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WAWA/WeAreWideAwake is my Public Service to America as a muckracker who has journeyed seven times to Israel Palestine since June 2005. WAWA is dedicated to confronting media and governments that shield the whole truth.

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Home arrow Blog arrow December 2008 arrow December 20, 2008

December 20, 2008
WAWA Blog December 20, 2008: Christmas under Occupation 2008 and 2005

I begin with 2008 by Mazin and end with a few of my reflections from my Christmas under Occupation in the little town of Bethlehem 2005.

Christmas under Occupation

By Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh - Bethlehem
When I look out the balcony of the faculty lounge at Bethlehem University I hear the constant hammering of the construction in the settlement that separates us from Jerusalem and I see Israeli settlements built on Palestinian lands surrounding Bethlehem on three sides. Every two weeks, Jewish settlers "visit" the hill on the fourth side (called Ush Ghrab) that they have set their eyes on. Yet, I hear the US media is focused on other things including the weighty matter of dodging shoes.
After living 29 years in the US, it is not easy to be living in Bethlehem area especially this Christmas season.  Life can be at times hard, exhilarating, depressing, fun, and hopeful. Israel occupied this area in 1967, but the landscape had begun to change well before that. In 1948, Bethlehem became home to thousands of Palestinian refugees after more than 750,000 people were driven from their homes in what became Israel. Palestinians were forbidden to return, and three cramped refugee camps (Dheisheh, Azza, and Aida) add to the local migrants from villages whose lands were taken over.
Since 2002, we have faced the enormous human costs of a massive, concrete segregation wall.  The wall zigzags around Bethlehem, placing fertile Palestinian agricultural lands on the "Israeli side" and in many cases goes straight through centuries-old villages - separating Palestinian families from each other and from their jobs, hospitals, schools, churches and mosques. The wall and checkpoints meant that many faculty and students can no longer make it to school at Bethlehem University and our student body has steadily lost its geographic diversity.  The biblical and literal path from Nazareth to Bethlehem is blocked by many checkpoints and thirty-foot high slabs of concrete.
Many of my relatives lost jobs in Jerusalem or lost livelihoods that depended on the city of which we are a suburb. It is virtually impossible for West Bank Palestinians to obtain permits to enter Jerusalem or for Jerusalemites to engage in commerce with us. Even if one gets a rare permit, checkpoints make travel unpredictable and often impossible, precluding maintaining a decent economy. Unemployment is now at 45%, nearly twice what it was during the US Great Depression. But we can be thankful that we are not living in Gaza where things are far worse. Yet, the whole area feels like a ticking time bomb.
Israel's desire to acquire maximum geography with minimum Palestinian demography is the root of the suffering afflicting the Holy Land. Today there are 6 million Palestinian refugees and displaced people. Amnesty International has observed that the "peace processes" failed because Israel has ignored human rights, including the right of native Palestinians to return to their homes and lands. There is now a broad international consensus (with the exceptions of the US and Israeli governments) on the danger to international peace and security posed by Israel's continued violations of human rights and international law. Clearly if one wants peace in the Middle East and beyond, the path starts by giving justice to Palestinians. I am doubly pained as an American and a Palestinian Christian because my taxes support this 60-year carnage. Israel is the largest recipient of US foreign aid and the US administrations still go out of their way to cater to Israeli lobby influences.
The logic of military and political power dictates that Israel is now building more Jewish settlements and demolishing more Palestinian homes and farms in spite of its obligations under signed agreements and under International law. The current Israeli government is even moving further right to fend off the extreme right of Netanyahu before the elections. The incoming Obama administration has appointed Israeli apologists to key positions of power (Hillary Clinton, Rahm Emanuel) indicating we should expect no "change".
Israel as the occupying power is responsible for the welfare of those under its belligerent military rule per the applicable Geneva conventions.  Yet, Israel has intentionally de-developed the Palestinian economy. With the collusion of the EU and the US the economy of the West Bank and Gaza became even more dependent on Western "humanitarian aid".  Some 30% of this aid is siphoned off into Israel and some 30% goes to support Palestinian "security forces" whose job seems to focus not on protecting Palestinians from settler attacks but to fight any Palestinian who dares to resist the occupation or challenge the usurpation of his land.
There is a system of corruption involving governments and "authorities" trickling down to people. This is coupled with a media strategy that makes it look as if the only choices available to Palestinians are blowing themselves up or capitulation and endless negotiations. This sad state of affairs did not just happen but was engineered and is actively managed to perpetuate occupation and dependency. Why else would Israel deny entry to academics coming to teach at the universities here or entry to equipment for even the simplest of industries? Why deny Gaza electric power and equipment to treat the sewage and thus let sewage of 1.5 million people flow into the Mediterranean Sea polluting Europe and even Tel Aviv?
But we are hopeful; history is not static as is amply illustrated by many historical example including the rise and fall of the Bush dynasty. Here in Bethlehem, we derive strength from knowing that the foreign military occupation that existed at Jesus's time has ended. We derive hope from the thousands of visitors who come every year to show us solidarity. We derive contentment and patience from our faith and prayers. We derive energy from our work for peace with justice. The heads of our churches this year asked the International community to consider "what would Jesus do" in this situation of injustice.
In this season celebrating the birth of the Prince of Peace, let us all resolve to pray and work for ending the occupation that began in 1967 and for implementing other Internationally recognized Palestinian rights. When we succeed, people of all religions (Jews, Christians, and Muslims) and all backgrounds will share this small piece of earth in harmony and peace. This will be the real change that we have been working for and that will finally shed the shackles holding US foreign policy.
This is our prayer this holiday season.
- Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD is Chairman of the Board of the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People - - and is a professor at Bethlehem University in the occupied West Bank. He contributed this article to Contact his through his website:

