The Stones Cry Out: Part II

THE STONES CRY OUT

 

Part II

 

An indigenous Palestinian Christian responds to a lecture given by a pope.

 

On September 12, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI delivered a lecture on ‘Faith, Reason and the University –Memories and Reflections.’ In the speech, he chose to insult the founder of another faith – Mohammad.

 

In response to the pontiff’s lecture, Dr. Munir Fasheh wrote the Pope a long letter: the nineteen-page letter was titled: An Indigenous Christian On Palestine, Christianity & Islam. I received a copy of that letter, which inspired this two-part essay.

 

Background of the author:

Dr. Munir Fasheh was born and raised in Palestine and remembers the first uprising against the occupation of his land. It was called the Intifada, an Arabic word meaning a “shaking off.” That first Intifada (1987-91) was the Palestinian community’s concerted struggle against Israel’s military control over their community, a gentle neighborhood that included Christians and Muslims who resented military control by a foreign invader. Resistance movements opposing the taking of their land by Israel’s occupying forces predictably followed. Occupation continues today with no end in sight; just as predictable, is the growing resistance among Palestine’s ordinary citizens of every faith.

 

Dr.Munir Fasheh, the author, tells an indigenous American story attributed to an old Cherokee chief teaching his grandson about life. He uses a tale about two wolves. “A fight is going on inside all of us,” the chief tells the boy, “a terrible fight between two wolves; one is evil – he is anger, envy, greed, arrogance, false pride, superiority and ego. The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, kindness, truth, compassion and generosity.”

The young boy thinks for a moment and then asks his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old chief pauses then simply replies, “The one you feed.”

 

In his letter Dr. Fasheh says, “It is unfortunate dear Pope that you chose to feed the wolf of hatred and greed.”

 

He continues using the past 500 years of history to point out hypocrisy. When Columbus came to the shores of the new world, he was greeted with warmth and hospitality by the indigenous native people. Columbus wrote in response: “They would make fine servants. With fifty men we could subjugate them all …”

 

“Native Americans were feeding the wolf of love and peace; the Europeans fed the wolf of destruction and hatred,” Fasheh rebukes. In a world suffering from environmental degradation, poverty, hunger and repression, “I wish that you had fed in your speech the wolf of love and peace…” Though sounding academic and harmless to some, the Pope’s words will do what the first Crusades did almost a thousand years before and today leads to harming Christians.

 

When Muslims came to Jerusalem, the letter goes on to say, not one in the city was killed and not one was forced to convert. Until the Crusades, the majority population in Syria was Christian; and no one was forced to become Muslim. Central to Islam is “iaa ikraaha fiddeen” – no coercion in religion.

 

If fringe groups violate this commandment today, it is considered an abuse of Islam, similar to the way some Christians violate the laws of Jesus. Karen Armstrong, a former nun and author of religious books including biographies of Jesus and Mohammed says, “Until the 20th century, Islam was a far more tolerant and peaceful faith than Christianity.”

 

The Qur’an strictly forbids coercion and regards all religions as coming from God: despite contrary Western belief, Muslims did not impose their faith by the sword.

Extremism and intolerance today are “a response to intractable political problems – oil, Palestine, the occupation of Muslim lands… and the west’s perceived ‘double standards’

– and not to an ingrained religious imperative.”

 

The violence in Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, was blamed on Islam, while Western nations bear a measure of responsibility. “…feeding our prejudice in this way, we do so at our own peril…” The Muslim world directly occupied by Western troops (or indirectly supported by them), are a constant reminder of the Crusades.

 

Christ was not on the side of Christians against others but on the side of people against those who were crushing people. Throughout history, struggles have been between people and communities and those who want to control them.

 

The “main issue is between people/communities and power, control, winning and greed. The clash is not of civilizations or religions but one of people against power.

 

Those trying to crush Islam today were crushing predominantly Christian Nicaragua in the 1980s: and before that, it was mostly Buddhist Southeast Asia (Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam).

 

“Love one another” was a main message of Jesus. He was on the side of the people and condemned by the powers in his time. For a Christian to say he or she loves God but hates a neighbor is as hypocritical as the Muslim who sides with violence in opposition to the teaching of Islam. Today, taking the side of the people is condemned by powers that control with weapons. “They see us as Christians or Muslims but not as communities that include both (which also included Jews before 1948) living within harmonious relations.”

 

The “war on terror,” his letter emphasizes, is to cover a deeper war: war on communities. “People are nurtured by communities but controlled by institutions…” Lost in 1948, the loss continues at an increasing rate.

 

The issue for Jesus was clear, either be on the side of Caesar or the people.

“Your statement Pope Benedict – unfortunately- was on Caesar’s side. I was hoping that the Vatican chose a saner path.” His hope was to hear a Christian voice, one calling for an end to wars rather than one justifying support for more wars that adds insult to injury.

 

He says it’s not too late to seize opportunity to regain Christ’s spirit: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Mathew 5:5).

History shows the struggle between two wolves – Caesar against the people: names change but “the logic remains the same.” Today it’s Arab and Muslim peoples; a few years before it was peoples of South and Central America and Southeast Asia, Blacks in Africa and Jews in Europe, Christian against Christians in Ireland, Muslim against Muslim in the Middle East… Lost is the message of Jesus “love each other.” Taking the side of the people is dangerous, borne out during the “assassination era” of the 1960s which saw the deaths of – JFK, MLK, Malcolm X – taken out for standing with the people.

 

He turns to the quote made by the 14th century Byzantine Emperor: “Show me what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

 

Fasheh puts it succinctly: “…in today’s world, Islam in many places is perceived as being on the side of the people, while [institutionalized] Christianity and Judaism are taking the side of the Caesars. … and explains why communism was popular in the 1950s and ‘60s – it was perceived as being on the side of the people.” During what became known as “the McCarthy era,” the House un-American Committee launched interrogations targeting the arts and communities, .

 

He distinguishes between the people’s way of living and the outside perception of the institutionalized religion or political affiliation stamped on an individual by outsiders by people lacking a depth of knowledge about the religion or organization they disparage. So when Fasheh describes his mother’s Christianity as a way of life, he distinguishes her daily practice as a Christian who could not read and knew no biblical scripture but held community values handed down since Jesus walked her land: simply – “love one another.”

