Israel-Palestine 2012

Psalms for a New Palestine


The pool of Bethesda is dry;

Apartment buildings tower above the gap in the Old City;

Mourning doves eat refuse on the Tower of David.

Pilgrims, stop your wandering.

Scholars, stop your scrutiny.

Children, stop your spinning wheels.

Underneath the walls of Herod a prayer lilts

Drink beside the fountain of cool water.

The water is not Jewish, nor Christian, nor Muslim.

It speaks in an ancient tongue.

It heals the wounds of lepers:

We that stand mesmerized at Bethesda.


There is a war in Hebron:

After the rains the olives are harvested.

There is a drought in the white hills:

The olive trees send their roots deeper.

Wind storms blow from the Negev

Branches scatter on the rocky soil.

Even as humans in their anger chop the olive tree

At ground level, the stump sprouts new twigs,

Soldiers at checkpoint in Hebron, 2012

Branches to shelter my great-grandchildren.

Yes, in 50 years the shade of this tree stump delights in a child’s laugh.

War is made of brittle ashes, but a tree is God’s flesh in action.

What way will Hebron go?                                                 Claggett-Borne 12/12

Home, Health, Heart

We have arrived after such a long trip, exhausting security at airports. A huge thank you to all those who read, wrote and held us in prayer for our 14 days in Israel/Palestine. With so much war and UN drama, all prayers were needed. Your love buoyed our trip in safety. Now we can indulge in creaturely comforts (that might change with lowering our carbon footprint.)
Home is cuddling with the cat after a hot shower.
Home is where I can run freely along the river bank, and women can dress in shorts.
Home is cool breeze rustling brown leaves. The cloud bank hangs low.
Home is the 100s of emails to answer; electricity without threat of blackouts.
Home is where I understand threads of conversation at the store, and I can follow the music on the radio.
Home is sitting comfortably in your bathroom, and remembering that toilet paper can be thrown in the toilet bowl.
Plus I don't have to worry about check points, or collaborators, or whether I'm being conned, or worry about children safely getting to school. I already miss the great food of Arabic salad with mint, and fresh felafel. I miss shopkeepers inviting me in for strong coffee. I miss the generous sun, shining brightly on grape orchards and ancient hills.

We are home hale and healthy, but grasping at how to make sense of it all. We need your help. Call or invite us over to talk 10 minutes or to give a presentation. Our first 'talk' will be the spiritual side of our journey on Dec 16 at 9:30am at Cambridge Meeting near Harvard Square.

Ramallah: Friends presence for over 140 Years

On Sunday Jonathan and I had a long rest and got up to worship at the Ramallah Friends meetinghouse. The Ramallah Meeting is small, with thick stone walls and arched windows.I soaked my dusty soul in the coolness and quiet. It was built in 1940 exactly between two townships, El Bireh and Ramallah. Now it is planted in the middle of the commercial district. A beautiful quilt of an olive tree by a pool of cool water hangs in front over white stone. It was made by an ecumenical group from Harvard university (Diane Eck's group). It cost $150,000 to rebuild the Meetinghouse in 2005 (after the 2002 intifada). For all the Quakers in the USA that helped to resurrect this oasis, I give thanks.

Jean Zaru, a well-known Friend, welcomed us all. Of the 12 people attending she was the only Palestinian, the rest were internationals like myself living in interesting times. Jean got called away for a family event: the birth of her first great-grandchild. Kathy Bergen invited any and all, after Meeting, for turkey soup and discussion. Kathy works at the Friends International Center in Ramallah (FICR) and coordinates many programs to promote peace. A weekly group meets called 'Right of Entry' (helping to advocate for children and adults detained at check points); book readings are popular; welcoming visiting Friends and even concerts.

