The Road to Emmaus

A reflection on Luke 24:13-35 as a model of Accompaniment from EAPPI’s 2014 Annual Meeting.

by Steve Weaver

The ancient city of Emmaus is where the West Bank Palestinian village of ‘Imwas used to be. Its buildings were leveled, its residents expelled, in 1967. Today it is Canada Park, a popular Israeli leisure spot. It is operated by the Jewish National Fund, established with $15 million of support from Canadians. A series of signs in the park describe the historical significance of the landscape, and a handful of ancient buildings, in terms of their Biblical, Roman, Hellenic, and Ottoman pasts. But no mention is made of its recent Palestinian past.

The biblical story of Emmaus is in a place that has become a contemporary story of dispossession, of injustice. And so here we are – the global church, most of us foreigners, outsiders, responding to the local church, to our Palestinian brothers and sisters to accompany them, to walk together, as we work to end dispossession and injustice.

What does this passage of the road to Emmaus tell us about accompaniment? What can we learn from it as we begin these days together to discuss our work?

Many commentators on this passage highlight that it is only at the end, at the table, in the breaking of bread that the two men finally see and understand who is before them. At first they didn’t recognize Jesus, he is a stranger to them. They think he is a foreigner, from another place, and doesn’t know of the terrible things that have happened, the sorrow they are feeling. But then he takes the bread, blesses it and breaks it, and gives it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.

I’m struck when I read EA accounts how often they make reference to drinking tea with people or being invited to dinner in someone’s home It is in these intimate spaces that ‘otherness’, ‘foreignness’, ‘strangeness’ are often overcome. “Say yes to tea” an EA emailed me when I told her I was coming to this annual meeting.

As one commentator on this passage has written:

“In Luke’s gospel, we hear about the encounter of two travelers on their way to Emmaus with the risen Christ. This story seems to indicate that we best bear and recognize the imago [God's image] we know intimately in Christ, not when we teach, or preach, or even when we proclaim the prophets, but when we break bread and extend the hospitality we have been taught by Christ.”

But I am not a theologian. I am not a biblical scholar. Rather than expound further on my reading of the passage, I will turn to the refection of a church leader, a Palestinian, whom we know well.

Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan, ELCJHL, has written on this. It is found in EAPPI’s publication Theological Reflection on Accompaniment. Here are some of his thoughts:

“Accompaniment in the Middle East is not a new notion. It goes back to the Old Testament. When the Hebrews left Egypt to Sinai, God accompanied them by cloud by day and by a fire that lit up the night (Exodus 14). It is this accompaniment as solidarity with the other that the Bible teaches us. Accompaniment took root in the flesh in God’s incarnation, when God became one of us. In Jesus Christ, God engaged with our brokenness and sin. He accompanied groaning humanity in order that it might regain the image of God through the salvation of the cross. So this accompaniment that God calls us to do as companions with the global Church is an accompaniment with groaning humanity that seeks forgiveness and the justice of God in order that all may be brokers of justice, instruments of peace, ministers of reconciliation, and defenders of human rights.

 

“Such accompaniment can be seen in the story of the walk to Emmaus in St. Luke 24:13-43. Two frustrated men who had experienced the horrible week of suffering and the cross, returned back to their village, Emmaus. Their hopes were shattered. In their depressing situation, Jesus accompanied them. He heard their stories and contributed to their understanding of the Scriptures. He accompanied them, giving them encouragement. So accompaniment is walking together with Jesus Christ in companionship and in service to God’s mission. In walking together on the road to Emmaus, as the Lord revealed himself to his two companions, their three stories became intertwined. As their stories came together, God’s plan in Jesus’ resurrection became clearer. A new community, the Church, began to emerge in Jerusalem. In sharing a meal and breaking the bread the companions recognized the presence of Jesus with them. Accompaniment is valued for its own sake as well as for its results. It is open-ended with no foregone conclusions. The companions learn together through the journey the peace, justice and hope that God intends for humanity. Accompaniment binds companions more closely to their Lord and one another as they seek to live out this mission. (p. 23-24)

 

“Your accompaniment is similar to the road of Emmaus. We walk together as equals in humanity, and as equals in salvation. We walk together bowed in head, seeking the truth, comforting the Church of God. We accompany each other, trusting that in our wonder and uncertainty, God will inform us of our mission and our witness in a broken Holy Land. For this reason, accompaniment is an instrument and tool of the Holy Communion through which we are commissioned to be God’s witnesses for justice, peace, and reconciliation. It makes both companions witnesses of hope in a hopeless situation, witnesses of love in a world of hatred and retaliation, witnesses of faith in a world that ignores God, witnesses of truth in a world of propaganda and lies.