 

People’s Islam today inspires at the personal and community levels, and is least connected to power. It is the secret of its vitality, inspiration and hope; and gives its believers freedom to interpret it in light of their realities. People who carry the spirit of Christ in their daily lives but do not subscribe to an organized faith are devalued, suppressed by the powers of control. It would be all but impossible to achieve the office of president in the US, if a candidate does not declare membership to an organized religion, preferably Protestant. The furor over President Kennedy as a Roman Catholic caused heated speculation over whether the country would be run by the Vatican; and throughout the Obama presidentsy, rumors about his being a Muslim created fear in the minds of people who never asked about what a Muslim was and what are the tenets of Islam.

 

Oscar A. Romero, Archbishop of El Salvador was a priest of the people. He practiced and taught about the need for Christians to work for justice. On March 24, 1980, while celebrating the Eucharist, he was shot and killed at the altar by a death squad, becoming yet another martyr in history’s long line of those stand with the people for dignity and justice against control by the powerful. Yet, their words live, resonate and inspire.

 

Fasheh laments the passing of the Christianity he knew growing up in Palestine. “Similarly, Judaism that, during the 18th and 19th century was a main voice on the side of the people lost that spirit with the rise of Zionism.”

 

Today, he says, an independent and freethinking Jew is labeled “a self-hating Jew.” And for Christians or anyone who stands with Muslims, who have become the victims of “Christian” or “Jewish” armies, is labeled (kindly) as “misled” or accused of being anti-Semitic, anti-American, or unpatriotic: disparaging labels designed to humiliate and weaken the spirit.

 

He continues by saying that the “secret” of attracting people to a religion is to order it as being on the side of Caesar or on the side of the people. Jesus felt the pain of the people standing with them against the strong and privileged. A Christian who carries His spirit today would be on the side of Muslims who today are experiencing tremendous suffering and destruction at the hands of those who”proclaim to be guardians of Christianity and Judaism.”

 

A good part of Islam – especially within the Shi’a tradition – is still not institutionalized; it dwells in the hearts of people affording them dignity. Power and dignity do not go together. Mosques are open to people -all people. In occupied Palestine, Muslims risk their lives to scale the apartheid wall built by Israel to keep people apart; and to keep Palestinians from going to Jerusalem to pray at the mosque. By contrast, churches are becoming deserted while mosque attendance is increasing. The reason, he says, is because Islam provides dignity to people. You will not see stars or crosses, pictures or images; only Qur’an verses in Arabic around the inside of the building. Imams do not dress in royal garb, mumble incantations or speak a lofty lingo incomprehensible to the people.

 

It is time that westerners abandon the fact that western civilization is not the only way to return to sanity and peace; that institutionalized religion has become an agent of alienation of the people.

 

Dr. Munir Fasheh concludes his admonishing letter: “One step you could take, dear Pope, …is to reinstate the interfaith initiatives inaugurated by your predecessor, John Paul II and to add your voice against the wars that are planned ahead.”

 

What Jesus brought is love, freedom, faith in people and refusal to do harm to anyone or anything, all of which are contrary to the logic of institutions and big organizations. He advocated “freedom from rules and laws that are inhuman and harmful to people.”   Love one another is a commandment for all people and is meaningless if one does not have faith in people. They are not laws made by states, governments or institutions but by people yearning for peace and acceptance.

 

The challenge we face today is that of feeding the wolf of love, peace and justice in each person and particularly challenging for the church if it is going to reside again in people’s hearts and ways of living.

 

I submit this with respect…and hope,

 

Munir Fasheh

Understanding BDS: Divestment

Understanding BDS: Divestment

They won’t give up

In 2003, Rachel Corrie was crushed to death in Gaza by an armored American made Caterpillar D9 bulldozer operated by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) while she was defending a Palestinian house about to be demolished. The tragic death of twenty-three-year-old activist pushed the launch of the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanction) movement.

The divestment campaign calls for the withdrawal of investments in Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard and Motorola, companies tied to human rights abuses. During trips to Israel/Palestine, I visited villages where demolition practices are common.

Al-Walaja is a small village near the edge of Jerusalem that overlooks the encroaching Jewish settlements of Gilo and Har Gillo. When orders to demolish the houses of villagers come, they have two choices: demolish your own home or have it demolished by Israeli militia at a greater cost often including additional fines. Most villagers destroy their own homes, save the stones and structural materials and rebuild again.

Abu Nidal invites our small group to his house and takes us upstairs onto an outside balcony. Trucks laden with construction materials pass along the dirt road below and I watch workers pound pilings into the bared ground on his land.

He points to a place on the other side of the road below. “My family burial site is there but we cannot go anymore.” He says the Israeli army bulldozed our olive, citrus and nut trees taking hundreds of dunums (1 dunum = 1/3 acre) of precious farmland for road construction and for a high separation wall that nearly surrounds the entire village, isolating it from our orchards and from other Palestinian communities.

“We are fighting back,” Abu Nidal says defiantly, “trying to hold on to what little we have left with legal action: I know we will lose but burdening the court roster with case after case sometimes postpones action.”

Al Walaja borders Jerusalem and Bethlehem and is an odd case. The village was annexed by Israel in 1949, but villagers were not regarded as Israelis did not get Jerusalem identification cards. Considered Palestinians, they are repeatedly denied Israeli issued permits required to build on lands owned by their families for generations.

Abu Nidal says they build illegally and their houses are demolished. Again they build and with predictable regularity, their homes are leveled. Again and again, villagers rebuild. “We won’t give up,” Abu Nidal announces proudly. He explains that Walaja is targeted because the Jerusalem Municipality intends to displace the residents and annex the remaining third of the land that was annexed in 1967 in the Six Day War.

He takes us on a walk alongside the partially built wall. Giant wall slabs wait nearby for placement to complete a separation barrier. I stop at a pile of rubble. Abu Nidal says that a day before, a house stood there. I stare at the sad memories of a home – tattered clothing, a crushed cooking pot, the shattered photo of a happy couple, a doll’s head, a baby crib and a toy truck. Thoughts flashed to recent TV pictures from home showing the aftermath of a tornado, the downcast faces of America’s victims left with nothing but a belief that help will come and a trust that it couldn’t happen again.

But this, I think as I look down, this wanton destruction is so unnecessary, so useless; and so few know that American investments help to make it possible.

Abu Nidal tells me the house was destroyed and rebuilt twelve times and that recently Israel made it illegal to save materials from destroyed homes. What will these people do? But I know they will defy orders and rebuild again and again and again.

