Wednesday, September 21

MCC Palestine Update #114

MCC Palestine Update #114

21 September 2005

Prayer and Resistance

Today, September 21, marks the International Day of Prayer for Peace. In 2001, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring September 21 of each year as the International Day of Peace. For the second year, the World Council of Churches invites member churches around the globe to pray for peace on September 21. MCC is also encouraging churches, groups and individuals to mark September 21 with special prayers for peace (learn more about this at

Here in Bethlehem, some of our Palestinian friends and partners marked this event this past Sunday. Meeting at a monastery that has been threatened by the construction of the “separation barrier” or “apartheid wall,” friends from MCC partners the Wi’am Conflict Resolution Center (, the East Jerusalem YMCA – Beit Sahour branch (, as well as a number of other organizations joined together to remember this day.

Following the meeting, we all gathered for a prayer vigil. We left the monastery grounds and proceeded toward the wall. Towering above us at around 26 feet or 8 meters, some of the most valuable land in the “little town” of Bethlehem has been expropriated by the state of Israel to make room for this monstrosity of concrete. This monastery itself was in danger, but through the efforts of both local and international advocacy, the path of the wall was rerouted so as to not infringe on the church’s property “too much”—for now.

It has been over a year since International Court of Justice in the Hague ruled that this wall was illegal. But it was only this past week that the Israeli supreme court, hearing a petition from five Palestinian villages in the northern West Bank devastated by this wall, ruled that the construction of this wall beyond the internationally recognized boundary known as the “Green Line” was legal, disregarding the voice of international law (“High Court: Construction of West Bank fence is legal,” Haaretz, 16 September 2005;

This only reinforces the point that the construction of this wall is a unilateral move by an occupying power in violation of international law. Palestinian livelihoods continue to be devastated in the process as more land is being expropriated for the construction of this 430-mile or 700-kilometer barrier that has little to do with security and terrorism, built not on the internationally recognized boundary referred to as the “Green Line” but instead on Palestinian land, cutting deeply into the West Bank.

The wall continues to have a very destructive impact on Palestinians living under occupation. Palestinian farmers are cut off from their land with some forced to watch their harvest rot on their trees while others watch their trees uprooted to make way for the wall. Where we live, in Bethlehem, the completed wall will make this community a virtual prison, with only three points of entry or exit. This adds more stress to an already devastated economic situation for Palestinians where unemployment figures are higher than 60 percent across the West Bank.

Unfortunately, though the state of Israel denies it, this wall will become the de facto border of a Palestinian “state” composed of several isolated islands of land or “reservations” on roughly 40 to 50 percent of the West Bank.

I (Tim) kept coming back to these thoughts as we began walking along the path of the wall. I looked up to see what was happening on the faces of those around me. It would have been a beautiful sight if not for the ugliness of this visually and physically imposing structure. I saw a mixture of Palestinians and internationals, joined in solidarity. But what was more beautiful was the mixture of Palestinian Christians around me—Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant. And even more beautiful was the sight of Palestinian Christian and Muslim brothers and sisters together, defying all of the dehumanizing stereotypes of “Muslim vs. Christian” used to create internal conflict among Palestinians and distract the world form the role the illegal Israeli occupation plays in the suffering of these people.

At one point we stopped in front of a gate in the wall which will serve as one of Bethlehem’s only entrances /exits when the wall is finished, and somebody offered a prayer. When we began to walk again, we all started to pray, singing the words of the Christian liturgy in Arabic:

Ya Rabbana salami imnah biladina assalam
Ya Rabbana salami imter ‘alyna assalam
Ya Rabbana salami imla’ kulubana assalam

Oh Lord of peace grant our land peace
Oh Lord of peace shower us with peace
Oh Lord of peace give our hearts peace

I had heard this liturgy so many times before, sung beautifully in the Palestinian Christian churches I have attended, but it carried with it so much power here, against this wall. For here, it was a tangible, voiced protest against a tangible, concrete injustice. This simple prayer presented a loud “yes” to life and a resolute “no” to the death-dealing status quo of occupation, a reminder of what the late Dutch priest Henri Nouwen has told us:

"Only a loving heart, a heart that continues to affirm the life at all times and places, can say “No” to death without being corrupted by it…the first and foremost task of the peacemaker is not to fight death but to call forth, affirm, and nurture the signs of life wherever they become manifest." (Road to Peace, Orbis, 1998, p.42)

So often in my own faith experience back in the United States, I struggled with the sense of an irrelevance that faith and religion held in the face of the injustices of this world. But distanced and disinterested religious practices that serve little function in the larger context of global poverty, environmental degradation, or war (except perhaps as a means for some to distract, control, or even maintain structures of violence) have no place here.

