Monthly Archives: November 2012

On prayer and action – how can the church respond to Gaza?

The Moderator of the United Church shared a message on November 21 about the bombing in Gaza and rockets in Israel as he invited the church to pray. Here is an excerpt:

“No words seem adequate to address the injustice of a situation where so many people are suffering on all sides of this conflict. And so I encourage you to join with me as I turn to prayer, in the hope that the power and grace of this response carries with it the hoped-for outcome of peace and justice for the people of Israel and Palestine. And may the recently negotiated ceasefire hold fast and bring calm to a region longing for stability.” (Source: http://united-church.ca/communications/news/moderator/121121)

It has been troubling  to witness the ripple effects of this recent situation in Gaza. I met a small boy in the street in Jayyous one night who was scared and couldn’t sleep because of the sound of fighter jets flying overhead. I sat with neighbours, glued to their TV sets late in the night, as images of one, two, three, four more children’s bodies were pulled out from the rubble of another bombed apartment in Gaza. I worried about my teammates in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Tel Aviv as rockets were reported to be launched there. I worried about the people we met in Sderot in southern Israel. I worried about my own safety as I stepped off a bus on my way home just as Israeli soldiers were opening fire to scare off civilian demonstrators in our neighbouring town. The presence of the Israeli military in the area has increased and made tensions worse. And I am aware that this is a fraction of the horror of this situation that I find myself on the margins of.

“Prayers and sacrifice must be used as the most effective spiritual weapons in the war against war, and like all weapons they must be used with deliberate aim: not just with a vague aspiration for peace and security, but against violence and against war.”  ~Thomas Merton (from New Seeds of Contemplation)

Pray and act for peace (Photo: N.Maxson)

At the Catholic church  we attended in Nablus last week, the sermon was on the gospel reading from Matthew 24:

“Immediately after the distress of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.”

The priest gave the following reflection: “If the sun is darkened, like during these days of violence around Gaza, then WE need to have light in our hearts and bring this light and love to everyone around us!”

Altar at the Catholic Church in Nablus – prayers for peace

I pray ceaselessly. One resource I find very valuable is the Sabeel Weekly Wave of Prayer (http://www.sabeel.org). It is a wonderful spiritual practice to pray with other Christians for peace and to keep updated what is going on. I read different media sources. I wrote to the Canadian Prime Minister and several members of parliament about the situation. I write and try to process what is going on here for the sake of the long-term advocacy work that is needed for justice. I talk to people: neighbours, teammates, friends, family.

Here is the response I posted on the Moderator’s blog today. I believe that we, as the church, are able to speak out and take action.  

Prayer and action are needed in these times. While a ceasefire has been brokered, it is only a temporary solution to a systemic problem. There will be no peace in the Middle East or security for Israel without justice for Palestinians. As Overseas personnel of the United Church currently serving in the West Bank, I have witnessed a rise in tension and clashes between the Israeli military and Palestinians because of the situation in Gaza which is jeopardizing the safety of civilians of all ages here. We should pray for all victims, acknowledge the ripple effect of this violence and take action for a lasting and just peace in the region.

As members of the World Council of Churches, I direct our attention to the Council’s message on November 16 as a reiteration of a call for,

“…the end of the six-year blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip by Israel. A fast facts sheet report issued in June 2012 by the UN OCHA in the occupied Palestinian territories reminded us of the dramatic unbearable humanitarian situation of the population in the Gaza Strip. As Israel continues to control Gaza by air, land and sea, the international humanitarian law holds its Government responsible and accountable for the safety of all civilians in Gaza and Israel.” (Source:http://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/general-secretary/statements/concern-on-escalation-of-violence-in-gaza-and-israel.html )

International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights law should form the basis of our prayerful response as we talk to our own government and pressure the Israeli government to shift its policy towards Gaza.

