Advent Reflections- Joy

This Advent, join MCC Palestine and Israel in reflecting upon the hope, peace, love, and joy that the season brings, even to this Holy Land that is today filled with injustice, occupation, and violence. Using pieces from the National YWCA of Palestine’s “Breaking Down the Wall” resource, we join the many voices that call for dismantling all barriers of justice and peace in our own hearts, in Palestine and Israel, and around the world.

Joy

Ilo on rawhan tytar.
Joy is the daughter of peace.
– A Finnish proverb
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“Once a Human Rights Teacher was Born in Bethlehem”

Joy is the daughter of peace. What a beautiful proverb. What a challenging proverb too, especially for our partners, friends, and even ourselves here in Palestine and Israel who are not living in a time of peace. How can we celebrate the joy of the Christmas season while our Palestinian partners live under occupation? How can we find joy when Israeli peace activists are dangerously and hatefully targeted to discredit the road to a just peace? Where is joy in a time of great violence and hopelessness?

St. Francis of Assisi once said, “Joy is the greatest cleanser, and it is the greatest testimony to our faith.” Once again, we look to our Palestinian and Israeli partners who are living lives as peace-builders. They are the great testaments to the joy of the Gospel, the joy that Jesus’ birth brings. They teach us how to celebrate and be joyful in small ways, such as in the warm hospitality of a cup of coffee and a visit, and in large ways, by sharing their stories of both hardship and success. They show us the ways in which we can be hopeful and joyful through lived example. We at MCC Palestine and Israel are blessed to be witnesses to these lives of testimony to joy, of testimony to peace.

Into this world,
this demented inn,
in which there is no room
for him at all,
Christ has come uninvited.
But because he cannot be at home in it,
because he is
out of place in it…
His place is with those
who do not belong,
who are rejected
by power because
they are regarded as weak,
those who are discredited,
who are denied the status of persons,
tortured and exterminated.
With those for whom
there is no room
Christ is present in this world.
He is mysteriously present
in those for whom there seems to be nothing
but the world at its worst.
– Thomas Merton

Advent Reflections- Love

This Advent, join MCC Palestine and Israel in reflecting upon the hope, peace, love, and joy that the season brings, even to this Holy Land that is today filled with injustice, occupation, and violence. Using pieces from the National YWCA of Palestine’s “Breaking Down the Wall” resource, we join the many voices that call for dismantling all barriers of justice and peace in our own hearts, in Palestine and Israel, and around the world.

Love

For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time: hatred ceases by love. This is an unalterable law.
-The Dhammapada
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“Love Wins”

This third week of Advent we at MCC Palestine and Israel reflect on love. Love as the antidote to fear and hatred; love as the answer to the many daunting and disheartening challenges that our partners, our region, and our world face.

We can look to Mary as an example of great, radical love. A woman who said ‘yes’ to love and who birthed the Beloved into this world. The following is a piece of Singing Yes, by Rev. Loren McGrail, who reflects on Mary’s Magnificat, her song of praise and love:

“Mary invites us all to find our song and sing it so we can prepare the way for the birth of love and justice. Mary says we should expect that this birth will turn our lives upside down and inside out. She also asks us to pray for a world without war or conflict or violence. She asks us to hold our leaders accountable for their actions and inactions—their thoughts and their deeds, their votes of support and their votes against dignity and freedom. She asks us to feed the hungry by lifting their sieges, shaking off their occupation…

She asks us to dream about the way the world would look if things were reversed, if the Beloved Community could be made manifest. She asks us to dream it in the past tense as if it were already taking place. Finally, Mary, the mother of Jesus, asks us to affirm God being born not only in her real womb but in the womb of human suffering. She asks us to imagine, to sing, and work to make it so.”

