Steadfastness (Samood) – in prayer.

It had been a hot day but an evening breeze made the weather a little easier alongside the Wall by Checkpoint 300. I had arrived to join in the prayers held there every Friday at 6pm. I have written about these prayers before – I don’t get there each week, but I try to get there when I can. A small group, mostly of nuns arrived for the time of prayer, walking by the wall, saying the Rosary – and making our own prayers as we did so.

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Praying by the wall with EAPPI in support.

Alongside the sheer physical presence of the separation barrier a few people walking and praying seems a feeble thing, but the faithfulness of the prayers – week after week – summer and winter, hot weather and cold makes this piece of non violent protest a powerful manifestation of the determination to bring peace with justice to this land.

The cameras around the checkpoint turn to watch us, the soldiers don’t really know what to make of it. Sometimes they come and ask us what we are doing. Occasionally a humvee arrives. We have been told – “You can’t be here,” though we have always been able to stay after conversation.

The prayers are always concluded by singing and prayer at the icon of Mary, pregnant and weeping, that has been painted on the wall. A few moments of quiet and a blessing.

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Not all of the acts of non-violent resistence are dramatic, not all are done by extrovert, confident protesters. This is an act of faithfulness, or determination, of samood, the arabic word for steadfastness, that has an active – committed aspect to it. One day peace will come.

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Four Homes of Mercy.

I think that I have blogged before on this partner project of the Methodist Liaison Office. It’s located in Bethany, the home in Jesus’ time of Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarous – whom Jesus raised from the dead. Four Homes is a place where people with severe mental or physical challenegs do indeed find a home. For many with Physical or Mental Hanicaps – in Palestinian society life is very poor. There is a real sense in which the staff of “Four Homes of Mercy” see their role as giving new life to those who come and make the project their home.

Resources are desperately short. They rely upon receiving core funding from the Palestinian Authority but they haven’t received anything from them for three years. They hope against hope to receive funds any day – but in the mean time they have to rely upon charitable support – primarily from International Supporters. If anyone reading this blog knows of any way of raising funds for them – please do so. Staff often go months without pay and staffing levels are despairatly low. Often residents have to spend much longer in their cots, or tied to wheel chairs simply because there are not enough staff to look after them safely.

But there has been real progress in the standards of care over the time that I have known the project. I was really impressed with the new sensory room. The director explained to me that they use it as the first place where they can begin to communicate with new residents, who arrive seemingly totally unable to communicate in any way. The flashing lights, the music, the constantly changing colours stimulate responses from people whose previous places of residence have simply left them vedgitating.

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In the sensory room.

One of the encouraging things about the home is the relationship between the Director and the residents – and indeed the staff. Despite the huge problems in running a project such as this in a country under occupation, there is clearly an affection for the director and what he is trying to do.

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One of the residents in occupational therapy with my colleague Angleena.

Since I leave Palestine at the end of August I am beginning the round of “lasts. ” I was concious that this would very likely be my last visit to “Four Homes of Mercy,” and I have to say it feels good. Some time ago I wrote a rather critical report on the project and had a couple of difficult but positive conversations with the director about how he saw the future. This visit did make me feel that the project was heading in the right direction, though there are still huge problems for it. I wish it well for the future.

A week of Prayer for Gaza and the Holy Land.

Readers of my blog might like to know that the World Methodist Council, at the request of the Jerusalem Methodist Liaison Office has called for a week of prayer for Gaza and the Holy Land, from 1st to 7th July 2018.

Resources for the week can be found at the link:

http://methodist-liaison.org/worship-resources/wmc-week-of-prayer As you see, it can be found under Worship Resources, then WMC Week of Prayer

Hope that you find it useful.

John Howard

Gaza – the perfect Tourist Destination!

With it’s yellow sand and expansive beeches Gaza is the ideal tourist resort for relaxation and refreshment. But not many know that it also has some of the most wonderful achiological sites in the Holy Land. Mosaics recently discovered have wonderful dramatic colours comparable with anything you will ever see anywhere in ancient mosaics. Take an exciting boat ride out to sea (the more exciting the further out you go!!)

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The hotel accommodation is found close to the beeches and the summer sun is guaranteed.