We may not know what to do or what to say in these times but it is of utmost importance to listen to our brothers and sisters, partners, churches and groups working for peace and justice on the ground. Many positive statements calling for dialogue and action have come from Israeli groups including, “The Other Voice” a group of Israelis in Sderot (a town affected by the rockets) committed to dialogue with Palestinians in Gaza also striving for peace in their region. (Source: http://www.othervoice.org/welcome-eng.htm)

The National Coalition of Christian Organizations in Palestine also appeal for action and an end to the blockade:

“We appeal to all peace loving people across the world to work with their governments and fellow citizens to stop the destruction and the carnage that is going on in Gaza. The current distressing situation in the Gaza Strip is the result of the impasse in the political process and the absence of peace. We strongly believe that the cause of all this is the continuing Israeli occupation and the blockade and restrictions imposed by the Israel authorities on the Gaza Strip and its 1.6 population.”

We can take guidance from our own UNJPPI network in our action for peace and justice: http://www.unjppi.org/2/post/2012/11/call-to-end-the-violence-in-gaza.html

May it be so!

I work for the United Church of Canada as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained herein are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Church or the WCC. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact me or the EAPPI Communications Officer (communications@eappi.org) for permission. Thank you.

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Outside the walls of Gaza, we sat down and wept

In October we visited Sderot and the home of Roni Keidar. The local residents moved from the Sinai after 1979 when the land was returned to Egypt after peace agreements with Israel. Each family was compensated for leaving the Sinai and given a plot of land here. Sderot is one of Gaza’s neighbours. Roni is a member of an Israeli peace group called “The Other Voice” which she explained is composed of residents of Sderot and other places in the Gaza aimed at advancing neighbourly relations in the southern region. She explained how rockets launched to Israel impact her community. She showed us bomb shelters built throughout the town and the kindergarten that is completely fortified to protect the children. The town is equipped with sirens to alert residents of an imminent rocket attack after which they have fifty seconds to reach a shelter.

Meeting with Roni from “The Other Voice” in Sdderot

Roni is committed to dialogue with people in Gaza who, like her, believe that violence is not the answer:

“We’ve got to find a way to talk, to listen and understand. Our establishment (Israel) was a disaster for many. They need the dignity to commemorate this. We should understand Palestinians more than anyone because we Jewish people know what it means to search for an identity and home. We can’t go on like this forever. There are people on the other side that want to talk just like we do.”

Roni explained that a rocket had landed near a house in the town last night but did not detonate. She showed us around the town and agricultural fields where mostly Palestinian labourers used to work up until twelve years ago during the second intifada. Now there are many foreign workers from other countries in the fields who are some of the most vulnerable to rocket attacks.

Roni brought us to the separation barrier of Gaza itself. It was unbearably painful to see the separation wall stretched out beyond the horizon surrounding and caging in an entire population. I could not hold back my tears. It is true what people say—Gaza is the largest open-air prison in the world. In view were military balloons hovering overhead monitoring activity in Gaza and computerized guns attached to the wall and military towers. Roni wanted us to start moving away from the area quickly after about fifteen minutes.

View of the separation barrier at Gaza

“People say I’m a dreamer. I’m not a dreamer. Those who want to wipe out Israel, those who bomb Gaza again and again and think they’ll reach peace, those are the dreamers. There are solutions. You’ve just got to want to reach those solutions.”

Roni’s steadfastness is a beam of hope and inspiration in this troubled region. “The Other Voice” group actively reaches out to their neighbours in Gaza to build a bridge of dialogue and solidarity. Here is a statement from “The Other Voice” in light of the recent violence:

“We, members of the villages and townships in the Gaza enveloping region call on the Israeli government to stop mucking around with our lives and immediately enter into diplomatic and political contacts with the Hamas Government!! We are sick and tired of being sitting ducks who serve political interests.

Rockets from there and bombardments from here do not protect us. We have played around with those games of the use of force and war for long enough. And both sides have paid, and are continuing to pay, a high price of loss and suffering. The time has to come to endeavour to reach long-term understandings which will enable civilians on both sides of the border to live a normal life.”

