Thursday, February 24

MCC Palestine Update #106

MCC Palestine Update #106

24 February 2005

Dear Friends,

Greetings from MCC Palestine. We hope that this update finds all of you well. The past month has been a busy time for us here in the unit as well as a highly profiled time for Israel and Palestine, as you have probably heard recently the talk of “cease-fires” and “truces.” We appreciate the opportunity to share some thoughts from an on-the-ground perspective.

Balancing the Equation: Can Peace Precede Equality?

Many people have written to us regarding the recent summit at Sharm a-Sheikh between the new Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. News broadcasts are full of developments: the return of men who were held up in the siege of the Nativity Church in 2002 who had been exiled from the West Bank to Gaza, the bodies of Palestinians who had been killed released to their families, and even a “re-routing” of the Israeli Separation Barrier. Developments like these, mixed with the warm sunshine of the recent spring-like weather here, can fill one with a sense of the hopeful nature of change. New beginnings, new prospects, new ideas.

What people who are living here need to know, however, is what does this do to balance the equation? Any “peace process” must fundamentally ensure the equality of the parties involved in order for peace to be sustained. There is a major imbalance of power between Israel and Palestine. There is also a major imbalance of international support for Israel over Palestine. In order to see some of these realities in facts and figures, visit

So at the risk of sounding like eternal pessimists or cynics, we know that reality is what is found on the other side of the equal sign.

Separation Barrier inside of 1967 Green Line + Re-routing of Separation Barrier =
Separation Barrier Remains on Palestinian Land, Separating it from the People.

Settlements Removed From Gaza + More Settlements Established in West Bank =
Illegal Israeli Settlements on Palestinian Territory.

“Democratic” Palestinian Elections + Israeli Occupation =
New Leader under Occupation.

And that is the bottom line-occupation still exists. An occupation that is harmful to the well being of Israelis and Palestinians alike and harmful to a just and sustainable peace. As a local Palestinian woman said well, “Palestinians need something in their hands-to feel it.” A balanced equation.

For more information and maps concerning land issues, visit the websites of these MCC partners:,,

Bridges Not Walls Campaign

This past fall, the MCC Washington D.C. office launched a letter writing campaign in response to the Separation or Apartheid Wall that is being built on Palestinian land. The campaign, which has extended through this month, has resulted in close to 2,000 letters being written to the President or other political representatives concerning the issue. We are thankful for the response of individuals and churches in exercising their democratic voices regarding this issue.

MCC Advocacy Delegation Visits Israel and Palestine

February 16-18, delegates from MCC Offices in Canada and the United States came to visit the MCC Palestine unit, to visit Palestinian and Israeli partners and to discuss the direction for advocacy in the coming months. It was an encouraging time for our partners to be heard and for us working here in Palestine to feel encouraged and supported by the presence of individuals working in the North America to come and see the realities of the situation here and to be committed to advocating for a just peace.

As always, we are thankful for all of the support of those who read these updates. We appreciate the opportunity to bring people closer to the situation here. Attached are two articles addressing some of the issues raised in this update as well as a Lent reflection from Palestine.

In peace,

Chris and Tim Seidel
MCC Peace Development Workers in Bethlehem

Lent Reflection: “To Know Him in His Suffering” by Chris Seidel
Article: “There will be no Middle East peace without justice: At no point yesterday did anyone mention occupation” by Robert Fisk
Article: “Good morning to the Israeli left” by Gideon Levy


To Know Him in His Suffering

By Chris Seidel, MCC Palestine

“He was despised and rejected-a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by. He was despised, and we did not care.” -Isaiah 53:3

The rubble from the homes was only two days old when we arrived. Seventeen families were forced to find housing elsewhere. Some of them were being put up in the Red Crescent Hotel where we were staying, the only hotel in Khan Younis, Gaza.

Children were sitting on the dirt piles where a house once stood, warming themselves by a fire. The adults were sitting together drinking some coffee. They welcomed us to see their home, a tour that was not exactly safe. Bullet holes and other signs of shelling permeated the house; no room had been left untouched.

Their neighbors beckoned us to come and see their bathroom where, just two hours before, a missile had come through the ceiling, barely sparing the life of their two-year-old daughter Ghada. I looked at Ghada. It was obvious that she had Down’s Syndrome. I wondered how she would ever process this traumatic experience.

Another man came up to us. His name was Moustafah Hejoo. He asked, “Have you heard of Baby Iman? She’s from my family.” Baby Iman Hejoo was just four-months-old when she was killed in May 2001 by a missile fired into her house, also wounding her mother and grandmother.

It’s difficult to know how to celebrate Christ’s victory over death- his resurrection- when people are suffering and dying around us. This passage in Isaiah not only depicts Christ’s suffering, but also his abandonment. When I read this passage in light of my experience in Gaza, Christ becomes all of the people I met there.

Standing in the midst of the suffering in Khan Younis, I felt the pain and confusion of knowing that the story was supposed to have a happy ending, but that ending was nowhere to be found on the streets of Gaza.

