Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Quaker Perspectives on Palestine

Want to know more about what's going on in Palestine? Visit the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) website. It's an organization started by Quakers in 1917, and is involved in peace and social justice work throughout the world.

They have several sections devoted to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, including Profiles of Peace ("celebrating 40 Israeli and Palestinian peace builders"), comments on current political activity, and reflections written by AFSC delegation members who are helping with the Palestinian olive harvest.

The Small Things of Peace

Here's a creative website dedicated to furthering peace through sign language:

It's run by a non-profit organization, and demonstrates that peace is a battle that can be won one small step at a time.
Here's a story off the site:

Two Wolves

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, "My son, the battle is between two "wolves" inside us all."

One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, comapassion and faith."

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf wins?"

The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

Friday, November 23, 2007

Peace, Surfboards, and Gaza

Here's a link to an article from the New York Times. It's a bit outdated (from this summer) but it's an interesting look at a Jewish surfer's unique attempt to reach out to Palestinians in Gaza.

JERUSALEM, Aug. 21 — The noted American surfer, Dr. Dorian Paskowitz, has high hopes for Gaza, and like the waves, he will not let anything stop him trying to see them through.

On Tuesday, Dr. Paskowitz, 86, a retired Jewish physician from Hawaii popularly known as Doc, personally delivered 15 new surfboards to Palestinian surfing enthusiasts there.

Later the article mentions:
One of the Palestinian surfers, Muhammad Jayab, described himself in the article Dr. Paskowitz had read as sympathetic to Hamas. That did not put Doc off. “To be able to go to your enemies and give them something that makes them happy is a most fulfilling adventure,” he said.
The article is bitter-sweet, however. Keep reading and it recounts how two Palestinian children, aged 10 and 12, were shot to death by the Israeli army.

Muslims and Christians, Building Bridges

Here's a rather random link. It's a blurb posted by a student who participated in the Middle East Studies Program last fall. The content is about efforts to create, vs. efforts to sabotage, bridges between Muslims and Christians in the Calvin College area.

Impressions of Jerusalem

I visited Jerusalem this past June (2007). It was an amazing experience, very intense and emotionally draining.

One of the people I went with is a cultural anthropologist who lives in the Middle East, and teaches courses on Muslim-Christian interaction.
He also happens to be my father. :)

Here are some of his impressions from the time:

"Jerusalem is an interesting, intense, fascinating, exciting, sad, and distressing city.

"I visited there for the second time (the first was in winter '01) last week. A number of things stood out to me on this visit:
  • There are lots of people - Muslims, Jews, and Christians - who are very serious about their religious faith and practice, and who find Jerusalem a key place to be. You see Christians carrying large crosses through the Old City, following the Via Dolorosa (way of the Cross), worshiping and praying; and you have churches and sites that claim to be places associated with Jesus, like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Garden Tomb. You see devout Jews at the Wailing Wall, bobbing and praying. You see Muslims everywhere, and hear the call to prayer 5 times a day; and the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque are the 3rd holiest site in Islam. On the one hand, I think, wow, it's amazing that all of these people are seeking God, and of course they should be free to pursue their pursuit. On the other I think, it's awful that people are fighting and killing each other over their faith, and the conflicting claims (e.g., on particular territory, like the temple mount or the city itself) of their faith.

  • You see Israeli soldiers and security, carrying guns, everywhere. You also see plainclothed people carrying automatic weapons - the settlers, who have the right to bear arms. It was rather unsettling to see the Jewish settlers walking through the Arab Old City with automatic weapons - can you imagine whites in African-American Detroit, carrying automatic weapons as they promote a white supremist ideology...?

  • You see Israeli flags throughout the Old City, representing houses that have been taken and "settled" from Arabs - colonial outposts, as part of the Israeli plan to take over the Old City and drive the Arabs out. (There is a Jewish quarter in the Old City, but the settlements in the Arab quarters, both Muslim and Christian, is another matter.)