Israeli painting on a wall near Sderot

I work for the United Church of Canada as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained herein are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Church or the WCC. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact me or the EAPPI Communications Officer (communications@eappi.org) for permission. Thank you.

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Putting things into perspective (or “when you have the occupation blues”)

“Do not lose your fearlessness now, then, since the reward is so great.  You will need perseverance if you are to do God’s will and gain what God has promised.” Hebrews 10:35-36

I don’t know what keeps people going. After the difficult events we witnessed over the past couple of weeks, I was struggling to find hope. During my days off seems to be the time when I process and unpack all the things we have witnessed. The occupation never seems far away. Even in places like the Mediterranean Sea or the winding streets of old Jerusalem, I am reminded of the people I know who do not have the permission to visit such wonderful or holy places. Their mobility is restricted.

Al Aqsa Mosque and Church in the old city of Jerusalem

When I go to the checkpoints or agricultural gates that we monitor in the early hours of the morning I know that I get to go back home afterwards and even take a nap if needed whereas the people there must go and work a whole day. We have met people at Qalqiliya checkpoint who are there since 3:30am in order to be on time for work. First they must cross the metal detectors, x-rays and security guards who check their permits. It can take hours from the time they leave their house until they arrive at work.

Standing at Qalqiliya check point photo credit: J.Moeller

Seeing all these things day after day I know this military occupation is not sustainable. People cannot go on living like this. And the scary thing is, I don’t see how Israel’s security is ensured by maintaining this oppressive system. This occupation cannot lead to relationships of trust between neighbours—it will lead to continued anger and frustration.

I work for the United Church of Canada as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained herein are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Church or the WCC. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact me or the EAPPI Communications Officer (communications@eappi.org) for permission. Thank you.

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Home Demolitions in Haris

On November 7th three homes were demolished in Haris, a village in Salfit district. We were alerted to the situation as 200 Israeli soldiers rolled into the village and subdued the local residents who resisted the demolitions with live ammunition, tear gas and sound bombs. The Army also used explosives to destroy the houses. Fifteen Palestinian residents of the village were sent to hospital including two who suffered from gunshot wounds and the elderly mother of one of the homeowners whose arm was broken by soldiers.

boy stands on rubble of home demolished in Haris

We arrived at the village in the afternoon and saw the rubble where three homes once stood. The atmosphere was like that of a funeral. People were sitting around in shock, fear and grief from the morning’s events and recovering from gas inhalation. Children were collecting bullet shells and tear gas canisters by the handful and showing them to us.

children collect tear gas canisters and bullet shells from the Israeli army in Haris

One part of the village is considered “Area C” where around 20 or more homes have demolition orders from the Israeli Civil Administration. The village is bordered by an illegal settlement on one side (which limits the village’s ability to expand as needed).

The brother of the owner of one home said, “He saved for 20 years to build this house. Now it has been destroyed in half an hour.”

The owner of the second house described to us how the soldiers handcuffed him and led him away by force in order to demolish his house with bulldozers. The home was built for his son who was supposed to be married before the end of the year and move in with his wife. He said, “Why do people build? Children grow up and want to get married. Where can they go?”

Inside one of the demolished homes in Haris

On November 8th we returned to Haris for a meeting where at least 100 people were in attendance including local residents, lawyers working on the case and international organizations. A couple of men brought out the blanket filled with the shells and canisters collected from the day before. As they placed the blanket on the ground for the media to see, residue from the tear gas rose into the air. I had to move away, my mouth burning and eyes watering.

children standing near the tear gas canisters, bullet, sound bomb and explosive shells collected in Haris after the house demolitions

The mayor said the municipality would do what it can to help the families remove the rubble and hopefully re-build. He encouraged the local residents to donate money to the cause. The lawyers have been in a legal battle to protect the houses and hopefully prevent further demolitions.