December 28, 2005

While members of Hamas attended Holy Land Trusts historic and first Celebrating Nonviolent Resistance Conference in Bethlehem, Ghandian activists from India and many other Internationals were denied Visa's.

Many Israeli Jews were denied permission to cross the checkpoint into the little town and occupied territory of Bethlehem too. Three Internationals were sent home December 28, 2005 after spending
Christmas in detention.

The three arrived on December 20, 2005 at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv and were interrogated for three hours, denied food and water for nine, handcuffed and one ended up in the hospital. Attorney
Gaby Lasky reported that 34 year old Vittorio Arrigoni "was injured when Israeli authorities tried to deport him and two other detained UK residents from South Africa and Australia by force. Lasky
added that the authorities failed to notify her or the consulate of Vittorio's injury and originally instructed their guards not to allow the three detainess to communicate with their attorney or concilate representatives. Vittoria was returned to detention the following day." [Dec. 26, 2005 Press release ISM Media Alerts]

All three had previously been international observers in the Palestinian territories. All are members of Access for Peace in the Middle East, a nonviolent pressure group that challenges the criminalization of peace builders and the deliberate isolation of Palestinians from international observation and assistance. Access for Peace is supported by Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Nonviolence International, and European Jews for a Just Peace.

UK based South African, Robin Horsell who was detained stated, "Israel gives spurious grounds for deportation or refusal of entry. The real reason is our support for HUMAN RIGHTS and JUSTICE."

Holy Land Trust issued the following statement: "The recent detention of the three peace campaigners, traveling to the International Nonviolence Conference in Bethlehem, demonstrates Israel's fear of groups and individuals that are genuiely committed to nonviolent approaches to resolving the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

Holy Land Trust is a Palestinian non profit organization founded in Bethlehem in 1998 with the aim of strengthening, encouraging and improving the community by working with children, families, and NGO's by developing nonviolent resistance approaches to end the occupation by peaceful means. []

Dr. Mubarak Awad, Adjunct Profressor at the American University in Washington, DC, Founder of Nonviolence International, a well renowned expert in the field of nonviolent strategic action
and a Keynote speaker at the conference, stated that: "Nonviolence is an international movement throughout the world and solidarity is our most powerful tool...President Bush is the first American
President to state loud and clear that there should be a Palestinian state. The Balfour Declaration [instituted by the Bristish Government in 1917 favored the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine
but failed to mention the future of the native/indigenous Arab inhabitants of Palestine.] gave Israel a state. Because the British stated loud and clear that Israel should become a state Israel was established. President Bush stated loud and clear in the Road Map that Palestine should be a state [as of 2005]. Everyone agreed with the Road Map, so let's do it!..Recent polls of Israelis confirm that 70% of them want a Palestinian state...Peace needs bridges not walls...[and] human rights exist as long as we practice them. When we don't practice our rights we loose them."

