Notes on Palestine

Journey to Palestine – November 30 – December 7, 2016

December 2, 2016

We engaged in a historic and incredible journey just as Advent began.  Reverends Lewis Tait, Jr.,  Anthony Moore, Patricia Fears, Wanda Thompson, Louise Green, Raymond Bell, Rosa Frias, Madison Shockley/his wife Gayle, and myself journeyed into Palestine to witness the changing and challenging realities. What you will discover on the entries that follow are clergy speaking from their hearts of what their eyes had seen.  This journey to Palestine is a story that needs to be told because there is so much will to silence the Palestinians and their cause and those who support them.  But silence is not an option when your eyes have seen and your heart is filled with historical memories of Jim Crow, apartheid, discrimination, and human beings inhumanity to other human beings.

Mother and Children in a Bedouin Village.
Professor Dr. Daoud Zatari, Mayor of Hebron. He reports that the Old City is currently controlled by several hundred Zionists settlers who have made life unbearable for others.

We traveled extensively and our travels took us to meet the Prime Minister as well as speak to those living in Bedouin villages under the threat of more land loss, and the discriminatory polices and practices that do not recognize the people, their history or their culture.  We met with Mayors of towns like in Bethlehem and Hebron.  These political leaders where full of hope but also looking forward to that day when there would be real freedom and people will be able to move around in the land that they were born.  The Mayor of Hebron warned us that the Old City had all but been lost to armed settlers.  The few shops left operating in the old city of Hebron is under pressure of daily harassment, threats, and violence.  Indeed while we were there we witnessed settlers armed with assault weapons and other automatic weapons walking to and from the synagogue.  They were usually followed by Israeli military safeguarding them.  They and the military were rude to the Palestinians living and working in the environs as if those Palestinians had no reason to exist – particularly in a city like Hebron.

It was extremely painful to see the encroaching and strategically placed settlements creeping onto Palestinian villages and eventually forcing them off the land.  It was painful and angering to watch people who could not and would not see the other.  This was the same scenario in Jerusalem where Zionist settlers felt that Palestinian – whether Muslim, Christian, Atheist or Agnostic had no right to be in Jerusalem or even on the West Bank and the occupied territories solely because they were Palestinian.

We met along our journey with leaders of the Palestinian Authority, Mayors of Cities and Towns, Theologians, Church leaders and Bishops.  It was just about every sector of the society that we encountered.  Having dinner in a restaurant we found out our waiter was well known because of his sacrifice in the Second Intifada, he was shot seven times by Israeli forces, and then after he healed was jailed, and yet with gentleness and dignity he served us our meals.  We were thankful for all of the encounters and experiences.

The monument dedicated to Abd al-Rahman Obeidallah and Tamir Rice in Aida Refugee Camp. Both children were killed by authorities. Playgrounds for Palestine sponsored the dedication along with organizations in the camp.

 

There is a refugee camp, Aida, which is located in Bethlehem.  We also went to this camp to dedicate a monument to the memory of Abd al-Rahman Obeidallah, age 12, and Tamir Rice age 13 killed by Israeli and Cleveland authorities. Children and parents gathered for the event and particularly the parents of Abd al-Rahman were there. We are indebted to Playgrounds for Palestine for working to erect the monument and coordinating with leaders in Aida to make certain that the dedication was a success.  If you want to read more about Playgrounds for Palestine you can click this link.

I am thankful for the ministers who accompanied me on this trip, and I invite you to read their entries as they speak from their hearts and attempt to touch our souls.

Read About the Dedication in Aida

Rev. Dr. Lewis T. Tait, Jr., Pastor, The Village Church, Washington, DC

December 3, 2016

Today our delegation of pastors from the United States of America traveled to the Bedouins in Southern Hebron. We also traveled to Hebron and the old city of Hebron, where the Tomb of the Patriarchs (Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah – Rachel’s Tomb is near Bethlehem) is located. It was a intense day that did not end until approximately 10:20 pm after the lighting of the Christmas Tree in Bethlehem, meeting with Mayor Vera Baboun, the first female leader of Bethlehem, the Palestinian city believed to be the birthplace of Jesus. Then, our delegation had dinner with the mayor, along with council members. There is far too much for me to write about  from what I experienced today. So, let me write briefly about what shocked me, overwhelmed me and made me angry.