 

“We thank you who dare to be our accompaniers on the road.” (p. 35)

 

Bishop Younan”

Our God – Be with today as we reflect, share, break bread and continue to learn the meaning of accompaniment. – Amen

Steve Weaver is the Middle East Regional Coordinator for Church World Service, and the EAPPI National Coordinator in the USA.

Photos: Olive Harvest 2014

Click on the image below to see our Olive Harvest 2014 photo album on Facebook.

olive harvest Tel Rumeida

Olive harvest in Tel Rumeida in Hebron. Photo EAPPI/N. Forsstroem.

Have you ever joined the olive harvest in Palestine? Tell us about your experience.

*An article about this year’s olive harvestEAPPI photos from olive harvest 2013, and some olive harvest resources.

38 cut olive trees and a box of eggs

by Johanna, Bethlehem team

Johanna was an EA in Fall 2013 and returned again this year as an EA in Bethlehem.

Mahmoud Shawash shows his destroyed olive trees. Photo EAPPI/J. Kaprio.

The former village councilor of Husan shows us the field of destroyed olive trees. Photo EAPPI/J. Kaprio.

In Greek mythology, warrior Goddess Athena and God of the seas Poseidon were competing over the possession of Athens. The mighty Poseidon struck his trident into the Athenian Acropolis, creating a well of salt water. While the public marveled at Poseidon’s achievement, Athena’s approach was more peaceful, she planted an olive tree just next to the well. The divine tribunal sided with Athena, for giving the city a greater gift: the first olive tree.

In the Mediterranean region, olive tree symbolises peace and prosperity. In the occupied Palestinian territories, nearly 51% of the cultivated land is planted with olive trees and and the olive oil industry makes up to 25 % of the region’s agricultural income.

But is there any peace or prosperity under the olive tree in occupied Palestine?

In the morning of 9 October the Schawash family from the West Bank village of Husan was alerted to a saddening reality – at the eve of the olive harvest season they found 38 of their olive trees cut. They had not visited their olive grove for 3 days, and their discovery was a shock.

While no one from the village was present during the time of the sabotage, which seems to have happened during dark hours, all clues seem to lead to the neighbouring settlement of Betar Illit. After all, it was only two days before that settlers of Betar Illit set fire to 15 olive trees in the village of Nahhalin and four months since they torched 60 olive trees in Husan.

The sight of the field is devastating. The cut parts of the trees laying on the ground have already lost their green color and the olives have dried.

Mahmoud Shawash, head of the affected family tells us that the trees were 40 to 50 years old.

“We wait for 10-15 years for the olive trees to grow, only to find them destroyed over night, he says with glum voice.”

Olive cultivation is the main source of livelihood of the Shawash family. Altogether they have 300 trees.

Mahmoud Shawash estimates that the loss of the cut trees is between 40 to 50 gallons (150-190 liters) of oil. One gallon earns the family over 500 NIS (130 €). It would have been challenging enough without the devastation of the trees. As the weather has been dry in the region throughout the whole year, the harvest this year is poorer than average.

JKaprio_Olives_09102014

The Shawash family estimates they lost 40 to 50 gallons of oil, a total loss of 20,000 to 30,000 Israeli shekels. Photo EAPPI/J. Kaprio.

Settler attacks against olive trees are a constant threat to Palestinian farmers. In various incidents yearly, Palestinian-owned olive trees get damaged, poisoned, uprooted, burnt down or harvested by settlers. Between 2009 – August 2013 altogether over 38,000 trees [3],[4]. I remember just too well last year my EAPPI colleagues firefighting alongside with Palestinian farmers in Yalud, where Israeli settlers set fire to hundreds of olive trees.

