Friday, April 6

MCC Palestine Update #134

MCC Palestine Update #134

6 April 2007

Easter Greetings from the “Holy Land”!

Al-Masiih Qaam! Haqaan Qaam!
Christ Is Risen! He Is Risen Indeed!

This Arabic greeting will be commonly heard this week as Christians from across the world travel to Jerusalem to experience Easter. It is truly an exciting experience. Yet at the same time, we witness with sadness the realities that our Palestinian sisters and brothers continue to face.

This week has already been quite a full week, here in the “holy land.” This past Sunday, Palm Sunday, was marked by a huge procession from the historical town of Bethphage, where Jesus began his donkey ride 2000 years ago, up and over the Mount of Olives, and then back down again up to the old city of Jerusalem. Many languages could be heard along the Mount of Olives as people from all over the world traveled here to participate in this procession. Though it was great to see so many people, our Palestinian friends and neighbors told us that it was not nearly the size it used to be seven or ten years ago, before Israeli incursions into the Occupied Territories. We can only hope that so many people will return to their homes with a deeper knowledge of the oppression of this land, and tell what they have seen. Unfortunately, few of the internationals we saw on Sunday will take the time to even come to Bethlehem to meet their Palestinian brothers and sister. This is a discouraging and, as a U.S. Christian, an embarrassing witness on our part to the Christians of this land.

I suppose this is one of the reasons why we do not often talk about the biblical sights we are seeing on a daily basis. Though it is an incredible privilege to walk in the steps of so many before us, it honestly can be difficult feeling present in a spiritual sense. It is hard standing in the Church of the Nativity, or in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, or up on the Mount of Beatitude overlooking the Sea of Galilee and not also be confronted at the same time by the injustices and the suffering that plague this land, especially as a Christian who believes that when Jesus walked this land his heart was also broken by the injustices and the suffering of those around him, living as they did also under (Roman) occupation.

Knowing that Palestinian brothers and sisters here in Bethlehem will not even be able to travel the short distance of six miles or ten kilometers to worship at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre—the site in Jerusalem’s Old City where tradition holds Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected—on Easter Sunday morning is heart-breaking.

For this is also a special time of remembrance for our Jewish friends. This is the time of Pesach or Passover, when Jews remember their liberation from slavery and oppression in Egypt. But in this place, the celebration of liberation from oppression for Jews becomes a time of increased restrictions imposed on Palestinians. Beginning on April 1, a week long general closure was imposed by the Israeli military on the West Bank due to the Jewish holiday of Passover. This will undoubtedly affect those Palestinians who were fortunate enough to receive special permits to celebrate Easter in Jerusalem. As is often the case during Israeli military closures, no Palestinian can move in and our of their walled-in communities, often-times even if they have a permit.

This was the case for one of our neighbors who, along with a women’s group from her church, were all stopped at the Bethlehem checkpoint trying to go to Jerusalem this past Sunday. The permits they were all carrying were useless. As a sign of protest, they ripped up their permits in front of the Israeli soldiers who would not let them pass through the checkpoint.

Pointing out this disconnect between remembering past oppression and imposing oppressive measures today, our friend Zoughbi often asks, “why does the right to exercise freedom of religion for Israeli Jews mean collective punishment for the Palestinian people?”

And yet our Palestinian friends respond with such grace. As we were sharing our experiences on Palm Sunday in Jerusalem, one friend here in Bethlehem who is a Palestinian Christian (and who has not been “allowed” to go to Jerusalem for about eight years now because the Israeli military will not issue him a permit) responded not with bitterness or hate, but instead told us that though he was not allowed to be there, he was experiencing it as we were telling of our experiences. “I was just now there with you,” he said, thinking back to when he was young and walked in that procession. I almost broke out into tears.

But so many Christians who do travel to this land, seldom take the time to meet with the people, especially with Palestinians. This land is marketed and sold as a pilgrimage destination, a land full of “holy sites” and “dead stones” with little to no attention paid to the “living stones”—those Christian communities that feel most forsaken.

This is why Palm Sunday is such a paradoxical remembrance, for only five days later, those singing the praises of Jesus and the God he bore witness to 2000 years ago were calling for his crucifixion. Indeed, Jesus felt forsaken in more ways than one. This is a great challenge to me and to all of us: how are we complicit in crucifixions even today as we sing Palm Sunday praises?

