Palestine

New & Noteworthy

The Dream at 50
This August marks the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington for civil rights for African Americans. PBS will feature special broadcast and Web programming, including the premiere of the new documentary The March onTuesday, Aug. 27 (check local listings). pbs.org/black-culture/explore

The Miracle of Meaning
Secular Days, Sacred Moments: The America Columns of Robert Coles, edited by David D. Cooper, collects 31 short essays by the respected child psychiatrist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Whatever the topic, Coles offers thoughtful insights on civic life and moral purpose. Michigan State University Press

Soul Searching
The album One True Vine, gospel-R&B legend Mavis Staples’ second collaboration with Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy, is an exploration of doubt and faith. Staples moves with understated, gravelly grace from gospel standards to covers of songs by Low and Funkadelic to originals by Tweedy. Anti- Records

Jerusalem, Jerusalem
Dale Hanson Bourke gives a helpful introduction for American Christians to an intensely controversial topic in The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Tough Questions, Direct Answers. This latest edition of the Skeptic’s Guide series covers key places, terms, and history, with helpful graphics, all in a compact, readable format. IVP

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Gaza: The Persistent Paradox

IN "SILENCE FOR GAZA,” Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish captures the contradictions of the coastal enclave, describing it alternately as “ugly, impoverished, miserable,” and “the most beautiful, the purest and richest among us.” Darwish’s antonyms evoke Gaza’s crushing conditions and resilient residents, exemplars of sumud, an Arabic word roughly translated as “steadfast perseverance”—a fundamental form of Palestinian resistance. Darwish’s poem also states that Gaza “did not believe that it was material for media. It did not prepare for cameras and did not put smiling paste on its face.” And yet every person, every story, every image of Gaza illustrates this persistent paradox of a land at once ugly and beautiful.

“I DON’T KNOW why they targeted us. No rockets were fired from our neighborhood,” says citrus farmer Yusuf Jilal Arafat, whose 5-year-old daughter Runan was killed when Israeli warplanes bombed their home. Arafat’s wife, four months pregnant, and their 8-year-old son were found alive in the rubble. His surviving children now suffer from frequent panic attacks at night. Many of Arafat’s trees were destroyed by the bombs, and the ground is covered with oranges now in various stages of decay. Rumors of contamination by Israeli weapons may hurt the sales of his crop, but he will still harvest. The family is living with Arafat’s father-in-law until they can rebuild.

Rebuilding under Israeli import restrictions is no simple task, so salvaging existing materials remains a vital practice—albeit risky, according to structural engineers. But ingenuity-by-necessity is constantly on display in Gaza, whether it’s recovering crushed stone from beneath ruined highways, straightening steel rebar from bombed-out buildings, or pulverizing concrete for reuse in new (but weaker) blocks.

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VIDEOS: Just Vision

In “Stories Worth Telling,” from the August 2013 issue of Sojourners magazine, Lynne Hybels discusses the work of filmmaker Ronit Avni.

As the founder and executive director of Just Vision—an advocacy and media organization—Avni helps generate awareness and support for those in the Holy Land who pursue freedom, dignity, security, and peace without violence. Stories of Palestinians and Israelis engaged in nonviolence and peacebuilding come to life in Avni’s award-winning films.

If you want to be inspired, read Avni’s story. And be sure to watch the trailers below to preview the latest films by Just Vision.

Budrus
It takes a village to unite the most divided people on earth.

My Neighbourhood
A remarkable nonviolent struggle in the heart of the world’s most contested city.

Encounter Point
A true story about everyday leaders who refuse to sit back as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict escalates.

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Stories Worth Telling

Ronit Avni, photo courtesy of Changemakers

IN HER JEWISH school in Montreal, Ronit Avni learned the tragic history of her people. Her Canadian mother and Israeli father had met in the ’60s when her mother was living in Israel and working as a folk singer, often performing for Israeli troops. Her older sister was born in Tel Aviv, but the family settled back in Montreal in the mid-’70s before Ronit was born.

