Travels to Palestine November 30 – December 7, 2016
December 4, 2014
by Rev. Patricia Fears, Pastor
Fellowship Baptist Church, Washington, DC
Our delegate of pastors from the United States 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 in our travels 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 Palace dated around 743 A.D. winter resort was joy to behold. The pride and thorough understanding of this archeological prize was confided by our Palestinian guide as we walked among the vast 30x30m great bath with 38 colorful mosaic carpets. Then riding pass lust green row of date palms, wine grapes vines, banana and citrus trees in the Jordan valley we understood why this region was an important and fixed destination from antiquity onward. And then we came to understand that much of the land was confiscated or under threat of being confiscated by Zionist settlers and Israeli forces. 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 mostly choose not to grant them the necessary permits. The land is monitored by plane and the demolition of homes is undertaken whenever any Palestinian is found trying to “illegally” provide water to their family. Over a 1000 people where living with limited access to water for daily use. Each Zionist settler has daily access to the amount of water given to a Palestinian in a year. Let me say that again, Each Zionist settler gets daily as much water as a Palestinian gets in a full year! Essentially the water was taken by the Zionist settlers and now they charge the Palestinians three times the price to have access to their diverted and controlled 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 Jordan River. Minus the historical inaccuracy we made it to the 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. There littered with ruins from what looked like churches, we soon learned we were passing through 136 acres land mines strewn land. Many of us had to traverse figurative land mines in order to get to out to the point of baptism but this was a literal “for real” land mine field. 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, and injustice! I now see the truth!
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.
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.
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 an 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 me 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.
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!
Keep following this blog as we journey through Palestine. New additions will be added throughout the journey.
December 2, 2016
Reverend Graylan S. Hagler
Ten clergy from Washington, DC, Maryland, Illinois and California traveled to Palestine and will be in the country from November 30 until December 7. The travels and conversations so far has been extremely productive and enlightening giving the ministers a first hand advantage of what the occupations looks and feels like. On different stops to see religious and cultural sites were went to the Shepherds Fields, where shepherds kept watch over their flocks and received the news of the birth of a savior. We then went to a meeting with the Higher Presidential Committee of Churches Affairs in Palestine and found ourselves on a unique tour of the Church of Nativity. It was welcomed and new news to find out that The Higher Presidential Committee of Churches Affairs of the Palestine Liberation Organization (the PLO) has been engaged in restoring historic church sites like the Church of the Nativity, the traditional site of the birth of Jesus. On a tour of the church we were able to witness the tremendous detail work that goes into restoring such a historic site that was built around 330 CE. On our tour of the site we went into work areas and saw frescos being restored and the detailed work underway to save and revitalize some of the most beautiful mosaic work that adorned the walls. I must admit that often I think of the PLO in its political work and today had an opportunity to witness its function in the maintenance of culture and religion.
We also went to meet with Rifant Oassis, who spoke eloquently on the Kairos Document – Palestine, that sets forth a theological framework for the work, perspective and attitude to achieve a just peace in the struggle for Palestinian liberation. I remember the work that was recorded in the Kairos Document, South Africa that became one of those theological perspectives and cornerstones that lent towards the liberation of South Africa and the defeat of apartheid. Israel being another apartheid state requires a probing and deliberate theological perspective in order to mend hearts and souls and create a holistic society(s).
We were received by Mr. Salah Ajami in the Aida refugee camp. The rains were coming down and the weather was chilly and we got considerably wet and cold walking through the Aida refugee camp. But we had a warm reception from the people and the organization working in the camp. We listened to renditions of hope and struggle professed by the young people in the camp, were witnesses to their talents as they played music for us, and we saw a shocking documentary about the killing of a young person in the camp at the hands of an Israeli snipers. We paused to view the mural that was painted at the spot where child was killed, and then we proceeded to dedicate a monument on a playground in honor and memory of that child, Abdurrahman Obeidallah, killed in the Aida Refugee Camp and Tamir Rice, killed in Cleveland, Ohio. Both were 12 years of age. It was before this monument and the parents of Abdurrahman that I declared that yes Black Lives Matter and in solidarity and relationship Palestinians Lives Matter as well. We are united in the cause of justice, liberation and freedom. We live for these children.
Cornel West and James Zogby engages an intense debate on Palestine being included in Democratic Party platform.
