The wall, the settlements and the refugee camps; an unholy Trinity

By the Bethlehem team,

This is what I call the unholy Trinity”, says Osama Nikolai as he points towards the horizon. Standing on the roof of Wi’am Palestinian Conflict Resolution  and Transformation Center in Bethlehem we can clearly see what he is referring to. ”Firstly, there’s the wall”, he notes pointing at the separation barrier just a few meters away. ”Secondly, the settlement up right there up the hill”, he continues, ”and thirdly, the refugee camp down here” pointing to nearby Aida refugee camp. All three unholy components located within a short walk from where we stand. According to Osama, this is what the conflict boils down to; the separation barrier, refugee camps, and settlements.

24.12.15, EA Paula Fogel, Seperation barrier, Bethlehem. EAPPI_A.Dunne

24.12.15, Bethlehem, EA at the separation barrier, Photo EAPP/A. Dunne

Refugee camps of Bethlehem… Continue reading

Open Letter to world leaders from a Bishop in Jerusalem and a refugee

1 September, Jerusalem

Dear leaders of the world and people of good conscience,

Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land

I write to you from Jerusalem to address the very serious refugee situation affecting countries across the Middle East and now Europe. I myself am a refugee, as well as a bishop. Both my faith and my history oblige me to speak up for these women, men, and children who are washing up on beaches, are found decomposing in trucks on the highway, are crossing borders of barbed wire, and are barely surviving in makeshift camps.

The last weeks have seen not only an increase in the numbers of these refugees, but also an increase in tragic outcomes for many. This is a shameful situation, and one which the international community cannot ignore. It must be remembered that refugees are not vacationers. They did not leave their homes because they were looking for adventure. They are displaced as a result of poverty, violence, terror, and political conflict. Frustration and fear lead them to risk their lives and their life-savings in search of safe havens where they can live and raise families in peace. We must remember that these are not “waves” or “masses” or “hordes”—these are human beings who deserve dignity and respect.

Continue reading

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.

Twice a refugee – The story of Mr. Sabbagh

In recent years, Sheikh Jarrah has become the location of active demonstrations against Israeli policies in the neighborhood. After many families were forcibly evicted from their homes in order for Israeli settlers to take up residence, weekly Friday protests began.  Here is the story of one family forced from their home.

by Jerusalem Team 50

Mohammad SabbaghDuring the 1948 war, Mr. Sabbagh’s family became refugees from their village of Yavneh. They were forced to leave their homes and take only the items they could carry. They left behind not only their houses, but their entire properties that they worked they accumulated over the years. Mr. Sabbagh’s family lost 250 dunums of land.

They fled to Jerusalem and were brought as refugees to Sheikh Jarrah, an area now in East Jerusalem.  At that time, Sheikh Jarrah came under the rule of the Jordanian government.  Many refugees, including Mr. Sabbagh’s family were given houses in Sheikh Jarrah on the condition that they pay rent to the Jordanian government.

In 1967, when the state of Israel took over East Jerusalem and the West Bank and began its military occupation, Sheikh Jarrah once again fell under their rule. At this time, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the Jordanian Government transferred ownership of the houses in Sheikh Jarrah to the Palestinian families living in them.

For Mr. Sabbagh’s family, the dispute over their home began in 1972 when Israeli settlers claimed that their ancestors lived on the land on which Mr. Sabbagh’s house was built and the land and house belonged to them. Although these claims began in 1972, Mr. Sabbagh’s case came to the forefront in 2010 when the family received eviction orders from the Israeli authorities based on the claims of Israeli settlers.

Since then, the family’s lawyer is still contesting their eviction and seeking recognition of Mr. Sabbagh’s family’s ownership of the property.  Despite proof of Mr. Sabbagh’s ownership in documents obtained from records in Turkey that combat the settlers’ claims, the Sabbagh family was evicted from their home, forced to stay in tents they erected nearby.

The startling fact of families being forced from their homes, opened the eyes of many in Israel and throughout the world.  Public demonstrations began to oppose the forced evictions of Mr. Sabbagh’s family and others.  Every Friday, Israelis, internationals, and Palestinians gather at 3:00 pm in the afternoon voicing their support for the Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah.

Many thoughts come to our minds as we ponder Mr. Sabbagh’s story. How can Palestinians persevere, despite the double loss of homes, property, and the dreams and memories these places carry? How much money has been wasted in support of countless human rights violations? How long can the Israeli government support the active violation of Palestinians human rights without facing repercussions?

These questions bare heavily on our minds, but we find hope in the solidarity Israelis and internationals show every Friday with the Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah.  Much more needs to be done, but one day freedom will be delivered to those that are oppressed.

Read about Sheikh Jarrah on +972 Magazine.

Watch videos about Sheikh Jarrah from Just Vision.

A new battle in Nabi Samwil

The villagers of Nabi Samwil have already lost land and been displaced due to an Israeli National Park.  Now, the expansion of the National Park, means this could happen again.

by Aaron, Ar-Ram team

Children play in front of Nabi Samwil's one-room school. Photo EAPPI/K. Banks, 2012.

