Saturday, April 12, 2008


Shall we Abandon Hope?
Betsy Mayfield
Ames Tribune

Here are the facts: Eight yeshiva students have been slaughtered by one angry Palestinian in a manner much like America’s school boy shootings; in Gaza, more than 100 Palestinians have just been assassinated or murdered by Israeli Defense Forces penetrating a slice of land for which Israel takes no responsibility, except to imprison and torment the 1.5 million Palestinians who live there, not by choice, but because they have no where else to go and they can’t go home. Since the beginning of 2008, Israel caused the deaths of, at least, 238 Palestinians, 37 of them children. Palestinians caused the deaths of 14 Israelis, 4 of them minors. In 2007, Israelis killed 384 Palestinians and Palestinians killed 13 Israelis. This imbalance of deaths shows the result of the 20-of-ours-to-one-of-yours mentality which the government of Israel uses to maintain their “religious” state. The Israeli government, a magnificently armed military occupying power, has no trouble winning a war given that the people under siege have nothing but ineffective home made rockets and possibly, now, given a week long exodus from Gaza a couple real rockets with which to defend themselves. Neither the Gazans nor the West Bankers have any military might at all. Given America’s long-term involvement in support of Israel, (See Vanity Fair, April 2008) I am tired of paying for this. The United States gives 30 percent of its foreign aid to Israel to the tune of up to $3 billion a year or, if you prefer, more than $100 billion over multiple years. This comes from our US tax dollars. (

No one in the world doubts that Israel exists regardless of nasty rhetoric and war after war has been won to make it so, but now, other issues arise as old eras move into new eras. By building “the wall”, Israel has implied that they have the borders they want, although, if you ask, some may say, “well, we still want more and we’re scared and not safe.” My Jewish acquaintances, some sheer Zionist apologists; others, willing to concede the fatigue we all feel with the endlessness of this game, say that what’s happening now, the restructuring of Gaza into the worst refugee camp in the world, is part of the “war.” Sound familiar? Israel’s siege mentality, back by our own government’s complicity, not only cordons off the indigenous Palestinians, but also locks in the Israelis themselves. What a way to live! Knowing these things make it pretty easy to see what McCain means when he says that we’re in for 100-years of war. Again, who’s going to pay for all this, not only in terms of money, but of lives?

Finally, I’ve been told that while “individuals are moral, governments are not.” Governments, however, are made up of individuals. The people in governments have choices just like the rest of us. What’s the point of turning to religion to teach our children that its not good to lie, steal or kill if our kids are going to grow up and live or die under the thumb of immoral nationalism? Shouldn’t we just sell out the concepts of love and altruism if survival under immoral governments is all we have ahead? Yes, I am angry that Israel, with the complicity of the American government, insists that a winner can just go on occupying others, treating them with contempt and hatred and focusing the lives of generations on fear and hatred and war? I agree that we may be hard pressed to find historical examples of moral national strategies. Given that, maybe we should just stop looking for forgiveness in ourselves and others and just live to kill another day. The rationale that we can't expect governments to be moral crushes the concept of nurturing justice and peace. It promises a future of survival, but not the joy of living. Is it possible for us to consider the consequences of violence not only on our perceived enemies, but also on ourselves? What do you say: shall we abandon hope all together?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Report from Rev. Darrell Mitchell about his recent trip to Bethlehem

Good people are everywhere
To the Editor:

Lately, The Tribune has published letters to the editor about American financial support of the state of Israel. Those who have written expressing dismay at the huge amounts invested in a foreign nation have been answered by those who seem to feel that Israel deserves unquestioned support and that anyone who dares disagree with this position is an anti-Semite, a hater and a skewer of facts.

I am an Iowan who recently returned from a mission travel study trip to Palestine/Israel, implemented in February for two weeks, by the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church. There were 85 of us from 22 annual conferences in the United States.

