Wednesday, November 29, 2006

 
It has been two weeks since we returned from the 12-dayPeace Making Journey to the Israel/Palestinian Territories. All of us felt that we have gone through a deep transformation.

Here I would like to share one particular visit which had a profound impact on myself as well as the group: B'Tselem (www.btselem.org), which is "The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories". On Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2006,we met Eitan Diamond, a young Israeli Jewish lawyer working on researching human rights violations in the Occupied Territories. He began the meeting by reading the verses in Genesis:

"Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness...So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.' "

With this deep religeous conviction, he committed himself to exposing the human rights violations occurring in the Occupied Territories. He believed that if human rights violations were exposed, people will not allow them to continue. The major violation to human rights he sited "was the limitation of freedom of movement. Since 2000 (the launch of the second intifada), Palestinian freedom of movement was significantly reduced. Few Palestinian jobs were allowed. Many thousands of Palestinians have no place to work, and limitation of the movement of goods severely damaged the economy. While Settlements were illegal under International Law, Palestinians were forbidden to be near settlements. Palestinians were not allowed to use the roads in the Territories; where they were allowed, there were many blocades; access to health care, schools were limited. Many families were split due to severe limitations on Palestinians entering the West Bank. Settlements were treated as 'neighborhoods of Israel'. Most Israelis who lived in the East Jeruselem settlements were treated as from Israel. Walls were built within the Territories. Israeli soldiers would open fire when people came near the wall. Construction of walls on the Territories not belonging to Israel was against International Law. Yet these walls were done to establish facts on the ground. Walls were often placed at the lowest point (i.e. the weakest point); clearly not done for security reasons, but for financial interest for massive expansion plans. Private Palestinian land was confiscated for military needs. Gradually they became for civilian use (settlements). New public land was conficated and used for construction of roads and settlement. More recently, there were cumulative house demolitions. The inhabitants of the demolished homes did not have connections to suicide bombings, but was a punitive measure. Since B'Selem's work, the number of punitive demolitions has reduced (225 punitive demolitions in 2003, compared with 177 in 2004. But there were still many houses and trees demolished for other reasons - such as houses built without permit. There were simply not enough houses to keep up with population growth. Demolition measures were there to discourage Palestinians living in East Jarusalem, done for the expansion of settlement and demogratphic considerations, to keep down the number of Palestinians in Israel. The Greater Jerusalem (including many settlements in occupied Territories) took up as much land as possible. Meanwhile, the Palestinian regions were not provided with services, even though they paid taxes. There were 200,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank. Israeli soldiers often detained Palestinians and they were severely abused."

I recorded these passages so as to pay trubute to the courage and integrity of this young Israeli Jewish Lawyer. There were many other such courageous people, Israeli Jews, Israeli Palestinian Christians, Israeli Palestinian Muslims, Palestinian Christians, and Palestinian Muslims. Their collective voice to use non-violent approaches to expose these abuses, and to advocate reconcillation reflects God's will that freedom and justice will prevail.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

 

A Sermon: "The Things That Make for Peace"

Israel Palestinian Trip Group Reflection

“The Things that Make for Peace”


“If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!”
—Luke 19:42


A Sermon by The Rev. Jeffrey A. Vamos
Psalm 122
Luke 19:37-44
The Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville
November 19, 2006

This sermon is number four in a five part series entitled “The Gospel and Real Life”, and is addressed to the topic, “The Gospel and peace in the Middle East.” The sermon speaks to the experience of 15 Presbyterians, 13 from this Presbytery and 2 from the Phoenix area, who traveled to Israel and the Palestinian Territories for two weeks, from October 29 – November 12. Five persons from The Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville were part of the delegation: Barb Hallows, Jan Everett, Linda Sung, Rev. William McQuoid, and this Pastor. This sermon is really just an introduction toward telling the story of that journey.