Nonetheless, we do still appreciate and take the time to be present in a very spiritual way in this “holy land.” Many events throughout this week—Holy Week—are keeping us busy and keeping our minds and hearts reflective. On Good Friday morning there was another procession. This one began at 6:30am in the Old City of Jerusalem, and walked along in prayer through the Stations of the Cross, the “Via Dolorosa,” beginning at the site where Jesus was condemned by Pilate and ending at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. On Sunday, we will return to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to remember, pray, and give thanks for the resurrection of our Lord. We will do this later in the morning, after a 5:30am sunrise service on the Mount of Olives, looking out over the Jordan Valley to the see the sun rise, shining down on the evil and the good, the righteous and the unrighteous—a poignant reminder as a concrete wall snaking through the hillside separating Palestinian from Palestinian is illuminated by the sun’s light, that we are to strive to love and pray for all in this broken land. (Matthew 5:45)

For us what has been most meaningful though, has been those time we spent here in Bethlehem, with friends and colleagues of organizations MCC works with. One example was during Holy Week last year, when the staff of the Wi’am Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center ( in Bethlehem met every morning to read and reflect upon Scripture. For me, this was more meaningful than even visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Easter Sunday morning. For this is where Jesus truly walks among us today, among the poor and the oppressed and those forgotten and forsaken.

Peace to you all,

Timothy Seidel

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

Attachments and Links:

· Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem, “Easter Message 2007,” April 2007
· Alistair Lyon, “Misery tempts Palestinian Christians to flee,” Reuters, 12 March 2007
· Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, “On the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination: Israel is guilty of apartheid and colonization,”, 21 March 2007
· Joseph Massad, “Israel’s right to be racist,” The Electronic Intifada, 15 March 2007
· Yakov M. Rabkin, “Gap among Jews widens on question of Zionism,” The Baltimore Sun, 8 March 2007
· Leila Farsakh, “Time for a bi-national state,” Le Monde Diplomatique, March 2007
· Salman Abu-Sitta, “A sacred right,” Comment is, 29 March 2007
· “One-third of Palestinians ‘food insecure,’” IRIN, 22 March 2007
· Avi Issacharoff, “80 percent of Gazans now rely on food aid,” Haaretz, 4 March 2007
· Conal Urquhart, “Israel planned for Lebanon war months in advance, PM says,” The Guardian, 9 March 2007


Easter Message 2007
Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem
April 2007

"All I want is to know Christ and the power of His Resurrection and to share His sufferings" (Philippians ch. 3 v.10).

Sisters and Brothers here and in all the world

We greet you in the name of our Risen Lord and ask God to fill you with the joy and the strength of the Resurrection.

Having opposed early Christians and, indeed, sought to bring many of them to trial for their faith, St. Paul I suddenly challenged by our Blessed Lord as he journeyed to Damascus. Within a short time he became a powerful messenger for Jesus. Reading his various Epistles we see he has much to say on many aspects of the Christian Faith. The statement he sets before the Philippians is regarded by many people as the most powerful: "All I want is to know Christ & the power of His Resurrection & to share His sufferings". In this short sentence he links the Cross and the Resurrection. The sufferings he has to face for his faith lead him to become conscious of the power of the Resurrection given to those who truly believe, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Yet again, recent months have shown us much of the hardships and sufferings people have to endure, not least in this Land. Much of this burden has arisen from man's inhumanity to man together with his deprivation of basic human dignity and rights, as it happens to us because of the siege imposed upon us.

Our Blessed Lord challenges all of us that if we would be His disciples we must take up our Cross and follow Him. In the midst of sufferings we reach the power of the Resurrection and the power of the Spirit that enables us to take away the oppressions that are imposed upon us.

So, as we celebrate the joy of Easter we must examine carefully where we stand in relation to God. Many of us need to abandon the selfish instinct within us. If we would truly seek the power of the Resurrection in our lives then we must disregard any idea we might have of self-sufficiency or worldly hopes that hide from our eyes the things of heaven and of the Spirit. If we believe in the Resurrection, we must affirm that our security is with God and in the power of the Resurrection.

