Monday, May 25, 2015

Christian Peacemaker Teams PRESENTS!

Dear Friend,

This coming Wed. May 27, 2015, we will hear from Cody O'Rourke and the Christian Peacemakers Team (CPT). Learn what living under the Occupation feels like if you live in Hebron, the West Bank. At 1st Presbyterian Church, (659 State St, Holland, MI). 7:00 p.m!

Big News: We have booked Archbishop (Abuna) Elias Chacour as our presenter, Thursday, September 17 (a Thursday). Right here in Holland, MI. Abuna Chacour (of Blood Brothers fame) is one of the originators of reconciliation between Jews and Palestinian Arabs in the land of I/P. Your Board is working on two venues, 1) for the College and Seminary students (in the afternoon); and 2) an event for the Western Michigan community in the evening. Stay tuned.

Big News (#2): Your KUSA community now has an emerging Board of Directors. We are feeling our way forward, with collegiality, diversity of experiences, young and old, passionate about justice and love in addressing I/P.

We are moving toward articles of incorporation as a Not-For-Profit Corporation, changing the name of our community from KUSA - Hollland/Zeeland to Kairos USA - West Michigan Community.

Our evening with Daoud Nassar included multiple persons from Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Grand Haven, South Haven, as well as persons from Holland and Zeeland. So, although based in Holland/Zeeland, our reach is to all of W. MI (and beyond).

Your Board of Directors continues to affirm the KUSA national movement, whose Executive Director, Mark Braverman, writes to all of us in this forwarded Pentecost newsletter.

We will be learning more about the KUSA document, a "Response" to the cry for help from our Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters (and a "Call for Action").

I made a perfect nuisance of myself, again, in responding to Mr. Dunkelberger's screed in the Holland Sentinel. Forgive me for that. I'll try to keep quiet publicly. For a while at least. He addressed me personally. Many times. In public. I wanted to give him a response. In public. In responding, I was fully aware that his mind would not be changed. But hopefully there are others who have more of an open mind and really want to know "what's going on over there" and why the Zionist experiment is losing its luster. (If you want copies of 1) my first letter to the editor, 2) his response, and 3) my response, just ask me. I'll shot them right off.)

So take this as a personal invitation to join us at 1st Presbyterian Church this coming Wednesday, May 27, at 7:00 p.m., in the sanctuary. (With thanks to Sarah Hamm and Rev. Linda Knierieman). One of our goals as a KUSA community, is to lift up those who are making a difference in reconciling opposing persons and forces. We will not throw up our hands in resignation and defeatism. We are still in awe at the turn-out to the event with Daoud Nassar, who appeared via SKYPE and addressed us personally on April 30. There were 110 present for this event, even though it was announced he would not be able to appear in person.

We want to understand more and do more to truly address the issues and bring about resolution of long-standing problems and an end to the occupation and oppression of the indigenous people of the land. Please join us! Faithfully yours, JRK

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Gulf Summit and I/P

Dear Friend,

While I'm preparing my response to today's Sentinel op-ed, I thought I would put together some relevant material to put Obama's Gulf Summit into perspective, especially as it relates to our region. US Middle East policies are in flux.

With President Obama inviting leaders of the Gulf states to Washington today (May 13, 2015) and Camp David tomorrow, interest is heightened as to his views on US Middle East policy, and especially with regards to Israel/Palestine.

He was recently interviewed by Asharq Al-Awsat, a leading Arabic-language newspaper. This summit of Gulf State leaders is perhaps the most significant in the last 50 years. It is a far-ranging interview, covering Yemen, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and Egypt. We are especially interested in what he says about I/P. Here are the relevant paragraphs:

Q: There was much appreciation for your initial efforts to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine and have a two-state solution. And yet those efforts have been met by obstruction from various sides. Have you given up on reaching the two-state solution before the end of your presidency, and if not, how can you change the dynamic?

I will never give up on the hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and the United States will never stop working to realize that goal. As I said when I visited Ramallah two years ago, Palestinians deserve an end to the occupation and the daily indignities that come with it; they deserve to live in an independent, sovereign state, where they can give their children a life of dignity and opportunity. And as I said in my speech to the Israeli people on that same trip, peace between Israelis and Palestinians is necessary, it is just, and it is possible. It is also in the national security interest of the United States. That’s why we’ve worked so hard over the years for a two-state solution and to develop innovative ways to address Israel’s security and Palestinian sovereignty needs.

With the breakdown of talks, simmering tension in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, last summer’s conflict in Gaza, and serious questions about overall commitment to a two-state outcome, it’s no secret that we now have a very difficult path forward. As a result, the United States is taking a hard look at our approach to the conflict.