When negotiations with the Israeli government repeatedly failed, Palestinians turned to churches for intervention on humane and moral grounds. In 2009, the Kairos Palestine Document, “A Moment of Truth” was issued (http://www.kairospalestine.ps/). Calling on the international community to implement nonviolent tactics to end the occupation, it included divesting from businesses and corporations in Israel profiting from human suffering and for creating a safer region for Jewish Israelis as well as Palestinians.

After prayer, discussion and reflection, upholding Christian values by divesting church funds from corporations not consistent with Church doctrine was agreed to be fully consistent with securing equal rights for all.

I attended The United Methodist Church General Conference in 2012 in Tampa, Florida.

Held every four years, representatives from around the world gather to make church decisions. Palestinians had appealed for help to end Israeli occupation by divesting from companies that profit from suffering under occupation was one consideration. Caterpillar is among Methodist Church investments. Representatives from the Jewish Voice for Peace spoke with attendees and gave statistics compiled by ICAHD (Israeli Commission Against Housing Demolition) showing close to fifty thousand structures were bulldozed since 1967. In The vote to divest from Caterpillar inched closer than at prior conferences, but failed to pass

The beat goes on. According to the Electronic Intifada, 2016 was a record year for demolitions in the West Bank and in Arab East Jerusalem. Reports of Israeli forces demolishing Palestinian owned buildings were reported in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina: and a day earlier 9 Palestinians including children were made homeless when two houses were destroyed in Silwan.

AIPAC continues to urge United States Congressional representatives not to support BDS movements referring to Palestinians as “Israel’s enemies” and accusing them repeatedly as attempting to undermine and destroy the Jewish state.” AIPAC claims BDS is “an effort to stigmatize, delegitimize and isolate the State of Israel.”

I want Israeli tour guides to take visitors to Al Walaja and meet ordinary people deprived of a bed to sleep in, a stove to cook on and after losing all that is precious, ask yourself, are these my values? Caterpillar, based in Peoria, Illinois, is one of the targets of the nonviolent divestment campaign opposed to companies that sell equipment used in human rights abuses.

Understanding BDS: Boycott

Understanding BDS: Boycott, Divestment, Sanction

In the Beginning

Part I

 Boycott

On my first trip to Palestine in 2008, I lived in a house owned by Emili. A grandmother then, even before the occupation she was a staunch community activist who proudly enjoys recounting tales of her life, bringing them alive with vivid descriptions of the Intifada, an Arabic word, she says that mean a “shaking off.” Emili is the mother of our family host and had moved into a nearby apartment giving my roommate Sherrill and me the spacious house during our two month stay. In spite of her gracious hospitality, I sensed an undercurrent of resentment, a hostile invasion of the home she had tenderly cared for and where she had raised her seven children

Each morning, she came to our door under some pretence – to water the plants or get some tool or household utensil. Then she began bringing us fresh pita bread, olives, figs from her tree, vine ripe grapes, oranges and cheese and then  one day asked humbly if she might join us for breakfast. Soon it became routine to hear her fumbling rattle at the locked door; watch her enter then struggle to position the door to properly close. Her set jaw and rough lined face gradually give way to a triumphant smile and holding the key aloft she heads to the kitchen where she putters about clanging pots and searching drawers. One day, watching me make coffee, she suddenly grabs the pot as if to avoid a near disaster. “I make you coffee,” she announces empirically, “the Arab way.” It was the start of daily morning breakfasts and a stream of stories about life before and during occupation – the first Intifada or uprising and the second that began in 2000 and continues today. Her stories tempered by her ironic sense of humor are universal visions she sees through the lens of time. She tells us about the siege of her neighborhood during the first Intifada.

“At first there was a lot of shooting, snipers shot and soldiers shot back. We got nowhere until we decided to get organized.” She shrugs, “What else could we do? No army, no planes, no means of self-defense: no match for the big guns and tanks of the strongest military power in the region, just determination to resist however we could.”

She said that most grocery products came from Israel so there wasn’t much choice. But women got mad and agreed to stop buying. Everyone followed and we organized to form the Unified Leadership of the Uprising as a nonviolent form of civil disobedience. Besides the boycott on buying, we refused to pay authorities who were collecting taxes for the occupiers. Imagine, right here in our neighborhood, everyone played a part in the boycott. “It made us feel powerful,” she said, her voice ringing with pride. Home economy replaced buying; even people who could afford it practiced austerity. Agronomists at Bethlehem University opened a nursery, taught us how to home-grow vegetables, nourish and care for citrus trees and grape vines. Jad Is’hak was the leader, teaching us how to grow, dehydrate and preserve foods, skills that later proved valuable when power failures and water shortages became frequent.”

“Soldiers were puzzled,” she chuckled, “They found it easier to fight homemade petrol bombs, kids throwing stones and roadblocks we set to obstruct military vehicles then an enemy armed with garden gloves wielding carrots and radishes. She laughed. It was called the battle of the vegetables: it irked authorities who couldn’t figure out what to do. By military order they closed Is’hak’s nursery and put him under administrative detention for six months. We knew then the boycott was working. When they closed all schools we set up classes in the homes of women, many of whom were teachers. Children learned and the gardens grew.

“During the Intifada, Yitzhak Rabin – he was Israel’s defense minister then,” she explains, “vowed to break the resistance and crush our tax revolt.” She raises her fist, “but he didn’t know us.”

Later, Emili’s granddaughter – her namesake Emily – told me it had not been easy to convince her grandmother to give in to the idea of turning her home into a guest house until our family convinced her that it was a good way to help the resistance.

Emili and her grandson

the power of AIPAC

 

The power of AIPAC

I recently attended a program at a local synagogue. The guest speaker was my congressional representative, Charlie Crist. He gave a glowing report about his recent trip to Israel, an all expense paid trip offered to members of American congress.

A question and answer session following the congressman’s presentation showed a limited knowledge about Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian territories. Primarily, his talk reiterated the words of both U.S. and Israeli leaders – America’s commitment to Israel’s security is solidly unshakable.  A statement in the “We are AIPAC” booklet quotes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “I represent the entire people of Israel who say, ‘Thank you, America.’”  The pro-Israel lobby states: AIPAC is the one organization charged with ensuring America’s support year after year – no matter which U. S. party candidate holds office.

