Archives for posts with tag: Israeli settler violence

Last week I drank from Jacob’s Well in Nablus.

I had been looking forward to this, given that the community where I am living for three months is only a few kilometres from Nablus.

In the Christian tradition, we know Jacob’s Well as the well of Sychar, where Jesus had the lengthy conversation with the Samaritan woman.  (John 4:4-42.)

It was wonderful to taste the water, and live into the story, and the promise and the gift of “living water” in Christ.

Built over and around the well is Jacob’s Well Orthodox Church.  Next door is Jacob’s Well Orthodox Monastery.  Actually, the church is dedicated to St. Photina the Samaritan. 

(Photina is the name traditionally given to the woman at the well. )  For centuries there has been a church of some kind on the site.

Jacob’s Well church is extraordinarily beautiful.  It is rare for services to be held there, as the Orthodox community also has a very beautiful church in Rafidia, the Christian sector of Nablus.  Last Sunday we worshipped at Jacob’s Well with a couple of bus loads of Greek pilgrims.

(Two weeks ago in the Rafidia church, I enjoyed one of the most beautiful inter-generational services, I have ever experienced in my life.  There was outstanding antiphonal choral work — all in Arabic  — by mostly men singing in the two transepts.  The half domes of the transcepts above them, caused the music to fill the sanctuary magnificently!) 

As near as I can tell from available reports, there has not been a worship service at Jacob’s Well for a couple of years — in part, I understand, because of a tragedy that occurred there in 1979.  This is what makes a visit so bitter sweet.

One of the priests, Father Archimandrite Philoumenis, the abbott of the monastery, was brutally murdered in the church by an axe-wielding  Zionist.   Apparently a “cross” was cut in his face, his eyes plucked out, and the four fingers and thumb or his right hand cut off.   The church was also desecrated. 

All this came a week after a Zionist group had claimed the church as a holy site and demanded the removal of the crosses and icons. No one has been arrested or charged with the muder.

Now there is an icon in the church, commemorating the martyrdom of the priest. And Father Philoumenis is buried just outside the entrance to the church.  His grave is hard to miss on the way inside. 

The resident Orthodox priest told me about his continued harassment from Israeli settlers around Nablus.  They would like to drive him away.

While it seems like an extreme story, it is not an isolated story, with settler violence unleaseashed against Palestinians, occasionally with a view to reclaiming major and minor holy sites.  Sometimes a holy site is the excuse to take a piece of land for a new settlement.

Our team is in regular conversation with a family which is under daily harrassment or attack from Israeli settlers — from the Eli, Shilo and Ma’ale Levona settlements — on their land near the village of Al Luban as Sharqiya.  The 85-year-old grandfather has “tabo” — which is undisputed legal title from the days of the Ottoman Empire. 

The settlers want his land, the water spring on the land, and an old building, used as a jail by the Jordanian police when Palestine was part of Jordan. 

Why reference this situation? Because the settlers latest excuse for continued harassment and wanting to take-over the site, is: “Moses swam in the spring here!” 

When I heard this, I burst out laughing; as did a Nablus priest, I shared this information with.  We laughed, because scripture and tradition has it that Moses did not reach the Promised Land.  (As well, there are many Jews and Christians who understand Moses as a mythological figure.)

Jesus words to the Samaritan woman, over which mountain was the true place to worship God (Mt. Gerizim, or Jerusalem), is somehow quite prophetic in this situation:

“Believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem… God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

It isn’t about mountains — which one is more sacred — or about buildings — or even holy sites!  (As helpful as they may be to our worship, and the illumination of the sacred stories.)  God is Spirit — above and beyond — who can be worshipped anywhere — anytime —- and will not be contained or limited by, or in, our holy sites!

Ironically, Orthodox tradition has it that St. Photina was a martyr who was tortured and died by being thrown down a well by Emperor Nero.