The spirit of Nelson Mandela goes to Palestine. The Free South Africa Movement becomes present in the apartheid State of Israel.
This is a interesting commentary that appears in Tikkun Magazine. A Jewish leader rethinks his position on Israel. A thoughtful piece that illustrates the evolution on this issue.
On Global African Bill Fletcher talks with Rev. Hagler about the Pope’s visit, Rev. Hagler’s disinvite from Rochester, New York and the situation in Burkina Faso.
An Article from the United Church of Christ News on Rev. Hagler’s Rochester speaking Engagement.
The article from Mondoweiss that reported on Rev. Hagler’s dis-invitation from Rochester.
Many thanks to Jewish Voice for Peace for their support in Rochester and across the country.
UCC Votes For Divestment, Boycott Of Companies That Profit From Occupation Of Palestinian Territories
Archbishop Desmond Tutu urges the United Church of Christ to pass its resolution to Boycott and Divest from supporting the occupation of Palestine.
A Dynamic Read from a Recent Black Youthful Delegation
Since I traveled to Palestine last January 2014 there have been a number of Black delegations going there to investigate for themselves. One of the Brothers with us last January has a dynamic blog and highlights one such delegation. February 25 marked a horrific anniversary in Hebron and that was a massacre carried our in the Mosque where Abraham is considered to be buried. Read the story by clicking here.
Since My Trip Last January 2014
Many things have happened in the public discourse, on the ground in Palestine/Israel and within the faith community. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is picking up steam. The Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to join in with the movement last Summer. The United Church of Christ has passed numerous resolutions and will vote on one in the Summer of 2015. We have had discussions in church. The war in Gaza broke out after escalating violence between Jewish settlers and Palestinians. One of the things that causes me grief is that our news on the issues of Palestine/Israel are always so biased towards Israel and leaves out tremendous historical references that the US population ends up being sympathetic towards Israel because of limited facts and faulty assertions by those who appear to be objective but are not. For example during the recent Gaza conflict the Netanyahu government kept making reference to “terror tunnels,” while conveniently leaving out the fact that there had been an absolute blockade of Gaza by sea, air and land carried out by Israel. This siege had been in effect for seven years, and the network of tunnels that were built up over time smuggled food, medicine, building supplies, and other necessities including weaponry, and therefore are considered by many to have been “survival tunnels.” The words that are used often hide the facts. For example, the recent brutal attack against worshippers and Rabbis in a synagogue in Jerusalem was very shocking and horrifying and the violence cannot be excused or justified; but there is a context where on October 30, 2014 Israel’s military barred worshippers from the second holiest site for Muslims, the “Dome of the Rock.” Jewish settlers are trying to worship on the site in an effort to seize all of Jerusalem including its holy sites. One provocation leads to another, and the cycle of violence continues to spiral out of control. You cannot condemn Palestinians without condemnation for Israeli leaders who relish in inflaming the situation because as they inflame it Israel can continue to be the aggressor and oppressor while playing the victim! Or another thing to think about is how can a Jewish, Christian or Muslim state ever be a democracy? By the very definition of being Jewish, Christian or Muslim it leaves out of the equation those people who may not be of those faith perspectives. We should be trying to nurture pluralism and not diminish it. Please be open minded as the media reports the so-called news; read between the lines; and ask yourself whether what is being presented stands up to reason and logic.
Reverend Hagler is in Palestine
Rev. Hagler is traveling in Palestine from January 3 until January 13, 2014. The mission of the journey is to learn more about the Palestinian struggle and to offer insights to the dynamics and nuances of the struggle that is going on there. The first day was spent in East Jerusalem (East Jerusalem is Palestinian and West is Israeli with the Israeli confiscating property in East Jerusalem) meeting with resistance organizations to the occupation. This page will share snippets of interviews and sights.
One of the things to get use to is the subtle methods of dispossession that is being experienced by Palestinians. It is done in such a way by the Israeli government that it appears on the surface to be done under the guise of the law. But the law is something difficult to overcome when legal protections apply to Israelis but not to Palestinians. For example, Israelis are allowed to produce an unverifiable claim on the land, and those claims are upheld in court and when that happens police and soldiers arrive to remove Palestinians from their homes and to give those homes to Israelis. There is no recourse available for Palestinians. One of the groups we visited with was a group that continues to produce films about the resistance to Israeli occupation and thuggery. One such film is “My Neighbourhood,” and shows the aggression of Israeli “settlers,” and the merciless dynamic that Palestinians endure. Click here to see the film.