The Honorable Vera Baboun, Mayor of Bethlehem

Today, for the first time I understood what the “Jewish Settlements” and “Occupation by Israelis” mean to Palestinian life. As were entered the Bedouins in Southern Hebron, it took the bus driver awhile to find this living area, because the original name of the street had been removed by the Israeli government. So, this makes their home area very difficult to find and it devalues the Bedouins because there is no recognition that they exist at all. At this same location, “Jewish Settlements” have been built and there are a series of gates that separate “Jewish Settlements” from the Bedouins’ land. The “Jewish Settlements” have come about by the illegal confiscation of Palestinian land by the Israeli government. The people living in “Jewish Settlements” are protected by the Israeli military, they have subsidized housing, they have running water, they are able to freely travel and many other advantages unearned.

Against the squalor of a Bedouin village seen in the background are Zionist settler homes encroaching on the village.

The Palestinians don’t have the same rights as Israelis including those Israelis who are illegally living in the “Jewish Settlements.” The Palestinians don’t have the right to move freely in their own country, they are harassed by the Israeli military daily by detaining or picking them up for anything without cause or due process. This is a violation of human rights! This is not something I read about, but I saw with my own eyes today. There were three “settlers” (persons who live in Jewish Settlements), who were out doing some shopping in a public area in Hebron and there were at least 15-20 military soldiers with semi-automatic rifles guarding them. They would not let the Palestinians pass, nor would they let us pass. Then, they told the Palestinians in a unfriendly tone to go around another way. The Israeli military also, detained a photographer that was with our delegation without cause, I guess because he was taking pictures of them in order to record how Palestinians are being bullied and harassed by the military. This made feel as if I was living in an Apartheid state or living in the deep South in the United States when “Black Codes” and “Jim Crow” was the order the day, even racial profiling as it relates to “stop and frisk” laws as well. I felt humiliated and devalued as a person, but now I had a real sense of what the Palestinian people are going through on a daily basis.

A boy selling “Palestine” bracelets. He is earning a subsistence but also spreading a message. Palestine lives!

This injustice towards the Palestinian people at the hands of the Israeli government must stop and there has to be a two state solution that becomes a reality. There is no neutral position! The United States of America needs to take serious action to bring an end to the occupation of Palestine by the Israeli government. The Palestinians want to live in peace and they want to share the land by being a State that has all the rights and privileges that is afforded to Israel.

The Palestinian Christians are a remarkable people, who are determined to live for God in the face of being “occupied” and oppressed by Israel’s policies. They chose to love, as well as fight for their full liberation while recognizing the dignity and worth of the Jewish people, even while their value as humans is like that of African Americans in the not so distant past, 3/5th’s human (which is no human at all). I’m encouraged because of the courage and the tenacity of the Palestinian people to never give up!

Rev. Patricia Fears, Pastor, Fellowship Baptist Church, Washington, DC
December 4, 2016
Our delegate of pastors from America have been on a whirlwind “site survey”of occupied Palestine.
Today we went to Jericho where land mines and water shortages are a daily reality for the Palestinians in that territory . We made several stops on our journey but as it was yesterday we saw a tale of two cities.

First the incredible Hisham’s Palace restoration. The painstaking care and commitment to the restoration of Caliph Hisham bin Abd el-Malik 743 A.D. winter resort was joy to behold.  The pride and thorough understanding of this archeological prize was confide by our Palestinian guide as we walked among the vast 30x30m great bath with 38 colorful mosaic carpet. Then riding pass lust green row of date palms, wine grapes vines, banana and citrus tree we could discern the richness of the land.  But we also learned this was confiscated land by Zionists settlers. On the other hand the Palestinians rummaged through dry, stoned and debris filled land.  The water sources beneath the ground can not be accessed by these farmers without permits from the Israelis who choose not to grant them. They monitor by plane the occupied territory and demolish homes of any Palestinian trying to “illegally” provide water to their family. Over a 1000 people where living with limited  access to water for daily use. Each settler has daily access to the amount of water given to an Palestinian in a year. Let me say

The intricate mosaic consisting of million of tiny tiles make up the pattern found in these ruins.

that again, Each settler gets daily as much water as a Palestinian gets in a year! Essentially the water was taken taken by the settlers and now they charge the Palestinians three times the price to have access to their confiscated water. Just a reminder Jericho is in a desert range!