I keep returning in my mind and heart, to the testimony of Palestinian Christians who remember a day before 1947 when Jews,  Palestinian Muslims and Palestinains Christians lived side by side peacefully.  They knew each others traditions and were cooperative neighbours who worked together for the commonwealth of their communities.

I fear that memory is fading as an older generation dies off.   We need that memory and vision kept alive!  It is strangely closer to the vision Jesus gave at the well that day. 

“A time is coming…” says Jesus. 

May it keep coming!  May we discover it anew!

“Phontina” means “the enlightened one.” 

Then, let there be Light, that we may be enlightened! 

Grace and peace,

Jim

I have been sent by the United Church of Canada to participate in the World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).  Should you wish to re-postr or publicize any of this content, I welcome your direct request, via the comments section in this blog.  Thank you!

It’s almost three months since he was shot in the back — close to his back bone — at short range — by an Israeli settlement security officer.  And Nadjer Assad Nadjer is recovering slowly.

We met with him, about a week ago, in his home town of ‘Urif.  He was amazingly open about his situation, and in reasonable spirits given what he has been through. 

I share his story, because his experience is not at all unusual.  It is in continuity with so many other stories I keep hearing.

To say it’s been hard for Nadjer, is not just an understatement.  It’s been difficult physically, and psychologically.  He says it has severely strained a marriage that was just a month old when he was shot. 

He showed us his wounds.  When he did this, I was sitting beside him, such that when he yanked-up his T-shirt, I ended up with a closer look than I needed — and this conclusion: He is very, very lucky that major organs were not hit and damaged!

It all began, when settlers trespassed Palestinian land and started fires in the dry wheat and grass of the hills outside the village of ‘Urif.  About 150 dunums were burned, in all. 

Word obviously spread, and when he heard, Nadjer acted instinctively to a call to extinguish a fire in his family field.  He quickly went to the field.  

“My only concern was to stop the fire.  I did not think about who was responsible for the fire.  We were doing it by hand.  Sometimes the fire brigade has trouble reaching the fields,” he recalled.

Many people came out from the village.  The scene escalated with the army present to defend the settlers from the Yizhar settlement near Nablus. 

He worked to put out the fire, until he was accused of carrying a knife.  While he had no knife, or weapon of any kind, he was grabbed and handcuffed and thrown on the ground and beaten. 

“I was handcuffed and lying on the ground.  When things went quiet, I thought everyone had gone.  I looked around as best I could, and I thought it was safe to get up.  I thought they had left.”

When he tried to get up, that’s when he was shot in the back.

“I could see an ambulance, but it wasn’t allowed to come near to help me. After I was shot, I thought I was going to die.  But I came back to life,” said Nadjer.

While the army did not intervene to protect the Palestinains, and got involved in firing tear gas, he does credit one soldier with putting a compress on his wounds.

Since then, he’s had surgery, numerous trips to the hospital, and some physiotherapy.

“I have limited movement, and everything is very difficult,” he said, “I had wanted to build a home, a home with my wife, now everything is destroyed.”

Today he cannot walk without a cane.  He can’t straighten his leg, and he has constant pain.  From the surgery, he now has a steel plate in his back.

Prior to the attack, he worked as a labourer, with his father in a local quarry.  

When I left him, to return to our village, I was sad that his life will never be the same.  I wished him healing and strength.  I privately added him to my prayers.

His exit wound is far more than physical.  Sadly, the settlers who have penetrated the heart of the West Bank have found a sure fire way to alienate their Palestinian neighbours and give common folk good reason to resent their intrusion.

Some people, like Nadjer,  will share the scars of the Occupation all their lives.

Grace and peace,

Jim

I have been sent by the United Church of Canada to participate the the World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).  Should you wish to re-post or publicize any of this content, I welcome your direct request, via the comments section in this blog.  Thank you!

“I lift up my eyes to the hills — from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”                      – Psalm 121:1.

In Palestine, you can’t help but look at the hills.  They are all around!  They define so much of Palestine.