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Misery tempts Palestinian Christians to flee
Alistair Lyon
12 March 2007

Despairing of life under Israeli occupation, many Palestinian Christians are moving abroad, threatening their ancient links to Bethlehem and the land where Jesus was born. "There is a real fear that 50 years down the road, the Holy Land will be without Christians," said Mitri Raheb, 45-year-old pastor of the Lutheran Church in Bethlehem.

Pressures on majority Muslims are just as daunting -- and many of them also leave -- but dwindling Christian communities look more precarious as the young and dynamic pull up roots. Christians have migrated from Bethlehem and nearby Beit Jala and Beit Sahour for over a century, mainly to Latin America, the United States and Canada, to escape successive wars and crises.

Bethlehem governor Salah al-Tamari said there was no way of tracking accurately how many Christians and Muslims had left since the eruption of Israeli-Palestinian violence in 2000. "There is no business, no freedom of movement," he said. "We depend on tourism, which is being demolished. Sometimes we receive 1,500 tourists a day but none of them stay the night. They visit the Nativity Church and leave, so we don't benefit."

A towering concrete wall is closing in on Bethlehem as part of a barrier that Israel is erecting, which it calls a defense against suicide bombers from the occupied West Bank. Much of it has been built on Palestinian land. "Once it's finished there will be only three gates leading in and out of Bethlehem," said Raheb. "Bethlehem will basically be a four-square-mile (10-square-km) open prison."

"This wall has separated many people from each other," said Hiyam Abu Dayyeh, a Christian social worker. "What kind of life is this if you can't feel free or move in your own country?"

Please
idUSL0264864120070312 as well as the story “Palestinian Christians feel world doesn’t care” at


Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights
On the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination: Israel is guilty of apartheid and colonization
21 March 2007

Today, on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the world comes together to reaffirm that racial discrimination is an assault on the foundation of the human rights system - the principle of equality. On this occasion, Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated, “a society that tolerates discrimination holds itself back, foregoing the contribution of whole parts of its population, and potentially sowing the seeds of violent conflict.” She added that despite the fact that many states have accepted to fight racial discrimination “a reality check demonstrates that formal commitments are not enough.”

Thirteen years after the fall of the apartheid regime in South Africa, Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and in Israel still face multiple forms of racial discrimination, including occupation, apartheid and colonization.

In the past few weeks, Israel has come under criticism from both the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the OPT for its regime of institutionalized discrimination.

Since 1948, Israeli laws have been shaped not only to prevent the return of about 7 million Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons, but also to change the demographic composition of Israel and the OPT. This population transfer is aided by the Israeli Law of Return, which allows any Jew in the world to 'return' to Israel and be granted citizenship. According to CERD, the denial of the rights of many Palestinians to return and possess their homes in Israel “is discriminatory and perpetuates violations of fundamental human rights.” CERD also applied the concept of apartheid to some of Israel's practices towards Palestinian citizens of Israel, notably in the managment of land and resources.

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The Electronic Intifada
Israel's right to be racist
Joseph Massad
15 March 2007

Israel's struggle for peace is a sincere one. In fact, Israel desires to live at peace not only with its neighbours, but also and especially with its own Palestinian population, and with Palestinians whose lands its military occupies by force. Israel's desire for peace is not only rhetorical but also substantive and deeply psychological. With few exceptions, prominent Zionist leaders since the inception of colonial Zionism have desired to establish peace with the Palestinians and other Arabs whose lands they slated for colonisation and settlement. The only thing Israel has asked for, and continues to ask for in order to end the state of war with the Palestinians and its Arab neighbours, is that all recognise its right to be a racist state that discriminates by law against Palestinians and other Arabs and grants differential legal rights and privileges to its own Jewish citizens and to all other Jews anywhere. The resistance that the Palestinian people and other Arabs have launched against Israel's right to be a racist state is what continues to stand between Israel and the peace for which it has struggled and to which it has been committed for decades. Indeed, this resistance is nothing less than the "New anti- Semitism"…

It should be clear then that in this international context, all existing solutions to what is called the Palestinian-Israeli "conflict" guarantee Israel's need to maintain its racist laws and its racist character and ensure its right to impose apartheid in the West Bank and Gaza. What Abbas and the Palestinians are allowed to negotiate on, and what the Palestinian people and other Arabs are being invited to partake of, in these projected negotiations is the political and economic (but not the geographic) character of the Bantustans that Israel is carving up for them in the West Bank, and the conditions of the siege around the Big Prison called Gaza and the smaller ones in the West Bank. Make no mistake about it, Israel will not negotiate about anything else, as to do so would be tantamount to giving up its racist rule.