In Philippians 3:10-11 Paul declares, “As a result, I can really know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I can learn what it means to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that, somehow, I can experience the resurrection from the dead!” What do we have if not the hope of Christ’s resurrection, love’s power over death? But by definition, resurrection is preceded by death. We cannot share the hope of Christ’s resurrection without first knowing him in his suffering and death.

Moustafah Hejoo, like others we met in Gaza, did not want us to give him a house, food, clothing or money. But he did ask us for something. He asked us to tell these stories to the people in America. He asked for a voice, so that we may know him in his suffering. Each time we share in the suffering of others then pound on the doors of justice, we are like the grieving disciples, running to find an empty tomb. We are refusing to allow the story to end with death.

Because he said that whatever we do to the “least of these” we do to him, I can take comfort that when I look into Ghada’s eyes, Christ is looking back at me and his heart is breaking with mine. I have to embrace the spirit of Gethsemane, to courageously hope against the hopelessness, that the final words will not be “death and forsakenness.”

Christ’s resurrection demands justice for all those who suffer. How do we know Christ in his suffering and his resurrection? How will our Easter celebration play out in the world we live in?


The Independent
There will be no Middle East peace without justice: At no point yesterday did anyone mention occupation.

Robert Fisk

9 February 2005

So, the Palestinians will end their occupation of Israel. No more will Palestinian tanks smash their way into Haifa and Tel Aviv. No more will Palestinian F-18s bomb Israeli population centres. No more will Palestinian Apache helicopters carry out "targeted killings" - ie: murders - of Israeli military leaders.

The Palestinians have promised to end all "acts of violence" against Israelis while Israel has promised to end all "military activity" against Palestinians. So that’s it, then. Peace in our time.

A Martian - even a well-educated Martian - would have gathered that this was the message, supposing he dropped in on the fantasy world of Sharm el-Sheikh yesterday. The Palestinians had been committing "violence", the Israelis carrying out "innocent" operations. Palestinian "violence" or "terror and violence" - the latter a more popular phrase since it carried the stigma of 11 September 2001 - was now at an end. Mahmoud Abbas - who told a close Lebanese friend this year that he wore a suit and tie so that he would look "different" to Yasser Arafat - went along with all this. Just which people were occupying the homes of which other people remained a mystery.

Silver-haired and wisdom-burdened, Mahmoud Abbas looked the part. We had to forget that it was this same Abbas who wrote the Oslo Accords, who in 1,000 pages failed to use - even once - the word "occupation", and who talked not of Israeli "withdrawal" from Palestinian territory, but of "redeployment".

At no point yesterday did anyone mention occupation. Like sex, "occupation" had to be censored out of the historical narrative. As usual - as in Oslo - the real issues were put back to a later date. Refugees, the "right of return", East Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital: let’s deal with them later.

Never before have we been in such need of the caustic voice of the late Edward Said. Settlements - Jewish colonies for Jews, and Jews only, on Arab land - were not, of course, discussed yesterday. Nor was East Jerusalem. Nor was the "right of return" of 1948 refugees. These are the "unrealistic dreams" that were referred to by the Israelis yesterday.

All this will be discussed "later" - as they were supposed to be in Abbas’s hopeless Oslo agreement. As long as you can postpone the real causes of war, that’s OK. "An end to violence," that has cost 4,000 deaths - it was all said yesterday, minus the all-important equation that two-thirds of these were Palestinian lives. Peace, peace, peace. It was like terrorism, terrorism, terrorism. It was the sort of stuff you could buy off a supermarket shelf. If only.

At the end of the day the issues were these. Will the Israelis close down their massive settlements in the West Bank, including those which surround Jerusalem? No mention of this yesterday. Will they end the expansion of Jewish settlements - for Jews, and Jews only, across the Palestinian West Bank? No mention of this yesterday. Will they allow the Palestinians to have a capital in Arab East Jerusalem? No mention of this yesterday. Will the Palestinians truly end their "intifada" - including their murderous suicide bombings - as a result of these non-existent promises?

Like the Iraqi elections - which were also held under foreign occupation - the Israeli-Palestinian talks were historic because they were "historic". US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, "warned" Palestinians that they must "control violence" but there was, as usual, no request to "control" the violence of the Israeli army.

Because the sine qua non of the equation was that the Palestinians were guilty. That the Palestinians were the "violent" party - hence the admonition that the Palestinians must end "violence" while the Israelis would merely end "operations". The Palestinians, it seems, are generically violent. The Israelis generically law-abiding; the latter carry out "operations". Mahmoud Abbas went along with this nonsense.

It was all too clear in the reporting of yesterday’s events. What was on offer, said CNN, was "an end to all violence" - as if occupation and illegal colonisation was not a form of violence. The American Associated Press news agency talked gutlessly about "towns that, for now, continue to be under Israeli security control" - in other words, under Israeli occupation, although they would not tell their readers this.

So Mahmoud Abbas is going to be the Hamid Karzai of Palestine, his tie the equivalent of Karzai’s green gown, "our" new man in Palestine, the "tsunami" that has washed away the contamination of Yasser Arafat, whose grave Condoleezza Rice managed to avoid. But the tank-traps remain: East Jerusalem, Jewish settlements and the "right of return" of 1948 Palestinians to the homes they lost.