“Whoever fulfills the duty of love fulfills the whole law,”
says St. Paul.
“You shall not steal,
you shall not kill,
you shall do no wrong to another-
all this is contained in one phrase:
You shall love your neighbor.”
If there were love of neighbor
There would be no terrorism,
no repression,
no selfishness,
none of the cruel inequalities in society,
no abductions,
no crimes.
Love sums up the law.
Not only that, it gives Christian meaning
to all human relations.
Even those who call themselves atheists,
when they are humane,
fulfill the essence of the relationship
that God wants among human beings:
Love.
Love gives plentitude to all human duties,
and without love justice is only the sword.
With love, justice becomes a brother’s embrace.
Without love, laws are arduous, repressive, cruel,
mere policemen.
But where there is love-
security forces would be superfluous;
there would be no jails or tortures,
no will to beat anyone.
  • Oscar Romero, The Violence of Love

Advent Reflections- Peace

This Advent, join MCC Palestine and Israel in reflecting upon the hope, peace, love, and joy that the season brings, even to this Holy Land that is today filled with injustice, occupation, and violence. Using pieces from the National YWCA of Palestine’s “Breaking Down the Wall” resource, we join the many voices that call for dismantling all barriers of justice and peace in our own hearts, in Palestine and Israel, and around the world.

Peace

Once they saw a star that pointed to a promised land, to a land of peace. Peacemakers set out to follow that star. It is both a joyful and arduous journey. Sometimes the star shines brightly, the promise seems certain, and, the pilgrims can sing, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring God’s peace.’ Often the star disappears, clouded over, hidden from view, and the pilgrims grope blindly, grow discouraged, get weary, give thought to settling down, to forgetting the promise of peace. One thing is certain: all pilgrims need nourishment to sustain the journey. An occasional oasis for the spirit is essential, a time to feast on the refreshing waters, the rich food of the spirit in order to get strength to continue the pilgrimage through darkness, star-shine or not.
-Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB

The season of Advent is a powerful time of expectation, anticipation, longing, and hope for the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Here at MCC Palestine and Israel we also believe that Advent can be a time for reflection on the ways in which we are and are not being living instruments of God’s peace. In this Holy Land, an expectation and anticipation for peace is ever present. However, it often feels unattainable, far away from the realities of injustice and violence on the ground.

During Advent, a time of waiting and preparation, we believe that we must ask ourselves if we are seeking a truly just, lasting, and sustainable peace in this place. Peace requires an end to systems of oppression, an end to military occupation, a dismantling of the wall, and conversions of heart and soul to treat one another as each of us would like to be treated.

This is the message of so many of our modern prophets of peace, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatmas Gandhi, Thich Nhat Hahn, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, and many more. Achieving peace often means non-violently resisting systems of oppression, saying ‘no’ to injustice wherever and whenever it exists.

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“To Exist is to Resist”

Our Palestinian and Israeli partners resist occupation and oppression, often through living their daily lives. “To exist is to resist,” is a slogan that Palestinians use to say, “we have a right to exist, to live on our land, to lead lives of dignity, to have our human rights respected.”

We at MCC Palestine and Israel get the chance to walk alongside such people who live non-violent resistance by their choices to stay on their land and in their homes despite forced displacement and transfer, daily oppression and restriction of movement, unjust legal systems, and many other forms of human rights violations.

We know, however, that standing with our Palestinian and Israeli partners for peace is the first part of our task to help create a just peace. We must go further to ask ourselves difficult questions, such as, are the policies that the US and the international community enact towards Palestine and Israel fair and just? Are we perpetuating systems of oppression and injustice? Are we complicit in violating human rights and international law?

These are hard questions, and the answers to these questions are often harder to hear. The international community, and most importantly, the United States government and civil society must acknowledge that we have played and continue to play active roles in the occupation, including ongoing settlement construction despite every US administration’s opposition to them in the last 48 years.

We must decide to educate ourselves and act. We must pray for reconciliation and healing. We must contact our representatives and lawmakers to advocate for a just peace in Palestine and Israel.

A just and lasting peace must use creative, loving, and persistent forms of non-violent resistance in the face of oppression and occupation. This Advent, let us reflect on the ways in which we want to join our Palestinian and Israeli brothers and sisters in creating a just peace in this Holy Land.

Reconciling God, you call us to resist everything that draws us from you.

You call us to resist the powers and principalities that attempt to occupy our lives and our world.

We pray for the Palestinian people who resist the wall, a symbol of death, with lives of courage, creativity, and compassion.

Lord, open our eyes to what we, the international community, can do to resist and challenge the scandal of the wall. Lord, make us instruments of your peace.