But that’s not the end of the story. Like  any good Christian we journeyed to the Jordon River. Minus the historical inaccuracy we made it to Jericho side of the river. Honestly it was hard to believe there was water in the area based on the barren land on each side of the road leading to the tourist entrance. The are was littered with ruins from what looked like churches. We soon learned we were passing through a 136 acre land mine. Many of us had to traverse figurative land mines to get to out point of baptism but this was a literal “for real” land mine.
These are all unacceptable and inhuman conditions for people to live in. Land grabbing and resource limitations is domination and destruction not theology. Truth has a name in this situation oppression, racism,injustice, I’ve seen truth!
Rev. Anthony E. Moore, Pastor, Carolina Baptist Church, Maryland

December 5, 2016

Allow me to say in the outset of this blog, that I have been offered on more than one occasion to travel to Israel to tour the Holy Land where a lot of what I preach about happened.  Even though I had been given these opportunities, I was never compelled or spirit lead to take the sponsors up on their offers.  However, when broached with the possibility of being given an opportunity to visit Palestine and see the narrative and plight of the Palestinians, I jumped at the opportunity without hesitation.

An architectural geometric design that probably stood over a doorway until dislodged by a major earthquake.

As a result of my being here on today, I had the unique privilege to travel to the City of Jericho which is 846ft below sea level and is located near the Jordan River in the West Bank.  Unlike other terrains I visited over the last 3 days, Jericho was full of the color green with many Palm Trees.  Once in Jericho, our first stop was to Hisham’s Palace, where it is believed that it was built by Caliph Hisham bin Abd el-Malik, in 724 AD, as a winter resort.  Shortly after being erected, the palace was destroyed by an earthquake.

I and the delegation of Pastors then traveled to the Mountain of Temptation by cable car to the cliff hanging monastery, the place where it is believed to be where Jesus was tempted by the devil during His 40 day fast.  I was fascinated by the ability of Jesus to be able to climb this steep mountain after having fasted for 40 days.  After reaching the monastery, it offered us a panoramic view of the City of Jericho.  Upon completing our tour of the Mount of Temptation, we then made our way to the Jordan River, the place of Christ’s Baptism.  We were met by a guide who informed us of the minefield that covers 136 acres that literally surrounds 7 church’s where Christ was baptized.

An Israeli sniper tower at one of the checkpoints.

Though I had taken in many wonderful spiritual and historical sites, I could not help but be stuck in my visit to the camp village where the Palestinians have been denied basic rights and resources. The Palestinians have been denied dignity and respect for the land that is being confiscated right before their very eyes of which they have ownership to.  I am stuck on how a people who call themselves God’s chosen people and yet, treat their fellow brothers and sisters with such disdain and lack of human rights.  I’m stuck on how the Israelis can’t name the name of God and yet violate one of the Ten Commandments and steal land by creating policies and agreements that give unto the Palestinians no opportunities to have their rights protected and to maintain rightful ownership of their property.  I’m stuck and blown away with how the Israelis have created a system using “occupation” and “settlement activity” to bulldoze the Palestinians and create a wall to keep them from moving freely with check points that have soldiers who are armed with assault weapons; a wall that is designed to cut them off from family, land, resources, and economics.  I am stuck on how Israelis soldiers can literally kill the children of the Palestinians without any form of justice – mass incarceration of the young males.

I’m stuck on how the United States could have an Israel supported agenda that violates the human rights of another group of people and children.  What is clear to me is that there is a system in place that is designed to oppress and obliterate the Palestinians of their dignity and ability to sustain themselves.  By definition, this is called Apartheid.  For those of you who questioned our analysis of this oppressive system, allow me to define Apartheid.  Apartheid is a policy that is developed to segregate and discriminate economically and politically oppressed a group of people.  The system/agreements has no accountability.  We know that what is currently going on with the Palestinians is against International Law; it’s against US Policy and yet all we do is continue to fund and support without holding the Israeli government accountable.  The United States has allowed lobbying groups to become powerful, creating an era where we turn away and refuse to acknowledge or see the wrong being perpetuated upon the Palestinians all at the expense of being politically correct while surviving politically.  Why can’t we be both Pro-Palestinians and Pro-Israelis?  Why can’t we as the United States put conditions on our alliances and hold countries accountable to not violate human rights?  Why can’t we condemn all forms of racism, whether religious or ethnic, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia?