Children play in front of Nabi Samwil’s one-room school, which is threatened with demolition. Photo EAPPI/K. Banks, 2012.

Nabi Samwil: a holy place for Muslims, Christians and Jews

One of the main reasons people come from all over the world to visit Israel and Palestine is the large number of Holy Sites. Since we’ve been here, members of our group have been to visit the Western Wall, The Sea of Galilee and Manger Square in Bethlehem, among others. These sites are of spiritual significance to people of different faiths from around the world. They are also an opportunity for local people to earn a living and to provide services for tourists.

It sounds like a win-win situation. But like many seemingly straightforward things in this place, there is more than meets the eye…

Members of EAPPI Al Ram Team 50 have been regular visitors to a site which has been special to Jews, Muslims and Christians for hundreds of years, and is now at the forefront of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

An Nabi Samwil is a small village in the north of Jerusalem. It’s reputed to be the site of the tomb of Samuel – a figure respected and revered by all three Abrahamic faiths. While the historical evidence for this is hard to substantiate, what’s clear is that a monastery and crusader church which were built there nearly 1000 years ago have since been replaced by a building which is now in use as both a Mosque and a Synagogue.

A history of land loss

An Arab village grew up around the tomb. For much of the last few hundred years, Jews and Muslims have been able to worship at the site alongside eachother. However, in 1967, Israel occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank. In 1971, the village of An Nabi Samwil had about 1000 people in it. But then the Israeli Army came and announced the creation of a National Park surrounding the tomb. This meant the villagers would have to move – they had no choice. As in many other Palestinian villages, An Nabi Samwil was cleared of its population and no provision was made for those being moved. Many left the area, either to Jordan or elsewhere in the West Bank. But some were determined to stay and set up new homes nearby.

An EA walks with a woman from Nabi Samwil at the site where her home was demolished. Photo EAPPI/M. McGivern, 2011.

An EA walks with a woman from Nabi Samwil at the site where her home was demolished. Photo EAPPI/M. McGivern, 2011.

Around 250 people now live in the village, which is a few hundred metres from the old village and the tomb. Many of them still remember the old village being cleared. They could hardly forget – seeing as they walk past the place where their houses used to be every time they go to the Mosque. Israeli forces have demolished various structures in the village and the village school’s new classroom has recently been given a demolition order.

Villagers may face displacement for the expansion of a National Park

Now, there is a new threat to the community. The Israeli authorities have declared that the National Park will be extended, a new road will be built with parking spaces and provision of more services. This is ostensibly to attract more tourists and make the tomb a more popular destination. But the creation and expansion of National Parks is a tactic that has been used elsewhere to acquire more land for Israel and to take it from Palestinian communities.

Land surrounding the tomb will be declared part of the National Park, which means that villagers will lose plots which they own. It means it will be harder to find a place for their animals to go, and it will bring the possibility of large numbers of visitors – but little benefit for the Palestinian community. Because they are not allowed to build any new structures (Israel permits very little building by Palestinians in the parts of the West bank know as ‘Area C’) there will be no opportunity for local people to capitalize on the expected influx of visitors by building souvenir shops, for example.

Israelis, Palestinians, and Internationals stand with Nabi Samwil in solidarity

It is easy to see why the village is objecting. We have been supporting Aeed Barakat, a local man who is taking the lead in opposing the plans. Two weeks ago, we attended a planning court hearing at Beit El, which is the local office of the Israeli Military which runs so much of life for Palestinians.

Along with 10 others from the village, Aeed attended and stood alongside peace campaigners from around the world, including many from Israeli groups such as Peace Now, Bimkom and Rabbis for Human Rights. All of us were shocked when the architect in charge of the plans told those assembled:

“There is no village, only a few houses.”

At this point, the meeting broke up, with the villagers so upset that they couldn’t carry on. It was left to the Israeli peace activists to continue the hearing on their behalf. When the meeting finished, we asked them how confident they were of a good outcome. It didn’t sound likely.

We are now awaiting the decision of the hearing. It could come any time. But it’s thought that the plans will be approved. And at this point, the villagers will resort to court action in an attempt to preserve their land.

They’re not content just to wait and be told that their land is being taken away. So last Friday they organised a peaceful demonstration. Around 50 people gathered in the village to protest against the plans. There were local people as well as internationals, and again, many Israelis who are passionate about peace.

Four police cars soon arrived carrying 15 armed officers who told the group they had five minutes to move. Aeed simply said,

“This is our village. We won’t move.”

The police seemed taken aback by the number of Israelis who had gathered in solidarity with the Palestinian group. After several more attempts to order the demonstrators to move, the police eventually gave up and went away. Aeed was delighted. He told us, “This is good news. I hope this demonstration will now be able to happen every week.” It was a privilege to stand alongside such a diverse group, united in one aim. EAPPI will continue to stand alongside the villagers of An Nabi Samwil and many other villages like it, for as long as they want us to be there.