We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

-Salam Qumsiyeh

Advent Reflections- Hope

This Advent, join MCC Palestine and Israel in reflecting upon the hope, peace, love, and joy that the season brings, even to this Holy Land that is today filled with injustice, occupation, and violence. Using pieces from the National YWCA of Palestine’s “Breaking Down the Wall” resource, we join the many voices that call for dismantling all barriers of justice and peace in our own hearts, in Palestine and Israel, and around the world.

Hope

God of justice and compassion
while history and high walls, prejudice and fear,
barbed wire and locked doors,
divide those who live in the land
that we call Holy,
we pray that we may not divide them in our hearts
for we are all your children. Amen.
-Jan Pitchard

 

Wall- Hope

“Your wall can be broken, our spirit cannot.” 

“The wall” in Palestine and Israel has many names, including separation barrier, apartheid wall, or security fence. Names are important because they show how each group of people- Palestinian or Israeli- is influenced by the consequences of the wall.  In 2004, the International Court of Justice gave an advisory opinion stating that, “The construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, and its associated régime, are contrary to international law.” In the realm of international law, the wall and its consequences are a grave violation of human rights for the Palestinian community.

We see the consequences of the wall in the lives of our partners and friends, as well in our own daily routines. It serves as a way to further divide people, not allowing for critical interaction and communication that can breed understanding and connection, as well as significantly disadvantaging and oppressing one people, Palestinians, over another, Israelis.

When witnessing injustices such as this, the question of finding hope is a challenging one: how can we find hope in the midst of a Wall that stretches nearly 760 km, that is meant to divide and separate, and that perpetuates oppression and continues occupation?

We at MCC Palestine and Israel find strength and energy to celebrate the Advent and Christmas spirit amidst the on-going suffering through the example of our partners, neighbors, and friends. They embolden us with their resilience and their determination to live with dignity amidst great injustice and oppression.

  • We find hope in Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, an MCC partner organization. They send out a Wave of Prayer each week to help us mourn, reflect, and find healing in one another as a community praying and working for a just peace in Palestine and Israel.
  • We find hope in another partner, the Palestinian Center for Peace and Democracy, who gathered youth in their programs to hold a tent outside of the UN office in Ramallah for two weeks in November, non-violently demanding protection from the international community to the recent upswing in violence.
  • We find hope in the hospitality of our partners in Gaza who generously invite us into their homes and lives, while they live through blockades, wars, complete restriction of movement, and intense poverty.
“We ask you to cleanse our hearts from bitterness and hatred, and from frustration and fear. Make us all turn to you with repentance and fill us with trust and confidence in you, who is our salvation. We pray that all our suffering will bring us closer to you, and make us grow in faith and trust in you, and in love towards all our neighbours.

Send your Holy Spirit to comfort the bereaved families, to bring recovery to the injured and disabled, and to change the hearts of all of us to make us see that your will in the Holy Land is that Palestinians and Israelis live justly and equally together. Change the minds of the politicians so that they may turn the swords into ploughshares.

Bless your Church to be your instrument for peace, bringing comfort to the afflicted, promoting justice for the weak and dispossessed, and witnessing your love to all people.

In Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.”

–  Bishop Munib Younan, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and Palestine

Letter on escalating violence to Mr. John Kerry

In November of 2015 MCC signed a letter, along with seven other international NGO and faith based organizations, to be delivered to US Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry. The letter is a response to the increased violence in Palestine and Israel since the beginning of October. MCC and the other signatories of the letter request meaningful and just measures to address the root causes of the violence. We believe that the US must play a pivotal role in bringing about a just peace.

November 16, 2015

The Honorable John Kerry
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20520

Re: Addressing the root causes of violence and the U.S. role in building accountability for violations of international law

Dear Mr. Secretary,

As humanitarian, development, human rights, and faith-based organizations working in, or partnering with similar types of organizations in, the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and Israel, we are alarmed at the ongoing violence and regret the loss of Palestinian and Israeli lives. For the benefit of civilians on both sides and in the interest of achieving a just peace, we urge you to take immediate steps to bring a halt to the repeated violations that further inflame the rapidly deteriorating situation on the ground.