The story began on the side of a mountain—the mountain they called The Mount of Olives. It began on a Sunday we now call Palm Sunday, with Jesus of Nazareth, the peasant prophet, riding on a donkey down the Mount of Olives toward the Kidron Valley, the city of Jerusalem above in the distance, throbbing with pilgrims going to festival; he looked up and saw it there, Jerusalem, gleaming on the mountain ahead of them. It began on that mountain.
Our story, the story of 15 Presbyterians foggy with jet lag, began on that same mountain. The hotel where we stayed for the first several days of our journey was located on that same Mount of Olives. And on our first day in Jerusalem, we walked that same path that Jesus walked, or one very close to it, as he walked with his Disciples that Sunday, riding into Jerusalem as the crowds cheered, and the hopeful raised their strain. And we too paused, like Jesus paused that day, as he stopped for a moment, looking out at the city of Jerusalem, and wept. And these are the words he said: “If you only knew the things that makes for Peace!” Earlier in Luke (in chapter 13) as he thinks about this moment, as he thinks about the moment he will enter Jerusalem, he says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those sent to you. How often would I have gathered your children like a mother hen gathers her chicks, but you would not.” He goes to Jerusalem, knowing that he too will be killed, like all the prophets before him who spoke the truth to people who were using religion to oppress one another; using religion to kill one another with a holy zeal.
We too would come to weep over Jerusalem, as we began to see how her children, the Children of Abraham—Jews, Christians and Muslims—are killing each other. One member of our group literally wept in seeing the violence we encountered there. “I had no idea it was so bad,” that person said.
I know why Jesus wept over Jerusalem.
But how can we tell you this story, our story? Our group heard and saw things that are difficult to see and hear—as we felt first-hand the deep suffering of the Palestinian people, we saw with our own eyes things that we never see or hear on our news media. How can we tell how we felt the very real fear of our Jewish brothers and sisters who are so afraid for their own security, since they spend each day with the threat of suicide bombers and Qassam rockets hitting them; each day with the sense that all the nations at their borders are enemies?
How can we tell you the story of our journey?
We come back not as experts in the politics of the Middle East, but as humble pilgrims having heard and seen what is happening in Jerusalem—what is happening in the place we call “The Holy Land”. How can we tell you this story, and wade out into a minefield littered with the volatile pain that exploded in the middle of the 20th century through the murder of over 6 million Jews in the holocaust? How can we account for the nuclear shock of that pain, and the fallout of fear it has created in our Jewish brothers and sisters? How can we account for the grapes of wrath that are filling among our Palestinian brothers and sisters and how we saw with our own eyes how terribly they are suffering under occupation by their own brothers and sisters in the Covenant—how the Jewish people are inflicting on them some of the same wounds as they themselves suffered some half a century ago in Germany, in Poland, in Eastern Europe? How can we tell you of both anti-Semitism, and anti-Arab racism? How can we tell you that story, of a journey that certainly changed my life, and I suspect the lives of those with us?
How can we tell the story when we can so easily offend people who have such different perspectives on this—who have lived with it so much longer than we have? How can we be both humble and truthful? I know that I have already offended some in telling this story. And yet, we come back full of the responsibility to tell it—to tell the story that’s not being told; to say to you, we must do something, and we can do something. We must do something because lack of peace in Jerusalem means we cannot have peace in the Middle East—and without peace in Jerusalem, we cannot have peace here. If we were to somehow solve this conflict, we would all be more secure—Jews, Arabs, Americans.
How can we tell you this story?
Well, to tell our story, I encourage you to become familiar with the main story—this modern story, which is the story of the creation of the modern state of Israel in 1948, and how these children of Abraham—the Jews and the Arabs (who include both Christians and Muslims), came to live on and dispute the same land. And it is a different story, depending on whether you are a Jew or an Arab, depending upon which world you inhabit—because we discovered, they are two different worlds; two different realities. The 1948 war that was fought to create Israel, for example, is called “The War of Independence,” by the Jewish people of Israel, while it is called The Nakhbah, the catastrophe, by the Arab people, since hundreds of thousands became refugees in their own land because of it. You need to know something of the territories called the West Bank, and Gaza and the Golan Heights, part of the Holy Land recognized by the international community as territory that will be necessary to create a future Palestinian state, but which is now under military occupation, and is being colonized by Israel, jeopardizing a peaceful future for both peoples.
I urge you to read about that story—what we found to be the hugely complex and challenging narrative of modern Israel and the Palestinian people.
But, again, how do we begin to tell our story, the story of our experience there? And, as we came to know a story so full of pain and hopelessness, how can we find hope? As Jesus wept over Jerusalem, as we wept over Jerusalem—we kept asking: where is the hope? How can the gospel have any bearing…on such a situation full of seeming hopelessness?
Perhaps the best way to begin to tell the story is to tell stories—and there are so many stories to tell, but here are just two stories among many we encountered that do, I think, point us to the hope of the gospel.
First, here is the story of a young man named Avram. It is a story about conscience and how God can penetrate the conscience of human beings. Reinhold Niebuhr, the great theologian, spoke of how nations cannot have consciences; a mob cannot have a conscience. Only individual people have moral consciences, but it is individual people who can change a mob, can change a nation. In that is hope. So this is a story about an individual conscience.
Avram met with us to tell us about the Israeli human rights organization he was working for. He told of many facts and figures about Israeli human rights violations, the wall that’s been built to separate Israelis from Palestinians—he told us many interesting things about all the issues we were studying, but at one point, a member of our group asked him the question: “how did you come to do what you’re doing? What is your personal story?” And so he told the story of his service in the army, the Israeli Defense Forces, the IDF. He spoke about how he served in a tank battalion defending a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip. Now you need to know that the Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated areas in the world; it’s a narrow strip of land near the Mediterranean where Arabs have lived historically, and have been forced to live as refugees. But some of the very nationalist Jewish people asserted their right to live there, amidst them, and created settlements, which were a great source of pain and anger for the Palestinian people—to take Palestinian land and live there, claiming the land for themselves. And by law, the Israeli Army has to protect these people who illegally create settlements on Palestinian land. And so what they would do is make a security perimeter around the settlement, uprooting the olive trees and destroying the buildings around it, in order to create such a security barrier. And the job of Avram and his tank battalion was to patrol this perimeter.
He told of one night having to shoot a man who was approaching with a gun. They killed him. Then he told of another night in which they saw a man go into the security perimeter; they saw him through night vision goggles. And he didn’t look armed. They fired warning shots to warn him away, but he kept stumbling through the perimeter toward the settlement. They fired again, and he didn’t turn back. So they tried to shoot him in the legs. You can imagine that it’s very difficult to shoot someone in the legs. They ended up killing him. They needed to investigate, because such people might be wired with bombs. And so they went over to where the man was, and discovered that he was a man with Downs Syndrome, a retarded man.
Several weeks later, his girlfriend called. She heard in the background that they were firing off guns, and she asked what they were doing. He told her they were firing on children—all the time the children would come into the perimeter, and throw rocks at the tanks. They would shoot at them, around them—warning shots to shoo them away. It was routine, he said; nobody thought about it. But later, when he was back home visiting his girlfriend, she asked him about it, about what he was doing in his army service. “What are you doing there?” she asked him. “What are you doing?” Somehow the question penetrated his conscience, and he realized what he was doing was wrong; after a time of discernment, he refused to go back to serving with the IDF in the Occupied Territories. And that was the beginning of his journey, to work for human rights in the Occupied Territories.

