Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Season's Gift from Kairos W. Michigan (KWM)

Dear Friend,
Enclosed is the link to Mark Braverman's address at Christ Memorial on November 9, 2015.


It is a two-fold blessing:

1) The first 12 minutes is an explanation (by Mike Spath, our partner from Fort Wayne), of the Kairos movement. His short, potent & informative overview of the historical antecedents to our movement can be used to explain Kairos W. MI to your friends, your church, your church mission's board, for group study (in a class for discussion); or, to archive for later use.

2) Mark's address is just under an hour. It's a personal, comprehensive, and uncompromising call for dismantling the Zionist vision of an ethno-centric Jewish state that intentionally marginalizes the indigenous Palestinians. Not very popular; nor politically correct--he and we understand that.

Mark Braverman is a brave, modern Jewish prophet who addresses the blind-spots of the current Israeli Nation. The Kairos movement seeks to energize and mobilize American ecumenical/evangelical churches to advocate and take actions for justice for the Arab Palestinians. We think this will mean taking steps to advocate with our government to insist on American values when granting aid to the Israeli State.

For those of you still with this post, my wife Sharon and I left for Australia on the day Mr. Braverman left town for Kalamazoo. This is my first attempt to be in touch with you since our return a few days ago. (Our youngest daughter and her husband have our two youngest grands, 14 and 10 and live in Melbourne, Australia. We had a great time!

Your Kairos W. MI Board will be assessing Mark's visit and be making decisions about how we proceed from here. Faithfully yours, (Rev.) John Kleinheksel for KWM

John for Kairos West Michigan ()
From indifference to any truth; from cowardice that shrinks from new truth;
from laziness content with half truth; and from the arrogance that thinks it knows the whole truth,
O God of Truth, deliver us!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Report on Fr Chacour's Visit!

What an afternoon and evening in West Michigan, USA, with a visit from Fr. Elias Chacour two days ago! (All Blood Brothers books were sold out!)

134 Hope and Western Seminary students (and a smattering of community folk) gathered at the College; and 275-300 people of all ages came to hear and meet him this gentle but forceful spiritual giant at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in the evening.

What a Kairos moment, given the crisis for Christian schools in Israel/Palestine as we sought to listen and learn. Joan Deming introduced Abuna's story (go to www.pilgrimsofibillin.org for more on the Mar Elias Educational Institutions (MEEI). A Free-will offering of around $500 was donated to POI (Pilgrims of Ibillin).

Thank you to St. Francis (and Fr Charlie Brown) for hosting the evening event and making Fr Chacour's presentation there available on YouTube (Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pknbPKioftU (Many of us had trouble hearing the presentation, so this is the way to really listen in).

Hearing the discouraging update by Fr Chacour, many were led to ask, "What can I/we do?"

Joan Deming, Executive Director of Pilgrims of Ibillin, is suggesting the following letter be sent to Israeli US Ambassador Ron Dermer, which I strongly urge you to write:

Date ______________________

The Honorable Ron Dermer, (Israel’s Ambassador to the United States)
Embassy of Israel
3514 International Drive N.W.
Washington D.C. 20008

Dear Mr. Dermer,

I am writing to object strongly to the deep subsidy cuts imposed by Israel’s Ministry of Education on Christian schools in the State of Israel, mostly in the region of Galilee. After many years of incremental cuts, the current level of support for these schools is untenable at just 29% of what government schools receive. The cuts have left these excellent Christian schools in dire financial condition, threatening their continued existence, while the comparable “religious and unofficial” Jewish Schools have 100% of their financial needs met by Ministry of Education subsidies.

The forty-seven Christian Schools of Israel are among your nation’s finest schools, and graduates of these schools give exceptional service and leadership as citizens within Israel and around the world. The students enrolled in these schools deserve equal respect and support with all other Israeli students. The schools they attend merit full support – not in the form of one-time bonuses or favors, but as dependable subsidies, equal to all other schools.

As an American and a Christian who cares deeply, together with many other American citizens, about all the people of the Holy Land, I see this crisis of increasingly restricted funding as unnecessary and punitive against the Christian minority in Israel. I would like to believe that Israel, as a democracy and a country that proclaims religious freedom for all citizens, is better than these funding cuts indicate.

Therefore, I strongly request that the Israeli Ministry of Education immediately comply with the law and restore government funding for all Christian Schools to levels equal to the subsidies given to all other “religious and unofficial” schools in Israel.

Respectfully submitted,

United States of America

We are considering convening a group of persons interested in pursuing the matter of justice for Christian schools in Isr/Pal. Let me know if you are interested in being a part of such a conclave! There are things we can do if we have the mind and will to do it!

Kairos West Michigan is gearing up for a visit to W. Michigan of Mark Braverman, the principle author of Kairos USA, an American response to the Call for Help from our Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters. Those dates will be Monday and Tuesday, November 9 and 10, 2015. Set those dates aside and watch for more details.

Thirty-one new people signed up to receive news from Kairos W. MI (KWM).

Thank you to Joan Deming (Pilgrims of Ibillin, Abuna's US affiliate), Michael Spath, our partner from Ft Wayne, and to Fr Chacour for this sobering reminder of injustice in Isr/Pal. Thank you to Western Seminary and Hope college for your encouragement, participation, and financial support. Thank you to our supporting churches (First Methodist Peace with Justice Committee, Hope Church, and Third Church, Holland, MI). We are definitely looking to expand the number of supporting congregations, interested persons and related groups.

Momentum towards a genuine movement of the spirit/Spirit is growing. Thank YOU for being a part of it! Faithfully yours, JRK

John for Kairos West Michigan
From indifference to any truth; from cowardice that shrinks from new truth;
from laziness content with half truth; and from the arrogance that thinks it knows the whole truth,
O God of Truth, deliver us!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Fr Elias Chacour to Visit Holland, Michigan!

Dear Friend!
Plan on attending events surrounding Abuna (Fr) Elias Chacour's visit to W. Michigan!

We can say for sure he will be address us (and answer questions) at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Holland on Thursday evening, 7:00 - 8:30 p.m. We are hoping for an additional venue at either HOPE College or Western Theological Seminary that afternoon. Further details will follow once plans are finalized. Fr Chacour models a reconciling spirit that draws Arabs and Israelis, Muslims, Jews and Christians together, not as adversaries, but as fellow human beings with the dignity to which all humans are entitled. His Mar Elias Educational Institutions (MEEI) have educated thousands of Christian, Muslim and Jewish, Arab and Israeli children and youths in modeling a better way forward.