Perhaps I ought to suggest that you hold off booking your accommmodation just yet. There are just one or two problems at present – the international airport has been closed and destroyed some ten years ago, permits to get to Gaza are hard to come by, electricity is only on for a few hours a day, raw sewage pours out onto the yellow sands, the fishing boats are frequently fired upon by the Israeli boats maintaining the blockade and the hospital services are pitifully short of medicines and equipment and almost all of the hotels are closed and boarded up! Oh yes and there is the likelyhood of another Gaza war any time soon. Otherwise it’s the perfect destination!

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A small howitza in the middle of Rafa City!

There is some seriousness in what I say though. Gaza should be a thriving community. The beeches are gorgeous, there are amazing archiological sites, the farm land is amongst the most fertile in the Holy Land, the people highly educated. Gaza City, despite the presence of so many refugee camps, could be an economic centre sustaining the standards of living across the whole area. In reality today, you see hungry children scouring the rubbish skips in search of food. I have just come back from a three day visit to Gaza and feel traumatised by what I saw and heard. Over the weeks of the “March of Return,” something like 17,000 people have been injured needing medical care, some 4,000 hit by live fire.. About 122 have died. As we travelled about we saw people being helped around, one had fresh bandages on his upper arm – the lower part was missing. There was a man on crutches with his leg missing, and the people around him indicated his recent loss of limb. As we moved around we saw a disturbing number of these recent casualties.

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One of the amazing 4th century mosaics.
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Part of the archaeological site of the first Christian Monastery.

The people of Gaza are wonderful hospitable people. I was welcomed into the home of a family. The man of the household mended washing machines, though with so little electricity demand was reducing. They spoke about how difficult life is for them, and could see no hope of improvement in the near future. The daughter of the household, has just received her degree in pharmacy, but has very little prospect of ever finding a job in Gaza. The best prospect for employment for the young is in the military wing of Hamas, youth unemployment is running at around 85%.

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A view over Gaza City and out to sea.

We spoke with the enthusiastic archaeologist in charge of the excavation of the remains of the monastery and he was saying how concerned he is that with Hamas sites near, Israeli air raid will damage the wonderful remains of the past.

Gaza is a place your heart goes out to, such potential, such trajedy.

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Gaza. The memory of Rachel Corrie

We were in the southern part of the Gaza Strip, and so we thought we might just see the memorial to Rachel Corrie.

Rachel Corrie was a U.S. author and activist killed in 2003 at the Rafah border by an Israeli armoured bulldozer while trying to prevent the “levelling” of an area on the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, in the years before the blockade of Gaza.

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We were being hosted by some workers in a clinic at Rafah. They took us first to a community centre named after her.

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Entrance to the Rachel Corrie Community Centre – Rafah.

We then went to the site where her death took place. It’s right on the border with Egypt and today it is staffed by Hamas soldiers. They were not keen on us photographing them and so I had to be careful what shots I took! It remains a depressing location. Bomb damage is visible from some of the recent Israeli air strikes.

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The area “levelled” by the bulldozer was just beyond the gate in the photo below. The word “levelled” used in this context refers to the destruction of homes in the refugee camp in order to create clear line of sight at this location. The gate is of course guarded by Hamas, which is why the photo is a poor one!

Deaths of internationals here are rare. It is a sad fact that nine Palestinians died on the same day the Rachel died, but they are seldom remembered. Today it still seems – Palestinian lives count for less than international ones. I beleive God weeps over each of the deaths of his children no matter whether they are Israeli, Palestinian or International.

There are a few memorials to Rachel in the West Bank, quite a prominent one in Hebron. She is remembered by many Palestinians and is one of the few internationals recognised by Palestinians as a martyr.

The Rachel Corrie Foundation now works for peace and justice for Gaza and Palestine as a whole.

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Destroyed Villages.

I decided that I needed to get out for a walk, alone in the countryside. There aren’t many places in the West Bank where you can just get out and wander, so I crossed the checkpoint at Betaar Ileet and parked the car in the “Begin Park.” This is quite a large  forest planted since 1948 near the Israeli town of Tsar Haddasar. The Green line more or less forms one boundary of the forest. It is a quite beautiful place, wild life, flowers, hills and steep sided valleys. In one valley I knew that there were the remains of what the internet describes as the “Jewish Village” of Ein Gobi. I had previously explored the ruins there and there is a building that had been a synagogue, but there is also a ruined Mosque which makes me think that the history of the village is more complex than simply having been a Jewish community. Was this one of the many villages in the Holy Land of pre 1948 where Jews, Christians and Muslims lived in peace together – at least for most of the time?