If we are going to clap our hands like the Sharm El-Sheikh "peacemakers" yesterday, we’d better realise that unless we are going to resolve these great issues of injustice now, this new act of "peacemaking" will prove to be as bloody as Oslo. Ask Mahmoud Abbas. He was the author of that first fatal agreement.


Good morning to the Israeli left

Gideon Levy

13 February 2005

Good morning to the Israeli left. After an eternally long hibernation, we are starting to hear the sounds of its awakening. Only when the wind is once again blowing in its direction - and not because of anything it did - does the extra-parliamentary left dare to come out of the closet where it locked itself up more than four years ago.

Perhaps one should welcome these signs of awakening, but it is impossible not to hold it accountable for its lengthy, disgraceful and cowardly silence that abandoned the street to the right and the settlers. For more than four years Israel has been doing anything it wanted in the occupied areas, practically without any domestic criticism. It killed and demolished, uprooted and brutalized, and practically nobody protested. The world saw what was going on and shouted about it. But not us. When Israel desperately needed an alternative view, a clear sound of protest, practically nothing was heard, not a peep, except from a few small and brave organizations.

So it is difficult to forgive those who were silent, looked away and wrapped themselves in indifference, thus depicting Israel as monolithically supporting the government. The rustling noises that are beginning to be heard from the Zionist left are too late to clear it of its responsibility: With its silence until now it became a partner to all the government did during those damnable years. With the evaporation of the Labor Party and the fear and impotence that gripped the other bodies of the Zionist left, the only active element in society was the settlers. Thus the government managed to continue its brutal policies and the settlers nurtured their enterprise without disruption.

Now, under cover of a prime minister from the right, the left suddenly has remembered that it also has something to say, as a weak, pale echo of Ariel Sharon. The first to speak up, as usual, were the writers of the avant-garde, at the head of the camp. In a properly stylish advertisement a few days ago, Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua, David Grossman, Meir Shalev, Agi Mishol and a few other elite writers called out for "a change in consciousness and feeling."

What change? What consciousness? They also called for a renewal of the political negotiations, a very daring move after the Sharm el-Sheikh summit, and proposed the government recognize the suffering of the Palestinian people, in exchange, of course, for their recognition of our suffering.

A group of filmmakers and musicians joined in that call, but with one difference. At least in the advertisement from Daniel Barenboim, Pinhas Zuckerman and Zubin Mehta, there is at least an admission that the occupation is the direct source of the suffering of the Palestinian people and there is a clear call in their ad for an end to it; the authors weren't ready to go that far.

It's hard to believe: After nearly 38 years of occupation and four years of intifada, the leading writers of the peace camp are still dividing the responsibility for what is happening symmetrically between the two sides: "In our eyes, each of the sides bears some of the responsibility for the injustice, the suffering and the tragic situation in which the two nations are trapped," they wrote with self-righteousness.

That "we're all guilty" approach is no less outrageous than the silence that went on and on and on. How does one break the silence of the peace camp? Attribute the same measure of responsibility to the occupier and occupied, the powerful and the weak. Call both the soldiers at the checkpoints and their subjects, whose lives are beneath the soldiers' feet, "to change consciousness and feeling" even before the checkpoint is lifted; preach to the assassin and the assassinated to fall into each other's arms; draw parallels between a nation whose economic, cultural, social and emotional lives were completely destroyed and a nation in which the vast majority of people can go on with their lives as if nothing has happened; a people that has been imprisoned and humiliated, versus a free people in their own sovereign state.

Even without counting casualties - three times as many on the Palestinian side - there is no room for comparison, not of the extent of the suffering nor of the measure of responsibility. Can't the writers see the decisive weight of responsibility that lies on the occupier's side for the creation of the injustice, or did they not summon up the courage to admit as much, lest it anger the readers?

Immediately after the authors awoke, Peace Now came out of its faint. In another two weeks, it has been said, it will be returning to the street and squares. "The Coalition of the Majority," the umbrella organization of the left and the protest groups (oxymoronic titles if ever there were) is to convene a mass demonstration. Why didn't they do it beforehand, in the dark years of assassinations and demolitions when the need was far more critical? The explanations and excuses are ridiculous: the desire to maintain as broad a common denominator as possible and the fear of failure.

But the silence was the greatest failure of all. It is impossible not to ask now where everyone was for the 346 children that Israel killed. What prevented them from protesting when 112 wanted men were assassinated without trial and another 521 innocent passersby were killed at the same time? The demolition of half of Rafah, the uprooting of olive trees in the West Bank, the erection of the wall, the apartheid roads for Jews only, the imprisonment of an entire nation behind checkpoints for years - none of it awakened most of the artists or the "coalition of the majority." They were silent. They were afraid. They were complicit.

The alternative voices, the voices of the protest movements and authors, have a vital role in society that goes far beyond merely what they say. They are supposed to pave the way and protect the pluralistic and democratic character of the state. But after four and a half years in which society spoke in one uniform voice, the disgraceful silence on the left, the camp that only awakens under the patronage of the prime minister, shows it is a cowardly, frightened camp.

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