Monday, August 2, 2010

More photos

David Eaton shared these incredible photos and videos:

and I'm putting more photos up on this Picasa site too. Some of these are Dianne's photos, some mine, some Larry's, some Suzanne's. We've got photos from the tour of villages destroyed during or after 1948, some of Angie and Mitri Raheb at the International Center of Bethlehem, and some various others.

Friday, July 9, 2010

AP's take on the Presbyterian statement

This article is interesting. It focuses on how the pro-Israeli groups feel about the Presbyterian report rather than addressing any of the findings of the report... It doesn't mention the unfulfilled intention of divesting from Caterpillar.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


It is hard to express how crushed and disheartened I am. I thought I went into this GA with low expectations, but I think I was wrong. I may have had low expectations in my head, but it seems that I had higher expectations in my heart.

On issue after issue, Committee 14, the committee that is dealing with Israel/Palestine issue is defeating resolutions that I approve. Yesterday they voted to denounce Caterpillar for their profit-making from the construction of specialized bulldozers used solely to demolish Palestinian homes, but after five years of fruitless negotiations with Caterpillar, they decided not to divest. In other word, we are saying, we seroiusly deplore the money you are making from the occupation, but keep giving us the money from our profits. In other words, we are not willing to make any financial or moral sacrifices. (Our denomination has about 140,000 shares in Caterpillar, for a total worth of around 10 million dollars.)

Today, they voted to significantly water down the Middle East Study Report. They voted to remove the entire third section, which is the section that has all the information about the facts on the ground. They voted not to approve the first section, which includes letters to various communities and a theological background, but to simply "receive" it. In other words, they somewhat eviscerated the report. What's worse, they did so unanimously. Apparently, part of the rationale was that they think the larger Assembly, when it votes on these issues, will not vote for the report -- it is too "controversial" in this view -- so they water it down ahead of time.
Don't get me started on the disturbing insight this experience has provided into the workings of our denomination.

Later, they voted to disapprove the motion calling the system in the Palestinian territories "apartheid." Several said they thought the term was too inflammatory. The lone African-American on the committee spoke twice in favor of the motion. Perhaps because of her experience as a woman of color, perhaps because she comes from Atlanta presbytery which has been strong on Israel-Palestine issues, perhaps for another reason -- in any case, she seemed to
"get it."

Based on these votes, I think I understand the trajectory of the committee. They won't take bold action, even when such action is called for. Frankly, I suspect the committee members are simply not able to "get it" through resolutions and brief discussions alone. The default position to compromise and support Israel seem to be too strong.

Part of what I am taking away from the GA so far, is that this is not the most important venue. The most important venue is through individual relationships and conversations and through personal experience in the region.

I forgot to mention that one of my colleagues from seminary, whom I know and remember well, is leading the opposition on every resolution I support. That is also hard to bear.


General Assembly

I don't know what has been more frustrating, the proceedings of the General Assembly's Middle East Committee or trying to get internet access here at the assembly. Although I brought my laptop here, I haven't been able to connect at either the Hyatt or the Hilton where I am staying. It has been a long time since I have been so frustrated trying to access the internet.

I missed some of the events that occurred here Friday evening and Saturday morning. Friday evening, former Speaker of the Israeli Knesset Avraham Burg spoke as did Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, who our trip visited a month ago. Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions spoke Saturday afternoon.

Saturday evening I sat through part of the elections of the new moderator, but as I was tired and the election lasted over four hours (and I did not have a vote), I did not stay for the whole thing.

On Sunday afternoon, after a wonderful worship service in the morning, the Middle East committee finally began its work. No sooner had they begun than a request from a commissioner was made to hear an opposing side to the Middle East Study Committee report that was to be presented. This request was out of order, but unfortunately the moderator did not recognize it as such. It also revealed from the very beginning that there would be some strong opposition on the committee to the resolutions I support. Eventually the committee decided to allow the Presbyterians for Middle East Peace to have 10 minutes to present a critique of the report, and then to let the Israel/Palestine Mission Network, of which I am a part, have a 10 minutes. This was a decent compromise, in my opinion, but really the whole process was out of order.

Earlier that morning, I have been to the breakfast sponsored by the Presbyterians for Middle East Peace. Three speakers critiqued the Middle East Study Committee's (MESC) report. I knew before going to the breakfast that I would not agree with the positions expressed at it, but I wanted to hear the other side's viewpoint. I was not surprised by what I heard. I don't agree with their critiques and their call for "balance" in a situation that is fundamentally unbalanced. They seemed to be saying "let's not be too critical of Israel because then they won't listen to us." One positive note about the breakfast, however, was that at least a quarter of the participants were from the Israel/Palestine Mission Network (IPMN), who like me, had come to hear the opposing side.

The IPMN is well organized and we are here in force. Indeed, it seems we outnumber the opposition. Sunday evening the IPMN hosted a dinner for the network at which 75 people showed up, the most that have ever been at a General Assembly. I have enjoyed meeting new people from the network and reconnecting with some older faces. It is good to know that we are not alone.

Due to the frustrating difficulties with internet access, I am behind on this blog, and have not yet brought it up to the present. Hopefully I can do that soon.


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

B'tselem in Nicholas Kristof's NY Times Editorial

Check out Nicholas Kristof's article on the occupation. He references a tour with B'tselem, an Israeli human rights organization that we met with:

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Craig's Sermon

On Fri, Jun 25, 2010 at 10:47 AM, Craig Hunter <> wrote:
Hi folks,

I am including my sermon in the text in this email, for those who were not able to open it. I am also attaching the two letters that concerning the PCUSA's Middle East Study Committee's report. If you know some ordained Presbyterian clergy who would be willing to sign the MESC defense letter, please let me know.

Our schedule for Saturday will be as follows: Start at 10 am with introductions (quickly), then move to a brief historical overview of the conflict. At about 11:15, I hope to show the movie "The Iron Wall." Then eat lunch. At about 1, invite the members of the trip to share their experiences with the peacemaking committee, and open it up for discussion, then strategize about what we want to do.


Here is the sermon:

Friends don't let friends drive drunk. I'm sure you've heard that expression before. If you are a friend to someone, you do what you can to prevent destructive behavior on their part. At the very least, you refrain from enabling them in their behavior -- you don't give them the keys.

Friends don't let friends drive drunk. The members of the recent trip to Israel/Palestine heard those exact words from two different individuals about a week apart. One was a Palestinian Christian pastor in Bethlehem, the other was an Israeli Jewish lawyer in Jerusalem. That same statement, spoken with conviction by two very different individuals in such a short time, made quite an impact.

