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November 2006 Olive Harvest Delegation

Interfaith Peace-Builders & American Friends Service Committee



Report Three: “Hope Resists”

Thursday, November 9

Only 12 Miles Apart, But the Realities Are Worlds Apart

From a land as vast as the North America, it’s difficult if not impossible to understand just how small this area is. We got a reminder today.

We started our Thursday morning off rousing ourselves from our overnight stay at Daher’s Vineyard. Half of the group shared a large tent on a concrete platform with half dozen international volunteers and other visitors. About 20 metal frame beds with a variety of mattresses and pads and an assortment of blankets were lined up in two rows. Others slept in one of the concrete block structures on the land. As the sun set the wind picked up and blew most of the night. And it was cold! But the sky was clear and the moon very bright. A noisy gasoline generator powered a string of lights in the main house where we met and ate our meals. The Palestinian village in the valley below to the west of Daher’s Vineyard had a few scattered lights on during the night. One couldn’t help notice the contrast as bright lights illuminated the perimeters and roads and other structures in the three Israeli settlements perched on the hilltops proximate to Daher’s vineyard.

After a breakfast of home baked bread and homemade fig preserves, hard-boiled eggs, sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, sliced cheese, tea or coffee, we posed for a photograph with the hills behind us, stretching towards the Mediterranean Sea, and our eyes squinting in the early morning sun.

We walked the quarter mile to meet out bus. Several large boulders and concrete blocks obstruct the road to and from Daher’s vineyard. Half a dozen cars are parked near the roadblock. The Palestinian workers park there and walk to the nearby settlements to work. The road has been blocked almost the entire time since the Second Intifada began in the fall of 2000. If the road-block didn’t keep a group of people visiting from Canada and the United States from schlepping their overnight bags past, we figured it surely wouldn’t prevent a potential terrorist from crossing over to the settlements. But it poses a formidable obstacle to the Nassar family of Daher’s Vineyard as they bring drinking water from Bethlehem in a large tanker truck or deliver their harvested olives to the cooperative olive press. They have to take another route, heading west and north to reach Bethlehem, which is east. This takes several times as long, adding to time and cost and inconvenience.

We stopped briefly at the St. George’s College Guest House for showers and a change of clothes, and were soon driving north of Jerusalem to Ar-Ram. There we met with Israeli and Palestinian representatives of a group that only formed two years ago and publicly surfaced this past February: Combatants for Peace. We were impressed that as a matter of core principle for their group, they always do their work with joint Israeli and Palestinian representatives.

Elik Elhanan, a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces who served in Southern Lebanon during the relatively peaceful period of the mid to late 1990s and also lost a sister to a Palestinian suicide bomber, described the process by which he decided that the sacrifice that others and he had made was being squandered by the political leadership. He and others sought out those from the Palestinian side who had also paid the price of fighting for their cause. Souliman Al-Khatib and Bassam Arb, like most of the Palestinian partners in Combatants for Peace, had been detained in Israeli prisons for their resistance to the occupation. Elik, Souliman, and Bassam have come to recognize the futility of arms to resolve the conflict and are actively seeking a political solution. The all-volunteer activist core of Combatants for Peace is doing outreach, primarily through private house meetings, to both the Israeli and the Palestinian public, discussing the need for compromise and a political settlement to stop the violence and killing.

We were deeply moved by the testimony of these men and the continued courage and sacrifice they are prepared to offer their peoples’ struggles – though now as non-combatants.

This evening we had supper with three Israeli students from Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The students spoke passionately about their desire to find some accommodation with the Palestinians. They expressed a range of views about how such an agreement might be reached or what it would look like, such as which of three major settlement blocks would be kept by Israel. They argued that neither side would be pleased with an agreement. They echoed some of the sentiments expressed by Elik Elhanan earlier in the day. He had explained that there was a period of mistaken optimism that the peace-process was a “love affair”—“We’re not talking about a love affair, but about a divorce. A time of separation is necessary.”