Indeed, in this place, something so mundane as offering a prayer becomes a powerful form of resistance. It becomes a means by which the very essence of our faith takes on human form and “dwells among us” (John 1:14).

Advocacy: Our Active Engagement with the “Burning Issues of Our Time”

As we mentioned in our previous update, MCC has just released a new documentary, Children of the Nakba, that takes a look at the “Nakba” or “Catastrophe” that led to the Palestinian refugee crisis in which 500 Palestinian villages were destroyed and between 700,000 and 900,000 Palestinians were expelled from their lands. Also available on this new DVD is the award-winning MCC documentary The Dividing Wall. The documentary should soon be available in MCC’s Online Resource Catalog: For more information on these refugee issues, please visit MCC’s partners the Badil Resource Center at and the Zochrot Association at

And as another reminder, the July-September 2005 edition of the MCC Peace Office Newsletter titled “Christian Zionism and Peace in the Holy Land” is now available online at as well as the MCC discussion paper “Peacebuilding in Palestine / Israel: A Discussion Paper” meant to help facilitate a conversation in communities back in North America about stewardship, divestment, and economic justice, online at

Advocacy—our active engagement with the “burning issues of our time”—continues to be so important, and not simply an option for the life of the Christian. For as the writer of Micah asks us still “What does the Lord require?”

But to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. (6:8)

Raising our voices against injustice is inseparable to our faith witness. And just like with the monastery in Bethlehem, our actions can make a difference. MCC’s U.S. Washington Office has worked hard on an advocacy campaign called “Bridges Not Walls” ( MCC workers in Palestine have worked to contribute first-hand accounts of the wall’s effects on Palestinians with the hope that these stories and this campaign would move Mennonites and other people of faith across the United States to take action in advocating for a just peace in this land.

As we take time to pray for peace in this and in other lands, may our prayers lead us in action to heed the call of Micah to pursue justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. Bethlehem is the place where we claim the incarnational presence of “God with us” was first made known to humanity. Still today, this divine contextualization continues. How will we respond?

Peace to you all,

Timothy and Christi Seidel
Peace Development Workers
Mennonite Central Committee – Palestine

Attachments and Links:

· Amos Gvirtz, “Non-violence needs to be supported,” Haaretz, 20 September 2005
· David J. Forman, “Identifying God's politics,” The Jerusalem Post, 3 September 2005
· Meron Benvenisti, “Is Israel preserving the mosques?” Haaretz, 8 September 2005
· Gideon Levy, “The real uprooting is taking place in Hebron,” Haaretz, 11 September 2005
· Daoud Kuttab, “So, Gaza was occupied,” Jordan Times, 9 September 2005
· Amira Hass, “Where will the water come from?” Haaretz, 1 September 2005
· B'Tselem report: “Barrier Route was Planned to Enable Settlement Expansion,” 15 September 2005
· Shad Saleem Faruqi, “The Forgotten Horror of Sabra and Shatila,”, 15 September 2005
· Gideon Levy, “Sitting on the fence,” Haaretz, 18 September 2005
· Jeff Halper, “Paralysis over Palestine: Questions of Strategy,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Winter 2005


Non-violence needs to be supported
Amos Gvirtz

20 September 2005

The terror employed by the Palestinians against civilians is criminal. The question is what alternatives do the Palestinians have at their disposal to struggle for their rights and against the ceaseless damage caused by the IDF and the settlers. At Bil'in and a number of other villages before it, a pattern of popular, primarily non-violent struggle, has emerged with cooperation from Israelis and human rights activists from abroad. This struggle offers an alternative to terror.

Broad circles in Palestinian society, including the heads of the Palestinian Authority, think that terror is harmful to the Palestinians, and support a transition to a popular non-violent struggle. It is clear that a non-violent Palestinian struggle is also in the security interest of Israel's citizens. To our surprise, however, the security forces are acting harshly against the entire village and against non-violent demonstrators, including Israelis. Many have been beaten, injured, arrested and jailed. However, none of those who are calling the human rights organizations traitors has demanded a halt to the injuries and suppression of the non-violent struggle. Would they prefer that Palestinians pursue a violent struggle?

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The Jerusalem Post
Identifying God's politics
David J. Forman

3 September 2005

“We play a dangerous game when we use God as a religious pawn to serve a nationalistic dogma fueled by self-righteousness and superiority.”

Now that our physical return has been realized, we must contend with our spiritual renewal.
In the Sinai wilderness, at the historical beginning of our Jewish self-identification, we were mandated to become a "holy nation" (Exodus 19:6), not a "holy land." The substance of a holy nation is clearly delineated: "You shall be holy" by treating "the stranger who resides with you as one of your citizens... for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (from the Holiness Code, Leviticus 19:1-37).