I'm enclosing several pieces from today's newsletter from Pilgrims of Ibillin, (the American affiliate of Fr Chacour's life-long ministry) telling of a two week visit in Chicago-land by 12 students from the Mar Elias High School, and an interview with Emil Haloun, a teacher at the school. Joan Deming, the American Executive Director of "Pilgrims of Ibillin" will also be our guest on Sept. 17 along with Michael Spath, our partner from Fort Wayne, IND.

Fr Chacour is a Palestinian Arab Israeli Christian, one of the 20% "citizens" in Israel who are Arab Palestinian. Thus his witness is a bit different from those living in what is known as the "West Bank" or "Gaza". He will be candid and forthcoming in answering our questions about the possibility of peace in our region. Please join me in seeking greater understanding of how we can move forward toward Shalom/Salaam! JRK for Kairos West Michigan

First Ever Mar Elias Peace Tour
Winning hearts and minds in the USA

This summer, Pilgrims of Ibillin welcomed fifteen Mar Elias High School students and recent graduates to the US for a 2-week visit – in a new cooperative venture with the school Abuna Elias Chacour founded in Ibillin. The students and their teacher, Emil Haloun, stayed with families in Grosse Pointe and Ann Arbor, MI; in Oshkosh and Madison, WI; and finally visited Chicago, staying in dorms at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.

Everywhere they went, they shared stories of their families and school and villages, their hopes and dreams, and their experience as Arabs living within the State of Israel. They left a trail of new friends and a vision of possibilities for peace in their holy homeland. (They also enjoyed their first-ever celebration of an Independence Day on July 4, rode bikes, sailed and swam, went to museums and a concert and Shakespeare play, and visited with Jewish, Christian, and Muslim students, -- to say nothing of shopping and being wide-eyed tourists.)

The students blogged about their trip, and would love to have you read about their journey online. Please visithttp://mareliaspeacetour.org/our-travel-entries/. Their trip is also featured in the July Pilgrims’ Post print newsletter.

We are confident that these amazing young people from Mar Elias served as bridges of peace and international understanding, and raised awareness in the United States about Israeli-Palestinian history. They planted seeds of hope, while also making new friends and sharing in a lot of new experiences. Thank YOU, friends of Pilgrims of Ibillin, for helping make a key difference. Your generosity and prayers helped it happen.

A Teacher's Witness:
Emil Haloun answers an audience question after a student presentation, Peace Tour, July 2015

Q: “Does religion contribute to the problem or help solve it?”

Emil: “People in Israel are becoming more radical, not less. And our message at Mar Elias, therefore, is really unique, and unfortunately rare. Most schools convey indirectly a message of segregation, as opposed to building bridges of connection.

I will tell you something based on my experience. I also teach part time at Haifa University and there my students include a mix of Jewish, Arab, and overseas students. Among the students, I am always privileged to teach those who have graduated from Mar Elias High School. And I tell you truly, there is something different about our students. They come to college aware of what society is comprised of, unlike others who are really blind to what is going on around them. As a small example, many Muslim university students are for the very first time encountering not only Jewish students but even Christians. So just imagine what our school is trying to create in the midst of this conflictual and negative atmosphere in Galilee and elsewhere.

And this is related to your question about whether religious differences can cause harm. We are trying to take this reality and make something beautiful. I mean, can you tell who is Muslim and who is Christian here? No way! And we were hosted by American families, but we came here to meet them as human beings -- not to meet "the Americans" or "the Muslims" or "the Jews." A few days ago, we visited the Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee. There we met with Jewish students from Israel, and for them, that was the very first time they were speaking with an Arab student. So realize how many walls we have in that small, holy piece of land, smaller than the size of New Jersey. So, schools like Mar Elias, where I teach and these students study, are much needed in these uneasy circumstances.”

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Demonstration @ Susiya TODAY

Dear Friend,
Adam Keller is an associate of Uri Avnery (Gush Shalom). Here is his "on the ground" account of what happened in Susiya today, the Palestinian town the whole international community is now aware of, the epitome of what is happening "on the ground" in I/P. JRK

A traffic jam in the middle of the desert

The rendezvous was scheduled for 11:30 am, outside the Arlozorov Street Railway Station in Tel Aviv. I arrived at 11:35. "Three buses have already been filled, but don’t worry – the fourth bus will soon arrive" said the organizers’ representative. "There will be a place for anyone who wants to go to the protest in Susiya."

It is long since there was such a wide response to a call for a demonstration in the wild West Bank. Among the passengers could be seen quite a few long-time activists who had however not been seen in recent years. Why did the case of Susiya evoke so much attention, in Israel and throughout the world? (Circulating on the bus was the current New York Times op-ed page, featuring a moving personal story of a Susiya resident - Nassar Nawajah). This tiny threatened village is in every way worthy of support and solidarity - but in the past, quite a few instances of no less outrageous injustice have been perpetrated and met a virtually complete indifference and silence. One can never know in advance which particular case will become the focus and symbol of a struggle.

Little more than an hour's drive separates the vast metropolitan Tel Aviv from the godforsaken hamlet of Susiya in the middle of the desert. First the travel is along congested intercity highways – then, through back roads which become ever more narrow and in bad repair, the further one continues to the east and south. Somewhere, without noticing, the Green Line is crossed into the territory where there is not even a semblance of democracy, where the landscape is predominantly brown rather than green - apart from the occasional green patch of a settlement, which had the privilege of being connected to the Israeli water system.

At the end of the trip, the narrow road forks, and the sign to the right side says "Susiya" - but nevertheless, we turned to the left. The sign erected by the military authorities refers to the other Susiya – the Israeli settlement Susiya, which claims to be the continuation of a Jewish village of the same name which existed on this location during the Roman and Byzantine period. "Come and see Susiya - an ancient Jewish town" says the sign on the road we had not taken.

The Jews who lived here 1,500 years ago had lived in caves. In the Twentieth Century, Palestinians had been living in these same caves, until in 1986 the army came to expel them and turn the caves into an archeological site managed by the settlers. The Palestinians had to move to miserable shacks erected on what was left of their land. Is it possible that they actually were the descendants of those who resided in those caves in the Fifth Century? At the beginning of the Zionist Movement David Ben Gurion brought up that at least some of the Arabs in this country are descendants of Jews who lived here in the past, and who at some time were converted to Islam and started speaking Arabic. In 1918 Ben Gurion even published an entire book on this subject, in cooperation with the future President of Israel Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, including detailed historical documentation to support this theory. But before long it became clear that, even if some of the Palestinians’ ancestors had been Jewish, at present they have no interest whatsoever in being Jewish or promoting the Zionist Project. So, Ben-Gurion and his colleagues lost interest in further promoting this issue.