Some of the producers of the film are pictured here:
The young man in the film is taller and older but he is working with his neighbors and family to preserve and protect his community. He is also a word artist and a video clip is below of him reciting outside of his home.
January 6, 2014 Was Orthodox Christmas Eve
It is pretty amazing to be in Bethlehem on Orthodox Christmas Eve. The town of Bethlehem was alive with anticipation and excitement. The Patriarch of the Orthodox church was due in town to begin the celebrations of Christmas. In this town known as the site of the birth of Christ there was no other place to be on such an auspicious occasion. But the first thing we were met coming from Jerusalem to Bethlehem was a “so-called” security gate that we had to pass through and the larger than life “so-called” security wall. The wall that surrounds Bethlehem reminds you of the wall surrounding a prison. There are sniper towers and at times barbed wire on top of the wall, and you quickly get the feeling that you are locked in a prison yard rather than in a scared place. The people in the “little town of Bethlehem” are in a open air prison by any definition. It is a prison imposed on them by the Israeli government limiting movement out of the town, and controlling resources like water, access to hospitals, and employment. Still there is a spirit of resistance to the wall of shame, the indignity that it causes, and the difficult life that it imposes. All along the wall there are signs of resistance, hope, challenge, and the will to over come this wall of shame and genocide. Below are some pictures, thoughts and slogans Palestinians and supporters have placed on the wall.
In the afternoon we went to the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem. There are houses there, so do not get the image in your minds of tents, but the area is tight and small, consisting of a series of alleyways and homes on top of one another. But the streets are alive with the sounds of children; the games of children; and the amazing resiliency that is captured by the spirit of children. Though we were in the refugee camp of Aida we went to a private home for lunch. In The house of Islam we found a collective of women working with special needs children, and demonstrating the hospitality of a people who really knows what hospitality should look and feel like. Over conversation and delicious food we were filled to continue seeing the camp and the many people and faces that wanted us to see and understand. It is truly shameful, sinful, and illegal what the Israeli government has wrought here. It reminded me of what I know of the Warsaw Ghettos in World War II, but the difference is that these are Palestinians and their oppressors are Israelis. How easy it seems to do to others what was done to you, yet there is no excuse or justification.
Orthodox Christmas Day – January 7, 2014
We traveled in and around Bethlehem, and more precisely to Beit Jala where the agricultural lands are being threatened because of the Separation Wall. As we drove we saw expansive terrace farms; farms on the hillside where olive trees and other kinds of fruit trees have been grown for centuries. I listened to stories of farmers who have had their lands confiscated or seriously limited by the construction of the wall which serves no real purpose but to separate farmers from their livelihoods and to frustrate the existence of families. From the Cremisan Valley we went to the adjacent town of Walajeh and met with Mr. Abu Nidal whose family had been farming in this area for as far back as he can remember and whose stories of presence on this land stretches back into the midst of time. However Mr. Nidal’s land was confiscated because of the Separation Wall and he is separated from his ancestral land. Not only is he separated from his ancestral lands, but the graves of his parents lie on the other side of the designation for the Separation Wall. In a rare compromise, but with little victory the Israeli Government as provided a small walking tunnel so that Mr. Nidal can visit from time to time his parents graves. When one listens to the callous ways in which land is taken and the kinds of exclusionary rules that Palestinians live under it is not too hard to understand that the small concession of a tunnel to visit graves can be revoked at any time. Mr. Nidal, though he is facing great difficult showed to us wonderful and warm hospitality by making lunch for us in his home. It was powerful to see such welcome and grace under such hostile pressure. See a story about Mr. Abu Nidal.
If anyone at this point who does not understand that the Separation Wall separates Palestinian from Israeli, Palestinians from their lands, and even Palestinians from their homes the idea of apartness is truly confirmed with White license plates for the Palestinians that restrict their movement in the country, and Yellow license plates for Israelis who can go anywhere that they choose. At age 16 all Palestinians are required to register for an identification cards and that card restricts accessibility and movement. Furthermore there are roads and by-pass roads for Israelis ONLY, and glaring signs that warn Israelis about going onto certain roads and neighborhoods at risk of danger to their lives. This red sign speaks to the world in prejudicial language that “Palestinians are dangerous” and therefore what the Israeli government wants you to believe that any oppression against Palestinians is justified.
