Monday, June 27, 2005

What you Can Do for Peace and Justice

I recently received two different emails asking for specific suggestions of thing you can do to support justice and peace for Palestine and Israel. Here are a few ideas:

1. Educate yourself and others about Palestine and Israel: Most Americans know very little about what is really happening in Israel and Palestine. Here are some ways you can help to educate people around you:

• Share the stories of people who have been to Palestine and Israel: The best way to learn about the situation in Palestine is to listen to the stories of people who have been there, especially told by Palestinians themselves. I will be available to speak starting in August and I’m willing to adapt my presentations to suit any group – I’m willing to tell the stories of the people I’ve met, talk about Palestinian nonviolence, focus on children’s issues or culture, give bible studies or whatever you’re interested in. As appropriate, I’m also willing to work with you to set up more creative presentations, like mock checkpoints. Whether you’d like me to speak in your home, your school, your faith community, or organization, I would be very happy to come! If you’re interested, comment or email me!

• Write letters to the editor: You can help improve media coverage of Palestine by writing letters your local paper. As you learn more about Palestine and Israel, write to letters to the editor of your local paper calling for peace and justice.

• Write, call, or visit your congress people: Our congress people need our help to learn more about the situation in Palestine. Currently, congress authorizes an average of 2.2 billion dollars a year in military aid to Israel. Contacting and visiting your congress people can help them understand why supporting the Israeli military prevents peace and give them the courage to support justice. I am happy to accompany you when you visit your congress people or help you prepare to visit them yourself.

• Support projects highlighting Palestinian people and Palestinian culture: Racism against Muslims and Arabs contributes to American support for Israel instead of Palestine. Projects that expose Americans to Palestinian culture and combat anti-Semitism (Both Jews and Palestinians are Semitic people!) are very important. Work with local Palestinians to organize projects like dinners, dance exposes, or film festivals. Projects also involving Jewish culture have the potential to be very powerful.

2. Take Action: Palestinians often ask me to share their stories with Americans, but they tell me that it’s even more important to take constructive action to end the occupation. Here are several campaigns and projects that I think are especially worth supporting:

• Campaign for Secure Dwellings: The Campaign for Secure Dwellings supports specific families living near Hebron who homes are slatted to be demolished by the Israeli army because they lack building permits, which normally take more than 10 years to obtain. CSD pairs groups, especially faith communities, with one of these families. Groups are invited to communicate with the families, highlight their stories, and write letters on their behalf.

• Divest from companies that profit from the occupation: Many groups, including universities and churches, are choosing to divest from Israeli campaigns that profit from the occupation. This is a project that I’m especially interested in perusing.

• Sister Community Program: American communities can help Palestinian communities by creating long-term partnerships with them. The Rhode Island-Qalqillya project a great example of this sort of project. The RI-QA puts Americans in touch with Palestinians directly, through videos, internet chats, and pen-pal projects. The RI-QA also supports Palestinian schools with supplies and buys olive oil from Qalqillya. I am very interested in working to set up such a relationship with Oregon and Washington residents. I hope that a three-way relationship, with American, Palestinians and Israelis, could some day be established.

3. Take a nonviolence training: The Israeli military occupation of Palestine is, sadly, only a symptom of a much larger problem: instead of developing peaceful methods of conflict resolution, we persist in believing that violence is the best way to achieve security. Though ending the occupation is extremely important, unless our culture and politics change, injustice will continue around the world. Learning powerful ways to stand up for justice and security without violence through nonviolence training is very important! I give nonviolence trainings through an organization called Tree by the Water, which you can visit at The Fellowship of Reconciliation and Training for Change also offer nonviolence trainings.

4. Visit Palestine! Visiting Palestine is the best way to learn about the situation and find ways to take action. I’ve also personally found my time here to be very enjoyable and one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. Christian Peacemaker Teams and the Holy Land Trust offer short delegations to the West Bank, exposing you to some of the conditions Palestinians live through every day. Visiting with one of these groups or International Women’s Peace Service during the November Olive Harvest is a wonderful time to learn about Palestine and volunteer in a meaningful way.

5. Think about what makes you the happiest and do it for peace and justice:There is no shortage of creative ideas for supporting peace and justice and these creative ideas are often the best. So whatever you love to do, whether it’s play with kids or throw parties, think of ways you can do it to support peace. Our talents and passionate can help us to find what really called to do.