In the direction of Palestinian Susiya there was no road sign. For the Israeli authorities, it simply does not exist. "The competent military authorities take the position that there had never existed an Arab village named Susiya" stated on the Knesset floor Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan, of the Jewish Home Party. "Palestinian structures were built without permits on that location, and were demolished during the 1995-2001 period. Illegal construction continued, against which demolition orders were issued. In May 2015 the Supreme Court rejected a petition by the Palestinians for an interim injunction against the demolition of these structures."

There are no road signs, but it is not difficult to find Palestinian Susiya, with the Palestinian flag painted on rocks along the road. Four buses arrived from Tel Aviv and three from Jerusalem, plus quite a few private cars, and a minor traffic jam was created in the middle of the desert. "Pay attention, it is now the hottest hour of the day, it's one of the hottest places in the country, and there is almost no shade" warns the young woman in charge of my bus. "Please be sure, all of you, to cover your heads and take water with you. For those who have not brought it with them, we provide bottled water". On a low ridge above the bus could already be seen a human stream winding its way towards the rally.

The concrete cover of a rainwater collection cistern has become a makeshift podium, with several loudspeakers and a Palestinian flag flying. When the group from our bus arrived, the speeches were already under way, in a mixture of Arabic, English and Hebrew. "67 years after the Palestinian Nakba, it is still going on! They want to expel the residents of Susiya from their land! Are we going to let them do it?" cried former Palestinian Minister Mustafa Barghouti, eliciting a loud chorus of "No! No!"."After the Apartheid regime in South Africa fell, Nelson Mandela said that the fight is not over, the next part is the Palestinian struggle. We are here, we are struggling. We will go on struggling until Palestine is free!" (Chanting in Arabic and English "Free Palestine! Free Palestine! Free, free Palestine! "

Susiya resident Nasser Nawaj'ah, a leader activist of the struggle, spoke in Hebrew to those who came from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem: "Welcome to Susiya, all of you, welcome to Susiya, the fighting Susiya which will not give in! Our struggle is already going on for decades. In 1982, they erected the settlement of Susiya on our land. In 1986, they expelled us from the caves and turned them into an archaeological site of the settlers, then we moved to the farmland, all what was left to us. In 2001, they destroyed everything and drove us away, but we came back and set up our village again. You are most welcome here, we are grateful for the solidarity and support of all those who have come here. You are the other face of Israel, the face which is different from what we see of the soldiers and settlers who come to us every day. You give us hope, the hope that we can still live together, Palestinians as Israel's neighbors in peace."

He was followed by Professor Yigal Bronner, who teaches history of India at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is a prominent activist of the Ta'ayush Movement, which is active already for many years in support of the residents of the South Hebron Hills. "We are here in Susiya. What is Susiya? Not much. Some cisterns which the army had not filled with dirt, a few sheep which the settlers have not yet stolen, some olive trees that have not yet been cut down. What is Susiya? Susiya is 350 people who hold on to the land, clinging and clinging and holding on and not giving up, because it's their home. Quite simply, this is their home. Opposite us is the other Susiya. The Susiya which is armed and surrounded by a fence, which is connected to to water and electricity and sewage and has representatives in all the corridors of power, and it wants to grab what little is left of this Susiya where we stand. Susiya against Susiya, this is the whole story. The Palestinian Susiya has no soldiers and no police and no representatives in the Knesset and in fact it does not have the vote. But it has us. We are here to stand with Susiya and we will not leave. We will do everything we can to be here and prevent the destruction. And if does take place, we will be here the next morning to rebuild, together with the residents. Susiya is not alone! "(Chanting of "Susiya, Sussiya do not despair, we will end the occupation yet!" in Hebrew and "Yaskut al Ikhitlal", "Down with the Occupation" in Arabic.
"It is very important that you all came here, it is important to continue the struggle. There will be here another demonstration next Saturday, and on August 3 at 9:00 am there will be the hearing on the appeal of Susiya at the Supreme Court. It is very important to be there! Susiya is not alone! Susiya is not alone!"

After the speeches - the march to the edge of the ridge. "For anyone who feels badly affected by the heat and sun, there is a tent with shade and plenty of water. Don’t get hurt unnecessarily. And now – forward!"

Together with the Palestinians, locals and those who especially came, we all moved ahead to the rhythmic beating of the "Drummers Against the Occupation", and the heat did not seem to reduce their energy and enthusiasm. Above the crowd were waving the placards of "Combatants for Peace", one of the demonstration's organizers, with the caption "There is Another Way" in Hebrew, Arabic and English.  "Though shalt not rob thy fellow" read the big sign carried by Rabbi Arik Asherman, who already for many years did not miss any demonstration, "Rabbis for Human Rights" being another of the protest initiators. Other Biblical slogans: "Have we become the like of Sodom, did we assume the face of Gomorrah?", "Save the poor his robber, protect the miserable from the heartless despoiler" "Zion shall be built on Justice", "Each shall sit in content under his vine and his fig tree."

A five years old Palestinian girl held upside down a large sign in Hebrew reading "No more land grab!". One of the Israelis drew the attention of a woman in traditional Palestinian dress, apparently the grandmother. The granddaughter, laughing, turned the sign in correct direction before the press photographers arrived at this part of the march parade. Near was walking a strapping young man wearing a T-shirt of the FC St. Pauli soccer club of Hamburg, Germany, whose fans are known for their fight against racism, and next was a woman whose shirt proclaimed "Stop the Pinkwashing!", protesting the cynical use made of LGBT people by the government international PR apparatus ("Hasbara"). The text on the bag of a veteran Jerusalem activist referred to the elctions earlier this year: "We did not succeed in throwing Netanyahu out, which is very harsh and painful, but at least let him keep his paws off Susiya!"

At the end of the march, dozens lifted with great effort a 30-metre long sign reading: "Susiya is Palestinian, and Palestinian it will remain!". When the buses on the way back passed the official sign about "The ancient Jewish town" we could see it at the top of the ridge above the road.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Action Alert!

