The Qawasmeh Family Story

This is a video shot by Christian Peacemaker Teams in Hebron, documenting a home invasion that took place a week ago by the army as part of the “Operation Brother’s Keeper.” Army incursions throughout the West Bank have been terrorizing civilians in this way for 7 days now.


This is the remains of the sound bomb the army threw through the opening above the door in the middle of the night.  Image

When it went off, its force cracked the plaster of the interior walls.  There were 5 children sleeping in the house at the time, the youngest around 5 months of age, the oldest perhaps 8 years, along with parents and elders. Can you imagine it, the loudness of the sound, the sudden terror?  And then the soldiers coming in?

The soldiers had blocked the village road for hours beginning in the middle of the evening, but it was around midnight when they invaded, hundreds of them storming the community, and began to enter the houses.  They didn’t tell anyone what they were looking for, but they systematically broke through dressers full of clothes, pulling the doors off rooms, and generally causing mayhem.  They arrested a young man and took him four kilometers away, bound his hands with a zip tie,  held him until 4 AM, and then released him to walk home in the dark, with his hands still tied.  It was a cold night, in a dark place with only the light from the moon and stars.

It’s not the first time.  It’s an ongoing problem for these people; this has happened several times.  And I could tell you where, and I could show you pictures of the door that was bashed off its hinges or the piles of clothing and mattresses thrown on the floor.  Pictures of the tired little children.  But I’ll just leave it at this:

As I left, one gentleman said to me kindly, “This is your village now. You are welcome.  Come anytime.” 

They gave us coffee and then they made us tea, and they told us the story and they showed us the damages.

I am at the same time overwhelmed by hospitality and completely full to the brim with this kind of story.  I am sick of cruelty.  Hallas. Enough.



I’ve become very familiar with the word, “Schwei,” which is an English transliteration of an Arabic word that means “a little” or “a very little”, or perhaps, “slowly.” That is, if I understand correctly. When someone asks me if I speak Arabic, my response is an apologetic, “Schwei, schwei.” For many, it is equivalent to how much English they speak, and for others, they are gracious in making up for what I lack in the way of language. Somehow, we get by.

Today I got a photo of a young pomegranate tree, which has the beginnings of fruits on it. Can’t seem to load the photo, which is too bad because it’s very CUTE.  But alas, also not edible.  I love pomegranates, and one sadness about coming in May is that these fruits will not be ready while I am here.

I’m struck that the fruit we wait for in our lives often comes little by little, slowly. This is frustrating when we want the fruit to be ripe now.  When people are hungry now.  We want all sorts of solutions to big problems to come now, in a big way comparable to the bigness of the issue, perhaps with a big announcement or fireworks or in the wake of the arrival of a famous personality. But these kinds of big events, while they draw our attention, generally do not solve our biggest problems. The Pope may visit the Holy Land, but when he leaves, the issues remain. And the Pope knows this, which is why he has invited the principle politicians to come and pray with him. Generally speaking, solutions to big problems come “schwei,” slowly, like ripening fruit.  And meanwhile, the need continues.

From the Mount of Olives, where I am staying, I have the view to the east of the Dead Sea and, closer in, Bethany. Jericho would be to the north of what I can see from this vantage point. Tradition in these parts says that it was near Jericho that Jesus faced the temptations of Satan, one of which was the temptation to make a bid for celebrity with a big memorable event. “Throw yourself down,” the Devil said, “and God will save you.” In this way, Jesus could, perhaps ,quickly make a name for himself. Fame would surely help him with his programme of salvation; why not?

But Jesus discerned that the way forward was not the meteoric rise to stardom, but instead, it was the insignificant way, the slow way, the way not strewn with accolades but rather, with relationships. With questions. With troubles. With insights and healings too.  Seeing the great need, He must have wanted to make a big difference, but he was led in a way that met people’s needs one at a time, step by step.