On Playing on the Street with Children

What do you picture when you think of nonviolent resistance? Standing in front of tanks? Murals? Marchs? Palestinian resistance to the Israeli military occupation has taken all of these forms and many more. Today, Palestinians paint murals on the Annexation Wall, confront soldiers, and hold marches. Internationals, like me, have accompanied them during these demonstrations. We have stood in front of tanks. We have stayed in Palestinian house stalled to be demolished. We have broken curfews.

But we have also played with children. Yes, as unimaginable as it seems, in Palestine, playing outside is a form of nonviolent resistance. In the city of Hebron, there are many neighbourhoods where it is unsafe for children to leave their homes and play outside on their streets. In Hebron, groups of especially militant, fundamentalist Jews have taken over Palestinian homes and established illegal settlements. These settlers are actively trying to drive out the Palestinians living in Hebron: they throw rocks at Palestinian homes, strip naked and walk through Palestinian neighbourhoods, and also assault and shot Palestinians. Palestinian children are not exempt from their attacks.

Myself and other members of a Christian Peacemaker Team delegation spent half a day in a Palestinian neighbourhood next to one of these settlements. School just ended in Palestine, and children in the Tel Ramadia neighbourhood haven’t been able to play outside because of the settlers. At the invitation of Palestinian families, we brought balls and ice cream out to the children. Within five minutes, there must have been 30 children outside, playing soccer, catch, and even volleyball with us. Never had anyone from CPT seen so many children out on the streets.

While we were playing, a white van filled with settlers tore out of the settlement and speed towards me. I ran out of the way, shaking. It was clear that the settlers wanted to scare us. Sadly, the sight of Palestinian children playing outside of their houses threatens these people.

Not many activists get to play with kids as a part of their work, but I do. Sadly, though that is because activities that should be taken for granted by children and adults every where are often impossible under the occupation. For Palestinians, including children, continuing every day life is nonviolent resistance.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

More Pictures from Tel-Rumadia Action

Playing Volleyball - Nonviolent Resistance

Kids from Tel-Rumadia

Monday, June 20, 2005

"God Smiles Everytime"

Martin Luther King, Jr. once declared "One has a moral responsiblity to disobey unjust laws." When I visited Bethlehem as a part of a Christian Peacemaker Team delegation, I was privileged to met with a wonderful man named Zoghbi Zoghbi, a Palestinian Christian who lives out Dr. King's words. Like most Palestinians, Zoghbi doesn't have the permit necessary to go to Jerusalem, or even venture far from the city he lives in. Zoghbi used to attend the Jerusalem Church of the Redeemer, and his wife sat on their board. It's been eight years since Zoghbi has been allowed legally into Jerusalem, which is only 5 miles from where he lives in Bethlehem. Last year, however, Zoghbi successfully sneaked into Jersualem to attend church on Palm Sunday. If he had been discovered in Jerusalem without a permit, he could have been arrested and sent to jail. But Zoghbi told us "God always smiles when I break an unjust law."

While I have been in the West Bank, I have been so humbled by the amazing number of Palestinians who are choosing peace and nonviolently resisting the Israeli military occupation. Zoghbi wasn't the only Palestinian who tried to go to Jersualem on Palm Sunday. I met with an organization called the Holy Land trust organized which a march to Jerusalem, complete with donkeys and palm branches. They walked towards the checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem and peacefully confronted the military. In the front of the crowd, they joined arms and simply pushed through the line of soldiers. Sami Awad, nephew of Palestinian nonviolent organizer Mubarak Awad, told me that the soldiers were completely confused and they were able to push through another time. It was a victory for nonviolence, for both Palestine and Israel.

Palestinian nonviolent resistance is vibrant and strong. Here in the West Bank, I have attending many demonstrations and other attempts to resist the occupation. Though we in the United States may not be aware of it, Palestine has a long and powerful history of struggling for freedom without violence and the tradition is in no danger of dieing out.

Almost everyday that I live in Palestine, I break unjust Israeli laws. I've entered closed military zones. I've photographed soldiers. I've broken curfew orders. And I believe that, like Zoghbi said, God smiles every time.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Yesterday my telephone rang. "Hello. It's is Um Fadi. The soldiers have entered the village. They are stopping everyone."