Only rarely do any of these acts of settler violence against Palestinian trees bear consequences to the perpetrators. According to Israeli NGO Yesh Din, between 2005-2012 only 1 out of 162 complaints lead to prosecution.

But why would the settlers commit to such an act?

“The settlers want to scare us out of our fields,” Mahmoud Shawash tells me firmly.

His fear is not without foundation. For the Israel Civil Administration, which has the authority over the Area C of the West Bank, a farmer who continuously cultivates a piece of land over 10 years becomes the de facto owner of it. However, as the land registry process has been halted since the start of the occupation in 1967, land ownership after this year goes without official documentation.

In addition, Israel follows the Ottoman Land Code which allows the state of Israel  to confiscate land that has been left uncultivated for a period of three years and although by law state land should be allocated for the benefit of the local Palestinian population in the occupied territories, in reality it is usually allocated to Israeli settlements. Moreover, in a number of cases, Palestinian land owners have suffered losses of land as a result of Israeli authority imposed access restrictions to their fields, such as restricted permits and the separation barrier that in many parts of the West Bank separates farmers from their fields. Settler violence adds to these challenges.

Indeed in the bigger picture, these acts of sabotage, committed by individuals but unpunished by the system, conveniently support an ongoing strategic land grab that Israel is carrying out in the occupied Palestinian territories, for the benefit of the Israeli settlers.

Betar Illit, which was established in 1984 on the lands of Husan village, is the one of largest settlements in the West Bank and among the most rapidly expanding ones. Israel’s recent announcement to confiscate 4,000 dunums (990 acres) of Palestinian land near Bethlehem, in order to allow for further settlement expansion, benefits the Betar Illit settlement and directly affects its neighboring villages, including Husan. This recent development causes anxiety among inhabitants of Husan as well as other Palestinian villages in the area.

PCostello_Betar Illit settlement_Bethlehem_Oct2014

Beitar Illit settlement. Photo EAPPI/P. Costello.

In the field, work continues nevertheless. On 18 October, I find myself back at the Husan olive groves, where we have been asked to join and help with the olive harvest. While we are picking olives right next to the fence of the settlement, there is a cheerful spirit of a family gathering and news exchange between some of the international volunteers that have come for help. Lots of Arabic coffee is consumed and stories are told.

The first day of the harvest goes by smoothly, no settler stones thrown on the harvesters and no curse words towards them, as has happened in the past. At least almost. A small incident during the day of harvest gives me a taste of what working next to a settlement can be like. While taking some photos of our work in process, we notice a couple of settlers filming us from a nearby house. It doesn’t take long until the military arrives. To my suprise, they want to speak to me. Question is, do I work for the television? And if I do, they would need to see my film. Unfortunately for them, I am just an ordinary person with an ordinary camera, and so they let us back to our work.

On our way home through the village of Husan, we pass by a group of settlers from Betar Illit, buying eggs from a farmer from Husan village. It makes you wonder, how is it consistent that members of the same community who destroy trees at night, buy daily commodities from the same village during the day? Perhaps the answer lies on the fact that olive trees need humans to take care of them… Exactly what Athena wanted to show when she offered the olive trees as a present to humanity, for them to provide food, oil and wood over generation… Peace needs humans who will take care of it.

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Statue of Athena in central Athens. Photo J. Kaprio.

In line with Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention, the Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories are illegal, and their continuous expansion is the single biggest obstacle to what the olive tree symbolises: peace.

*The article 38 cut olive trees and a box of eggs originally appeared on Johanna’s blog.

Final destination

After decades of persecution, the Palestinian Bedouins now face a threat of forcible transfer to urban townships. Six township plans laid by the Israeli Authorities have provoked severe opposition from the Bedouins – some of them victims of displacement since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.

by Lea, Jordan Valley team

photo of Selim Auda Jahaleen

Selim Auda Jahaleen is 107 years old. A Palestinian Bedouin, he is the oldest member of the Jahaleen tribe. Photo EAPPI/BG. Saltnes.