We look to the new Israeli government and the Palestinians to demonstrate—through policies and actions—a genuine commitment to a two-state solution. Only then can trust be rebuilt and a cycle of escalation avoided. Addressing the lasting impact in Gaza of last summer’s conflict should also be central to any effort. Ultimately, the parties will need to address not just Gaza’s immediate humanitarian and reconstruction needs, but also core challenges to Gaza’s future within a two-state context, including reinvigorating Gaza’s connection with the West Bank and reestablishing strong commercial links with Israel and the global economy.

Here is now a lead article in today’s Haaretz newspaper (the leading “liberal” newspaper in Israel):

Despite Obama's demand, Netanyahu's coalition guidelines make no commitment to Palestinian state
Neither of Netanyahu's previous two governments made commitment to two states either, but Israel's international standing and the demands of the U.S. and Europe have changed the playing field.
By Barak Ravid | May 13, 2015 | 1:19 PM |
A document detailing the basic guidelines of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new coalition, presented Wednesday to the Knesset, bears no mention of the solution of "two states for two peoples" nor does it include any intention of establishing a Palestinian state.
The document includes a general statement alone according to which, "the government will advance the diplomatic process and will strive for a peace agreement with the Palestinians and with all of our neighbors."
The document also mentions that the government will push for a diplomatic peace process while preserving Israel's security and national historical interests. "If an agreement of this kind is reached, it will be brought for the approval of the cabinet and the Knesset, and if necessary, for a national referendum as well," the document on the coalition guidelines says.
The wording of the political clause in the document is similar to the wording used in Netanyahu's previous government in 2009 and 2013. Neither of those two government expressed commitment to a two-state solution either – mainly due to the opposition of many members of Likud and its coalition partners on the right. . . . .

Friends, here are my thoughts:
“Ending the Occupation” is a code phrase in Israel, for dismantling the Jewish/Israeli State. Israel, especially under the new Likud administration will not “stand for” it.

The Two-State solution has been dead at least since 1967, when Israel’s rulers decided against a “deal” to divide up the conquered territory with Palestinians, satisfying their quest for an independent state. After what happened in the Israeli War for Independence in 1948 (driving out the Palestinians), the Israelis can never trust the (possible) good intentions of the Palestinian people to co-exist with the Israeli interlopers.

It does appear that President Obama is going to hold Prime Minister Yetanyahu to his electioneering comment that Likud will never conclude a treaty granting Palestinian state-hood, “under his watch”.

Yet, Obama holds to the politically correct view that the “Two-State” solution is still the official view.
Many of us are strongly of the opinion that the way forward is to continue to press for a One State solution with liberty and justice for all the inhabitants of the land (and justice for the millions of refugees who were displaced by the Israeli Occupation).

The Separation Barrier continues to prevent previous human/interpersonal contact between ordinary Israelis and Palestinians, thus intensifying “us vs. them” adversarial relations. The immediate future is more and more bleak in my view. Hopefully, the logjam that intensifies will be released as a few of the logs (settlements, Palestinian disunity, popular apathy) are slowly removed.

Stay tuned for developments.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Daoud Nassar, Palestinian Farmer (Tent of Nations)

Dear Friend,
It is with deep sadness that we announce that Daoud Nassar, Palestinian Christian farmer, is not able to keep his appointment with us for Thursday, April 30 in Holland/Zeeland, MI, USA.

BUT, the KUSA leadership team (still forming!) has decided to GO AHEAD with both the 5:00 Benefactor Reception AND the 7:00 Main Event in the Chapel, at Christ Memorial Church.

"Benefactors" will hear directly from Bill Plitt, President of FOTONNA (Friends of Tent of Nations, North America), who (at 5:00) will explain in more detail why Daoud could not come and how we can support Daoud in his struggle to maintain his domain in the face of Israeli roadblocks and harassment. It is more important than ever to understand what drives the broken relationships between the Israeli settlers/occupiers and the native land-holders. Mike Spath, our partner from Fort Wayne's Indiana Center for Middle East Peace (ICMEP) will also be present.

In a hastily convened meeting at Western Seminary this morning, 7 of us (leaders) concluded it would NOT be wise to hold the Farmers Colloquy with Jeff Roessing and WTS students and agricultural enthusiasts, since Daoud's person was deemed essential to its success.

At 7:00 - 8:30 p.m. we will see a freshly made video from Daoud to us, as well as the Power Point presentation that Bill Plitt and Daoud would be giving even if Daoud were able to come. We will receive an inside glimpse of Tent of Nations and why and how it is an international demonstration of the nonviolent struggle to be part of the soon-to-be growing, pluralistic Israeli democracy with equal rights and responsibilities for all citizens. (We are a long way from this goal, but that IS the goal, according to many of us!)