I first heard this when I was in Jordan from a former Jordanian general. It was shortly before the 2004 presidential election between incumbent George W. Bush and Democrat John Kerry. During our conversation, I asked him who he would vote for if he were American. The general smiled wryly, then answered with slow deliberation. “It doesn’t matter, your policy is set,” then added, “ But Bush will get in.”

Recently I was reminded by a Palestinian of the first of four basic facts of geopolitics: U.S. Presidents no matter how “unconventional” must always obey the rules set for them, which include regime change across Western Asia.

Heavy-handed propaganda heaped on Americans imposes fear and bends toward justifying the need to bolster military security for Israel.

After the presentation, I spoke with Jewish members of the synagogue where the Congressman spoke. Some told me they had been on Israel guided tours. I listened as they told me of cancellations to Bethlehem due to the danger. One woman said they were warned against making eye contact with Palestinians, others said they were told not to leave the group and to stay close to the guide. When Bethlehem is included, the tour is brief and contact with Palestinians is discouraged. One woman said she felt relieved to get back on the bus to Jerusalem.

None of these fears are based on reality. A statement In AIPAC booklet says,  “Israel now faces the largest threats since the founding of the state…”  The focus of AIPAC is consistently on threats and on the promotion of fear. Pro-Israel politics concentrates on grabbing the ears of Congress and tenaciously hammering them with issues that serve the interest of Israel.

In Palestine, I met Amira Haas, a prominent journalist for Ha’aretz, an Israeli newspaper. “If you work to force Israel to see what they are doing, they will be forced to change… Jews create so much hatred,” she said, “politically it is possible to convince the U.S. and Europe that to support Israel is to destroy it.” Haas, who is Jewish, lives in the West Bank so sees the scene with a clear eye. “Can’t Israel see what she is doing? She has planted the seeds of her own destruction.”

Unless you go there, it is not possible to see the obvious, the brutality of Israel’s occupation.

Kept silent by popular news reports pushing “conflict,” “crisis” and “terrorism” as needs to be addressed with military support for security, obliterates reality and sets the course for war.

AIPAC local and Washington D.C. training programs recruit and “educate” members of Congress, political candidates, the media and students: their aim is to cement and control strong support of a U.S./Israel relationship. They have a club and AIPAC club members interact with top political leaders who can shape the U.S.-Israel relationship. Club members are invited to exclusive events around the globe. It all sounds good on the surface. But with the longest occupation in modern history, an unanswered question never addressed remains – What about civil rights for Palestinians?

I did not hear Congressman Crist talk of human rights, nor of help for the people bombed by Israel in Gaza or relief for people denied the freedoms enjoyed in democratic states. Israel has built a wall of fear that keeps the occupied people hushed by the resounding noise of AIPAC.

 

 

Excerpt from Future Book “Silenced Voices”

Creating suicide bombers

In Palestine, the young and impressionable are easy targets for becoming “suicide recruits.” On my first visit to occupied Bethlehem in 2008, I learned from two university “drop-outs” how readily frustration becomes hopelessness that makes suicide seem liberating.

After walking from class at Bethlehem University, I rest in Manger Square, the plaza adjacent to the Church of the Nativity,  Sitting so close to the  birthplace of the “Prince of Peace,” myth and reality settle on peace in the heart of the holy land. I watch local Palestinians, feel their mix of acceptance and hostility of the occupiers. Bethlehem’s “living stones,” they are Palestinian descendants of the rulers and the ruled, survivors on land trod by centuries of invaders, Israel merely the latest.

I was particularly amused by watching the antics of two teen aged boys who drifted aimlessly around the plaza, arm in arm, sometimes singing or laughing, seemingly in a world all their own. I was surprised when quite suddenly they were standing before me.
“Hello, welcome, how are you,” the older boy said in clipped English.
“Fine and how are you?”
“You American?” He was tall and thin and had an engaging smile, a tangle of dark curly hair framed deep set dark eyes.
“Yes. Weren’t you outside the University a while ago?” I challenged.
The two boys looked at each other sheepishly and did not answer.
“Are you students?” I demanded suspiciously.
“Not now,” said the younger boy.
He was short and frail and wore a T-shirt—its faded letters Princeton barely legible. A look of hurt showed in large eyes of a striking amber color.
“We can’t go to class, but go to see friends there when we can,” the younger boy said softly.
The older boy interrupted.
“We see you come alone from the class. He wants you should to talk with him, only he’s very shy.
“No! Not my idea, his!”
There was a likable non-threatening innocence about their suppressed smiles and uncertain looks they exchanged as they bantered.
“You ask, no you,” they teased.
Annoyed, I asked sharply, “Why were you following me? .
“We want to practice English!”
Tricky Arabs, I thought recalling the warnings of well-meaning friends who had cautioned me before I left for Palestine. Some of them had been on holy land tours that warned against leaving their group and associating with local Palestinians. But what can happen in a crowd here?
With time to spare before dinner with my host family,  and no article assignment from the media center where I volunteered, I agreed to spend time to help them with their English.

“Well let’s start with introductions,” I said, leading the way to an outdoor table in front of a small café where I ordered drinks. Sipping mint ice tea in the shadow of Nativity Church with my young companions began a modern day Holy Land story.

“My name is Kees, it is spelled q-a-i-s. I am 19 and I was a student at Bethlehem University.”
“My name is Iyad,” the younger boy said, spelling it, then adding that the first letter I sounds like the English letter ē so is pronounced eead.
“I am 17.”
The conversation began with slow formality as if they regarded me as their teacher about to grade their English. I told them they spoke quite well. Listening to broken English, I encouraged and ignored errors. “Being understood is the main point,” I said, occasionally asking them to repeat so as to make sure I understood.

Encouraging conversation, I asked about their education. They said English is taught in elementary school along with French and sometimes Hebrew.
“We learn Hebrew from the soldiers. They yell at us and we yell back and make fun of them because they do not know Arabic.”
Conversation became serious when they talked about life under Israeli control. They said they had to quit school because delays at the checkpoints made them late or caused them to miss classes. they insisted the soldiers deliberately held them so they would fail and have to drop out.

Qais said he is from the town of Abu Dis and explained that wall construction of the West Bank Barrier began in 2004. The route between the town and Jerusalem east of the Green line made it difficult for residents of Abu Dis to get to Jerusalem without a permit. The barrier took over 6,000 dun-um [approximately a third of an acre] of the city’s land and severely disrupted access to services such as schools, hospitals and work.