Dear Friend,
I'm requesting you to take action against the planned demolition of yet another Palestinian village.
Many groups are urging this action (CMEP - Churches for Middle East Peace; JVP - Jewish Voices for Peace; IPMN -Israel/Palestine Mission Network; and End the Occupation - (Anna Baltzer and others).
The Presbyterian appeal (which I am forwarding) is based on a report by David Etherington, who works there in the WCC Ecumenical Accompaniment Program and Kate Tabor, who works as a mission co-worker in Bethlehem. I have met Kate Tabor @ the IPMN conference last October and trust her.
Ethnic cleansing is still taking place. Our State Department has warned the Israelis against demolishing Susiya, but the warnings go unheeded because there are never any consequences when our policies are ignored.
In your message, urge the State Department to start putting teeth into our expectations (or use the form provided for you in the link).
Rather than find ways of living WITH their Palestinian neighbors, the present Likud-led government is insisting on putting up parallel Jews-only settlements. Friends, this goes contrary to our deepest held values, as Christians and Americans.
I'm re-reading Elias Chacour's BLOOD BROTHERS, in preparation for his visit to West Michigan on Thursday, September 17. There will be an appearance aimed at HOPE College and Western Theological Seminary students (but open to the community too); and an evening appearance at 7:00 p.m. at St. Francis de Sales Catholic church in Holland, MI. Archbishop Chacour is a Melkite Catholic whose forebears reconciled with Rome many centuries ago. He is 78 years old now and in retirement. Our partner Michael Spath and Pilgrims of Ibellin director Joan Deming will be bringing Abuna (Father) Chacour to Michigan and Indiana and other places in the US this September.

I'm attaching my review of the excellent documentary by Jews for Jews and all of us: "1913: Seeds of Conflict", which you can now see in its entirety at this link: http://video.pbs.org/video/2365519134/
Back to Archbishop Chacour's book, BLOOD BROTHERS. It is a heart-wrenching, arresting personal account of how he and his family were stripped of their home and land. It is an inspiring account of how he wrestled with the demons of counter-violence and began to insist that his love for Israeli Jews was as strong as his love for his own Palestinian Christian and Muslim countrymen. He refuses to be an enemy, no matter how he is treated. Friends, this is kind of empathy and grace is uncommon and yet sets the standard for us in our efforts for peace, justice and love in our region. The Mar Elias Educational Institutions are the result of his vision: the embodiment of a reconciling movement in the heart of the Israel/Palestine quagmire.
Thank you for tracking with us @ KUSA - West Michigan. And thank you to our emerging Board of Directors who are taking ownership of this movement! Faithfully yours, (Rev.) John Kleinheksel Sr (JRK)

Action Alert: Stand in Solidarity with Susiya

“Living with all things ‘Under Military Occupation’ burdens ones heart, one’s soul, one’s life. My heart breaks, my heart cries for the struggle, the struggle for all here in this land, Palestinians and Israelis alike, Muslims, Jews and Christians all living in struggle in differing levels of intensity. I believe that this conflict, this occupation and subjection of another’s land and life is eroding the soul of all.” -- Rev. David Etherington, serving in the Palestinian village of Susiya with the Ecumenical Accompaniment program of the World Council of Churches.

The burden of the decades-long Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is felt from Gaza where on the one year anniversary of a devastating war the tiny enclave still lies in ruins, to the Cremisan Valley near Bethlehem where a court victory to stop building the separation wall on private Palestinian land has now been undone by a more recent court decision. As pressure steps up on a number of fronts, the Village of Susiya is a salient example of where advocacy is urgently needed.

To answer the need, the Rebuilding Alliance and partners are sending a message to government leaders telling them, “I care about peace, I care about Susiya.” Please join them today by contacting your elected officials.

Villagers in Susiya have already suffered a history of displacement. A 2015 UN report recounts, “In 1986, the Israeli authorities declared the main residential area of Susiya an archaeological site and evicted all of its residents. Most of those who relocated to what was later designated as Area C were displaced again in the context of two waves of demolitions, in 2001 and in 2011, on grounds of lack of building permits.”

The same UN report notes that the illegal Israeli settlement of Susya, located next to the Palestinian village, “has a population of nearly 1,000, some of whom live in an unauthorized outpost erected in 2002 in the old community centre that was declared an archeological site.”

While the situation in Susiya is not unique, it is particularly urgent because in May the Israeli court refused to issue an order prohibiting demolitions during an appeal which is scheduled to be heard on August 3rd. As Rabbis for Human Rights explains, “The judge’s decision is de facto permission for the State to realize the demolition orders in the village, that has stood in its present location for 30 years.”

Additional causes for concern, as noted by Etherington and others, are recently arrived bulldozers near the village and a visit by the Israeli authorities who photographed and documented structures in the village.

While the occupation grinds on, advocates for Susiya are hoping that this village can stand as an example of the success of peaceful action. Etherington quotes a villager, “…today, when we cry out, the world hears us, many around the world hear our struggle and…stand in solidarity with us and our struggle.”

Stand in solidarity with Susiya – and stand up for peace for Israelis and Palestinians -- by contacting your members of Congress today to say, “I care about peace, I care about Susiya.” Ask them to raise this issue with the US State Department and with the Israeli Embassy.

John for KairosUSA-West Michigan Community ()
From indifference to any truth; from cowardice that shrinks from new truth;
from laziness content with half truth; and from the arrogance that thinks it knows the whole truth,
O God of Truth, deliver us!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Building Bridges, Not Walls!

Dear Friend,
Your KUSA-W. MI Board continues to plan for the appearance of Abuna Chacour here in Holland/Zeeland, Thursday, September 17.

We will be seeking support from the HOPE College and Western Seminary community, area congregations and community activists.

Archbishop Elias Chacour has pioneered reconciliation among all inhabitants of the land, almost from the moment when his family's home was destroyed, along with their village, during the early stages of the Israeli Occupation of Palestine.

His book BLOOD BROTHERS is still "must" reading for those wishing to know the kind of resistance KUSA champions.

This week's Christian Science Monitor highlights the story of Abu Awwad emphasizes that nonviolence is a means, not an end, and Palestinian rights have yet to be achieved.

Co-existence and Hope in the Heart of the Conflict

"... effective dialogue is the secure place for argument and deeper understanding. It is in this space that solutions can be built."

In our experience and our understanding, we know that violence is the product of inequality, fear and suffering. But more important than this - the lack of knowing each other - causes us to compete over our suffering and to fall again and again into the cycles of violence.

The Roots project draws Israelis and Palestinians who, despite living next to each other, are separated by walls of fear- not just fear of each other, but even of the price of peace. Without building trust, the suspicions between us will suffocate the political peace agreements.

In order to bring the two people's together, the project's outreach program includes monthly meetings between Israeli and Palestinian families, a women's group, work with school children, engaging local leaders, a summer camp, language learning, and cultural exchanges. In order to accommodate this wide variety of activities, a centrally-located site in the Gush Etzion area of the West Bank is used as a convenient meeting area.

We know that there is great disagreement over many issues - over the facts of the past and even about the reality of the present; but we believe that effective dialogue is the secure place for argument and deeper understanding. It is in this space that solutions can be built.

The promise of peace means different things to our people - but the path to peace is common, and must be walked together.