For those of you who are still with me, here is a little bit more about the issue that keeps Daoud from traveling to four venues in the US Midwest: The Israeli territorial authorities have demanded that Daoud (and other area farmers) re-register their farms. He has done that by the April 21 deadline. BUT, there is a meeting next week, where aerial surveys will be examined to determine if any of the ancestral holdings should be classified as "State/Public Land" instead of personal property. So, the stakes are high for our friend and his friends. His presence was deemed to be paramount.

Please help us get this important word to any and all of your constituencies.

As Travis West (a professor at Western Seminary, and one of our "leaders") puts it so well: [In the light of these changes]: Bill [Plitt] and Mike [Spath] will be there to speak on behalf of Daoud, and that, given the events that are keeping Daoud in Palestine, [our] support and participation is even more critical now than ever.

Faithfully yours, for KUSA - Holland/Zeeland, I am, John Kleinheksel

Friday, April 3, 2015

Israeli Major General: "We Don't Do Gandhi Very Well"

Dear Friend,
We're between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. I've been waiting for a full year to send you this powerful reminder of what our friends in Israel/Palestine are facing. Oppression is a harsh term. Occupation is a word that Israelis refuse to utter. For all his bluster about Iran, PM Netanyahu never mentions the Palestinians. Israel is a fear-based society, seeing threats to its survival at every turn.

Please read this article carefully. It's from Prism, put out by Eastern University (Tony Campolo, emeritus). Ron Sider from Evangelicals for Social Action knows the author of this piece, Ryan Beiler.

The "weakness" of Jesus' Way led to his persecution and execution. His resurrection is God's validation of his Way of forgiveness and persistence in nonviolent action to confront the excesses, the hypocrisy, the mendacity and cruelty of Empire.

Our friends, the Israelis and the Palestinians, need our support in bringing about justice, redress of grievances, equality of treatment and liberty with civil rights and the same law for all citizens of the land. JRK


Posted by Prism on Tuesday, April 1, 2014 ·


Story and photography by Ryan Rodrick Beiler

Mahmoud Al’aa Elddin spends most Friday afternoons in “dialogue” with the Israeli soldiers who invade his West Bank village of Al-Masara. Each week since 2006, Palestinian, international, and Israeli activists have attempted to march from Al-Masara to agricultural lands that will be cut off by the Israeli separation barrier if extended as planned. Armed only with a Palestinian flag, Al’aa Elddin faces a row of gun-toting, riot-shielded conscripts blocking the road.

Here, as with 85 percent of its route, the barrier would take more Palestinian land for Israeli settlements instead of separating the West Bank from Israel on the internationally recognized border, or Green Line. Both the barrier and the settlements are illegal under international law because Israel is building them on occupied Palestinian territory.

Many believe the barrier that is in place has stopped Palestinian suicide bombings, which ended in 2008. Between October 2000 and February 2008, these and other acts of violence killed 1,012 Israelis. During the same period Israelis killed 4,536 Palestinians. Most victims on both sides were noncombatant civilians. But even now, only two-thirds of the barrier’s planned route is complete. Large gaps, which could easily be infiltrated by would-be attackers, allow tens of thousands of unauthorized Palestinians to enter Jerusalem or Israel on a daily basis to find work. Even former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens told an Israeli newspaper, “It’s clear there is no connection between the wall and the cessation of attacks.”

“Some people think that this wall is just to protect the Israeli people for security,” says Al’aa Elddin. “But they don’t know at the same time this wall is dividing the land and separating families.”

To protest the barrier, several Palestinian villages started weekly demonstrations, including those documented in the films Budrus and the Oscar-nominated Five Broken Cameras. In these two cases, activism succeeded in moving the barrier closer to the Green Line, leaving more village land accessible for cultivation.

WEstbankMost of the organized protests are peaceful. But unaffiliated youth sometimes throw stones at the wall, jeeps, or soldiers. At the Al-Masara demonstration, there is almost never stone-throwing. “Peaceful resistance is important because there is no reason for the Israeli army to shoot,” says Al’aa Elddin. “And this will show who uses violence.”

The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem has reported on the army’s systematic “dispersal of demonstrations using force, even when demonstrators were not violent in any way.” In the last decade, the military has killed 15 protesters and injured scores more through unlawful use of tear gas projectiles, rubber-coated steel bullets, and live ammunition.

“We don’t do Gandhi very well,” admits Israeli Major-General Amos Gilad, according to a leaked US State Department cable. The same document describes how the military will “be more assertive in how it deals with these demonstrations, even demonstrations that appear peaceful.”