Selim was born in 1907 in Saba, in the Negev desert, what is now the south of Israel. He lived his childhood under the Ottoman rule of Palestine, his youth under the British Mandate. As a young man he saw the rise of zionism and waves of persecuted Jews fleeing to Palestine. In his prime he became a refugee himself when the state of Israel was established. During the 1948 war he, like many other Palestinian Bedouins, was forced to leave his land in the Negev. He escaped to the West Bank, then under Jordanian rule. In 1967 Israel occupied the West Bank and Selim became a subject to Israeli military rule. During his 66 years in the West Bank he has witnessed several wars, uprisings, peace treaties, processes and negotiations.

Now he lives with the family of his oldest son, Mohammed, in a shack made of tin, iron poles and tarpaulin, in the desert near Jerusalem. The family of 14 gets their living from herding their flock of sheep and goats. To the wider public the hilly desert plains they and their relatives live in are known as E1, named after one of Israel’s most ambitious plans of settlement expansion. Approved by the Israeli authorities in 1999, but halted due the international pressure, the E1 plan would link the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim to Jerusalem and create a wider settlement block by connecting it with settlements of Mishor Adumim and Kfar Adumim through a series of roads and housing initiatives.

Today, Ma’ale Adumim houses over 36,000 Israeli settlers. Its Israeli approved municipal boundaries cover 48,000 dunams (48 km2 or 18.53 square miles), all of which are within the internationally recognized 1967 borders of the occupied Palestinian territory. The E1 master plan would allow for Israeli development on 12,000 dunams (12 km2 or 4.63 square miles).

The international pressure may have halted the E1 plan but clearing off the Palestinian population from the E1 area continues. This year 39 homes and livelihood structures were destroyed in demolitions carried out by the Israeli authorities. Selim’s family has had their homes demolished four times during the past two years. The latest demolition took place last month.

“When the soldiers came to destroy our home Selim tried to fight them,” his daughter in law, Salma, says.

“Where are we supposed to go?” he yelled at them.

Now the patriarch looks more docile, relaxing on a mattress with a lit cigarette in one hand while casually caressing some of his grandchildren, who all huddle around him, with the other.

The Israeli authorities have come up with an answer to Selim’s question. In August this year, six municipal plans for as many as 7000 Bedouins to be relocated to planned townships were published. Largest of them is Nuwei’ma, a Palestinian village located just outside Jericho and surrounded by settlements and Israeli military bases. According to the plan three Palestinian Bedouin tribes: Ka’abne, Rasheideh and Jahaleen, Selim’s tribe, will be moved to Nuwei’ma.

Most Bedouins are against the plan. Selim’s son Mohammed is one of them.

“Who will give us money and take care of our livelihoods when we lose the income we produce from our sheep?” he asks.

According to Nuwei’ma plan, the area given for each family would be 500 m2.

“Here we have a lot of space to herd our cattle. There herding will be impossible,” he says.

“Israel must let us stay here or let us go back to Negev, back to where we are from,” Mohammed says.

The township plan also goes against Bedouin cultural customs.

“The Bedouin tribes don’t reside close to one another,” Mohammed explains. “There will be a lot of internal fights if we all will be moved to Nuwei’ma.”

The realization of the township plans would mean putting and end to the traditional Bedouin culture in the Palestinian territories.

If implemented, the six plans plans will lead to a situation of individual and mass forcible transfers. They are prohibited by the 4th  Geneva Convention, regardless of the motive. A violation of this nature may be considered a grave breach of Article 49, giving rise to individual criminal liability and codified as a war crime.

*More photos & stats on the Nuweimah plans.

Hebron’s Cruel Reality: Child Detentions

by Hebron team

Mohammad Tareq and Mohammad Bahaa Al-Jabari, age 8 and 9, were detained on 24 September. Photo EAPPI/T. Fjeldmann.

Mohammad Tareq and Mohammad Bahaa Al-Jabari, age 8 and 9, were detained on 24 September. Photo EAPPI/T. Fjeldmann.

As an EAPPI accompanier in the West Bank city of Hebron, you quickly get used to many occurrences that never would be tolerated in your home country.  Perhaps the hardest thing to get used to is the arrest and detention of children. During our two months here, the EAPPI Hebron team has witnessed several child detentions – we have also heard about numerous other such incidents from fellow international human rights monitors stationed in the city.

