A quick Susiya update

Dear friends,

I hope you have had a great 4th of July.  I have been celebrating with extended family and I am still on vacation, but wanted to take the time to update you on the situation in the village of Susiya in the West Bank.  The lawyer on the case, who works with Rabbis for Human Rights, has filed an objection which has temporarily protected the village.  A couple days ago, she wrote that the legal team has filed an objection (to the demolition orders) to the Israeli Civil Administration (a misnamed arm of the military).  If the objection is rejected, appeal will be made to the high court of justice.

So it seems there are still some last-ditch legal means to employ. The village is still standing. Nevertheless, hopes seem dim. Spirits are low in the village.

Meanwhile, in London on July 4, there was a significant discussion in Parliament regarding Area C issues.  I’ve obtained a transcript of that debate for you which you will find in a pdf file in attachments.  Below are two excerpts in which Susiya is described as an example, the “tip of the iceberg” showing some of what is going on throughout Area C.  You will find the messaging similar to what I also have shared with you.

3.10 pm
Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): …. I will keep my comments short and limit them principally to
one case, which is the village of Susiya.

When debating Palestine, we sometimes lose a little context when we talk
about Israel’s problems in its governance of the west bank. Israel is an
occupying power of the west bank and has been since 1967. Over that time, it
has engaged in an aggressive policy of colonisation, which has also involved
the active displacement of the indigenous Palestinian population, whether they
be settled or Bedouin communities. That is the context.

The lives of the Palestinians are compromised and disrupted daily, whether
physically, by the settlements, barriers and checkpoints, or organisationally,
through pass laws and restrictions on movement, trade and so on, which,
sadly, bear a resemblance to some activities of the apartheid regime in South
Africa—pass laws and such matters. The fact is that Israel has no business
under international law being in the west bank. That is why, although I agree
with the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) that we must try to bring
people together, blame must be attached where blame falls. It principally lies
with the occupying power.

To assist the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), I can tell him the
figures that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency gave recently when it
came to Parliament to brief Members on the situation in Area C: Area A, which
is under full Palestinian control, is about 17% of the west bank; Area B is about
21%; and Area C, where there is full Israeli control, is about 61%. Those figures
were given to us within the past two weeks.

Equally important when considering Area C is the fact that 70% of that 60% is
off limits to Palestinians. It is either settlements, land controlled by settlements
or other areas—my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran)
mentioned nature reserves and other “scams”, for want of a better word—that
restrict Palestinian access. Given that 29% is already built-up land, only 1% of
Area C is actually potentially available for development by Palestinians—the
people whose land it is. We will get nowhere until that situation is resolved.

I will briefly use the example of the village of Susiya to show exactly what the
Palestinians are up against. It is a Bedouin village on an escarpment in the

4 July 2012 : Column 296WH

Hebron hills, and is the agricultural centre of the region. It has been settled by
the same families since the 19th century. In that respect, it is similar to other
villages around Jerusalem or in the Negev. I visited one of the villages and have
seen villages in the Negev that have been demolished five times by Israeli
forces and then rebuilt. Just this week, B’Tselem, a well respected human rights
organisation, said about Susiya:

“On Tuesday, 12 June 2012, Israel’s Civil Administration distributed demolition
orders to…50—

that is essentially all—

“structures in the Palestinian village of Susiya in the South Hebron Hills. The
orders stated that they were renewals of demolition orders originally issued in
the 1990s. Residents were given three days, until 15 June 2012, to appeal the
orders…Residents are planning to submit their opposition”.

With the intervention of human rights groups, the demolition orders were
extended to last Sunday, but they have now expired again. We are talking
about residential tents, which house over 100 people; kitchens; shops; a clinic;
a community centre; museums; the solar panels that provide electricity; and
shelters for animals. The entire village—everything—will be demolished. The
villagers are on watch every day waiting for the bulldozers to arrive under the
protection of the army. That is life for many Palestinians. Will the Minister take
up that case, not only because it is important in itself, but because it is the tip
of the iceberg of what is happening to villages in that area? If he has not done
so already, I ask him to make particular mention of the case to the
Government of Israel.

I was alerted to that case by an organisation called the Ecumenical
Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, which is a very good
Christian organisation through which people live peacefully with Palestinian
villagers for months. Its members brought in videos that showed me not only
threats from the military, but from another village called Susiya, which is a
nearby, well developed Israeli settler village with every modern convenience.
Under the protection of the military, the settlers come down to the Palestinian
village armed with guns; they throw stones and attack Palestinian villagers.
That is something that I have seen myself on video and film.

Mrs Grant: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the activities of the Israeli
defence and security forces in a number of situations have a real effect on
normal people—the little people whom my hon. Friend the Member for
Beckenham (Bob Stewart) referred to—and engender an atmosphere of
worrying hate and distrust?

Mr Slaughter: Absolutely. Occupation does that in its own right, but this is not
a benign occupation. This is violence. It has accelerated with an increase in
settler violence of 144% in the past two years. It is an organised campaign to
disrupt the lives of Palestinians and to extend the occupation, which continues
year-on-year and which, as the hon. Member for Beckenham said, increasingly
makes a two-state solution difficult, if not impossible. That is why we need
more from the Government—not only words, but action.

Mr John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree
that one of the most cynical aspects is the Kafkaesque way in which the illegal

4 July 2012 : Column 297WH

occupiers use international law to say, “Ah, we should rely on the established
law—Ottoman law and mandate law—for the legal framework for house
demolitions”? Those laws are used in a perverted way to disadvantage the
Palestinian residents who should have rights in that illegally occupied land,
while a completely different set of legal rights are applied to the illegal
occupations. Is it not that twisted way of interpreting the law that adds offence
to the physical destruction of homes, schools and other properties?

Mr Slaughter: My right hon. Friend is right. Rules and regulations are
manipulated in an absolutely cynical way to wear down and break the spirit of
Palestinians living in the west bank. I think that it has been proved that that
does not work. The resilience of the Palestinian people there is extraordinary,
which is why there is also violence. Arrests, detention—including of children—
and administrative detention, which happens on a continual basis, are all
designed to break the will of the Palestinian people and favour the occupier
and settlers over the indigenous population. I know that the Minister knows
those matters well, but I hope that he will redouble his efforts. I will end on that
point. ”

“3.33 pm
Mr John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): I draw the Chamber’s
attention to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, and
to the fact that I accompanied my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North
(Mr Doran) on his recent visit to the region.

What the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) described as
preconditions were, until recently, regarded as the mutually agreed starting
point for the way to achieve a two-state solution. Those have now been
withdrawn from negotiations, which makes things more difficult. I wanted to
highlight the way that Area C, which was originally conceived of as a
transitional measure—part of the process of going to a two-state solution—is
slowly but surely being taken by the Israelis as an area of Israeli authority, in
which they are able to impose their will, often with a fiction of law, as I said in
an intervention, to the disadvantage of the Palestinian people. That is a very
different concept of Area C. It raises a number of important questions.