"Putting a human face on the enemy assuages the hatred against an anonymous foe, and helps people to stop feeling a victim. "

The coordinators of the Roots project are Ali Abu Awwad, Shaul Judelman, and Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger. For general questions and inquiries about Roots, please feel free to contact them at info@friendsofroots.net.

John for KairosUSA-West Michigan Community ()
From indifference to any truth; from cowardice that shrinks from new truth;
from laziness content with half truth; and from the arrogance that thinks it knows the whole truth,
O God of Truth, deliver us!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

What is Truth?

Dear Friend,
Occasionally, one article epitomizes the issue in I/P.

Such an article came out over the weekend from B'Tselem, the Israeli-based human rights organization (that tracks the settlement movement which seeks to solidify the Occupation of ALL the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea).

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is convinced Israel has enemies everywhere, seeking to blacken Israel's name internationally. Here is what he has said according to the NY Times: JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said on Sunday that his country faced “an international campaign to blacken its name” based not on his policies toward the Palestinians but “connected to our very existence,” likening the mounting boycott movement to anti-Semitic “libels” of previous eras.

In pointing the finger outward, three fingers remain pointed at himself and the practices of exclusion by Likud, of the indigenous population. He wants us to believe that criticism of Israel has NOTHING to do with Israel policies, and EVERYTHING to do with irrational hatred of Jews because they are Jews. The man and his extreme right-wing administration is losing touch with reality and losing any remaining shred of credibility. In the so-called international community, here in the US, and even among a growing number of his own citizenry.

There seem to be no release values in the pressure cooker that is continuing to boil. We seem headed toward another explosion. Unstoppable force facing an immovable object is like the Large Hadron Collider (CERN) in Geneva. GENEVA (Reuters) - The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will start smashing particles together at unprecedented speed on Wednesday, churning out data for the first time in more than two years that scientists hope might help crack the mystery of "dark matter". . . .

Nobody knows quite what the LHC might reveal with its new particle collisions -- mini-versions of the Big Bang primordial blast that brought the universe into being 13.8 billion years ago -- but scientists hope it will produce evidence of what has been dubbed "new physics".

Instead of particles colliding, the leaders of Israel and the Arab Palestinians seem intent on having their conflicting narratives collide, and that, at great force, with no compromises. It's all or nothing. Nothing but Unconditional Surrender (WW II) will be acceptable.

We seem to want to establish the reality of "dark matter", that mysterious force that makes up as much as 96% of reality. We are revisiting Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. And yet, as Shakespeare has Cassius say in Julius Caesar: The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,/ But in ourselves, that we are underlings Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141).

You need to know that Cody O'Rourke (Christian Peacemaker Teams) told many personal stories of how the children of Hebron are treated at the checkpoints, harassing them as they seek to go to school and make their way in and around Hebron, deep in the West Bank. Hebron, the ancient city of Abraham and Sarah, long a city inhabited by Arab Palestinians, but now claimed by a vanguard of Jewish settlers. Over 50 were present at First Presbyterian Church (Pastor Linda Knieriemen as host, along with Sarah Hamm and CPT) last Wednesday evening. Thank you Cody. Thank you Sarah. Thank you Pastor Knieriemen.

We are hosting Archbishop Elias Chacour this September 17. He has been in the vanguard of those seeking reconciliation among the people of the land: the new-comers and the ancient inhabitants of the land. Not an easy task. Put it down on your calendars, for the afternoon and evening sessions. Details are still being worked on.

With thanks to our emerging Board of Directors of KUSA - W. MI Community, JRK
Here comes the article by B'Tselem (also as an attachment). . . .

Israel’s Charade of Democracy
Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories is nearing the half­-century mark, and Israel’s new right-­wing government offers little hope of ending it.

Nevertheless, the new government promises something else of value: clarity. And with that clarity, the opportunity to challenge the prolonged lie of the occupation’s “temporary” status.

For if the occupation has become permanent in all but its name, what about the voting rights of Palestinians?
Two months ago, on election day in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that Israel’s Arab citizens were flocking to the polls “in droves”— a clear effort to cast the voting of one­-fifth of Israel’s citizens as a danger to be counteracted. That undermined basic democratic principles, but it paled in contrast to the status of the Palestinian population living next door in territories under direct or indirect Israeli rule. They have no say at all in choosing the government of the occupying power that is in ultimate command of their fate.

If you look at all the land Israel controls between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, that area contains some 8.3 million Israelis and Palestinians of voting age. Roughly 30 percent — about 2.5 million — are Palestinians living outside Israel under varying degrees of Israeli control — in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. They have some ability to elect Palestinian bodies with limited functions. But they are powerless to choose Israeli officials, who make the weightiest decisions affecting them. International humanitarian law does not grant a people living under temporary military occupation the right to vote for the institutions of the occupying power.

But “temporary” is the operative word. Military occupations are meant to have an end. And common sense says half a century is not “temporary.” Nevertheless, that is the basis for denying Palestinians their political rights: Their status is temporary, we are told, until a political agreement with Israel allows them to vote for sovereign Palestinian institutions.
Now the chances of that happening are more clear. On the eve of elections, Mr. Netanyahu promised that there would be no Palestinian state while he is in office. Does that mean nobody in the occupied territories has a meaningful vote?

No. In fact, some people do: Israeli settlers. In August 1970, the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, discussed amending the Knesset Election Law, which stipulated that Israelis — with few exceptions like diplomats on duty abroad — had to be inside Israel to vote. The amendment sought to expand the exception to include Israelis “residing in the territories held by the Israel Defense Force.” In other words, Israeli settlers could vote for the Knesset from outside Israel; their Palestinian neighbors could not participate from anywhere.

In a Knesset session discussing the amendment before it passed, one legislator and peace activist, Uri Avnery, expressed a widely held belief that peace initiatives would soon make the amendment obsolete. He expressed the hope that “it won’t be long — a year, a year and a half, two at most — before the thing called ‘the held territories’ is no more, and the I.D.F. pulls back into Israel’s borders.”

More than four decades later, what has become obsolete is not the amendment, but rather the accuracy of a description of Knesset elections often heard here: general, national, direct, equal, confidential and proportional. How can elections be “general” when millions of people under Israel’s control for almost 50 years cannot take part in electing the institutions that hold sway over them?

Let’s face it. Only the first six of Israel’s parliamentary elections — those held before 1967 — were truly “general.” Even though the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel proper were under military rule inside its borders at the time, they could vote. Settlers now have voted in their communities in 14 Knesset elections. Over time, their numbers rose from a few hundred to hundreds of thousands. Yet one thing remained constant: Millions of Palestinians could not cast a meaningful vote, even as the voting of their settler neighbors — citizens of an occupying power — helped decide the fate of the disenfranchised.