Not strictly religious but committed to the values of Judaism, Ronit couldn’t help but ask probing questions as she listened to the stories of the birth of the modern state of Israel in 1948. Am I hearing the whole story? How do Palestinian perspectives differ from what my educators and community leaders are teaching? How can we transform this situation from a zero-sum equation to one that respects the dignity and freedom of all?

Years later, having graduated with honors from Vassar College with a degree in political science after studying theater at a conservatory in Montreal, Ronit trained human rights advocates worldwide to produce videos as tools for public education and grassroots mobilizing.

By the time I met Ronit a few years ago, she had narrowed her worldwide focus to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where her heart was most deeply drawn. She is the founder and executive director of Just Vision, an organization dedicated to increasing media coverage and support for Palestinian and Israeli efforts to end the occupation and conflict without weapons of violence.

During the last several years, my engagement in the Holy Land has been significantly shaped by Ronit. Her film Encounter Point, about Israelis and Palestinians who have lost family members, land, or liberty to the conflict yet choose forgiveness and reconciliation rather than revenge, gave me hope that peace can emerge from pain.

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A Holy Land Without Christians?

LIKE MANY Palestinians forced from their homes during the 1948 war, relatives of Jordan’s Sen. Haifa Najjar carried the keys to their Palestinian homes with them as they fled. These keys, passed down through generations, are powerful symbols of Palestinian ties to the land that international law considers theirs—even as their hope for return wanes.

As a Christian appointed by King Abdullah II to Jordan’s upper house of Parliament, Najjar is active in the education, environment, cultural, and legal sectors of the government. She is also superintendent of the Anglican-run Ahliyyah School for Girls and Bishop’s School for Boys in Amman, Jordan.

Within the mix of the 500,000 Palestinians who relocated to Jordan because of the Israeli War of Independence—or Nakba, “the catastrophe,” depending on who you ask—was a vocal minority of Palestinian Christians who joined their ranks with the existing Jordanian Christian community. Prior to 1948, Christians accounted for nearly 20 percent of the population of what is now Israel/Palestine. Today that figure is less than 2 percent. Even more dramatic are declines in the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem. Christian populations are nearly extinct in these locations compared to their respective majorities of 90 and 80 percent prior to 1948.*

“They moved not as immigrants; they were initially thinking it was a temporary thing,” says Father Nabil Haddad of the Melkite Catholic Church in Amman. “It is similar to what Syrians are thinking right now when crossing the barbed wire, not the checkpoints, between south Syria and north Jordan.”

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President Obama, You Are Welcome in Bethlehem

ryanrodrickbeiler.com
Bethlehem-area Palestinian Christians hold a weekly prayer vigil to protest the Israeli separation wall. ryanrodrickbeiler.com

Mr. President, just like the many other visitors that we receive here in this land, we would do our best to overwhelm you with our cultural hospitality and our traditions. I would seize this opportunity to not only welcome you to visit Bethlehem, but also to welcome all U.S. citizens to visit my small city.  

I invite you, Mr. President, to be in my city within the nation that has a dream of liberty — a dream that goes in rhythm with all nations’ right of self-determination. We have embraced, as other nations, our pursuit of democracy, human development, and security. We have tumbled through our pursuits and have made mistakes, and because like all humans, as part of our human nature, we slip. We have built, learned, developed, and made our existence known to all nations.

Mr. President, I hope that in your visit you would not only enjoy the blessings of the Holy Land, but be encouraged to return and experience this city to its fullest. After you finish your presidency you will be able to visit without a big security escort and you will enjoy wandering the old streets and spending time in the old city of Bethlehem when you come back with your family.

Dear President Obama: Do Not Visit Bethlehem’s Nativity Church

Photo: ryanrodrickbeiler.com
Obama's campaign slogan appears on the Israeli separation wall dividing the West Bank town of Bethlehem. ryanrodrickbeiler.com

President Barack Obama is planning to visit Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity as part of his visit to Palestine/Israel. The Church of the Nativity, of course, is not the only thing to see in Bethlehem. I suggest that as the president enters the town, from Jerusalem I presume, that he takes a look to his right, and he will see the separation wall. It is hard to miss. It is that ugly concrete structure that gives you the impression that you are inside a big prison. I am sure the president will notice how the wall is killing life in Bethlehem, cutting deep into our neighborhoods.