Little by little, later in his life, he made his way from Jericho across this desert landscape, traversing the dry wilderness where he had been tempted, on his way to Jerusalem. He had an intuition of what awaited him there. Yet he continued. Schwei, schwei, even in darkness, he continued to walk the path God set before him. 

Schwei. What I want is the fruit.  What I see is its beginning.  What I want is fireworks, a big blast, but what I get is the candle. So, I have been lighting candles in anticipation of the coming of daybreak.  They are little lights, but their steady flames await the coming dawn.

To feel….

There’s a worn foam mattress that serves as a sitting place on a hill in Palestine. It sits on an old metal frame, in the weeds growing underfoot, under the remains of an animal shelter whose tin roof is supported by iron poles, but whose walls lie like great shards of shrapnel on the ground. From the open-air shelter, if you care to look, you can see across from this hill to the next and the next, the beautiful hills of Palestine. Cast your gaze nearer and you will see a gutted white van, a shell of a vehicle, which serves as a home for the man I met today, the man whose home was demolished years ago here, whose animal shelter’s walls were broken open. The man who stays up here to tend his sheep.


Word has it that he once had over 250 sheep, although none are to be seen now. I hear they are somewhere nearby in a cave, that is, the 50 that remain, along with the three cows. These animals represent the whole livelihood for the man and his family.

Beside us we can see the remains of the home itself, a monument to a time of cruelty. Word is that 17 people lived together on this hill, in the good times, before the army came and the bulldozers rolled the house into a monumental heap of rebar and concrete.


The owner is smiling today, talking with friends who have come to visit. His three sons have also come and are standing beside him in the sun. The old cistern was also destroyed, but there is a new one. Water is life. If there is water and friendship, there can be hope.

I still have tiny thorns embedded in my hand from when I stumbled a week ago in a field not unlike this one, where a man’s fruit groves had been plowed under and I felt it and I stumbled on a stone and braced myself in the falling, and there were thorn bushes where my hand landed. I still have thorns embedded in my hand, like splinters. They were the bush’s line of defense and I do not blame the bush. There was no cruelty in it. The thorns are in me – but they do not hurt.

I look at the man who lives in the shell of the van and know that I should feel something. The story of this man is in my heart now like the thorns in my hand. Yet I stand on the hillside and realize that I don’t feel. It’s one more in a long, long, long line of woes that have become the norm, the miserable norm, and I don’t feel it. I think perhaps it is too big to feel all at once. Perhaps I am protected from it. There is a feeling inside the story that I bear witness to, and I think I will know it later and it will tell me its name and I will know what to do with it. There will come a time. For now, I just tell the story, slowly. Hear the story, a story which is not like the story of the thorn bush that buried its thorns in my hand. This story is a story of cruelty. There is a hill where a man lives in the shell of a van, to care for the sheep somewhere near in a cave, who have no other place, and his kids come up to visit him. And this has come to pass because it was done to him, on purpose.  And this thing is being done over and over again, and the world is not feeling it.  And it must.  It must.

I ponder this now from my desk at the place where I hang my hat these days, and then there is a knock on the door. A boy and girl stand there, my neighbors’ children, smiling at me.   It is the last day of school, and they are very happy. “We are going for a walk,” they say, “do you want to come?” It is a kindness, pure and simple,  and I welcome it. “That sounds like fun, how long a walk will it be?” The boy smiles. He has on his soccer shoes, bright blue. “Ten Kilometers!”, he says proudly. “Well then,” I reply, with a smile of my own, “I must get on my athletic shoes.”

And so we go together to enjoy the cool air of sunset.

“Do you not have a saying, four months, and then the harvest? Lift up your eyes and behold the countryside, that it is white,

ready for harvest….” John 4:35 ff.Image

It is harvest time for grain crops in the West Bank, and as we drive around we keep seeing the heads of grain blowing in the wind. The fields are white, just as Jesus describes them, in the bright sun. Jesus spoke these words in Samaria, right after he had spoken to the Samaritan woman at the well. The disciples had brought him something to eat, but he had not wanted the food, saying he had food the disciples did not know about. “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not have a saying…?”