Nidal, a 17 year old Palestinian who spent the first 14 years of his life in Dhasheish refugee camp stated: "I think one day Israel will have to forgive herself for what she has done to us."

Sis Levin, wife to Jerry [ read Tuesday in Hebron with Jerry Levin in Chapter 1 "16 Days in Israel Palestine"  16 Days in Palestine] gave a workshop regarding her work over the past two years in Bethlehem.

Sis has connected five years old kids with teenage mentors and teaches teachers how to teach peace and children how to think creatively.

Sis's Five 'Pillars' of Building Peace are:

1.The "Thumbs Up" sign which was also my cousin Nick's way of expressing himself before ALS robbed him of the use of his hands. Sis stresses the use of positive reinforcement, and when a child does something good they get the 'thumbs up' along with the refrain: "Good for you." Last June when I was with Jerry in Hebron all the kids in town kept saying that to Jerry and giving him the thumbs up and now I know why.

2. Give up put downs. The students make a list of all the insults they can think of then tear the paper up and put it in the trash.

3. Seek wise people.

4. Notice hurts: when children are aware that they have hurt another they cultivate empathy.

5. Right wrongs: apologize.

Sis stated: "Peace is not a noun, it's a verb, it's who you are and what you do. These youth in Bethlehem are the easiest group I have ever worked with...There is a reason why the edges are pushed to violence but we don't hear the reasons in the West...I also work with them on anger management and old fashioned education just doesn't work there. We interact, develop listening skills and talk about forgiveness, a very difficult subject when the 'enemy' has you cornered behind a Wall."

December 29, 2005

As nonviolence is not so much what one believes but what one DOES and as it is not enough to be personally nonviolent, for as Gandhi said that is not much use to society until one weds society to political action.

In the workshop sponsored by the United Network of Young Peacebuilders [UNOY] and the the Netherlands Expertise Centre Alternatives to Violence regarding the United Nations Decade of Creating a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World I learned that America abstained from voting YES and is on the Record as stating "We cannot support this initiative as it will make it harder for us to wage war."

I immediately thought of Luke 12:48: "To whom much is given much more is required."

If America is not supporting Peace and Nonviolence indeed and actions, it is an illusion to imagine a culture of nonviolence becoming reality without the transformation of hearts and minds by those who hold political power.

During the morning's plenary session, Jeff Halper, a Jew who is allowed to enter Bethlehem because he has an American Passport, [see interview with Jeff Dec. 22, 2005] remarked: "It is not enough to speak TRUTH to power because power is deaf and doesn't care...Our aim is to end the occupation and we must see ourselves as 'actors' in this drama. Lot's of peace activists feel marginalized, the conflict is so huge. But throughout history civil society has stood up to those in power in solidarity and caused change to occur...It took 90 years to abolish slavery and ending this occupation will take serious focused integrated activism and strategy...I don't care what Sharon says, the facts on the ground prove his agenda of apartheid. We have maps that document the settlement blocks and these type of educational materials allow us to think outside of the box and contradict the ideology...that denies basic human rights and universal law."

Last Friday in West Jerusalem I met another good Jew, Gila Svirsky at the Women in Black vigil who facilitated the workshop: The Role of Israeli Women in Nonviolent Struggle. Gila spoke about many Jewish women my age who had been moved to activism even before Sharon went to the Al Aqsa Mosque and the second Intifada erupted.

"Women were already getting together to protest the closures and checkpoints against Palestinians because we understood those actions would lead to frustration, anger and lessen the chance of compromise...Five hundred women gathered in front of the Ministry of Defense to practice civil disobedience. We laid down in front of the building and willingly got clobbered and arrested. We spent the night in jail and even the lawyer who bailed us out got arrested. When we met to re-evaluate our action about 60 of us showed up and all expressed such passion and the desire to try again because we had so much fun! We set up a bail fund and that was the beginning of our movement that went out to checkpoints and to where the Palestinian roads had been gouged out to prevent access. We filled the holes and trenches using only our fingernails...