As for those among us who insist that no resolution will ever be possible before Israel revokes all its racist laws and does away with all its racist symbols, thus opening the way for a non-racist future for Palestinians and Jews in a decolonised bi-national state, Israel and its apologists have a ready-made response that has redefined the meaning of anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is no longer the hatred of and discrimination against Jews as a religious or ethnic group; in the age of Zionism, we are told, anti-Semitism has metamorphosed into something that is more insidious. Today, Israel and its Western defenders insist, genocidal anti-Semitism consists mainly of any attempt to take away and to refuse to uphold the absolute right of Israel to be a racist Jewish state.

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The Baltimore Sun
Gap among Jews widens on question of Zionism
Yakov M. Rabkin
8 March 2007

A profound division has developed between Zionist advocates of Israel and Jews, secular and religious, who reject or question Zionism and actions taken by the state of Israel.

Public debate about Israel's place in Jewish continuity has become open and candid.

Many Jews try to come to terms with the contradictions between the Judaism they profess to adhere to and the Zionist ideology that has taken hold of them. This coincides with serious concerns expressed across Israel's political and religious spectrum about the future of Israel.

Quite a few Jews now publicly ask whether the chronically besieged ethnic nation-state in the Middle East is "good for the Jews." Many continue to be concerned that militant Zionism destroys Jewish moral values and endangers Jews in Israel and elsewhere. This debate has entered pop culture as well: The recent film Munich by Steven Spielberg sharply focuses on the moral cost of Israel's chronic reliance on force.

The Israel lobby in the United States, aligned with the nationalist right in Israel, viciously attacked the Jewish director and his film even before it was released. It also lashed out at several books published over the past few years - Prophets Outcast, Wrestling With Zion, The Question of Zion, The Myths of Zionism - all authored by Jews who are concerned about the same essential conflict between Zionism and Jewish values.

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Le Monde Diplomatique
Time for a bi-national state
Leila Farsakh
March 2007

There is talk once again of a one-state bi-national solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Oslo peace process failed to bring Palestinians their independence and the withdrawal from Gaza has not created a basis for a democratic Palestinian state as President George Bush had imagined: the Palestinians are watching their territory being fragmented into South African-style bantustans with poverty levels of over 75%. The area is heading to the abyss of an apartheid state system rather than to a viable two-state solution, let alone peace (1).

There have been a number of recent publications proposing a one-state solution as the only alternative to the current impasse. Three years ago Meron Benvenisti, Jerusalem’s deputy mayor in the 1970s, wrote that the question is “no longer whether there is to be a bi-national state in Palestine-Israel, but which model to choose” (2). Respected intellectuals on all sides, including the late Edward Said; the Arab Israeli member of the Knesset, Azmi Bishara; the Israeli historian Illan Pape; scholars Tanya Reinhart and Virginia Tilley; and journalists Amira Haas and Ali Abunimeh, have all stressed the inevitability of such a solution.

The idea of a single, bi-national state is not new. Its appeal lies in its attempt to provide an equitable and inclusive solution to the struggle of two peoples for the same piece of land. It was first suggested in the 1920s by Zionist leftwing intellectuals led by philosopher Martin Buber, Judah Magnes (the first rector of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem) and Haïm Kalvarisky (a member of Brit-Shalom and later of the National Union). The group followed in the footsteps of Ahad Ha’am (Asher Hirsch Ginsberg, one of the great pre-state Zionist thinkers).

Underlying their Zionism was a quest for a Jewish renaissance, both cultural and spiritual, with a determination to avoid injustice in its achievement. It was essential to found a new nation, although not necessarily a separate Jewish state and certainly not at the expense of the existing population. Magnes argued that the Jewish people did not “need a Jewish state to maintain its very existence” (3).

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Comment is
A sacred right
Salman Abu-Sitta
29 March 2007

The facts, documented on maps and records, show that in 1948 Israelis depopulated the Palestinian inhabitants of 675 towns and villages, that their land represents 93% of Israel's area; that half of all the refugees have been expelled in the last six weeks of the British Mandate, before the state of Israel was declared and before any Arab regular soldier set foot on Palestine to save its people from the invasion of Jewish European immigrants who had just waded into their shores to build Israel on the ruins of Palestine.