On Monday and Tuesday we visited the Ramallah Friends Schools. The older campus is the lower school, 27 classes, K-6 grades. It's a vibrant and beautiful campus. The new Kindergarten building has been under construction for many years, and now for the first year houses 8 classrooms of bubbling children. Of the nine new teachers, seven are from the USA, and most speak Arabic. They have special needs children incorporated into regular classroom. The level of speaking English is very high. Jonathan and I taught a 4th grade English class, and they asked clear and complicated questions. "Do you go to Russia?" "Will you forget Palestine?" The Upper School was built by Friends around the world in 1901. Technically it's in the municipality of El Bireh and just a few blocks from the Palestinian governmental offices of the president, Mahmoud Abbas (where Yasser Arafat was under siege in 2002). The Upper School has huge soccer, tennis, and even American football fields. They are offering new sports like boxing. Students have laptops, the library is filled with Time magazine, National Geographic and many books in Arabic.

Compared to Quakers in Bolivia and in Cuba, this school is plush. For every student accepted, another is turned away. It's the most prestigious and most expensive school in Palestine. Other Palestinian private schools get huge subsidies from their churches. The Ramallah schools love having Quaker visitors.

Poverty grips Bolivian, Cuban, and Palestinian children. Students have more access to resources to study in Palestine. So what is the Quaker witness here? Imagine living 20 kilometers from Jerusalem, maybe where your grandmother and uncles live, but only going there once a year. You don't have permission to enter, or the humiliation is so great at checkpoints that your parents don't want to risk the trip.

One teacher at the school finally took her 10-year-old into East Jerusalem and the child went through security but she got detained. The child was in tears throughout the ordeal. Imagine living where the rulers of the land have a demolition order on your house. Imagine you live in Canaan.

Israel can't draw its own borders, the country is continually expanding. In truth the land of Canaan/Judea/Samaria/Israel is all the same tapestry. It is a promised land: which in my mind I transpose to a Land of Promise. How can we fulfill our Covenant as a People of God?


Olive Trees in Wartime

Click to enlarge

Hani Abu Hikal is a Hebron native whose family has lived on the hillside, Tel Remieda, for hundreds of years. He was an angry youth when the Israeli policies divided the city and humiliated him and his friends. He went to jail for 20 months at 17 years old because he admits that he threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at Israelis. He got out in time for his high school exams, but after some altercations ended up in jail again and again. In jail he reconsidered his purpose and decided that violence wasn't working. In fact, Palestinian violence was feeding into the hands of the Israeli government. Then Israel can appeal to the world community for more aid. "They are looking for violence. They have petrol and diamonds. With my violence Israel gets more sympathy. They use my violence to say they are under attack. So I say 'What can I do?'"

When he came out of jail Hani decided to switch from rocks to a video camera. He gathered friends around him and they documented abuses. He became a nonviolent resister. He posted the abuses on YouTube. He opened his spacious home to guests who were analyzing the problems in the West Bank.

Settlers would come in to an area. Sometimes they would come up to a area of Hebron and say, "Jesse was buried here," or "Ruth gleaned wheat in this field." They might have a picnic there one day. The next day they may start to worship there. So these ultra-religious Jews put up a large canvas tent. Soon a family or 3 or 4 move in to stay. Hani says, "the settlers are not neighbors, they are visitors." They believe that the Lord promised them this land. God's law takes precedent over human laws. Many of Hebron's settlers come from Brooklyn, NY and are considered extremist by other Jews.

Once a settler family gets a toehold the government posts military nearby to guard them. Israel claims the settlement is illegal but they don't want to see any citizens hurt. (Palestinians who have permanent residency on the West Bank are not considered Israeli citizens). Then the electricity is installed, a road, plumbing, and the settlement is a reality. Some settlers curse under their breath when non-Jews say hello to them, they taunt their Palestinian neighbors. Hani says, "I start to film these settlers and what I find?—They are scared of the camera."

Once his young daughter was attacked by a settler child. Hani turned to Peacemaker Teams for help. Thus began the school accompaniment program for CPT. Hani continues to promote nonviolent techniques among Hebron activists. He works with the Hebron Defense Committee and a group called "One World for Justice." Hani, with others, are suing the Israeli military for war crimes.

Meanwhile Hani takes us past 4 checkpoints. We sit in his house while his 3 year old, Said, bounces a big rubber ball. He is fighting to keep his land. Settlers have moved adjacent to his property, illegally but with government support. They throw refuse on Hani's porch. There are bullets holes scattered on a wall in his garden, from an attack on his home in 2000. The bullets barely missed him.