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The Begin Park.

I set off in the opposite direction from Ein Gobi climbing a hill on a forestry track. There were a number of dry stone walls evident, many now in a state of disrepair, indications of agriculture prior to the establishment of the park.

At the top of the hill there was a flat area, perhaps a mile and a half from Ein Gobi, and I noticed that the dry stone was more than just the remains of walls, there were great piles of stones and some walls that clearly had been a part of buildings. This was a deserted village, now long since destroyed but all the signs were there that it had been a systematic destruction. I found a well, an archway that had been some kind of building, there were many (perhaps about 100) olives trees now gone wild. There were fig trees though these were now not very healthy. It had been quite a significant size community, difficult to estimate but certainly the buildings covered at least ten acres.

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The track with rocks by the side that had been used in buildings.
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Stones from a substantial building.
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These stones had clearly been skilfully worked.

The identity of this community as having been a Palestinian village was more or less confirmed by the presence of “Prckly Pear” cactuses. These were widely used in Arab villages in Palestine prior to 1948 as hedges and some of these could still be seen.

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A hedgeline of “Prickly Pear.”
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One of the many olive trees, now going wild.

There is no doubt in my mind that I had come across one of the 650 villages “ethnically cleansed” in 1948/49 at the creation of the State of Israel. The leadership of the new state were concerned to ensure that there was no more than 20% of the population of the State that was “Arab, ” and to achieve this many Palestinians were either forcibly driven out or fled the villages as a result of the massacres that took place in a few locations. These generated the fear needed (indeed this was probably the intension of the massacres). In his book “Blood Brothers,” Archbishop Elias Shacour describes this process for his own village in the Galilee.

I have spent some time on the internet trying to find the name of the village and the history of what took place here. As yet I haven’t found anything but I will continue to search. I have found a map of Palestinian Villages in the area that were destroyed in 1948 that seems to show a destroyed village in that location, though the scale of the map was too small to be able to be sure of the exact location, and sadly there were no names on the map. I have ideas about a museum in Bethlehem that might have more information.

Close to where I live there is the Aida Refugee Camp. Painted on the walls as you enter the camp, there are murals of the villages where refugees came from. I wonder if this village – only about ten miles from Aida – was one of those villages, I am sure someone will know.

The history of this land is littered with death and destruction. Every one of the peoples who have populated this land have suffered from the violence that another community have wrought upon those previously living here. Sadly we are witnessing this all happening again. Can’t we find the wisdom to live together in peace?

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How do you write without endangering?

I was really annoyed recently to read an article written by someone who was clearly “pro Israeli” who criticised strongly people who are “pro Palestinian” (as he described them), for not criticising Hamas or the PA. for their detaining individuals without any defence, no lawyers, no limits upon time of detention or reviews, even the use of abuse to obtain confessions. I was very annoyed as the article named a person I know – and whom I knew was being held. I, and others I knew, were doing what we could through contacts we had but knew that any public naming would make that person’s situation even worse.

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Families protesting the detention of sons.

The article said that if the person had been held by the Israeli authorities then there would have been much protest about it.

I was annoyed at the irresponsibility of the writer of the article, however there is a sense that he did have a point. I don’t consider myself “pro Israeli” or “pro Palestinian,” rather “pro justice and peace.” However the comparison he was making is surly flawed in as much as the standards we expect of a Government are rightly higher than those we expect of other bodies. I beleive that when Hamas or the P.A. neglect human rights they do their own cause harm. They also fail to uphold the standards that their own religions call upon them to uphold, however there is surely a greater obligation placed upon those who hold authority within governments. Israel is a member of the United Nations and as such agrees to abide by international law. When it breaks this commitment surely it is right to criticise them. Hamas is not a member of the U.N.. The P.A. Has observer status and therefore there is – one would have thought – more of an obligation upon them to uphold the standards of international law, and if they aspire to statehood, as they do, then showing their ability to practice human rights elevates their cause.

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When you live in the West Bank, and travel to Gaza, when you know people who courageously stand up for rights, for freedom, for justice – it is all too easy to put them at risk. Keeping a prudent silence does not mean approval. Sometimes quiet moves behind the scene may be less visible to the media, but is more effective in a difficult place where the injustices are in the context of ocupation, but not all caused by it.