I don't know if the two of them have ever met, but even if they have, I can virtually guarantee that they rarely see each other. For one thing, as a Palestinian resident of Bethlehem, Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb is separated from Jerusalem by what is known as the separation barrier. It surrounds Bethlehem, taking the form of a concrete wall 25 feet high. The wall takes a meandering path, separating farmers from their fields, enclosing Palestinian homes, including one we visited surrounded on three sides, and violating international law as it confiscates land all along its route. Although Jerusalem is on the other side of the wall, Rev. Raheb cannot cross without a special permit, which is rarely given. Indeed, it is easier for him to travel dozens of miles away and cross an international border to go to Jordan than to go to Jerusalem only a few miles away. Angie, a young Palestinian woman we met, was barred from entering Israel for five years because of her political persuasion. Imagine if residents of Denton were prevented from going south to Lewisville, Dallas, or Fort Worth, and had to travel to Oklahoma to get to the nearest airport. Not exactly the same thing, to be sure, but you get the idea.

Danny Seideman, the Israeli Jewish lawyer, on the other hand, has much greater freedom of movement. He can travel freely around Israel and even freely to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Jewish only communities built on land illegally confiscated from Palestinians. As he does so, he encounters no signs that say that he is entering occupied territory. Indeed, the borders of the occupied territories have been erased not only on Israeli maps but in the consciousness of most Israelis. They can travel on Jewish roads to Jewish towns without seeing a Palestinian or without knowing that they are on Palestinian land. The Israeli government has largely succeeded in rendering the occupation invisible in the minds of many Jews. Despite this greater freedom of movement, however, it is illegal for Danny to go to Bethlehem, and he can be arrested by Israel for doing so. By preventing Israeli citizens from visiting Bethlehem and other densely populated Palestinian towns, the Israeli government separates the two populations. This segregation makes it easier for one population to hate and fear the other, because after all, it is easier to hate and fear someone when you don't know them. That is the effect, and likely the intent, as well.

So although Danny and Mitri are only a few miles apart, in some ways they live in very different worlds. Yet when they both said, "Friends don't let friends drive drunk," they meant the same thing. They meant, first of all, that Israel is driving drunk. Israel as a nation is engaging in reckless, destructive behavior, flouting international law and endangering both its own people and others in the process. This is evident, first of all, in the West Bank. In violation of the Geneva Conventions, for decades now Israel has been confiscating Palestinian land to build Jewish-only settlements. They now number about half a million. As I mentioned before, they can go to their settlements on roads and are built especially for them. The water of the West Bank is also controlled by the Israelis and made available to Jews at both greater volume and cheaper rates than to the Palestinians who own the land. Israel's marriage laws discriminates against Palestinians.

And while on the one hand you have a Palestinian denied permission to expand his home above two stories, next door you have a recently built Jewish settlement eight stories tall. Because of these practices, and others, every group or individual working for peace or justice that we met, whether Israeli or Palestinian or international, Muslim or Jewish or Christian, thought apartheid was an appropriate term to describe Israeli governmental policy. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said that same thing, and I don't know about you, but I happen to think he knows something about apartheid.

Israel's drunk-driving is perhaps even more apparent in its treatment of Gaza. It imposed a blockade on the people of the Gaza Strip, tightening it considerably after Hamas was elected in a free and fair democratic election. Israel's violation of a ceasefire to assassinate Hamas leaders in November of 2008 soon led to a brief war, which I expect most of you remember. In the aftermath of that war, Israel refused all cooperation with a UN commission of inquiry, led by South African Jew Richard Goldstone. Goldstone accused both Hamas and Israel of war crimes, claiming that a culture of impunity has existed for too long in the Middle East. As Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied territories, noted regarding the report, "The sense emerges from the testimony of these Israeli soldiers, who were in no sense critical of Israel or even of the Gaza war as such, that Israeli policy emerged out of a combination of efforts to 'teach the people of Gaza a lesson for their support of Hamas' and to keep Israeli military casualties as close to zero as possible even if [this] meant massive death and destruction for innocent Palestinians." Perhaps that goes some way in explaining why the Goldstone report concluded that Israel deliberately destroyed wells, sewage treatment plants, and over 300 factories in actions that had no military value whatsoever.

Nowadays, isolated and cut off from the world by the blockade imposed by Israel and abetted by Egypt, Gaza has descended more deeply into the hell it was already in. While the Defense Minister of Israel Ehud Barak claims, "There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza," you have a situation in which 50 percent of the children there suffer from anemia and malnutrition, where 80 percent of the people live below the poverty line, where 65 percent of the adults are unemployed, where medical supplies have run out, where the sole power station has lost 60 percent of its capacity, where 90 percent of the potable water available is unfit for human consumption. The United Nations reports that the meager supplies Israel allows in is only a quarter of what is needed. Israel won't even allow paper in for textbooks. As Tom Neu, the director of the Carter Center in Israel/Palestine reported to us, nobody really works in Gaza -- the few jobs that are available are either political jobs or charity jobs. He referred to the situation there as "the warehousing of 1.5 million people" in what is essentially the world's largest prison. Last, but certainly not least, 56 percent of the inhabitants of Gaza are children. Remember that when you think about Gaza. To put it in other terms, one out of every four Gaza residents is a malnourished Palestinian child.

Finally, Israel's drunk-driving is most immediately apparent in its raid on the Free Gaza flotilla, which occurred a few days after we arrived. The people aboard the flotilla were not just any ragtag bunch of individuals -- they included past and present members of European governments, best-selling authors, and a Nobel Peace prize winner. Israel attacked the ships in international waters, killing nine Turks, including one Turkish-American, in the process. While Israel has released images of its soldiers under assault by Turks with clubs, it has not released images of its soldiers killing Turks, it has not explained why it was not prepared with crowd-control measures, and it hasn't explained why those killed were shot at close range. Israel claims the activists are terrorists, but it has produced no evidence to that effect. In any case, the attack on the ships in international waters is a clear violation of international law.

Of course, if Israel is driving drunk, its behavior is being enabled by friends who allow it to do so. And when I say friends, I mean us, the United States of America. For decades, Israel has violated international law while the United States vetoes any Security Council resolutions that would censure it. Our government funds the construction of the separation wall that wreaks environmental destruction while confiscating land for Jews only. As a nation, we provide more aid to Israel than we do to the entire continent of Africa. When President Obama tries to apply pressure to stop settlement expansion in the West Bank, the Israeli response is to announce the planned construction of more settlements just as Vice President Biden arrives for a visit. It was a slap in the face, and was intended as such. In the aftermath of the Gaza flotilla raid, the United States watered down stronger condemnations of Israel, saying simply that it "deeply regrets the loss of life resulting from the use of force during the Israeli military operations."