The family olive orchard sits on a hillside near his home.  For many years the orchard has stood right up against the separation wall,  tree trunks twisting right and left as if adjusting to our human foibles. Twenty years ago Hani's family harvested from hundreds of these trees, old like the sequoia. During the Second Intifada about 250 were chopped down, the axe destroying along with the rifles. We walked along the gravel road, hiking up steep stone steps. Hani points out parts of the wall that come from King Herod's time. I feel the freshness of a deep well at the bottom of a vertical cave, some believe to be Abraham's well.

The scarce water, the clear sky, the old olive trees, all hold a secret power. It's a power that goes beyond the frisking, beyond the rifles, beyond the naming of the Holy of Holies. This is Canaan, a land of promise. The richness is beyond belief. I love it here.

I don't understand the division among the groups. I understand military. I understand guerrilla warfare.  Peace groups ask us not to look at what Israel, or USA or even the UN says about the West Bank, but instead to look at what they do. What are the facts on the ground? Israel encourages settlers; Palestinian land is grabbed by Israel and all the world  knows it.  Peacemakers like Hani speak truth. But peace groups aren't talking to settlers, those who have changed the map of Israel and Palestine. If settlers are responsible, who is dialoguing with them?  How can we hold the Israeli leaders, Hamas leaders, USA and EU leaders responsible?

So many of us feel a love of this fertile crescent. God's blessing is here for everyone. Hani Abu Hikal is working hard for peace. Many Jews are committed to justice in Israel.  I ask you, what can we do?

From Jerusalem and Canaan

Click Photos to Enlarge

Jerusalem, a holy city to so many. On one hand it's amazing that after invasions of Romans, Syrians, Egyptians, crusaders, Ottomans, English and Jordanians that all want to claim the hill as their own. How amazing that they've found a way to live in their piece of the city and tolerate each other. There's the Armenian , Christian, Jewish and Arabic quarter. Arabs don't walk in the Jewish quarter and vice versa. It's polite but seems after awhile to be rather poisonous. How will they ever learn to love your neighbor if you have so little interaction, and so many gaps in understanding? In other words after centuries, can't we evolve to someplace where we are getting beyond a truce to more brotherly love?

Finally, on our 6th day in Jerusalem Jonathan and I walked the ramparts, the wall of the old city. We finished near sunset but still wanted time to see the Mount of Olives or at least the Garden of Gethsemane. We saw ancient olive trees, gnarled with roots you could sit on and with trunks wide as a door. We watched the sun set over the city on a hill where Ibrahim was willing to sacrifice either Ismael or Isaac, depending on whether you are Jewish or Muslim. The city had a bustle and a calm at the same time. The trees and white stones washed by the recent rains. I entered into the Church of All Nations. The priest was giving a homily in Latin with several on their knees at the altar. I was worshipful, but hung at the back row to appreciate the whole scene, the cupola, the rich stain glass before the last rays of sun. Then with the Latin in front of me, simultaneously I heard the drone of the mosque's call to evening prayer. And there my heart stopped, I was all ears hearing the 2 prayers, knowing Jews were lighting an evening candle. Here as the sun kisses the sky, all 3 religions were praying in their own way.

Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) has 8 workers here. Several are from Britain, Canada, and the USA. One is from the Philippines and one is Palestinian. The major religions of these CPTers are Mennonite, Quaker and Muslim. They are doing amazing work in stressful situations. They go into protests with tear gas and something worse called skunk spray. They operate by consensus and live in a war zone, surrounded by rifles carried by soldiers 20 or 25 years old. all Palestinians saw the vote at the UN to become a nonmember state as mostly symbolic. Still they long for international solutions to the problem of cooperation. The vote was 138 nations in favor of Palestine, 41 abstaining, and only 9 against including US and Canada. It's embarrassing to be a country that doesnt want to recognize a people who've lived here thousands of years. Still israels and Palestinians are friendly with us.