To be sure, after the Oslo accords were signed in 1993, Palestinians in the occupied territories got to cast ballots for some institutions of their own. But Palestinian independence never came to pass, and the interim partial autonomy established in its stead underscored how “temporariness” is abused while ultimate control remains with Israel.

The Oslo Accords themselves were meant to be an interim arrangement, in effect for five years. The most recent Palestinian vote under them, in 2006, proved of little value to the Palestinians; the results were set aside after Hamas emerged as the winner in the new Palestinian parliament — whose autonomous powers in effect merely relieved Israel of responsibilities for infrastructure, health care and education.

In reality, the Palestinian Authority remains subject to the whims of the occupying power — as was demonstrated most recently when Israel froze (and then unfroze) the transfer of Palestinian tax revenues to it.

All this is shameful. And one of the occupation’s most shameful aspects is the democratic facade that obscures an undemocratic and oppressive reality. Israel’s use of military force against Palestinians is one variety of violence.
Its patronizing disregard for millions of subjects, while boasting of its own “celebration of democracy,” is violence of another kind — violence to history, reality and the truth. A day will come when this occupation ends.

It may end with one state, two states, or something else. That specific political choice is beyond the deeper question of human rights, as long as the option eventually chosen respects the human rights of all.

For now, the one choice we cannot make is to continue calling the current reality democratic and the occupation temporary. Clarity may be of value after all, if it helps bring the occupation’s end sooner.

Hagai El­-Ad is the executive director of B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. A version of this op­-ed appears in print on June 1, 2015, in The International New York Times. © 2015 The New York Times Company

John for KairosUSA-West Michigan Community ()
From indifference to any truth; from cowardice that shrinks from new truth;
from laziness content with half truth; and from the arrogance that thinks it knows the whole truth,
O God of Truth, deliver us!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Christian Peacemaker Teams PRESENTS!

Dear Friend,

This coming Wed. May 27, 2015, we will hear from Cody O'Rourke and the Christian Peacemakers Team (CPT). Learn what living under the Occupation feels like if you live in Hebron, the West Bank. At 1st Presbyterian Church, (659 State St, Holland, MI). 7:00 p.m!

Big News: We have booked Archbishop (Abuna) Elias Chacour as our presenter, Thursday, September 17 (a Thursday). Right here in Holland, MI. Abuna Chacour (of Blood Brothers fame) is one of the originators of reconciliation between Jews and Palestinian Arabs in the land of I/P. Your Board is working on two venues, 1) for the College and Seminary students (in the afternoon); and 2) an event for the Western Michigan community in the evening. Stay tuned.

Big News (#2): Your KUSA community now has an emerging Board of Directors. We are feeling our way forward, with collegiality, diversity of experiences, young and old, passionate about justice and love in addressing I/P.

We are moving toward articles of incorporation as a Not-For-Profit Corporation, changing the name of our community from KUSA - Hollland/Zeeland to Kairos USA - West Michigan Community.

Our evening with Daoud Nassar included multiple persons from Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Grand Haven, South Haven, as well as persons from Holland and Zeeland. So, although based in Holland/Zeeland, our reach is to all of W. MI (and beyond).

Your Board of Directors continues to affirm the KUSA national movement, whose Executive Director, Mark Braverman, writes to all of us in this forwarded Pentecost newsletter.

We will be learning more about the KUSA document, a "Response" to the cry for help from our Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters (and a "Call for Action").

I made a perfect nuisance of myself, again, in responding to Mr. Dunkelberger's screed in the Holland Sentinel. Forgive me for that. I'll try to keep quiet publicly. For a while at least. He addressed me personally. Many times. In public. I wanted to give him a response. In public. In responding, I was fully aware that his mind would not be changed. But hopefully there are others who have more of an open mind and really want to know "what's going on over there" and why the Zionist experiment is losing its luster. (If you want copies of 1) my first letter to the editor, 2) his response, and 3) my response, just ask me. I'll shot them right off.)

So take this as a personal invitation to join us at 1st Presbyterian Church this coming Wednesday, May 27, at 7:00 p.m., in the sanctuary. (With thanks to Sarah Hamm and Rev. Linda Knierieman). One of our goals as a KUSA community, is to lift up those who are making a difference in reconciling opposing persons and forces. We will not throw up our hands in resignation and defeatism. We are still in awe at the turn-out to the event with Daoud Nassar, who appeared via SKYPE and addressed us personally on April 30. There were 110 present for this event, even though it was announced he would not be able to appear in person.

We want to understand more and do more to truly address the issues and bring about resolution of long-standing problems and an end to the occupation and oppression of the indigenous people of the land. Please join us! Faithfully yours, JRK

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Gulf Summit and I/P

Dear Friend,

While I'm preparing my response to today's Sentinel op-ed, I thought I would put together some relevant material to put Obama's Gulf Summit into perspective, especially as it relates to our region. US Middle East policies are in flux.

With President Obama inviting leaders of the Gulf states to Washington today (May 13, 2015) and Camp David tomorrow, interest is heightened as to his views on US Middle East policy, and especially with regards to Israel/Palestine.

He was recently interviewed by Asharq Al-Awsat, a leading Arabic-language newspaper. This summit of Gulf State leaders is perhaps the most significant in the last 50 years. It is a far-ranging interview, covering Yemen, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and Egypt. We are especially interested in what he says about I/P. Here are the relevant paragraphs:

Q: There was much appreciation for your initial efforts to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine and have a two-state solution. And yet those efforts have been met by obstruction from various sides. Have you given up on reaching the two-state solution before the end of your presidency, and if not, how can you change the dynamic?

I will never give up on the hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and the United States will never stop working to realize that goal. As I said when I visited Ramallah two years ago, Palestinians deserve an end to the occupation and the daily indignities that come with it; they deserve to live in an independent, sovereign state, where they can give their children a life of dignity and opportunity. And as I said in my speech to the Israeli people on that same trip, peace between Israelis and Palestinians is necessary, it is just, and it is possible. It is also in the national security interest of the United States. That’s why we’ve worked so hard over the years for a two-state solution and to develop innovative ways to address Israel’s security and Palestinian sovereignty needs.

With the breakdown of talks, simmering tension in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, last summer’s conflict in Gaza, and serious questions about overall commitment to a two-state outcome, it’s no secret that we now have a very difficult path forward. As a result, the United States is taking a hard look at our approach to the conflict.