  • We saw a large (hundreds) group of Israeli settlers demonstrate in the Muslim quarter. Under heavy police protection, holding back the Arabs, they sang and danced and marched around. Apparently, from what we were told, they do this 1-2x per month, and are saying pro-Jewish and anti-Arab things (the atmosphere felt to us like, "we are here, and this city is ours, and we will have it").

  • Jerusalem has been cut off from the rest of the West Bank, even nearby Bethlehem (only 15 min. away). The only Arabs who currently have access to Jerusalem are those that Israel has recognized as residents of Jerusalem. Others, though their lives in the past involved regular coming and going from Jerusalem, and their families are both outside and inside of Jerusalem, are now cut off. In other words, Arabs from Ramallah or Bethlehem, or anywhere else outside of Jerusalem, cannot visit Jerusalem, even if they have family there. Among other things, this separates both Muslim and Christian Palestinians from their holy sites, on any and all occasions.

  • As part of the squeezing of the (Arab) population in Jerusalem and elsewhere, there are now heavy taxes on Palestinian goods entering Jerusalem from the West Bank. This is driving up prices and hurting business. We noticed a significant increase in prices from 6 years ago.
  • We visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum. It's an experience. It helps you to understand the survival mentality of Israelis, and the high value placed on security. At the same time, knowing as we do the suffering of the Palestinians at the hands of the Israelis (stolen land, demolished houses, imprisonment, interrogation, torture, encirclement by the wall, etc.), Yad Vashem now stirs in us the sentiment, "how can people who went through what the Jews went through in Europe, do what they are doing to the Palestinians?"
"These are all impressions. Jerusalem stirs up so many powerful and somewhat difficult emotions. I was reading Jimmy Carter's "Palestine: Peace not Apartheid," while on this trip, which added poignancy to the visit. I would highly recommend the book."

-June 2007

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Video of the History of Violence in Palestine

Here's a video that's definitely worth watching. Images of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict put to Arundhati Roy's narration (an award winning author and activist from India). The last 3.5 minutes are the most powerful, so if you have to skip some, skip the beginning (but it's all good).

Feminism, Terrorism, and the Equality of Violence

I thought this was an interesting question (excerpt from Daily Rantings of an increasingly cynical Fish):

Female terrorists are seen as wild, emotional, uncontrollable forces who commit these [terrorist] acts as acts of revenge. The academics then fail to look at the political reason for the violence (without such it cannot be considered terrorism). In our society, we expect men to be strong, to fight, to be somewhat violent, but women are supposed to be the calm, subdued sex. We must not have a violent bone in our body . . .

Well, what is the difference between a man committing a violent act and a women committing a violent act? Are we not all fallen humans with violent tendencies? Why is a man's violence more legit than a woman's? . . .

I have a prof. who is currently working on a book about female terrorists. She often speaks of how they are overlooked in the study of terrorism, because they are seen as committing emotional acts instead of political acts of violence. This, however, is not the case. In fact another interesting tidbit, is that the female terrorists who commit an act of terrorism in Iraq do not get media coverage. In fact, usually afterwards, we cannot even find any information out about them! Interesting eh? Why are terrorist acts by men more important than acts by women?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Gaza, and why NOT to be a Christian Zionist

Here's another blogger's perspective on the current situation in Gaza:
Daily Rantings: Cutting Electricity to Gaza

Also, here's a quote from one of her October posts:

This is what I am not. This is one of the many reasons why I am NOT a Christian Zionist.

Bridgette Gabriel at the second annual "Christians United For Israel" conference, held at the Marriott Wardman hotel in Washington, D.C., on the 16th through the 18th of July 2007:

"The difference, my friends, between Israel and the Arab world is the difference between civilization and barbarism. It's the difference between good and evil [applause].... this is what we're witnessing in the Arabic world, They have no SOUL!, they are dead set on killing and destruction. And in the name of something they call "Allah" which is very different from the God we believe. . .[applause] because our God is the God of love." - Bridgette Gabriel, CUFI 2007


Christian Women Visit Mosque

Last Thursday (November 13th) two of my friends attended afternoon prayer at a Portland area mosque. Neither of them had previous experiences with Islam or Muslims, but they whole-heartedly embraced the opportunity to step out of their bubble, and see beauty beyond their realms of experience. In our present world of war and terror, it seems like many Americans have lost their ability to respond to this particular religion with anything but fear and hatred. Therefore, I find the openness of people like Megan and Katie, not only extremely rare and refreshing, but the beginning of a way forward into peace. For peace cannot come without a desire to understand, a willingness to respect, and, ultimately, the ability to love.