As European taxpayers, we are, to a considerable extent, paying the human
and social cost of that occupation…..
4 July 2012 : Column 302WH

One of the things that struck me on my most recent visit was how small the
place is and how critical the issues are. We went to the Ma’ale Adumim area,
where the Bedouin whom we talked about earlier were. The area between that
settlement and Jericho is the same as the area between my constituency in
Southampton and Winchester. On a train, that is about enough time get a cup
of coffee and get out a laptop. Yet if that settlement continues, the west bank
is effectively wholly divided. There is no possibility of a Palestinian state with
physical integrity. That is why the settlement must stop now; otherwise, it will
be almost impossible for the negotiations to reach a resolution.

3.36 pm
Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the right
hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr Denham). I congratulate the hon.
Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) on securing this debate. This is a
hugely complex issue. All of us who have visited Israel or the Palestinian
Authority will know what a small geographical area of land we are talking
about. It is important to get these complex issues into some sense of
proportion. We are talking about Area C, in which 150,000 Palestinians live.
There are 1.4 million Palestinians living in Israel and 2.5 million Palestinians
living in Areas A and B. It would be wrong if this Chamber today gave the world
the impression that we are talking about most of the Palestinian population,
because we are not….

Mr Slaughter: The hon. Gentleman is showing uncharacteristic false logic.
The reason for designating Area A is because it contains the main Palestinian
towns. It would be a bit like saying that as long as we excluded London,
Manchester and Birmingham, we could allow someone else to occupy all the
rural areas of England. This is the Palestinians’ land, and they are entitled to all
of it. ”

A pdf file of the entire Parliamentary proceeding is available at this link:


In a Btselem report released recently, Nasser Nawaj’ah, Susiya resident, writes,

“I live in Susiya, a small Palestinian community in the South Hebron Hills of the West Bank and have worked at B’Tselem for five years, as coordinator of the camera distribution projectin my area. In my work, I have frequently documented the Israeli military’s destruction of homes, livestock pens and water cisterns and heard the cries of children, women and old people during these demolitions.Now the specter of demolition hangs over my own family, my own children, and I feel a terrible sadness. My family has been expelled three times from its home, once before my birth and twice during my childhood.

Since 2001, after the Israeli High Court allowed us to return to the village and our homes remained standing, we dared to hope that perhaps this was the end of it. These latest demolition orders have driven my father to profound grief and despair. My son Ahmad, who is five, and his brother Lith, who is three, have never experienced demolition. I hope very much that we can prevent them from experiencing it now.”

This is very sad.

Nasser writes more here: http://972mag.com/palestinian-from-area-c-describes-life-in-constant-need-of-rebuilding/48302/


Besides that, there was a demonstration against the demolition orders on Friday June 22.  Video footage shows a demonstration estimated around 400 people walking toward the original site of the village, now an archaeological park.  Demonstrators were intercepted by soldiers who lobbed tear gas canisters at them.  I have heard the demonstration lasted about four hours. This video is recommended by Villages Group.



Going along with the video above, here is an eyewitness report from the demonstration by David Shulman (Villages Group) with excellent still photos.



On the blog site below, you will find a short video made by Ibrahim Nawaj’ah, son of Abu Jihad and brother of Nasser and Abed. In the video, Ibrahim interviews people living in Susiya about the village’s endangerment.



Please continue to advocate on behalf of Susiya and the other Palestinian and Bedouin villages in Area C.

Seeing the Stars of Bethlehem

Sometimes ya just gotta write.  There are those times when your heart is either so empty or so full that something has to flow.  This is one of those times.

Friday evening I gave a presentation about human rights abuses in the occupied Palestinian Territory, things I saw and stories I’ve been following since my return home.  It was a wonderful dinner presentation at the home of dear friends, and I came home tired but with my head and heart full from the event.  Something happens to you when you keep looking at videos of checkpoints and demolitions, something oppressive and sad.  Hope comes when others begin to think about becoming actors to make change in whatever they can change, which means spreading the word as far as possible.

For me, then, Saturday I got up and drove 3 hours north to St. Olaf College to meet a group of touring dancers from Bethlehem, West Bank.  This group of young men and women (13-17 years approximately) have been learning expressionistic dance through a ministry of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, and put on a presentation worthy of a world theater.  To begin with I was hoping to record the dancing.  But after the first four minutes I turned off my technology and just allowed myself to experience the jewel-like performance, as the young “bright stars of Bethlehem” told the story of the grief and hope of their lives through music and movement.

One thinks of “Palestinian” and one often thinks of the sadness of life behind a concrete wall, limited opportunities, broken dreams.  My human rights presentations, because they must show the world what I have seen, contain a lot of sadness of this kind.  The Occupation is not pretty.

But I also try to show the resiliency of a people who continue to rebuild when things are demolished, who embrace life and love deeply despite the challenges before them.   You can see hope in the faces of the young dancers of Bethlehem,  in the artwork of painters and calligraphers and photographers who have filled Westminster Presbyterian Church with a beautiful exhibition, in the music of the diaspora musicians who graced our morning liturgy, in the films of the Dar al Kalima film makers, the poetry of the poets, the hymns of the hymn-writers who have brought us into the heart of the culture of Palestine this weekend.  To a great extent this hope is nurtured and made fruitful by the ministries of Christmas Lutheran Church in providing education and opportunity to the young people of Palestine.

Diyar Consortium, offering cultural education and support in Bethlehem and now reaching out through satellite programs into other locations in the West Bank, has a vision for bringing hope to people living under occupation “from womb to tomb” . In his preaching this morning, Rev. Mitri Raheb, pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem spoke of Jesus, who brought a new concept of human liberation.  This vision was much larger than the Roman empire which ran the occupation of Palestine in Jesus’ day.  Jesus’ vision gives the freedom that comes to hearts and minds so that human beings come to see themselves differently.  Refusing to be defined as objects bent down under an oppressive regime, such people, instead, receive new dignity, stand upright, and become renewed people who act as ambassadors of God’s hope.

For those reading this who would like to learn more about this ministry in Bethlehem, or to provide support, I encourage you to check out Bright Stars of Bethlehem.

To my friends who have this weekend shared so much with us: once again you have brought me hope, brothers and sisters of Bethlehem.  Godspeed in your ministry.  You do far more good than you know.  To you Christians, Alleluia.  To you Moslems, Hamdullillah.  To all of you, God’s salaam and Shukran.

Expropriations and Demolitions: Things that make for peace?

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem! … If you had only recognized … the things that make for peace!” (Luke 19:41-42).
Christ’s words ring loudly this time of year, as we enter Holy Week and remember all that happened in the first century. In our present context, I would paraphrase: “Israel…recognize the things that make for peace!”

Recently, The Washington Post published an article about the Israeli Government’s abrupt decision to ban the United Nations Human Rights Council from investigating  implications of settlement construction in the West Bank.  Currently there are between 500,000 and 600,000 illegal Israeli settlers in the West Bank.  Most of them are in Area C. This is expressly against the 4th Geneva Convention, which states, among other things, that an occupying power may not settle its citizens in occupied territory.  The banning of human rights investigators always ought to make people of conscience sit up and take notice.

