Thirteen supporters of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) and On Earth Peace, an agency of the US Church of the Brethren, have visited the West Bank and Israel to explore civil society responses to conflict, security and community.
The trip took place from from 8 - 21 January 2008, since when members of the short term delegation have been sharing their stories and perspectives in different parts of the world.
Anna Lisa Gross writes: The delegation included Australians, a Canadian, and US Americans, ranging in age from 21 to 72. On Earth Peace executive director Bob Gross led the delegation.
The group learned about the region's history and politics from local leaders. The group met with more than 20 organizations in five main communities of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, At-Tuwani, Hebron, and Efrat. Israeli, Palestinian, and international peace workers from groups such as Rabbis for Human Rights, the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee, B'Tselem, Wi'am, and the Holy Land Trust shared about their work. The delegation also met with people whose daily lives are profoundly affected, and even at times completely preoccupied, with the political situation.
The snaking "security wall" which has been built with US tax dollars, is growing in the West Bank, the delegation found. The wall is dividing families from each other, workers from jobs, students from schools, and the faithful from holy sites. The wall also drastically reduces the size of the West Bank, and is leaving pockets of communities that are not accessible to each other.
Israeli officials say the wall is a step toward safety, while peacemakers on all sides mourn the further divisions it brings between Israelis and Palestinians, resulting not in safety but greater ignorance and fear. Already since the wall was begun there are Israeli children who have never met a Palestinian, and Palestinian children who know Israelis only as soldiers.
The delegation heard the stories of pain and hopelessness, which are as commonplace as pita and hummus in the area. But the warm hospitality the group received, along with countless cups of tea and coffee, was a tribute to the strength of people to persevere. For many Palestinians, simple acts of daily life are powerful acts of nonviolent resistance, despite the oppression of the occupation. Although the delegation heard families' stories of loss and anguish, warm cups of tea and brave words of hope were always given as well.
Morning devotions and evening gatherings were important to the group's emotional stamina and spiritual health. In the midst of cold nights, schedule changes, and painful stories, the delegates appreciated each other's flexibility and kindness. Singing and praying together was especially meaningful, and each delegate had a turn to prepare worship during the trip.
A special time of prayer took place in West Jerusalem, near the site of two suicide bombings that killed many Israeli citizens. Instances of suicide bombings has fallen to nearly zero in the past few years, but the fear of such unpredictable violence remains. The delegation prayed for safety for all people living in this holy and volatile land, and for creative work for peace and justice. As suicide bombings occur almost solely in situations of military occupation, the group also continued its prayer for an end to the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
CPT has had a presence in Hebron since 1995. The CPT team in Hebron collaborates with local nonviolent activists and strives to communicate openly with soldiers and other armed groups as well. Their work includes monitoring checkpoints to influence Israeli soldiers to reduce violence toward and harassment of Palestinians. Twice a day, CPT team members watch as children pass through checkpoints to go to and from school, and believe their presence has made some difference in the soldiers' treatment of the children and their teachers.
In At-Tuwani, a village south of Hebron, CPT's daily school patrol monitors the safety of children passing between two (illegal) Israeli settlements. Children, as well as CPT team members, have been attacked and injured by settlers on the path to the school. The delegation joined CPT for a school patrol in both communities.
The group bade farewell in Jerusalem with renewed spirits of peacemaking, and many new commitments to share stories with their home communities, to continue in prayer and contemplation, and to do further education.
The Church of the Brethren is a Christian denomination committed to continuing the work of Jesus peacefully and simply, and to living out its faith in community. The denomination is based in the Anabaptist and Pietist faith traditions and is one of the three Historic Peace Churches. It celebrates its 300th anniversary in 2008. It counts almost 130,000 members across the United States and Puerto Rico, and has missions and sister churches in Nigeria, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and India.
(c) Anna Lisa Gross is a student at Bethany Theological Seminary and a member of Richmond Church of the Brethren in Richmond, Indiana, USA. With thanks to the COB news service.