"Yalla!" I called. "Let's go." Another activist and I pulled on our shoes, grabbed our passports and ran to the entrance of Harres, the village where we live. Um Fadi lives along the main road into Harres and she often calls us when soldiers show up in the village without warning.

Usually when we get a phone call from Um Fadi the soldiers are simply checking IDs or stopped at the road to Harres for no reason they that will tell us. But yesterday, I knew immediately that something was different. "Go away!" a soldier told me. "Why do you come here? Go back to America!" The soldiers were especially angry and a crowd of Palestinians were gathered. After a few minutes frantic Arabic, the story emerged: the soldiers had taken an 18 year old boy from his home, thrown him in the back of a jeep and would not say where they were taking him. The boy had been studying for his end-of-the-year examinations which would take place the next day.

I found myself standing in front of the boy's Aunt and Grandmother. "They beat him. His face was covered in blood," his Aunt gestured to make the point clear. "Haram! Haram!" his grandmother wailed. In Arabic haram means forbidden. Sinful. Morally wrong. My eyes filled with tears. She was right. Taking a boy from his home before he can put on his shoes, beating him, holding him before his exams, threatening to keep him from graduating from high school, this is sin. There are other terms for it as well: "contrary to international law," "a human rights violation," "undemocratic." But these terms don't seem strong enough.

I placed phone calls to human rights organizations and watched the soldiers, but it soon became clear nothing could be done. So we did what we do often when there is nothing left to do: we walked to Um Fadi's house to have tea. Um Fadi doesn't often talk about painful subjects while we drink tea with her, but yesterday she did. She told us about the time that soldiers entered her house and beat her oldest and another time when they beat her younger son. She told us that her youngest son, 7 year old Ali, wakes up crying whenever he hears loud noises at night. "He comes to me and I hold him. He is afraid that soldiers will come into our house again."

The boy who was taken was brought back to our village an hour later. He was taken home and I do not know if he was able to sit his exams today. I also do not know what I can say about this incident or Um Fadi's stories. No words seem quite strong enough.

Friday, June 17, 2005

What Americans should understand about Palestine

An interviewer has asked me to explain, "what Americans should understand about the situation Palestine." I have been surprised by how difficult it is to answer this question.

Last week, I was standing on a roof-top in Marda when another international peace activist yelled, "That was live! They're shooting live bullets over there!" Immediately, everyone crouched down, keeping our bodies below the level the ledge around the roof-top.
Everyone, that is, except a Palestinian father who, ducking only slightly, carried out a dozen tiny ceramic cups on a sliver tray.

Perhaps this is what Americans should understand about Palestine: even when soldiers are shooting M16 bullets, Palestinians serve Arabic coffee to all of their guests.

Perhaps we should not talk about politics. Ask any Palestinian and they will tell you that politics have not served them well. Summits, negotiations, road-maps – these have meant so little to daily lives of Palestinians. And the little they have meant has been so bitterly disappointing. The Oslo process carved up the West Bank into areas A, B, and C, institutionalizing Israeli control. Barak's "generous offer" would give Palestinians a state, broken in to three different sections, in only 20% of British Mandate Palestine, and without control over Jerusalem. The new Gaza disengagement, if carried out, will not mean the end of settlements in the West Bank. In the city of Hebron, Christian Peacemaker Teams reports that as the disengagement date draws closer, settlers are attacking Palestinians more brutally and in more organized ways. For these families, the disengagement means more violence. It's worse than "another failed political initiative."

So if politics means so little to the people of Palestine, then let's not speak of it at all. Instead, I'll tell you how Palestinian hospitality knows no bounds. I'll tell you about the beautiful children I play with every day. I'll tell you about the sheep and the donkeys. I'll tell you all of the good things about a group of people I've fallen in love with.

Last night I went to a wedding. Nasfat, a Palestinian organizer in Marda, told us "Marda is special; soldiers in the day, parties at night!" Huddled with the women and girls, I watched the men dancing around in a huge circle. The girls wrote in my hands in henna and the women chatted and gossiped. But then soldiers began to walk down the hillside, approaching the village. In the middle of a wedding, villagers had to decide how to respond. They had to restrain their little boys, keeping them from confronting the soldiers in the pitch black night. This is the meaning of military occupation: even at a wedding, the army wasn't far away.