That makes it sound like it was an accident, not a crime. Some, such as our own Texas Senator John Cornyn have gone to even greater lengths to express support for Israel. He introduced a resolution to the Senate which blames the activists for the attack and expresses strong support for Israel's security needs and its blockade of Gaza. In Cornyn's world, it would seem, victims are aggressors, international law is subject to the whims of the powerful, and the systemic malnourishment of over a quarter million Palestinian children somehow enhances Israel's security.

Friends don't let friends drive drunk. These words, spoken separately by Danny Seideman and Mitri Raheb, go to the heart of the conflict. They provide a kind of handy analogy for understanding what is happening. Of course, the Palestinians have their own role to play, a role that has never been entirely blameless or powerless, but it has long been clear that Israel has a preponderance of power, and thus of responsibility.
Unfortunately, it doesn't look like Israel's drunk driving is likely to stop anytime soon, nor is our country's enabling behavior. I hope I am wrong.

But to tell the story of the political forces and policies is not to tell the whole story. It is to leave out the spiritual dimension, which as a pastor and as a Christian, I believe is absolutely critical. Thus far, what I have said is as suitable for an editorial as it is for a sermon. But I believe that in the midst of the political dimension, God is at work, and that God's work cannot be clearly seen without understanding the context.

I know the members of our trip saw God at work in different ways. I did too, but what sticks with me the most, what haunts me really, is the face of Maya, a young 22 year old Israeli Jewish girl. I can't seem to get her out of my mind, I've thought of her every day since she led our group on a three-hour tour through the settlements of Jerusalem. She works for the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, a Jewish group that seeks both to reframe the discourse on the conflict as well as to prevent the approximately 100 Palestinian homes Israel demolishes every year. During our tour, she showed us where Jewish settlements sat right next to Palestinian homes -- you could see where the Jews living in the settlements had nice sidewalks, garbage collection, bus service, while the Palestinians living next door were denied those same services. She pointed out that according to the figures of the Israeli government itself, 36 percent of Jerusalem residents are Palestinians, yet they receive only slightly more than 7 percent of budgetary spending. She took us to Ma'ale Adummim, a Jewish settlement adorned with swimming pools and manicured lawns with the water that is denied to Palestinians.

But what impacted me the most isn't what she showed us or told us, but her own story and the power that emanated from her. She grew up on a Jewish settlement herself, only she didn't know it because as I have mentioned before, there are no signs to that effect. Then, when she was a teenager, something happened. She calls it a cliche, but I think she sells herself short. Along with a number of other Israeli Jewish children, she met with a group of Palestinian children, and as she heard the stories of one of her new Palestinian acquaintances, the stories of what the occupation meant to Palestinians, the seeds of doubt were planted within her. She began to question -- here a question, there a question -- until she began to realize that much of what she had been told was a lie.

When it came time for her to join the army, as all but ultraorthodox are required to do in Israel, she refused. She didn't want to have any part of a brutal occupation. She became only the 13th woman in Israeli history to refuse military service. She was sent to prison. She lost many of her friends. Her refusal initially alienated her even from her parents, who had served in the army back their day. Finally, after four months in prison, she was declared mentally ill and released. Since then, she has been back in prison several times as a result of her participation in non-violent protests. When she gets a call about an imminent demolition of a Palestinian home, she rushes to the scene and sits in front of the tractor.

This young Israeli girl, 22 years old, she is crazy for doing this. She has lost job opportunities, scholarship opportunities. According to what Paul would call the 'wisdom of the world, she is throwing her life away'. According to many of her Israeli peers, she is aiding and abetting terrorists.
I called her a young Israeli girl, but she is not a girl, not at all, she is a woman. Indeed, she is more mature than I am, more mature than most people I've known who are two or three times her age.

Perhaps what haunts me most about her is her courage. She is not afraid of what other people think, she is not afraid of what the state will do to her. She is not willing to hurt others, but is willing to suffer on behalf of her convictions. And why? All because of a face, all because she looked into the face of her Palestinian counterpart and saw a fellow human being, all because she opened herself up to the pain of her enemy. I swear to God, I believe this 22 year old woman knows more than the Presidents and their cabinets, she knows more than the army commanders, she sees the political situation clearly, but more than that, she knows a power, a spiritual power, a holy power. "Mentally ill" indeed.

Every time I think of her, I think of our Biblical text from 1st Corinthians. "For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.' Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength."

You see, like Maya, we too have seen a face, and that has changed everything. In the crucified Christ, we see the face of God. Because of that, God invites us to become fools for Christ's sake, to open ourselves up to the pain and humanity of our enemies, to risk the opinions of friends and family and opportunities for career advancement because we share a dream that is often foreign to the world, a dream of peace and justice. God invites us, in other words, to join people like Maya in the ranks of what the powers that be consider to be the 'mentally ill.' Would that there were more people who were 'mentally ill' like her! Imagine what the world would look like, what Israel/Palestine would look like, what our church would look like, if there were more such 'mentally ill' people in it. To imagine that, to live into it, is to get a glimpse into the kingdom of God, it is to participate in its coming. And there is no higher calling than that.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Another account of West Bank travel

I discovered late in my stay that an old friend, Robert Zieger, was in the West Bank at the same time we were. His blog deals with his travels and his experiences teaching history in high schools around the world, but the most recent three or four posts deal with the Israel/Palestine.

He discusses protests of the separation barrier in Bi'lin in the West Bank; he delves into some history of the region, and reflects on his experience teaching about the conflict to students in the US and in Pakistan. It's worth a read!

I'm also linking it to our blog:

Thanks again for everyone's support and input!


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Tent of Nations

I may add some things on this awesome visit, but a journalist in the group wrote it up really nicely:

Check it out along with the Tent of Nations link I put yesterday!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Resistance and Reconciliation

I'm in my last full day in this land. I have spent time in Ramallah, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem, Be'er Sheva, and a little beach close to Gaza... Ashkalon, I think it's called.

Wednesday night with the Lutheran young adults up at Augusta Victoria on the Mount of Olives was a highlight. We played volleyball, ate, and chatted about everyone's backgrounds and projects.

Today I'm going to visit at least one of two organizations that I want to share with everyone.

I'm definitely going to Tent of Nations with a group led by Jeff Halper and Bob Hofstetter. I'm really excited to learn more about this project.

I may not get to visit Musalaha, but I really enjoyed the videos they have linked to their site like this one of kids in at a summer camp in Beit Sahour and the intro video that's on their home page.

I have heard compelling arguments from different organizations about what is the first priority in responding to the occupation: reconciliation, justice, a pragmatic viable solution? I definitely think that having groups listen to each other's narratives (as Musalaha emphasizes) is an enormously important step.


