5: Observations and Inspirations
November 14, 2006
This is a land of stones. Archeologists here uncover
stones of ancient civilizations, built and destroyed and built again,
the new burying the old. In Jerusalem’s Old City you can look
down at the excavations, down deep shafts revealing fragments of
the old civilizations. You can see fragments of columns and arches
now parts of newer buildings. The stones tell their stories by the
manner of their hewing: Hasmonean, Roman, Byzantine, Umayyad, Crusader
The Old City’s limestone walls look creamy,
honey, rosy or golden in the day’s changing light. The stones
of the Old City’s narrow lanes are polished smooth from centuries
of feet passing. At the Western Wall men and women, separately,
pray against the stones and cram prayer notes into the hard crevasses.
Today, Palestinian boys in the Occupied Territories
throw stones at Israeli soldiers. Near Daher’s Vineyard the
Israeli army rolled a boulder as tall as a person into the road,
blocking the farm’s access to nearby markets. Undeterred,
Daoud Nasser, whose family runs the farm, clears the stones from
his fields and olive orchards and keeps farming, taking a longer
route to market. He uses the field stones to build walkways and
platforms and plazas.
Around Jerusalem stones cover rubble fields that
were once Palestinian houses, now bulldozed by Israelis. Maybe the
houses were in the way of the Wall; maybe the owners couldn’t
get the permits to remain. The reason isn’t always clear.
More rubble fields mark Palestinian land cleared to build Israeli
The Wall: massive, solid concrete 30 feet high,
cutting off Jerusalem from nearby Palestinian villages. Will it
someday be breached as the stone walls of the Old City were? Will
it someday crumble into stony rubble? What will today’s stones
tell tomorrow’s archeologists?
--Mary Ann Weston
A Satisfying Hunger and Thirst
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for
righteousness, for they will be filled” - Matthew 5:6
My decision to join the delegation just three weeks
ago was greatly influenced by the stories of two former Interfaith
Peace-Builder delegates who shared their experiences in Israel and
the West Bank with me and others at a forum on the Middle East at
New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C.
I knew at that moment that the opportunity to travel
as a delegate with the November Olive Harvest Delegation was a special
calling for me to hear, and perhaps, follow. I knew that I was caught
up in some strong winds that were pushing and pulling me, rapidly
on a path beyond my control. As a person of the Christian faith,
I also knew what I needed to do.
The stories and the conversations I heard a few
days later during a Partners for Peace “Jerusalem Women Speak”
presentation further convinced me that the path I was on was the
right way. I thought the experience I might have with the Olive
Harvest Delegation would be an opportunity to satisfy a hunger and
thirst to be present with those who were suffering, to walk along
side of those who were seeking justice. As one former delegate had
shared about her reasons for going, she finally decided “to
get out of the boat and follow” after a long period of uninvolvement.
In my own spiritual journey I struggle with the
call to seek righteousness, often confusing it with self righteousness
rather than following God’s will for us. I, like many of the
people whom I have met on the delegation, yearn for a place where
people treat others fairly and generously, for ways to spread a
sense of justice which permeates the choices and actions of all
people, and for efforts to spare our earth from our destructiveness
so that its beauty and abundance might be available to our children
and grandchildren. I truly believe that these longings are God’s
will for us.
I have found such an atmosphere here in Israel and
in the West Bank. On Tuesday we visited individuals and organizations
at work on peace and justice issues in the West Bank cities of Ramallah
and Al Bireh. We met there with Adameer (a Palestinian prisoner’s
support and human rights association), the Palestinian Agricultural
Relief Committees, and with Abdel Jawad Saleh, a former mayor of
First we met with Sahar Francis, a lawyer for Adameer
(the Arabic word for “conscience”)—a program for
the legal defense against inhumane treatment of Palestinian prisoners.
They work in both Israeli military and political prisons.
Sahar described to us some of the conditions Palestinian
prisoners experience. Many prisons are extremely over crowded with
little air or sunlight for the prisoners. The visits of family members
are highly controlled and visits are now limited to one per month
and last only 45 minutes. The prisoner and family member see each
other through plastic windows and talk by phone. Over 10,000 prisoners
fill 20 prisons often dispersed in remote areas which complicate
further the ability of family members who already have to travel
to various checkpoints to reach the prisoner. At the checkpoint
in Jenin we had seen a large number of women waiting to get through
the gate to see their family member in prison.
It is possible under Israeli law to hold prisoners for up to six
months without a hearing by a judge. Many such prisoners are described
as “ticking bomb cases” and for whom there are no rights
at all. We learned that juveniles are treated as adults, and often
receive the same sorts of abuses and torture as the older prisoners.
Adameer is an organization that seeks justice for
those who are oppressed, and seeks an atmosphere where prisoners
can be treated fairly. They are truly following God’s will.
The second visit in Ramallah was at PARC, the office
of the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee. There we saw a
film called “The Iron Wall”, a story about how the construction
of the walls and fences which wander in an out of Palestinian towns
and villages often isolate communities from one another and create
separation in their society. One leaves with the feeling that the
Palestinian people are literally being strangled, and soon there
will be no life within these borders. The director, Mohammed Alatar,
was present and promised to send copies to delegates for use in
presentations to audiences at home. His lenses captured a society
in disarray and without Justice. There is hunger and thirst here.
There are people working to expose these conditions through their
art and lenses. God speaks through their gifts.
The final visit for the day was with the former
mayor of Al Bireh, Abdel Jawad Saleh. He was involved early with
the Palestine Liberation Organization, and like many leaders of
that day, Israel exiled him from the West Bank for his political
activities. He spent 20 years outside his country. Educated at American
University in Cairo, he was nurtured in the some of the philosophic
roots of democratic societies and has developed a cogent vision
of what democracy and freedom could look like for Palestinians.
Mr. Saleh observed that the Israelis, in the latest
war with Lebanon, may have reached a new era in their history. Saleh
claimed that the lesson to be learned is that the strategy of using
overwhelming power to defeat enemies did not work on this occasion.
What they do with that lesson remains to be seen. Here is where
he feels the United States can exert its influence, and where we
might try to make a difference by clarifying understandings of the
current situation with those whom we speak.
Mr. Saleh, Mohammad Atar, and Sahar Francis have
responded to a need for justice, fair treatment, and peace in their
communities. They know the biblical meaning of the words “those
who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be fulfilled.”