We in the United States have to stop the principle of double standards and insist on the international resolutions regarding the Palestinians and the Israelis.  I employ us to see the need for the establishment of a sovereign new state allowing our Palestinian brothers and sisters to live with basic human rights, dignity and respect, water, freedom of movement, and economic access.

It is also obvious that our current strategy is not working.  It has only caused more pain and confusion.  Therefore, we must rise above our political agendas and dwell together in love, lest we all perish as fools all because of greed!  We must see the face of God in each one of God’s creatures and overcome the barriers of fear or race in order to establish a constructive dialogue and not remain within the cycle of never ending pain that aims to keep the situation as it is.  The voices of those of us who live in the United States should speak up to our lawmakers and demand a common vision for the Israelis and the Palestinians that’s built on equality and sharing; not on superiority or negation of the other, but that we are all created in God’s image.  We must fight for our Brother and Sisters.

 

Rev. Dr. Wanda Thompson, Pastor, Ambassador Baptist Church, Washington, DC

December 6, 2016

It’s unbelievable to me that here I am at the River Jordan, the Baptismal Site of Jesus. Not far away are mind fields and  signs describing danger and prohibitions. This trip of a lifetime has opened my eyes to so many things. Despite the negative images posted to the world about Palestinians – suggesting that most are terrorists — this is not the on-the-ground experience. Everywhere we have gone, the people have been friendly and they have been consistent in their messages of wanting justice and an end to the occupation they endure on a daily basis. Most just want justice first, peace and  the recognition of the state of Palestine.So there  are  “minefields”  when it comes to advocating for justice and equality for Palestinians. But injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.
Not being allowed freedom of movement or travel; denial of water accessibility; unwarranted detainment and incarceration of youth; illegal seizing of property; lack of employment and entrepreneurial opportunities; walls that separate Palestinians from their families, economic opportunities and from the Israelis that are oppressive and discriminatory, and so much more have been described to us everywhere we have gone. You see it in the haunting words and expressions of the children. There are armed Israeli soldiers and checkpoints everywhere. There are daily humiliations for Palestinians everywhere. Even with that, they maintain their dignity and sense of self-worth.

So, as I stand here where people are being baptized, I am reminded of the need for the

At the Jordan River looking over into the Country Jordan. This is an area that is setup for baptisms suggesting that it is the site of Jesus’ baptism. The area is dangerous because of mine fields.

renewing of our minds. It is the Palestinian Christians who maintain and celebrate all our holy sites. They are the keepers of the holy places. They do not deserve to be demeaned. Some may want to “explode” as I say this but this is one of the mine fields I describe. It is time for the message of the Palestinian people to get out – a desire for justice and peace and recognition of their State. The illegal occupation must end. The divisions of the forceful occupation and the denial of basic human rights must come to the world’s attention. We all need to learn to co-exist. Isn’t that the message of Jesus – to love one another as He loves us? I don’t have all the words I need to tell you about the human rights issues here. But I know what I have seen and heard. Everyone needs to come, experience, and see for themselves.

Rev. Dr. Raymond Bell, Founder and Pastor, Spirit of Love and Deliverance Church, Maryland

December 6, 2016

“Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.”
(Romans 10:1-3)

Paul writes to his brothers and sisters in Rome.  Paul is disturbed that his Jewish brothers are misdirected. So much so that he tells them that his deepest desire is for them to be saved.  Now that is a stunning statement to those who believe that they need no saving because they were chosen by God.  Paul gives three reasons for their blindness to salvation, 1.) One that their zeal is based on a lack of knowledge; 2) that they don’t know the righteousness of God and 3) they set out to make their own righteousness. And finally, their blindness causes them not to submit to the righteousness of God.