A quick report on Petra. All eight of us made it to Petra and back at least to Philadelphia. Our drivers from Shepperd's Tours were efficient. On the way to Petra we stopped at Mount Nebo. What a view, except it was pretty hazy. The Byzantine chapel would probably be beautiful - if it was not undergoing reconstruction.

Crossing the border - both at the Jordan River (northern) as we went into Jordan and at the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge on our return - was interesting. Our passports have many stamps and labels now. More little pieces of paper, too. I almost didn't make it back into Israel. I think because they didn't label one of my bags. Well that is the official line...

Petra is quite a place. Lots of walking, lots of uneven paths; but still very beautiful. Luckily for many of us there were various methods of transportation - horse, horse carriage, mule/donkey, and camel. Except for the camel, I use them all.
Some of us also went to Petra at night - that was something special. The stars were so clear. Even in the day I think the sky was the bluest I saw during this trip.

My photo is of the Monastery (a.k.a. al-Deir or ad-Dayr in Arabic), which is about an hour's climb north of Petra's city center and was probably a Nabatean temple. Brochure indicated "800" steps. I took a donkey/mule most of the way up and walked down in about 2 hours. I had many pleasant conversations including singing "Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom" with some people whose native language was not English. It really was an experience.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Update on Will

I'm still traveling; right now I'm with friends in Tel Aviv. My hosts have been very gracious in spite of their busy schedules, and I have gotten to swim in the ocean a few times. It was really nice to float and roll in the waves! This morning I will take a train to Haifa to see the Ba'Hai Temple.

I have had an exciting, fascinating few days. The guy I stayed with Saturday night, works as a web designer and coordinator for EAPPI, and I went with him to Ramallah this morning to attend the Quaker meeting there. We met with a group that was doing a similar trip to our own through the Friends (whom we had also met at a Women in Black gathering last Friday).

I have plans to join a small group to visit Tent of Nations in Bethlehem on Friday. I'm looking forward to that. I will be winging the next few days though.

I'd love to hear from the Petra contingent and the ones who are already back in the states!

Destroyed villages

I wanted to share an experience that we had a few days ago that was particularly haunting and troubling to me personally.

Last Friday morning we were led to three destroyed villages from the 1948 war and the precursors to it. Our tour guide was an Israeli woman who, after doing her military service and college, began to question certain gaps in the history that she had grown up hearing. She did a master's project that turned into a book about destroyed villages and the lack of historical markers and absence of public awareness in Israel about the history of the sites.

Lifta was the first village we visited. It is currently a favorite swimming hole/ nature spot, but it is also one of the few places you can see many of the buildings from a thriving Palestinian community that people had fled from during the War of Independence/Naqba (catastrophe).

Deir Yassin was the saddest and the most invisible among modern development of a psychiactric hospital, park, and residential buildings. It was a site of a village that had made a pact with the Jewish military force, the Haganah. However, Irgun, a right wing Zionist militia that was in competition with the Haganah, didn't respect the truce. They invaded the town without warning, received some resistance, lost some of their fighters, and as revenge committed a massacre of men, women, and children. The Red Cross confirmed that a massacre had occurred. The Haganah condemned it but used it in their propaganda to frighten Palestinians into fleeing. The events there were seen as a turning point in the war because so many Palestinians heard about what had happened at Deir Yassin and fled their homes and villages in fear that the same would be done to them.

I asked about the claim that Palestinians fled during 1948 not because of intimidation by Zionist fighters but rather because of the Arab nations' calls for people to flee temporarily and return after the war. She said this was true in a few cases, but a very small percentage. I know that research on this has been done on Israeli government records that became open after 30 years passed; I don't remember the names of articles or books -- Craig?

The last destroyed village we went to was En Karem, traditionally thought to be the place where Mary visited Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. Now it is a fashionable area with arts centers and upscale cafes and bars. I did not take good notes about this village's story. Would one of the other trip participants fill this in

In order to reach a place of humility and reconciliation, a community must know about its past -- the good and the bad that it has done. Primo Levi said of the Holocaust, "It happened. Therefore it can happen again." This applies to the massacre at Deir Yassin as well, and is a good reason to document and remember this incident.

Here are a couple highly recommended books on the subject. I have started reading the second one:

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Our separate ways

Last night after dinner, Craig led us in a beautiful concluding worship service in the basement of our hotel in the heart of the old city of Jerusalem. We were struck that Christians have been worshiping here for nearly two thousand years, often in underground settings like the one we were in. The scriptures were especially relevant and powerful after where we have been and what we have seen: Jeremiah 14: 19-22 and 1 Corinthians 1:18-31. I recommend looking those up in a physical or electronic bible.

Now Craig should be on one or another connecting flight between here and DFW. The Eatons are on their way to Austin. Larry and the Esponozas will be leaving tonight. Kay, Barbara, Bar, Phillis, Ron, Dianne, Suzanne, and Marian are on a bus to Petra, Jordan. I will do a little backpacking in Israel and the West Bank for the next week and visit friends here.

We have learned so much and heard from so many brave, hopeful, intelligent people. We have a lot to bring back to the US, to our friends and congregations, to the Presbyterian General Assembly, and to our representatives in the US government.

Blogging will be a little more complex now that I am going to be traveling on the cheap; however, I hope that others and I will continue to post about things that we saw during the past two weeks and our new experiences as well.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Visit to Sabeel

From the "Swiss cheese" designs of a walled-in country, we visited an organization on Wednesday called "Sabeel." The executive with whom we spoke was Nura. For seventeen years she has been working with the Sabeel organization. Sabeel is an Arabic word meaning "the way" or "a spring of life-giving water." Before people were called Christian, they were known as people of the "Way." Nura spoke of Palestinians as being the first Christians, reminding us that Jesus had been a Palestinian Jew.

Sabeel seeks to promote international awareness of the concerns of Palestinian Christians and their brothers and sisters. The Sabeel organization is an ecumenical, grass-roots, theological movement among Palestinian Christians. Nura stated that the goal is to live out belief in Christ and help others to be firm, loyal Christians who serve as witnesses and followers of the risen Jesus Christ by embracing the message of love in a land of conflicts.

She asked the question "What does God want?" and "What does God want for this part of the world?" This organization serves as a refuge for people who want to question God's purpose. Answering, she tells people, "We, Palestinians and Jews, are not excluded from God's purpose." Sabeel practices a theology of compassion in which it hopes to one day see a wrong rectified, but not with another wrong. In the case of Palestinians, international law is not being followed.

