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Home arrow Blog arrow June 2008 arrow June 19, 2008

June 19, 2008
WAWA Blog June 19, 2008: Part 2 from my first 16 DAYS IN ISRAEL PALESTINE excerpted from KEEP HOPE ALIVE  
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Saturday, June 18, 2005: Meeting with a Three Time Nobel Peace Prize Nominee
 
A half hour late and one or two at a time, the ten straggled into the busy office of Abouna Elias Chacour. The Melkite priest, who was a three-time Nobel nominee, a 1948 refugee, and the founder of Mars Elias Educational Institute in Ibillin, welcomed them warmly and invited them to sit around the conference table in front of his desk.

“Tell me why you have come here and what you hope to do. Then, I will share my story with you.”

The youngest of the group said, “I want the win-win. I want peace for everyone, and I know it starts with every individual. I want to be the change I want to see in the world. I live in peace with everyone and I want the win-win.”

Abouna Cahcour roared, “Yes, exactly! This is the only way: win-win for everyone. Anytime someone has to be right, there is oppression. With a win-win, there are always human rights. My school serves forty-five hundred interfaith children, and the criteria for employment here is an open mind and open heart for all of Abraham’s sons and daughters.”

Jack thought Chacour looked and spoke like an Old Testament prophet; he had a long gray beard and a huge presence, packaged in a middle-aged spread. Jack often heard music in his head; and it was U2 this time:

Lay down your guns
All your daughters of Zion,
All your Abraham sons.
I don’t know if I can take it,
I’m not easy on my knees.
Here’s my heart; you can break it.
I need some release
Release
Release
We need Love and Peace

Chacour mesmerized his audience. “I am a Palestinian Israeli who lives for peace and reconciliation. The problem here is not about the land. There is a blockage between Arabs and Jews. It must end. We need to explore a third way to rise above the conflict. There are three million Palestinians living in refugee camps! This injustice must come to an end. Once, we Jews and Arabs were partners and friends. The only way out of this conflict is to rise above it. You Americans are still too young! You think money and weapons solve problems! Only love and respect can do that. You reach for the moon, but not your neighbor. What we need from you Americans are smiles of hope. We need you to plant hope. We need you to visit us, so that we would know we are not alone. Do simple things, and always do them with a smile. Don’t rely too much on God! You know what He wants; now, DO IT!”

Terese thought, do something, do something, do something, but what?


 
Sunday, June 19, 2005:  Manger Square and Dheisheh Refugee Camp


Jack was intensely uncomfortable looking at the pain-filled face of the father of the seventeen-year-old altar boy who was one of three children shot in Manger Square thirty-eight days after 9/11. Not until Jack sat in the home of Johnny’s father did he realize the close connection in time to their losses.
 

Jack could not look into Johnny’s father’s face, but he heard him explain, “My son was carrying his younger cousin when the IDF terminated his life. He died in my arms on the floor of the Church of the Nativity for the crime of being a Palestinian in Manger Square that day. We never thought the IDF would enter our holy ground. We were very wrong. The IDF hid on the mountain, sniped at our children, and have never apologized.”

Jack knew no words that would mean anything, and so, instead, he slipped one hundred dollars into the father’s pocket as he left. He thought to himself, This place becomes more surreal all the time. I feel like I am in a cosmic nightmare. It’s some kind of holocaust hangover that is driving this madness. Too many things have not been addressed, and violence has become ordinary life. The Galilee is a different world; this trip is now getting to me in ways I did not anticipate.

Imad Younis, the coordinator for Islamic Relief of the West Bank, had arranged for the group to meet the family of the first female suicide bomber, Ayyat Lufti Al Akhrass in her families’ home in Dheisheh refugee camp. Twelve thousand Palestinians with a 70 percent unemployment rate are sheltered in the one-kilometer-square-large, fifty-seven-year-old refugee camp, just minutes away from the Church of the Nativity. Jack was mystified when he entered the immaculate, yet sparse dwelling, after walking past the poverty in the streets. The group was greeted warmly by the still-grieving father, and his wife immediately served cold coke followed by hot minted tea in gold-rimmed glasses on top of silver trays.

Jack had not yet learned not to ask questions before the formalities had been attended to. He caused a moment of stress when he blurted out, “Did you know your daughter was going to blow herself up?”

After an awkward silence and a deep moan from Khaled, Ayyat Lufti’s father told Jack through an interpreter, “No, I did not know anything. If I had known my daughter was going to blow herself up, I would have immediately stopped her. She did not tell anyone she was going to blow herself up on March 29, 2002. She did this on her own; nobody encouraged her. If I had known, I would have stopped her. Any parent would! Her action caused me to lose my job. I was the foreman in a building company in Israel. When I reported to work on the day after her death, I was told to go home; I was out of a job and haven’t found another since. My daughter left a note saying she did this tragic act because she wanted to bring attention to the suffering and oppression of Palestinians, and could no longer wait for Arab armies to liberate the people. No human being wants another to die. The pressure of this occupation is forcing our children to do this. The root cause is the occupation.”