Children are most often detained on their way to and from school, but are also taken from their homes in the middle of the night. Mohammad Tareq and Mohammad Bahaa Al-Jabari are 8 and 9 years old. We watched them being detained close to their school on Wednesday, 24 September.

“We were just running and playing, chasing each other around, when the soldiers came for us. They probably thought we were running away from them.”

On the same day, we also witnessed the Israeli military driving past and stopping the boys outside a shop close to the same school. We know from testimonies of soldiers serving in Hebron that their key task is to make their presence known – stopping children on the way home from school is just one example of this duty.

“They were throwing stones, so now we have to take them to the police station. There their parents can pay a fine to get them released,” – a soldier told the observers upon arrival to the site of the detention.

According to the boys, the soldiers had also been rough in their treatment.

“A soldier grabbed my face tightly when he wanted me to confess to throwing stones,” one of the boys described.

The boys were taken away in an army vehicle to a police station close to the Ibrahimi Mosque, accompanied by one of the boys’ father. According to the boys, the father wasn’t allowed to speak to them. The boys were found innocent and released a couple of hours later, without the parents needing to pay a fine.

Picture of  12-year-old Yousef Hajajreh, who was arrested on 8 September. Photo EAPPI/N. Forsstroem.

Picture of 12-year-old Yousef Hajajreh, who was arrested on 8 September. Photo EAPPI/N. Forsstroem.

In a separate incident on the 8 September, EAs in Hebron watched when the Israeli army detained a number of young children during clashes involving tear-gas and sound-grenades next to the Salaymeh checkpoint. Children from six schools pass this checkpoint in the mornings and afternoons. According to observers who came to the site before EAPPI, the soldiers simply grabbed children at random – one of the children was Oday Rajabi, aged 7. At this checkpoint, tear-gas is an almost daily occurrence, which continuously disturbs students’ lessons and stops them from even getting to school

Only as a last resort

The detention of children is strictly regulated in international law. In spite of this, Israeli authorities routinely arrest children, and is the only country in the world that systematically tries children in military courts, according to a 2013 UNICEF. In Hebron, at least 41 children and 5 teachers were arrested in 2013 by Israeli forces [PDF - Page 6] on their way to or from school in H2, and in July 2014 as many as 192 children were detained by the Israeli military.

Consistent with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, children should be restrained only if they pose an imminent threat to themselves or to others, when all other means have been exhausted, and only for as long as is strictly necessary.

Longlasting trauma

Detention is a traumatic experience for children, regardless of its duration, according to a report from Save the Children in 2012. The research shows that detention has an affect on the psycho-social well being of the child, as well as the parents. This can go on to have a profound impact on the child’s future, especially on their education and career.

*Read more about the affects of the Israeli occupation on Children.

“There’s something not human about what happens here.” – Checkpoint video & photos

Checkpoint 300. Photo EAPPI/S. Amrad.

Checkpoint 300, Bethlehem. Photo EAPPI/S. Amrad.

Watch this short video from an EA about what it’s like at the checkpoint everyday.

Check out our new photo album on the EAPPI website with photo resources about Checkpoints & Agricultural gates.

The double standards of ‘firing zones’ in the West Bank

by Nikki, Yanoun Team

“Why is it a military zone for Palestinians only?” exclaims Ayman Banifadl, Mayor of Aqraba.

He is referring to the ‘closed military zones’ or ‘firing zones’ which the Israeli authorities have assigned to 30% of Area C in the West Bank. These areas are meant to be used for military training exercises and usually have signs prohibiting all access, even though often signs are placed directly in front of already existing Palestinian communities. However, the Yanoun team has recently sighted Israeli settlers alongside the Israeli army during a military training exercise within a ‘firing zone’, indicating the ongoing collaboration occurring between the Israeli army and settlers. This incident also highlights the double standards which are exercised by the Israeli army in relation to who is allowed within these closed military areas.

A typical sign placed in front of a community declaring an area a ‘firing zone’ in the Jordan Valley Photo EAPPI/N. Ray.

A typical sign placed in front of a community declaring an area a ‘firing zone’ in the Jordan Valley Photo EAPPI/N. Ray.