“Israel claims the route of the barrier is necessary for security but it is really to make it hard for us. I could not get to school because soldiers would hold me to make me late,” said Qais, anger rising as he spoke.

“We like Americans but not your government,” Iyad chimed in. “I will hate America when I see that children are arrested for throwing stones at soldiers. They stay in the prison for six months for that. Bush considers himself judge and executioner,” said Qais.
I asked about their families.
Qais says his father is Christian and his mother is Muslim but they do not practice. Iyad says his father died and his mother is Muslim but is secular.
“We are Palestinian. This is our country. I want to be free to meet girls and go where I want and to live a young person’s life,” Qais says pleadingly.
“I feel a hundred years old. I feel like my grandfather in his grave but I can only sit confused in my home.”
Qais has uncles in Israeli prisons and says his father was imprisoned for several years but is out and cannot find a job.
“In Israel there are high taxes and high salary jobs. In Palestine, there are high taxes and low paying jobs,” Iyad added. “And there is no American Consulate here.”
“I would leave this country if I could, because there is no work and no opportunity.” Clenching his fists, Qais’s eyes became slits, his words venom. “I had a connection in Jerusalem tried to get a visa to visit an uncle in the U.S. It was denied. Israelis can always get a visa—not us.”
“If someone gave money to my mother for my brothers and sisters, I would give my life for my country. Here is no hope. My father is too down from no work. My mother tells me get an education, I think, what for? For no jobs? I cannot tell her I do not go to the school and break her heart. She has only her dreams.”
Iyad said, “There are people who say to join them and fight, but I don’t trust anyone, but maybe I can go if a friend goes too.” He looked at Qais, who said, “I think about what my mother says and think to get back to the school so I could work to build houses in the Jewish settlements.”
“I think it better to be dead,” Iyad replied, looking into his glass of dark pomegranate juice.

Though it was my job at the media center, it was a story I could not write, one that wrestles in the hearts of many Palestinian youngsters. Their words haunted and I told no one, fearing they could be traced and get in trouble.

At the end of that first year, on my way to the airport, the driver told me, “Israel loves it when there are suicide bombings: they ask for foreign aid for security and get it,” he chortled.

I did not see the boys again. The last suicide bombing occurred the following year in 2009 and I wondered.

The Stones Cry Out

Part I

(Based on a letter written by Dr. Munir Fasheh to Pope Benedict XVI)

I received holiday greetings in February. The hefty envelope had been neatly slashed and left open but the contents, a card and a pamphlet appeared undisturbed.

It was sent by my friend who lives in Bethlehem, the Palestinian territory currently occupied by Israel. I examined the envelope with his neatly printed handwriting; studied the stamps and the postmark – January 8, 2017. There were two stamps; one dated 2012 had a brightly colored Christmas tree with “Merry Christmas” written in script below it. The other, stated ‘State of Palestine,’ in Arabic and English and pictured the star of Bethlehem as it appears inside the nearby Church of the Nativity: many Christians believe it to be the exact spot where Jesus, “Prince of Peace,” was born.

Inside the envelope was a pamphlet and a picture post card showing an aerial view of Jerusalem with the Dome of the Rock at the center and a view of the Wailing Wall in the left corner. On the back, my friend had written in bold type: Prayer For 2017: and a quote of the ‘Serenity Prayer’: God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the Courage to change the things I can; and the Wisdom to know the difference. Printed in English and in Arabic, he gave its attribution to Reinhold Niebuhr and followed it with his own simple thought: “In Hope is Life” – Remembering Palestine – and scrawled his initial.

The enclosed pamphlet intrigued me. I read it over several times before realizing that had inspectors read and understood it, I would likely not have received it. The nineteen page booklet, written by Dr. Munir Fasheh, was written in the form of a letter addressed to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI as a response to a lecture the Pope gave at the University of Regensburg on September 12, 2006.

The lecture was titled: ‘Faith, Reason and the University – Memories and Reflections,’ and during his delivery, the Pope quoted 14th Century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II:

“Show me what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

Dear Pope Benedict, the letter began, I am writing you as a Christian Palestinian. “When did I become Christian? Since the days Jesus walked on the land of Palestine. I belong to the only indigenous Christian community in the world, which makes us a very special and precious community”

Dr. Munir Fasheh continues, telling about his mother who did not know how to read and write and wouldn’t be able to recite scripture; “Yet, she beautifully embodied the spirit of Jesus in her life…” And asked about what Jesus said, her answer was ‘love one another.’

How, he asks in his letter, did my mother get this knowledge, the ability to embody Christ’s spirit without words in texts or brought by missionaries? His answer is by belonging to the precious indigenous Palestinian Christian community, which carried the spirit of Jesus in their hearts and in daily living as it passed from generation to generation.

Unlike organizations, which are created rationally by professionals through institutions, planning and budgets, our people’s community Christianity is not a mind creation. “Thus, I know very well the difference between people’s Christianity and institutional Christianity. They are worlds apart.”

This spirit was felt in the Jerusalem home where Fasheh grew up; and lost in 1948 when his city became occupied “by civilized democratic” European Jews who were promised my homeland (including my home) by “civilized democratic Christian” Britain. His letter extends an invitation for the Pope to visit his present house in the Palestinian city of Ramallah and to experience the “spirit” and feel the difference between “my mother’s Christianity and “western Christianity.”

The disappearance of Palestinian Christian communities started with the creation of Israel in 1948. Helped and supported by “Christian” Britain and US, Muslim and Christian Palestinians were driven from our lands and homes.” The scattered Christian families remaining in Jerusalem lost the spirit of community he knew in his childhood. Groups such as SABEEL in Jerusalem and Dar an-Nadwa in Bethlehem work to keep the spirit of Jesus alive within the shattered remains of the community, he says, “Once we disappear as a community – it is not possible to re-create it.”

“Never did I meet one missionary who came to Palestine to learn from this special and precious community. Imprisoned by words, symbols and images, they all came to preach and convert us with facts from “area studies” learned in Universities but seemed unaware of the special Christianity embodied in his parents’ way of living. and do not learn the special and radically different Christianity that existed. The assumption that one can understand through words and concepts is a myth of the modern world. To understand another world, one has to experience it, “enter it without prior concepts and thoughts.”
“I was lucky to live, feel, and experience this spirit in my home, but at the same time I am a product of institutions.”

