Saturday, August 18, 2007

Dr Sabella Speaks Out

By Dr. Bernard Sabella
Amin (Palestine)
August 17, 2007

Transitions that accompany separation have a built in mourning process. Experts say that the period of mourning depends on the nature of separation, personal and group characteristics, attachments and values.

On August 15, I visited with a group of Fateh legislators in the Palestinian Legislative Council the towns of Qalqilya, Jayyus, Azzun and smaller villages in the vicinity. These beautiful towns, close to the Green Line of 1948 that separates the West Bank from Israel, are experiencing a variety of mourning processes.

One separation that stands out and that recalls the mourning process is the forceful detachment of the people of these towns, mostly farmers, from their lands. Standing on the roof of the local municipal council at Jayyus one can see how the Israeli built separation wall, a fence in this case, forcibly stops Palestinian farmers from attending to their land.

Yes, the Israeli military authorities have introduced a permit system but it is highly selective and does not allow able bodied farmers to access their fields. Besides, the opening hours of the two gates in the separation fence are so restricted; 7 to 8 in the morning; 12:00 to 1:00 pm and 6:00 to 7:00 pm that if one farmer misses one day, his agricultural produce would irreparably be damaged.

One old man in Jayyus told me that all is finished. The Israelis have taken our land away and restricted us from working on it. He was speaking so despondently that I was reminded of the mourning people experience on the passing of a dear one.

One of the foreign accompaniers in a World Council of Churches accompaniment program, stationed in Jayyus, told me that the accompaniers go to the two fences every morning at 6:00 am before they open. They monitor what is happening and they do reports that they share with the outside world. According to this accompanier, one of the biggest problems for the Jayyus farmers is the very limited number of permits issued by the Israeli authorities to enable them to access their lands. The presence of the accompaniers is recognized and praised by the people of Jayyus, the mayor and other community leaders.

Qalqilya is experiencing its own mourning process. Entry to the town is only possible through one Israeli military checkpoint. The town itself, with a population of over 35,000 is encircled by the Separation Wall. The best description of the Wall surrounding Qalqilya is that of a bulgy bottle with the bottleneck controlled by the Israeli checkpoint. Mingling in the local market one can see that business is at a standstill. Shop owners complain that the Israeli military does not allow for Arab Israelis, with yellow Israeli car plates, to access the town as they used to in the past. Accordingly, business is suffering and the once thriving town is now experiencing an economic depression.

The fact that many of the town’s agricultural lands are also beyond the Separation Wall makes it difficult to compete in the marketing of produce as accessing these lands render costs too prohibitive for export. One Qalqilya elder told me as he pointed out with his hand the route of the Separation Wall and a number of Israeli illegal settlements in the surroundings that the Israelis have taken away most of Qalqilya’s agricultural lands and they plan to take what is left. He too, like the farmer from Jayyus, had tears in his eyes. His whole essence of living, personal and collective narrative with the land of Qalqilya is being taken away from him.

There were other sad stories heard of smaller communities threatened to be totally displaced by the Israeli authorities in order for their prized land to become part of Israel and specifically part of expanding Israeli illegal settlements.

I left Qalqilya around nine in the evening with a heavy heart. The visit has confirmed that the problems of occupation are not simply political issues of how Palestinians and Israelis can overcome their historic enmity but concrete problems that result from a power relationship that is heartless and oblivious to individual and collective histories and narratives and to attachments of Palestinians to land and to its meaning.

Some would argue that lifting of the checkpoints in the West Bank would give a boost to peace efforts and would make Palestinians more comfortable with accommodationist policies with Israel.

But the lifting of these Israeli military checkpoints if done without willingness to change the structure of domination and land grabbing and annexation would mean nothing in the long run. The morning after, in the Palestinian Territories, will not come as long as Israel fails to take up its ethical and moral responsibility of ending its occupation of Palestinian Lands and redressing the wounds that Palestinians have suffered as a result.

All of us look for the morning after but for some its dawning can be difficult. From what I saw and heard in Qalqilya and Jayyus and their surrounding village and rural communities I doubt that the morning after will be with us in the near future.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Another Lament for the Children

By Joharah Barker
MIFTAH (Palestine)
August 15, 2007

In any seemingly inconsolable situation, you can always fall back on the maxim, “It could be worse.” There is truth in this, no doubt.

After watching, “Hotel Rwanda” in horror, I realized that our children have not yet seen their neighbors being hacked to death by another neighbor,or scores of bodies blocking off main roads.

