Palestinian Youth.

I was walking through the Old City of Jerusalem, along the Via Dolorosa as it happens and as I came around a corner there were three Palestinian youths, lined up against the wall and two Israeli Soldiers confronting them. I have no idea how the incident began but I stopped to see what was happening and made it clear that I was watching. The soldiers checked their I.D. and spoke to them for a while – before taking them away to question them further. It’s not an uncommon sight, and for each incident I don’t of course know the details of how the incident began or what had happened. Often though it seems to begin just with soldiers confronting particular young people. However the incident did remind me of the plight of young Palestinians in Jerusalem, they go out in the morning and can find that their day is totally turned upside down by just such an encounter.

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In Bethlehem you don’t see incidents like this. As most of Bethlehem is area “A” under Palestinian control there are no Israeli soldiers on the streets, but you do get “snatches” when an armoured landrover or two suddenly comes out from behind the wall – isolates a young person and then bundles them into the vehicle. Then there are also the night raids, where Israeli soldiers call at a Palestinian home in the middle of the night and arrest a young person taking them away for questioning. Some are then charged, others detained without charge and still others released. Being released can be the worst for young Palestinians as it is sometimes taken by others that it means they the young person has provided useful information to the authorities, they can be branded as informers.

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In Gaza its different again. There are still some Israeli raids into Gaza but they are unusual compared to the West Bank, but as the demonstrations over the last little while in the area close to the border wall have illustrated – young people in Gaza too face their dangers. The numbers killed and injured over the last two weeks are shocking. Clearly some Gaza youth get recruited into the military wing of Hamas, and then face other dangers again.

Whether from East Jerusalem, the West Bank or Gaza, young Palestinians face many difficulties in everyday life. Is it to wonder that some of them turn to violence? It doesn’t justify it, and I don’t condone it however it does in part explain it.

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Gaza – update.

The second Friday of the “Great march of return,” the six week long protest on the borders of Gaza again resulted in multiple deaths. Reports vary that between 6 and ten people died of gunshot wounds and around 400 were injured, on that one day.

In total there have now been at least 32 deaths and close on two thousand injuries since the protests began on Good Friday/Land Day.

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Gazan Children from one of the central Refugee Camps in Gaza.

While the Israeli description of these protests repeatedly say that they are Hamas organised the truth is that they were called – and organised by a whole range of organisations representing much of the main stream of Palestinian Society. There have been a tiny minority of the protesters who have thrown stones – and an even smaller number using Molotov Cocktails, however the main story of these protests has been the huge numbers of people involved and the discipline of thousands even while they are being fired upon with tear gas and live rounds. It is often forgotten that even in the famous non-violent campaigns of Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. there were very often a small minority that resorted to violence. Considering the incarceration of the Gazan population for the last eleven years it is really remarkable that there hasn’t been more violence.

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A market in the centre of Gaza City.

International media have seemed to lose interest in this protest,  which is sad as something quite remarkable is happening. It is almost inevitable that further injuries and deaths will occur but the energy of the protests suggests strongly that they are going to continue for the weeks to come.

Lets all pray for peace and a new determination to find a way of ending the blockade of Gaza so that the deep rooted problems of the region can be resolved. We are marking twenty years since the Good Friday agreement brought such momentous changes to Northern Ireland, is it too much to hope that soon talking might lead to peace in Israel Palestine. Jaw Jaw rather than war war.

Holy Fire – Bet Jala.

 

 

Today 7th April is Holy Saturday in the Orthodox Calendar. That is the day of the “Holy Fire.” The Greek Orthodox Patriach enters the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and brings out from it a flame that has spontaneously ignited (that is the belief, I make no judgement upon it). As he leaves the Church of the Holy Sepulchre he shares the flame and it is taken to Orthodox Churches across the Middle East. One flame comes to Bet Jala!

 

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The candle carried by a priest burns with the “Holy Fire.”