Referencing the Pope’s quotation, he says he could excuse Manuel II for what he said about Muhammad in the 14th century – he probably didn’t know any better but “this is not your case, he admonishes, especially in light of what is happening in the world at the “time you repeated that statement in Germany without qualification and with apparent approval.”

Not to acknowledge the current bloody and brutal destructive wars waged by “Christian” and “Jewish” countries against mainly Muslim peoples and communities, failing to see the decades old military occupation and how Israel, the US, Britain, and EU are literally starving a whole population… The crimes in Gaza are the making of the “Jewish” state with full support from “Christian” US, Canada, EU, and Britain, claims supported by Mr. John Dugard, UN special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights on his fact finding mission to Gaza. Instead, to recite an ugly and false statement of ignorance and hatred said by an emperor more than 600 years ago is “pulling the church out of this world and rendering it irrelevant to those who suffer -Incomprehensible – to say the least!”

Continuing, Fasheh’s letter says, that during the past 200 years, there is no Arab or Islamic country in the region that was not bombarded by either “Christian” or “Jewish” armies. Ignoring facts, accusers revert to the 14th century falsehood of Islam describing it as being a religion of the sword, hatred, out to destroy “peace loving Christians and Jews…” Dismissing history, churches and governments further add insult by disrespecting the intelligence of the people.

He recalls the words of Black Hawk, a Sauk chief who in 1832, said, “How smooth must be the language of the whites, when they can make right look like wrong and wrong look like right.”

It’s easy when you never lived under military occupation as Fasheh had for most of his life. The word doesn’t mean much to people who have not experienced daily terror and insecurity of living under occupation. People in the West are ignorant and unaware of the horror caused by their nations to inhabitants of five continents for five centuries that have often wiped out whole civilizations!

“Occupation of Iraq is another type of Holocaust where instead of burning people in furnaces, they are burned in their homes by smart weapons!”

“I wish you had followed Jesus’ wisdom, he admonishes with a biblical passage – “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? (Mathew 7: 3-5). “I wish you had followed Jesus’ wisdom and said that you want to try to take out the planks that fill Christian eyes, …” and hopes others would do the same so all would see each other more clearly and humanly – it would have created dialogue and been in harmony with Christ’s message and spirit.

If Christians remain silent in the face of what is happening to peoples in Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan then the very stones would cry out. The attempt to silence Palestinians and Lebanese summons another lesson: when the Pharisees wanted to silence the disciples, Jesus was told, ‘teacher, rebuke thy disciples!’ Jesus replied,’ if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19: 39-40).

-End-

Israel’s Weapon of Mass Destruction

It’s called “skunk water” because of the horrible stench; and the Israeli occupation forces use it in Palestinian villages like Bil’in to disperse the crowds of peaceful demonstrators.

I first heard about the use of skunk water last October from Bettijo, a peace activist I met back home in Florida. We met again in Jerusalem in a café across the street from the Old City, where I was staying after my recent arrival. She had just completed a three-month service with IWPS (International Women’s Peace Service) in Iraq Burin, a village of about a thousand people south of Nablus. I asked her about the smelly substance I had heard about. Her eyes welled, and her chin began to quiver. For a long time she did not speak, only stared blankly at something far off. Then, her lips moved and in a voice barely audible said,

            “They came in trucks with tanks mounted on them and sprayed everything – houses and trees and gardens and people – streams of watery sewage from long thick hoses: and they kept it up driving back and forth up and down the streets, soldiers with gas masks spraying everywhere.” Her voice had risen, and then stopped. She shook her head, as though erasing the vision, then began again softly,

“The smell was horrid,” she said, looking down into her glass of dark pomegranate juice, stirring it absently with the straw. Suddenly she looked up at me.   

“Weeks later we could still smell it; but now I think about the diseases – cholera, dysentery, the polluted water and soil, there after I have left, and long after the smell has gone.”

I thought about Bettijo and her time in the little village when news and films of a thick green gas came this morning about its use in Bil’in, where I frequently visit. The chemical with a horrible stench, sprayed on men, women and children from tanks rolled alongside the separation fence where demonstrators gather every Friday to protest land confiscation and the apartheid wall built along the Green Line, which separates Israel from Palestinian land.

 Demonstrations began in Bil’in in 2005; Organized by the Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements in Bil’in, every Friday nonviolent protestors march the short distance from the village to the barrier wall. And just as regularly, the occupation soldiers drive them back with tear gas, sound grenades and rubber bullets. In spite of frequent injuries, tear gas suffocation, two recent deaths and numerous arrests, the protest marchers persist, their ranks swelled by a growing number of Israelis and internationals.

Week after week I read the same reports from Bil’in telling of dozens of people suffering tear gas asphyxiation. To those who have not experienced it as I have, it is debilitating. The US made gas canisters are thrown at nonviolent demonstrators by Israeli soldiers dressed in full battle gear and wearing gas masks. They hurl the tear gas, rubber bullets, and sound bombs from behind the annexation wall at men, women and children who come armed only with Palestinian flags and pictures of martyrs. Basem Abo Rahma was struck and killed by a canister, his sister Jawaher died as a result of asphyxiation. The effects of tear gas are incapacitating; coughing, temporary blindness and marked dehydration, water pours relentlessly from every pore creating incredible thirst.

Undeterred, the protest marches continue. Organized by the Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements in Bil’in, every Friday citizens from nearby villages join residents, Israelis and international activists; and each week, soldiers react with violence to drive them back, now with their newest weapon – skunk water. Still demonstrations continue and their ranks swell with more supporters.

When Losing Becomes a Win

At the quadrennial General Methodist Conference, held in Tampa, Florida, a vote to divest church funding from companies that support military occupation in Palestine lost. A disappointment, it came as no surprise to delegates who had seen it regularly defeated in the past.

The divestment issue comes up each year at regional church conferences; and this year again it was a heated issue at the worldwide Conference, where a two to one loss, was a disappointment for a strong coalition of divestment supporters.

But disappointment also signaled hope. Sporting bright yellow T-shirts, advocates from several groups had united in an all out effort to educate visiting delegates about humanitarian concerns repeatedly trampled by votes that defy Christian values by using church funds for companies that oppress Christian as well as Muslim Palestinians. Homemade signs pinned to the distinctive yellow shirts were designed to inform nearly a thousand attending delegates by asking them to question funding, which sustains a brutal occupation by supplying weapons and machinery.