Sabeel offers programs/ministries for youth, the clergy, women and couples, reminding us that less than 2 percent of Palestinians are Christians. The organization has a large international, ecumenical following in the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia. Since 1996, there have been over 32 regional conferences in the United States. There is much to be done in trying to give hope by providing day camps for youths, breaking down social barriers, promoting volunteerism, and developing leadership, etc. Projects and activities take place in the Galilee, Nazareth, and Jerusalem. From July 21st to August 1st 2010, they will be sponsoring an international youth conference (the 5th one).

Finally, Nura, born a Palestinian in Jerusalem, has an Israeli identity card. She was a refugee in Jordan and she holds a Jordanian passport. She also holds a travel document which is renewable every three years. Somewhere in this process, one should be able to see that a violation of human rights is something that Palestinians encounter every day. There is great need for organizations such as the ones we have visited to be able to bear witness to events occurring in every day life. We have a duty to speak truth about what we see.

Dianne Randolph

Some Thoughts About Our Trip from Harriet and Rick

We feel fortunate and blessed to be seeing so many places from the Bible and quite a few churches.
We have heard from many people working for Peace here. We have driven and walked thru check points. We have seen very young military men and women carrying large weapons without pointing them down.
The Iron Wall, Aparthied Wall, Barrior,Separation Wall is an "abomination", no matter what you call it. On the Palestinian side there are many messages painted about the USA. For example:
"Made in the USA" This wall was built by our tax dollars. There was a poster of a Muslim woman walking by the wall and it said, "Mayan walks 2 times a week 5 kilometers to get to the clinic across the street." Many streets have been cut short by the "Wall".
There is no "settlement freeze" , we saw cranes in use on Maaleh Haceitim in East Jerusalem.

Another wall Message:
No God
No Peace
Know God
Know Peace

Peace, Harriet and Rick

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Human rights, Interfaith dialogue, and the Wall

First off, if you're on Facebook, there are some good photos of the trip so far. Larry and Suzanne have posted quite a few photos, and I have one of the albums linked to my page. We'll try to get them up elsewhere for those of you abstaining from FB.

Today was full. We entered and passed on foot through the checkpoint on the way between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Our experience as American tourists was nothing compared with what Palestinian workers have to go through every morning at the wee hours to make it through to their jobs or that people seeking medical care go through. But it was slightly more real than our usual wave through on the tour van.

We toured the wall and saw the bizarre twists it makes all the way around peoples' homes and the traditional site of Rachel's Tomb. We met a woman whose house had been occupied by soldiers... I believe it was during the beginning of the second Intifada and the siege on the Nativity Church in 2002 (Operation Defensive Shield as it is also known). Her whole family was very shaken, and now having the wall immediately bordering two sides of her house doesn't help either. Below you can see her house and the separation wall. The neighborhood had previously been well-to-do and had a lot of businesses that are now destroyed or untenable because of the placement of the wall.

We went back through the checkpoint, and attended a presentation by the Israeli human rights watchdog group B'tselem. Their integrity, professionalism, and commitment were truly inspiring. In contrast to Danny Seideman yesterday who only wanted to talk about the solution and not about human rights, B'tselem only talks about human rights, and does not involve itself in speculating on one- or two-state solutions or anything like that. They just research, fact-check, and publish. I highly recommend checking out their reports and videos that can be found on their website.

We also met with Sabeel, an ecumenical Christian Palestinian organization committed to promoting liberation theology across denominations and religions. I know that Dianne is also planning to post about the meetings and events from today, but I wanted to throw out a few links and impressions before going to bed.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom
Shalom, Peace, Salaam
Salaam, Shalom, Peace
and justice
and a hope-filled future for all the inhabitants of this land

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Via Dolorosa and enlightening interview

For our biblical visit today, we visited the Via Dolorosa and entered the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It was crowded and touristy, but there was beauty in the traditions and the stones that moved some of us. Others were mainly turned off by the noise, rush, and ornamentation.

We also listened and asked questions of Danny Seideman, an American-born, Jewish, Israeli attorney who is an influential expert on the politics of Jerusalem. Overall we were very impressed with his pragmatic, approach and his vast knowledge of East Jerusalem. I want to compare notes and return with a summary of his points... so that will be a later post.

I do want to share this interview in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz with former Knesset member and Jewish Israeli peace activist, Uri Avnery. His comments on Netanyahu's handling of the raid on the aide boats last week are enlightening. I also take heart from his statement of hope for the future of the Israeli peace movement. Disclaimer: I am relatively new to these issues. I am sharing this article and one the other day as a novice. If there is something terribly problematic about any of the articles I'm sharing, please let me know.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Worship Service to End the Siege

Craig, Larry, and I went to the service I mentioned last night. Sabeel organized priests and laypeople from a variety of Catholic, Orthodox, and Lutheran congregations to collaborate in a beautiful, moving service. Prayers in Arabic, Armenian, English, French, Swedish, Italian, Czech (maybe) were offered up for a lifting of the siege. The unity in diversity and the sense of spiritual calling for justice were deeply moving.

We also met with Tom Neu of the Carter Center here in Jerusalem today. Here is a link to a description of some of what the Carter Center does here. Dr. Neu really helped illustrate that lifting the siege on Gaza should be a priority for Israel and for the United States. The use of the Gaza strip as a large prison is putting unsustainable pressure on Gazans. He goes there regularly and reports that Gazans want to work, but unemployment is so high, that a generation is coming up that is losing any familiarity with normal self-sustaining work. We as US citizens are subsidizing the wall, the blockade, and every action that Israel takes. We have the bargaining chips to help convince Israel to make just, responsible decisions to remove the siege, freeze settlements (including those on the drawing board) and stop house demolitions.

Those moves are not popular here or in the US right now. I don't pretend to understand how to convince people in any country that providing justice, freedom, and voice for their oppressed and disenfranchised populations will promote security. It's a hard sell to any powerful people to risk providing justice for the powerless of its number.

It brings to mind problems in the US. We have a long way to go in realizing our obligations and debts to immigrants, regardless of their documentation. In our war efforts, we are mainly silent as some of our military actions create enemies and hurt our security and our moral standing (the drone attacks in Pakistan seem to be the most apparent breach of international law at the moment).

I am very motivated to engage our legislators and executive on these issues when I get back to the states. If you want to get a head start on me, by all means go ahead! If you disagree with something I have said or want to add something, please do as well.

A quick disclaimer: My postings only represent my thoughts, not the other members of the trip. We will do some reflections and planning for how we may respond to what we have learned and seen. Then we will have something that can represent all of us. I expect we will come to consensus and share our plans on this Blog.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Fasting and Prayer for Gaza

At the Lutheran church service where we worshipped this morning, the pastors invited us to participate in a day of fasting and prayer for Gaza tomorrow here in Jerusalem. We probably will not fast while traveling, but we will continue to pray for this situation. Israel's current collective punishment program for Gaza is unjust and wrong. Some of us will attend a service for this cause Monday evening.