We look to the new Israeli government and the Palestinians to demonstrate—through policies and actions—a genuine commitment to a two-state solution. Only then can trust be rebuilt and a cycle of escalation avoided. Addressing the lasting impact in Gaza of last summer’s conflict should also be central to any effort. Ultimately, the parties will need to address not just Gaza’s immediate humanitarian and reconstruction needs, but also core challenges to Gaza’s future within a two-state context, including reinvigorating Gaza’s connection with the West Bank and reestablishing strong commercial links with Israel and the global economy.

Here is now a lead article in today’s Haaretz newspaper (the leading “liberal” newspaper in Israel):

Despite Obama's demand, Netanyahu's coalition guidelines make no commitment to Palestinian state
Neither of Netanyahu's previous two governments made commitment to two states either, but Israel's international standing and the demands of the U.S. and Europe have changed the playing field.
By Barak Ravid | May 13, 2015 | 1:19 PM |
A document detailing the basic guidelines of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new coalition, presented Wednesday to the Knesset, bears no mention of the solution of "two states for two peoples" nor does it include any intention of establishing a Palestinian state.
The document includes a general statement alone according to which, "the government will advance the diplomatic process and will strive for a peace agreement with the Palestinians and with all of our neighbors."
The document also mentions that the government will push for a diplomatic peace process while preserving Israel's security and national historical interests. "If an agreement of this kind is reached, it will be brought for the approval of the cabinet and the Knesset, and if necessary, for a national referendum as well," the document on the coalition guidelines says.
The wording of the political clause in the document is similar to the wording used in Netanyahu's previous government in 2009 and 2013. Neither of those two government expressed commitment to a two-state solution either – mainly due to the opposition of many members of Likud and its coalition partners on the right. . . . .

Friends, here are my thoughts:
“Ending the Occupation” is a code phrase in Israel, for dismantling the Jewish/Israeli State. Israel, especially under the new Likud administration will not “stand for” it.

The Two-State solution has been dead at least since 1967, when Israel’s rulers decided against a “deal” to divide up the conquered territory with Palestinians, satisfying their quest for an independent state. After what happened in the Israeli War for Independence in 1948 (driving out the Palestinians), the Israelis can never trust the (possible) good intentions of the Palestinian people to co-exist with the Israeli interlopers.

It does appear that President Obama is going to hold Prime Minister Yetanyahu to his electioneering comment that Likud will never conclude a treaty granting Palestinian state-hood, “under his watch”.

Yet, Obama holds to the politically correct view that the “Two-State” solution is still the official view.
Many of us are strongly of the opinion that the way forward is to continue to press for a One State solution with liberty and justice for all the inhabitants of the land (and justice for the millions of refugees who were displaced by the Israeli Occupation).

The Separation Barrier continues to prevent previous human/interpersonal contact between ordinary Israelis and Palestinians, thus intensifying “us vs. them” adversarial relations. The immediate future is more and more bleak in my view. Hopefully, the logjam that intensifies will be released as a few of the logs (settlements, Palestinian disunity, popular apathy) are slowly removed.

Stay tuned for developments.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Daoud Nassar, Palestinian Farmer (Tent of Nations)

Dear Friend,
It is with deep sadness that we announce that Daoud Nassar, Palestinian Christian farmer, is not able to keep his appointment with us for Thursday, April 30 in Holland/Zeeland, MI, USA.

BUT, the KUSA leadership team (still forming!) has decided to GO AHEAD with both the 5:00 Benefactor Reception AND the 7:00 Main Event in the Chapel, at Christ Memorial Church.

"Benefactors" will hear directly from Bill Plitt, President of FOTONNA (Friends of Tent of Nations, North America), who (at 5:00) will explain in more detail why Daoud could not come and how we can support Daoud in his struggle to maintain his domain in the face of Israeli roadblocks and harassment. It is more important than ever to understand what drives the broken relationships between the Israeli settlers/occupiers and the native land-holders. Mike Spath, our partner from Fort Wayne's Indiana Center for Middle East Peace (ICMEP) will also be present.

In a hastily convened meeting at Western Seminary this morning, 7 of us (leaders) concluded it would NOT be wise to hold the Farmers Colloquy with Jeff Roessing and WTS students and agricultural enthusiasts, since Daoud's person was deemed essential to its success.

At 7:00 - 8:30 p.m. we will see a freshly made video from Daoud to us, as well as the Power Point presentation that Bill Plitt and Daoud would be giving even if Daoud were able to come. We will receive an inside glimpse of Tent of Nations and why and how it is an international demonstration of the nonviolent struggle to be part of the soon-to-be growing, pluralistic Israeli democracy with equal rights and responsibilities for all citizens. (We are a long way from this goal, but that IS the goal, according to many of us!)

For those of you who are still with me, here is a little bit more about the issue that keeps Daoud from traveling to four venues in the US Midwest: The Israeli territorial authorities have demanded that Daoud (and other area farmers) re-register their farms. He has done that by the April 21 deadline. BUT, there is a meeting next week, where aerial surveys will be examined to determine if any of the ancestral holdings should be classified as "State/Public Land" instead of personal property. So, the stakes are high for our friend and his friends. His presence was deemed to be paramount.

Please help us get this important word to any and all of your constituencies.

As Travis West (a professor at Western Seminary, and one of our "leaders") puts it so well: [In the light of these changes]: Bill [Plitt] and Mike [Spath] will be there to speak on behalf of Daoud, and that, given the events that are keeping Daoud in Palestine, [our] support and participation is even more critical now than ever.

Faithfully yours, for KUSA - Holland/Zeeland, I am, John Kleinheksel

Friday, April 3, 2015

Israeli Major General: "We Don't Do Gandhi Very Well"

Dear Friend,
We're between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. I've been waiting for a full year to send you this powerful reminder of what our friends in Israel/Palestine are facing. Oppression is a harsh term. Occupation is a word that Israelis refuse to utter. For all his bluster about Iran, PM Netanyahu never mentions the Palestinians. Israel is a fear-based society, seeing threats to its survival at every turn.

Please read this article carefully. It's from Prism, put out by Eastern University (Tony Campolo, emeritus). Ron Sider from Evangelicals for Social Action knows the author of this piece, Ryan Beiler.

The "weakness" of Jesus' Way led to his persecution and execution. His resurrection is God's validation of his Way of forgiveness and persistence in nonviolent action to confront the excesses, the hypocrisy, the mendacity and cruelty of Empire.

Our friends, the Israelis and the Palestinians, need our support in bringing about justice, redress of grievances, equality of treatment and liberty with civil rights and the same law for all citizens of the land. JRK


Posted by Prism on Tuesday, April 1, 2014 ·


Story and photography by Ryan Rodrick Beiler

Mahmoud Al’aa Elddin spends most Friday afternoons in “dialogue” with the Israeli soldiers who invade his West Bank village of Al-Masara. Each week since 2006, Palestinian, international, and Israeli activists have attempted to march from Al-Masara to agricultural lands that will be cut off by the Israeli separation barrier if extended as planned. Armed only with a Palestinian flag, Al’aa Elddin faces a row of gun-toting, riot-shielded conscripts blocking the road.