We are advised to lift up our eyes and behold. Opportunity to serve others was all around the disciples, even opportunities that involved crossing boundaries, and seeing people with new eyes. Jesus advised them to lift up their eyes and behold how it was in the present place and moment, not some distant future, that God’s work is to be done. The disciples were invited to reap where they were on that very day, a harvest they have not sown, so that sower and reaper would rejoice together.

What is God inviting you to do today?  How are you invited in the present moment to participate with Jesus in the harvest of peace and justice and righteousness? 


All It Takes……..

What would you do, if you were 6 years old and your family’s village had no school? What if you had to walk 6 kilometers each way to go to school? Amir is 11. He has attended school for exactly one week of his life.

What if you attended a village school until you were 11, and then had to walk 7 kilometers each way to attend the next level of school? With no available public transportation, and an extremely exposed desert landscape to traverse, maybe you would decide a primary education was enough for you. That is the case of two girls not far from here, who have aged out of the local school, who might just go to school, if only there were transportation.

What if you did have a school bus, but it was taken over by soldiers? Maybe you would decide you did not want to get on any school bus after that.

Access to education is guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet children all over the world face all kinds of barriers to receiving an education. In the Hebron and Bethlehem governates, I’ve been introduced to a number of situations where access to education is a continual challenge for impoverished Palestinian children.   But a number of people of good will are working to correct the problem, “schwei, schwei,” little by little, with the resources available. Some volunteer their time to organize their community and to gather resources. Some put a cheerful mural on the wall of a school in an impoverished community to instill love of education in  children. Image

Some take pictures to build bridges and encourage curiosity. Some provide school supplies or books, some fix roofs, while others rehabilitate homes to be used as village classrooms at their own expense. And some diverse groups, Christians and Jews and Muslims, Americans and British and Israeli and Palestinian, pool resources to create learning opportunities for children who otherwise would not have chances for summer enrichment.

You don’t have to be a big nonprofit to make a difference. Sometimes all it takes is a good book, a smile, a language exchange, a cup of shai, a kite, a tent. Someone to walk alongside. Someone willing to try.

I’ve been “in the field” all day today, meeting people, networking, seeing some of these and other situations. Many conditions contribute to educational readiness, such as hope, trust, shelter, water, and nutrition. It’s grain harvest time in the rural south Hebron Hills, an important time to gather wheat and barley and fodder for the sheep and goats, an ingathering of the hard labor of plowing and sowing in other seasons.

In several villages, we saw heaps of grain, harvested and allowed to dry, almost ready for storage.Image

In one village, men, women and children were bagging the grain and carrying it to trucks so it could be stored. Harvest is a seasonal community endeavor, showing how people can accomplish much when working together.Image

But the day before yesterday, a man’s whole grain harvest was burnt by settlers in the night.  The harvest represented food for his family, the sweat of his brow, the livelihood for 14 people.  It was an incalculable loss.  We went past the black ashen spot where the grain pile had stood. It is a stark reminder of the cruelty we are capable of, a blot of shame on the landscape of humanity.


What if we all chose to be part of the solution? A little tolerance.   A little respect.  A little kindness.Image




Ahlan wa Aslan, welcome. Today is my first full day in Khalil, Hebron. The day began for me at 4:30 or so with the first call to prayer, a welcome sound although perhaps a little later might have been helpful. No matter. On the jet-lag morning I find myself awake by this time of day anyway. Now it’s night, the last call of prayer has passed and the air is full of the sound of firecrackers and Arabic music. Thursdays around here are especially good for weddings, and weddings are a long outdoor celebration with much music and dancing. It is a good reminder of the joy of living to hear this.

The day was spent with my host Hamed, visiting. We began our day with falafel and then headed to World Vision, for networking around the issue of summer camps for disadvantaged children. I felt honored to be part of the conversation between people of such good intention and different background, discussing how to better the community allocating scarce resources. Indeed the resources are so small and the challenges so great that discouragement is easy except for the local determination that always brings hope.