Here are some excerpts from reflections they wrote for a class:

The Beauty of Religion
Several days ago, I dropped in on a mosque with some friends for a class project. We were welcomed with more open arms and beaming smiles than I’d seen in quite some time. There were four women there who gladly took us aside – all of them separately – to talk to us about Islam. Not with the intent to convert us, not with the intent to educate the infidels, but simply because we were curious and they were only too happy to talk about their religion.

All of the women wore a hejab, the traditional Muslim headscarf. Here in the States we tend to think that a hejab is somehow restricting of a woman’s personhood . . . Yet one of the women explained the hejab to us with a grin on her face. Women are intelligent, she said, and ought to be respected for their intelligence rather than their body. The hejab, and other modest Islamic dress, reserves a woman’s beauty for those who deserve to see it and not a gawking passer-by. She was liberated and not confined by this perception.

What struck me most was the joy I saw in these women. They were all incredibly knowledgeable, yet without exception they prefaced nearly all of their statements with “but I don’t know very much”; constant smiling humility. They rejoiced in what they knew of life and love and religion. One of the women sat down with us and . . . talked through some of the stories in their holy book, until she got to the revelation to the Prophet Muhammed. The angel Gabriel says to the prophet (and here I’m very much paraphrasing), “The Lord knows you, He who formed you from a drop.” She beamed with pure delight as she explained to us the wonders of this God who knows us so intimately, . . . the Truth she found in His words.

And I thought, how beautiful is that. I feel as though this is the way we should all be. I long for some piece of that true utter beautiful joyful glad Truth revealed to me. I want my face to beam as hers did, to radiate delight in the Most Merciful God . . . Which, I feel, is what all religion should be: pure gladness in the God of peace and the Lord of hosts.

-Megan Buff

(photo from here)

Through the Eyes of a Muslim Woman
We arrived at the Bilal Mosque forty-five before the Call to Prayer . . . An elderly gentleman named Hai Amin came and asked us if we had any questions, and then proceeded to tell us about Islam and its traditions. He explained that there was a women’s room, and a men’s room, and that is where the prayer service was held. Then he brought us to the women’s room . . .

There were three traditionally dressed Muslim women there with their children. When we came in, they all gathered around, and we sat in a circle on the floor while they taught us about Islam. Miriam, an older lady, shared with us . . .

When the call for prayer came, Miriam invited us to join them. We stood in line behind the women so we could watch and imitate what they did. The prayer took perhaps fifteen minutes total. When it was finished, a lady from Bangladesh came and sat with us to tell us more about Islam. I asked her what had been said in the prayer, and she replied that she didn’t entirely know, since her Arabic wasn’t very good. She translated the few sections that she knew, but she explained that you didn’t have to know what was being said. You did the prayer out of devotion; you knew that you were worshiping Allah, and that is good enough . . .

Before the Bangladeshi woman left, another woman came and sat down with us. I don’t know what country she was from, but . . . I was captivated by her. As she told us about Islam, she just glowed. She told us about the beauty of the Koran, and how she was constantly moved by it. There is no way I can believe that Islam is essentially oppressive of women; this Muslim woman found so much joy in it. She didn’t look at all like a woman subjugated by her faith.

Because she was so open, we asked her about the head scarf. She explained to us that especially now, women are looked upon as sex objects. That is the only quality that many men see. She told us that when you wear the head scarf, you aren’t judged by your beauty, but by your intelligence . . . I think that lots of the oppression that we connect with Islam is cultural, rather than religious. We have to remember that Islam was extremely liberating within their very patriarchal society.