Then there is the story of Rami, a Jewish man living in Jerusalem, and Waggeh, a Muslim man living in Bethlehem. They came to visit us and tell their story. Rami told us, in a way that seemed so calm and peaceful, how his world changed on Thursday, June 5, 1997, at 3pm. That was when his daughter was killed on a bus on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem when a suicide bomber blew himself up. She was 14 years old. He told us how, at the wake, at the time when people come together to sit Shiva with the bereaved, there was a man from an organization called Parents’ Circle who asked him if he might someday be able to forgive the people who did this, if he might be willing to meet with other people, Arab people, who had also lost loved ones. He was enraged and offended by the question; it was outrageous to him that someone could possibly ask that question at that time. But he explained how, after months of grief and anger, a voice emerged inside of him that spoke clearly to him: the way of anger and violence is not the way. He attended a meeting with other people, Arabs and Jews, who had lost loved ones in the fighting, who embraced one another, and found a way to forgive those who had killed. He looked over to Waggeh, who had lost a brother, at 15 years old. His brother had thrown a rock at an Israeli soldier, who shot him. 10 years later, he lost 2 other family members, one of them a week-old baby, killed by Israeli settlers in the West Bank.
“We are not doomed,” Rami said. “We can break the cycle. And the only way to do that is the way of forgiveness, the way of dialogue.”
I watched them, those two men—a Jewish man and a Muslim man—and I felt I was watching Jesus. These two were, for me, Jesus in that moment. “This is the gospel,” I thought. “This is the gospel. What these people have found is the gospel—and they are not even Christians.” And we who so glibly call ourselves Christian, all the Bible-believing Christians who so easily talk Jesus, who say “Lord, Lord”—have they paid this price? Can they say that they know the gospel in this way—to forgive their enemies in such a way? To have lost a loved one and not sunk into anger and vengeance and despair? Can we say we know this kind of love? This is what it means to be a Christian. The Amish people who forgave the killer of their children, who sat and mourned with the wife of their children’s killer—that is what it means to live the gospel, to know the cost of discipleship, to know that kind of love that does not come from our human will, but from God.
What are the things that make for peace?
You know, what burned in me…. No, before I get into that, I need to offer a little exhortation here: if you ever get a chance to go on a journey like this—leave your every day monkey mindedness, to get out and see the reality of the world, whether here or on the Gulf Coast or in Haiti—I would tell you to do it: sell your stock, take all your vacation time; do it. It will transform you. And you will know your Christian faith in a way you have never known it.
Because what burned in me throughout this experience is that what we take for granted as Christians, what we pay such easy lip service to, what we mumble in our prayers every week about the way of Christ, the way of forgiveness and reconciliation—that is the way. It’s such a simple lesson; it really isn’t complicated. It doesn’t require complex theological gymnastics. Forgive. Love your enemies. It’s what Jesus really did mean.
Jesus looks over at Jerusalem, and says, “If you only knew the things that make for peace.” And the point here is, Jesus showed us what makes for peace. It’s this: a cross. The symbol that shows us the self-giving, the forgiving and transforming love of God. I’m convinced it is the only way.
Charles Bartow, the person who preached at Presbytery on Tuesday said that God’s pre-emptive strike against terrorism is this: a cross. The symbol of God’s ultimate forgiveness of humans for the ultimate crime: killing God. Is it possible then for us to forgive terrorists? Even those terrorists who committed 9/11? It seems laughable almost, in our current culture, in our current political climate. But it’s the gospel; it’s what we believe.
I came to think that the answer is so simple. And I am convinced that the weapon we know through the gospel is more powerful than any Apache helicopter, or Qassam rocket. It is the power of forgiveness, the reconciling love we know through this cross.
So hard to believe! So foolish! So naïve! But, we must ask ourselves the question, as we see the downward spiral of violence spill out on our television screens each night: is all that violence working? Is it making us a safer place? Will our war on terrorism be won with violence?
“IF only you knew the things that make for peace.” The truth is, we do.
And if we are to survive as a human species—we must invest heavily in this weapon: the sword of love, the shield of forgiveness. We must invest ourselves in making peace without violence.
It is, I am convinced, the only way.
Amen.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