What is more natural than a person returning to their home? If Stein does not believe this is "sacred", he has to ask 6 million Palestinian refugees (two-thirds of all Palestinians) why are they still determined to fight for their right to return over a period of six decades and through three generations and many wars. That the right of return for Palestinians has been affirmed by the UN more than 130 times is enough to put this matter to rest. No need to spill more ink on that score.

In a civilised society, if a crime is committed, its consequences must be reversed. The criminal should not be rewarded, and his crime should not be forgiven or even legitimised. The stolen property must be returned. Rights must be reinstated and reparation paid for material losses.

This is what the international community insisted upon, sometimes using military force, in implementing the return of refugees to Bosnia, Kosovo, Burundi, Cambodia, East Timor, Georgia, Guatemala, Mozambique, Ruwanda, South Africa, Tajikistan, Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan.

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One-third of Palestinians 'food insecure'
22 March 2007

One-third of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are food insecure, according to a report by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

About 34 percent of Palestinians cannot afford a balanced meal and another 12 percent are at risk of reaching this state, the organisations found in a Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Assessment published this month. Most affected is the Gaza Strip, where 51 percent of the population suffers from food insecurity.

"The poorest families are now living a meagre existence totally reliant on assistance, with no electricity or heating and eating food prepared with water from bad sources," according to a statement by Arnold Vercken, the WFP country director for the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt)…

Poverty is rising in the West Bank and Gaza because of international sanctions, compounded by Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinian goods and labour related to security concerns. The Palestinian Authority (PA) cannot pay its civil servants because the international community has refused to fund the PA unless the Palestinian government, which includes Hamas, recognises Israel and renounces violence.

Some PA salaries are being paid through a Temporary International Mechanism supported by the European Commission. About 80 percent of Gazans receive aid from WFP or UNRWA.

"Without a political resolution - and particularly removal of restrictions on movement - improvement in the humanitarian situation is unlikely and millions will remain dependent on assistance," noted the FAO/WFP report. "A substantive injection of aid and social transfers has partially cushioned the declining humanitarian situation in Palestine, but aid cannot fully compensate for the loss of self-reliance."

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80 percent of Gazans now rely on food aid
Avi Issacharoff
4 March 2007

Eighty percent of Gazans receive food aid from the World Food Program or from UNRWA, WFP spokesperson Kirstie Campbell says, "and without it they are liable to starve"…

"We are seeing more and more children who come to school without eating breakfast and without the ability to buy breakfast," Campbell says. "Many families can only give their children one meal a day. The problem is particularly severe in Gaza, but it occurs in the West Bank as well."

Campbell says that while in the past food shortages were generally limited to rural areas, it now affects urban residents, traders and people who own small workshops, among others.

"The Palestinian economy is becoming an 'island' economy," Campbell explains, "small areas where residents trade among themselves." The WFP defines food insecurity as income of less than $1.60 per person per day, since this is the minimum required to obtain a nutritionally adequate diet. In Gaza, many people eat nothing but tomatoes and bread. Their neighbors and relatives may try to help, but it is not enough.

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The Guardian
Israel planned for Lebanon war months in advance, PM says
Conal Urquhart
9 March 2007

Preparations for Israel's war in Lebanon last summer were drawn up at least four months before two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped by Hizbullah in July, Ehud Olmert, the prime minister, has admitted.

His submission to a commission of inquiry, leaked yesterday, contradicted the impression at the time that Israel was provoked into a battle for which it was ill-prepared. Mr Olmert told the Winograd commission, a panel of judges charged with investigating Israel's perceived defeat in the 34-day war, that he first discussed the possibility of war in January and asked to see military plans in March.

According to the Ha'aretz daily, which obtained details of Mr Olmert's testimony, the prime minister chose a plan featuring air attacks on Lebanon and a limited ground operation that would be implemented following a Hizbullah abduction. Hizbullah had made several attempts to capture Israeli soldiers on the border since Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000.

Israeli commentators believed that Mr Olmert and Amir Peretz, the defence minister, took the opportunity of the kidnapping to show they could manage a war in spite of their limited military experience. But the outcome of the war seemed to highlight their lack of experience and also deficiencies in Israel's military planning.

Please read more at,,2029731,00.html


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