I loved that the women had their own room to pray in; their own mosque. It was such a female place. We talked about coming of age, and menstrual cycles without the least bit of discomfort. There was such a warmth in the place. I felt so blessed to be able to hear this untold story of Muslim women of faith. As the last woman was talking with us, I realized how privileged I was to be part of this gathering of women. Sitting next to her I really felt like I was in the presence of a great teacher. It was like I was sitting at the feet of Jesus. Muslim women do have a voice, (and what a powerful voice it is.) They are saying come hear my story, I am a woman, and it is good. Thanks to Allah that I was born a woman.


Monday, November 19, 2007

Palestinian Children: Living Without Hope

An interesting look at childhood in Gaza, posted this summer:
tabula gaza: Children of Gaza

It reminds me a lot of the children I worked with in a Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon. They were growing up, in many cases, without water or electricity. Crammed into rooms of dilapidated houses, in one of the most densely populated sq. kilometers in the world.

Their school, with the Dome of the Rock painted on the door, was completely bullet-ridden. The top half, gone. Rain came through, and pooled on the slanted cement. Children wore their coats inside. If they had them.

And many of them, just 3-years-old, wouldn't smile. Wouldn't laugh. Wouldn't be children.

Others, despite the anguish, were still overflowing with life. Tiny little trouble makers with glowing eyes, and bouncing curls.

I still remember watching one of them dance. She was tiny. Probably the smallest child I've ever seen. And she loved the music of her people. Turning her fingers to the rhythm. While in the background, a historic puppet show demonstrated how children were shot down with tanks and guns.

That is their life. Where do we go from here?

Palestinian vs. Israeli Deaths

If you're interested in information regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, B'Tselem's website is a great place to look. They have multiple pages devoted to statistics about fatalities, homes demolished by the Israeli government, deportation of Palestinians, restriction of movement, and the separation barrier.

B'Tselem is the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and was established in 1989 by a group of prominent (Israeli) academics, attorneys, journalists, and Knesset members. It endeavors to document and educate the Israeli public and policymakers about human rights violations in the Occupied Territories, ensure that Israel complies with its obligations under international law, and help protect the human rights of Palestinians.

"B'Tselem" in Hebrew literally means "in the image of," and is also used as a synonym for human dignity. The word is taken from Genesis 1:27, "And God created humans in God's image. In the image of God did God create them." According to B'Tselem, it is in this spirit that the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "all human beings are born equal in dignity and rights."

Here are some statistics from their website regarding death tolls (the data is from 9 Sept. 2000-31 Oct. 2007):
  • 4,345 Palestinians killed by Israelis.
  • 863 were minors.
  • 2,043 were not partaking in hostilities of any kind. (I find it very disturbing that one of the best trained militaries in the world should have a nearly 50% collateral damage rating . . .)
  • 1,029 Israelis killed by Palestinians.
  • 119 were minors.
  • 704 were civilians.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Christians AGAINST Peacemaking?

Here's an excerpt from a letter sent out by Salim Munayer, the director of Musalaha. If you aren't familiar with Musalaha's work, you should check out its website. It's a non-profit organization that promotes reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. It was started in 1990 by Christian leaders on both sides, and "Musalaha" is the Arabic word for forgiveness and reconciliation.

14 November 2007:
The Armor of God and Peace-Making
I recently received an email from a Christian group that was urging
believers to speak out against the upcoming peace summit to be
held in
Annapolis in the United States of America. While it is natural
to have a
healthy dose of skepticism with regards to all political
maneuvering, and
easy to see how some would be unconvinced that
this meeting will lead to
true and lasting peace between the Israelis
and the Palestinians, its seems
odd to me that Christians would be
against it altogether. Just to be clear,
Musalaha has no official position
on the impending peace summit, but this
issue brings to the surface
an interesting question about peace in general.
Unfortunately, for some
believers, peace is not 'the Will of God'. This
mindset is usually
informed by some sort of theological position on the 'End
Times'. At
Musalaha we have encountered this attitude before, being accused

of pursuing humanistic goals and ignoring the spiritual and Godly realm.
many, the "peace of God, which surpasses all understanding"
from Philippians
4:7, refers only to inner peace, an individual affair
that has nothing to do
with those around us, and certainly no connection
to actual physical peace.