 

Celebrations

By Clarke, Ewing, NJ

During the two weeks we had two Birthday Celebrations.

On November 3, 2006 Bill S. celebrated his 82 birthday! Bill may be 82 but he was one of the youngest in heart, along with Deanna and Mike.

On the day Bill turned 82 we went to see King Herod’s Fortress on top of Herodium. It was a beautiful day. After walking up a steep incline we traveled though caves under the fort. With the help of our fearless guide, Rami, we came out into the ruins of the fort.


There we gathered to wish Bill a “Happy Birthday”. Bill loves sweets so we gave him a box of sweets as a substitute for a cake. We gladly helped Bill eat the sweets.

Bill was born in Beirut, Lebanon. He served in the US Foreign Service for many years and was Ambassador to Kuwait. Because of his background Bill spoke Arabic and was a great help in translating when our local guides were not around. We soon called him “Arabic Bill” to differentiate him from Rev. Bill. Bill’s enthusiasm and love of people was contagious and he added greatly to the adventure.

Bill reminded us that he has been traveling on this road for Peace most of his life. I am privileged to have travel part way on this road with him (and with the other members of our group).

The last full day in Israel, 11/11/2006, we celebrated David’s birthday. Again we had sweets instead of a cake. I forget how old David is but it was much less than 82. David was completely surprised as we asked the geologist to give a lesson as we sat at the shores of the Sea of Galilee (David claims it is really a lake – but hey it saids “Sea’ in the Bible.) As soon as David began his lecture we broke out in the “Happy Birthday” song. After a few rounds of sweets we let David continue with his talk about the area. There is a rife in the Jordan Valley called the “Great Rift”. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Rift_Valley for more information or better yet go see it for yourself.

David was one of the “Arizona boys”. Rev. Mac was the other. Time wise Arizona is further away from Israel than New Jersey so there was often a delay when we took roll call before they responded with “7”. Being from the USA desert it was interesting for them to see the desert in Israel and the Palestine Territories. And it was great having them along.

I am envious of these two since my birthday fell later in the month, today in fact, November 19th. I got to have an extra donut at work. Not quite the same but it was “sweet”. I have been fortunate to travel to several parts of the World, including Sydney, Australia for my birthday in 1996. But never with such great adventurers and friends.

So where will we be celebrating Arabic Bill’s 83rd?

Clarke

Friday, November 17, 2006

 

Some movie recommendations

Israel Palestinian Trip Group Reflection

Here are some movie recommendations I've been meaning to suggest to everyone. I rented all these through Netflix:

Elusive Peace: Israel and the Arabs. A PBS documentary series outlining the diplomatic efforts of the 90s leading up to Camp David II with Barak/Arafat. This would be a good follow up especially for those who heard Rashid Khalidi last night.

Paradise Now. This is an "Indie" movie telling the story of a pair of suicide bombers, and was nominated for an Academy Award.

Death in Gaza. This is a documentary about a camera man who died in Gaza filming the effects of war o! n children. The IDF shot him, and the trial is still pending.