From the Friends of Sabeel website:
"This week is the World Week of Prayer for Palestine Israel. In a time when solidarity and action are met by such extreme violence, prayer is especially important. May our prayers throughout the week prevent our frustrations from turning to bitterness, encourage us to love our enemies, and remind us of the hope found in Christ.

Sabeel invites you to participate in a day of prayer and fasting in solidarity with the people of Gaza and the passengers of the flotilla. The day long fast will be held Monday, June 7. That evening, Sabeel and other Jerusalem organizations are hosting a prayer service. The litany for that service will be distributed in the next few days so that individuals and churches around the globe can join in prayerful action."

I also ran across another project organized by Ta'anit Tzedek, a Jewish fast for Gaza. They have fasting days scheduled next week, and there are some insightful comments on their site.

I have no reason to think that the Bethlehem Peace Center is associated with these fasts, but I wanted to share the photograph of that building, and this seemed like an appropriate place to do it.

In Jerusalem

We arrived in Jerusalem yesterday after a long journey from the north, stopping at several places along the way. We began the day at the Mount of Beatitudes, with its small church, beautiful garden, and magnificent vista over the Sea of Galilee. It is one of my favorite spots in the entire country --- blessings do indeed seem rich in that place, so I can understand how Jesus lavished them upon the poor, mourning, meek, etc.

We also stopped at Beit Shean, mentioned in the Old Testament in several places, and one of the largest archeological sites in the country. Some of us were regaled by Dianne Randolph quoting from Macbeth at the center of the large Roman theater.

We began today with English worship at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. I enjoyed the worship, and especially meeting the people during the coffee hour afterwards. That service is rather a hub for foreign Christians who work with various NGOs, and although there was no one there that I knew personally, I was quickly able to make connections, and our group will be meeting with some of them tomorrow.

Sabeel, a Palestinian Christian ecumenical organization that has relations with all the historic churches of the Holy Land, is sponsoring a special worship service tomorrow to bring attention to the people in Gaza suffering from the blockade. Some of us plan to attend. I am looking forward to it.

We spend tomorrow on the Mount of Olives. In the morning we will meet a few people there and hear about their work, and in the afternoon we will walk down it, stopping at the various churches along the way.

Jerusalem is probably my favorite city in the world. It is a maze of winding paths, stories upon stories, diverse people from around the world rubbing shoulders with each other. In addition, having been here so many times, the streets and shops begin to acquire their own associations for me. I have spent some good times here, and I pray that this time will be one of them.

Peace, Shalom, Salaam,

Where have we been? What have we done?

We have visited quite a few places, and several of us are keeping good journals that will help put everything in a nice chronological order. I have been more lax on that, so they are a little jumbled here, but I thought I'd mention some memorable sites that we haven't blogged about yet.

Nazareth was a beautiful city; it is in Israel's borders, but the population is almost entirely Palestinian Christians and Muslims. We visited Mary's Well and the Greek Orthodox Church of the Enunciation that is there, and we visited Mary's house and the Catholic Church of the Enunciation there. Both were beautiful. The Catholic Church of the Enunciation has beautiful, large paintings and mosaics from all around the world. I will post some images soon.

We visited Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee and saw some impressive Roman and Crusader ruins there. Here's a photo at that site:

We went on a boat ride in the Sea of Galilee and took communion there on the boat. A wave came across the side of the boat and splashed us in the middle of it, which felt really appropriate and kind of baptismal. Others have shared personal reflections on that experience, and I hope they will write about them here. (No pressure, Harriet, Rick, or Bar!)

Here is the boat:

Jericho is a familiar city from the Bible, right? Well, it was one of my favorites. We spent some time in the modern city, which is in the West Bank. Surrounded by desert, Jericho is very hot and not very touristy. Larry and I walked around and found a discarded school primer in Arabic. I can recognize the maps in it, but that is all. I have held onto it to share with friends who are studying Arabic in Austin (That's you, Christina). Larry and I wandered into an empty sandwich shop and had a limited but pleasant conversation with the 19-year-old kid running the shop. His grandfather had immigrated from Nigeria, but Jericho is the only home he has known. Unfortunately, he doesn't use e-mail, so it's unlikely that we have a new pen pal, but the short time we spent there was very pleasant.

We also went to the ruins of Jericho, but the results of excavation were never published, so there was not a lot to see except for deep holes and stratification of a variety of walls.

We made a quick stop by the River Jordan, although the traditional site where John was supposed to have baptized Jesus is on the other side in modern Jordan.

I've missed some things, but hopefully others will supplement and bring us up to the present. I will say that we're currently in Jerusalem staying at the Lutheran Guesthouse in the old city in the Christian Quarter.

Friday, June 4, 2010

More photos

In Hebron at the entrance of the Mosque of the tombs of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac.

Rabbi for human rights

This is an exciting interview and a hope-inspiring movement, however small it may be right now. Unfortunately, I don't expect that we will meet with this inspirational man.

Photos with organizations in Bethlehem

At Dar al Kalima Health and Wellness Center on Tuesday in Bethlehem. This organization provides activities and services of hope to people in Bethlehem.

Students at Dar al Kalima School.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Here is a photo of most of us in a Roman theater in Caesaria on the Mediterranean cost.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


We visited some really incredible organizations today. Barbara has already posted about the great Dar Al-Kalima School and Health and Wellness Center:

We then listened to a presentation by a young man who works for Badeel, the main research organization that focuses on the rights and plight of Palestinian refugees. Check out this site!

We then heard from Wi'am Peace and Resolution Center director Mr. Zoughbi Zoughbi. Wi'am means compassionate understanding in Arabic; he also related it to the Greek word Agape. The towering presence of the separation wall (about half a block from Wi'am's office) from the organization's rooftop is intimidating and depressing, but his accounts of peaceful resolutions among neighbors, family members, and his role in promoting the Palestinian cause internationally was inspirational.

Barbara has blogged a little bit about Hebron and the Dheisheh refugee camp. I want to share some impressions and some stories that our guide shared with us, but I want to do them justice in a separate posting. Here is the UN Relief Work Administration website about Dheisheh: and this website looks like an interesting outreach within the camp:

I titled this blog "Hope" because that was the sensation that many of us commented on as we reflected this evening. The organizations we are meeting help provide hope to people here, and they give us hope for peaceful, just resolution for indigenous residents in this land.

More soon.