One night, each person on our trip spent the night with a Palestinian Christian or Muslim family. My host family, living in the Aida Refugee Camp, included Azmir, who before retiring, had been a United Nation's administrator for five Palestinian refugee camps in the Bethlehem and Hebron area, and his wife, Amal, who has been a teacher of math and science for 32 years in the Aida Camp. There are close to 45,000 Palestinian refugees in the five camps this couple served.

Each of their five adult children has a college education. Their oldest daughter is a graduate of Harvard University. A son, now married, works as a news reporter for Arabia News Network. Another son is a medical doctor in Bethlehem. Another son lives in Canada with his Canadian wife and their child. A fifth adult child, a daughter, is a professor at Bethlehem University. In addition to making sure all their children have been well educated, Azmir and Amal made it clear to me that they have instilled in their children the value of living moral lives regardless of their situations.

Because there is no central heat in refugee homes like Azmir's I had to wear my longjohns. They carried a small kerosene burner from room to room, so we would always have a little heat. When I went to bed, I used about six layers of blankets to keep me warm. At 4 a.m., I woke up hearing the music from a local mosque, reminding people to pray as they begin a new day with God. I thought to myself, "Well, I should pray, too." And so I said, "Lord, help me to be a better follower, and to love my brothers and sisters of other faiths and this dear Muslim family that has invited me into their home. Save me, O Lord, from demonizing them and taking part in collective judgment of them. Amen."

It was close to daylight. I heard a rooster crow. As it was the season of Lent, I thought about Peter and his denial of our Lord. How could he have done that? How come I do that? Why don't I speak up more often on peace and justice issues? Should we be supporting Israel 100 percent of the time? Is everything that happens in this land the fault of people like Azmir and Amal? What does the Israel lobby group in America do to continue the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians?

Morning arrived. We had a great breakfast with egg, oranges, rice and pasta type food. It was more than I could possibly eat, but it was not rich in meat. We all enjoyed our coffee and hot tea, too. I shared a Bible verse with them, from I John 4:7, "Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God." They thought that was a nice thought that needed to be shared and thanked me for it.

After breakfast, I sat down with Azmir and he told me his story. He said, "In 1946, I went to a school in Jerusalem. In 1948 I was placed in the Aida Refuge Camp, along with my mother and brothers and sisters. My father was killed one month after Israel occupied Palestine. My mother was left with the responsibility of raising two boys and three girls. I entered a private school in Bethlehem and then went on to college. I graduated from Terrezanta College in Bethlehem. I was then asked to work for the United Nations. Eventually I became an administrator of five refugee camps. I did this for 22 years. I got married to Amal in 1972. One year ago, Amal got breast cancer. She went through chemotherapy; she is doing quite well at this time. As for me, I have a bad habit of smoking, and I should try to stop. Maybe, you should pray for me."

I sat down with Amal and she told me her story. Amal said, "My oldest brother was killed in fighting in Lebanon in 1977. My mother died in 2003. My father is now 80 years old. He is still living. I have one brother and two sisters living in Jordan and three sisters in Bethlehem. One of my sisters is a professor at Bethlehem University. My other two sisters are unable to find employment because 50 percent of the people are unemployed. Living in Palestine is like living in a prison. You have walls, checkpoints and you find it so difficult to travel and go places. We need the help of God, we need good American friends who might be willing to help us."

A car came to pick me up and take me to a Palestinian Christian Church. The Immanuel Evangelical Church of Bethlehem. In going to church, I felt a need to pray for these Palestinian people that are in every visible way, "the salt of the earth." These are the kind of people I grew up in America admiring as role models.

It did not mater to me that Azmir and Amal were Muslim; they were simply good people, people any community would welcome. The Palestinian Christians are the real mediators between the Israelis and Muslim factions. Again and again, I heard that many Muslims are non-violent, and I do not hear or read about them in our American press. It is time that we speak well concerning that Palestinian people. We need to recognize that there are good people everywhere.