While the army has used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the Al-Masara demonstration, most weeks the marchers get very up-close and personal with the soldiers blocking the road. The ensuing “dialogue” embodies the problem often ignored by would-be peacemakers who recommend reconciliation without acknowledging the power disparity between Palestinians and their military occupiers. Those with greater power have little motivation to risk genuine conversation, or to change anything as a result.

“Just put your guns on the ground and come to our side if you want peace,” Al’aa Elddin tells one soldier. “We will welcome you, and we will drink coffee. We will discuss it, and we will find a solution.”

“We just want to put some keys in their mind just to open it and to think more as a person,” says activist Moath Al Lahham of Bethlehem. “Sometimes they don’t want to speak, they just want to stand and block the road. Some of them said, ’I don’t like it, but this is an order. I want to leave, but I don’t have the chance.’ And some of them said these words like a machine: ’It’s our land. God promised. You as a Palestinian, you shouldn’t be here. It’s just for Jews.”

20120914-palestine-0282Though none of these activists are Christians, their actions often embody the kind of radical reign-of-God subversion that Jesus preached in the Sermon on the Mount. What some dismiss as passivism in Christ’s commands to turn the other cheek, offer the cloak as well as the coat, and go the second mile (Matthew 5:29-31), others interpret as confronting the oppressor with one’s humanity. Activists have even offered the soldiers cups of tea, bites of birthday cake, and plates of pasta. Each gesture asserts the dignity of the host, while heaping hot coals (Romans 12) on the heads of uninvited guests.

“Just put your guns on the ground and come to our side if you want peace,” Al’aa Elddin tells one soldier. “We will welcome you, and we will drink coffee. We will discuss it, and we will find a solution.”

When asked about his response to this invitation, the soldier says in unaccented English, “I didn’t understand him.” When reminded that Al’aa Elddin was speaking English, the soldier says, “I didn’t listen.”

But these activists know their main audience lies beyond the row of riot shields. Even if a few soldiers’ hearts and minds are opened, a just peace will only come through pressure on an Israeli society content with the status quo. “I think in this peaceful demonstration, the important and the first thing is to make a change in the thinking of many people around the world,” says Al’aa Elddin. “I have the hope and I have the power inside me to continue. But in the same time I don’t have power like the Israeli occupation. They have the power; they have all the guns. But for me, my weapons and my power are more and more the international people and the Israeli people who come and stand by my side.”

“Our problem is not with the Israeli people,” says Al’aa Elddin. “Israeli people come, and they participate with us in our demonstration. The problem is with the Israeli army and the settlers who occupy the land, build the settlements, and use violence against Palestinians.”

According to Israeli activist Sahar Vardi, her main role is “simply to show solidarity, to convey the message that Palestinians are not alone in resisting the occupation.”

Other Jewish activists express a religious motivation. “The most important teaching in the Torah is that God stands with the oppressed and that God demands that we stand with the oppressed,” said Rabbi Brant Rosen, an activist with the US group Jewish Voice for Peace, at one week’s protest. “For Jews, it is a profound challenge for us because we need to look inside ourselves and understand the ways that we have become oppressors ourselves.”

Solidarity activists also leverage their presence and privilege against unjust structures. “The cost of getting arrested for an Israeli activist is much smaller than for a Palestinian activist for the same action,” says Vardi, who once physically blocked soldiers attempting to arrest a Palestinian boy.

20120518-palestine-0424While Israelis live under civil law, Palestinians like Al’aa Elddin live under the military rule of occupation. “Palestinian residents have no vested freedom of protest,” reports B’Tselem. “Even nonviolent resistance and civil protest involving peaceful assembly are forbidden.”

Many Palestinian activists have been imprisoned under false accusations of violence or charges of organizing “illegal demonstrations.” Al’aa Elddin once spent a week in Israeli prison, charged with assaulting an Israeli officer. Despite video evidence proving his innocence, the military court ordered him to pay 3,000 shekels for his release—more than five months’ wages for the average Palestinian.

Yet despite such risks, Mahmoud Al’aa Elddin remains committed to nonviolent activism: “I think that peace will not come by using violence. Peace will come by the nonviolent way, because violence never brings peace or freedom to any people.”
Ryan Rodrick Beiler is a service worker with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Palestine and Israel.
There is no PEACE without JUSTICE; there is no justice without LOVE.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Kairos Holland/Zeeland, MI, USA: Meet the KUSA newsletter

Dear Friend of KairosUSA - Holland/Zeeland Community,

As you know, we are part of the KUSA (National) Community. Here is the most recent newsletter from our parent organization, and our Program Director, Mark Braverman.

It includes a message from our Fort Wayne partner, Mike Spath, whom many of you have met.

Our KUSA H/Z Community is planning on bringing Mr. Braverman to Holland, MI, to train others from the Midwest USA in the KUSA document/response to the Call for Help from our Palestinian brothers and sisters.