The occasion starts hours earlier when the scout bands process down from the centre of Bet Jala to await the arrival of the flame. No-one knows how long the Patriach will remain in the Holy Sepulchre before he comes out with the flame and so the arrival time of the flame is unpredictable. The bands march down and then the people wait for the flame to arrive and when it does the bands process ahead of the flame, as it travels to the Orthodox Church in Bet Jala, from where the flame is given to the people for them to take it to their homes. As the flame arrives fireworks announce its arrival – though today it was at times difficult to destinuish the bangs from the fireworks from those of tear gas being used somewhere not far away – Aida camp and the top of the Hebron Road (where clashes take place) are less than a mile away, and with all that is happening in Gaza at present the celebration here is contrasted with other events not far away.

Holy Fire is a great community event. The Christians of Bet Jala turn out in force, and some local Muslims join us to witness the festivities.

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A character from another meta-narative seems to have crept in here!

Being still part of Holy Week the cross still features in the event. I was rather taken with the twenty first century way of carrying the cross!

It is wonderful to see the church at the centre of such a festive and popular event. Here in the Holy Land religion – whether it be Islam, Judaism or Christianity still attracts the masses.

To end a slide show of the event.

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Gaza. Is it eighteen dead?

Having recently been in Gaza the news of many deaths last Friday come as a shock in one sense – but in another only what I left Gaza expecting. There are differing reports of casualties- between 15 and 18 dead and between 700 and 1400 injured -needing medical help.

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Children in a Gaza Refugee Camp.

it is clear that there are already many contradictory reports on what has happened and I have at present no direct information to offer but I did feel angered by the lead article in the Jerusalem Post today. Usually it presents a moderate pro Israel position. However in the article today it spoke of the “Hamas organised protests.” The truth is that’s the protests were called by all the Palestinian Political parties together with a number of Palestinian Civil Organisations. They were called for as Peaceful Protests. The suggestion that they were Hamas oragised is clearly an attempt to justify what the Israeli Army has done by saying that it was Terror (Hamas) inspired.

It is also worth noting that the first of the death took place even before the protests began.

Having made quite a few trips into Gaza I know that the overwhelming majority of folk are ordinary decent folk – and that some of them would have been there at the fence as it was a protest organised by the breadth of political viewpoints. As so many were hurt I fear that some of them I know may have been among the injured.

Please pray for the people of Gaza.

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Gaza beach and in the distance Gaza Harbour.

The world’s oldest Olive Tree?

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I had been told of a tree, near where I live, that is reputed to be perhaps the oldest tree in the world. So – I thought I might seek it out! Reference to the internet informed me that there were at least two trees claiming to be the oldest Olive Trees in the world, one near here and the other in Crete. I discovered that the tree was known as “Al-Badawi,” and that it was in the village of Al Walaja. One post indicated that the building of the separation barrier was threatening the tree as it was to be build close enough to it that the tree’s roots might be damaged.

With that information Mary (my wife), and I set off for Al Walaja to see what we could find. With my very broken Arabic we soon discovered that everyone knew of the tree but that their directions were – to say the least – inexact! Finally an elderly woman summoned her son (or was he a grandson) who confidently got into our car and pointed us the way! He indicated that we should park the car and then led us down a narrow path between small fields and through an olive grove. We arrived at a fence and a padlocked gate which was opened after some calling by a man with a somewhat intimidating appearance.

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He was, it turned out, “the keeper of the tree” and we found him hospitable and – within the limits of my Arabic and his even more limited English – informative.

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Apparently the tree has been studied scientifically and found to be about 5,000 years old. My imediate reaction was then that it was old when Jesus was alive, and then I realised that it was old even when Moses was alive!! Unlike ancient oaks in England the tree looked healthy. The keeper of the tree explained that the younger trees around the old ones were daughters of the tree.

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We were offered coffee, and the opportunity to buy olive oil at prices highly inflated from those I know of in Bet Jala! We talked about the tree and the separation barrier only a short distance away. Apparently it had been moved a short way away to avoid damage to the tree.

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After a while our guide took us back to the car after a brief visit to the local spring, where some local children delighted at leaping into the pool splashing water everywhere!