Despite leadership by you and your international counterparts, the situation has continued to deteriorate and we remain concerned by the limited demands placed upon the parties thus far. The recent instability and rapid escalation in violence is a direct result of prolonged Israeli occupation and lack of accountability for repeated violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. The lack of accountability has left Palestinians with diminished faith in the international community and in their own leaders, and with little hope that the peace process will bring positive change to their lives. At the same time, the physical and psychological wellbeing of Israelis is also impacted as they live in fear of violence and attacks.

As the occupying power, Israel bears the primary responsibility for the protection of the civilian population and ensuring their basic needs are met. As set out in Common Article 1 of the Geneva Conventions, High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions have an obligation to ‘respect and ensure respect’ for the law in all circumstances. Despite these obligations, violations have continued to negatively affect the lives of Palestinians across the Occupied Territory, fueling their frustration and resulting in increased instability on the ground. These violations include:

Collective punishment

The ongoing separation policy, blockade and closure of Gaza, which has sealed 1.8 million civilians in an increasingly unlivable space and continues to impede access to desperately needed reconstruction materials. By listing even the most basic of construction materials as “dual-use,” the government of Israel has impeded reconstruction efforts, contributing to a deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

In October 2015 the Israeli army carried out four punitive demolition orders, demolishing or sealing the family homes of individuals accused of carrying out armed attacks. These punitive demolitions have left 33 innocent family members, including 22 children, homeless. At least 10 other Palestinian families have punitive demolition orders pending against their homes.[i]

In response to protests and escalating violence, the Israeli police and army have implemented unlawful closures and increased movement and access restrictions across the West Bank, including the closure of eight East Jerusalem neighborhoods in mid-October 2015. These closures prevented thousands of Palestinians from accessing services, markets, education and work places and impeded access to 5 hospitals[ii]. Similar measures have recently been applied in response to protests, demonstrations, and violent attacks in the H1/H2 section of Hebron.

Excessive use of force, arrest and detention, and restricting medical aid

In October 2015, around 876 Palestinians, including 133 children, were arrested in relation to demonstrations of protests across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.[iii]

Many Palestinians have been killed and injured while participating in protests or demonstrations against the occupation in both Gaza and the West Bank. Israeli human rights groups expressed concern that the Israeli police and army have used a “shoot to kill” policy rather than attempting to subdue and arrest alleged attackers[iv]. Amnesty International has raised concerns that in some cases Israeli forces used disproportionate lethal force that may rise to the level of ‘extra judicial executions’ under international human rights law[v].

An additional element to the escalating violence has been the continued use of explosive weapons in populated areas that results in a predictable pattern of unacceptable civilian harm. An Israeli airstrike in October 2015 claimed the lives of a 26 year old pregnant mother and her three year old daughter in Gaza, adding to ongoing concerns over Israel’s adherence to its obligations in the conduct of hostilities.

Concerns have also been raised last month over incidents where Israeli forces impeded or interfered[vi] with Palestinians’ access to health services, including the ability of health workers to provide care to those in need, with several cases of Palestinians injured in protests or alleged attacks left to bleed to death from their wounds. In the first 3 weeks of October 2015, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society documented 177 attacks on Palestinian medical teams and ambulances, with 86 volunteers injured, 49 ambulances damaged, and an additional 42 incidents of ambulances being denied access to the wounded.

Settler violence

At least 48 incidents of settler violence against Palestinians have been documented in October 2015. Tensions have been particularly high since the arson attack in Duma in July 2015, where settler violence claimed the lives of a Palestinian mother, father, and infant, leaving one surviving orphaned child with serious burns. The government of Israel so far has failed to charge any perpetrators in the Duma attack and reports from Israeli human rights organizations indicate that, historically, over 90 percent of all settler violence cases have been closed by the Israeli authorities without the issuance of any indictment[vii].

Wanton destruction of property, forced transfer, forced eviction, and residency revocation

In August 2015, the Israeli army carried out 138 demolitions in Area C, the highest monthly number of demolitions in over 3 years. The majority of these demolitions occurred in communities threatened with forced transfer through an Israeli “relocation plan.” In the first 9 months of 2015, the Israeli army executed 402 demolitions in Area C. One quarter of these demolitions have occurred in communities slated for the “relocation plan.”