Communities living in areas of the West Bank now considered a ‘firing zone’ by the Israeli authorities face huge threats to their existence. These threats include demolition, displacement, and limited ability to realize their rights to water, adequate shelter, education, health, and livelihood.  Many communities have demolition orders on their structures and frequently Israeli authorities demolish houses & structures.

Nearby to the large village of Aqraba is Tawayel (or, Tell al Khashaba), a small Palestinian herding community located within Area C and within a ‘firing zone’. The very existence of Tawayel has been threatened by the demolition of multiple houses and structures, including the community’s mosque on 29 April 2014. According to Ayman, “in 1976 the Israelis said that all the land from Aqraba [eastwards] to Jordan is a firing zone.” This announcement came despite multiple Palestinian communities living within this area. The reason for declaring the area a ‘firing zone’ seems clear to Ayman: establishment of Israeli settlements. He describes how the settlement of Gittit, to the east of Tawayel, was established. The area was first declared a ‘closed military zone’ and a small army camp was established. A mere 2 years later the camp was disbanded and the land was handed to Israeli settlers who built the Gittit settlement.

“It is clear that these lands are used for economic reasons, not military ones,” Ayman tells us.

10 Israeli settlement outposts have been established and allowed to expand within these ‘firing zones’ in Area C, even though they are illegal under international and Israeli law. Whilst Palestinian communities present before the areas were designated ‘firing zones’, face frequent demolitions and are prevented from building to expand or repair their communities.

 

The remains of the house demolished on 20th August 2014 in Tawayel Photo EAPPI/N. Forsstroem.

The remains of the house demolished on 20 August 2014 in Tawayel
Photo EAPPI/N. Forsstroem.

Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that the “Occupying Power may undertake total or partial evacuation of a given area if the security of the population or imperative military reasons so demand”. The Israeli army uses the area around Tawayel for military exercises on average once a month. As Ayman stresses, however, “there has been no war in this area since 1967.” The existence of these communities cannot be constituted as an ‘imperative military reason’.

In the case of Tawayel, there are no plans for forced transfer of the community. Instead, the people of Tawayel are being slowly pushed off their land under the auspices of a ‘firing zone’ without anywhere else to go. Ayman believes that the Israeli authority’s policy is to ensure that all remote Palestinian communities are displaced to towns.

If it was not already evident that a ‘firing zone’ only applies to Palestinians and not Israeli settlers, it became clear on 10 September 2014. The EAPPI team in Yanoun was called to Tawayel at 12:30 pm due to sightings of Israeli soldiers near to the village. When we arrived we found a group of 10 soldiers fully armed sitting under a tree sheltering from the midday sun, 100 meters from houses in Tawayel. We stayed in Tawayel to monitor the soldiers’ movements. At 1:30 pm, 3 Israeli army jeeps were sighted at the eastern end of the valley driving towards Tawayel. They had come to drop off more soldiers underneath the trees ready for, what it appeared to be, a training operation on foot.

Following close behind the 3 military jeeps was a civilian jeep. Basem Dili, the Head of Tawayel, identified the driver of the civilian jeep as a settler by the name of Koby. He explains that Koby lives in the settlement of Itamar, near to Yanoun. According to Basem, Koby was the settler who had been in charge of confiscating land around Yanoun to build settlement outposts to expand Itamar. Koby paused to have a conversation with the 2 military jeeps which were stopped by the trees before he continued along the valley. Afterwards the military jeeps returned in the direction they had come from. What was occurring before our eyes was confirmation of the close, collaborative relationship existing between the Israeli army and Israeli settlers.

“No one is making a demolition order for the settlers; [instead] they are building a road for him,” said the Mayor of Aqraba at the most recent house demolition in Tawayel on 20 August 2014, which left 17 people homeless.

‘Firing zones’ in this area are being utilized for settlement expansion towards the Jordan Valley. Like the village of Yanoun, the disappearance of Tawayel would bring the expansion of illegal settlements across the breadth of the West Bank one step closer. It would enable the connection of Itamar to the Jordan Valley settlements. But the people of Tawayel continue to stay strong and remain on their land amidst military training exercises and house demolitions. They have no other choice but to stay, where else would they graze their livestock and earn a living?

*On the morning this article was published, 29 September 2014, Israeli authorities arrived in Tawayel and demolished all the community’s electricity poles.