What a great afternoon! Friendship in welcoming the strangers, finding the object of our search. Palestinian hospitality at its best!

Mount of Olives – Palm Sunday.

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One of the annual events for the Christians of Jerusalem and the West Bank is the Palm Sunday parade down the Mount of Olives remembering the entry of Jesus into the City of Jerusalem at the beginning of the first Holy Week. Locals are joined by thousands of Christians from all over the world, to make this one of the largest gathering of people that takes place in Jerusalem.

This year I was joined by my wife Mary, my colleague Angleena Kaiser and others from the Church of Scotland. Even getting to the start was a challenge! Leaving my car at St. Andrew’s we caught a taxi, but all the roads ascending the Mount of Olives were closed! Having taken us around the back in the hope of getting us there – the taxi driver had to drop us where Israeli soldiers had blocked the road. They said to us – there will be a shuttle bus for you soon. We never saw the shuttle bus but when a half empty coach of Polish Pilgrims arrived at the road block the soldiers asked/told the coach driver to take us up the hill. So we arrived at Bethphage in style!

The Church at Bethphage has within it the stone that Jesus traditionally used to mount the donkey for the ride into Jerusalem (take that as you like!).

 

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Perhaps the donkey…I think not!

It was a huge gathering of people. The biblical account of the entry into Jerusalem was read and walkers were asked to reflect upon the need for peace in the Holy Land and elsewhere, while they walked. It took quite a while for such a huge crowd to get on the move and the walk – firstly up the hill onto the Mount of Olives and then on down the steep hill past the Garden of Gethsemane, across the Kidron Valley, through the Lion Gate, into the old city to gather of St. Anne’s Convent for a concluding act of worship.

It was uplifting to be a part of such a huge gathering of Christians – commemorating such an important event in the life of Christ. There were people from seemingly every part of the world taking part in the walk and also a huge number of people lining the route and watching the procession going by. There was singing, and chanting, praying and dancing. By the time we reached St Anne’s I was almost dying of thirst! It was a hot sunny day. Along the way I met many people I knew from different places – and that too was good.

In a world of divisions and hatred, where in daily life I see so much of the destructive and unjust behaviour of people against people – it was wonderful to see an image of something else. Though we were from difffering places, though we were of all ages, though some were rich others were much poorer, still together we walked in solidarity. The biblical book of Revelation ends by speaking about the New Jerusalem, a place where God is in the midst and peace and justice reign. As together we entered the City of Jerusalem, with its history of violence and division, there was something of a foretaste of the New Jerusalem in the event. Just a glimpse, just a cameo, but enough to remind us once again that peace and justice are possible – people can live alongside each other. One day they shall do so by God’s Grace.

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Palestinian Marathon 2018 – Freedom of movement.

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Today – 23rd March the Palestinian Marathon was held. There was a full marathon, a half marathon a 10K and a family fun run. I did the 10K and that was enough for me! It was a great event with thousands taking part – but, as with everything here, there was a political edge to it. It is perhaps the only marathon in the world run under ocupation, beside the separation barrier and through a refugee camp!

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Along the way there were many different signs reminding runners of the situation around them.

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This years – for the first time – there were specific features on route, for example Palestinian Dancers in Aida Campt and at Babbycock. The most moving though was the silent witness of mothers who’s children are imprisoned or who have been shot dead. As I passed, one of the mothers was in tears.

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I found the section through Aida Camp quite difficult as I couldn’t help but remember the time when I was tear gassed in the camp and had to run choking through these streets. I still have no idea why it happened – everything was peaceful at the time. Happily today the atmosphere in both senses was much better!

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Palestinian soldiers (officially security police) were much in evidence – and armed!

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Perhaps the most iconic view, in a marathon with the slogan “Freedom of movement” was running up to the checkpoint 300 – it was closed!

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The more familiar views of the “Wall” also provided a backdrop to the run.

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It was a really good do! Perhaps the hardest part was getting a medallion at the end, it was total pandemonium- oh for British queuing! I am tired out now – 10K was enough for me – I must get fitter!