If that were not enough, Haaretz today published an article with a shocking map showing the Israeli government’s plans to expropriate another 10% of the West Bank  in Area C for settlement construction.  A large amount of this land is in the Jordan Valley in the north and in the southeastern area of the Hebron Governate.  With this strategy quietly being put in place, it is no wonder that the Israeli government banned the UN from investigating the settlement plan and the effects of settlements in the West Bank.

In the face of all this, it’s easy to find oneself reeling and hard to find some perspective. Here is mine.  I am not the first to point out that these actions are part of a strategy that has been in place a long time. Long ago it is reportedthat Ariel Sharon, who said he yearned for peace, nevertheless called for Israelis should grab as many hilltops as possible.  The recent Haaretz article is a current example of this idea. The expropriation of land for settlements is the right hand of the plan. On the left hand, we have dispossession and harassment.

Here is a quote from a February 2012 United Nations publication.

“In the first two months of 2012, the Israeli authorities demolished 120 Palestinian-owned structures (76 of these in February), including 36 homes. This forcibly displaced 229 people, some 60 percent of whom are children, and adversely affected 450 others. On average, over 25 percent more people have been displaced per month in 2012 than in 2011 and 125 percent more than in 2010. Over 95 percent of displacement in 2012 occurred in Area C. At least seven of the incidents resulted in the destruction or damage to structures funded by international donors. About half of the people displaced in the West Bank so far this year were in the Hebron Governorate.”  (To read more, go to  UN Monthly Humanitarian Monitor, Feb 2012, p. 1.)

According to a 2011 UN OCHA summary report, (http://reliefweb.int/node/472780), displacement of Palestinians due to home demolitions was up 80% from 2010. In 2011, 1100 Palestinians, over half of them children, were displaced in this way, with 4200 people affected by the demolition of structures related to their livelihoods. The United Nations reports that it was aware of demolitions to 222 homes, 170 animal shelters, two classrooms, two mosques, and 46 rainwater cisterns in 2011 in Area C. According to the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian Territory, tens of thousands of people throughout the territory are at risk for demolition and displacement under current Israeli policies.

The impact of demolitions upon a community cannot be overstated, especially upon its women and children, as they interrupt basic security and cause social upheaval, humanitarian crisis including damage to livelihood, loss of access to basic necessities, and post-traumatic stress.

After the bulldozers left in Jaba'.

If you have been reading my blog, you know I often write about demolitions! Recently I posted about a pending demolition order against the Palestinian village of Susiya in the South Hebron Hills, in Area C in the West Bank.

Drawing water from cistern, with tent homes in background, Susiya, West Bank

Today the UN OCHA has released a fact sheet on the situation. This is an immediate threat to the village including its primary school.

Yet another current threat in the area is the demolition order pending against several solar and wind energy installations in Palestinian and Bedouin villages in the area. The installations were completed by the alternative energy company, CometME, with international funding in late fall of 2011. These villages, which otherwise had no electric power, now have lights, the opportunity for refrigeration, and better access to communication and labor-saving devices which come with electricity. Nearby Israeli settlements are on the electric grid, but the Israeli government does not extend power to Palestinian villages and even actively destroys such access when brought in by the Palestinian Authority.  If  the people living in Wadi J’Hesh, Isfay al Fauqa, Qawawis, Mantiqat Shi’b Al Butum, and Haribat an Nabi) lose their electricity as planned, it will be one more disheartening episode of harassment of the Israeli government against the Palestinian and Bedouin people.

Meanwhile, families in Wadi J’Hesh, Um al Kher, Um Fagara, Saadat Thalah and numerous other villages in Area C wait for the demolition orders to be carried out against their homes, animal shelters, cisterns and toilets.  Khirbet Ghuwein al Fauqa’s electric poles were demolished by the Israeli army in September.

Wires on the ground that once brought power and light to the village of Khirbet Ghuwein al Fauqa, in the background.

Electric poles, a mosque,

Destroyed mosque, Um Fagara, photo by Guy Butavia. Used by permission.

homes and animal shelters were demolished in Um Fagara in November. A woman with nine children lost her home to the bulldozers in Um al Kher in January.  Saadat Tha’lah saw a particularly violent demolition (see the video here; caution, it’s hard to watch)  of several structures in February with significant injuries and deaths of livestock as a result. Imneizil School waits to see if its toilets and cistern will be destroyed.  Even some of its classrooms are vulnerable.  The entire village of Dkaika, which suffered significant demolitions at the beginning of 2011 and just finished reconstructing the partially demolished school, waits to see if all of its structures will be razed.

The Israeli government applies unequal planning and zoning laws to Palestinians and Israelis in Area C.  While Israeli settlements in the area, illegal under international law, can build without zoning plans or permits, Palestinians are required to have both, and are not able to obtain them. In this way, Palestinians are effectively prevented from building a legal structure anywhere in Area C. In point of fact, most of Area C has been expropriated for use of the Israeli settlements or the military, and the permit and zoning regime gives Israel effective control over the rest.

Yet this is Palestinian land!

According to international law, an occupying power has a responsibility to care for the needs of an occupied people.  International law prohibits involuntary transfer of occupied civilian populations unless they must be temporarily evacuated for their own safety during a military engagement.  Nor may it demolish private property. The United Nations and the EAPPI have called for the immediate end to demolition of homes and other civilian structures and for an end to unfair planning and zoning in the occupied Palestinian Territories.

On the one hand, expropriation. On the other hand, harassment and demolition. These, Jerusalem, are not the things that make for peace.  If the peace process will not move forward,  some of the reasons are clear enough.

Susiya in Danger

The hospitality of sweet mint tea is the greeting for every visitor in Susiya.

Susiya is a village of around 320 people, scattered on a couple hillsides in the South Hebron Hills.

Half of the people living there are children.  They love the simple things: helping with the sheep, playing with puppies.

And they love school. They recently celebrated the completion of a roof for their primary school, and applied some decorative paint, just in time, sadly, to see the demolition order Israelis have given them against it.

Flags wave at a childrens' demonstration against their school's demolition order.

Susiya Primary School, now under a demolition order, photographed by EA Emmet Sheerin

The children are aware of the order against the school, but perhaps they are not aware that the entire village is now in danger of demolition: homes, livestock enclosures, cisterns, toilets, clinic, even the cave, where the women of Susiya’s Embroidery Cooperative maintain a hopeful little shop with a few handmade dresses, coin purses, and woven mats.

Village elder Mohammed Nawaja'h shows international visitors the health clinic tent.

Susiya Center Embroidery Cooperative

Susiya village has had a tragic recent history. Its residents have lived in this immediate area for generations.  In the 1980s, the villagers were expelled from their traditional cave dwellings when the Israeli government declared that land, containing an archaeological site, to be a national park.  After being forceably moved again several times, they came back to the agricultural land belonging to them just a kilometer or two from the original cave dwellings and park, in the 1990s and have been living here in tents, suffering from settler harassment from nearby illegal Israeli settlers ever since.  Now  they are in danger of more systematic violence against them as their entire existence on the land is threatened.

