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by Susanne Hoder
UMKR Steering Committee Member; Moderator of the Interfaith Peace Initiative
Above: Fertile Bethlehem land that Israel has annexed by the Separation Wall.
Photo by Yvonne Turner, who visited the Holy Land with Susanne Hoder in 2010
Bethlehem today is imprisoned and impoverished, subject to the same ethnic cleansing and land theft that plague the rest of the West Bank. Israel has divided Bethlehem with a wall, annexing Bethlehem land and confiscating Rachel's Tomb. It has built one illegal settlement after another on Bethlehem land. The process of dispossession and division continues, and threatens the Christian and Muslim presence in the town of Christ's birth, where for centuries the two communities have lived in peace.
I was there in 2004, and was sickened to see the menacing three story concrete wall cutting through the town I had pictured as a quaint reminder of Biblical times. In fact, many people in Bethlehem and the West Bank descended from Christ's earliest followers and have lived there for thousands of years. Now they suffer alongside their Muslim neighbors as Israeli bulldozers destroy everything in the path of expanding Jewish settlements and the wall.
I met a lovely Bethlehem couple at the St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Jerusalem. They had awakened one morning to find their view of the valley blocked by a stark grey wall, as cranes had worked overnight to put the sections in place. They invited me to come with them to their parents' hilltop farm on the outskirts of Bethlehem, less than 6 miles away. It is a breathtaking spot, purchased by their great grandfather when he came to the area as a Christian evangelist in the early 1900's. Surrounding it on three sides are Israeli settlements. On the farm I saw evidence of an attack by settlers the preceding year. They had destroyed 300 olive trees and burst the family's water tower, telling them to leave, because this was the settlers' promised land.
We walked among sycamore and fig trees, and saw the cave where the grandfather had lived when he first came to this region. The family is using the farm now as a retreat center and summer camp, hosting Christians from around the world in an effort to keep Israel from confiscating this land too. I promised them that I would tell Americans what is happening.
At all the holy sites I visited, I met people who were shocked at the silence of American Christians as the Holy Land is being destroyed. They could not imagine that in our society where free speech is protected, most people have no idea what is happening to them. As members of the Body of Christ in the larger world, these Palestinians are calling out for Americans of every faith to listen.
Download the report (pdf file, 1.7MB)
From February 15-28, 2010 four United Methodists from the California-Nevada and New England annual conferences traveled to the Holy Land to study companies that sustain Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. We did this with two goals in mind. The first was to advance our own understanding of the occupation and the role that corporations play in allowing it to continue. The second was to share our findings within our denomination and with others working for a just peace.
Our trip convinced us that a lasting peace must be a situation in which all parties feel secure and able to determine their own destinies. The subjugation of one group by another, which we witnessed in our
travels, is not sustainable. It will never provide either party with the kind of mutual acceptance that allows people to live together.
The occupation does, however, provide a substantial income for many companies around the world. These companies often make donations to elected officials, who arrange taxpayer funding for products
used to divide and confiscate land beyond Israel’s borders. It is a situation that benefits politicians and corporations far more than it helps Israelis, and it actually endangers Americans.
We approached our task as people who care about our country, about Israel, and about Palestinians. As US citizens, we concluded that patriotism sometimes involves sharing uncomfortable truths with our government and our neighbors. We met with Jewish Israeli volunteers who provide research on companies that enable the occupation, and heard them describe how it threatens Israel’s future as well as the future for Palestinians.
We also approached our trip as Christians who affirm all of God’s creation. This means having equal concern for people of every faith, in every walk of life. Our journey was rich with opportunities for learning from many perspectives.
Above: Children demonstrating at Osh Grab
During our trip we had Communion and lunch with Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem and worshiped with Christians in Bethlehem. We met with a Holocaust survivor who lost a grandson to this conflict, Dahlia Landau (the protagonist of the book The Lemon Tree), a former Israeli soldier and
other Jewish friends in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. We also spent time with Muslim families in the northern West Bank and in Bethlehem refugee camps. Our group visited more than a dozen different towns in the West Bank and several in Israel. We were able to see Christian holy sites in Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Galilee, in addition to documenting the role of companies in sustaining the occupation.
As we traveled, we saw many examples of products provided by corporations in which United Methodist agencies invest. We observed how these are used to strengthen the occupation, and we photographed some of these companies that maintain a presence in the settlements. We heard pleas from Palestinian Christians to put actions behind our words that oppose the occupation (UM Book of Resolutions, #312). We hope this report will enable readers to see relationships between the investment decisions of the United Methodist Church and an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Two photos above: Spent ammunition left behind after Israeli raids on Jayyous. The tear gas was made by Federal Laboratories in Saltsburg, PA and Combined Systems Inc. in Jamestown, PA.
The full report includes:
1. Increased repression of nonviolent protest
2. The Strangulation of Bethlehem
3. Increased Restrictions on Movement
4. The spread of companies profiting from occupation
5. Expanding Settlements
Find this report at: http://www.unitedmethodistdivestment.com
Education Eyewitness Reports
From the July/August 2011 issue of New World Outlook, the mission magazine of the United Methodist Church
by Paul Jeffrey
Gaza is like a prison in many ways, surrounded by high walls on three sides. Gun towers oversee the free-fire stretch of scorched earth and rubble, warning anyone--including farmers who once tilled the land--against getting close. On the fourth side, the west, the Mediterranean inexorably draws the eye to the horizon; but it, too, is forbidden. Fishers who long pulled their catch from its waters cannot venture more than two nautical miles from shore without being shot at from Israeli gunboats keeping close watch. So they fish right off the shore--a low-yield enterprise that, because it harvests an inordinate number of immature fish, isn't good for the health of the fish population either.