Israeli police forcibly evicted a Palestinian family from their Silwan, East Jerusalem home in October 2015, allowing Israeli settlers from the extreme right-wing Ateret Cohanim movement to take over the house.

In October 2015, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu announced during a security cabinet his consideration of the blanket revocation of permanent residency status from an estimated 90,000 East Jerusalem Palestinians residing in neighborhoods located beyond the Wall[viii].

In light of the above, we urge the U.S. to condition relations with the parties on compliance with international humanitarian law, including clear repercussions for continued violations that undermine prospects for peace. The U.S. should make clear that its expectations include:

  • Condemning the loss of Palestinian and Israeli life and calling on all parties to refrain from incitement, violence, and to abide by their obligations under international law.
  • Calling on the government of Israel to halt settlements, forced eviction, forced transfer, and the wanton destruction of Palestinian property. Furthermore the U.S. should note its obligation as a High Contracting Party in regards to grave breaches, specifically the obligation not to recognize as lawful an illegal situation, nor render aid or assistance in the maintenance of that situation.
  • Condemnation of collective punishment, which is strictly prohibited by international humanitarian law. The U.S. should call on the government of Israel to cancel all outstanding punitive demolition orders and immediately cease and reverse punitive access restrictions in the OPT, including the blockade on Gaza.
  • Calling on the government of Israel to facilitate reconstruction and development in Gaza through an immediate rationalization of the “dual-use” list. As a significant donor to reconstruction efforts, the U.S. should insist that construction materials, medical equipment, and essential water and energy equipment is immediately removed from the Israeli “dual-use” list. The U.S. should take proactive steps to work with the government of Israel to further rationalize the rest of the “dual-use” list against the Waasenaar Arrangement and other international standards. The U.S. should propose a time-bound plan to end the illegal blockade and open the crossings to Gaza for the free flow of people and goods, in line with international humanitarian law.
  • Calling on the government of Israel to revoke “shoot to kill” policies and to open a transparent investigation into the deaths of Palestinians by Israeli police officers, civilians, or soldiers. The U.S. should make it clear to the government of Israel that impunity is unacceptable and that it expects any individuals who are found to have contributed to unlawful killings to be held accountable.
  • Condemnation of use of force against medical personnel and refusal of permission for Palestinian ambulances and emergency medical teams to access specific areas to reach the injured and to evacuate them to hospitals. The U.S. should press the government of Israel to pursue all possible avenues to ensure accountability for apparent deliberate or reckless targeting of medical infrastructure and personnel.
  • Calling on the government of Israel to abide by provisions outlined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and to limit arrests, interrogations, and detentions of Palestinian children as a last resort. Any arrests, interrogations, and detentions of children must be in line with international humanitarian law and juvenile justice standards.
  • Calling on the government of Israel to fully and transparently investigate cases of settler violence, ensuring those who have committed crimes are indicted and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
  • Calling on the Palestinian Authority (PA) to promote an inclusive process for peace and reconciliation, in which all Palestinian factions and all Palestinians, including refugees, women, and young people are fully empowered to participate. The ongoing political divide further undermines the social, economic and political rights of Palestinians and the PA’s ability to engage in meaningful peace talks on behalf of Palestinians. The U.S. should press the PA to open a formal process of consultation in which all Palestinians, including refugees, women, young people and other vulnerable groups can express their expectations of their leaders and their vision for the future and should allow the PA to engage all relevant parties.

We thank you in advance for your consideration to these recommendations and your commitment to work towards a just, durable peace that ensures the rights of all people are protected and respected. We look forward to your response and remain available should you wish to discuss these recommendations further.

Sincerely,

Marie Clarke, Executive Director, ActionAid USA

Moira O’Leary, Country Director, ActionAid Occupied Palestinian Territory

Shan Cretin, General Secretary, American Friends Service Committee

Rev. Dr. James Moos, Co-Executive, Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ

Rev. Julia Brown Karimu, Co-Executive, Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ

Dalell D Mohmed, Executive Director, KinderUSA

J Ron Byler, Executive Director, Mennonite Central Committee U.S.