This winter, I'm hopeful of refreshing our understanding of that document in three consecutive weeks after the first of the year. Watch for the news. (Perhaps you were part of the HASP classes in October/November of 2012. We'll take a fresh look. KUSA communities are spring up all over the USA, from ecumenical and evangelical congregations and communities like Fort Wayne and Holland/Zeeland.

We are working closely with Western Theological Seminary here in Holland. Our friend Marlin (Sally) Vis will be taking 12 Western Seminary students (plus others) to I/P for 10 days beginning early in January. We hope they will be part of the training Mark will give on a full day of Saturday training in April, 2015, right at Western Seminary (@ College Avenue and 13th Street!)

This is such a crucial time for the Israelis (and Palestinians too). The present Likud-led government has broken up. New elections have been called for in March. The choice for Israelis is more of the same Nationalistic, Jewish ethnocracy; or opening up to more of a Democracy led by a coalition of Mr. Herzog and Ms. Livni. We are still a long way from equal rights for the 20% of Israelis who are Arab Palestinians, to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands (millions?) who have fled the country and are wanting to return to their homes and property, confiscated and colonized by the Jewish/Israeli State. The situation still looks very bleak and hopeless. Watch for a pick-up in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in the years ahead.

Have a great New Year, everybody. JRK for FPI/KUSA-Holland/Zeeland Community

Friday, December 5, 2014

Our Friends in Bethlehem!

Dear Friend,
As you know KairosUSA-Holland/Zeeland Community is affiliated with KUSA, the national movement.

Here in Holland/Zeeland, many of you have met Dr. Michael Spath, our KUSA partner from Fort Wayne, IND. He and Program Director Mark Braverman, are at the 5th anniversary gathering of Kairos Palestine, the call from the heart of Palestinian suffering. Terry, is Mike's side-kick from Indiana. Zoughbi Zoughbi, where Mike is staying, was our guest here in October. We have learned of Daoud Nasser, (Tent of Nations) at our first gathering in July!

If you have been tracking with us, many of the persons & organizations he mentions will become known to you as we go forward.

I am strongly inclined to offer training in the KUSA document to up-coming meetings of KUSA-Holland/Zeeland Community early next year (before Sharon and I take a winter Florida break, in mid-February). I taught the KUSA document to about 60 persons from HASP (the Hope Academy of Senior Professionals) the fall of 2012. We all need to be refreshed on how we can respond to the call for help from our Christian (and Muslim) brothers and sisters in Palestine.

We are hoping to bring Mark Braverman himself to Holland this spring to train mostly Mid-States leaders whom we are hoping will begin KUSA communities in their own regions. We are hoping that Seminary and College students will get that training as well. Pray that the way will be clear for Mark Braverman, the principle author and KUSA Program Director, to be with us here in Holland; this spring!

I have a real sense of relief and satisfaction that our KUSA-H/Z Community is closely associated with the growing KUSA (national) group. They in turn, are in close association with more and more national groups from all over the world, who are intent on responding to the call (for help).

Please keep tracking with us dear friend. We will gather again after the first of the year.

The growing right-wing nationalism of the Zionist leaders is driving a deeper and deeper wedge between the enfranchised Israeli citizens and the second-class Arab citizens, (20%), to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands who have been driven out, displaced to the far corners of the world, with no compensation or recourse legally to their homes, lands, olive orchards, freedom of movement, economic empowerment, water rights and a host of other indignities, including harassment, incarcerations and non-judicial assassinations.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: L. Michael Spath
Date: Fri, Dec 5, 2014 at 3:52 PM
Subject: From Bethlehem - Update #2

Dear friends,

Whew, what a few days Terry and I have had in Bethlehem. A whirlwind in many ways, but also renewing, productive, and inspirational.

We are staying at Zoughbi's home; actually, we have the use of our own apartment at the Zoughbi compound where his brothers and their families live. And he has been a very warm and hospitable host. Their daughter, Marcelle (graduate of Goshen College in Indiana), is also living at home and she leaves every morning very early for Jerusalem where she teaches English at the Schmidt Girls School, right outside the Damascus Gate of the Old City.

Terry's work establishing videoconferencing connections with Zoughbi at the Wi'am Conflict Resolution Center and with Daoud at the Tent of Nations farm has been very successful. Wi'am has been our base of operations and will function as the hub of the videoconferencing. Terry and Usama (Zoughbi's nephew who also works there) worked very diligently for two days discerning their needs. We at ICMEP have been able to provide them with a 48 inch television, a switch for their router, a cabinet, a camera, a cell phone tablet with data, and some other fundamentals. They are now set up and ready.