Various other stops included a legal agency and a kindergarten in dire need of a new roof. During the day Hamed also learned that settlers had set fire to large grain fields ripe for harvest. Sadly this is a regular occurrence: fires in the grain fields in spring, fires in the olive orchards in fall, to interfere with the harvests of the local people of the land. We were unable to go to see the fires, as we had a full day planned, and others went to take stock of the damages.

Some of our most poignant moments were spent at Tent of Nations. This is a farm owned by the Nassar family since the time of the Ottoman Turks, which lies pretty much in the middle of a massive block of Israeli settlements illegal under international law. For over 20 years, Israeli officials have tried everything to remove the Nassar family from their land, including a long costly court battle, declaring portions of the property state land, refusing the family all building permits, and preventing their access to the electric and water infrastructure.


Yet the family has refused to become vengeful, choosing instead to follow the council of Jesus to love and forgive those who persecute them. The motto of the farm is “We refuse to be enemies.” The family uses their land to teach others what it looks like to live peaceably side by side with the neighbors no matter what.

Early this week, on May 20, in the middle of the night, three Israeli bulldozers crept into the farm and demolished five fields of fruit trees heavy with fruit, along with nearby grapevines. The trees, heavy with apricots, apples and almonds, were buried under great heaps of earth. By 8 am the ugly deed was done. What had been a beautiful, fruitful, green valley now has the appearance of naked earth.

We listened as Daher Nassar described the great loss and how it had come about. Twelve dunums of land had been denuded. The family, he said, had papers demonstrating they owned the land. The trees, he said, had been there at least 15 years. Two months ago, the family found a note on the land saying that it was declared state land. Therefore the trees were not legal and the family had 45 days to “evacuate” the trees and return the land to its original state. The family went to court and submitted an objection to the order, which was accepted. The court had not yet scheduled a hearing when the IDF came by night and destroyed the trees despite the court’s acceptance of the objection.

It’s probably hard to imagine the impact of this. Imagine someone plowing under someone else’s cornfield in August, when the ears are ripe and ready, and you begin to get the feel of it. But corn is not supposed to endure for generations, as fruit trees are. This loss will be felt, not in one agricultural year, but for a long time to come. But besides the economic loss there is the sense of violation of one’s land and of all that is right.

It’s hard to follow this story with another, but there was yet another visit, this time to the home of Hassan in al Masara. Al Masara is a village south of Bethlehem where the separation barrier has not yet been built.   Since its route was established, al Masara has held nonviolent resistance marches regularly; now they are held every week. Hassan is the leader of the resistance movement. He showed us movies of the demonstrations to show that they were totally nonviolent. Not a stone was thrown. The community of al Masara simply marches through town and then toward the agricultural land belonging to them, which the separation barrier will cut off from the town. They speak their mind about the injustice of the barrier. They are stopped by rows of soldiers in riot gear.

Today we visited Hassan because in the past year, soldiers have begun breaking into his home at night on a regular basis. He has been told, “You play with us during the day? We will play with you during the night, when there are no internationals, no cameras, no pictures.”   Hassan’s mother described the soldiers going from room to room, despite her objections, pushing her around, looking through the house. Hassan states he has good reason to believe that the soldiers have put a camera or a wire in his house and are watching him, who visits him, and so on.

These are a few of the events of my first day in Khalil. There were others, but this is enough for one day. Tomorrow is another one.

If you are reading this in a place where you have free access to your land, self -determination, privacy, and safe, dry, warm schools, be grateful.




How fast are you going?

At the gym at the hotel this morning, exercising while awaiting the slow walk across the chancel of Central Lutheran to receive my MDiv degree, I tried one of the elliptical programs. It featured a course in the mountains of the South Island of New Zealand. As I rolled through the program tracking speed and heart rate, I could see rope bridges, tropical vegetation, mountain peaks and glaciers. Yet although the machine said my pace was merely respectable, the visual part of the program made it feel like I was running through the rough-and- tumble terrain, perhaps even careening.