The word “righteousness” means justice.  Righteousness is “the character or quality of being right or just” according to Vine’s Expository Dictionary.  So when you read the text with the better understanding you discover fresh meaning. Reading and hearing these words in the context of Palestine I have come into a central discovery through my experiences this week.

Before I came here I had a very different understanding of Israel. I thought they were “the Chosen” and that they had a right to the land that was promised them in the Bible by God.  But this week I can testify that my understanding had flaws.  This week I can bear witness of some of the worst treatment of humanity I have ever seen.  It is with sadness I have to report what I have seen.

On day 1 we were greeted by two very beautiful Palestinian women at the airport who welcomed us to their country.  I was immediately thrown back.  At first I thought they were Israelis because they said “welcome to our Country.”  I thought I was in Israel.  I was, but these women identified themselves as the original people of the land and they did it with unassuming confidence.  At that point I knew I was about to experience something different than what I had expected.  They took us to Bethlehem where I thought I would see Jews.  But again the keepers of Bethlehem were not Jews but rather Palestinians. On the top of the roofs of every house were water tanks.  They are used to capture water because the Israelis control the amount per day each Palestinians gets.  One Palestinian told me that they relied on God for water.  However, I still did not fully understand the plight of these people until the next day.

The wall with graffiti depicting resistance to the wall and heralding those Palestinians who are heroes to the struggle.

Day 2, I began to witness the cruelty of the wall and settlers in the land of Jesus.  We first visited the Shepherd’s Field.  The Shepherd’s Field is the place where the shepherds first saw the North Star telling them that something grand had happened.  I discovered that the land was full of caves, hills and mountains.  I also discovered that this field was not far from Bethlehem.

Dr. Rifant Qassis, one of the framers of the Kairos Document, Palestine

We then went to the Kairos Palestine Center where we met Dr. Rifant Qassis who discussed the Kairos Document.  It is there we heard about a most unusual theology called the Theology of Hope.  It literary blew my mind.  It is a theology born out of the Palestinian experience of living in a land occupied by a foreign government that is hostile to their existence and yet called upon to love their neighbors.  Loving their neighbors is uncompromising.  But how do you live with someone who antagonizes you to hate them?  The answer is through faith, hope, and love.  But his idea of Hope intrigued me.  It is hope that leads one to co-exist with the expectation that things will change.  However, this expectation is not passive.  It requires one to engage in non-violent resistance.   The idea here is that hope comes with action.  And no love or faith is vibrant or valuable without action.

Later we went to The Separation Wall and refugee camp called Aida where we dedicated a monument to young boys unjustly killed by authorities in their reactive countries, Palestine and the United States.  The walls were most intimidating.  They stood there as a living testament of racism and paranoia at its highest level.  The walls are testimonies of guilt and cruelty projected on the vulnerable and frustrated.  The walls are used to remind the Palestinians of their non-existence as a person.   I was ashamed to be called a human being when I saw those walls and understood how they have disrupted the lives of people.

We met the Bedouins and heard their story.  I was totally amazed at seeing across the fence from the Bedouin village where settlers were living in nice warm heated and air conditioned homes.  The Bedouins however did not have heat or water to support their basic needs.  They were living on rocks and in tents.  And, they were afraid the Israelis were going to take their land.  When I asked why is the ground full of rocks they replied, “This is the way Palestine is. It is full of rocks, hills, and caves.”

Day three, we went to Hebron and were astonished at the living conditions of human beings.  We met the Mayor of Hebron and heard the same story we had been hearing throughout the week; that they were an oppressed people longing to be free and to control their own destiny.

Later we observed a Christmas tree lighting and show.  It was amazing.  We then met with the Mayor of Bethlehem and ate a banquet dinner as guest of the Prime Minister.  The Mayor was passionate about her freedom and discussed openly her hope that one day she can live in true freedom.

Day four, we went to Jericho and visited two museums, the Hisham Palace and the Monastery of the Temptation in Mountain as well the site where Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River.  It is here I realized that the people were consistent in their story.  No matter whom we met whether they were dignitaries or ordinary people the message was the same; we are frustrated but not discouraged because we believe in a God of justice.