There is no way to escape the occupation and its politics in Palestine. Palestinian hospitality is carried out under fire. The beautiful children I play with are terrified of the soldiers they see every day. In Hebron, these beautiful children have been strip searched and sexually harassed at a checkpoint on their way to school. In the village of Tuwani, where I bought the Palestinian dress I wore to the wedding last night, the sheep have been poisoned by settlers. In Marda, donkeys choke on tear gas. The daily life of the people I love is constantly interrupted, constantly made frightening and oppressive, all by the occupation. All by politics.

Avoiding politics is impossible here, though people at home in the US often ask me to. Don't be biased, they say. Support both sides. How can we? When one side is perpetuating such suffering on another, how can we fail to pick sides?

The simple truth is that we must pick a side: the side of justice. But picking the side of justice isn't simple. Picking justice's side doesn't mean cheering for Israel or Palestine, as though this conflict were a football game. It may be difficult, but I believe that we can choose to support both sides. Not politically – for what good is politics any way? – but on a human level. By pursuing a real, meaningful justice through love, we can help to support a solution that will be good for both Israel and Palestine. I say without apology that this solution must involve an end to the occupation and an end to the suffering of the Palestinian people. But this is because through ending the occupation, Israel will find true security. Through an end to injustice, we can all find peace.

It's time to develop a politics of nonviolence. We must stop ignoring all of the examples of nonviolence in our own history and start to take courageous, unapologetic, and loving stands for justice. This is what Palestine needs. It is what Israel needs. And it is certainly what we in the United States needs. Please, for the sake of a people I love so much, do something. In a spirit of love, do something for justice.
American Citizen Treatened at Gun Point: Press Release

Hebron, West Bank , On June 2nd, Vancouver resident Joy Ellison was threatened at gun point while helping two Palestinians at a checkpoint within the city of Hebron. After the Israeli solider manning checkpoint broke Israeli law by touching the two other Americans with Ellison, he pointed at gun at Ellison as if he were going to fire.

Joy Ellison and three other American members of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), a nonviolent accompaniment and advocacy organization, were walking through the Daboya Street checkpoint on their way to visit Palestinian families. Two Palestinian 16 year olds were being held at the checkpoint. Ellison and her teammates spoke with the teenagers who said that they had been held for two hours and asked the CPT members to intervene.

Ellison spoke with the solider at the checkpoint, asking why the boys were being held. The solider claimed that their IDs were fake. The CPT members politely reminded the solider, who would not give his name, that soldiers are allowed to detain Palestinians and internationals for no more than 25 minutes before taking legal action or releasing them. The solider responded saying in English “I do not give a [expletive deleted] about international law. I do not give a [expletive deleted] about human rights. I will do whatever I want.” The solider began to harass Ellison and the CPT members verbally.

CPT members called the army asking for the commanding officer to reprimand the offending solider. The offending solider then dragged CPT member American Michelle Stanley away by her purse – a clear violation of orders not to touch Internationals or Palestinians. The solider then pointed his gun straight at Joy Ellison, put the sight to his eye and appeared to prepare to shoot Ellison.

Ellison says “When he pointed the gun at me, I thought that I might die. For less than a second, I wanted to run, but then I felt very proud of what I was doing – standing up for peace and justice.”

Ellison held her ground, and Stanley said, “Don’t point your gun at her.” The solider dropped his gun, but said “I will point this gun wherever I want. There is no international law. I am the law.”
The solider continued to touch the CPT members, forcefully shoving Charles O’Roake 3 or 4 times. The commanding officer arrived and reprimanded the offending solider, but the solider did not change his behavior. He began sexually harassing Michelle Stanley and Jessica Villota.
Stanley repeatedly asked to file a complaint against the solider. An Israeli police officer arrived, but instead to taking the complaint, he arrested Stanley, screaming abuse at her. As soon as Stanley was arrested, the Palestinian teenagers were released, indicating that nothing was wrong with their IDs – a conclusion supported by a member of the US consulate. In total, the teenagers were held for 3 and half hours.

After two hours, Stanley was released, without charges. Ellison, Stanley, O’Roake and Villota filed complaints with the Israeli police and the American consulate in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, police and consulate members indicate that it is unlikely that the offending solider will face any consequences.

