Gaza – what can I say…..

It’s been a while since I last added a blog. In part that has been as I have been pretty busy, but its also as I feel I ought to write something more about Gaza since all of the events of the last few days and weeks, but I don’t know what to write. Words fail me. Numbers vary, but I have seen estimates of between 17,000 and 12,000 people injured in Gaza during the “March of Return.” About a third of them by live fire. There have been now about 110 people die, some in the last few days dying of the wounds they received earlier.

There was the tragic story of a two year old toddler. He was nowhere near the border barrier, but with other children an estimated kilometre from the barrier. In Gazan terms he was well away, the width of Gaza is not very great, so a kilometre represents a considerable proportion of the width of the Gaza Strip. He was hit by a tear gas canister and died of his injuries. A totally innocent victim. I understand that about three thousand of the injuries are life changing in nature, that is a loss of a limb or the damage such as to mean that the person cannot walk. These are people who have been imprisoned in Gaza for eleven years. Few are able to get out. The have electricity for four hours a day, water is unsafe to drink, eighty common medicines are unavailable to them, there are insufficient funds now going into Gaza to  ensure that everyone, including the refugees can eat. Untreated sewage flows out into the sea representing a health hazard. It is not to wonder that people protest. Yet when they do they suffer the casualties listed above. What is even more depressing is that – it seems – nothing has changed. The people still face the same desperate conditions to live in day by day.

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Gazan children in a trauma clinic dance as part of their therapy.

I was in Gaza just a couple of months ago and hope to go again in a couple of weeks time. I pray for the future of the people there. Will you pray for them too?

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Witness and Hope Reimagined.

Rev Loren McGrail, one of the ecumenical partners I work with, is staging an art exhibition at the community rooms attached to the Christmas Lutheran, Church, in Bethlehem. The exhibition combines collages of broken objects, including rubber bullets, used tear gas canisters and marbles (used with sling shots), with poems she has written. In this blog I will show some of the exhibits and include the poetry.

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“On Earth as hopefully it is not in heaven.       This jumble of marbles and bullets, rubber and sponge                                                 pray                                                               the prayer you know by heart so it falls into your heart                                                 and grows some guts or roots.

Pick them up                                                           let the soot of the explosive dirty you expose you in the mirror.                                trying to take a snapshot of the aftermath of David and Goliath’s ritual dance                   except this David is not King yet.

Photograph this wee terror on earth                 turned now into beauty.                          See how your messed up                     morning hair                          includes you               who came after                                                       searching the rubble for their weapons of mutual destruction                                            some glittery marbles                       spent tear gas canisters                                        steel covered rubber bullets.

Include in the mirror                                            the girls in their hijabs keyfiahs and slingshots.                                                                The boy who only has one eye.                                         The little one shot dead on his way home from school.                                            Include them not just that heavenly blue sky.

On earth as it is not in heaven yet.                     So much work to be done.                 Save us all from these times of trial.                  Pray.                                                    Smear your hands and heart with that black soot                                                          Until the marbles return to their games.”

As Loren was reading the poem above the collage fell off the wall and smashed. That in itself seemed rather poetic!

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Loren “mending” the collage after it had fallen off the wall.
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Settler Colonialism as a Chess Game.

“I am learning how to play chess. The first thing that you need to know is what your pieces can do – how they can move. You also have to remember to keep your king protected. The hardest part for me is planning a few moves ahead. Since I play chess outside on my wee patio, which also serves as my outdoor studio for my broken pottery, spent weapons and glass – it was only a matter of time before I felt the need to decorate my chess pieces or change them altogether.

P’s team: stones are pawns of course, the bishops are prayer beads (Christian and Muslim), the knights are broken floor tiles which represent the past, the castles have glass marbles, (marbles are used in slingshots along with marbles during clashes). The royal family have shells on their heads representing Gaza. Maarwan Baraghouti is the king while Abu Mazen is the queen.

I’s team: rubber bullets are the pawns, the bishops are sponge bullets, the knights are knights, representing the police on horseback, the castles are two tear gas canisters on top of each other. The royal family stays the same for the moment though I think of the king as President Rivlin and the queeen as Bibi.”