The Jewish Voice for Peace joined Christians, visiting Palestinians, ministers, peace groups and individuals to support the United Methodist Kairos Response in a unified appeal to Christian conscience for divestment from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett Packard, companies that make and supply equipment designed to destroy property and impose human misery while reaping profits from church funding.

Humanitarian as well as religious grounds justify a position to support withdrawal of church investments. The campaign was part of a growing BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanction) strategy to garner support for Palestinian justice through nonviolent movements that appeal to Christian values. Organizer Anna Balzer of JVP and Suzanne Hoder, representative of UMKR, though disappointed, said that the vote had a bright side. Supporters imparted information to delegates unaware of facts on the ground, and said more teaching about the cost and human impact is needed.

The strong unified advocate presence evidenced a future “win” for divestment at upcoming regional conferences. Conferences in Northern Illinois, California Pacific, New York and Western Ohio had already voted to pull investments. Hoder said she expects more will follow their lead.

A reception sponsored by UMKR, drew delegates, many from African countries, to hear experiences from indigenous Palestinians about injustices suffered by Christians in Palestine. Rev. Alex Awad of Bethlehem Bible College, Zahi Khouri, Chairman of the Coca Cola Company in Palestine and US Government economist Philip Farah were among Christian Palestinians who described the impact of occupation on Christians, often marginalized or neglected by the mainstream media.

Kairos Palestine, a doctrine written by patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem, attacks divestment on humane and moral grounds and calls upon world leaders to heed the cry of the oppressed. Used in 1985 during the struggle in South Africa against apartheid, it received strong support by highlighting Christian principles that promote human dignity for all peoples.

The impassioned speeches by influential Palestinians affected a compromised vote. While Christian fundamentalism and heavy pressure by Israeli lobbyists influenced the outcome, the call for “positive” investing to bring about change for peace, may indicate that the Christian speakers who emphasized being strangled by the occupation had influence.

Though the failed vote ensures United Methodist Pension Funds would continue, two proposals, one against the occupation and another condemning the settlements passed. Regarded as “token,” it indicated thought concerning Christian values and humanity sacrificed to occupation.

On the same day the outcome of the vote was learned, the Islamic Community of Tampa had invited Christians, Jews and advocate supporters to an evening meal prepared by Muslim members. Speaking in front of Christians, Jews and Muslims, Anna Balzer said that in spite of disappointment, important connections had been made, information was widely distributed, and personal contacts increased more supporters.

Hoder said defeat reflects disregard for the Christian principles; talking to people raises awareness and connects the Palestinian struggle for freedom and self-determination with other movements as did the abolishment of apartheid in South Africa. Delegates carry home a message of justice for Palestine represented in cooperation among diverse faiths and ethnicities working together to uphold justice as the cornerstone of all civilized religions.

The Human Toll of Occupation

When I arrived in Jerusalem in November of 2012, I received a disturbing phone call from the director of the news service where I work as a volunteer.  News travels quickly in Beit Sahour, the quiet suburb of Bethlehem where the apartment where I stay is located. His voice somber, he told me that the husband of my landlady had died a few days before. “It was sudden and it shouldn’t have happened,” he said, his voice heavy with despair.

I arrived to find Samia, her two sons and their families distraught with grief. For days, I watched a steady parade of visitors pass my apartment on their way to her house. It was mostly women who came during the day, some wearing the Muslim headscarves, others  bareheaded but all were dressed head to toe in black. Men came evenings after work, walking head down and slow. They came singularly or with families, others in groups as large as eight or ten. For forty days the stream of friends and neighbors came to share grief.

Respectful and accepting of Orthodox Christian ritual, tradition proved wearing for the bereaved widow obliged to endure unrelenting days of communal grieving. She greeted each guest hospitably, accepting with a tired smile the bitterness of her loss while serving   tea, coffee and a sample of sweets.

The tedious days ended with a long funeral service at the Greek Orthodox Church nearby. We sat on hard chairs set up for the overflow surrounded by vividly painted icons of angels and the holy family. Over a thousand people came to pay tribute and say farewell to the community leader who had given so much and to share compassion that knows no single religion but embraces all.

The daily visits by caring people, many coming from villages and experiencing checkpoints, interrogation and humiliation that served to bolster commitment to humanitarian concern.

As the days went on, gradually, Samia’s story, one of the many experienced daily by Palestinians of all faiths unfolded; and I would learn later that Samia’s brother-in-law, living in Jordan, had been denied a permit by Israel to attend the funeral of his brother.

In spite of help from her two daughters-in-law, who kept coffee and tea ongoing to serve guests, the continuous flow of visitors and sleepless nights were taking a toll on Samia.

One day, she knocked on my door and humbly asked if everything in the apartment was all right. I sensed her need for relief and refuge and invited her to sit and have coffee. Graciously she accepted, a thin smile of appreciation crossing her tired face.

She began to talk, words tripping out in a jumble of English and Arabic that began softly as apology then became a story edged with anger.

“It shouldn’t have happened,” she interjected repeatedly as she told her story. He had been healthy, had returned from working in the U.S. in construction a few weeks before.

She said he had complained of mild discomfort; and when it did not pass, she took him to the local clinic. Though equipment was minimal and there were no specialists on staff, she was assured that everything they could do would be done and he would be all right.

There was no time to request the permit from Israel needed to travel to Jerusalem, six miles away, for attention at a good hospital; and, in any case, it could be denied. Likewise, a trip to Ramallah, which has adequate hospital facilities, requires an Israeli permit with time an added factor.

A bustling city in the West Bank directly north of Bethlehem normally would take about twenty-five minutes to get to by car; but Palestinians cannot take that route, which goes through Jerusalem in Israel. Instead, they are required to take a precarious winding mountainside road that avoids the city and takes well over an hour.

Samia said the last time she saw her husband alive was at the clinic. He had a smile and waved cheerfully as they wheeled him into another room. A short time later, a doctor came and said he was gone.

“There was no time… if only… it’s Israel and occupation…” She sniffled and dabbed her eyes. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be telling you, you know… those who haven’t been here, don’t know how we suffer, all of us, Christians, Muslims, even the Jews…”

In Beit Sahour, my second home, I see no hostility between Muslims and Christians. I see children of both faiths walk from school arm in arm; there is no crime and I feel safer than when at home in my St. Petersburg, Florida neighborhood.