Even in these arid months, when everything is various shades of brown, they have their own beauty and grandeur, with one hill majestically rolling-on — after — and into another. 

Despite being rock, with shallow patches of soil, sometimes these hills are dotted with olive trees.  They are also pasture to shepherds and their flocks, creating some idyllic pastoral scenes.  Often they have been tamed over the centuries with terraces.

The hills are alive! They are the life of local peasant Palestinian farmers, and Bedouins living off the land in the Jordan Valley.  

In reality, the West Bank is all about hills — both geologically and politically.   It’s about who’s on top of any given hill: Pasture for farmers, a Palestinian village, or an Isreali outpost, settlement, or an army post?  You quickly learn to spot, who is on top.

The current Israeli-Palestinian conflict is largely about who will have most hills at the end of the day.  

In Yanoun, where I serve for three months with the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), there’s a piece of me that does not want to lift up my eyes unto the hills when ever  Psalm 121 comes to mind — which is often as I walk the Yanoun valley!  (The hills actually cue the psalm in my mind.) 

Why? Because the hilltops are a graphic reminder of why I am in Yanoun, with other internationals.

Yanoun just may be the smallest surviving Palestinian village in the West Bank.  EAPPI maintains a team here 24/7/365 as a “protective presence.” 

(We also relate to and support 30 nearby villages with similar experiences and issues (land, water, demolitions, settler violence, army incursions etc.), and also the Christian communities of Nablus.)

First, and foremost, we are a protective presence and “witnesses,” because Yanoun routinely experiences settler attacks from the nearby Itamar Israeli settlement and outposts.  Yanoun is all but surrounded!  And a few of the Itamar folk are very aggressive.

To be honest, it’s a challenge to photograph the phenomena of being surrounded.  But there is one to the right, one to the left, one across from Yanoun with army presence – and one right above us!  The closest is only 400 m away!  Way too close for comfort!
 

There has been conflict at times in Yanoun as the settlers have tried to drive them out, and off their land.

The problem is that Yanoun is “in the way.”  It is in the way of a swath of settlements, and outposts running from the border between the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel on the west, right through the West Bank to the Jordan River valley.

There are now several of these bands of settlement right across Palestine. 

These bands have often been been achieved through settler violence toward locals, army muscle, the confiscation of property, land, and water, and the demolition of homes and tents.

In simplest terms, it’s the living-out of the words of Ariel Sharon:
“Everybody has to move, run and grab as many (Palestinian) hilltops as they can to enlarge the (Jewish) settlements because everything we take now will stay ours… Everything we don’t grab will go to them.”  — Ariel Sharon, Israeli Foreign Minister, addressing a meeting of the Tsomet Party, Agence France Presse, Nov. 15, 1998.
 

At the same time, he also said, “It is the duty of Israeli leaders to explain to public opinion, clearly and courageously, a certain number of facts that are forgotten with time. The first of these is that there is no Zionism, colonialization, or Jewish State without the eviction of the Arabs and the expropriation of their lands.”

Yes, who ever has the most hills wins!

And the Palestinains are losing right, left, and centre!  They have been losing this one for a couple of decades!

Now, despite my hesitation, I do look to the hills when Psalm 121 comes to mind, and I will look to the God of justice and mercy, who companions us on the journey.  I hope and pray this One who neither sleeps nor slumbers will call us all — Israelis, Palestinains, and internationals; Jews, Christians and Muslims — to our best selves, to our best values, and to our sacred teachings and stories about how to be with one another — here, and anywhere!

Grace and peace…

Jim

I have been sent by the United Church of Canada to participate in the World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). Should you wish to re-post, or to publicize any of this content, I welcome your direct requests, via the comments section in this blog.  Thank you!

What truly strikes at the heart and soul of Palestinians?  

Other than any injury to their families, it’s messing with their olive trees!

There is a sacred, spiritual connection to olive trees here, whether it be a relatively young tree, or an old gnarled and twisted tree that brings to mind the forest scene from Babes In Toyland.