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Loren addressing the gathering at the launch of the exhibition.
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Scottish Blessing. “I’ll put a stone on your cairn.”

“Cairns are human made piles of stones found all over the world to mark burial monuments or buried items such as food or sacred objects. They are also used as trail markers for wayfarers and hikers.

I who make these markers don’t know the path forward, where it is leading. I only know that it must include those who came before us, whose families I have eaten Iftar with, sung hymns of peace with on Good Friday on the Via Dolorosa. Their history matters. There will be no peace without justice for them, so add your stone and let us make a road by walking it together.”

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“The threat of Mary’s promise.” Luke 1 50-52.

The above piece came from a visit that Loren and I shared to St Stephen’s Church at Bet Jamal. Radical, ultra Orthodox Jews from Bet Shemesh had vandalised the church and destroyed amongst other things – the statue of the Virgin Mary.

“Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee, …..even lying shattered on the floor            your beautiful face still shines,                 your curled fingers still reach out                      to us    who behold you       in this slant of dying autumn light

between Rosh Hashanna’s quiet time of repentance                                    and           Yom Kippur’s day of shouts and blessings          between illegal outposts being evacuated and olive trees ripening and burning.

We fear and revere you still, Mother of God                                                                    Queen of the Apostles and Martyrs    Mystical Rose       Morning Star.                            No longer looking down on us from your heavenly perch –   Head too strong to smash

Pray for us all, Mother of our Redeemer, Mirror of Justice                                              for your world yet to be born – eye to eye now, charge us to be                    your vessels           your promised threat.”

The knock in the middle of the night.

In my blog I am careful to keep as close as possible to tell of the expereinces I have had while here. This blog however tells about what happened in the middle of the night last Saturday to one of my colleagues. I know her well, her account is totally reliable.

One of my colleagues lives near to Manger Square. It is in area “A” which is meant to be full Palestinian planning and security control. However she has expereinced, more than once, raids by Israeli Soldiers in the middle of the night – and one took place last Saturday.

The first that she heard was what she describes as a sound of metal rendering, and whispered voices. She lives on the first floor and realised that there were people in the ground floor lobby inside what had been a locked door. When she opened her door, she saw between ten and fifteen Israeli Soldiers in the lobby space, as they saw her they all left quickly.

A few moments later she heard noises from others living in the block and went downstairs to see what had happened. One of her neighbours was upset, the soldiers had directed a machine gun at her face. She had been very frightened. Others described the way in which they had entered their homes.

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The steel door to the lobby had been crow barred open.

There was damage to the door to her lobby, and others locally reported similar damage. They estimated that at least twenty Israeli Soldiers had been involved in the incident.

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The video Camera usually covering the doorway had been turned round.

No one was arrested – though the following morning a young man who lives in this area was arrested at another location.

“Breaking the Silence” the organisation that gathers stories from people who used to be in the Israeli Army, indicate that these raids (that often happen), when they don’t include an arrest are often for training purposes. We have no way of knowing why this raid took place but training is the most likely. The damage done will cost many thousands of Shekels to repair, and of course the soldiers might be back soon after the repairs are done. There is no way to obtain compensation for the damage.

Three issues arise for me here:

1. What does this type of raid indicate about Israel’s attitude to “Area A” which is meant to be in Palestinian Control?

2. What right do Israel have in using quiet Palestinian neighbourhoods, in the middle of the night, as training facilities for their soldiers?

3. There is here a callous disregard for the well being of people living peaceably in a residential area of Bethlehem. None of the people effected feel safe in their own homes. There is nothing that any of them can do about it either, which is why I tell the story.

Appointed by three faiths together.

Praying Together – the event in Jerusalem where Jews, Muslims and Christians come together to pray and grow together had a distinct event when it met for its April gathering. Raana Mallek was appointed as a “Peacemaker.”

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Praying Together inside the Redeemer Church as outside it was raining so hard!