Rev. Darrell V. Mitchell
Dear friends,

On this day (April 15) in 1948, Zionist (pre-Israeli) forces occupied
the following Palestinian villages:

al-Manshiyya (Tulkarem)
Khirbat Zalafa (Tulkarem)
Khirbat al-Sarkas (Haifa)
al-Dalhamiyya (Tiberias)
al-Tira (Baysan)
Nitaf (Jerusalem)

Almost every day, particularly this season, you can find at least one
(and sometimes, like today, many) Palestinian villages attacked,
occupied, and destroyed exactly 60 years ago. If you are interested
in more information about the 534 occupied/destroyed Palestinian
villages and the now millions of refugees originally from those
places, you can search by date, village, or district on

I am currently working with many other Jewish people throughout North
America to remember the Nakba and stand in solidarity with Palestinian
resistance to Zionism. I have written about the campaign and petition
before, which you can find at But now... our
Haggadah supplement is ready as well! So for any of you who are
organizing or attending Passover seders this weekend, take a look. It
is not intended to be a full Haggadah - you can pick and choose what
to put into your seder:

Remembering and Resisting,

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Mazin Qumsiyeh, Another Day's Stories

Short of being a witness, storytelling (spoken words, video, audio etc) is always the best way to understand a grim reality whether in Jim Crow South, in Apartheid South Africa, or in occupied/colonized Palestine. Below are four stories to share with your friends and colleagues of millions of stories of "life" (the quotes are warranted) in Palestine. But we must also go beyond understanding/telling stories to join and organize with others to liberate/free ourselves (including fellow human beings). Liberating fellow human beings applies to the oppressor AND the oppressed. The Prophet Muhammad said: "Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or he is oppressed." The Prophet was asked: "It is right to help him if he is oppressed, but how should we help him if he is an oppressor?" He replied: "By preventing him from oppressing others" (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 3, Hadith 624). And let us remember the Golden rule found in ALL religious, spiritual, and moral traditions: do not do to others what you do not want done to you.
1) Three blind women at a checkpoint, notes by Rana Qumsiyeh, April 13, 2008
[While reading this remember that a) all here are the lucky 0.1% of the population of Bethlehem who have a "permit" to get to Jerusalem and b) that this is the mild forms, many died at checkpoints while refused to get to medical facilities and many are starving because their lands and jobs are on the other side of the Apartheid wall. Mazin Q]

Yesterday was not the first time I see those three blind women at the checkpoint. They are familiar to many who cross the Bethlehem checkpoint on daily basis to get to Jerusalem. Two middle-aged Palestinian women and one elderly woman who seems to be a foreigner; could be German, as I have heard them talk to each other in German at times. I have always wondered how they manage to make their way through this maze, being blind, when most people with perfect eye sight struggle to find their way through, when crossing this checkpoint for the first time, and have to ask for directions.

So, yesterday, despite that it was a Saturday, there was a long line forming when those three blind women walked in, and it was taking too long for the door to open and let people in one by one. As usual, they were let through ahead of everyone because of their situation. A few minutes later, they got inside and it seems two of them got through the metal-detector door and the third one “beeped”. The female soldier on duty screamed at her in Hebrew to take her shoes off. This female soldier is known to all of us, the crowds who go through everyday, we call her the screamer. We know she is on duty before we even get into the terminal, because her yelling reaches outside the Wall! Of course, standing in line outside, we barely can see anything of what is happening inside, we just hear and try to understand what is going on. Thus, we assumed that the blind woman took off her shoes and passed again and she still “beeped”, the soldier screamed again, now louder, in Hebrew, ordering her to take her jacket off. One more time, we hear beeping, then we hear crying. Apparently, the blind woman started to cry at that point. The soldier screamed louder, and this time, I didn’t understand what she was saying.

Half an hour had passed since I got in line and I was still there, and the line was not moving. People started complaining, calling, so a male soldier’s voice came through the loud speaker saying “You have to wait, we have ‘problems’ inside”. We heard more beeping and then a loud laugh from the “screamer”.