Here is an urgent action appeal I received from our office yesterday. Many thanks to Nader Hanna, our advocacy officer, for putting this together.  At the end there are ways you can take action to make this demolition less likely by raising your voice.

Part of Susiya Village


Generations of Palestinians have lived the village of Susiya in the South Hebron Hills. Yet, this village, sandwiched between Israeli settlements, has been consistently denied building permits, basic infrastructure and has always faced a constant threat of demolition, as it is unrecognized by the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA).

On 3 August 2010, a group of Susiya’s residents, along with Rabbis for Human Rights, petitioned the Israeli High Court of Justice (HCJ) against the actions of Israeli soldiers and settlers in the West Bank. They asserted that soldiers and settlers consistently denied access of Susiya’s residents to their land and that soldiers failed to adequately protect Susiya’s residents from settler violence. The said petition, HCJ Case 5825/10, is currently pending before the HCJ.

Recently, a right-wing organization named Regavim, submitted a counter-petition to the HCJ, requesting that all “illegal outposts” in the Palestinian village of Susiya be destroyed by the ICA immediately. This petition, HCJ Case 1556/12, comes on the backdrop of various demolition orders that were unfairly issued against structures in Susiya over the years, but were never executed.  Needless to say, this petition denies the many protections afforded to Susiya residents under international law.

As a result of Regavim’s petition, there exists a real and immediate danger that 30 homes and 42 other structures, including Susiya’s school, health center and cultural center will be demolished momentarily. If Regavim’s petition is successful, it would displace all 320 residents of Susiya, 150 of whom are children, and set a precedent for other Palestinian villages in the South Hebron Hills & Area C, which is 62% of the West Bank.  


Regavim is an Israeli NGO that presents itself as “a social movement that aims to prevent illegal takeover of national lands by certain bodies”. However, its own publicized record reveals that it recognizes the oPt, Golan Heights, and parts of Jordan as part of Israel, and its main objectives are to: 1. Lobby the Government of Israel to destroy Palestinian structures, whether in the West Bank or in Israel; 2. Identify and suggest to the government new opportunities for such demolitions, and 3. Stop demolitions and evictions of unauthorized Israeli-settler structures in the West Bank.


Article 23 of The Hague Convention of 1907 clearly states that, “it is especially forbidden (for the occupier) to destroy or seize the enemy’s property, unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war.”

Article 53
of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 states, “Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.”


We encourage you to:

  • Forward this email to your networks
  • Inform your representative in parliament about what is happening in Aqaba
  • Contact (Preferably fax) the following officials and call on them to allow Palestinians in Area C to have their right to adequate housing and infrastructure without the threat of demolitions:

o   Your Ambassador and/or Consul General in Israel

§  http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Sherut/ForeignInIsrael/Continents

o   The Israeli Ambassador in your country

§  http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/About+the+Ministry/Diplomatic+missions/Web+Sites+of+Israeli+Missions+Abroad.htm

o   Israeli Minister of Defense:

§  Ehud Barak

§  Ministry of Defence

§  Fax: +972.3.691.6940 / +972.3.696.2757 / +972.3.697.7285

§  Email: minister@mod.gov.il / dover@mod.gov.ilpniot@mod.gov.il

o   Israeli Military Judge Advocate General:

§  Major General Avihai Mandelblit

§  Fax: +972.3.569.4526 / +972.3.608.0366

§  Email: avimn@idf.gov.il

o   Israeli Military Chief of Staff

§  Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz

§  Fax: +972.3.691.6940 / +972.697.6218


You may either use the sample letter below or draft your own:

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

I urgently call upon you to rescind all demolition orders that were issued by the Israeli Civil Administration to the village of Susiya, in the South Hebron Hills, which consists of 72 structures in total. For many years, the 320 inhabitants of this village, half of whom are children have faced severe repression by Israeli soldiers and settlers, and repeated destruction of homes and infrastructure.

I call upon you to support the pending petition, HCJ Case 5825/10 submitted by Rabbis for Human Rights on behalf of the people of Sisiya, and to dismiss Regavim’s counter-petition, HCJ Case 1556/12, which calls for the destruction of this village. Regavim’s petition is a violation of Article 23 of The Hague Convention of 1907 and Article 53
of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, and denies the many protections afforded to the people of Susiya under international law.

The residents of Susiya have the right to live peacefully in their homes!



Waging Peace

As I sit at 37,000 feet on my way across the country from the Carter Center’s Winter Weekend in San Diego, the country is in the midst of its change to Springtime.  We set the clocks ahead last night, and with several time zones of flying as well, my body is disoriented.  But my disorientation does not end there.

My husband Arnie and I have just spent the weekend with President and Mrs. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter and the staff and some of the contributors to the Carter Center. The Winter Weekend draws people together around President Carter, a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and a member of The Elders. President Carter is a public Christian and a public servant who, when he had the opportunity to relax and retire, decided instead, among other things, to form a visionary humanitarian and human rights organization to combat illness and injustice around the globe.

It’s not just the President who has disoriented me, although being in his presence would be enough.  There’s also something startling about the people he gathers through the Carter Center. Couples and singles, employed and retired, some coming to the weekend with small children or young adults as guests, some of them are decidedly affluent while others are of more modest means.  But they have this in common: they are humanitarians, many motivated by their faith traditions, all moved to action by philanthropic ideals and by the words and work of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter.

What did we do together? Well, it was surprising: we relaxed. For instance, we went to the San Diego Zoo, where we had a chance to meet the pandas that came to the United States after President Carter’s work on normalizing relations with China.

President Carter and Mrs. Carter enjoying an exhibit at the zoo with friends.

And we learned. We heard a briefing from Hrair Balian, President Carter’s Middle East specialist, and enjoyed briefings on the Camp David Accords from President Carter, Mrs. Carter, and Dr. Brzinzski. We enjoyed viewing a new documentary film about Camp David. We received a briefing on the remarkable work of the Carter Center in eradicating or eliminating various horrible diseases, like Guinea Worm and River Blindness, through targeted interventions working closely with local populations.  We had numerous opportunities to ask questions about the work of the Carter Center, waging peace in conflict zones by working behind the scenes diplomatically and by such activities as election monitoring. We participated in a Town Hall meeting with the President and Rosalynn. And we toured a naval vessel with President Carter as guests of the Navy. At the end of the day we knew we had learned a great deal but that it was only a drop in the bucket of what the Carter Center is involved in.

When President Carter received the Nobel Prize he quoted the Reverend Walker L. Knight, in describing his approach to peace.  Peace, he said in effect, is not reactive but proactive.  Rev. Knight wrote,

“Peace has one thing in common with its enemy,

With the fiend it battles, with war —

Peace is active, not passive;

Peace is doing, not waiting;

Peace is aggressive –attacking;

Peace plans its strategy and encircles the enemy;

Peace marshals its forces and storms the gates;

Peace gathers its weapons and pierces the defense;

Peace, like war, is waged.”