Dr. Rayid al-Maliki, Minister of Foreign Affairs

Day five, we went to Ramallah and met with the Prime Minister of Palestine and Muslim and Christian clergy.  The Prime Minister as well as the Ambassador to the United Stated was gracious in meeting with us.  They again expressed their plight and hopes. The Prime Minister, Dr. Riyad Al Malik, was passionate about telling us about the degradation of his people and their existence.  He explained to us that Palestine is the only occupied land in the 21st century today. He drove the indignity of not be able to travel in your land without permission.  He emphasized the insanity of a sixteen year old Israeli soldier with a machine gun having power over a grown man in Palestine.  He explained to us that war is not viable.  His primary way of dealing with the issues was to go directly to the people of the USA.  He called upon us to help with the peace effort.  I acknowledged that we understood his plight.  We as African-Americans can spot racism when we see it and know discrimination when we feel it.  We appreciated the Prime Minister’s call for non-violent resistance to bring peace to the region.  And we explained to him that we understand his position because we have been there.

This led me to ask a final question: Which side are we going to take?  Are we going to stand with those who do not know the justice of God and seek to establish their own flawed justice, or do we stand with God’s Justice?  Do we stand for what is right or do we sit on the sidelines and watch people suffer?  We do not wish for any harm to come to the Israelis.  And yet we see injustice running astray. We call upon our brothers and sisters to save themselves and the humanity of others.  We call upon our brothers and sisters to act justly and not let fear and paranoia lead them to cruelty and distrust.  I know these are decade’s long problems but they can be solved.

I have been thoroughly convinced this week that something has to change and can change. I discovered that helping the oppressed is more honorable than helping the oppressor.  I also discovered that by helping the oppressed I am helping the oppressor.  I help the oppressor to become more lovable and trustworthy.  I help him to understand how his policies are hurting him more than his opponent because it costs a lot of money, time, and effort to be mean.  Salvation comes in not only freeing one from sin, but also it comes in freeing one from injustice.   As Paul heart desire is for Israel so is mine. I desire upon Israel to be saved, but I also I pray and desire for Palestine to be made whole.

Rev. Louise Green, Ministry Team, River Road UU Congregation, Bethesda, MD

December 7, 2016

For the sixth day we have heard the heartbreak of the Palestinian people.  We see the litany of restrictions, imposition of near total control on all aspects of daily life.  The astonishing differences in neighborhoods as soon as we pass through the dividing wall.  The two West Bank Palestinian guides from our trip who do not have permits to enter East Jerusalem, and so must stay behind.  The difficulty in coordination of access which keeps us from a planned visit to the Al Aqsa Mosque.  The pending Knesset legislation which would retroactively legalize hundreds of colonizing homes, in violation of international law and Israeli Supreme Court rulings.  Even an outrageous proposed law to ban the most sacred community call to prayer for Muslims as a noise violation!

An Elder posing with young girls. In Palestine there is an historical past, but will there be a future?

The brave Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb reminds us tonight that Jesus also faced Empire, one which dictated life and death as well.  Dr. Raheb’s theological work on the Bible through Palestinian eyes, development of an arts and culture university, and the cultivation of young Palestinian leaders, is all inspiration.  We are invited to further develop interfaith and cultural ties, nascent relationships for urgently needed organizing.

The challenge will be great.  There is ubiquitous anxiety about the next U.S. administration and no illusions about where support will lie.  A particular time is upon us, both in Palestine and the United States, when stakes are high and any proposed neutrality is to side with the oppressor.   A stark violation of dignity is clear to see in Palestine:  The miles and miles of ugly concrete partition walls.  Widespread withholding of basic right to water.  Constant violent apprehension of young boys and men.  Bold occupation of Palestinian personal homes and private land.  The countless restrictions on travel, commerce, family life and religion.

The Tomb of His Excellency Yasser Arafat

Now that we have heard, and understood, our highest human and religious values compel us to respond.  There is an unmistakable parallel to solidarity with movements in the U.S.:  Black Lives Matter; Standing Rock resistance; against increasingly anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim rhetoric and action.  I know to be Euro-American white is to benefit from multiple systems of white supremacy, at plain work in Israel, and on the rise in our own nation.  Therefore to work against this dominant culture is to stand firmly against injustice, wherever I witness it, and certainly so when directly told anguished stories of decades of suffering.