This attitude seems to contrast with the Biblical teachings on
peace. We find numerous passages where peace-making, and peace
pursuing is
spoken about in the Bible. Actually, upon investigation,
the truth is that
in the Bible, peace-making is connected with spiritual
warfare. In Ephesians
6, Paul talks about the armor of God, which
was modeled after a Roman
soldier, and urges all believers to
take up the spiritual weapons. He makes
it clear that our struggle is
not against "flesh and blood, but against
principalities, against
powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this
age, against
spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places."
6:12. While this is true, Jesus also made clear that those who

work for peace on earth are doing God's work. "Blessed are
the peacemakers,
for they shall be called sons of God."
Matthew 5:9. It is interesting to
note that included in the list of
our spiritual armor, such as the
breastplate of righteousness, the
helmet of salvation, and the sword of the
Spirit, in verse 15 we
are encouraged to shod our feet, "with the gospel of

Feet are very important for everyone, but especially for soldiers.
It is
with your feet that you either stand your ground, and resist,
or retreat and
run away. We are to clothe our feet with the gospel
of peace, and take it
with us everywhere we go, to reconcile with
God and with each other. Many
believers hear the phrase 'the
gospel of peace', and instantly think
vertically, of peace between
God and man. But real peace, as it appears in
the Biblical context,
requires horizontal peace with fellow man in addition
to peace with
God. If we ignore this crucial part of the message, we are
evil overcome good. The tragic result is that many non-believers
followers of Christ, the Prince of Peace, rallying against peace,
seemingly encouraging war.

The word peace has been very misused by humans, especially
in the
Middle East. It does have a spiritual meaning, but that does
not stop it
from also applying to the actual world of flesh and bones.
Pursuing peace
and peacemaking are some of the most important
aspects of spiritual warfare
that is the believer's duty. And it is not
an excuse to claim that true
peace will never come until the return of
Jesus. While this is true, it
still cannot absolve us from our responsibility
to strive for the Kingdom of
God on earth. There is nothing humanistic
about trying to make people stop
killing and hating each other, and making
them stop their everyday life and
actually talk with their 'enemy'. If anything,
the more humanistic approach
is to block any avenue to peace, to find
reasons to continue with the
conflict, to slander others and to destroy. This
is the humanistic approach
because humans are incapable of seeking
peace without God. We humans are
weak, selfish, and predisposed
towards conflict because of our nature. Any
attempt to rise above
the earthly conflict is necessarily a spiritual
affair, for it is impossible
without God. Our focus should be on God, and on
our eternal future, but
we cannot forget that our actions while still on
earth also matter. How we
treat others, our neighbors, and even our enemies,
determines how closely
our lives are in obedience with Christ's teaching.

This is what Musalaha strives for. We seek peace with fellow man
and with God, knowing that there can be no political peace without God,
no spiritual peace or growth, without reconciliation with others.

May this find you all well, and may God bless you.

Salim J. Munayer Ph/D.
Musalaha Director

Saturday, November 17, 2007

First Hand Stories

Here are two blogs with interesting perspectives:
Michael Yon is on site in Iraq, and has a lot of first hand stories and photos.
Tubula gaza is written by a development worker in Palestine.

Israeli Terrorism

Here's a link to something I wrote a while ago. It's perhaps a little overly passionate, but I think it still brings up some important, overlooked issues.
Terrorism: It's not just the Palestinians

Friday, November 16, 2007

Munich the Movie: Not the Full Story

I have issues with Steven Spielberg's 2005 film Munich. But I'm not quite sure why. It isn't that the movie is irrationally pro-Israel. On the contrary, the picture it paints of the violence condoned by the Israeli government is appalling. But at the same time, I'm loath to recommend it at as a balanced look at the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

I think my feelings are due to the lack of Palestinian voice. The perspective on Israel may not be extremely positive in the film, but it still manages to be an Israeli perspective. An Israeli voice.