Hebron is near the green line (the 1948 border), and is located in the fertile Jordan Valley. Its beautiful pastoral land where one can easily see donkeys and some camels in the country. The city is carved up like a puzzle where in given sections only Jews and only Muslims can move freely. Between the borders are three types of Israeli soldiers, all carrying rifles as tall as a ten year old. Palestinians have to go through checkpoints as they move through sections of the city in order to go to school, mosque and market. At one checkpoint women died in childbirth and others from heart attacks waiting for ambulances which cannot pass through security blockades. We visited farms, Abraham & Sarah's well, and walked through settlements. The huge mosque which is holy to all three religions (see Genesis  23) is divided so that the Muslim side shows Abraham's tomb and the Jewish side shows Sarah's—crazy,  it makes us schizophrenic.

Altogether I live each day in amazement of the land, the white hills, sharing laughs with my new friends here. We live in such beauty and I love being in the land where the stories from our scriptures began more than 4,000 years.  —Thank You, Shukran.

Living in a Bubble

Click photos to enlarge

As I contemplated what my Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation tour would be, I hoped that we would be exposed to a full range of the human experience in Israel-Palestine—and indeed we have. We’ve heard from Israelis spanning the whole political spectrum, including:

  • the mother of one of our neighbors from back home;
  • a religious settler in the Hebron district;
  • a self-described Buddhist anarchist activist with the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolition;
  • a tour guide at Yad Vashem, the Israeli holocaust memorial museum, who documents stories of families evicted from Palestinian villages;
  • an activist who when younger had refused military service and is now supporting the Bedouin population who, as nomads, are being pushed off of their ancestral lands into smaller and smaller areas;
  • and several of the Women in Black, who stand each Friday afternoon holding a simple sign that says “end the occupation.”

And we’ve heard Palestinians tell their stories, including people from:

  • the Palestinian Christian group Sabeel;
  • the Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights ("Badil" = "Alternative" in Arabic), based in Bethlehem;
  • the Lajee (Refugee) Center;
  • the Bethlehem House of Bread Independent Pentecostal Church
  • the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem;
  • the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee;
  • and several Hebron families who live adjacent to the five Israeli settlements.

Two Vignettes
Minga and I had lunch with the mother of one of our Cambridge neighbors who from her childhood had dreamed of living in Israel. She was finally able to move permanently to Jerusalem 11 years ago, taking up her 5th career as a tour guide. Living most of her American life in Washington DC, she keeps current with the liberal Haaretz newspaper and the International Herald Tribune. At times her US culture spoke more loudly than her Jewish identity. But when I asked how she and many Israeli people like her support the policies that have so disproportionally disrupted life for the Palestinian people, she responded, “because we have to, we have no other choice.” I am so perplexed with how people all over the world, as individuals and among small communities, are so often generous and loving. But, when faced with the “other,” particularly those with whom we have little or no contact, that love and generosity easily turns to fear and even hate. That warm, openhearted people translate that fear and hatred into total, unthinking support of brutal governmental policies, all for the sake of so-called “security.” I experienced this most directly in 1982 when I and five other young adult Quakers rode our bicycles on a peace pilgrimage across the United States during Ronald Regan’s nuclear arms build up and saber rattling with the Soviet Union. The contrast between the US military machine and all those people who took us into their homes and hearts, even when they disagreed with our politics, was astounding and still gives me hope.

The second vignette occurred on our first day in Hebron. Our delegation joined a tour of the Israeli-only section of the old city with a group of 30 college-aged Jews, mostly from the US, who were participating in an orientation session before beginning year-long internships at various locations throughout Israel. The tour was led by a member of Breaking the Silence, a group of former Israeli Defense Force soldiers who tell their personal stories of how the continuing military occupation of the West Bank dehumanizes both Palestinians and Israelis and can never bring peace to the region. At the junction of what had been Hebron’s main street and large wholesale market, but is now a ghost town on what is called a “sterile” Israeli-only road, one of the Israeli leaders of the orientation group challenged the Breaking the Silence tour guide. We stood there for nearly 45 minutes listening to these two very articulate Jewish young men speak passionately from very different directions about how to bring peace to the land. I did not hear anything particularly new from either of these men, but I am sure that more conversations of this type, especially among Israeli Jews is critical. I was also pleased that the orientation program included such a controversial tour for these young people, who will certainly be part of shaping whatever change the future brings.