Jack wrestled with asking if any Hamas members were around to talk with, but as nobody else had anything more to say, he kept his mouth shut and watched Terese’s face. She was anxious to leave for Beit Jala, the west side of Bethlehem, to meet a little boy she had first seen in an American Catholic newspaper five years before. Four-year-old George had been captured on film the morning after his bedroom had been destroyed by Israeli gunfire the night before. The IDF flew American-made Apache helicopters over the peaceful Christian village in retaliation for the action of some militants who had infiltrated to snipe across the stretch of open land a few miles away into the Jewish settlement of Gilo. A four-foot hole was blown into George’s bedroom with shrapnel that read, MADE IN U.S.A.

 
Terese had clipped the photo of George as soon as she saw it, placed it in an antique frame, and set it on her home altar, where she lit candles and then thought about people in need. Every time she looked in George’s eyes, she heard her heart say, “Do something.”

When Khaled had first told Jake and Terese he was planning the Olive Trees for Peace trip to Israel and Palestine, she knew she wanted to go and find George. Through well-placed friends and the Internet, he was located, and the ten descended on the family, who lived in Beit Jala, just before sundown. George was now in the fourth grade, shy, and withdrawn. He, his mother, and sister all still suffered post-traumatic stress syndrome from the night when U.S.-made bombs blew open the wall in front of George’s empty bed. He had been hiding in his parent’s room and fainted when he heard the boom that came from the room he slept in. Terese felt badly for intruding on the family and wished she hadn’t come to them until George looked at her sideways, smiled the smile of an unscathed child, and whispered, “I like you.”

George’s father spoke while fighting back tears. “There was absolutely no gunfire coming from our side of the neighborhood. None at all--it was quiet here. We are not bitter, and although the government never apologized, we forgive, but it is still very hard.”

Jack was miserable as he thought, this is what my government calls collateral damage.



Afterwards, the Deputy Mayor of Bethlehem met the group in the empty lobby of the Hotel Bethlehem. George Sa’adeh, softly spoken and articulate, told the group, “The occupation is the reason that many highly educated Christians are leaving the Holy Land. There is no opportunity here. Three hundred fifty thousand residents have left their homes in Bethlehem since 2000. My people are leaving for better jobs, justice, and basic human rights. In 1948, Christians were 20 percent of the total population in the Holy Land. Today, they are less than 1.5 percent, and they continue to migrate because of the occupation, oppression, lack of opportunity, and denial of basic human rights. Add in the low birth weight, and one day soon, there may be no Christian witness in this land. One day, all the churches here could be nothing more than museums. I lost my own daughter in an ambush. I was driving the same car model as the one the IDF Special Forces were looking for. They shot first and asked questions after. My daughter Christine lost her life. The government has never apologized.”


Tuesday in Hebron with Jerry Levin


Jack and Terese met Jerry at the Bethlehem Hotel for the day trip to Hebron. Jerry Levin, full-time volunteer with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) had been filing Internet reports, and both Jack and Terese had been reading them.

Jerry had been CNN’s Middle East bureau chief in the 1980s, and a secular Jew. He was captured and held hostage in Lebanon by the Hezbollah for nearly a year, experienced a mystical Christmas Eve, and was never the same.

Jack was already mopping his brow from the heat by 7:30 a.m., but Jerry never sweated.  Lightly built and sprouting bilateral hearing aids, he told them, “Every time I get ready to return to Palestine, everyone asks me, ‘Aren’t you afraid?’  I reply, ‘Of what, the Palestinians? No way! But when it comes to the Israelis soldiers, you bet I am!’”
 

Hebron is where 450 Israeli settlers are protected by three thousand IDF. The eighteen- to twenty-one-year-olds patrol the streets with their weapons at the ready and turned the trio away at a checkpoint. Jerry informed them, “Most of the soldiers don’t like the CPTs. Whenever they won’t let us through, we just go another way, and always, eventually, get where we want to go.”

Terese was nauseated the entire day. Jack kept getting hotter. “This is nuts! This is insane! These narrow, winding stone streets have been here for centuries. Now, one side of the way is all Israeli, and the other is Palestinian. Their only connection to the other is this thick, yet deeply sagging netting above my head. I cannot believe the huge rocks, shovels, electronic equipment, furniture, and all manner of debris that have been flung on it! I wonder if I will be underneath it when it gives way.”

Jerry smiled and told him, “It gets cleaned out about every year or so. Come back in a few months, and this netting will be much closer to your head. The settlers just throw whatever they want onto the netting; they do what ever they want and get away with it. The CPT’s run interference by nonviolent resistance; we get the children and woman to where they need to be going and back again. Sometimes, the settlers curse and stone us all; it keeps it interesting.”