Thursday - Last day in Bethlehem

A full full last day today in Bethlehem - our morning was spent in visits to a wonderful school, a wellness center, a human rights group, and a peace center. The school is Muslim/Christian K-12 and serves around 300. We observed happy friendly children in their classrooms and met some of the teachers. And I was so impressed with this school's emphasis in promoting peace among the students and their families. The wellness center offers psychotherapy, nutrition counseling and family support groups. Our last visit to a peace center included a wonderful lunch and a visit to their store where the local women's arts and crafts are sold......such beautifully embroidered pillow covers, purses, scarves and stoles to choose from!

We drove about 25 kilometers to Hebron after lunch. This is considered a "hot" place....even my Lonely Planet guidebook suggested caution if you visit here. Extremist Jewish settlers came in to this city which is in Palestinian territory and drove local families from their homes in the heart of the old city. Now Hebron can easily erupt in rioting and demonstrating. So Israeli soldiers now have a presence with their loaded rifles. Hebron is the location of The Tomb of the an ancient ancient mosque with the tombs of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Jacob. We walked through an Israeli checkpoint to go inside, take off our shoes, and then put on (we women) the hooded cloaks that were provided. This was even though we brought head scarves for covering ourselves. This mosque is really indescribable....will try to include pictures in my next blog.

Our afternoon ended with an hour visit to a Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of Bethlehem. The restrictions under which these uprooted displaced people live is so very sad.
Their representative told us the history of this camp and some of its individual stories. There has been violence and fighting and killing here through the years, including attacks by Israeli tanks.

Tomorrow will be a travel day.....we leave Bethlehem and the West Bank of Palestine and drive northwest to Caesarea - then over into the Galilee, where we'll be spending 2 nights. We'll be visiting Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Masada, Qumran, and the Dead Sea

I had read a little bit about Masada, but the visit was spectacular both for the questionable ancient history and for the way its been used in modern Israel.  The Jewish historian Josephus, recorded the story of the Roman siege of a group Jewish zealots known as the sicarii here, which he dates at 72 AD.  The story is that when the zealots realized that they were doomed to be enslaved, they killed their wives and children and drew lots to decide who would kill the others and who would have to kill himself (a major taboo in Jewish law).

Yigael Yadin, archeologist and Lieutenant General of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), claimed that excavations reinforced Josephus Flavius's account, and it has been used to promote nationalism and unity in Israel, especially among young IDF soldiers.

The doubts about the modern archeologists' findings and the ancient account are really compelling.  Check them out:

We'll post some photos from today's visit to Masada, Qumran, and the Dead Sea -- especially the photos of some of us covered in mud!   They probably won't go on-line until tomorrow evening.

Tomorrow we will stay in the Bethlehem area -- (copying from our itinerary) We'll visit the Dar al-Kalima Model School and its Health and Wellness Center.  These places promote healthy development of the local community, Christians and Muslims alike, to take their place in the Palestinian future.  We will visit the Badil center, an organization that advocates for Palestinian refugees.  We will also meet with the director of the Wi'am Center for Conflict Resolution and Peace and visit the Deheishe Refugee Camp.  More tomorrow!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Video of Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb

The school has youtube and facebook blocked because it views them as distractions to the students, so I can't see this video, but if Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb speaks as half as compellingly as he did with us today, I expect it will be of interest:

The caption indicates an expectation that people (Americans?) don't realize that some Palestinian Arabs are Christian. Sad and strange.

I have a lot of notes from our conversation. I'll make sure I'm not overlapping with other bloggers before sharing.

Monday May 31, 2010 - Bethlehem

Today we had a tour of the International Center of Bethlehem where we have been staying. It is quite amazing the things they do and the spirit of hope in a place that many might not seem to have hope. We visted with the Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb who is the Pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem and head of the International Center.

Next we had lunch just off Manger Square - then to the Church of the Nativity. There were no lines, so we could move quickly through the church. The place that is honored as the location of Jesus's birth was awe-inspiring. We also went to St. Catherine's Church and the location of where St. Jerome was buried (until he was made a saint.) St Jerome is the Patron Saint of Librarians, so that had special significance. We also went to the Milk Grotto where Mary and Joseph stopped to feed their baby as they fled to Egypt.

We had time for shopping and meandering around Manger Square before we were to visit our next desination; however, the situation with the boat at Gaza has postponed this visit.

Tomorrow - the Dead Sea.

Photos from Israel

To see photos from our trip

Today in Bethlehem

A busy busy day, full of hopeful tours, historic sites as well as disturbing news. Our day began with a tour around the Lutheran center here in Bethlehem, where we have been staying. Many helpful, hopeful resources are offered here for the people of Palestine. Dr. Mitri Raheb spoke to us at length about their programs and their hope for the future. They understand the need to fight the depression that is so prevalent here among these refugees and offer hope, which they are doing through various kinds of education.

Our group then strolled down winding narrow streets to Manger Square, where we ate a wonderful lunch at Afteem's. Hummus, felafel, masabacha and fatteh (soupy hummus with submerged pieces of pita and toasted pine nuts) yum! We then visited the Church of the Nativity and the Milk Grotto Shrine.

We heard the very disturbing news about the Gaza attack as it developed during the day. Tonight, the latest we have heard is that 19 are dead on the peacemaking flotilla and that some nations are already recalling their Israeli ambassadors. There may be a general strike here in the near future - but as of now we look forward to our trip tomorrow to Masada, Qumran and
a swim in the Dead Sea. Temperature forecast is at least 100.

Worship and Bethlehem Tourism

Impressions:Bright sunlight of a more luminescent quality than found in Denton
The Muslim call to prayer waking me up at 4 a.m. in the morning
Fresh cherries sold on the streets

Yesterday we worshipped at the Christmas Lutheran church with a German women's group, an American student group from Wisconsin, a Japanese group from Hiroshima, and of course the local Palestinian Lutherans. It certainly made for an international service, with four different languages spoken at some point during the service.

I was sitting in my pew, when I looked across at the pew on the other side, and lo and behold, who did I see there but Andreas. Andreas was a German coworker and roommate when I lived in Palestine, and he had just moved back to Bethlehem a few months ago to start working at the International Center of Bethlehem again after an absence of many years. I invited him to join the rest of our group as we went to one of my old familiar lunch haunts, where most of us had felafel, hummus, and/or schwarma (like gyros), more cheaply than we will likely find any other place on the trip.

Andreas trains the Palestinian tour guides and knows more about the situation than most people I know, even Palestinians. Andreas said the unemployment here in Bethlehem is over 50 percent. He also said the situation with tourism had become worse. Even when I lived here, most tourists to Bethlehem visited Bethlehem only to visit the Church of the Nativity, spending a little money in Palestinian tourist shops before returning to Israel. Now, according to Andreas, Israeli tourist groups made deals with Palestinian tour groups by which the tour guides would lead their groups only to certain tourist shops. While this benefits those few souvenir shops, the majority are left out of the financial equation. Furthermore, as a price of the deal, the Palestinian tour guides in Bethlehem are forbidden from saying anything about the occupation or the political situation. This prevents even those foreign tourists who come here from learning the story of what is really going on here.