We have heard the heartbreak of the Palestinian people, yes, and witnessed so much more. Experienced the warm hospitality of many meals, as even the most impoverished offered coffee, tea, and bread to us as honored guests.  Heard the rich tradition of religious tolerance and inclusion expressed by all with whom we met.  Seen a stunningly beautiful museum created to honor the memory of great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Marveled at a new state-of-the-art Istishari Arab Hospital with dedicated staff creating a culture of excellence.  Had our hearts moved by the energy and talent of young people confined to refugee housing for their entire lives, and their parents’ lifetimes as well.

A large statue of Mandela holds his fists high over the city of Ramallah

The poetic theology of the Palestinian Kairos Document, powerful voice of many Christian peoples, is calling us to listen, pray, and act.  In addition, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said words in 1965 in Alabama that challenge us greatly today:  “We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience.”

In Israel and Palestine today, there cannot be peace without a fundamental reordering of life towards justice.  The current untenable situation here degrades Israelis and creates vast suffering for Palestinian people.  And in the United States, there cannot be true peace until systems cease which consistently value black and brown bodies less than white ones. The current untenable situation there stunts the moral understanding of white people, and inflicts widespread pain on people of color.

Neither society, and none of us, can live with clear conscience unless we are doing all we can do to bring change, in the urgency of these times.  And just as we pledge to “stay woke” in our home communities, we must stay awake to the increasing oppression of the Palestinian people.   Justice demands this vigilance.  Most importantly, so does our calling as clergy who would be faithful, followers of Jesus who challenged Empire long ago in this very land.

Our delegation posing for a group picture with the Mayor of Bethlehem, The Honorable Vera Baboun.
Our delegation and guides in the Church of The Nativity in Bethlehem. This is the traditional site of the Birth of Jesus. The PLO is engaged in a project of preserving religious sites like here in Bethlehem.
The Monastery of Temptation perched high in the hills overlooking Jericho. There is a cable car that takes you high above the oasis floor and it is necessary to climb steep paths to access the monastery.
A dome in the Monastery of Temptation. This certainly one of the most secluded spots on the planet.
This is a picture looking down into the Jordan Valley atop the peaks of the Monastery of Temptation.
This is a view from the Mount of Olives towards the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
Bishop Dr. Munib Younan, of The Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. The Bishop is a very strong and clear voice for the Palestinian Struggle. He is Palestinian himself.
The PLO Headquarters in Ramallah, Palestine

As we continue to share the information we have come to understand we also realize that there are a host of organizations doing powerful and positive things in Palestine.  One of those groups are Playgrounds for Palestine.  It is a group that is worthy of your support.
Playgrounds for Palestine

17 thoughts on “Notes on Palestine

  1. Reverend Hagler,
    Your account of your travels to Bethlehem are heart-wrenching and intelligent. I received a very clear picture of the ghettos and the people of Palestine. A few years ago, in my mind this would seem unfathomable. Hopefully you will make some inroads. I don’t blame the Israeli people as much as I blame the government. They have no conscience. I am sure that the Palestinians would be willing to live peacefully in an autonomous state with no retribution. The Israelis fear only what is due them(karma) but I think all the Palestinians want is to live in peace. It really sounds like a prison and I can see how just witnessing that could totally deflate your energy. God bless you again for your efforts. I truly sincerely mean that. Peace be with you, Kimberley

    1. I listened to the Roundtable discussion and it was very enlightening. I can really appreciate the efforts of the BDS and I can see where they are very viable. As I was listening I was thinking about how dormant this world has been in the wake of this tragedy in the Holy Land. Sixty years is a long time.
      As the tape went on there was more mention of the solidarity from trade unions in both South Africa and Brazil. That really caused me to smile . In my heart I was smiling. I know you are getting ready to head back today (Saturday). Have a safe trip and God bless you. You will be in my prayers until you arrive safely at home. I will see you in church on the last Sunday of January. Sincerely, Kimberley

  2. To watch you follow your heart to do God’s will for your life is itself inspirational. I am
    so proud of your ability to have this experience which I have only heard and read about.
    It appears to me that Palestinian desolation and oppression are reminiscent of U.S.
    slavery and subsequent tactics of justification for the inhumane regard and treatment
    of fellow humans who really are members of the one human family. May God help us to
    show the love we profess to possess and forgive our haughty arrogance toward others
    for whatever insignificant reasons we create. II Chronicles 7:14 deserves our immediate
    study and sincere application – every single one of us with no exceptions.
    May God bless you in the application of your new discoveries, Rev. Hagler.