The movie deals with the affect of violence on the Israelis who partake in it. How it eats away their humanity, and destroys who they are. But the violence itself is rationalized (after all, these are terrorists). It isn't an issue of whether the Palestinians deserve to die; it's an issue of whether the cost of killing them is too high on the Israelis who have to do the dirty work. The full humanity of their struggle is well portrayed. But where is the corresponding humanity of the enemy? Of the Palestinians? I would argue that it's not truly present.

Of course, there are limits to what can be conveyed in a single film. The purpose of this movie was never to tell the Palestinian side of the story. It was to show a different element of the Israeli side. And it does that. Well. I just can't help feeling that it doesn't say enough. That it stops too far short of the mark.

So if you want the full story, don't look to Spielberg to help you. But if you're on a continuing journey of discovery, maybe this is a valid stop along the way.

However, be warned: Munich has issues beyond the plotline. If you plan to see the film, be prepared for extreme violence and very disturbing content.

Dead Cows vs. Dead Youth

Check out the link below. It's a pretty powerful juxtaposition.
tabula gaza: Types of our Dead

What Christian Peacemaker Teams Are All About

CPTers are dedicated to establishing peace through non-violence. They make their homes in countries experiencing conflict, and offer themselves as third party mediators. The hope is that their presence will be enough to force those involved (particularly the oppressors) to rethink the situation and their tactics. To recognize the humanity of their victims, and to protect their own humanity by not implementing violence.

In Palestine (or the Occupied Territories), CPTers work in at-Tuwani and Hebron. Among other activities, they act as human shields when needed and walk children to school.

Here's some info gleaned from their website:
  • Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) was started in 1984.
  • It arose from a call for Christians to devote the same discipline and self-sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking that armies devote to war.
  • It began out of Mennonite, Brethren, and Quaker roots.
  • It's "Biblically-based and spiritually-centered."
  • It believes in risking injury and death in unarmed attempts to transform lethal conflict by the power of God’s truth and love.

A play about Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT)

Tricia Gates Brown recently wrote a play about Christian Peacemaker Teams stationed in Palestine, Iraq, and Colombia. It's called Whatever Kindles, and it premiered last month at George Fox University (in Newberg, Oregon). Three screens projected various scenes of real life violence throughout the show, and the actors spoke in English, Arabic, and Spanish. The overriding message was about shared humanity, and the complex nature of love and peace.

The play's name comes from a quote at the end of the show. A Colombian CPTer, threatened with death if she continues her work, tells the audience:
"I have been working for peace in Colombia most of my life.
I will continue to work for peace in Colombia, until we have stopped killing our brothers and sisters.
Working for peace is what kindles love in me.
Yes, there's fear. Yes I question, is any of this of any use?
Then I remember that phrase . . .
St. Teresa of Avila said: 'Do whatever most kindles love in you.'
And so I do this.
I do this because it kindles love.
Do whatever kindles love."

* * * * *

I had the privilege of helping with Arabic language and dialect coaching for the show, which was an amazing experience, although pretty challenging. I've been out of Arabic for three years now, so I was constantly second guessing myself. We were also using three different Arabic dialects (Iraqi, Palestinian, and Modern Standard), which vary in a lot more than accent, so that added a whole new difficulty to overcome.

However, it was really exciting to have the Palestinian perspective shown onstage. In public. And there was a lot of openness and receptivity from the audience. We had talk-back sessions every night, and there were actual CPTers there to discuss issues with students.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Blogging Towards Peace and Justice in the Middle East

I'm not a Palestinian, but I've held their children in my arms. I've kissed the faces of three-year-olds who won't smile. I've played with refugee children who have no hope for a future. Who live, with 40,000 others, in a single sq. kilometer of land, unable to leave, and with nowhere to go.

But many Americans don't understand. Since returning to the United States for university, I've been shocked at the misconceptions most Americans seem to have about the conflict raging in the Middle East. About the Palestinian-Israeli issue. Many of the ingrained ideas about that region, and the people who live there, are based on ignorance, and don't equate with the actual facts.

The purpose of this site is to help rectify the misunderstandings. It's a place to get a different perspective. To talk about details you may not have known. To discuss the stories of real people. And to find a way forward, into peace.