Peacemakers working together against evil and for the good of all. This is certainly the philosophy of President Carter and of the Carter Center.

Disoriented….  Yes.  I’m overwhelmed by the gentleness, generosity, vision and stalwart determination of this community. And I find myself wondering what my next campaign in waging peace will look like.

After the browns of the Iowa winter, it was green and sunny and warm in San Diego, the flowers were blooming, the whales were migrating just offshore, and like my other recent trips, all this, the whole package, will take me a while to unpack.

A plea for Susiya School

Dear friends,

The following editorial appeared in Ha’aretz, an Israeli newspaper, and has been translated for us by The Villages Group.  It concerns the school in the Palestinian village of Susiya, a school with a demolition order as you will see.  The editorial is by the school’s headmaster.  I am using my blog to amplify the voice of the headmaster and the Villages Group, because sometimes someone else can tell a story better than I can, and because it is always better to let people speak for themselves when possible.  I hope you will find this as compelling as I have.  I visited the school several times, including right after it received its demolition order.  How distressing to the community after having built a small school building to have a threat of losing it.

The children of the Susiya community live in tents and caves.  They have little in the way of material possessions, but they value family, their traditional way of life, and education.  To have a school in their community should not be too much to ask.

All the rest of this blog post is copied from The Villages Group.



“In a rare direct expression of an Occupied Palestinian voice in the Israeli printed press, the school’s prinicipal Muhammad A-Nawwajeh published an editorial in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper about the demolition order on his school. Unlike most of Haaretz op-eds, this article was apparently not translated to the newspaper’s English site. We provide the translation below.


What Will You Tell My Students?

Muhammad Jaber Hamed A-Nawwajeh

Our elementary school at Susiya is small. It has two classrooms, in which a total of 35 pupils – girls and boys – study. The staff includes four teachers and the principal, who is also the English teacher. The school opened in late 2010. Before we established our school, local children had to walk 4 km each way, every day, to reach the nearest school. To avoid this, many had stayed with relatives during the school week, without seeing their parents, causing severe psychological problems. No doubt, it is far better for young children to live with their families and attend a school near home.

Our school has no electricity, no running water and no schoolyard. Still, students arrive each day with excitement. When they grow up, they want to be doctors, police officers, teachers. Even though the school is in an area under Israeli control, it is not the government of Israel that built it. We, the residents of Susiya, have built it ourselves, with the help of the Spanish organization ACF and the Palestinian Union of Agricultural Work Committees.

Our elementary school, whose area is 100 square meters, is the only structure of this size around Palestinian Susiya. All students live in caves. Before the school structure was erected, we had used five tents. We live in a hilly high-altitude region with cold winters. First water leaked into the tents, then a strong storm blew them away.

Our new school might be demolished at any moment now, without any justifiable cause. The “Civil Administration” has issued a demolition order against it. Among the pretexts for the demolition order, the “Administration” cites the presence of “portable bathrooms” and a cistern that we had dug with our own hands, so that the children will have water to drink.

If the Israeli government demolishes the school, it will deny education to our children. More than half the students will stay at home and not go to school anymore. All the world’s children are entitled to education. It is a basic right enshrined in the United Nation’s Human Rights Charter. I am trying to comprehend: what would Israel accomplish by demolishing our school? What is the position of Israel’s Education Minister? What do Israeli teachers think? How will they explain to their own students the destruction of our little school at Susiya?

Mr. A-Nawwajeh is the principal of Susiya’s elementary school.

(Translated from Hebrew by Assaf Oron)


At the Villages Group, helping Massafar Yatta (South Hebron Hills) residents in their efforts to realize the right to education for their children has been one of our central missions over the years. Until 2010 when the Susiya school opened, we helped arrange student transportation from Susiya to Tuwani. In 2010 we brought a report about a tent school in a neighboring village, where teachers tried to educate under conditions much like the ones described above by Mr. Nawwajeh. Here are a few pictures from that visit, illustrating the learning conditions which we then described as “the worst in the Middle East”.

Please do not let the Occupation force these disgraceful conditions upon the children of Susiya. Please don’t let them rob these children of their dreams, and rob teachers, volunteers, and donors of the fruit of their hard labor.

The formal authority presiding over the deceptively-named “Civil Administration”, that pretends to be “the legal authority” in the area – is Israel’s Defense Ministry. Here are a few contact details:

Israel’s defense minister, sar@mod.gov.il or pniot@mod.gov.il, fax +972 3 6976711 (they are said to hate faxes), or the ministry’s US outlet (info@goimod.com, fax 212-551-0264).

Israel’s Education Minister whom Mr. Nawwajeh mentions in his article, is quite likely deny any responsibility. Personally, I (Assaf) think that the fraudulent “Civil Administration”, and all other arms of Israel’s government, should just keep out of West Bank Palestinian civil affairs, on which they have no genuine jurisdiction – only a fraudulent one.

But Mr. Nawwajeh has a point. Israel’s Education Ministry, after all, constructs and heavily subsidizes schools in the Jewish settlements all around Susiya, and pays for teacher salaries. The minister himself, a politician named Gideon Sa’ar, is a rather vocal proponent of the ideology that all of Israel-Palestine belongs to the Jews. Well, with ownership comes responsibility. Since the government behaves in the West Bank’s “Area C” (where Susiya is located) as if it is Israel’s to keep, it should provide the same level of education infrastructure to that area’s Palestinians, as it lavishes upon the Jewish settlers.

In short, here’s a link to the Education Ministry’s main contact. The Minister’s email addresses are sar@education.gov.il, dover@education.gov.il and info@education.gov.il. Phones – 072-2-5602330/856/584, 972-3-6935523/4/5. Faxes: 972-2-5602246, 972-3-6951769. And finally, here’s an online comment form.

Feel free to let Mr. Sa’ar know what you think about this blatant discrimination, and about the criminal neglect of, and the atrocious assault upon, right to education of children in what he calls “The Land of Israel”.

And please help spread Mr. A-Nawwajeh’s words far and wide.

Thank you.”

Dispossession, the same old story. And suggestions: let’s change it.

While I was serving in the South Hebron Hills as an Ecumenical Accompanier for the World Council of Churches, it was our job to be with the Palestinian people and experience their daily life under Occupation.  This meant going to checkpoints, villages, schools, and homes, taking reports of human rights abuses, and being in regular contact with representatives of the United Nations, our office, and our own governments.

I recall one evening last month when our team wanted to relax before the 3 am wakeup to go to the checkpoint. So we decided to have a movie night.   At the last minute before leaving the USA, I had packed several DVDs from home, so we looked to see what the choices were.  At first, we thought we would watch Far and Away, an adventure story about Irish immigrants.  But as I watched the trailer, I remembered more of the plot.  These immigrants had been forced off their land, and had arrived in America as refugees, only to finally make a better life for themselves by participating in a land rush in the newly opened American West (where the American Indians had lived until recently.)  Given the sort of thing we had been dealing with and wanted a break from, this plot did not seem to be a good choice; nor did Dances With Wolves, which I had also brought, and which detailed the removal of the American Indians from that very frontier.  We finally settled on a feel-good movie, a love story called August Rush, in which a displaced child finds his way home and reunites two people who had been forced apart.