  3. Rev. G, I look forward to your report back about your trip to Palestine; all the more reason we should pull back together our beloved Palestine Work Group, start meeting regularly again and have the solidarity with Palestine conference sometime in 2014.

    I look forward to all of us organizing a powerful, engaging, courageous conference.

    “For a zionist-free Palestine!” 🙂

    1. It’s amazing Rev. Hagler that they allowed you to film inside the mosque! I would like to hear more about it when we meet again. Peace, Kimberley

  4. I am really astounded at the brutality. Wow. I knew it was bad but this film really brings it home. How can this go on in modern society totally unchecked. Look at the institutions who are entrusted to protect us. Where are they? I don’t know any other
    country that exercises this kind of brutality daily during peacetime and its happening in the Holy Land. We have got to put pressure on our elected officials and Congress to do something. You heard the State of the Union address by our President of our undying loyalty towards Israel!!???!!

  5. Hola! I’ve been reading your site for a while now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from Houston Tx! Just wanted to tell you keep up the good work!

  6. Rev. Graylan. Thank you so much for teaching us humanity and standing by the right side, the Palestinians. I am motivated and inspired by what you write. Please keep up the great work.

    Best Regards,
    JD

  7. I am deeply saddened, as one of your Jewish neighbors that you do not accurately report the situation in Israel and the Palestinians Authority. First, Gaza is not under a total blockade. Goods and food come in from Israel, and Gazans are allowed to seek medical care in Israel. Second, the separation barrier (some wall, mostly fence) went up in response to the horrifying suicide attacks against Israeli civilians – more than 1100 were killed between 2000-2005, see http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Terrorism/victims.html.
    That you give a “yes but” justification to the rabbis massacred last November is nauseating. I can assure you that Al-Aqsa on the Temple Mount is usually open and only closed if there’s fear of a riot. You should also know that the Arab press issues “Al-Aqsa is in danger” stories when Jews go up to the Temple Mount, where they are not allowed to pray, BTW. Can you imagine what it feels like to not be able to pray in Bethlehem?

    Please, get your facts straight. Please be honest with your self too. You hate Jews. Even if some of your best friends are Jews, you still hate them. Anyone of faith who can excuse the killing of spiritual leaders of another faith hates members of that faith.

    1. Dear Kelly:
      I know the difficulty in seeing with open eyes particularly in a charged arena. People have been attacked for challenging Israel and its treatment of Palestnians. These tactics have thwarted open and productive discourse. I certainly remember when people were attacked for challenging South Africa. I pray that eyes will be opened and we might all recognize humanity and the need for justice. However justice is not found by denying that injustice exist. You assertion about my hatred does not warrant a response.

    2. Thanks for sharing your expression of pain. As the Irish say there is plenty of sky for plenty of birds. The complications of this area stagger the imagination and the kinds of efforts that this group has undertaken to go there on the ground is far more constructive than those on the sidelines and from a distance. There are so many contestations that I hope all of us can learn to listen to each other as we also work from facts and work to garner the most accurate and balanced truth that we can discern from this sea of bitterness, division, and hatred.

  8. Thank you! The truth about the suffering of the Palestinians will set us all free. With knowledge comes action. My love and respect to you for your enlightening work !

  9. Dear Pastor G.

    Thank you and your delegation for shedding light on this tremendous injustice of our brothers and sisters in Palestine. As I read your reflections, I was able to reflect on my time in Palestine/Israel. I have been twice and visited many of the places and met many of the people you visited. Til this day, I still feel the rawness of the pain I saw.
    Needless to say, given the new administration, our jobs will be even more challenging and complicated but we must continue to work for justice.

    It simply makes the work even more important. Once you see the situation it is hard not to be involved and pray that you all remain engaged. I believe that we of African descent could have a very credible voice on this issue.

    As E. Stanley Jones once said, ” We have to faith, faith out of the faithless, Hope, hope out of the hopeless and Love, love out of the loveless”

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