Salt and Light: The Story of Palestinian Christians in the Upper West Bank. I lent this to a seminary student, and am willing to lend it when it comes back.

 

Mac leads us in "Humble Me Lord"

from Clarke, Ewing, NJ
-----------------------------

Rev. Mac Schafer lead us in song at the "Church of the Sermon of the Mount" at Mar Elias school.

To see a video of the last verse please go to:

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8328370658922148503&pr=goog-sl


 

Visit to Gethsemane and Church of All Nations




Our first excursion on Tuesday, October 31, was a walk down the path (now paved) on which Jesus walked from the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem. We stopped at the Dominus Flavit Church (inside photo), the Garden of Gethsemane where centuries old olive trees still live and then visited the Church of All Nations (outside photo). Photos of the Dominus Flavit Church, Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations are attached.

 

Jerusalem: First Morning





On October 31, we awoke to a bright, sunny day. I have attached an early morning photo of the Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem, and the filled in gate on the eastern wall, called Golden (Messiah's) Gate.

 

First Night in Jerusalem



We arrived at Ben Gurion airport around 6:30 pm. We drove to Jerusalem and the 7 Arches Hotel located on the Mount of Olives. After checking in, it was time for some photography. Two photos, one a close up of the Dome of the Rock and the other a wider angle view that includes the Dome of the Rock (right) and the Al Asqa Mosque (left), both part of the Temple Mount compound.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

 

Jerusalem Panorama


This image of Jerusalem is constructed of three separate photographs. They were merged in Adobe Photoshop using photomerge.

Ted

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

 

Pray for the Peace Jerusalem (from Ted)


Monday, November 13, 2006

 

Resources for Further Information

By Deanna Womack

After only one day back in the states, it's difficult to become re-adjusted to my normal life. I cannot stop thinking about our experience in Palestine and Israel. One good thing about being back is that we now have access to a whole wealth of information online, and we can continue to be well-informed about the situation. With that in mind, I have put together a list of resources, including online news sites, websites for organizations working for peace and reconciliation, and books for further reading.

Online News Sources:

Palestine News Network (Holy Land Trust news service in Bethlehem)
http://english.pnn.ps/

Aljazeera (Arab world news agency)
http://english.aljazeera.net/HomePage

Haartetz (Israeli news source)
http://www.haaretz.com/

CNN Middle East News
http://www.cnn.com/WORLD/meast/archive/

BBC Middle East News
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/default.stm

Palestinian and Israeli Websites of Interest:

Holy Land Trust
http://www.holylandtrust.org/

Middle East Fellowship
http://www.middleeastfellowship.org/
(LAMPS of the Middle East: http://www.middleeastfellowship.org/lamps)

B’Tselem (Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories)
http://www.btselem.org/English/index.asp

Rabbis for Human Rights
http://www.rhr.israel.net/

Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolitions
http://www.icahd.org/eng/

Peace Now
http://www.peacenow.org.il/Site/en/homepage.asp
(Americans for Peace Now: http://www.peacenow.org/)

Stop the Wall Campaign
http://stopthewall.org/index.shtml

My Right to Enter
www.righttoenter.ps

Bethlehem Bible College
http://www.bethlehembiblecollege.edu/

Musalaha (Ministry of Reconciliation)
http://www.musalaha.org/

Al Haq (Human Rights Organization)
http://www.alhaq.org/

Addameer (Prisoner’s Support and Human Rights Organization)
http://www.addameer.org/index_eng.html

Applied Research Institute - Jerusalem
www.arij.org

Birzeit University
http://www.birzeit.edu/

Right to Education Campaign
http://right2edu.berzeit.edu

Mar Elias Educational Institutions
http://www.meei.org/

Pilgrims of Ibilin (US Organization)
www.pilgrimsofibillin.org

Parents Ciricle
http://www.theparentscircle.com/

Neve Shalom – Wahat al-Salam
http://nswas.org/rubrique22.html

Sabeel (Ecumenical liberation theological center, Jerusalem)
http://www.sabeel.org/

Quaker Friend’s School in Palestine
http://www.palfriends.org/

Yad Vashem (Israeli Holocaust Memorial)
http://www.yadvashem.org/

International Relief Friendship Foundations/Middle East Peace Project (Includes SOS Orphanage in Bethlehem)
http://www.irff-europe.org/project/israel/peaceproj.htm#S.O.S.

