REFLECTION: Images of division and hope in Palestine, Israel

by Judith Kelly
Pax Christi Metro D.C.-Baltimore

My first taste of going to Palestine? A rebuke by an Israeli citizen who I encountered at the Istanbul airport — a British woman married to a Jewish Holocaust survivor. “You’re not going to Palestine,” she insisted. “It’s Israel.  I live there!” A warning that I dare not be flip. She critiqued the current government, and to convince me of her true leanings, revealed that her Jewish grandchildren attend a bicultural school with Arab children. Neve Shalom.

DSC09467Our flight did land in Israel. The promise land of milk and honey. Where has that promise gone? It’s truly two countries, highly separated. Two prisons that keep people from knowing each other.

Early on, at the entry of Aida Refugee Camp, we experienced the remnants of tear gas. Bored young Palestinian boys ran from Israeli soldiers who play by different rules. This brought up an ironic memory from an SOA Watch delegation to Santiago, Chile: my first ever whiff of tear gas from security personnel repressing a crowd of demonstrators. On later visits I heard accounts from student protesters who have suffered the full effects of a type of tear gas that clings to and burns the skin. It came from Israel.

A more positive connection to Chile: 300,000 people with Palestinian heritage live in Chile due to a long history of migration. One Palestinian shopkeeper told us this dates back to 1930.

0516151326aI also found a number of Polish connections along the tourist route, including the Sklep Polski (Polish Shop) near our conference hotel, owned by a hospitable Palestyński. We shared our beginner’s Polish over coffee. In the next days I hovered near several tour groups with Polish guides. We joined groups from around the world—a number from Spanish-speaking countries—as we walked where Jesus walked.

I reconnected with the spirit of John the Baptist in a cave at the end of a long hike through some impressive Roman ruins in Sebastia (near Nablus). A few at a time, we descended into a barren cell that may have been where his body was buried. A painting of his head on a platter, with an icon and some flickering beeswax candles honored his fearless witness and inspiration. John the Baptist, Presente! My kind of guy.

A timelessness about the setting, and a timeliness for solidarity with peace-minded Israelis and Palestinians. The Pax Christi International 70th anniversary conference – a global citizen assembly – could not have been in a better place than Bethlehem. A birthing place. The people of these beautiful and historic lands once lived together. It is our turn to lend a hand in the peace process. And despite everything, to remain hopeful that good will overcome evil.

Click here to see more information on the Pilgrims on the Path to Peace delegation, including photos, additional posts, etc.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE: Urge August recess trips to Israel include occupied Palestinian territories

from the Faith Forum on Middle East Policy

NOTE: Pax Christi USA is a member of the Faith Forum. This is their “Third Thursday for Israel-Palestine” action for June. 

3rd Thurs graphic

Many members of Congress travel during the August recess, and many take trips to Israel. It is important that they get a full picture of the region during these visits, and we can help them do that.

If you’ve ever been to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza, then you have stories to tell that your senators and representative need to hear, and you know sites they can visit to get a comprehensive view of the place, its people, its pain and its promise.

While it is important for members of Congress to meet with political leaders in Israel and in Ramallah, urge them to go beyond the usual destinations to get a real feel for what is happening – the good, the bad and the ugly. Our elected officials need to see the occupation up close and personal. They need to know that there are Israelis and Palestinians who want a better future. They need to hear that you believe the U.S. can play a constructive role in making that happen.

Here are some ideas of what members of Congress could consider adding to an existing trip:

  • The Arab Educational Institutean Arab-Palestinian NGO affiliated with Pax Christi International and established in Bethlehem in 1986 by a group of Palestinian educators. Working with youth, women and educators, it is engaged in the field of community education to contribute to the general causes of participation in public life and in peace and justice; the building of a free, democratic and culturally pluralistic Palestine, and the sharing and communication of the daily life reality of Palestine with broader audiences.
  • Augusta Victoria Hospital (AVH), a program of the Lutheran World Federation located on the Mt. of Olives in East Jerusalem, began caring for Palestinian refugees after the 1948 war. Today AVH provides cancer radiation therapy and pediatric kidney dialysis, along with other specialty services, to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
  • B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, located in Jerusalem, documents human rights violations in the occupied territories, and provides educational material on human rights issues.
  • Bethlehem is home to the Church of the Nativity, the site commemorating Jesus’ birth. Manger Square, where the church is located, is ringed with shops, cafes and other businesses, offering a window into Palestinian daily life. An appointment with Bethlehem Mayor Vera Baboun, a Christian and the first female mayor of Bethlehem, will offer an opportunity to hear about the hopes and struggles of a city living in the shadow of the separation barrier.
  • Tent of Nations, a peace project located on the 100-acre Nassar family farm near Bethlehem, operates by the motto, “We Refuse to Be Enemies.” They offer summer camps for local youth, host international visitors and volunteers, and sponsor educational programs for women in a nearby village. Tent of Nations recently suffered the destruction of trees, grapevines and terraces as the Israeli military bulldozed a portion of their land.
  • Mar Elias Educational Institutions, Ibillin, Israel: A visit to the Mar Elias schools, with their more than 3,000 students and teachers of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Druze heritage, offers a living demonstration of peaceful co-existence. These schools continue to thrive under the inspiration and guidance of Fr. Elias Chacour, Archbishop of the Melkite Catholic Church of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth, and all Galilee. For more, see Pilgrims of Ibillin.
  • Gaza and southern Israel: In addition to visiting the towns of southern Israel, ask your members of Congress to visit Gaza, an enclave of 1.7 million Palestinians who live under a crippling land and sea blockade.

Contact your members of Congress today: If they are planning a trip to the region, ask them to be sure to visit both Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories and to meet with Israelis and Palestinians to hear their concerns and their hopes for peace. If you have spent time in the region and have other suggestions of places to visit, please share those, too. If you hear back that your member of Congress is planning a trip to the region, follow up in September to ask him or her how it went!

Use this link to send a letter to Congress. This link is provided by our partners at the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns.

STATEMENT: Pax Christi USA official statement on the massacre in Charleston, S.C.

1A_Charleston_vigilToday, many people in the United States continue to grapple with the obscenity of evil delivered by the mass murder on June 17th of nine innocent men and women inside the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. These were welcoming, faith-filled women and men gathered in a Bible study group who had welcomed a stranger to join them. Yet, once again, overt, racial hatred of African-Americans killed innocent men and women.

Again.

Stunned and grieving hearts were lifted up by the courage and depth of faith which compelled two of the victims’ family members to speak these words:

“I forgive you.”

We forgive the perpetrator.
Yet the killer is still among us.

Overt and covert racism is the killer, planted in the earth of these United States long ago with the arrival of the first African slaves. These men and women were brought unwillingly and in chains to the colony of Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619. Why? We all know this story, don’t we?  Yet, in 2015, most white Americans, as in 1619, continue to marginalize, devalue, and dehumanize African-Americans in particular. There are messages white America needs to hear from people of color. Engage in the dialogue.

We turn to you, O God of love, for You alone strengthen our courage to step forward. You are steadfast in your love and faithfulness. Give us the will to move forward and engage in solutions, to learn and act against the killer, racism, in these United States.

Some suggestions for action:

  • Read the Pastoral Letter: The Racial Divide in the United States, by the Most Reverend Edward K. Braxton of Belleville, IL, 2015
  • Read the USCCB Pastoral Letter: Confronting a Culture of Violence, 1994
  • Visit colorofchange.org. Read, choose an action, and sign the petition.
  • Write/Speak to your state and/or Members of Congress concerning racist legislation that restricts voter participation.
  • Continue to advocate for the actual removal of the Confederate flag from government property in South Carolina.

IRAN: PCUSA signs onto letter calling Congress to “seal the deal” and vote for peace

Vote4Peace-logo-300x233Pax Christi USA has signed onto a letter inviting Members of Congress to support the strong nuclear deal being negotiated currently between world powers and Iran, to vote in favor of this agreement when it comes before Congress, and commit to vote to uphold a Presidential veto should Congress vote against the agreement. The letter is being circulated by the National Iranian American Council. More information on this campaign can be found by clicking here.

CLIMATE CHANGE: Sign your name onto letter thanking Pope Francis for his encyclical on climate change

from the Catholic Climate Covenant

Catholic Climate CovenantThe head of the world’s largest religion says that climate change is real. It’s here. And it’s hurting people.

Shouldn’t all of our leaders take the stand Pope Francis has? Tell Pope Francis that he doesn’t stand alone.

In a few weeks, our director will travel to the Vatican to discuss the pope’s ecology encyclical. He will share your message of support with Pope Francis.

Click here to add your name to this letter of support.