Jerry pointed out all the empty and formerly Palestinian homes that the settlers had painted graffiti and Stars of David on. Both Terese and Jack could not believe it when they saw, spray painted on a now empty, but formerly Palestinian home, “GAS THE ARABS.”

Jack mumbled, “I feel like I have entered into every movie set and photograph I have ever seen of the ghettos the Jews were forced into before the Holocaust.”


Terese wanted to visit inside the Abraham mosque, and an Arab guide was found who spoke a little English. She put on the brown prayer shawl, but couldn’t hide the fact she was an American. Immediately, she was followed by an inquisitive young mother, adolescents, and small children, who kept laughing and staring at her. Terese thought it was the way she pronounced “Marhaba (hello) and Salaam (peace)” that made them laugh and want to follow along. Before the tour was through, the guide was able to ascertain that the family now lived in the mosque ever since the husband had died, but the cause of death remained unstated. Terese and the family took a picture together, while everyone said, “Salaam.”

After the long day in Hebron, and then back to Bethlehem, Jerry walked Jack and Terese through the checkpoint that leads to Jerusalem. Terese was mesmerized by the watchtower and barbed wire, until she stared into the eyes of the youth who checked her passport while cradling his weapon like a baby. She wondered, “How would I endure if I had to live here? What would I be like? What would my kids be like if they had to serve in this military and spend all day checking paperwork? What would they be like if they were the ones handing over their paperwork?”

 
Jack couldn’t shut up. “This is incredible; walking through the checkpoints are facts on the ground that tour buses never experience. It is two different worlds kept from the other, tourists and Palestinians. The feeling of oppression is visceral; you miss it if you only pass by in tour busses with Israeli license plates. This situation reminds me of what it was like in America before Martin Luther King. Something has got to give; this situation is untenable, and so is Vanunu’s. You’re the only source of information I have read in America, except for a TV documentary I caught on the History Channel, entitled ‘Sexpionage.’ But, if it hadn’t been for your reports, I would never have known about his release last April and three arrests since.”

“I haven’t spoken with Mordechai in a few months now. Give him a call, I can give you his cell phone number; he appreciates being treated to dinner or a beer.”

In the taxi back to Jerusalem, Jack remembered reading an interview on St. Patrick’s Day, which quoted Vanunu speaking to the media after he had been arrested specifically for speaking to the media, and Jack had been impressed. Vanunu said, “I have no more secrets to tell and have not set foot in Dimona for more than eighteen years. I have been out of prison, although not free, for one year now. Despite the illegal restrictions on my speech, I have again and again spoken out against the use of nuclear weapons anywhere and by any nation. I have given away no sensitive secrets, because I have none. I have not acted against the interests of Israel, nor do I wish to. I have been investigated by the police again and again, and re-arrested. They have found nothing. I have done nothing but speak for peace and world safety from a nuclear disaster. I do not want to harm Israel, but rather, to warn of an enormous danger. I want to work for world peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons. I want the human race to survive.”

From reading Jerry Levin’s Internet reports on Vanunu, Jack knew that he was still not allowed to leave the country, to speak to foreigners, to go to Palestinian territories, nor to approach a foreign embassy. Although released from Ashkelon on April 21, 2004, he had been arrested three more times. He had been charged with “attempting to leave the country,” for riding in a taxi to go the few miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem for Christmas Eve mass in 2004.

The Israeli government had imposed the draconian Emergency Defense Regulations of the British Mandate upon Vanunu. Jack struggled, trying to understand how a democracy could get away with regulations that suspend the rights of individuals to speak freely and move about. The Emergency Defense Regulations were implemented first by Britain against both Palestinians and Jews after World War II. Articles 109, 110, and 120 give power to the government to enter anyone’s home at any hour, day or night, and remove anything they want. On November 11, 2004, thirty armed officers stormed into Vanunu’s room while he was having morning coffee, and confiscated his computer and letters. They have yet to be returned.

Jack recalled reading “When the Jewish community was suffering under the atrocious regulations, which were used by the British against both Palestinians and Jews after World War II, a leading Jewish lawyer, Yaccov Shapiro, who later became Israel’s minister of justice, described the Regulations as “unparalleled in any civilized country; there were no such laws in Nazi Germany.”27

27. Ateek, Naim. Justice and Only Justice





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"HOPE has two children.The first is ANGER at the way things are. The second is COURAGE to DO SOMETHING about it."-St. Augustine

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The Paradoxical Commandments
by Dr. Kent M. Keith

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

© 1968, 2001 Kent M. Keith

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The age of warrior kings and of warrior presidents has passed. The nuclear age calls for a different kind of leadership....a leadership of intellect, judgment, tolerance and rationality, a leadership committed to human values, to world peace, and to the improvement of the human condition. The attributes upon which we must draw are the human attributes of compassion and common sense, of intellect and creative imagination, and of empathy and understanding between cultures."  - William Fulbright



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