It is not just that olive trees produce the fruit which, when pressed, provides olive oil — a basic staple of existence here.  It’s deeper:  Olive trees survive and thrive, despite the harsh, often arid conditions.  They are tended, pruned, stewarded — and, hopefully, passed from generation to generation.

In my area, there are trees that are young and some that are literally hundreds of years old.  They are like so many of the Palestinians I have met: Rooted on the land, tenacious, patient, enduring, adapted to the conditions here.

The ancient Psalmist says, “But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God.  I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.”                                                                         — Psalm 52:8.

Almost every family I have met has olive trees somewhere nearby.  It may be a half dozen, or several hundred trees shared with an extended family.  

This deep, deep connection to their beloved trees seems greater than the connection we have in Clarkson-Lorne Park (Mississauga) to our whites oaks (of Jalna)  — as grand and majestic as they are, or even the years of affection I see in my wife’s extended family for the beautifully tended apple orchards of Brantwood Farms (Brantford).

They are far more than symbolic.  Olive trees mean life here! And there’s a palpable spiritual connection between Palestinians and their olive trees.  

Last week, on Friday July 20,  I had the privilege of spending a couple of days with our team of EA’s in Bethlehem.  After spending the morning on checkpoint duty at the sprawling Gilo checkpoint monitoring the movement of people on the first day of Ramadan (mostly devout families going to The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem for prayers), we responded to call from a community contact, letting us know a farmer’s olive trees had been bulldozed in the nearby village of Al Jab’a.

Mohammad Ahmad Abed Elateef, one of the farmers affected, told us that the day before he received a phone call from a neighbour at 5 a.m. to say that two bulldozers, jeeps and military cars were spotted on his land.  He was at work, and sent a couple of his sons to survey the situation.  His sons reported that about 20 settlers and 20 soldiers were already on their land.

While his sons tried to get close, they were prevented by the soldiers.  They were forbidden from taking pictures.

They were scooping the trees from their roots!  They took the trees and they were replanted somewhere else,” said Mohammad.

“They took them to replant them somewhere else!”

“Everybody had guns, except for the workers,” he added.

“After they left, we went to take a look.  They scooped them with the roots and took it with them,” he exclaimed.

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He figures he lost over 70 mature trees, and that his neighbour lost about 200 trees to the bulldozers.

“It’s very painful.  It takes time to get over it,” he says.

But with a certain resignation he declares, “I will plant again.”

He told us that he already had a court case pending in which he protested  a previous cutting of his olive trees.

On site, we walked together down the hillside.   Long ago it had been terraced to create strips of land that hug the hill.  But all we saw was rocky soil with large tread marks.  There were almost no stumps or branches left behind, just bulldozer tracks!

I was speechless, looking at what had been such a thorough job of removal!  What do you say when someone’s olive orchard has been wiped out?

Problem: Al Jab’a is near the Green Line, with Israeli settlements quite close by.

Mohammad surmises that his land may be wanted for a separation wall/security fence around his village.

In the meantime, someone has some new landscaping — an instant olive grove! Most likely in a nearby settlement.

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His neighbour Nasser El-din speaks from the heart, “These trees mean a lot!  Every year you tend your trees — every year, every year.  You get a sentimental relationship.”

Nasser says, “You are not supposed to cut it.!  Who gives you the right to cut it?  These trees are ours!  Who gave them the right to do do this! The so-called civilized countries that support them — gives them the right!”

He wants to point to the larger global political realities of the occupation of Palestine by Israel.

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“If the olive trees knew the hands that planted them, their oil would become tears,” says Mahmoud Darwish.

There is truth in those words.

And if olive trees knew the hands that uprooted them, their oil would also become tears.

Friends, if you have a chance, go savour a little olive oil.

Grace and peace…

Jim 


I have been sent by the United Church of Canada to participate in the World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).  Should you wish to re-post, or to publicize any of this content, I welcome your direct requests, via the comments section in this blog. Thank you!