As he continues on his way through the main street, I suggest he pays attention to his right, to the Azza Refugee Camp. I hope it reminds him of the misery of more than 5 million Palestinian refugees today, who are still waiting in hope for a just resolution to their suffering.

A Palestinian Pastor’s Advice for President Obama

Photo courtesy Ryan Roderick Beiler, ryanrodrickbeiler.com
A Palestinian youth confronts Israeli soldiers at a nonviolent demonstration. Photo ryanrodrickbeiler.com

President Barack Obama will be visiting Israel and Palestine in March. I call on you to write to Obama and tell him that if he is coming to engage Israelis and Palestinians in talks that will lead to a just peace, he is then welcome. Otherwise tell Obama to stay home.

Tell Obama that the world will be watching his upcoming visit and people all over our planet will look to his visit with hope and expectation. Tell him not to disappoint humanity by carrying on U.S. politics in the Middle East as usual.

Tell Obama when he visits us here to stand by the values that he reiterates in almost every speech: freedom, independence, equality, and justice for all. 

Namibia-Angola War Retrospectives

 Photo by Tom Getman
View across the Okavango River from Namibia into still minefield-strewn Angola. Photo by Tom Getman

For those who are students of Africa, the Caprivi Strip of Northern Namibia brings memories of the awful border wars and independence struggles of the 1970s and 80s. Perhaps the lessons apply to Israel and Palestine.

Ironically, one of the last and longest, most peaceful and unpolluted rivers in the world is the Okavango. It is the border between Namibia and Angola where still today a long stretch of the north bank Angolan farmland is mine infested. Large breem and tiger fish jump, and magnificent fish eagles take flight from trees on the Namibian bank and wing to large dead trees in Angola where hippo provide background music with loud braying. The behemoths make their way back and forth and often spend the early evening hours lounging on the beach in front of the main buildings of the River Dance Lodge near Divindu on the southern shore.

This gently lapping, wide, drinkable stream — that creates in nearby Botswana the amazing Okavango Delta — is bordered by Angola, Namibia, and Botswana. The crystal clear ribbon of nearly 500 miles of uninterrupted resource runs just a few yards under my feet a quarter of a mile across from where the Angolan fields and forests were the hiding place for Jonas Savembi before he was killed in 2002. His South African- and American-supported troops were routed by Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, the socialist leader of UNITA and president since 1979. We can see homes there that have been vacant since the war because local farmers fled the fighting. Kavanaga tribal tradition requires people to not dwell in places where violent deaths have occurred. Ethnic tribal relations are still tense between the Portuguese-speaking Angolans and the English/German-speaking Namibians, even though they are from the same ethnic group. The horrific memories of vicious cross-river raids and shelling persist.

The Remarkable Power of Peace + Social Media

AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images
Palestinian activists set up on January 11, 2013 an 'outpost' named Bab al-Shams. AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images

Last week, while most of Israel was focused on increasingly extreme rhetoric surrounding the upcoming elections and most Americans were listening to angry debates about guns and fiscal responsibility, a remarkable thing happened. A few dozen Palestinians captured the world’s attention quietly and peacefully.

Their methods were simple and witty. Following the example of Israeli settlers, they established “facts on the ground.” The group of Palestinians quietly hiked up a barren hillside in cold, wet weather and pitched tents, declaring themselves part of the new village of Bab al-Shams, or Gate of the Sun, a name taken from the novel by Lebanese writer Elias Khoury. 

Their village was established on private, Palestinian land and the landowner (who publicly displayed his Ottoman era deed) gave them permission to camp there. But that particular piece of land is also known on an Israeli development plan map as “E-1” and came to the attention of the world recently when Prime Minister Netanyahu announced plans to annex the land for Israeli settlements. Many believe that move, which would essentially bifurcate the West Bank, would be the deathblow to the “Two State Solution.”

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