For more information please see UN OCHA fact sheet on Area C: http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_Area_C_Fact_Sheet_July_2011.pdf

I work for the United Church of Canada as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained herein are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Church or the WCC. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact me or the EAPPI Communications Officer (communications@eappi.org) for permission. Thank you.

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Arrest of minors in Azzun

On November 6th we were called by the Azzun municipality about six boys who were arrested in the early morning. Their ages are from 12-18 years old. We went to the municipality office and met one of the staff from B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization. B’Tselem interviewed a father of one of the arrested boys. We were there while he gave this testimony of the arrest:

Around 2:30am, Tuesday November 6th while I was sleeping with my family in my house near the communication company in Azzun, I woke up after I heard voices and knocking at the door. I stood up to check what was going on outside. I confirmed that the people outside are Israeli soldiers. I went down and found 20 soldiers in the yard of my house with 2 police dogs. They broke through the entrance to the house. One of the soldiers asked me about my sons in the house. They asked me to bring them my sons with their ids. I woke up three of my sons (the oldest ones) and brought their ids. The soldier said these were not the sons they were looking for. They asked me for my sons, Ahmed (13 years old) and Osayed (10 years old). They ordered me to wake them up and bring them their ids. I told the soldier that they are still children and don’t have ids yet. The soldier asked for their birth certificates. They asked for Ahmed. I asked them not to arrest my son. I said it is not logical to arrest underage children but the soldiers insisted and took him out of the house.

My house is 3 rooms and one salon. They took the dogs throughout the house. The soldiers stayed in my house for half an hour then they drove my son outside the house to the military jeeps. They put my son in one of the military jeeps. The intelligence officer wrote down a fake, Arabic name and a landline phone 03 90 6555 on a paper. And after he wrote his name and phone number he told me that tomorrow morning at 8am I have to come to Ariel settlement police centre and when you are there you can call me on this phone number and come pick up your son.

Then the military jeeps and soldiers left with my son. My son when very scared when they took him from the house and he wasn’t able to speak. In the morning I went to Ariel police centre and I called the phone number which he gave me but I wasn’t able to talk to him. I spoke with a female soldier who told me my son was not there. I went there near the entrance of the settlement for about an hour and a half and called the phone number to clarify where my son is. I did not get an answer.

Afterwards I came back to Azzun to see my family and tell the Palestinian authorities about the situation. I called an organization called Hamoked in Jerusalem to tell them about my son’s arrest. After ten minutes Hamoked staff told me that my son is in Ariel settlement. Later on, I informed the Palestinian DCO and police about my son’s arrest and what I did this morning (going to the settlement) without any answer and how they deceived me and gave me wrong information about my son. Now I am waiting for news and for my son’s release. Before I left Ariel settlement I contacted a lawyer, Taher El Samery, to follow up my child’s case with the Israeli police and to follow if they receive any new information about him. Until now I did not receive any news.

On the rooftop of the Azzun municipality

In the first week of November around sixteen boys and men were arrested in Azzun. In the case of Ahmed, he was not accompanied by an adult (either parent or lawyer) when he was detained. He was later released and B’Tselem is following the case.

Sabeel’s Cornerstone “Breaking a Generation” about child arrests in Palestine: http://www.sabeel.org/datadir/en-events/ev260/files/Corner63%20final.pdf

Convention on the Rights of the Child:                                                    http://www.unicef.org/crc/

http://www.unicef.org/crc/files/Rights_overview.pdf

Article 37 (Detention and punishment) & Article 40 (Juvenile justice)

Israel’s perspective on recent Azzun arrests in the Jerusalem Post: http://www.jpost.com/Features/FrontLines/Article.aspx?id=291106

This article does not situate the military operations in the West Bank in the context of the occupation – for instance, the Israeli cars reportedly hit by stones are driving on roads and to settlements both considered illegal under international law. 

I work for the United Church of Canada as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained herein are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Church or the WCC. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact me or the EAPPI Communications Officer (communications@eappi.org) for permission. Thank you.

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