The students also spoke fervently of the need for a Two State solution. The concern articulated by Jeff Halper and others that such a solution had been preempted or precluded by ‘facts on the ground’ carried little weight with these young people. They believe that what has been done by politicians can be undone, that the details are not their concern. According to Paz Carmel, “It’s irresolvable only if you don’t want to resolve it!” They work to help convince Israelis of the need for an accommodation without getting bogged down in the details. “In the end, there must be two viable states west of the Jordan. We all agree on that,” one of the students stated.

Several of us were struck by their observation that only 15% of Israeli soldiers serve in the occupied territories, and that in their view many Israelis don’t know what is going on in the West Bank and Gaza. They acknowledged that the occupation made Palestinian life extremely uncomfortable – “horrible” was the term that Maya used to describe life under occupation.

The distance from Daher’s Vineyard to Hebrew University in Jerusalem is only 12-15 miles. We traversed it by bus in about a half-hour this morning. But the realities are worlds apart. The Israeli university students can only imagine the daily obstacles that the Palestinian Nassar family faces in trying to keep their land and the indignities that they suffer while trying to build a life for their children. On the other hand, the students impressed us by their honesty, candor and active interest in understanding what is happening in the occupied territories and commitment to change Israeli policies. Whether a Palestinian family struggling to save their olive orchards, former soldiers or guerilla fighters now joining together to work for peace, or university students trying to forge a future for their nation and themselves, it’s difficult to discern encouraging signs.

I was reminded of William Sloane Coffin’s comment, “Hope has nothing to do with optimism. Its opposite is not pessimism, but despair…. Hope criticizes what is. Hopelessness rationalizes it. Hope resists. Hopelessness adapts.”

We were privileged today to meet a half dozen people from quite varied walks of life who are living hope. They are living hope and by their efforts and commitments bring hope to others of us who might otherwise despair at the way things are going here.

--Scott Kennedy

Opportunities for Peace

After a cold and windy stay at the Tent of Nations olive groves with Daoud and family at Daher’s Vineyard, our hearts were warmed with their infectious optimism but our bodies were chilled by the evening air. So after a robust and healthy breakfast we wound down the hillside and through the checkpoints back to St. George’s in Jerusalem to freshen up and relax...for 15 minutes. We hadn't time to tarry for we were in for a busy day. We had appointments to keep and miles to go before sleep, so we were off to meet with Combatants for Peace, a surprising coalition of former Israeli and Palestinian fighters. No longer matched in mere mortal conflict, they are allied in greater conflict, one for peaceful lives for the coming generations. We learned that this group of former enemies has seen the real enemy, senseless war, and had joined forces to sound the clarion call for an end of hostilities in Palestine. Although this group was founded just this year, they've already been accepted in the peace advocacy community for their sincerity and diligence.

Then it was on to Peace Now, the largest peace advocacy group in Israel. It was born in 1978 during the Israeli-Egyptian peace talks. At that time, 348 Israeli reserve officers and soldiers published a letter calling upon the Israeli government not to miss this opportunity for peace and an end to hostilities. This letter helped push the leaders to the bargaining table and proved once again that conflict is always settled by negotiations, so maybe sometimes we can skip the killing and destruction and go straight to the negotiations. Peace Now is for peace between Israel and its neighbors through mutual agreement, a cool idea. They also have a US affiliate, Americans for Peace Now.

Finally, we were off to the AFSC, The American Friends Service Committee, an organization dedicated to the cessation of violence through nonviolent means. A Quaker project, we learned the AFSC accomplishes their mission through a surprisingly diverse range of projects and activities all centered on nonviolence. A worthy organization with quality educational resources, the AFSC in Jerusalem is appropriately located on the grounds of the Augusta Victoria Hospital. Maybe the injured peace process can be taken there for nourishment and healing. Let's hope so.