Today I’ve been thinking about the pervasiveness of this plot line of displacement in our modern entertainments.  Why is tragedy entertaining? Maybe it’s the fact that, as Thomas Wolfe taught us, we can’t go home again.  Deep down inside, we are all longing for a home we cannot return to; it’s the existential loneliness of the human condition.  After all, the immensely popular Fiddler on the Roof carried the same idea.  Not only did the people in Anatevka unavoidably have to change as the times changed, but finally, of course, the Jewish residents of Anatevka were driven forever from their homes.  It was a tragic moment, complete with a fantastic musical score, reminding us that for centuries the homes of Jewish people were not secure.  The show was more than entertainment.  It was larger than life.  It was a metaphor for human existence.

Now the same story line continues in real life, with the apparent plans for displacement of the Bedouins and Palestinians from Area C in the West Bank.  Seen up close and personal, it’s not entertainment — unless you like a horror show.  Not a movie or a Broadway musical, this is a real-life repetition of Anatevka, except moreso.  Instead of just being driven away, the Bedouins get to watch their homes get leveled by bulldozers first.  And in a supremely ironic historic twist, it is the Israeli military doing the displacing, this time around.

Area C is over 60 percent of the West Bank.  Under the Oslo Accords, Area C was supposed to be administered by Israel for just a few years, and then was to revert to the Palestinian Authority.  But now the area has many Israeli settlements (490,000 settlers at last count in the West Bank, and growing), and there is not the slightest hint that Israel has any intention of allowing the land to return to Palestinian control.  In fact, instead the military keeps a very tight hold on the area, bulldozing shut Palestinian roads, bulldozing down Palestinian electric poles and houses, doing random flying checkpoints, and threatening the basic fabric of everyday life for the Palestinians living in the area.

It’s worth taking a moment to recall that according to international law, it is  forbidden for an occupying power to move its civilian population onto the occupied land.  It is further clearly forbidden for the occupier to remove or displace the local civilian population, unless a temporary evacuation is necessary to protect them.

I got to go to see a demolition in a Bedouin village just outside of Jerusalem one day.  The village is called Jaba’. The demolitions were over when we got there.  Two homes for people and five homes for sheep had been destroyed.  Children milled around anxiously as they replayed in their minds what they had just witnessed.  Some of the elders sat silently, staring into space, too traumatized to say much after giving us the facts.

Several more demolitions took place as I was worshipping on Thanksgiving day.  My team and I interviewed some of the communities after the fact. In the village of Susiya, a home and an animal shelter were destroyed.  In the village of Um Fagara, homes and a mosque, this time, were bulldozed to the ground.  Young women who cried out and tried to rescue belongings from their homes were pepper sprayed at close range, arrested and held without representation for a week in a military prison.

In the southeast part of the West Bank, in the desert, the village of Dkaika is a modern-day Anatevka.  Situated on land the Israeli government wants, it has a demolition order against nearly every structure, except the Ottoman-era cemetery.  (Apparently its more acceptable to stay in Dkaika if you are dead than if you are alive.)  The people, however, do not have any intention of leaving.  This is the only home they have ever had, the only home they want.

Like Anatevka, it’s no picnic living in Dkaika.  It’s off the electric grid, outside cell phone range, and without local water, so the Bedouins have to truck it in for themselves and their livestock.  Every day they put some water out for the camels that wander into Dkaika and out again at will, available to carry burdens if the people need them.  Maybe they’ll help women carry bundles of thorn bushes for a cooking fire. It’s about as remote an existence as you can possibly imagine in Dkaika, kind of the way North Dakota must have seemed, or Nebraska, or Wyoming, to the land-hungry conquerors from the east. But just like the settling of the American West (where there was already a people on the ground, living a way of life the conquerors did not understand or respect),  Jaba’ and Um Fagara and Dkaika and the other villages in Area C have a way of life.  The moment you arrive, the teapot goes on the fire, for the people here  are renowned for their hospitality.  Destroy their home, and they will build a thorn-bush fire and make you tea on the rubble.  You are welcome, no matter what.  It is the custom of the people of the desert, the legendary Palestinian hospitality.

“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  In the USA, we profess to believe everyone has a right to these things.  Self-determination is the way these rights are described when we speak of groups of people and international law.  Does history have to repeat itself over and over and over again?  We all know that we can’t go home again.  But must we continually create conditions in which our fellow human beings are driven away from their homes because the victor sees their land as more valuable than they are?

What else can we do?  Well, we don’t have to be silently complicit.  We don’t have to be fatalists.  It doesn’t have to be this way. We can imagine being better than this.  We can object.

For instance, we can write letters of objection to Defense Minister Ehud Barak and to Quartet representative Tony Blair. We can say that the destruction of Bedouin homes and villages is not in line with our values as members of a humane and democratic society.  For Americans: we have a special relationship with the government of Israel.  We can demand that international law be respected. We can object to our elected officials (just google them; they are easy to find.).  We can say that if we are to continue giving 3 billion dollars a year to Israel, we insist on a standard of human rights in that government’s actions.  All of us can boycott products made in illegal Israeli settlements, which steal land and resources from the Palestinian people in the West Bank, and ask retailers not to carry such products. We can become better informed: go to www.eappi.org and read eyewitness reports about what is happening.

And we can go and see.  Those of us who are able can go and visit our Bedouin and Palestinian brothers and sisters in Area C.  They are very welcoming.  Talk with them. Go to their homes. Eat with them.  Drink tea with them.  Learn about their lives. Bake bread with them.  Hold their baby lambs in your arms.  Play soccer with their children. I guarantee that if you do these things, you will learn that these people deserve a home just like your own children do.

Or we can tune up the violin and get ready to write a new tragic musical.

Minister of Defence Ehud Barak

Ministry of Defence

37 Kaplan Street, Hakirya

Tel Aviv 61909, Israel

Fax: +972 3 691 6940/ 696 2757

Email: minister@mod.gov.il  (Salutation: Dear Minister)


Quartet Representative to the Middle East

The Office of Tony Blair

P.O. Box 60519

London, W2 7JU

United Kingdom

Email: info@tonyblairoffice.org (Salutation: Dear Mr Blair)

Morning Light: a sermon preached for Epiphany


My greetings to my Moslem brothers and sisters.  In this post I make a connection between your Hajj and pilgrimages in the Christian tradition.  I deeply respect your tradition of the Hajj.  Being called “Hajji” continually for three months has caused me to reflect here on your name for me.  Thank you for this form of address and thank you for your faithfulness to your prayer which I find deeply moving.

Although I have not been to Mecca, I was given this name.  Initially I was told that all men and women of a certain age, old enough to have made the Hajj, are given this title of respect.  However, later on I observed that the younger EAs were also called Hajji and Hajj.  This has led me to the reflection you find here.

The sermon was preached in a Christian context and is primarily intended for that audience.  No offense is intended by the comparison of the Hajj to other pilgrimages, nor is there any attempt to convert Moslems to Christianity or vice versa in this post. Instead I am grateful for our common ground.