Raanan, who is one of the main organisers of Praying Together, has been studying through three “teachers” one Muslim, one Christian and one Jewish. Raanan is also studying to become a Jewish Rabbi. The sponsoring oraganisation was the “Abramic Reunion,” which works to bring together the three Abrahamic religions into a greater understanding of each other. They refered to the event as an “ordination,” though I feel that our Methodist understanding of that term is rather different, and I therefore use other terms in this blog.

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Raanan addressing the gathering.

Raanan’s Jewish teacher explained the occasion to the gathering and representatives of the three faiths signed the certification in Hebrew, Arabic and English.

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The signing by three teachers, one from each of the Faiths.

 

Then the three representatives participated in the laying on of hands – seeking to symbolise the inspiration of the three faiths in Raanan’s life.

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The laying on of hands.

Raanan then preached a brief sermon to all the assembled gathering in which he spoke about the ongoing and lifelong challenge of peace making and spoke of how to be a peacemaker there is need for an inner peace. Raanan quoted from the Koran, the Torah and the New Testament of the Bible.

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The support of all present for Raanan was evident. It was a positive occasion when the gathering together affirmed Raanan who in the development of “Praying Together,” in the work he does at Tantur, through Rabis for Human Rights and elsewhere is an example in the way he works for peace.

So much divides people here in the Holy Land, it was good to be a part of something that brings us together.

Handover EAPPI groups 69 to 70

Some eighty people, including about 45 Ecumenical Accompanyers gathered at Tantur for the quarterly handover service, where one team of volunteers hand over to the next. It’s always a moving occasion but I felt that today’s was one of the best that I have been to. It is the day before the 24th April, when the Armenian Genocide is commemorated. Nora Carmi, who describes herself as an Armenian, a Palestinian and a citizen of the world, spoke so movingly about the first Genocide of the twentieth century and the 1.5million of her ancestors who died at the hands of the Otttomans, effectively the Turks of today. The refusal of Turkey to accept the historicity of the Armenian Genocide is, she says, a continuing twisting of the knife in the wound of the Armenian people. She spoke about the horrors of the Holocaust, of the Nakba and what is happening to the Palestinian people today. She spoke about the definition of Genocide and suggested how the definiation at least in principal reflects what is now happening in the West Bank and Gaza.  (The term incrimental genocide is increasingly being used).

Rabbi Raanan then responded and spoke about how as a Jew and as a student of the Torah he taught and believed that no one has the right to claim the Holy Land – that the biblical picture from Leviticus is that we are all passing strangers in it and hold a responsibility for it for future generations.

Nidal Abu Zanunah a Muslim women then spoke about the value of what EA’s do and  how welcome they really are in the minds of the Palestinians here.

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The Yanoun E.A.’s of team 69 pass on the light to team 70 – who continue the work.

Rosemary, one of the E.A’s from team 69 South Hebron Hills, wrote the following – I use it with her permission:

Feel! Snuggle under the thick soft blankets, cradled on the moveable mattress. Enjoy the warmth of the sun, the freshness of the breeze, the firmness of the fruit, the texture of the stone.

Listen! Wake to the call to prayer. Hear the cockerel and the barking dog. A bulldozer? No! Strains of sleep vanish. A new day begins. Bedroom, toilet, water – safe for another day. Children’s voices drift across the street, spotter planes and drones pass overhead.

Taste! Fresh warm bread, dipped in olive oil; sweet tea. Harsh black coffee.

Smell! Sweet newly pickled herbs mingled with dust and sheep dung.

See! The beauty of the rolling hills. The pony ploughing. The brilliant emerald of the barley. The jewel like flowers glowing red, purple, yellow, orange, blue, white, with their delicate petals translucent in the afternoon sun. The military vehicles move, leaving devastation in their wake. A tented shelter flattened, belongings scattered. A pillow forlorn amongst the debris.

Speak! Tell of the beauty, the history, the people. Tell of the conflict, the complexity, the wall. Tell of the checkpoints, the permits, the indignities. Tell of the settlers, the stone throwers, the peace makers. Tell of the fake news, the injustice, the blind eyes. Tell the stories of the people.

Call! To the people of faith, of no faith. Challenge our leaders, their leaders.