“At checkpoints, Palestinians regularly receive far worse treatment than we Americans did today,” said Joy Ellison. “It’s extremely disturbing that some soldiers have no regard for international law. If this solider can point a gun at me, I shudder to think what he might do to Palestinians women or girls”

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Marda and Moncade: Palestine's Fear and Israel's Insecurity

On Friday, I demonstrated for Moncade, the cutest three year-old in the West Bank. Moncade lives in Marda, a small village at the base of the hill on top which the Ariel settlement sits. Marda is losing their land and olive trees so that the Isreali government can build a 25 ft cement "security" wall – 13 miles away for Israel's 1967 border. Marda is a farming village and losing their land and trees will deal a huge economic and emotional blow. But as a Palestinian man whose house is completely surrounded by the Wall and security fencing told me yesterday, "the Wall is just the new situation that Palestinians must adapt to." The residents of Marda, including Moncade, have faced similar situations before and will again. There is a feeling here in Palestine that "if we were not facing this problem, we would face another."

I demonstrated for Moncade because his smile gives me courage. It isn't easy to live in the West Bank and it's even harder to face the Israeli without weapons or hate, knowing that they will respond with tremendous violence. Since a soldier pointed a gun in my face because I asked him to release to two Palestinian boys he was detaining illegally, I've found my stomach flopping and my hands shaking whenever I confront the Israeli army. So on Friday, I dedicated my actions to Moncade. With the farmers of Marda, I walked up the hill to pray on the land, picturing Moncade in my mind, glad he was too little to come with me.

And as we walked the hill, the violence we knew would met us did, but even sooner than we expected. Before we left the village, the Israeli army fired approximately 50 tear gas canisters in less than five minutes. Then they entered the village, continuing to fire tear gas canisters – in to houses and a sewing factory where 25 women were working – then started to fire rubber bullets, and then live ammunition, aiming at boys less than 18. Three boys were hit with rubber bullets and one with a tear gas canister, but thankfully everyone is still alive.

I cannot describe the looks of fear on the faces of the children of Marda. I've seen so many big eyes stare up at mothers, unable to speak their terror. The look on the faces of the mothers is even worse – fear covered up with accustomedness. "My son was so afraid," a woman told me, and I could see how much she wanted me to understand and make America understand. "Please, my son was so afraid."

Fear has become such a part of the daily life of Palestinians, especially children. The Israeli army changes the conditions in the West Bank arbitrarily, at their whim. One day, the drive from Marda to Jerusalem could that one and a half hours; the next day the army might put up a new checkpoint and it could take four. Israeli soldiers detain and arrest Palestinians randomly, demolish houses without warning, even enter and leave villages for no describable reason. The result is that nothing is ever predictable and we never know when we should be afraid.
Sometimes, however, the army does give a reason for its actions. At 11 last night the army entered the village of Harres, where I live with an international women's organization. Some threw flares and others walked up through the olive groves where no one could see them. Our landlord, one of the bravest Palestinians I know, came to our door, clearly scared. "This is when we are afraid. If the army sees one of us, even a child, they will shoot." Our landlord told us that he had called the army and asked why there were here. They told him that someone had thrown a Molotov cocktail, "we are here for security reasons."

Security reasons. This is supposed to be one of the reasons that Israel is occupying Palestine. But security is trickier then one might think. When one thinks with the security mindset, soon anything one doesn't understand is a security risk and anything – sensible or not - is justified in trying to obtain security. Perhaps last night there was a Molotov cocktail, but our landlord was skeptical because he had been sitting on his patio for hours and hadn't heard anything. And after 20 terrible minutes, the army left without doing anything. Did this further security? On Friday, soldiers in Marda claimed that they didn't fire bullets, a Palestinian with a Kalashnikov rifle did. But I saw the M16 bullets. Did this lie indicate further security?

I have become much better acquainted with fear here in Palestine. I understand that many people in Israel are afraid. The specter of suicide bombings is truly terrible. But Israel must learn to see past its fear and see the occupation for what it is: brutal violence against civilians. To have security, Israel must allow the Palestinians to have what they have asked for: a free and peaceful state. Otherwise, Israel's occupation will continue to breed security threats - as long as Palestine in occupied with violence and ever increasing injustice, a few people will choose to oppose Israel violently. The occupation is Israel's biggest security threat.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Even in Palestine: Marda Gathers to Pray
Slide show avilable at