Ma a salaam. In peace.


A sermon preached for Epiphany, 2012

Grace to you and peace from the Holy One and from the Daystar, our Lord Jesus Christ, and from the Spirit descending and dwelling within you, Amen.

With the appearance of the Three Wise Persons, and the Baptism of Our Lord, we move from Christmas to Epiphany.  Epiphany means Showing Forth, a startling appearance or a moment of clarity.  The Church in her wisdom gives us a season of shining, a season of light, in the midst of what is, for the Northern Hemisphere, the darkest time of the year. For us, living in the northern parts of the world, we appreciate candles in the dark.

As most of you know, from September to December, I worked as an Ecumenical  Accompanier and human rights observer for the World Council of Churches in the occupied Palestinian Territory, otherwise known as the West Bank.   I was placed in the southernmost part of the West Bank, to accompany shepherds and day laborers and families living in remote Palestinian and Bedouin villages.  The people living south of Bethlehem are almost entirely Moslem, so I spent the fall immersed in Muslim culture, a culture I have come to know and love.

I was given this candle as I ended my Ecumenical Accompaniment service in the South Hebron Hills on December 4, in a ceremony in which I passed the light to Rosemond from Scotland, who took my place in Yatta.  At that moment I became an Ecumenical Advocate, with a mandate to tell the stories of the people living under Occupation, and to work for a just peace.

As I accompanied my Moslem, Jewish and Christian brothers and sisters in Palestine and Israel,  I wore this vest.  (show vest).  I’ve got to tell you, the vest was a puzzlement to the children of Yatta, where there are few internationals.  Some of them thought it was some strange military uniform, and I learned to tell them, “Ana mish jesh.”  I am not a soldier.

And it was even more of a mystery to Israeli personnel running the checkpoints.  There are checkpoints throughout the West Bank, where Palestinians and others who want to cross must show identification and submit to searches.  For Palestinians, the procedures are often harassing and humiliating.  So part of our job was to do a human rights watch there twice a week. We would arrive at 4 in the morning, and one of us would stay on the Palestinian side while the other walked over to the Israeli side, through the car checkpoint, so we could greet the men after they had gone through the massive metal building.  Inside, they were delayed by stop and go turnstyles, xray machines, body scanners, handprint checks, identity paper checks, and search rooms.  We were hampered by restrictions. As internationals, we were very clearly told we were not allowed to go through the checkpoint building because it was for Palestinians only.  So I had to walk around the long way. As I went through the security procedures at the car checkpoint, people would ask me questions.  “Are you carrying any guns for self-defense?”  “What is this symbol on the vest?” “ What is the World Council of Churches?”  “Since none of these men are Christians, why are you here?”,  and the real kicker, “Don’t you have anything better to do? Don’t you have families in your own countries?”  My reply  — that as a Christian I wanted to greet the men, and see how they were doing  —  left them shaking their heads and rolling their eyes to each other.

I would walk past the cars being checked and enter the parking area just beyond the checkpoint building.  Here, the men who had completed their security screening would line up to pray together, bow deeply from the waist, and then make prostrations touching their heads to the ground, before boarding shared taxis to take them to their jobs.  I was always moved to pray silently as I went past them, sensing the holiness of the place where these men, in the midst of great hardship, prayed humbly before God.

Once I was at my post, just outside the checkpoint building, I would watch the moon move slowly across the desert sky and greet the men as they came out of the checkpoint building.  Their screening took anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour and a half. Sometimes they had problems, and sometimes they didn’t.  The mood was sometimes cheerful, sometimes desperate.  Sometimes I was told I was doing a holy job, and at other times the men were angry and frustrated, and asked why I couldn’t solve all their problems at the checkpoint.  But routinely, as they came out, the men would call me Hajji.

Every Moslem man is obligated to make the Hajj, that is, to go on pilgrimage to Mecca once in his lifetime if he can, and thereafter he is called a Hajj.  For a women the trip is optional, but if she goes, she is called a Hajji.  A woman who has made a sacred journey.

Being called a Hajji was an honor I felt deeply.  In Yatta, we observed that neighborhoods would put up huge banners in the streets whenever someone made the hajj, and they would hold a party of several days to honor them.  The Muslim men at the checkpoint, whatever else they thought of us, recognized that we were making a Hajj, a holy journey, a pilgrimage. After looking at our vests and reading the Arabic leaflets we provided at the checkpoints, the men believed we had come to Palestine, and to the human rights watch at the checkpoint, in response to a Divine summons.

I can tell you that it often didn’t feel holy.  It often felt helpless, as when the line slowed to a trickle leaving thousands of men banging the walls and trying to jump the line in frustration while we called the Israeli Military’s Humanitarian Hotline to complain, often without results.  It often felt boring as we counted the men to obtain statistics for the United Nations and the Quartet.  We often felt ill-prepared because of the language barrier.  Often it felt very cold — but I was warmed by the greetings of the men as they made eye contact, smiled and cried, Sabah noor, hajji.  Morning light, pilgrim.

The three wise men, magicians or kings depending on your traditions and preferences, were making such a journey. Maybe as they set out, their families thought they were ditzy.  Following a star?  Presumably this wasn’t the sort of thing they usually did.

But they went anyway.  Honoring a Divine Call, they were moving through darkness, toward light.  They were battling all the troubles travelers have: fatigue, homesickness, fleas, bad water, bad roads, the heat of the day, the cold of the night, and the threat of roadside bandits.  They were strangers in the land they were visiting and they knew it.  But they kept moving forward.

Following the Light, the star that guided them, they expected to find a newborn Royal, perhaps with servants and fanfare in some gilded palace.  Instead, the star guided them to another place, where an infant not related to them, from a people they did not belong to, lay without fanfare in a bed of straw in a feed trough.  To this impoverished child they gave wealth…portable wealth that would be recognized across borders in the Eastern Desert: they gave gold, and spices.  Who knows? Maybe it was their stash, money they planned to use to provide for themselves on the way home.  We don’t know, but we do know that they were on a holy journey.  And as pilgrims, when they saw a need, they did what they could.  They responded to poverty by opening their treasure chests.

And through them, God provided for Jesus.  Soon afterwards, the child and his parents would have to flee for their lives to become political refugees, running away from Herod and his thugs.

As for the three visitors, well, they went home, that’s all.  We don’t know much more.  They didn’t have a mandate to do public speaking about their experiences, as I do. After all, we don’t get to read their memoirs, and they probably never wrote an opinion to the local newspaper. They didn’t catch the precious moments on video. Heck, they were even warned not to speak to politicians afterwards.  After what must have been the ultimate life-changing pilgrimage – Imagine following a star and getting to see the Lord of the Universe –  maybe they went back home and nobody “got it”. Or maybe, the experience was so intense, they just couldn’t find the words.

