, but we managed to get in a little fellowship.

Christian, Jewish and Muslim speakers were both inspirational and difficult. There were testimonies to suffering, struggle and endurance. While the subject of Jerusalem came from our president’s move of the US embassy, a number of speakers pointed to much earlier factors such as the sequestering indigenous people on reservations, the “western project” that created the state of Israel, Christian Zionists truncating American Christianity, and a culture that makes extremism acceptable, 

Dr. Iva Carruthers said we are engaged in “a conversation on what it means to be human. What does it mean for us to allow the humanity in us to lead? The question is who we are becoming. In Flint (Michigan) and in Palestine, water is being weaponized. We have to speak truth to power in a way that allows us to stand and do what we must do.” Carruthers is general secretary of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference

She outlined some action steps for church leaders, including: Create a framework to exegete the appropriate scriptural texts; use the arts to create a “non-marginalized narrative”; raise consciousness about Israel and Palestine; address policies; cease the “devastating policies of weaponizing natural resources,” challenge and interrupt anti-BDS legislation. 

There was just too much to share effectively in a blog post. The event ended with powerful calls for justice and peace. The Rev. Mae Cannon, director of Churches for Middle East Peace, said, “We need to continue to encourage the choir but also nominate people across the aisles. Talk with people! Talk with conservatives in rural Iowa. Inform them! Change the face of the Palestinian people for those who do not know them.”

Raheb said the occupation continues because of hardware provided by the international community to Israel ($38 billion from USA) and software given to them by Christian seminaries. They connect the Israel of today with biblical Israel and view the occupation as part of a divine plan. 

I felt like everyone in the room, all attentive and diligently taking notes, was connected that day. Raheb said about the networking that is so necessary, “We need more and more togetherness to develop joint strategies.”

The four sponsoring organizations of The Jerusalem Conference (Bright Stars of Bethlehem, the National Council of Churches in the USA, Churches for Middle East Peace, and the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference) affirmed a statement that is worth sharing with your networks. It can be found at this link: Affirmation for an Inclusive Jerusalem


I took part in two other important events in September and October, the FOSNA Conference, Prophetic Action: Christians Convening for Palestine; and the big US Campaign for Palestinian Rights conference: Together We Rise. I hope I can share some ideas from these outstanding events sometime soon.  

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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Action needed for Augusta Victoria

ELCA Advocacy reports that Augusta Victoria Hospital and the East Jerusalem Hospitals Network are facing cuts from U.S. assistance. We are praying for the sick and their families who would be affected. Call your lawmakers. Click for info on how to take action here

Actions requested:
1)    Call the White House hotline (202-456-1111) and use the White House comments page to urge the president to order the release of the $25 million for AVH and the other East Jerusalem hospitals.
2)    Use the sample letter provided at the link above to urge your senators and representatives to contact the White House as well. 

Thank you! 

Room for Hope coming to Texas in October

Encounter the heart of a people through their culture! Join us as we celebrate the rich heritage of Palestinians in Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin and Houston and across the globe through their food, music, dance, and art! This festival aims to showcase and support Palestinian cultural life and strengthen ties between Palestine and the rest of the world.

"In the midst of conflict, art creates room to breathe."
 ~Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb

Festivities include performances by Dance/Theater students from Bethlehem, Palestine, Palestinian appetizers and desserts, live music and presentations by Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb and Bright Stars of Bethlehem. Click this link for details, and please share this invitation widely. 

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