We spent the day yesterday at the farm with Daoud, his wife, Jihan, and his mother, Umm Daher, and did some basic study of their needs, and Terry today will go with Daoud to the store where we'll be able to provide for them a cell phone tablet with data, and a few other items. At the farm, we were also able to join with them as they welcomed a small delegation from the Christian Peacemaker Teams, with a couple of them based in Hebron. Last night, we were welcomed to Daoud's home and had a most enjoyable evening with Daoud, Jihan, and their family. Umm Daher was there, along with Daoud's sister, Amal, who some of you know from last year's trip, and their three children (two daughters and a son), each offering for us a display of their quite considerable music talent (the girls on the piano and their son on the kanoon. It was a delightful evening. Daoud explained to Terry and me his plans for planting 25,000 grape trees, returning at least part of the farm to the production of grapes not only for eating but for making wine (the original intent of "Daher's Vineyard," the title of Daoud's book and the original name of the farm). They'll begin by planting 3000 trees this January-February. . . .

As far as the Kairos conference, this December, 2014, as you know, is the 5th anniversary of the Kairos Palestine Call to the churches of the world from the heart of Palestinian's suffering. And as you also know, we in the USA (thanks to the work of our friend, Jewish psychologist and author, Mark Braverman), and from 20 other countries, have responded in solidarity. We are gathering at this time to plot our strategy forward in the next five years in solidarity with Kairos Palestine and with each other, and to also discuss our own strategies in our immediate and particular contexts. This has been the work of the conference. I moderate the conversation later on today, the one entitled "visioning for the future."

As you can imagine, the networking has been incredible, re-connecting with old friends, making new friends. Very good stuff. I've been able to spend some time with good friends, Don Wagner, the program director for Friends of Sabeel North America, who is leading a group here; Robert Smith, academic coordinator for the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem (Notre Dame's presence here - Robert's wife is the new minister at Redeemer Lutheran Church in the Old City of Jerusalem); Mitri Raheb, pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem; Mark Braverman, of course, is here, and we've been able to grab some very valuable time together to discuss Kairos USA; Rifat Kassis and Nora Carmi, both from Kairos Palestine; Katherine Cunningham, now of Kairos USA, formerly the moderator of the Presbyterian Israel-Palestine Mission Network; and others.

Folks that I've been able to meet and spend some significant time with Jewish liberation theologian, Marc Ellis; the directors of Kairos Great Britain, Germany, Brazil, India, and Canada; the heads of the Mennonite Central Committee in Jerusalem and of the Ecumenical Accompaniers in Palestine and Israel. I met the UCC's missionary working in the region stationed at the YWCA of Palestine, [Loren McGrail, Accompanying Naomi],as well as the Program Executive for the Middle East for the World Council of Churches in Geneva. I was also able to spend some time with one of the leaders of the US Campaign to End the Occupation, David Wildmon, Global Ministries Executive Director for the US Methodist Church. Finally, I had a short but important conversation with Yonatan Shapira, the Israeli pilot who became a celebrated refusenik and primary author of the famous 2003 "Pilots' Letter," and who, along with Sami Awad [Holy Land Trust], and a Muslim partner, was featured in the film "Little Town of Bethlehem," which we showed a few years ago. So, as you can imagine, it has been a very powerful and inspirational set of meetings so far.

Of course, as Terry and I speak to our friends here and listen to their stories, the situation here is dire, and getting increasingly worse. Daoud showed us where the 1500+ trees were bulldozed by the Israeli military in May; Joseph and Mary Giacaman have been allowed on their property near Har Homa settlement only once in the last 15 years; we saw part of the 4000 dunums (1000 acres) that the Israeli government has recently confiscated of Palestinian land; we also saw at Daoud's farm a second set of boulders that the Israeli military has bulldozed onto his road for visitors to traverse, as well as a sign for a yeshiva school to be built right next to the road which will house the most rabidly religious settlers, virtually making it impossible for buses to drop people off to visit the farm (and the back road, very narrow dirt road, through the villages, will also have an Israeli checkpoint, virtually closing off access to the five Palestinian villages and his farm). And all this in the West Bank, in Palestinian territory. Everyone here knows, as we know, too, that the Israelis do not want peace. The stranglehold is getting increasingly severe for our friends, Christian and Muslim, in Palestine.