Deaths occur because Israel denies permits; students and workers are delayed and harassed at checkpoints; and whether Christian or Muslim, are prevented from going to see holy sites and visiting their families during the holidays.

Every Sunday, church bells ring throughout historic Palestine; in Bethlehem, they chime and blend with the Muslim call to prayer, a harmonious call for peace among Palestinians who live and suffer together under Israel’s brutal occupation.

Theater Power, a Beautiful Resistance

I spent last Christmas in the Aida refugee camp in occupied Bethlehem watching children dance, then looking in as a teacher gave a piano lesson to a young boy.

The day was cold and rainy; and far from home and family, I was feeling somewhat down until peace activist Mazin Qumsiyeh invited me to join him on a visit to meet Abdelfattah Abusrour, playwright and director of Al Rowwad, the cultural and theater center based at the camp.

Four of us crammed into the back seat of Mazin’s car as he swerved along the rain slicked stone streets heading for Aida, where he served on the board of directors.

As we rounded narrow roads leading to the camp, hillside grapevines and olive trees gave way to high walls blocking the restful view of farmlands on the other side. During past visits to Palestine, I had watched teary-eyed farmers look on helplessly while tractors tore up crops, workers poured cement, and walls expanded; their grotesque monotony broken later only by spray-painted pictures and graffiti, pitiful cries to free Palestine.

Aida Camp lies north of Bethlehem and south of Jerusalem; two holy cities separated by a thirty-foot wall. In 2002, during the Second Intifada, wire barricades began to appear around the refugee camp and within the next few years, giant walls circled it on three sides. A short time later, the ugly gray concrete began to take on a new face. Colorful pictures told stories of the dreams of youngsters who lived within its prison-like walls. A stairway showing children walking up to the top needed no words.

We meet Abusrour (Abdel for short) in his office. A copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights hangs on the wall behind the desk accompanied by pictures of peacemakers, among them, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa, and Albert Einstein.

 We are served coffee as Abdel begins telling us about Al Rowwad, an Arab word, he says, that means “pioneer.” Describing himself as a “social entrepreneur,” he speaks enthusiastically about the cultural center and the programs offered to children who have nowhere to go and have known little about the world beyond walls and soldiers with guns.

“Our goal is to show an image other than violence; teaching children to rise above the violence and humiliation they face daily is an effective way to resist without bloodshed and to rebuild hope. Art, music, dance and theater are tools with power to resist occupation and to instill ‘peace within.’ We focus on youth and parents, especially mothers.”

He explains that when Israeli soldiers intimidate and goad youngsters to react in anger, in the past, frustration led children who saw no hope, no future to react violently – throwing stones, and even driving some to become suicide bombers. Each martyr brought pity for Israel, more funding for security and increased suppression of our people.

 “Growing up under occupation, these children know only images of violence; everyday they see Israeli soldiers with guns, feel defenseless and have low self-esteem.”

As violence from Palestinians diminished, resistance to occupation grew and took another direction. With no army, no airplanes and punishing long prison terms for anyone caught with weapons, armed confrontation against Israel’s strong military was senseless; non-violent resistance was the only reasonable option.

“Occupation creates despondency,” he says, “but blaming it does not bring change; we don’t have the luxury of despair; what counts is to make each day more beautiful than the last.  We ask the question, ‘who am I?” then let them see they are Palestinian through art, music, dance, sports and theater. Peace within comes before peace with Israel… children must believe they can create miracles within instead of reacting outside.”

“All religions share these values… and with or without money, we do it; it’s an act of partnership to keep us human.”

The theater program began in the home of his parents. He says the values he learned from them growing up is the “engine” that keeps Al Rowwad (an Arabic word that means “pioneer”) going. They taught me that if you practice violence, even if the cause is just, you lose part of your humanity.

Abdel grew up in the Aida refugee camp and understands the frustrations of children and the parents who have lived all their lives under the control of foreign occupation. As a young adult, he studied medical engineering in Paris; he also took acting classes and performed in French theater, where social change is a common theme. He returned to Palestine on the brink of the Second Intifada, which began in 2000. During Israeli invasions of Bethlehem, Al Rowwad became the emergency clinic at Aida camp.

 “Artists should use their power to make a statement not just to entertain…when we are involved in the arts; we are united in [our] culture against tragedy.”

Abdel led us into a large room where other internationals joined our small group as we took seats along one side of the room. About a dozen children aged from pre to late -teen filed in and sat quietly facing us a short distance away. Abed spoke to them in Arabic, introducing us and acknowledging our respective countries; then asked them if they had questions for us. Curious, but shy, they were hesitant. Mazin broke the ice by telling them that today was Christmas, a major holiday where we came from; then described Santa coming down chimneys with sacks of toys for good children. Amused, some children stifled giggles, looked quizzically at a neighbor or just stared back wide-eyed. Asked to tell about their traditions, we heard about gift giving and traditional new clothes during Ramadan. One girl said she hid hers under her pillow.

Abdel then appealed to the reluctant children to show us the debka dance they had been rehearsing. Led by an older student, they performed the traditional Palestinian dance with confidence and pride, synchronized to near perfection.

“The older ones become teachers,” Abdel explained, “that way, we pass on tradition.  Children see how they can be change makers; and we should be proud when they ask us, what did you do to make a change?”

Similar to Alrowwad, the cities of Jenin and Ramallah also have theater groups that do not work with Israel. Abdel explains, “When Muslims, Jews and Christians are all treated equally, then we can work together.”

Throughout history, artistic expression has been the target of tyrants aware of its power to challenge authority and create change. Armed only with the power to influence, oppressors take action with censorship and violence. On April 4, 2011, theater director Juliano Mer-Khamis was gunned down in front of the Freedom Theatre where he taught drama to children in the Jenin refugee camp north of Bethlehem.

 The son of a Palestinian father and Jewish mother Arna Mer, founder of the Freedom Theatre, the cultural activist had continued her work of teaching theater to children. Like Juliano, Abdel believes theater and culture redirect anger and empower young people to resist militant threats nonviolently.  Abdel smiles, “It’s a beautiful resistance.”

The children of Al Rowwad have performed in Europe and in the United States. Abusrour tours the US again in April and May 2012.  His visit includes Tampa and Pinellas County.