Daher’s Vineyard/ Tent of Nations
http://www.tentofnations.org/main/index.php

Christian Peacemaker Teams in Palestine
http://www.cpt.org/hebron/hebron.php

Council for Restoration and Preservation of Historic Sites in Israel (Ilan Pappe)
http://www.shimur.co.il/show_item.asp?itemId=656&levelId=46221&itemType=0&template=7

Emil Touma Institute for Palestinian and Israeli Studies (Ilan Pappe)
http://emiltouma.tripod.com/ or http://www.ilanpappe.org

US Aid – Israel
http://www.usaid.gov/pubs/cbj2003/ane/il/#tup

Non-Violence International
http://www.nonviolenceinternational.net/

Bishop Riah – Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem
http://www.j-diocese.com/main.html


Further Reading:

Jimmy Carter. Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group, 2006. (ISBN: 0743285026).

Riah Abu El-Assal. Caught in Between: The Extraordinary Story of an Arab Palestinian Christian Israeli. Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1999. (ISBN: 0281052239).

Rashid Khalidi. The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood. Beacon Press, 2006. (ISBN: 0807003085).

Jerry Levin. West Bank Diary: Middle East Violence as Reported by a Former American Hostage, 2005. (ISBN: 193271703X)

Ilan Pappe. The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. Oneworld Publications, 2006.
(ISBN: 1851684670)

Ilan Pappe. A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples. Cambridge University Press, 2006. (ISBN: 0521683157)

Ilan Pappe. Israel Palestine Question. Taylor & Francis, Inc., 1999. (ISBN: 0415169488)

Friday, November 10, 2006

 

Last day: the long journey into night

By: Jeff Vamos, Princeton, NJ

We begin today with worship, and a time to say goodbye to Prof. Gordon Mikoski, who is staying behind to spend a couple of days with Father Chacour at Mar Elias Educational Institutions. We owe so much to Prof. Mikoski, without whom this experience would not have happened. He added so much to our conversations--helping us to understand the biblical context of the land, and the conflict between Jews and Arabs.

We'll spend today "killing time", visiting areas around the Sea of Galilee, as we make our way to Tel Aviv for our flight (sometime after Midnight). We will have lunch on the Sea of Galilee, eating "St. Peter Fish," and will then make our way along the coast toward Tel Aviv. Along the way, we will take time to hear about the ministries of Rami, who has been our guide par excellance, and Christy, the person from the Middle East Fellowship who coordinated the planning of the trip. (We've been blessed with such wonderful leadership on this trip).

Another aspect of our trip that bears mentioning is the "division of labor" with which we've approached group life--I have felt that each member of our group has contributed out of their giftedness, and that has made all the difference in out "bonding" as a group, and maintaining a healthy group life: worship team, baggage team, pulse and temperature team, chaplaincy team, etc etc.

Lastly, as we look toward travelling back to our "old life," I think about how this experience has changed me--us. How can we return and express the strange, disburbing, hopeful, beautiful, anger-inspiring and challenging reality we have experienced here--with humility, and with faithfulness? One aspect of this trip that has been absolutely critical has been the spiritual practice that has attended our experience and our reflecction. Important to me has been the notion that we do not know what fruit our efforts will bear; we simply focus on what God is calling us to do, and allow for the fact that providence is a force we cannot predict or control. Ours is to be faithful, and to tell the story. May the Spirit be with us in that.

In peace,

JV

 

Mar Elias School & More...

From Mac, Scottsdale, AZ:



Yesterday we made our way to Nazareth from Nablus. We came across this wonderful view of the Jordan Valley.








Our wonderful Guides: (from Left to Right): Maher our amazing bus driver, Christy from Middle East Fellowship, and Rami








A Beautiful Peace & Reconciliation Mural at the Mar Elias School. Mar Elias School is in Ibillin, a small town outside of Nazareth and was founded by Archbishop Elias Chacour author of the book 'Blood Brothers' (a must read). This school is a very hopeful place with Muslim and Christian students. There is an emphasis within every classroom on peace and reconciliation. One of the main goals of the school and university is to raise up a new generation of young people who are tolerant and respectful of others. The University is connected to The University of Indianapolis in Indiana. The university students are required to spend a summer doing classes in Indianapolis.







High School Kids in English Class at Mar Elias School








Our group at Mar Elias School










Elias Abugahnama, Associate Director of Mar Elias High School














Elias Jabbour, director of House of Hope. Mr. Jabbour created a safe space for Palestinian Christians, Muslims, Druzes, and Jews to dialogue and build relationships. He is a spirited Palestinian Christian with a great deal of hope.












A beautiful view of the Ba'hai Gardens and the city of Haifa from Mt. Carmel. Mt. Carmel is where Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

 

Picture Update

From Mac, Scottsdale, AZ:


This is Rabbi Ascherman from Rabbis For Human Rights (whom I talked about in a previous entry).