Tomorrow Terry and I have lunch with George and Najwa Sa'adeh, of Bereaved Parents, who lost a daughter, 12-year-old Christine, to an Israeli military "hit squad" a decade ago (who many of you have met on our trips), and we'll also attend the lighting of the 3-story Manger Square Christmas tree in the evening. Sunday we spend all day in Nablus, where we have an audience with the mayor of the city, and also visit a hospital and a women's clinic, thanks to our board member, Amar El-Masri, returning in the evening to Jerusalem for the next two days. Monday, we visit with Tamara Asfour and Johnny Khano of Guiding Star Tours, my tour provider for every one of my trips, as well as meet with Omar Barghouti, the "father" of Palestinian civil society's call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. And on Tuesday, we meet with Yehuda Shaul, the founder and director of Breaking the Silence. And we're hoping to sneak in a visit, too, with Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, but he's on his way back from a speaking tour in the US and we're not sure exactly when he'll arrive back home in Jerusalem. Finally, on Wednesday next week, we head to Istanbul to meet with my tour provider for our trip next July.

One of the upshots of this trip is that I've been able to confirm a number of meetings for my next tour group here in June 2015. Very good!

So our time yet here will remain busy. The hospitality we've been experiencing has been, no surprise, wonderful. And Terry and I will be returning more committed than ever to our solidarity and partnership with our friends here.

I'm sure I've left some things out, but I'll update you all as time permits. I'm sure Terry, too, will weigh in as well. Terry has been posting updates and pictures on Facebook so you might also want to check those out, too.

Terry and I had soup and salad together tonight on Manger Square outside the Church of the Nativity (and a couple of Taybeh [beers from our friend Maria Khoury in Taybeh!]. There was all kinds of hustle and bustle as they prepare for the lighting of the tree tomorrow night. As a matter of fact, the lights were all being tested tonight - red lights "wrapping" the buildings on the perimeter, silver and blue snowflakes suspended by wires across the square, and the 3-story tree all aglow, with the lowly manger at its foot. What a wonderful energy!

Blessings, my friends, and know of our prayers here for a blessed Advent season to you, your families, and all your loved ones from Bethlehem.


L. Michael Spath, DMin, PhD
Indiana Center for Middle East Peace

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Third Intifada!

Dear Friend of Palestinians and Israelis,

Tensions continue to rise in and around Jerusalem. Acts of extremists on both sides invite retaliation by other extremists. Accusations of “incitement” are heard from both sides. Finger-pointing and the Blame Game are now the rule.

The truth is that underlying offenses and their redress have not been attended to – for years, and are coming back to haunt both the Israelis and the indigenous people, the Arab Palestinians. With provocations at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, there is now a dangerous “religious” dimension. The murders of four Israeli rabbis with injuries to at least 12 others happened Tuesday, November 18, 2014, at a synagogue in Har Nof (aka, Deir Yassin). Ah, Deir Yassin! That infamous place. Read up on it!

A paragraph in the Nov. 18, 2014 morning edition of the Washington Post caught my eye: The synagogue is located in a neighborhood, Har Nof, popular with Americans and others undertaking studies in Judaism. But Palestinians refer to the area by its former name, Deir Yassin, an Arab village they say [as though it might not even have happened!] was attacked by Jewish paramilitary units in April 1948 shortly before Israeli statehood. Palestinians say scores of civilians were killed, but Israel denies such accounts.

Wikipedia gives the Israeli-slanted version of what happened in Deir Yassin on April 9, 1948:

The Deir Yassin massacre took place on April 9, 1948, when around 120 fighters from the Zionist paramilitary groups Irgun Zevai Leumi and Lohamei Herut Israel attacked Deir Yassin near Jerusalem, a Palestinian Arab village of roughly 600 people. The assault occurred as Jewish militia sought to relieve the blockade of Jerusalem by Palestinian forces during the civil war that preceded the end of British rule in Palestine.[1]

Around 107 villagers were killed during and after the battle for the village, including women and children—some were shot, while others died when hand grenades were thrown into their homes.[2] Several villagers were taken prisoner and may have been killed after being paraded through the streets of West Jerusalem, though accounts vary.[3] Four of the attackers died, with around 35 injured.[4] The killings were condemned by the leadership of the Haganah—the Jewish community's main paramilitary force—and by the area's two chief rabbis. The Jewish Agency for Israel sent Jordan's King Abdullah a letter of apology, which he rebuffed.[1]
The deaths became a pivotal event in the Arab–Israeli conflict for their demographic and military consequences. The narrative was embellished and used by various parties to attack each other—by the Palestinians against Israel; by the Haganah to play down their own role in the affair; and by the Israeli Left to accuse the Irgun and Lehi of violating the Jewish principle of purity of arms, thus blackening Israel's name around the world.[5] News of the killings sparked terror among Palestinians, encouraging them to flee from their towns and villages in the face of Jewish troop advances, and it strengthened the resolve of Arab governments to intervene, which they did five weeks later.[1]

Ali Abunimah’s Electronic Intifada has Dina Elmuti recounting the story of what happened to her grandmother, a resident of Deir Yassin on the morning of April 9, 1948:

Fathers, grandfathers, brothers and sons were lined up against a wall and sprayed with bullets, execution style. Beloved teachers were savagely mutilated with knives. Mothers and sisters were taken hostage and those who survived returned to find pools of blood filling the streets of the village and children stripped of their childhoods overnight.
The walls of homes, which once stood witness to warmth, laughter and joy, were splattered with the blood and imprints of traumatic memories. My grandmother lost 37 members of her family that day. These are not stories you will read about in most history books.