How do Orthodox settlers reconcile this biblical directive with their interpretation of God's Will that we should occupy the entire land of Israel; unless it is their intention, as noted in the biblical text, to grant citizenship to the Palestinians – something not in their theological cards?

To expect that God will wave a magic wand and physically intercede on our behalf is false piety. The most we can pray for is to learn some historical lessons from God.

Lesson No. 1: not to keep the "stranger who resides with you" under occupation. To do that would be a negation of divine equality and antithetical to the Jewish historical experience.

Lesson No. 2: Just as no one during our 2,000 years of statelessness could suppress our will to gain our national expression in our own homeland, so too we must not deny another people their right to gain their national expression in their homeland.

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Is Israel preserving the mosques?
Meron Benvenisti

8 September 2005

This whole issue is debated among the Israelis, as usual, without considering the Palestinians, whom the debaters want to be responsible for the synagogues or to be held to blame. The High Court of Justice does not make do with the Palestinians' categorical refusal to take responsibility for keeping the synagogues, and instructed the prime minister on Tuesday to consider asking them "officially to look after the synagogues."

But this does not end the unilateral move: the history of the struggle on the holy sites is not about the war of the Jewish sons of light against the Palestinian sons of darkness, but the story of a war in which both sides have committed barbaric acts to the other's holy sites.

The Palestinians may wonder whether the principle that one must not harm holy sites applies only to synagogues, or to abandoned mosques and churches as well. Does the demand that the Palestinians - or an international body - take responsibility for the synagogues apply also to the Israeli government vis-a-vis the abandoned mosques in Israel? And if we are in such a hurry to expose the Palestinians' shame to the world, are we ready to expose Israel's shameful behavior vis-a-vis the Moslem holy sites as well?

Out of some 140 village mosques that were abandoned due to the war in 1948, some 100 were totally torn down. The rest, about 40, are in advanced stages of collapse and neglect, or are used by the Jewish residents for other purposes.

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The real uprooting is taking place in Hebron
Gideon Levy

11 September 2005

“Israel cannot be considered a state ruled by law, or a democracy, as long as the pogroms continue in Hebron.”

It is a bit difficult to believe that the reality in Hebron is hidden from the eyes of most Israelis and is not rocking Israel to its very core. During the past five years, some 25,000 residents have been transferred from their homes, less than an hour's drive from Israel's capital. And daily harassment continues under the auspices of the IDF and Israel Police, disregarded by the media. This harassment is aimed at expelling the remaining Palestinian residents from an area that until recently had a population of about 35,000 Palestinians and 500 Jews.

Those who have not visited the city in recent years would not believe their eyes. In the territory under Israeli control - H2, or Israeli territory, according to the Hebron accord - they will discover a ghost town. Hundreds of abandoned homes, like after a war, dozens of destroyed stores, burned or shuttered, their gates welded closed by the settlers, and an all-pervasive, deadly silence. According to unofficial assessments, no more than 10,000 residents remain in this place. The rest have left their homes and property after no longer being able to bear the harassment from the settlers and their children. This is the largest disengagement in recent years; this is the real expulsion.

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Jordan Times
So, Gaza was occupied
Daoud Kuttab

9 September 2005

For 37 years, Israel has consistently rejected Palestinians' and the world view that the status of the areas its military took in 1967 was occupied. When Israel was not using the biblical terms of Judea and Samaria (to refer to the West Bank) they used the terms “administered territories” or “disputed territories”. That is until now.

After the evacuation of the illegal Jewish settlers and before the resolution of the international crossings, the Israelis want Palestinians to say the “O” word.

Despite Israel's refusal to allow the reopening of Yasser Arafat International Airport in Gaza and the Rafah crossing point between Palestinian Gaza and Egypt, the Israelis want Palestinians to publicly proclaim that the occupation of Gaza is over. Well, to be exact, some in the Israeli government (mostly those in the National Security Council) want this statement, while Israeli officials in the foreign ministry are simply interested in a Palestinian statement saying that the Palestinian Authority and not Israel will (after the Israeli army leaves most of Gaza) be the party overall responsible for the strip.

Israeli officials and columnists are surprised that Palestinians are not too enthusiastic about rushing to make a declaration which they have been hoping to make for some time.

The official Palestinian reluctance is understandable as long as the airport and the land crossings (with all that means in security, customs and administrative responsibility) are not fully and permanently in Palestinian hands. Partial control means partial sovereignty and therefore partial end of occupation. Ending occupation is like pregnancy. You can't be half pregnant.