Careening: the feeling of life speeding up as I go through May’s check-off list. Last time preaching at the internship. Last day at the internship. Last visit to campus before graduation. Last Thank – you note. (This is always tentative, since I keep having reasons to say thank you! And thank you for that! )

Yesterday a beautiful day on campus. A wonderful baccalaureate service. A great meal with friends new and old. Today it’s graduating, driving home, sleeping. Tomorrow it’s staging and packing. Tuesday, the friendly skies.

Careening. It all goes by so quickly.   The view is beautiful.  Hit the pause button. Take time in the midst of life to breathe in the Now.


It’s time to revive the blog.

Why the two-year hiatus? It’s hard to say. Perhaps the ancient writer who penned “to everything there is a season”, if he or she were to write today, would add, “A time to blog, and a time to rest from blogging.”

But now is the time to revive the blog. So welcome to bits of life wanting to be shared, from pen and paintbrush, once again. Think of this message as the “mike check” before a worship service. “Check, check.” “Do you read me?”

At some point in fall of 2011, I took the pen name, Tumbleweed. A tumbleweed is a plant that has no roots, and floats from place to place on the wind. It shows up. Over the past few years I’ve shown up in a fair number of places, sometimes without much preplanning, and sometimes with only a smattering of the local language, because the wind carried me. A tumbleweed is by nature a wanderer, and insofar as the wind has purpose and direction, it is not lost, but rather, it is directed from place to place.

Tumbling is somewhat out of character for seminary interns and pastors, who find themselves in more of a stable lifestyle for the most part, and yet it takes the wind of the Spirit to get them into position in the first place.  And this same Spirit seems still to find ways to send us off on the breeze from time to time.   In this case, Luther Seminary is sending me off. My graduation is immanent and my internship is over, and there is this other bit as well: a longing to revisit a beloved place.  And lo and behold, along came a need and the means to meet the need, and the familiar nudge of the Spirit whispering, “You could do that.”

So in between the wonderful twenty-one months I’ve had at Bethesda Lutheran Church in Ames, and whatever new ventures God may be calling me to in the future, the wind of the Spirit is sending me off again on an interesting journey to revisit old friends and make new ones.   Last time I ended up teaching a song to our driver: “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.” It will be great to reconnect while making new friends at the same time.

Stay tuned to more details soon to come! It’s going to be an adventure. Hope you follow along!  Next stop: graduation!

Terror and Trauma in Yanoun and arrests in Susiya

Sadly, it has been a deeply troubled weekend in Area C in the West Bank. 

With all that in mind, Palestinians living in the tiny village of Yanoun in the north part of the West Bank, just southeast of Nablus, were attacked on Saturday by settlers from the Itamar settlement nearby with knives and machine guns.

Nader Hanna, EAPPI’s Advocacy Officer, gives this background on the village:

Yanoun is a small village in Area C of the West Bank, just southeast of Nablus. It has about 65 inhabitants who are dependent upon farming and animal husbandry as their main source of livelihood. The village is surrounded by the illegal Israeli settlement of Itamar and since 1996 the residents of Yanoun have consistently experienced settler harassment and violence, as well as property damage and confiscation.

In October of 2002 the settlers of Itimar forcibly evacuated Yanoun of its inhabitants. International humanitarian agencies and Israeli human rights organizations then came to Yanoun to provide a protective presence with the aim of facilitating the return of the community. These left Yanoun within weeks of the community’s return; however, the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) has remained in Yanoun since October 2002. Based in Yanoun Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) provide a protective presence, monitor, and report on human rights violations in the community, as well as the entire Nablus Governorate and Jordan Valley.