That evening, tired and reflective I walked from the hotel to Manger Square to witness some of the remaining lights and sights of Orthodox Christmas.
January 9, 2014 We are now in Ramallah
In Ramallah we met with numbers of people and groups. One group was “Love in the Time of Apartheid.” This group is engaged in pointing out the discriminatory laws in Israel pertaining to marriage and couples being able to live together. Since the occupation is all about land and borders and the issues of marriage becomes a “cross-border” event and often couples are prevented from marrying because of the lost of residency cards or the family property being viewed as abandoned and therefore confiscated. You can read more about their activities by clicking here.
We also met with the BDS movement of Palestine. “BDS” means “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions.” It advocates putting economic pressure on Israel and the occupation by boycotting goods, services, and businesses that advances the sad legacy of occupation here in this Holy but defiled land. I have here a 20 minute discussion by the BDS movement in Palestine and you are invited to listen in. You can also learn more about the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) Movement by clicking here.
January 11, 2014 – African Refugee Rally in Tel Aviv
It was truly interesting to me to see so many African faces concentrated in the neighborhood of South Tel Aviv. When I was here last in 1974 there was not a Black face to be seen. Today this neighborhood is teeming with people from Eritrea, Sudan and Somalia. Each of these groups have come from war torn countries seeking asylum, but the Israeli government arrests and holds them trying to figure out what to do with the growing ranks. Since I have been here the Africans have been engaged in massive street demonstrations and marches decrying the conditions that they are facing in Israel. They have been on strike for the last seven days. As I arrived this morning I saw a Coptic priest making his rounds in Levinsky park to one gathered cluster after another. He prayed with the people and he preached to the people. It seems that the churches have joined in with the strike cancelling Christmas services in order to march, minister, and stand in solidarity with the people. There are upwards of 40,000 African refugees in this neighborhood facing the same plight as Palestinians of being brutalized and relegated to non-personhood by the Israeli government.
There are many things that I want to share with you, but I will not while I am still in this place. As I prepare to return home I am engaged in packing, praying, and as I journey home my heart and spirit will be with the people of Plymouth and Reston as you share in the Lord’s day. It has been an enlightening and also difficult trip. Things are not good in the Holy Land. There is tremendous suffering; great humiliation being meted out to Palestinians and Africans; and there are assaults being carried out officially and unofficially everyday. In the memory of Nelson Mandala we must work to end this apartheid and fascism.
The Mosque in Hebron
The Ibrahim Mosque or the Mosque of Abraham is a place in the village of Hebron where tradition says the Patriarch Abraham is buried along with Isaac. It is a beautiful mosque; very aesthetically pleasing. It is located just outside the old city’s marketplace. The town would be a lovely representation of the old world if it were not for abundant and menacing Israeli military presence. The serenity of the mosque also masks the horrifying history that now is part of this town and mosque. In 1994 a “Israeli” settler from one of the right-wing groups made his way into the mosque and killed 29 people and wounded over 100. (Click here for more information on the attack). As a consequence half of the mosque was converted into a synagogue and the presence of the military is to guard the so-called “settlers” who have moved deeply into Palestinian territory where “settlers” carry out attacks against Palestinians on almost a daily basis. I have prepared a short video tape that shows the inside of the mosque.
As Our delegation returns home and process the impact of the sights and sounds of being in Palestine the spirits of each who were a part of the delegation continue to evaluate what their eyes saw and hearts experienced. I can say that it was a talented group of individuals on our delegation that challenged each of us to see things with the expressions and gifts that members of the delegation possessed. One of these individuals who shared in the experience along with me was Jasiri X, a word artist who put his experiences to music and lyrics. I would like to share his newly released video with you.
Ferrari Sheppard was also on our delegation, and he is an incredible writer, deep thinker and is very perceptive in his understanding of the issues that people experience and feel. Brother Sheppard has shared an important piece on his experience in Palestine. You can read it by clicking here.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. led the delegation that I participated in to Palestine. He was interviewed on the Tavis Smiley Show.