28 October 2007

the separation wall between Jerusalem and Jericho
for more photos, click here

I'm sure many of you are familiar with the story of the blind men and the elephant, in which six blind men each feel different parts of the elephant, convinced that their individual part is the only true characteristic of the elephant. The poem posits that humanity does the same thing with God-- we are each convinced that the piece we know is the only true characteristic.

I've been thinking about this story a lot since I've come here to Palestine/Israel, the birthplace of the people of the Book-- Jews, Muslims and Christians. Looking over the Jerusalem skyline, you can see the buildings of all three places of worship prominently displayed. Since arriving, we have met peacemakers of all three faiths, all passionately committed to ending the occupation and finding ways to live together. At ICAHD (the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions), we met Jewish activists working against the oppressive violence of their state. At Holy Land Trust, we met Palestinian Christians who teach nonviolence and organize weekly demonstrations against the separation wall. At Wi'am, Muslim peacemakers lead mediation workshops and work to reconcile inter personal conflicts. Yet religion continues to be used to divide and separate people, something my understanding of the elephant doesn't support.

If only we could recognize the common humanity in one another and unite as brothers and sisters, the children of Abraham that we all are!

14 October 2007


the village of At-Tuwani
for more photos, click here

I just returned to Hebron from a few days with the CPT team in At-Tuwani, a small village in the hills south of the city of Hebron.

It's much different than the city of Hebron, which has about 150,000 inhabitants. Tuwani is a village of about 130 people. They live off the land, growing olives and grains and herding sheep. It's a remarkably beautiful area, as you can see from my photos. One morning we walked down to see some old cave homes, only recently abandoned within the last decade. And villagers in neighboring Tuba still make their homes in caves. People have been living in these hills for a very very long time!

But in 1981, they gained some new and very unfriendly neighbors when the illegal Israeli settlement of Ma'on formed on the hill adjacent to Tuwani. More recently, settlers in Ma'on established an outpost even closer to Tuwani called Havat Ma'on, taking over land that belongs to villagers in Tuwani.

The settlers in Havat Ma'on in particular are a brand of violent ideologues that seem focused on making life difficult for the villagers in Tuwani and neighboring villages. Children from the village of Tuba, where inhabitants have lived in caves for hundreds of years, walk over the hill every day to attend school in Tuwani. Since the settlement and outpost have set up camp, the children must walk between the two to get to the school in Tuwani. They were regularly harassed, so CPTers began accompanying them daily to and from school. Until a few years ago, when settlers attacked two CPTers with chains, sending them to the hospital, one with a broken arm and leg, and the other with a punctured lung. Now the Israeli government provides a military escort for the children-- a jeep full of IDF soldiers appears every morning and afternoon to accompany the children past the settlement.

I'm still having trouble understanding this-- that a group of people could be so determined, their hate so virulent, as to personally make the daily effort to go out and harass shepherds grazing their flocks, even school children walking to school. Racism, my sisters and brothers, is a frighteningly healthy beast.

12 October 2007

dance party, at-tuwani, palestine

This is a great little clip of kids in At-Tuwani getting down to a dance mix ringtone on Sean's phone!!

07 October 2007

Sunday in Jerusalem

The Dome of the Rock, with the upper part of the Wailing Wall in the foreground
For more photos, click here

This morning we headed into Jerusalem for church services at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in the Old City. We wound through mazes of narrow streets filled with vendors selling everything from nail clippers to leather sandals to beautiful glass ware, and finally ended up at the church, only a few minutes late :) Today was World Communion Sunday, and I felt particularly connected to all people of faith as I participated in the Eucharist.

After the service, a few of us continued wandering around Jerusalem and found many remarkable things-- the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where artifacts and symbols of Jesus' crucifixion are enshrined amid ornate chandeliers, epic paintings and glittering baubles. I couldn't help but wonder what Jesus the man would have thought of this place, so institutionalized and gaudy. Visitors demonstrated remarkable devotion and fervor, but I just couldn't get into the spirit of it all. Somehow I think Jesus wants to meet us in the midst of the mess of real life, not in a lovely, but dead, building.

We also made our way through the Jewish quarter, and saw old columns, excavated from the ancient Roman city of Jerusalem. I just can't get over how OLD this place is!

Then we arrived at the Wailing Wall. After clearing the military checkpoint with metal detectors and scanners, we could pass through to the wall itself. In the distance, the gleaming roof of the Dome of the Rock rose out of the surrounding city-- a holy site for Muslims; where the prophet Mohammed ascended into heaven. I walked up to the section of Wailing Wall partitioned off for women and noticed all the notes. Little pieces of paper, covered in prayers and petitions, jutted out from every crack in the wall. If you've ever read The Secret Life of Bees, you might remember one of the sisters creating her own Wailing Wall of sorts, out in the woods in an old stone fencerow where she could write her worries on bits of paper, stuff them into the wall, and be released from their weight. I thought of her as I stood facing the wall, and decided to write a prayer of my own.