Please read more at or


Where will the water come from?
Amira Hass

1 September 2005

Thus a situation of VIP vegetables may be created. The experience of the Oslo years taught us well: Israel grants senior PA officials, their associates, friends of key Israelis (including entrepreneurs and architects of the Oslo Accords) and well-connected merchants who are close to senior members of the security services, relative freedom of movement, which it denied to the rest of the Palestinian people. Therefore, it is very reasonable to fear that the massive international and Israeli involvement in the hothouse transaction will accelerate the transfer of their produce at the Gaza Strip border crossings, while other produce will be stuck.

Another guava season has already been lost, causing tremendous additional losses to several hundred families in Muasi and in Khan Yunis. During the disengagement, no foreign donor came to the aid of the Muasi farmers, two meters from the hothouses, so that they could market their guavas in the Strip and outside it.

It is impossible to quantify the tremendous social damage caused by the VIP system at the crossings. But probably the economists will come and calculate the social damage that will be caused by VIP vegetables and weigh it against the financial gain promised by the settlers' hothouses.

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Under the Guise of Security: Routing the Separation Barrier to Enable Israeli
Settlement Expansion in the West Bank

15 September 2005

Executive Summary

The fact that the Separation Barrier cuts into the West Bank was and remains the main cause of human rights violations of Palestinians living near the Barrier. Israel contends that the Barrier's route is based solely on security considerations. This report disputes that contention and proves that one of the primary reasons for choosing the route of many sections of the Barrier was to place certain areas intended for settlement expansion on the "Israeli" side of the Barrier. In some of the cases, for all intents and purposes the expansion constituted the establishment of a new settlement.

The report provides an in-depth analysis of the expansion plans of four settlements – Zufin, Alfe Menashe, Modi'in Illit, and Geva Benyamin-Neve Ya'akov – and the connection between the plans and the route of the Separation Barrier. The report also presents the principal findings in eight other cases in which the settlement's expansion plans significantly affected the Barrier's route: Rehan, Sal'it, Oranit, Ofarim, Ari'el, Qedumim, Gevaot, and Eshkolot. Construction of the Barrier around five of the twelve settlements discussed in the report ended some two years ago, in two cases the construction is near completion, and in the remaining four cases, the construction work has only recently begun.

Please read more at and

The Forgotten Horror of Sabra and Shatila
Shad Saleem Faruqi

15 September 2005

"In January 2002, criminal complaints were filed against Sharon in Belgian courts for war crimes. Several key witnesses, including Phalangist militiaman Elie Hobeika and his associates, who agreed to give evidence against Sharon were mysteriously assassinated."

The world has just commemorated the tragedy of Sept 11, 2001. But there is another significant anniversary this month that will not attract the same sort of attention.

On Sept 16, 1982, Tel Aviv-trained Lebanese Christian militias were sent by Israel to "cleanse" the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps of all "PLO militants". In the three-day slaughter that followed, 3,500 were tortured, raped and murdered. The world just stood by.

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Sitting on the fence
Gideon Levy

18 September 2005

The High Court of Justice has again proved it is unworthy of all the garlands customarily heaped upon it. Its ruling on the separation fence is a typical decision: concern for the rights of a handful of residents, while blatantly fleeing from addressing the truly large injustices.

The court deserves a certain amount of praise for accepting the petition of the 1,200 Palestinians trapped in the Alfei Menashe enclave and ruling that the fence should be moved in this area. However, in determining - contrary to the International Court of Justice in The Hague - that it is permissible to build the fence beyond the Green Line, it is again averting its eyes from the overall picture. This is its way of preserving its enlightened appearance without having to risk establishing bold principles.

The fate of the enclave's residents will improve as a result of the decision, but the Israeli occupation has concurrently won another dose of silent legitimization. These silences by the High Court are like adding fuel to the fire of the occupation, sometimes even more than the intentional actions Israel takes, because the fight against the injustices becomes more difficult when they are cloaked by the honorable robe of the High Court of Justice.

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Journal of Palestine Studies
Paralysis over Palestine: Questions of Strategy
Jeff Halper

Winter 2005

This essay by a prominent Israeli activist grows out of concern that advocacy efforts in support of the Palestinian cause have remained stuck at the protest-informational stage of combating disparate manifestations of the occupation. What is needed, the author argues, is a strategy to mobilize the vast range of civil society groups-Palestinian, Israeli, and international-to forge an effective lobbying and advocacy force that can lend the Palestinian leadership public support and a measure of parity with Israel. Intended as a starting point for debate, the essay explores the possibilities of a "middle range" strategy that would articulate the essential "red line" elements crucial to any just and sustainable settlement, provide a coordinated strategy of advocacy, and explore a range of "endgames," including a regional approach to resolving the conflict if the "two-state solution" is found to be impossible because of irreversible "facts on the ground."

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