The Deir Yassin massacre was not the largest-scale massacre, nor was it the most gruesome. The atrocities committed, the scale of violence and the complexity of the methods and insidious weaponry used by Israel against civilians in the recent decade have been far more sadistic and pernicious. But Deir Yassin marks one of the most critical turning points in Palestinian history.
A bitter symbol carved in the fiber of the Palestinian being and narrative, it resonates sharply as the event that catalyzed our ongoing Nakba (catastrophe), marked by the forced exile of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes, creating the largest refugee population worldwide with more than half living in the diaspora.

Deir Yassin is a caustic reminder of the ongoing suffering, struggle and systematic genocide of the Palestinian people, 65 years and counting. When the village was terrorized into fleeing, tumultuous shockwaves of terror ran through Palestine, laying the blueprint for the architecture of today’s apartheid Israel. . . .

After all, we are the children of generations of strength. Our grandparents and parents are refugees and survivors, and the blood of Deir Yassin courses through our veins. We are like the olive tree with its tenacious roots in the ground, remaining unshakable and determined to stand its ground with patience and a deeply-rooted desire to remain.

We will see a free and just Palestine because we will have a hand in making it so. Deir Yassin may have catalyzed our catastrophe but 65 years later it also continues to catalyze our devotion and enduring love for a people, a cause and a home that will never be relinquished or forgotten (from Ali Abunimah’s Electronic Intifada, by Dina Elmuti, April 8, 2013).

Dear Friend, My point is, the two Palestinian murderers were probably remembering the massacre of as many as 250 villagers in Deir Yassin by Israeli forces in 1948. Remember what our guest Fr. George Makhlouf reported to me last week: “I was five years old and remember the Public Address system blaring out in our neighborhood. “GET OUT, or the fate of the villagers in Deir Yassin will HAPPEN TO YOU”. Fr. George’s family heeded the warning and left their home to the Occupying Force.

Matters have never been “put right”, not only for the family of Fr. George, but for (now) millions of those dispossessed and degraded.

There has been no redress, no confession of wrong-doing, no restitution, no right to return to their homes. The refugees have multiplied into the millions. Dispossession of property, demolition of homes, destruction of olive orchards, factories and businesses, and humiliating check-points are just a few of the injustices suffered by the Palestinians.

And now, right-wing Zionist religious settlers are threatening to worship on the plateau on which stands the Muslim Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. PM Netanyahu is trying to maintain the Status Quo, which denies Jews the opportunity to worship at these Muslim shrines/houses of worship. Palestinians fear being displaced from their places of worship, held very sacred by Muslims in Jerusalem. There have been consultations with Jordan’s officials, “custodians” of the worship places on the plateau.

We tend to listen to Ghassan Khatib more than the official Israeli viewpoint: “Somebody needs to think of removing the causes for this, and the causes are rooted within the Israeli policies and practices in East Jerusalem,” said Ghassan Khatib, vice president of Birzeit University in the West Bank. Whether the escalation continues, he added, “depends on the way Israel is going to handle this wave.”

“They can handle it in the same arrogant way of using force, and if it doesn’t work, you go to more force,” he said. “This is the recipe that accelerated all previous waves of violence into full-fledged intifadas.”

Mr. Khatib pointed out that poverty, unemployment, addiction and many other socioeconomic plagues were far worse in East Jerusalem than in the West Bank; To give one stark example, he said 40 percent of Palestinian students in Jerusalem drop out of high school, compared with 0.4 percent of their West Bank counterparts.

“The two sides need to do things, but the Israelis need to do more because the Palestinian officials do not have any say in East Jerusalem,” he argued. “In West Bank, things seem to be calmer, under the Palestinian Authority, so I think Israel is to be blamed more than the Palestinian side in this particular situation” (NY Times report, Nov. 19, 2014, Jodi Rudoren).

Unattended offenses that have been allowed to fester are coming to a head. Changes are required. More repressive violence from the Israelis can and will spiral into all-out war, with dire consequences for all of us.

Pray for the leadership of both peoples that underlying issues may (finally) be addressed. Matters seem to be spiraling out of control. Bloodshed is NOT the way forward. Respectfully yours, JRK