Why, O God, must your children fight so viciously among themselves? Are we not all the children of Abraham, your children, sisters and brothers to one another? Our greed and determination to possess, rather than share this sacred ground we all revere, is tearing us apart. Our greed and determination to possess, rather than to share you as one God of all, is corrupting our souls. Give us the courage to look each one in the eye, and grace to see their well-being intimately linked with our own. Give us strength to stand against injustice, for when one of us is oppressed, none of us is truly free. Forgive us, O God, and heal this land...

05 October 2007

Everyone 'neath their vine and fig tree...

Christina talks with the Israeli soldiers
For more photos click here.

I've had this song running through my head all day-- "And everyone 'neath their vine and fig tree, shall live in peace and unafraid. And into plowshares turn their swords, nations shall learn war no more." It's a catchy tune, but I really don't mind having it with me. Here in this land of vines, fig, olive, and date trees, nations still learn war and practice it daily on each other.

This morning we went to the town of Um Salamonah to join a group of Palestinians protesting the separation wall. On the neighboring hill, the Israeli settlement of Efrat looms, despite being in the West Bank, supposedly Palestinian territory. Now that the settlement has claimed the hill, they are annexing a large part of the Palestinian town's fields. A new road snakes between the two hills on which the separation wall will soon be built, cutting off Um Salamonah from some of their fields.

A group of about 50 people gathered, including both Palestinian and Israeli activists and members of various international groups such as Christian Peacemaker Teams, Michigan Peace Teams and the International Solidarity Movement. We walked down the hill from Um Salamonah, across the new road, and up the hill toward the Efrat settlement. Nearly a dozen soldiers met us partway up the hill, and another dozen soon joined them. We stayed only a short time to listen to a few speakers talk about the illegal land grab. Christina Gibb, member of CPT Palestine, attempted to give one of the soldiers a quote by Dr. King about the descending spiral of violence, which she took, but another soldier took it from her hand immediately and attempted to give it back. Christina was already on her way back down the hill by then.

These days, Palestinians can't sit under their own vine and fig tree-- Israeli settlements have occupied them.

03 October 2007

Photos from Day One: Jerusalem and Hebron

Shops along David Street in the Old City of Jerusalem

Ceramics and beads for sale

For more photos, see my album Palestine/Israel in October on Facebook.

02 October 2007

Ramadan and Sukkoth in Jerusalem

I arrived safely in Tel Aviv this afternoon, and Mary Wendeln from CPT's Hebron project met me at the airport. We took a shuttle to the Jaffa Gate, an entrance to the Old City in Jerusalem where Christians, Jews and Muslims can enter and easily access their own quarters of the Old City. It's high festival time now, for both Jewish and Muslim faiths. Ramadan, the holiest month of the Islamic year, continues in its third full week. Muslims fast during daylight hours and break the fast together after the call to prayer at sunset. This year it coincides with Sukkoth, the Jewish feast of the Tabernacle.

The city is alive, even at this late hour of the evening, with vendors selling food, shoes, cloth, pottery, and all sorts of beautiful artisan work. The Damascus Gate, at the entrance to the Muslim quarter, is adorned with bright lights and crowds of people wander through the stands, smoking nargeelah and talking.

Tomorrow we head out to Hebron, a 30 mile trip that takes 2 hours because of road closures and checkpoints. While Israelis have access to good roads, Palestinians must use separate (and unequal) roads to travel, and CPT will travel with the Palestinians. I'm looking forward to more reunions with many of the people who were in my January CPT training in Chicago-- 6 of them, in fact! We pretty much are the Palestine teams now ;) Keep posted for more news (and hopefully photos coming soon) from the Holy Land.

01 October 2007

Borderlands Witness Drive

CPT approached the work along the U.S./Mexico border in a new way this year-- a team of four, traveling from Tucson, AZ. along the border to Brownsville, TX., and then heading north to end in Washington, D.C. Along the way, we experienced life in the borderlands, a third place that is neither U.S. nor Mexico, but a mix of the two. For more photos, please see my Borderlands Witness Drive photo album.
For more information, please see the team's blog that tracked our experiences as we travelled.

FLOC Monterrey Accompaniment

(in above photo: CPTer Joe Mueller at work in the FLOC Office)

In May 2007 I joined a CPT team in Monterrey, Mexico for an emergency accompaniment project with workers at the Farm Labor Organizing Committee office. In April 2007, one of their staffers was assassinated in the office, likely due to their wo
rk on behalf of migrant laborer rights. CPT spent two weeks accompanying the office workers, who were determined to carry on the work in spite of the attempt to intimidate and silence them. For more information on FLOC, please see: http://www.floc.com/


Since I began full-time work with Christian Peacemaker Teams in January 2007, I've gotten involved in a number of exciting projects in various parts of North America, and now the Middle East. I have trouble keeping up with my own schedule, so I can only imagine how difficult it must be for you! Hence this blog... I'll post photos and reflections from my travels, which you can read (or not) at your own leisure. I'd love to have you along for the journey!