Above: Fatima El-Dalo, a 62-year-old breast cancer patient, prays in her bed in the oncology ward of the Al-Shifa Hospital Hospital in Gaza City. Image by: Paul Jeffrey. Source: New World Outlook
Yet no matter how hemmed in they are by the Israeli blockade, the people of Gaza struck me on this, my fourth visit, as gritty survivors. Despite their many serious difficulties--caused by Israeli containment, international indifference, and fundamentalist control--Gazans continue to laugh and play and love.
Read the rest of the article at:
Reports from United Methodists and others of their firsthand experiences
in the Holy Land, :the realities of the occupation, the blockade of Gaza,
and life in Israel today.
On this page:
• Report on United Methodist Corporate Research Trip to the West Bank, 2010
• "Bethlehem - A Personal Remembrance" by Susanne Hoder
• Message from Janet Lahr Lewis, (then) United Methodist Liaison to Israel and Palestine, February 2011
• "Gaza: Life Blockaded" by Paul Jeffrey from New World Outlook, July/Aug 2011
• Eyewitness Reports from EAPPI: The Ecumencial Accompanment Programme
in Palestine and Israel. Learm more about EAPPI here.
for our work to continue.
General Conference 2020 has been
scheduled for Aug-Sept 2021. Our justice legislation is still vital and
needs your support! LEARN MORE:
Eyewitness Reports from the EAPPI Blog
We provide this RSS feed to give our visitors up-to-date reports from ecumenical allies as they are serving in Palestine/Israel. Views expressed in these reports do not necessarily represent the policies and views of United Methodists for Kairos Response.
Message from Janet Lahr Lewis
United Methodist Liaison to Israel and Palestine
People here are always grateful to celebrate something…anything… when the world around us is in chaos. Oddly enough, considering how much the Palestinian people have been made to suffer, we currently seem to be the eye of the storm amidst uprisings in Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan. But then again, it’s hard for Palestinians to rise up against something when they can’t get beyond the walls of their prison, when their “jailers”, having all the power, feel no need to pay attention even when they do protest. This is the sorry state of affairs here at the moment.
The Palestinian people have an incredible ability to make the best of a bad situation. They are ingenious in finding ways to try to make ends meet when the unemployment level still hovers around 40%. When a new checkpoint appears, suddenly someone shows up with a cart to sell coffee or sandwiches to the long lines that form. At times I get angry with my Palestinian friends for so easily adapting to their circumstances and for seeming to be so complacent to the situation that is putting them in this prison. But then I have to remind myself that it is their job to work at making the conditions inside the prison as livable as possible. It is OUR job as internationals to work to tear down the prison! While negotiations continue for years and years the Israeli government continues to create the “facts on the ground” to which so many sequential Israeli prime ministers keep referring.
Meanwhile we watch helplessly as more and more illegal settlements extend onto private Palestinian land (as in these before and after shots of the settlement of Bitar Ilit next to the village of Wadi Foukin), more settlement roads eat up the ancient Judean desert, more springs and water supplies are become flooded with settlement sewage, more radical Jews with their automatic weapons continue to throw Palestinians out of their homes at gunpoint.
These are just of few of the “realities” that our VIM teams witness when they come here to do their service projects. All too many of our United Methodists come on pilgrimages to the Holy Land to “walk where Jesus walked”, to touch the ancient stones (many of which are actually are imported from Italy), to take photos of holy sites or of the market in the Old City or even the camel that is stationed on the Mount of Olives to attract visitors. When they pass through the Separation Wall into Bethlehem to visit the Church of the Nativity, they are completely unaware of where they are or what they are seeing because no one is with them to tell them. Their Israeli tour guide will certainly not mention it.....
....Our denomination was born out of a need for social justice. It is built into the fiber of our ministries. It is even in the hymns that the Wesley brothers wrote. It is the message of Christ. Jesus came at a time when there was a serious skew in society, when the Jews were looking for a new king who would lead them out from under Roman occupation. Jesus began a revolution. But it was not the kind of revolution that the people anticipated. It was a revolution of the mind, a turning of the heart, a shift in thinking from violence to non-violence, a change from the exclusivity of master and slave to one of inclusivity and the equality of all people, of bringing sight to the blind who would not see the injustices happening all around them.
Unfortunately all too many of the people from our churches who come to see the places where Jesus preached these messages, miss the message! They remain blind to what is going on all around them, and by remaining blind, do not hear the call to make a change, to participate in that revolution to end injustices around the world or even here in Palestine.
No matter how tired I get, no matter how frustrated or angry I become, no matter how hopeless the situation seems, I remember the Sermon on the Mount as it was explained to me and as Elias Chacour describes in his book, Blood Brothers. The original text does not use the word “blessed.” Although I have no problem receiving a blessing (in fact I’ll take all I can get!) I prefer to read these important texts in their true meaning using the language of the day, Aramaic, and the word “ashray”, which means to get up and DO something if you are hungry and thirsty for justice, get up and DO something if you want to be called children of God. It is a call to action! Too many of us aren’t hearing that call, being happy to just sit quietly on the hillside and wait for our blessings to fall like manna from heaven. That’s not how it works! Jesus gave us a revolutionary message and it is our responsibility to use that message to make the change.
Or, in the words of another great advocate for justice and non-violence, Mahatma Ghandi, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”