Friday, December 5, 2014

Our Friends in Bethlehem!

Dear Friend,
As you know KairosUSA-Holland/Zeeland Community is affiliated with KUSA, the national movement.

Here in Holland/Zeeland, many of you have met Dr. Michael Spath, our KUSA partner from Fort Wayne, IND. He and Program Director Mark Braverman, are at the 5th anniversary gathering of Kairos Palestine, the call from the heart of Palestinian suffering. Terry, is Mike's side-kick from Indiana. Zoughbi Zoughbi, where Mike is staying, was our guest here in October. We have learned of Daoud Nasser, (Tent of Nations) at our first gathering in July!

If you have been tracking with us, many of the persons & organizations he mentions will become known to you as we go forward.

I am strongly inclined to offer training in the KUSA document to up-coming meetings of KUSA-Holland/Zeeland Community early next year (before Sharon and I take a winter Florida break, in mid-February). I taught the KUSA document to about 60 persons from HASP (the Hope Academy of Senior Professionals) the fall of 2012. We all need to be refreshed on how we can respond to the call for help from our Christian (and Muslim) brothers and sisters in Palestine.

We are hoping to bring Mark Braverman himself to Holland this spring to train mostly Mid-States leaders whom we are hoping will begin KUSA communities in their own regions. We are hoping that Seminary and College students will get that training as well. Pray that the way will be clear for Mark Braverman, the principle author and KUSA Program Director, to be with us here in Holland; this spring!

I have a real sense of relief and satisfaction that our KUSA-H/Z Community is closely associated with the growing KUSA (national) group. They in turn, are in close association with more and more national groups from all over the world, who are intent on responding to the call (for help).

Please keep tracking with us dear friend. We will gather again after the first of the year.

The growing right-wing nationalism of the Zionist leaders is driving a deeper and deeper wedge between the enfranchised Israeli citizens and the second-class Arab citizens, (20%), to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands who have been driven out, displaced to the far corners of the world, with no compensation or recourse legally to their homes, lands, olive orchards, freedom of movement, economic empowerment, water rights and a host of other indignities, including harassment, incarcerations and non-judicial assassinations.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: L. Michael Spath
Date: Fri, Dec 5, 2014 at 3:52 PM
Subject: From Bethlehem - Update #2

Dear friends,

Whew, what a few days Terry and I have had in Bethlehem. A whirlwind in many ways, but also renewing, productive, and inspirational.

We are staying at Zoughbi's home; actually, we have the use of our own apartment at the Zoughbi compound where his brothers and their families live. And he has been a very warm and hospitable host. Their daughter, Marcelle (graduate of Goshen College in Indiana), is also living at home and she leaves every morning very early for Jerusalem where she teaches English at the Schmidt Girls School, right outside the Damascus Gate of the Old City.

Terry's work establishing videoconferencing connections with Zoughbi at the Wi'am Conflict Resolution Center and with Daoud at the Tent of Nations farm has been very successful. Wi'am has been our base of operations and will function as the hub of the videoconferencing. Terry and Usama (Zoughbi's nephew who also works there) worked very diligently for two days discerning their needs. We at ICMEP have been able to provide them with a 48 inch television, a switch for their router, a cabinet, a camera, a cell phone tablet with data, and some other fundamentals. They are now set up and ready.

We spent the day yesterday at the farm with Daoud, his wife, Jihan, and his mother, Umm Daher, and did some basic study of their needs, and Terry today will go with Daoud to the store where we'll be able to provide for them a cell phone tablet with data, and a few other items. At the farm, we were also able to join with them as they welcomed a small delegation from the Christian Peacemaker Teams, with a couple of them based in Hebron. Last night, we were welcomed to Daoud's home and had a most enjoyable evening with Daoud, Jihan, and their family. Umm Daher was there, along with Daoud's sister, Amal, who some of you know from last year's trip, and their three children (two daughters and a son), each offering for us a display of their quite considerable music talent (the girls on the piano and their son on the kanoon. It was a delightful evening. Daoud explained to Terry and me his plans for planting 25,000 grape trees, returning at least part of the farm to the production of grapes not only for eating but for making wine (the original intent of "Daher's Vineyard," the title of Daoud's book and the original name of the farm). They'll begin by planting 3000 trees this January-February. . . .

As far as the Kairos conference, this December, 2014, as you know, is the 5th anniversary of the Kairos Palestine Call to the churches of the world from the heart of Palestinian's suffering. And as you also know, we in the USA (thanks to the work of our friend, Jewish psychologist and author, Mark Braverman), and from 20 other countries, have responded in solidarity. We are gathering at this time to plot our strategy forward in the next five years in solidarity with Kairos Palestine and with each other, and to also discuss our own strategies in our immediate and particular contexts. This has been the work of the conference. I moderate the conversation later on today, the one entitled "visioning for the future."