--Al Espenschied

Friday, November 10

Friday in Jerusalem

Friday in Jerusalem. To feel Shabbat approaching was a profound experience. The police and soldiers posted on so many corners were roughly juxtaposed with my awareness that Shabbat was coming – the celebration of the world to come – an ideal time – a time of peace and perfection. Around us were the evidences of how far we are from that world of perfection – not heaven apart – but heaven on earth.

My heart was still heavy from hearing reports of 19 innocents killed by Israeli shelling in Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip. It seemed, from the security presence, that the Israelis were prepared for the retaliation that Hamas called for.

We drove across Jerusalem and approached Yad Vashem. It is an austere place – no large signs – clean, light lines. At Yad Vashem I was struck by the absence of real security – we walked in with no metal detector or searches.

This was the first Holocaust Memorial. Inside it is also simple – dark, concrete with simple images – films, photos, piles of shoes, suitcases, striped outfits. The brutality of the Holocaust was downplayed – you had to really stop and read to learn the stories of the pits where the women were taken and shot in groups of ten and would fall in and pile up – body upon body.

At the end of the museum you emerge onto an expansive view of forested mountains and valleys – the Promised Land. As though the story ended there – but there the complexity really begins.

From there we went to lunch at the Restobar Café. It is on the site of the Moment Café that had been hit by a suicide bomber in 2001. Lunch was delicious and then we rushed up the street to catch the Women in Black demonstration. This protest against violence and occupation has been going on for 19 years – and while this did not inspire optimism, it fostered hope – it is a weekly witness for peace in signs on black hands of God in English, Arabic, and Hebrew calling for an end to the Israeli Occupation.

A great surprise was that this protest was joined by a few people from the Open House Lesbian and Gay demonstration that had been forced inside by threats from the Orthodox community. They wore bright pink along with their black and signs that resisted both the occupation of lands and the colonization of bodies through repressive ideologies and policies. The atmosphere was serious and playful at the same time. It was very moving to be there with these risk-taking people.

Later we went to Kol HaNashema synagogue where we met with Rabbi Arik Ascherman before services. He spoke with us about his work with Rabbis for Human Rights and told a story about a demonstration in the West Bank at which a 13-year-old Palestinian boy was dragged away by IDF soldiers and strapped to the front of a jeep to stop Palestinians from throwing stones. Arik rushed forward to intervene and was also handcuffed and strapped to a Jeep. Later, when providing a statement for B’tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, the boy described the abuse to which he was subjected and then ended by saying that a tall Jewish man in a Kippah came to tell him not to be afraid – because he was not alone. It was a brutal and disturbing story – but here was one man willing to assume some of the risks that Palestinians have to live with day after day.

After that we attended Shabbat services. It was a beautiful service – deeply spirited and for me amazing to sing the Shema (the Jewish prayer affirming belief in one God) IN Israel. I could have stayed there forever. To have seen Yad Vashem earlier in the day I was haunted by the images of Kristalnacht, and the felt relief that here were Jews worshipping again.

There was no sermon, and the only English was the reference to page numbers. At the same time the experience was mingled with all the experiences and images of the week. The checkpoints, the demolished homes, the separation wall. We sang the familiar words of psalms and prayers calling up the peace of Shabbat – calling up peace and for me such a call is profound one – shalom is for all the world, for all the people – praying the Kaddish (the Jewish prayer of mourning). I said mine for the people killed in Beit Hanoun and I wondered if anyone else there was praying for them as well.

The service seemed to be moving for others in the delegation as well – and I suspect that for everyone the paradoxes and inner conflicts were also very real – but I have not yet heard from everyone.

Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh – a very holy day for me – may we make Olam Habba – (the world to come) – real – here, now. Amein.

-- Hilary Krivchenia

“A Prayer of a Palestinian Christian”

Pray not for Arab or Jew
For Palestinian or Israeli
But pray rather for ourselves
That we may not divide them
In our prayers
But keep them both together in our hearts.

The above prayer is used by groups working for peace in the Middle East around the world, and is offered by Marilyn Hadden

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