"Women who had their arms broken by soldiers were denied medical treatment for hours and we wondered what we were accomplishing if anything at all. But we felt empowered and strong. We understood the Palestinians' suffering and their courage in resisting the occupation using nonviolent activism...Anyone who pays taxes in Israel is culpable in supporting the occupation...Our greatest problems are due to the religious fundamentalist Jewish settlers and the real villain is Barrack. He is the one who spun the Camp David story with Bill Clinton's collaboration. They portrayed that they offered Arafat the moon but Arafat refused...

"Most Israeli's today want to end the occupation but by my solidarity with the Palestinian cause I had lost credibility with most Israeli's. They didn't believe I cared deeply about the safety and security of Israel too. So now I work amongst Israelis and I have quit using the term apartheid wall...Talking about the suffering of others does not work here. What is working is education that focuses on Israeli self interest and our Reality Tours. This past year over 3,500 Israelis and two groups of soldiers took the tour to see the Wall up close and sat in Palestinian homes and had coffee with them. When they saw how parents interacted with their kids it was the best wake up call...

“Self interest considers the fact that over 3.5 billion dollars a year goes to continue the occupation and that Israel is considered a pariah by the rest of the world...When Israelis claim the higher ground and portray themselves as victims the rug is pulled out from underneath them when Palestinians use nonviolent resistance.

December 30, 2005

The morning started with my favorite priest, Naim Ateek who spoke about Nonviolence and how the use of state sponsored violence corrupted the true message of Christianity. Ateek explained how Christ’s teachings and life reflected the revolutionary concept of nonviolent action. But thousands of years of not reflecting upon the fact that evil can be opposed without being mirrored, and that the the cycle of a ‘tooth for a tooth, an eye for an eye’, can never bring peace and justice. Christ taught we must love our enemies and pray for those who persecute and hate us, and that is what being a Christian is truly about.

Before Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity all the early Church Fathers taught that Christians should not serve in the army but instead willingly suffer rather than inflict harm on any other human being. St. Paul taught that the only way to resist evil is with good. Clement, Tertillian, Polycarp and every other early Church Father taught that violence contradicts Christianity.

In 313 Constantine sought to unite his empire and legitimized Christianity and it has been said that is when the soul left the church. [more on this topic- Keep Hope Alive available @ ]

Within 100 years the Empire required that all soldiers in the army must be Christians and thus, the decline of Christianity began. Augustine was the first Church Father to speak about the concept of a Just War. The Church relaxed and negated the true teaching of Christ to justify war and wrong became right.

There have always been those Christians who spoke out against this corruption of scripture and they have been persecuted and maligned. There has always been Christians who never abandoned the true teachings, such as the Quakers, Mennonites, some Catholics and Protestants who have been faithful witnesses to Christ.

Ateek is the founder and director of SABEEL Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem that promotes the fact that we cannot call ourselves Christians unless we promote nonviolence. Because of Emperor Constantine Christians enjoyed political power and prestige. Those Christians discarded The Prince of Peace's true teachings for they reinterpreted the Bible to justify warfare and have brought us to the state of the world we now have.

Rev. Ateek proclaims, “The God of war, violence, oppression and terror must be rejected. Authentic Christianity is nonviolent and is all about peace, justice and liberation.”

Amen to that.

Tomorrow I will write about what I learned about nonviolence in Islam and what Muslim moderates and progressives are up against.

Tonight our closing activity was when dozens of Internationals, many Israelis and about 150 Palestinians walked in solidarity to The Wall united against the occupation and in support for human rights. We freaked out the IDF who manned the checkpoint for they immediately called for reinforcements from Jerusalem and surrounded our circle. But peace reigned and perhaps we made a little difference in this part of the world. We chanted and sang all along the way:

"Shalom, Salaam, Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem" and "We shall overcome."

My humble benediction for Holy Land Trusts Celebrating Nonviolent resistance is a paraphrase of an Arabic quatrain:

What will Christmas bring me this year?

The same old things?

The same old things?

Or something NEW?


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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

" In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway."-Mother Teresa

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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

“Any nation that year after year continues to raise the Defense budget while cutting social programs to the neediest is a nation approaching spiritual death.” - Rev. MLK
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"On the day of the termination of the British mandate and on the strength of the United Nations General Assembly declare The State of Israel will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel: it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion it will guarantee freedom of religion [and] conscience and will be faithful to the Charter of the United Nations." - May 14, 1948. The Declaration of the Establishment of Israel
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