Our group at Qumran where the Dead Sea Scolls were found. It was an unusually cool day at Qumran. The Dead Sea area is known for its heat, so we were fortunate.

When we were in Hebron we visited the Mosque where the Patriarchs are buried. The women in our group had to wear these hooded robes to enter the Mosque. This is Jan in her outfit!

This is our group at Masada where the Jewish Zealots held out against the Roman army a few years after the Temple was destroyed in Jerusalem. Herod the Great also built himself quite the palace on Masada.

This is Rami, our tour guide and a teacher at Bethleham Bible College. In this picture he is leading us at Qumran.

On this trip we have met with over 20 peacemaking groups. This is our groups typical posture: listening and taking notes.

Father Diab is an Anglican Priest who met us in Nablus yesterday. He is very concerned about the declining number of Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land. He guided us through the city of Nablus yesterday and took us to the traditional site of Jacob's Well. Jacob's Well is where Jesus met the Samaritan woman. Our group all drank out of the well. There were strikes in Nablus yesterday in protest over the 20 people (7 of which were children) who were killed in the Gaza Strip.

This is a picture from a cave at the Tent of Nations Vineyard outside of Bethleham. The Vineyard is owned by this palestinain man in the picture. The murals next to him are family members who have owned the vineyard before him. It has been passed down through generations. The Vineyard is used for group interfaith dialogue.

Alex Awad (whom I had an entry on earlier), Dean of Students at Bethleham Bible College.

Monday, November 06, 2006

 

Some Highlights From The Past Three Days

From Mac, Scottsdale, AZ:

As I mentioned in a previous entry, we spend most of Sunday touring Masada, Qumran, and a very quick trip to Jericho. We ended our day back in Jerusalem meeting with the group Rabbis For Human Rights. Their Executive Director, Rabbi Arik W. Ascherman spoke to us. 'Rabbis For Human Rights is an organization of Israeli rabbis from every Jewish denomination devoted to the furtherance of Human Rights and strengthening of Israeli society in the knowledge that all human beings are created in the image of God.' One of their efforts (among many with Isralis and Palestinians) is called 'The Olive Tree Campaign.' To quote their September 2006 report: 'Rabbis For Human Right's Olive Tree Campaign now works with over 30 Palestinian villages whose ability to harvest, plow, plant, and perform other vital tasks related to their agricultural livelihoods is denied or limited because of settler violence, army restrictions and/or the Seperation Barrier.'

Monday was packed with meetings: We began our day at Bethlehem Bible College with The Reverend Alex Awad, Dean of Students at the college. Rev. Awad's family is very involved with peace work and the promotion of non-violence. He shared that Bethlehem Bible College was founded because so many Palestinian Christians who wanted to study the Bible in greater depth had to go outside the country to do so. Rev.Awad then went through his perspective of the history of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. He had excellent maps of the changes in Israel-Palestine since 1880 to the present. We got copies of these maps on CD to bring home. They will be very helpful in communicating our experience.

Late Monday afternoon we visited the SOS Children's Village in Bethleham. SOS is an orphanage and was established in 1966, opening its gates for the first child in 1969. Presently there are over 100 children in SOS Village between the ages of 1 to 14. The SOS Village consists of 12 houses with 8 to 10 children residing in each house. Our group delivered art supplies to the village and went into one of the group homes. The children were a shining light in the midst of the conflict that overshadows much of life in Bethleham.

On Tuesday we went to Hebron and we were guided through the city by Chritian Peacemaking Team volunteers. One volunteer was Jerry Levin, a former CNN journalist, who now works with CPT full time. We visited Mosque at the center of Hebron where the tombs of Abraham, Sarah, Issac, and Jacobreside.

I'm running out of time, we have to catch our morning bus so I'll continue with this later....Peace, Shalom, Salaam...

Sunday, November 05, 2006

 

More Pictures


A historical room in a Palestinian Daheisha refugee camp where 10 Palestinians had to sleep. Our group put 10 people in the room to see what it was like. Many families in this refugee camp still have the keys to the homes they lost in 1948.

Something we long for more and more each day of our trip...

The Olive Tree: So central to the land and the people.

The Palm Sunday Road.

Going into the 'supposed place' of Jesus birth in the Church of the Nativity.

David in front of the seperation barrier.


Walking in the Old City Jerusalem markets.

Our group at JFK airport before we left.

Meeting with Anglican Bishop Riah our first day.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

 

Quick Sunday Update

From Mac, Scottsdale, AZ:

Greetings Friends, It is Sunday morning and our group is doing fine. We are presently staying in Beit Sahur just outside of Bethlehem. This morning we will worship in the Greek Orthodox church in Beit Sahur then we will visit Masada, Qumran, the Dead Sea (we're bringing our bathing suits!), and Jericho.