Rev. Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (USA)

Donna Baranski-Walker, Executive Director, Rebuilding Alliance

Alex Gray, Humanitarian Director, Relief International

[i] http://www.hamoked.org/Document.aspx?dID=Updates1589

[ii] http://www.jlac.ps/index.php?page=inside&pid=369&parentId=0&sectionid=8

[iii] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/10/oz-israel-prison-palestinian-children-151027102958151.html

[iv] http://www.btselem.org/press_releases/20151014_summary_execution_joint_statement

[v] https://www.amnesty.org/en/press-releases/2015/10/israel-opt-israeli-authorities-must-protect-palestinian-civilians-in-wake-of-settler-attacks-in-hebron/

[vi] http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/hc_statement_east_jerusalem_health_carefinalversion.pdf

[vii] http://www.yesh-din.org/postview.asp?postid=320

[viii] http://www.wsj.com/articles/netanyahu-discusses-revoking-residency-status-for-palestinians-in-east-jerusalem-1445984685

 

7 years old, three wars

By Rachelle Lyndaker Schlaback, Director of the MCC US Washington Office

View from a blown-out window in Munir Ibrahim al-Masri’s home in Beit Hanoun, north Gaza. The home sustained significant damage during the 2014 Israel-Hamas conflict. MCC, through partner Al Najd Development Forum, provided emergency bedding supplies to al-Masri’s family and other displaced households. MCC Photo/Alain Epp Weaver

Mostafa is 7 years old and lives in Gaza. Last summer a missile from an F16 came through a window and damaged his home. Mostafa and other children tell their stories in a brief video put together by the Culture and Free Thought Association, an organization that provides creative programs for children, with support from Mennonite Central Committee.

Nabila, who works with the CFTA, says, “You can imagine, we are dealing with children who have lived through three wars.” Mostafa and his classmates have already experienced war in 2008, 2012 and 2014.

By all accounts, last summer’s war between Israel and Hamas was the most devastating. According to the United Nations, more than 2,100 Palestinians died, nearly 70 percent of them civilians. Sixty-six Israeli soldiers died, as did five Israeli civilians.

The war made daily life even more difficult in Gaza, a 139-square-mile strip of land already suffering from a blockade imposed by Israel since 2007. The blockade’s effects have been devastating.

  • The people of Gaza cannot fly, sail or drive away. Israel closed Gaza’s airport in 2000. Gaza has no operational seaports. Israel and Egypt have built walls along the entire land border of the Gaza Strip, with strict controls on who and what can cross.
  • There is virtually no clean drinking water. A staggering 95 percent of Gaza’s water supply is unfit for human consumption. Those who can afford to buy bottled water do. Those who cannot afford it drink contaminated water, which has caused all kinds of health problems.
  • Many don’t have homes. More than 19,000 homes were destroyed in last year’s war. Thanks to MCC support, a local organization has rebuilt about 80 homes that were partially destroyed. But none of the homes that were totally destroyed have been rebuilt, due primarily to Israel’s strict controls on importing construction materials that it considers “dual use” (civilian and military).
  • Gaza’s economy is in shambles. According to the World Bank, the unemployment rate in Gaza is 43 percent, one of the highest rates in the world.

God’s concern about suffering and injustice is clear in Scripture: “I will not revoke the punishment [on those] who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and push the afflicted out of the way” (Amos 2:6-7).

Israel says the blockade is necessary for security, in order to isolate Hamas, the Palestinian political party that leads Gaza. Israel and the United States consider Hamas a terrorist organization because it supports violence against Israel.

Without doubt, violence by Hamas and other militant Islamic groups in Gaza is wrong. But making Gaza’s entire population of 1.8 million people suffer — though many of them do not support Hamas — is also wrong. The U.S. government regularly and rightfully condemns Hamas’ use of violence. But the same outrage is not applied to Israel’s policies.

Mostafa’s generation has experienced Israel only through war and the blockade’s suffocating impact. Far from promoting security, this is a recipe for resentment and anger against Israelis for decades to come.

Rather than blockades and military action, the U.S. and Israel should pursue policies that respect the rights of all people in the region. This could help Mostafa see Israelis as more than just the pilots of F16s.

Learn more at washingtonmemo.org/gaza.

Originally printed in the Mennonite World Review on September 14, 2015 , also reprinted for MCC Stories on September, 28, 2015.