According to Israeli law, it is illegal for Israelis to come to Palestinian areas in the West Bank such as Bethlehem. This means that our group has had more firsthand exposure to the reality of life here in Bethlehem than most Israelis will have in their lives. The Israeli government claims the reason for this law is security, and while I do not deny that there may be some security issues, the law also functions to isolate the Israelis from Palestinian reality. This only contributes to Israeli fears of the Palestinian "other." In practice, the law is used not so much to protect Israelis but to punish those Israelis interested in human rights.

I feel like I'm already behind on updating this blog. Today we had a tour of the International Center of Bethlehem, and heard from its director, Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb. We then visited one of the oldest churches in the world, the Church of the Nativity, parts of which date to the 4th century. I was surprised that our group even had the grotto to ourselves for several minutes.

Our late afternoon meeting with a Palestinian NGO was cancelled/postponed because of the incident off Gaza involving the Turkish ship. We are curious to see how this will further affect our trip.

I read a very good article today about the Gaza situation. Here it is:


Saturday, May 29, 2010

Arrival in Bethelhem

After driving across the plains from the Ben Gurion Airport and through the outskirts of  Jerusalem we arrived in Bethlehem.  It seemed like we were there before we had left Jerusalem.    The bus stopped at the top of a hill and we carried our luggage down the hill and a few blocks to our guesthouse accomodations next to the International Center.  After a chance to rest and freshen up, we had dinner (salad, chicken & rice, melon for dessert) and then a walk to an ATM.  The breeze in the evening was quite nice.  After a our long travel from Dallas it was nice to finally arrive here in Bethlehem.

Safe in Bethlehem

We are here in Bethlehem in the West Bank -- we arrived yesterday afternoon. It's now almost 8:00 am, and I have had my first encounter with Palestinian hospitality. A young man named Alan greeted me in English outside his shop and invited me to drink sweet tea next door. It was delicious tea and interesting conversation about his experience as a helper for a National Geographic photography team, his family here and in the United States, and the lack of opportunities here.

He picked up English by chatting with tourists on the street, and he had a good command of it -- his favorite phrase seemed very appropriate: "You're welcome." He talked about how safe it is in Bethlehem, "Safer than New York. Safer than United States."

On the flight I sat next to an American woman who had served in the Israeli Defense Force. We didn't talk politics. She told me to be careful, that she had heard it was dangerous for Americans even in Bethlehem now.

She also recommended a movie called Invictus about Nelson Mandela right after the fall of apartheid and the South African rugby team being used as an opportunity for reconciliation between racial groups in South Africa. The irony of this particular movie recommendation was bouncing around in my mind throughout the flight. Hopefully Israel and Palestine can arrive at some sort of reconciliation as well...

Bethlehem reminds me of small colonial cities in Mexico and Ecuador. Narrow stone roads, old buildings (although I'm guessing that everything here is quite a bit older... we're going on a guided tour tomorrow so I'll check). The hills here are incredibly steep! Craig commented that you can better understand biblical passages about "a light on a hill" when you are here. (Did I get that quote right? Biblical scholars, help me out!)

OK, I'm going to join the others for breakfast. We are going to worship at the Evangelical Christmas Lutheran Church that is attached to the International Center of Bethlehem (where we are staying), and then we have a pretty free day. I'm looking forward to exploring.

(Home)coming to Bethlehem

We're here! Most of our group arrived yesterday afternoon without incident. Unfortunately, David and Anne Eaton, two members of our group who were flying separately, were delayed and are due to come today rather than yesterday.

We proceeded directly from the airport to Bethlehem late yesterday afternoon, driving through the plains, the Judean hills, and the outskirts of Jerusalem. The landscape really invites reflection on Christ's saying from the Sermon on the Mount of the Christian calling to be a light on a hill.

Coming to Bethlehem feels to me a bit like coming home. I walk the streets remembering where I used to buy bread, buy groceries, buy shwarma or felafel, etc. After arriving at the guest house of the International Center of Bethlehem and having dinner, I led those who were had not yet passed out from fatigue on a brief walk through the neighborhood. We enjoyed the very pleasant cool breeze in the process.

Only one of us slept through the night, as we are all dealing with a fair amount of jetlag. The call to prayer wafted into our rooms at 4:00 a.m., waking myself and a few others, reminded us that we aren't in Kansas anymore -- or, in this case, Texas. I watched China play Japan at ping-pong on television at 4:30 in the morning. Fortunately, we have time this afternoon to take a nap after we worship at the Lutheran church this morning. Today is a part of the World Council of Churches' World Week for Prayer in Israel/Palestine. We will be joined in worship by a Japanese group from Hiroshima, with whom I was able to practice my Japanese.

Salaam, Shalom, Peace,

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Welcome to the blog of Grace Presbytery's Peacemaking Trip to Israel/Palestine! Members of our group intend to post pictures and share experiences and reflections on this blog. We invite you to check this blog every few days for updates on what we have done and how that affected us.

During the two weeks of our trip, we will be visiting the most important holy and historical sites in Israel/Palestine, including the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, the Mount of Olives, the Sea of Galilee, etc. As we visit these sites, we invite you to read the passages in your Bible that correspond to them.

The other significant portion of our trip, and the portion that separates this trip from most other trips to the region, consists of the visits we will have with a large number of peace and justice organizations. We will be visiting with members of Israeli and Palestinian organizations, with Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Although we have been studying for this trip for months in preparation, seeing the situation firsthand and meeting people who are affected by it will likely have a major impact on us. I trust that God uses such encounters to speak to us. That has certainly been true for me, which is why this is my sixth trip to the area, including the times I lived there.

I invite you to keep the members of our group in your prayers. These include Kay Branum, Suzanne Sweeney, Barbara Ivy, Ron Ivy, Dianne Randolph, Marian Murray, Will Slade, Rev. Dave Eaton, Anne Eaton, Harriet Espinoza, Rick Espinoza, Larry Eshelman, Rev. Phyllis Danhof-Speck, Barb Tuinstra, and I, Rev. Craig Hunter. Please pray that we will have a safe, fun, spirit-filled trip. Please also pray for the people in the region, Jews and Muslims and Christians, Israelis and Palestinians. Pray that we might have peace with justice, and that it might quickly come.

Finally, I would remind you that May 29th through June 4th has been declared by the World Council of Churches to be World Week for Peace in Israel/Palestine. This providentially coincides with our trip. You can find more information about the World Week for Peace, including prayers and liturgical resources, at

In Christ,
Craig Hunter