 

Those who know this land will recognise so much that Rosemary has written.

 

 

Two minute talks!

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I was asked to be one of the judges for the finals of a competition between the five Lutheran Schools in the West Bank, in which pupils of the schools gave two minute public talks. The pupils were between 14 and 17 years old and the talks were in English! It was all well organised, with the competitors being held in one room, taken one by one into another where they were alowed to pick two cards out of a basket, with two titles for the talks. They chose one of the two and then had fifteen minutes to prepare for the talk. We could ask them one supplementary question.

After being briefed about the task we went down to the opening ceremony – I am getting to know the Palestinian National Anthem rather well now!

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“Brass for Peace” playing the Palestinian National Anthem.

Then there were the “well acclaimed Beit Sahour dancers” who had admirable energy, I would have collapsed after the first part of the first dance!

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There was some food and then we had to get on with our task! The talks were of variable quality, the winners in each of the years 8, 9 and 10 were each very good, as were some of the others – though some were clearly very nervous, and one gave the impression of not really having his heart in it!!!

One thing was very clear though. The political awareness of each competitor was far in excess of what you would expect in the West. Although the titles ranged from “If you had superpowers, how would you use them” to “Give an Oscar Acceptance Speach,“ every one of the competitors worked in some reference to the occupation, to the struggle, to the dream of freedom for Palestinians. One speach really was a radical and violent denounciation of Israel, and that pupil’s teacher was going to have a word with him – technically he spoke well, his vocabulary, diction and structure of the speech were all excellent, however describing Israelis as “Animals” was not quite what was expected!

We heard twenty four speeches, many said how determined they were to stay in Palestine, one dreamt of being a doctor and helping refugees recover from their injuries, another wanted to open a “Friends Cafe” in Palestine – she apparently was a devotee of the TV comedy “Friends.”

It was both interesting and enjoyable. I was a little surprised to see the plaque below at the school – another connection I knew nothing about!!

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Syria & Gaza

Today we heard of missiles fired into Syria and further protests in Gaza. On Friday 13th April it seems one protester died and about 400 were injured in Gaza (though some reports give a higher figure). One thing that connects these two places is that International Law is being flouted.

In Gaza, Israel continues to fire on unarmed protesters. This is not acceptable anywhere in the world, it is an internationally held principal – yet Israel is allowed to flout it without consequences. International Law seems to be held in contempt by Israel, but then that is not surprising as its main ally the United States leads the firing of missiles on Syria. Syria remains a sovereign state, and the United Nations Charter maintains that military action inside a sovereign state belonging to the United Nations is contrary to International Law unless authorised by the Security Council, which this was not. Now it can be argued that the power of veto members of the Security Council have makes it almost impossible for this provision to function however that still means that what America, France and Britain did was against International Law. Every time nations act without regard for International Law the weaker International Law becomes.

I must be one for a very few people who have been both to Gaza and to Syria in the last few months. I don’t support either Hamas in Gaza or the Assad Government in Syria. Both authorities have done things that are thoroughly reoprehensible – however I doubt that either of them have actually undermined International Law as much as the United States and Israel have done.

On 14th April there was a concert at St George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem. It so happens to be in aid of both Educational Facilities in Syria and the Anglican Hospital in Gaza.

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A poster for the concert.

I wonder which of these events served the cause of Peace in the Middle East the best? Firing on unarmed protesters, firing missiles into Syria or raising money for Eduaction in Syria and Cancer treatment in Gaza (where there are no facilities to treat people and of those who contract cancer only 14% obtain permits to travel to Israel for treatment).

How much money is being spent on those missiles and on the military force around Gaza, and how much good could be done with that money to build peace. The concert cost little to put on, and will send some limited funds to much needed causes, while millions are spent on mass destruction. Where is the wisdom in that?

I know which one I believe to be serving the cause of peace the best.

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Anne-Marieke Evers singing and Carrie Ballenger Smith on the piano.
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Carrie and Anne are joined by Rebecca Minio-Paluello, Sara Longe and Fabienne van Eck. An International Coalition for Peace!