So yes, it can be worse. But for Palestine’s children, it is bad enough. While our politicians continue to vie for meaningless positions of power, vilifying each other with an unprecedented vengeance and the Israeli army continues to invade, shell and kill our people, an entire generation is being raised and molded in a place that offers little hope for a healthy and prosperous future. Palestinian society, like many developing societies is mainly comprised of young people.

According to Save the Children, 53 percent of the population is under the age of 18, that is, approximately 1.2 million Palestinians. This is a significantly large sector of society andone which constitutes the future generation. However, what sort of future is in store for our children? What value system are they being raised on when everything around them is violence, poverty and dashed hopes?

The statistics alone speak volumes. Issues such as death, poverty, imprisonment or home demolition are difficult enough to comprehend for an adult, much less a child, whose main concern should be what new video game to play and not whether their house will remain intact overnight. However, our children are forced to face these issues every day, the psychological ramifications of which may not surface for years.

A total of 882 Palestinian children have been killed since the start of the Intifada in September 2000 as a result of Israeli military or settler violence up to June 2007. This is not including children killed in Palestinian internal violence, especially in Gaza, where at least seven child deaths were recorded in June, 2007 alone, according to Save the Children.

There are also over Palestinian 400 children being held in Israeli detention facilities. Then there are those children forced to live in abject poverty because their families have lost their jobs or their fathers are dead or imprisoned. Seven out of 10 households in theWest Bank and Gaza live in poverty, determined by the World Bank as living on $2/day or less.

The list goes on and on. How many Palestinian children have seen their homes demolished before their eyes, their fathers, brothers, sisters, killed before them or violently taken away byIsraeli forces? How many have been humiliated at checkpoints, their schoolbags carelessly flipped upside down and then left to be retrieved from the dusty ground?

These are rough circumstances for any human being to live under, much less children. Still,while the Israeli occupation has been a ubiquitous presence in the lives of all Palestinians for the past 40 years, Palestinian infighting has not. Unlike the ramifications, however dire, of a belligerent occupying force, the backlash from internal fighting may have such deep rooted consequences that years of rehabilitation cannot heal. Take for example, the media. All it takes is the click of a remote control and children are exposed to the poisonous rhetoric of Hamas and Fateh leaders, verbally slashing the other. Images of ransacked homes, flag-swathed martyrs and angry masked demonstrators pour out of thetelevision screen into the impressionable minds of children. The result? The unfortunate polarization of Palestinian society has inadvertently been passed down to the next generation.

Western children play games such as “cops and robbers” or the less politically correct“cowboys and Indians.” For a long time in Palestinian playgrounds or on side streets, children played “Israelis and Palestinians” mimicking Israeli gun-toting soldiers facing the more courageous and ultimately victorious stone-throwing Palestinians.

While the imitation of violence cannot be healthy for any child, the imitation of internal violence is that much more damaging. These days, innocent young mouths are parroting the venomous words of our leaders, calling this or that movement “treasonous”, blasting off curses against people that could easily have been their friends a few short years ago.

This is extremely dangerous and a point to which our leaders have been clearly blinded. The words and actions of politicians are not directed only to each other but to an entire population, children included. When a child witnesses the death of a family member at the hands of an Israeli soldier or settler, loss is no doubt tremendous. This is true for any death. How then, can this child be expected to process this loss when the death comes at the hands of a person he/she has seen before, someone who lives just down the street, who owns theneighborhood store or who is married to a distant relative?

Israel has done its share of damage to our young population, and will continue to do so as long as there is an occupying authority on our land. This is a fact that we, as a people must continue to confront and aim to annihilate until our last breath. However, the damage caused by this terrible fission between our political leaders is tenfold because our children will not know who the enemy is or why their neighbor “betrayed” them.

This will have long-lasting ramifications on our entire society. If we are ever to rid ourselves of the Israeli occupation and establish our own independent state, there will be innumerous wounds to heal. No doubt, those inflicted by Israel will eventually mend because they were perpetrated at the hands of a colonial force, one that openly attempted to obliterate the Palestinian national cause and usurp Palestinian national soil.

However, the gashing wounds left behind by this horrendous civil strife may never heal. We all know the story of Cain and Abel, one brother killing the other. Epics such as these were meant as lessons, for humans to learn from other human errors. Will Fateh and Hamas – or any other faction tempted to join the battle – finally realize that none of this can come to any good?

The responsibility of protecting our children from the Israeli occupation is already heavy enough. Let us not continue to create such deep wounds in our children that one day we will be powerless to mend them.

Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Programme at the PalestinianInitiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH).

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Heart-rending loss of Faith

This is a post from Marlin (Sally) Vis's blog (August 7).

He is "on the ground", preaching at The (Lutheran) Church of the Redeemer, working with the Lutherans and Anglicans (St. George's)

I preached Sunday, but my heart wasn’t in it. In fact, smack-dab in the middle of the message, I lost my faith.

It happened without warning. One minute I am bringing the Word, and the next, I have nothing to say – from the Word to no word. I went from looking out over the congregation seeking eye contact, to staring down at my notes, fighting the urge to step down from the pulpit and walk out of the building.

Actually, run out was more what I felt like doing.

A picture flashed on to some part of my brain – left or right I couldn’t say. But there it was, a snapshot that my mind’s eye had taken the day before. I didn’t see it coming, but I should have I guess. After all she kept me awake a good part of the night. She was on my mind when I woke, and I was thinking of her as I sat on the terrace going over the sermon for the last time. Seeing me sitting there, staring into nothing, Sally asked, “What are you thinking about?”“Nothing,” I said. I lied.

I was thinking about a different her than her, and didn’t want to talk about how this other she made me feel.

Then she just showed up in the middle of my preaching and drove away my faith.

She is four or five-years-old; I’m guessing four. She is wearing a black dress; I’m guessing she wears it everyday. She is barefoot; I’m guessing that she has shoes, but that they don’t fit. She has a runny nose, the green kind of runny nose; I’m guessing she has the green kind of runny nose most every day. She has empty eyes; I’m guessing she didn’t always have empty eyes. I’m guessing the light went out of her eyes the day she found out that not all children live in a place with no place to run and play.

She is a Palestinian refugee, living in a refugee camp on the edge of Bethlehem, the place where Joseph and Mary came to be counted. She doesn’t count. She is only a number – 7,000 children in this camp of 12,000 people. She doesn’t count; I’m guessing she knows it.

Her eyes are empty, but mine are not. Mine are filled with tears. Someone coughs and I remember where I am, who I am – preacher. I look up and see Sally with this panicked look on her face. I’ve been preaching with her in the audience for almost 30 years now, and I’ve never seen her with that look on her face. Well, actually that’s not true. I saw it one other time – the Sunday I lost my faith in the church.

How is it that God allows this to go on? How can God watch the light drain from the eyes of little girls in black dresses and not come rushing to the rescue? Is God too damn busy to help this little girl in the black dress and empty eyes? Does God count this little girl as one of his sheep? Does God know this tiny sheep is lost? Is God looking for her? Does God know she is looking for him?

I don’t want God to take anything away from any other child in order that this little girl has a place to run and play. Why does it have to be either/or? Is God only able to love the one child – only Sarah, not Hagar?

Is God’s heart so small that there is no room in it for little Hagar?

I’ve lost my faith. It’s a scandal, isn’t it? I’ve seen too many children with empty eyes to believe that there is a God who cares, a God who has the power to do anything. Oh, don’t get me wrong; I know that my missing faith is simply misplaced. I’ll soon find it. I know that there is a God who cares. I know there is a God who has the power to do something about all this. I know that God is angry. I know that God loves that little girl in the black dress and the empty eyes. I know all this because I know Jesus and I know that Jesus cares. I know that Jesus has the power to transform the world. I even know that the Spirit of Jesus will do just that. I know all of this, and even more than this. I just don’t believe it – not today anyway.

You get angry here. You do. You watch one people prosper as another people decline, and you get angry. On one side of the divide you see parks and playgrounds and nice schools and fountains and swimming pools, and on the other you see none of these. And you know that there is enough land for all the children to have a playground. You know that the little girl in the black dress with the empty eyes could have the same opportunities to run and play and learn as the little girls on the other side of the divide. You know this is true, and you also know that there is no heart to make it so, and no will to work for it. You get angry. You try not to, but you do.

You listen to politicians declare that the number one priority of the United States of America is to defend herself against Islamic extremists. And you just want to weep. You’ve see Islamic extremists, and Jewish and Christian extremists too, and you know that none of these is big enough or bad enough or important enough to be our number one priority. You’ve seen the little girl in the black dress and empty eyes, and you know that there are millions like her around the world, and you know in your heart that she is little enough and good enough to deserve to be every nation’s number one priority.