Let’s jump ahead a little bit, 30 years or so.  The wise men have probably gone quietly to their heavenly reward by that time, and in the meantime baby Jesus has grown up as Mary and Joseph’s son, helping with the village planting and harvest, learning a trade.  Life has returned to something like normal, as it usually does, and Mary ponders all these things in her heart.

And then, when he reaches a certain age, Jesus leaves.

He leaves his everyday work, his everyday life, and begins to walk to the Jordan valley. The baptism site is far away from Nazareth, about a week’s journey.  The distance Jesus walks suggests that his meeting with John is not by chance. It suggests that Jesus is deliberately making a holy journey out of obedience to God.  Maybe Jesus senses that, just like at the beginning of creation, the Spirit of God is hovering over the waters again.  Jesus walks from Nazareth a several days’ walk over rough, mountainous terrain into the desert wilderness before he encounters John the Baptiser.  And as he is baptized by John, the Spirit descends upon him in visible form, like a dove, just as the Spirit will later descend upon the disciples at Pentecost, in visible form, like fire.   Something about Jesus’ understanding of God’s will sends him on a holy journey. It begins as he leaves his ordinary life Nazareth, takes him into the wilderness, and continues  — until the present day.

The Three Wise Persons came following a star looking for a king.  Later, in his moment of baptism, his identity is revealed: Jesus is God’s beloved Son.  But notice what John says about Jesus: He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. Those words are spoken to us.  As members of Christ’s body, it is we who are now called the beloved sons and daughters of God.  As members of the body of Christ in the world now, it is we who are led by the Spirit, out of the ordinary into the extraordinary.  We too are on a holy journey, maybe unaware, sometimes through wilderness, but never alone.  Never alone because, while our pilgrimages are our attempts to move closer to God, God’s pilgrimage, the holy journey of Jesus, is to be with us.


So we walk the holy journey with Him.

Jesus’ holy journey continues to the present day, in you and me. So let us walk with Him to bring light into darkness.  Let us walk with Him to bring justice to the poor. Let us walk with Him to bring liberty to captives.  Let us walk with Him to speak of the Lord’s favor to each and every soul, whether they are Jewish or Muslim or Christian or secular, ruler or people of power or prisoners or slaves.

For the world sees differences.  But God sees God’s Son. The world sees boundaries. But God sees us as one. The world sees categories. “my people-not my people.” But God sees each of us as God’s precious people. The world wages war.  But God wages peace.  And this is the star we follow, the vision we are called to be part of. This is the life of the wise persons, who seek God. For the magi looked for the newborn king of Judea but they didn’t quite understand: the angels said he would be Savior to all the people,  and we are members of His Body, living His life.

So blessed Epiphany. Morning Light, Pilgrims.



They gave us their testimony, freely, surrounded by their relatives and using a translator, knowing we would tell the world. The two Palestinian girls, one 21, the other 17, were brutalized for no reason on Thanksgiving Day in the southern part of the West Bank..

The young woman, Sausan, was in a cave dwelling with three children when she heard the sounds of machinery and voices.  She came out and saw the bulldozers and she quickly got the children out of the cave.  She started screaming and ran to get some things out of her house, which she could see was about to be demolished.  An Israeli soldier pushed her and told her to stop, but she kept moving. He pulled and dragged her to a place where they sprayed some kind of spray in her eyes and mouth at very close range.  She fainted to the ground then.

When she woke up, the soldiers were all around her. They were going to arrest her. When her mother protested, they pushed her mother to the ground, breaking her leg. By now the young woman’s eyes, affected by the spray, hurt so badly that she cried, “Give me water for my eyes.” A soldier put a very little bit of water in her eyes so he could have a friend take a photo of him doing so, but then wouldn’t give her any more.  She kept crying, “Give me water!”  A relative, a 17-year-old girl named Amal, came with water for her, but the soldiers grabbed her and made her sit down on the ground too.  In the process, she spilled the water she had brought, getting a soldier wet. They tied her hands together.  The soldiers put both of them into an Army jeep, tying the woman’s hands too and putting a belt around her upper arms as well.  She kept crying out for water for her eyes, but the soldier deliberately emptied his water bottle out onto the ground in front of her. They drove them away to another location where they were transferred to a police vehicle, and during that transfer, the girl was intentionally kicked in the stomach.

They were taken to a police station some distance away, where the woman was accused of throwing a stone.  The girls were kept there until evening.  They were then handcuffed, blindfolded and moved to three different places.  Finally they were put in a room where they slept, with hands tied, and blindfolded, until morning.  They were kept in this condition until mid afternoon.  At that point they were transferred to another prison, arriving around 5 pm.  Since their arrest they had not been able to eat or drink anything.  They were aware of food being offered, but being blindfolded and with hands tied, they could not eat.

In the new military prison they remained for four days.  Here prisoners were allowed to buy and cook food for themselves, so they were able to eat. But they were very cold.  After four days, the girls went to court.  The younger girl was released for the time being.  The older girl was transferred to yet another prison.  In this prison the cell was filthy and the small amount of food offered was inedible.  She was there for one day.  The next day at 7:30 AM she was taken to court.  There a soldier testified that she had attacked him not with a stone, but with a big rock. After her court appearance, which lasted about a half hour, she was taken to a holding area until the end of the day, 5:30, before being transferred again to the first prison, where her father paid 5000 skekels bail for her release pending a court date.

This was their testimony to me.

Yesterday was the court hearing for Sausan. She received a plea bargain. She does not need to do any more jail time, but she has a record now in this kangaroo court, in which she is accused of having hit a soldier with a rock, and 3000 shekels of the bail money will be kept by the court. This fine, plus the legal fees, make the cost very steep for this family of impoverished shepherds who have just lost their home.  The charges against the youngest were not pursued by the court, presumably because a little water sprinkled by accident on a soldier can hardly be considered a crime…….

……. even in this sorry excuse for a justice system, where people are punished with pepper spray and arbitrary arrest, and held without a court hearing, and interrogated without legal counsel, and kicked and blindfolded, and kept restrained without food and water, and not allowed contact with relatives, all because, when the Israeli military machine bulldozes their homes without warning, they have the audacity to object.

I didn’t know…..

I didn’t know

I didn’t know that you can make walls or a roof

Out of the sacks the World Food Program flour comes in

If you sew them together

And I didn’t know that fresh sheep milk boiled with sugar

Is like drinking pure bliss

after a night sleeping out

In the tent village

And I didn’t know that you offer

Salaam Aleichem

To the angels upon each of your shoulders

When you bow down to pray

And I didn’t know that a school uniform gives a child

A way to put on dignity and put off

The dust of the dirt floor

and the wet

From the leaking roof

and the smoke

from the scrap wood fire

the only warmth in her home

Or that when someone makes one cheese toast for supper

on top of the electric space heater

He gives half of it away to a stranger

of course

Or that a thirsty man you meet on the street

might ask you for a drink from your water bottle

And think it was the most normal thing to do

And the holiness of everyday mangos and

The abundance of pomegranates shared between friends

A kind of Communion.

Our common humanity became visible here

Became naked here

Like a certain Child who came wailing into the world here

And I will name them all my people

As certainly as I name that Child my Lord.