During the attack on Saturday, three sheep were attacked and killed with knives, and people were knifed and shot.  The Israeli military stood by and shot tear gas at the Palestinians while their wheat fields and an olive grove were burnt, preventing the Palestinians from putting out the fires.  Not only that! They also participated in physically attacking the Palestinians, beating them with rifle butts and clubs and shooting them. Further, it has also been reported that the military refused to permit an ambulance present at the scene to care for a man with multiple stab wounds and gunshots to the face and foot, or transport him to hospital, for three hours.  Six Palestinians were injured. Five of them are in hospital, and the village is in shock.

All this was eye-witnessed by our EAPPI team in Yanoun.

Meanwhile, in Susiya, hate graffiti sprayed on rocks in Susiya village by settlers has terrified the residents.  In support of the villagers, some activists spray-painted over the graffiti and, in a ludicrous travesty of justice, were arrested by the Israeli military for damaging property.  There is a video of this event.

As a reminder, according to international law, the West Bank is land that belongs to the Palestinian people.  Further, according to international law, settlements in the West Bank are illegal.  Further still, the West Bank is occupied, and the occupying power has a duty, under the Geneva Conventions, to protect the indigenous population.  The International Court of Justice has ruled that these conventions apply to Israel’s actions in the West Bank.

If these actions appall you, as they do me, then I urge you to seek justice. I urge American citizens to inform your Senators and Representatives in Congress of these actions. Congress has provided unqualified support for Israel. Give the benefit of the doubt. Assume that the members are unaware of this ongoing collusion of the Israeli military in violent harassment of the occupied population, and inform them promptly.  We must make certain that they know, and that they know how we feel about it. 

Further, here is a sample letter, written by our advocacy officer, for you to use to send to the Israeli Embassy by fax or email, or to use in talking points.

“Dear Ambassador / Consul General / Minister / Judge Advocate General / Lieutenant-General,

I call upon you to condemn Israeli settler violence against Palestinian civilians and to call for all those who violate human rights in the oPt to be held legally accountable for their actions.

On Saturday, 7 July 2012 at approximately 3:00PM (GMT+2) Israeli settlers from the illegal settlement of Itamar approached three Palestinian farmers in Yanoun who were harvesting their wheat and grazing their sheep. The settlers were armed with knives and killed three of the farmers’ sheep.

A clash then ensued, in which the settlers and farmers began throwing stones at one-another. Israeli soldiers and police arrived to the scene only to support the settlers’ attack on a defenseless community. 

In total six Palestinians were injured, and five were hospitalized:

  • Jawdat Bani Jaber (Hospitalized): was beaten and stabbed multiple times by settlers, then shot in the face and foot by Israeli soldiers. He was then handcuffed by Israeli soldiers and attacked again by the settlers while the soldiers pursued other Palestinian farmers. After being attacked, the military did not allow a present ambulance take him to a hospital or care for him for approximately 3-hours.
  • Ibrahim Bani Jaber (Hospitalized): was beaten by a soldier on his head with the butt-stock of an M16 rifle, causing damage to his eye, and was later beaten by settlers while handcuffed.
  • Hakimun Bani Jaber (Hospitalized): was shot in the arm at close range by a soldier.
  • Adwan Bani Jaber (Hospitalized): was beaten by settlers with clubs.
  • Ashraf Bani Jaber: was beaten by a soldier with a club.
  • Jawdat Ibrahim (Hospitalized): was handcuffed, beaten by Israeli soldiers and then released for the settlers to attack as they watched. He was then tied up by the settlers and left on his land; he was found the next morning (Sunday, 8 July 2012).  

Though the settlers were the attackers in this clash, the Israeli Military and Police provided them with protection to carry out the attack. The soldiers and officers attacked Palestinians who defended themselves from the settlers, did not attempt to put out the fires that blazed through Palestinians’ fields – nor let anyone else do so, and delayed medical attention for the victims of the attack.

Like the many Israeli settler attacks that take place on an on-going basis across the occupied Palestinian territory, no Israeli settlers were arrested during this attack.