As you can imagine, the networking has been incredible, re-connecting with old friends, making new friends. Very good stuff. I've been able to spend some time with good friends, Don Wagner, the program director for Friends of Sabeel North America, who is leading a group here; Robert Smith, academic coordinator for the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem (Notre Dame's presence here - Robert's wife is the new minister at Redeemer Lutheran Church in the Old City of Jerusalem); Mitri Raheb, pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem; Mark Braverman, of course, is here, and we've been able to grab some very valuable time together to discuss Kairos USA; Rifat Kassis and Nora Carmi, both from Kairos Palestine; Katherine Cunningham, now of Kairos USA, formerly the moderator of the Presbyterian Israel-Palestine Mission Network; and others.

Folks that I've been able to meet and spend some significant time with Jewish liberation theologian, Marc Ellis; the directors of Kairos Great Britain, Germany, Brazil, India, and Canada; the heads of the Mennonite Central Committee in Jerusalem and of the Ecumenical Accompaniers in Palestine and Israel. I met the UCC's missionary working in the region stationed at the YWCA of Palestine, [Loren McGrail, Accompanying Naomi],as well as the Program Executive for the Middle East for the World Council of Churches in Geneva. I was also able to spend some time with one of the leaders of the US Campaign to End the Occupation, David Wildmon, Global Ministries Executive Director for the US Methodist Church. Finally, I had a short but important conversation with Yonatan Shapira, the Israeli pilot who became a celebrated refusenik and primary author of the famous 2003 "Pilots' Letter," and who, along with Sami Awad [Holy Land Trust], and a Muslim partner, was featured in the film "Little Town of Bethlehem," which we showed a few years ago. So, as you can imagine, it has been a very powerful and inspirational set of meetings so far.

Of course, as Terry and I speak to our friends here and listen to their stories, the situation here is dire, and getting increasingly worse. Daoud showed us where the 1500+ trees were bulldozed by the Israeli military in May; Joseph and Mary Giacaman have been allowed on their property near Har Homa settlement only once in the last 15 years; we saw part of the 4000 dunums (1000 acres) that the Israeli government has recently confiscated of Palestinian land; we also saw at Daoud's farm a second set of boulders that the Israeli military has bulldozed onto his road for visitors to traverse, as well as a sign for a yeshiva school to be built right next to the road which will house the most rabidly religious settlers, virtually making it impossible for buses to drop people off to visit the farm (and the back road, very narrow dirt road, through the villages, will also have an Israeli checkpoint, virtually closing off access to the five Palestinian villages and his farm). And all this in the West Bank, in Palestinian territory. Everyone here knows, as we know, too, that the Israelis do not want peace. The stranglehold is getting increasingly severe for our friends, Christian and Muslim, in Palestine.

Tomorrow Terry and I have lunch with George and Najwa Sa'adeh, of Bereaved Parents, who lost a daughter, 12-year-old Christine, to an Israeli military "hit squad" a decade ago (who many of you have met on our trips), and we'll also attend the lighting of the 3-story Manger Square Christmas tree in the evening. Sunday we spend all day in Nablus, where we have an audience with the mayor of the city, and also visit a hospital and a women's clinic, thanks to our board member, Amar El-Masri, returning in the evening to Jerusalem for the next two days. Monday, we visit with Tamara Asfour and Johnny Khano of Guiding Star Tours, my tour provider for every one of my trips, as well as meet with Omar Barghouti, the "father" of Palestinian civil society's call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. And on Tuesday, we meet with Yehuda Shaul, the founder and director of Breaking the Silence. And we're hoping to sneak in a visit, too, with Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, but he's on his way back from a speaking tour in the US and we're not sure exactly when he'll arrive back home in Jerusalem. Finally, on Wednesday next week, we head to Istanbul to meet with my tour provider for our trip next July.

One of the upshots of this trip is that I've been able to confirm a number of meetings for my next tour group here in June 2015. Very good!

So our time yet here will remain busy. The hospitality we've been experiencing has been, no surprise, wonderful. And Terry and I will be returning more committed than ever to our solidarity and partnership with our friends here.

I'm sure I've left some things out, but I'll update you all as time permits. I'm sure Terry, too, will weigh in as well. Terry has been posting updates and pictures on Facebook so you might also want to check those out, too.

Terry and I had soup and salad together tonight on Manger Square outside the Church of the Nativity (and a couple of Taybeh [beers from our friend Maria Khoury in Taybeh!]. There was all kinds of hustle and bustle as they prepare for the lighting of the tree tomorrow night. As a matter of fact, the lights were all being tested tonight - red lights "wrapping" the buildings on the perimeter, silver and blue snowflakes suspended by wires across the square, and the 3-story tree all aglow, with the lowly manger at its foot. What a wonderful energy!

Blessings, my friends, and know of our prayers here for a blessed Advent season to you, your families, and all your loved ones from Bethlehem.


L. Michael Spath, DMin, PhD
Indiana Center for Middle East Peace