Connected to Cremisan: Nader Abu Amsha’s story of struggle and resistance

At the height of the first intifada (uprising) in 1989, Nader Abu Amsha and a group of friends brainstormed how to help those who had been injured reenter society. The result was a voluntary initiative established at the YMCA in Beit Sahour to help rehabilitate young people. MCC has partnered with this project, which grew into the YMCA Rehabilitation Program, since 1990. Nader is the current Director of the East Jerusalem YMCA Rehabilitation Program and the Director of the Beit Sahour YMCA.

“The view, this kind of open view is good for your soul, your vision, your imagination, your life.” Nader Abu Amsha speaks about the Cremisan valley with a deep reverence, and a great sadness, “Open space- green space- is shrinking.”

A view of the Cremisan Valley, taken by Nader in 2013.

The Cremisan valley is divided between fifty-eight, mostly Christian, Palestinian families, a Monastery, and a Convent with a school for many local Palestinian children from the nearby town, Beit Jala.  Currently, about 3,500 dunams of this open, green land is under threat of being seized by Israel through the expansion of the Israeli separation wall.

Nader’s family owns a 7,000 square meter plot of land that they have cultivated for six generations. It is currently co-owned by Nader, his brothers and sisters, and their cousins. They hope to be able to pass the land onto the next generation. Each year the family harvests the olives from their trees in order to both use and sell the fruits and the oil that they produce. The income is important to the family, undoubtedly, but Nader stresses that the land means much more to them than purely a financial benefit.

Nader with his daughter, Nour, on their land in 2007.

Nader with his daughter, Nour, on their land in 2007.

Nader fondly remembers working on the land as a child, harvesting not only olives, but also grapes and apricots. He highlights the emotional and spiritual importance of spending time cultivating the land. He reminisces about the community and the heritage that existed in the Cremisan valley, recounting his participation in football (soccer) teams there as a young boy. He remembers stories of family working the soil together and the creative ways that the community irrigated their crops from a nearby spring.

A row of olive trees on the plot of land owned by Nader and his family. Photo taken in 2011 by Nader.

A row of olive trees on the plot of land owned by Nader and his family. Photo taken in 2011 by Nader.

These memories stem from a time when his family had full access to the land; before all Palestinians in the valley were not allowed to build roads or residences, or bring in machines for cultivation and harvesting. The spring that for generations had watered Cremisan valley soil has been blocked. Palestinians cannot use it to cultivate their fields. The 1967 annexation of land for the extension  of the Municipality of Jerusalem by Israel and building the colony of Gilo on Beit Jala land created rules and restrictions on building within the new borders. These restrictions have kept Palestinians from manageable access to their land, which makes the land susceptible to being grabbed by Israel. If the wall is built on its current path, it will further separate the people from their land.

The threat of the separation wall through the Cremisan valley has loomed over its residents for over nine years. Many Christian leaders, from local pastors and bishops, to international faith leaders, including the Vatican, have denounced the construction of the wall through this land.

Nader’s family has deeds showing their ownership of the land from the Ottoman, British, and even the Israeli legal systems. This proof of land ownership from Nader’s family, and from many of the other families in the region, may not be enough to stop the wall from being built, nor from having restricted access to the land. Nader knows that his is one of thousands of cases like this in Palestine. For Palestinians, one of the biggest consequences of Israel’s occupation has been, for decades, being removed from land, while simultaneously seeing the development of many Israeli settlements on that land.

An old olive tree, whose beauty and fruits are important to Nader and his family.

An old olive tree, whose beauty and fruits are important to Nader and his family. Photo taken in 2013 by Nader.

The impending loss of this land by the extension of the Israeli security wall is painful for Nader. The beauty of nature, the history of generations, the connection to deep childhood memories, are all powerful motives to resist the wall’s construction. Nader’s passionate yet gentle resolve is tangible. He will continue to resist the loss of his land via the courts, and also through non-violent demonstrations that occur in the Beit Jala/Cremisan valley area every Sunday.

Nader believes that if this land is lost, it will be a real collapse of the legal system and of the morals of people. He is not ready to give up on this vital and sustaining piece of his life. “I won’t surrender… I will continue defending my land until the last day of my life. Even if the wall is built, I will keep defending it.”