Eventually, they opened the door and I got to the ID and permit inspection point, there were the two other blind women, apparently still waiting for their companion, who had been forced into one of the “further investigation” rooms. I went outside and got on the bus, and soon after the three women followed. The third one was very stressed out and in tears. It turns out; her skirt zipper was the problem. I am not sure if she was forced to take her skirt off in that closed 'cell', no one dared ask. As the bus drove off, I watched her cry all the way from the checkpoint to Jerusalem…
2) GAZA: No Ambulance, Call the Radio
Mohammed Omer

GAZA CITY, Apr 12 (IPS) - "I am bleeding uncontrollably, I need an ambulance." That was not a call to emergency services, it was an appeal broadcast live on radio in Gaza City.

Who knows whether there will ever be an ambulance or not. But this way the ambulance services still hear the appeal broadcast on Al-Iman FM Radio Station, one of few independent radio stations in Gaza. And if the emergency services cannot help, someone else who hears the appeal might.

The ambulance dispatcher announces he cannot get the ambulance to the man. An Israeli bulldozer is blocking the road, and an Israeli tank on a hilltop has been firing at the ambulance, he says. Nobody can say if anyone else got to help the man. But at least his SOS could have been heard.

Appeals again went on air after the Friday attacks on Bureij refugee camp, where the death toll climbed to 16 by the weekend. The deaths included six children among nine people killed Friday. Again, ambulance crews confirmed they could not reach many of the injured. But the appeals were made on radio for all to hear.

A man called from east of Jabaliya refugee camp asking for an ambulance for his wife about to deliver. The radio host asked his location, and that of Israeli tanks. "I can't look from the window to see," he said. "They will shoot me if I do."

A lady called to ask an ambulance to clear the remains of a body lying on the door. IPS confirmed later that it was the body of Abdelrazek Nofal, who was 19. He was blown to bits by an Israeli tank shell.

Someone else called from Bureij asking for ambulance, and for food and water. "My mother needs to be in hospital urgently," he called the radio station to say. Another difficult mission, with the Israeli troops patrolling the area.

The appeals are heard on radio day after day. No one can say what follows the appeals in each case. But the live broadcasts on the radio can be a lifeline – or at the least, a line of hope. Where emergency services and aid agencies are not listening in, the radio then calls them.

"It brings tears to my eyes," says radio host Khaled al-Sharqawi. "I can sometimes hear shooting, and women and children screaming, asking for ambulances, and the ambulances cannot reach them."

Emergency services keep the radio on, if only to go in when it's safe to bring out bodies. On one recent mission, said Ahmed Abu Sall, who works as a volunteer medical worker, "we were shot at by an Israeli tank. Two bullets hit the wheels."

This mission succeeded, as several do. But it can be a long haul to call and wait. Often, cell phone batteries run out as people call again and again with the appeals for help.

The Palestinian Telecommunications Company has given the radio station a toll-free number. That makes calling easier, but the radio statiion has to be on guard also against mischief. Hosts do what they can to check sources and credibility before putting an appeal live on air.

Not every call is a medical crisis. "In such cases we call human rights organisations," Sharqawi told IPS. "But they usually tell us they cannot help people on the ground."

Most people working at the radio station are young volunteers. And Al-Iman isn't the only one; several other local radio stations have begun now to hear and to broadcast live appeals for help.
3) This is a story that is over 8 years old but I was reminded of it when Rana sent her story about the blind women. Young Hiam recently celebrated her 16th birthday and has now half her life with a prosthetic eye thanks to Israeli occupation. Also most receiving this may not have seen it in 2001 and certainly Hiam (then 8 year old) is still in occupied, starved Gaza and we occasionally talk on the phone:
4) Video of Palestinian Children speaking for themselves in refugee camps

Mazin Qumsiyeh