Here, as with 85 percent of its route, the barrier would take more Palestinian land for Israeli settlements instead of separating the West Bank from Israel on the internationally recognized border, or Green Line. Both the barrier and the settlements are illegal under international law because Israel is building them on occupied Palestinian territory.

Many believe the barrier that is in place has stopped Palestinian suicide bombings, which ended in 2008. Between October 2000 and February 2008, these and other acts of violence killed 1,012 Israelis. During the same period Israelis killed 4,536 Palestinians. Most victims on both sides were noncombatant civilians. But even now, only two-thirds of the barrier’s planned route is complete. Large gaps, which could easily be infiltrated by would-be attackers, allow tens of thousands of unauthorized Palestinians to enter Jerusalem or Israel on a daily basis to find work. Even former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens told an Israeli newspaper, “It’s clear there is no connection between the wall and the cessation of attacks.”

“Some people think that this wall is just to protect the Israeli people for security,” says Al’aa Elddin. “But they don’t know at the same time this wall is dividing the land and separating families.”

To protest the barrier, several Palestinian villages started weekly demonstrations, including those documented in the films Budrus and the Oscar-nominated Five Broken Cameras. In these two cases, activism succeeded in moving the barrier closer to the Green Line, leaving more village land accessible for cultivation.

WEstbankMost of the organized protests are peaceful. But unaffiliated youth sometimes throw stones at the wall, jeeps, or soldiers. At the Al-Masara demonstration, there is almost never stone-throwing. “Peaceful resistance is important because there is no reason for the Israeli army to shoot,” says Al’aa Elddin. “And this will show who uses violence.”

The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem has reported on the army’s systematic “dispersal of demonstrations using force, even when demonstrators were not violent in any way.” In the last decade, the military has killed 15 protesters and injured scores more through unlawful use of tear gas projectiles, rubber-coated steel bullets, and live ammunition.

“We don’t do Gandhi very well,” admits Israeli Major-General Amos Gilad, according to a leaked US State Department cable. The same document describes how the military will “be more assertive in how it deals with these demonstrations, even demonstrations that appear peaceful.”

While the army has used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the Al-Masara demonstration, most weeks the marchers get very up-close and personal with the soldiers blocking the road. The ensuing “dialogue” embodies the problem often ignored by would-be peacemakers who recommend reconciliation without acknowledging the power disparity between Palestinians and their military occupiers. Those with greater power have little motivation to risk genuine conversation, or to change anything as a result.

“Just put your guns on the ground and come to our side if you want peace,” Al’aa Elddin tells one soldier. “We will welcome you, and we will drink coffee. We will discuss it, and we will find a solution.”

“We just want to put some keys in their mind just to open it and to think more as a person,” says activist Moath Al Lahham of Bethlehem. “Sometimes they don’t want to speak, they just want to stand and block the road. Some of them said, ’I don’t like it, but this is an order. I want to leave, but I don’t have the chance.’ And some of them said these words like a machine: ’It’s our land. God promised. You as a Palestinian, you shouldn’t be here. It’s just for Jews.”

20120914-palestine-0282Though none of these activists are Christians, their actions often embody the kind of radical reign-of-God subversion that Jesus preached in the Sermon on the Mount. What some dismiss as passivism in Christ’s commands to turn the other cheek, offer the cloak as well as the coat, and go the second mile (Matthew 5:29-31), others interpret as confronting the oppressor with one’s humanity. Activists have even offered the soldiers cups of tea, bites of birthday cake, and plates of pasta. Each gesture asserts the dignity of the host, while heaping hot coals (Romans 12) on the heads of uninvited guests.

“Just put your guns on the ground and come to our side if you want peace,” Al’aa Elddin tells one soldier. “We will welcome you, and we will drink coffee. We will discuss it, and we will find a solution.”

When asked about his response to this invitation, the soldier says in unaccented English, “I didn’t understand him.” When reminded that Al’aa Elddin was speaking English, the soldier says, “I didn’t listen.”

But these activists know their main audience lies beyond the row of riot shields. Even if a few soldiers’ hearts and minds are opened, a just peace will only come through pressure on an Israeli society content with the status quo. “I think in this peaceful demonstration, the important and the first thing is to make a change in the thinking of many people around the world,” says Al’aa Elddin. “I have the hope and I have the power inside me to continue. But in the same time I don’t have power like the Israeli occupation. They have the power; they have all the guns. But for me, my weapons and my power are more and more the international people and the Israeli people who come and stand by my side.”

“Our problem is not with the Israeli people,” says Al’aa Elddin. “Israeli people come, and they participate with us in our demonstration. The problem is with the Israeli army and the settlers who occupy the land, build the settlements, and use violence against Palestinians.”

According to Israeli activist Sahar Vardi, her main role is “simply to show solidarity, to convey the message that Palestinians are not alone in resisting the occupation.”

Other Jewish activists express a religious motivation. “The most important teaching in the Torah is that God stands with the oppressed and that God demands that we stand with the oppressed,” said Rabbi Brant Rosen, an activist with the US group Jewish Voice for Peace, at one week’s protest. “For Jews, it is a profound challenge for us because we need to look inside ourselves and understand the ways that we have become oppressors ourselves.”

Solidarity activists also leverage their presence and privilege against unjust structures. “The cost of getting arrested for an Israeli activist is much smaller than for a Palestinian activist for the same action,” says Vardi, who once physically blocked soldiers attempting to arrest a Palestinian boy.

20120518-palestine-0424While Israelis live under civil law, Palestinians like Al’aa Elddin live under the military rule of occupation. “Palestinian residents have no vested freedom of protest,” reports B’Tselem. “Even nonviolent resistance and civil protest involving peaceful assembly are forbidden.”

Many Palestinian activists have been imprisoned under false accusations of violence or charges of organizing “illegal demonstrations.” Al’aa Elddin once spent a week in Israeli prison, charged with assaulting an Israeli officer. Despite video evidence proving his innocence, the military court ordered him to pay 3,000 shekels for his release—more than five months’ wages for the average Palestinian.

Yet despite such risks, Mahmoud Al’aa Elddin remains committed to nonviolent activism: “I think that peace will not come by using violence. Peace will come by the nonviolent way, because violence never brings peace or freedom to any people.”
Ryan Rodrick Beiler is a service worker with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Palestine and Israel.
There is no PEACE without JUSTICE; there is no justice without LOVE.