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November 2006 Olive Harvest Delegation

Interfaith Peace-Builders & American Friends Service Committee



Report 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 and more.

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 settlements.

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 El Bireh.

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.”

--Bill Plitt




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© 2006 Interfaith Peace-Builders