The Bubble
It is my experience that Israelis mostly live in a bubble. The Israeli standard of living appears to be equal to or even better than the US. By and large the Israeli Jewish community is unaware of the day-to-day hardship of life in the occupied Palestinian Territories and goes on with life in nearly complete isolation from the non-Jewish population. In order to preserve a Jewish state, there must be a Jewish majority. At present, combining the peoples of Israel proper with the West Bank, the Jewish population is about equal to the non-Jewish, mostly Arab Palestinian, population. If there were now one state made up of Israel and the West Bank, there would be no Jewish majority. Israel needs more cheap land to settle its growing population.

The Ongoing “Nakba”
Palestinians speak of the 1948 formation of the state of Israel as the “Nakba,” the catastrophe. The key has become the symbol of the “right of return” for the Palestinian families who are still being forced out of their homes in what the Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights calls the ongoing Nakba. In 1948 the Palestinian families believed they would be returning in a few weeks or months, so as they left they took the key to their homes with them. The religious Jewish settler told us that the Palestinians weren’t really forced out, they left willingly because their leaders told them, “don’t worry, we will forcibly drive the Jews out of your homes and push them into the sea. After that you can return.”

I am struck over and over again by how we become so embedded in our own reality that we see what we want to see and then create narratives to justify what we think is true.

Looking for a Cup of Water in a Religious Desert

Click all photos to enlarge

Our group met with a one of the founders of Sabeel, a Palestinian Christian group committed to nonviolence and standing with the suffering of the Palestinian people. Sabeel means “the way.” In ancient times in the arid Palestinian land, a traveler would find an urn of cool water and a cup in front of many homes along the road. Thus 'sabeel' means both “the way” and “a spring of water.”

We heard the Sabeel founder share passionately how the war of 1948 or Nakba—meaning catasrophe in Arabic—was shattering for Palestinian Christians and Muslims alike. She was 12 years old in 1948 when, "one day I went to bed in Palestine and the next day I woke up in Israel."

The Nabka, manifested itself like an earthquake in three ways:

  1. Families moved, they evacuated out of fear. Many permanently lost their homes.
  2. It rattled their identity. Christian and Muslim Palestinians had no citizenship.
  3. It shook their religious roots and right to believe in their God. She told us that “David Ben Gurion, the first Israeli Prime Minister said ‘the Bible is the Jewish people’s title deed for the land.’” It's not just which family should live in which home, but that the Jewish people have a Divine right to move onto land, whether others live there or not.

She feels that all parties in Israel must be compassionate, share the land, and allow religious tolerance. This Christian Palestinian feels as much love and desire to care for the land as any Jew. She said, "If Zionism means coming home, I'm all for it. If, however, Zionism means uprooting of a people, then I'm against it. I hate it."

Our delegation was deeply moved by this woman's pain. She has suffered greatly and told us stories of how she has learned to hate the sin and love the sinner. She described a liberation theology from a Palestinian perspective, outlining four central points:

  1. Stand up for peace and justice without picking up the sword.
  2. Rise above the ways of the world and stand beside the vulnerable and the oppressed.
  3. Seek the humanity of the oppressor without loosing integrity to appeasement or to collaboration.
  4. Be loyal to God without adhering to strict adherence to closed or narrow religion.

One story during the 1968 war exemplified this theology. She was living in Haifa and had befriended a Jewish immigrant from Syria who was a Jewish Arab and she is a Christian Arab. Her Syrian neighbor’s son was drafted by Israeli army in this war and was sent to the Egyptian front, the hottest area of the fighting. She explained that an only son in Arab cultures would never be drafted, so as to maintain the family lineage. She was so distraught for her friend that she promised to pray every day that her friend's son would return even though he was fighting against the Palestinians. She cried bitterly when the Palestinians were defeated in 1968 and she rejoiced when her neighbor's son returned home safely.

The separation wall viewed from the Promenade south of Jerusalem