We have had a wonderful guide throughout our trip. His name is Rami and he teaches at Bethlehem Bible College. He has degrees in Biblical History and Archaeology and a great sense of humor. He also is a Palestinian Christian, so he provides great insights into the conflict from that perspective. He has guided us through the Old City of Jerusalem, Herodian, Bethleham,Solomon's Pools, and more. He also picks some fabulous restaurants for lunch and authentic Arab food.

Yesterday we were in Ramallah, primarily at Bier Zeit University where we met with Palestinian students and the University Delegations and Events Coordinator. We listened to their personal stories and perspectives. Classes were cancelled because of troubles that had taken place in Gaza, so many students were available to talk to us. They love their land and country of Palestine.

Later we went to the village of Aboud and had worship. Aboud is home to an ancient church founded by Armenian Christians in most likely the second century. It was a beautiful village in hill country. All around the village were hills of ancient Olive Trees. After the intensity of Ramallah it was good to see the peaceful, simple ways of families and individuals picking olives on these hills.

Off to worship....

Thursday, November 02, 2006

 

Day # 2 Summary

From Mac, Scottsdale,AZ:

Friends, sorry I have not written more to date. Our days have been very full from first thing in the morning to late in the evening, so it has been hard to get computer time. We began our day meeting with B'tselem, a group that writes reports on human rights issues in Israel-Palestinian Territories. Some of the issues they write on are: freedom of movement through check points, settlement expansion, the impact of the wall, and more. B'tselem is not a political organization,they only deal with human rights cases.

Next we went to Yad Vashim, the holocaust museum. The museum is an architechual wonder. It weaves you through a chronological journey of the tragic events surrounding the European Jewish community before,during, and after World War II. Certainly the most moving and humbling part of the museum for me was the Hall of Names: A circular room filled on the outside with notebook after notebook of names of Jewish brothers and sisters who were killed during the atrocities of World War II. In the center, above you is a cylindar structure with hundreds of photographs of people who lost their lives. Directly below this cylindar is a deep hole dug into the Jerusalem limestone, with a reflection pool at the bottom. As you look deep into the pool water at the bottom you see the reflection of the pictures of the people on the cylindar above.

After lunch we headed out to Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam, an intentional community that was formed in 1971 for Palestinians (Christian and Muslims) and Jews to live together peacefully. The community has grown from just a few families in the 1970s to over 50 families today, evenly divided between Jewish and Palestinian families. Along with the intentional community they have developed a School for Peace (reconciliation work), a bilingual/binational school for children with over 200 students, and a new Pluralistic Spiritual Centre. Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam's mayor guided us through the history of the community and its future.

We quickly made our way back to Jerusalem for a evening meeting with the Israeli group Peace Now. Peace Now is an extra parlimentary peace movement (meaning they don't side with a political party)that operates through public campaigns, advertisements, petitions, distribution of educational material, street activities and more. As their brochure says, 'Peace Now has consistently supported any and all steps promising to promote resolution of the conflict, in addition to pressing all parties in power in the country to initiate steps to bring about the end of the occupation and to enter into negotiations for peace.'

We finally returned to our hotel for dinner and one final meeting with Parents Circle. Parents Circle is a group of over 500 Palestinian and Jewish people who have lost family members in the violence of the conflict. We met Rami (Jewish Israeli)from Jerusalem and Waggeeh (Palestinian Arab Muslim Israeli) from Hebron, both men. Rami's 14 year old daughter was killed by a suicide bomber on a bus in Jerusalem. Waggeeh's young brother was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier for throwing stones at the soldiers. Both men talked about the fact that doing nothing or acting in revenge in response to these losses would lead to further personal and communal destruction. What they both did was join Parent Circle. Rami described Pamily Circle as 'putting cracks in the wall' of a divide between communities because they come together and share their loss, listen to one another, and share their grief. Parent Circle also goes out (as Rami and Waggeeh did with us) to share their stories. They go out in pairs, one Jew and one Palestinian. Rami said the most effective presentations they make are to school age youth and children in Israel-Palestinian Territories where they share their stories and long for the violence to end. At the end of Waggeeh and Rami's presentation our group was humbled and in awe of these two men and their courage to work towards healing and hope out of a tragic situation.

I'll end on that hopeful note....

 

Day 3 - Pictures - Garden of the Tomb/Communion






- from Clarke, Ewing, NJ

Sorry this is out of order. But we are having trouble with the connection and are doing what is easiest to do.

Here are some pictures from the Service at the Garden of the Tomb.

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