She’s not, and she knows she’s not, and you know she’s not too. And here’s the kicker – God knows she is not number one with us as well. I wonder how many times a day God loses his faith in us.I smiled at Sally, shook my head, muttered something about “preaching to the choir,” and went on. I preached. I prayed. I presided over the Lord’s Supper. I shook hands and thanked people for coming.

I went home, took a nap, and moved through the rest of the day and night. I got up Monday morning, put my feet on the ground and went to work.

My faith? Don’t worry; my faith is just lost, not gone. I’ll find it, because I can’t bear to be without it. The good news for me is that God doesn’t panic when I lose my faith. God understands, I think. God knows that I’ll live like I have faith whether I have faith or not. That’s why God likes me, I think – sees a little of himself in me, and in you too, I’d guess.

Thank God for that, huh?

God help us. Come Lord Jesus.

Monday, August 13, 2007

It's Not Just a Religious War!


By Ziad Asali
Orlando Sentinel,
OpinionAugust 12, 2007,0,5839793.story

Those who define the war on terrorism as a religious conflict between Islam on the one hand and Christianity and Judaism on the other play right into the hands of al-Qaeda and the Iranian leadership.

The ultimate success of the Sept. 11 planners was to initiate such a religious conflict and define themselves as the true Muslims who are fighting the infidel Christians and Jews. A holywar is what al-Qaeda wants in order to achieve power and it should be denied that, as should be its claim of representing the rest of the Arabs and Muslims. Its adherents should be isolated, discredited and defeated. They need to be confronted politically, economically, religiously, ideologically and militarily.

Their main argument is that the Christian West, primarily America and Israel, hates Muslims and is out to dominate, humiliate them and occupy their land. They contend that this is a modern-day Crusade, citing Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq and other conflicts as proof.

Palestine has been the ultimate symbol of religious, racial, economic, cultural and physical confrontation that stirs passions, and the extremists are doing all they can to own it. Conversely, no single event would harm extremists more than the resolution of the Palestine/Israel conflict.

The West has engaged in discourse about these issues on two levels. Officially, there are repeated private and public expressions of respect for Islam as a religion. Publicly, however, leading media and religious voices have depicted Islam as a religion of intolerance, fanaticism and violence that is incompatible with democracy.

Both approaches overemphasize the religious dimension of the conflicts at the expense of others. The main issues underlining these multiple conflicts are political with religious and other dimensions, and it would be a tragic oversimplification to lump all these issues as one global religious conflict.

It is, however, exceptionally important to debunk the "Christian and Jewish Crusade" argument. Recently, the United States engaged in armed conflict to rescue the Muslims in Bosnia against Christian Serbia, forcing the return of Muslim refugees against major opposition, and remains engaged in peacemaking there.

Currently, the United States is supporting Muslim Kosovo's independence against the opposition of Christian nations. The tsunami of 2004 mobilized a generous and effective American campaign to relieve the suffering of Muslim Indonesians. All these refute the anti-Muslim crusade argument.

It is the challenge of policymakers to come up with more such future examples. No image can substitute for policy, and an effective public diplomacy for Arabs and Muslims must contain multiple facets.

The first is challenging charges of American Christian racism against Muslims and Arabs, coupled with articulate highlighting of the positive contributions America has made to their lives. This has to be part of a larger message that calls for mutual understanding, respect and cooperation. Strident American voices of Islamophobia and racism undercut this strategy.

Second, a serious public discussion of the genuine grievances of the Arab people should deepen our understanding of their problems, their quest for ending the occupation of their lands and for dignity, economic opportunities and good governance.

Third is an honest explanation of the American system in Arabic to the Arabs, reflecting this country's values. Concepts such as the rule of law, separation of powers, freedom of speech and civic participation should be presented as palpable examples that viewers and readers can relate to. Tough issues such as racism and poverty need to be discussed, along with the efforts to deal with them.

In short, real America should be presented as it is rather than the America of Hollywood. Demystifying the American system undercuts conspiracy theories and opens up avenues for understanding and empowerment.

Fourth, a credible effort to resolve the Palestinian/Israeli conflict is to be coupled with tangible relief. As the political partnership between Palestinians and Israelis grows, an immediate package of substantial financial aid should be delivered with great fanfare. A billion dollars, as part of the budget of the war against terrorism, should be considered for massive reconstruction projects in the West Bank and humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Like-minded people of integrity and vision should work together to defuse conflicts and foster understanding. Let this be the only true conspiracy.

Ziad Asali is the president of the American Task Force on Palestine, a Palestinian-American organization advocating the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel as a critical U.S. national