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Temple Israel talk, Memphis, Tennessee. January 27, 2008
(Inevitably, this is not identical with the talk we delivered. We
deliverd a slide show talk, and this has been edited to leave out some
of the "look here on the slide" references. Elsewhere on the site
you'll find pointers to many of the pictures, and versuions of parts of
the talk with pictures pasted in.)
Hopes for Peace in Israel and Palestine
Hello. I’m Edward Ordman, this is my wife Eunice Ordman. We want to
welcome the many visitors to Temple Israel that we see here. We are
particularly happy to see so many of our Muslim and Christian friends.
The senior Rabbi of Temple Israel, Micah Greenstein wrote a wonderful
essay "Between You and Me" in the Jan. 4, 2008 Voice newsletter of
temple Israel, about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. In encouraging us
to give this talk, he encouraged us to quote two lines from that essay
as applying to Arabs and Muslims as well as Blacks. He wrote "The
animating idea of Judaism is the Tzelem Elohim, the image of God
inherent in every human being." and "The
Passover story of our people points out that the God, to Whom our
thanks are due, is a God who wants all people free, not just some."
Rabbi Micah urged us to tell you about some groups we met with in
Israel and the West Bank and to show pictures of places the Temple
Tours do not go. On tours of Israel, Jews, the American press, our
legislators, and our diplomats usually see only the Israeli view.
Normally not even Israelis can go where we went. We will show the
unpublicized view: the Israelis and Palestinians who are working non
violently toward peace.
This talk is about how many Palestinians and Israelis see the present
situation in Israel and in the West Bank. If we want peace, we need to
understand the needs of all parties.
In the part of the Talmud called Pirkey Avot, which means the Ethics of
the Fathers, it is said “The work is not ours to finish, but neither
are we free to take no part in it”. We need to start thinking about
what we can do to promote peace..
I’m 83 and I have 13 grandchildren. I hate to leave them a world so
filled with problems, so ridden with wars. I wanted to try to do
something to improve things. Talk of bombing Iran and wars with
Afghanistan and Iraq make a war between the West and the Muslim world
more and more likely. Religious wars are the longest of all wars.
Peace in Israel would do a great deal to make peace in the world far
more likely. Peace in Israel would do a great deal to improve the image
of Jews in Europe especially.
In 1988, while in Paris, we watched a parade in support of the
Palestinians. It may have been an early sign of the danger of increased
antisemitism in Europe. Peace in Israel would diminish antisemitism.
Last summer we went on an Interfaith Peace Builders tour to Israel, and
the West Bank, "Judea and Samaria." We met with Israeli and Palestinian
groups working non violently for peace. Polls show that a vast majority
of both Israelis and Palestinians want peace. We visited many groups of
Israelis and Palestinians working nonviolently for peace and justice
for all, but it isn’t happening. I was very discouraged until I
remembered that after World War II, the US occupied Japan and Germany.
We helped them form democratic governments, AND we built up their
economies. We gave them hope of a better future for their children.
They have been our staunchest allies ever since.
I have served as a Citizen’s Dispute Mediator in the Memphis court
system. Two people are boiling mad at each other. They want to drag
each other through the court and punish each other. But they are told
it will take two years to get a court date. Would they consider
mediation? Well, very reluctantly. So they come to me. Each gets to
tell his story. My main job is to keep them from interrupting each
other. Each one in turn tells his story in detail. They go back and
forth until they are both talked out. When I ask them what they want in
the future, they become sweetly reasonable in their requests. Each
agrees to what the other wants. I write it out, they sign it, and I
turn it into the court. 85% of the time that is the last the court
hears of it. Being heard and understood is extremely important to all
In the book, Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson, he writes, “I’ve
learned that terror doesn’t happen because some group of people
somewhere like Pakistan or Afghanistan simply decide to hate us. It
happens because children aren’t being offered a bright enough future
that they have a reason to choose life over death.” An improving
Palestinian economy would be reason for hope for a better life.
Today we need to talk about the situation of the Palestinians.
I have been to Israel before. My first trip was in 1971, and I’ve spent
a total of around 12 or 13 weeks in Israel. I was first at a lecture by
Ben Gurion about 1968. That doesn’t make me an expert. But I have
lectured at the Hebrew University, I have been to Sharm el Shaikh when
there was nothing there but a few Israeli army tents. Now there is
peace there, and there are fancy hotels. I have stood in an abandoned
Syrian gun position on the cliffs of the Golan Heights. No one who has
stood there ever wants to see enemy guns at the top of those cliffs
looking down on the Jewish villages below.
We were at the Jaffa gate to the old city for the 40 th anniversary of
the 1967 war
which created more refugees and was not celebrated by the Palestinians.
The group we traveled with was mixed. There were Jews, Christians, and
one American Muslim. One of the first places we went was the Yad VaShem
Museum, the Israeli museum of the Holocaust. Eunice and I were able to
be of considerable help to the others in our group there because we
have previously been to Auschwitz and Treblinka, as well as to the
Wannsee museum in Berlin, in the building where Hitler laid out with
his aides the plans for dreadful events of the Holocaust. It now
displays many pictures of the Nazi dreadful treatment of the Jews.
There, unlike inside Yad VaShem, we could take pictures.
We went to the Western Wall, the surviving foundation of the Second
Temple at the base of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It is the holiest
place for Jews. On top of the Temple Mount is the Dome of the Rock,
erected by the Muslims to mark the place where Abraham almost
sacrificed his son. We think it was Isaac and they think it was
Ishmael, but the story is the same. Also on the Temple Mount is the Al
Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. We Jews are very proud of
the fact that access to this area for Muslims is much freer now than
access for Jews was when Jordan controlled the area between 1948 and
1967. We also know that there are still serious problems of access and
we want to see peace and free access for all.
In September 2000 Ariel Sharon, who was then an Israeli Cabinet
minister, came to the Temple Mount with over a thousand police and
armed guards. He claimed it was a tourist visit. Tourists don’t travel
with armed guards. It was one of the events that set off the second,
more violent, intifada .
As Muslims leave this area after Friday prayer, they walk down a street
in the heart of the Muslim quarter of the old city of Jerusalem. On an
archway over the street is a house with a giant Jewish menorah and an
elongated Israeli flag. The local Muslims told us that this was the
house of Ariel Sharon. I know that Ariel Sharon was a very in-your-face
kind of man. And this lets me talk a little about what people believe.
In Genesis and again in Deuteronomy, God tells Abraham that his seed,
his descendants, will possess the land from the river of Egypt to the
Euphrates. That is what was taught in the schools when Jordan
controlled the West Bank. A Muslim we took to Temple Israel thought
that the two blue lines on the Israeli flag stood for those two rivers.
He’d learned in Jordanian school textbooks that the two blue lines on
the Israeli flag represent the Nile and the Euphrates, and that Israel
claims all the land from the Nile to the Euphrates. A lot of the people
in Hamas went to school in Jordanian controlled schools in the West
Bank.. They think when they are being asked to recognize Israel’s right
to exist that they are being asked to give it everything from the Nile
to the Euphrates.
When a Muslim in Memphis, Tennessee, told me he thought that the two
blue lines on the flag meant that Israel should extend from the
Euphrates to the Nile as he was taught in school in Jordan, I looked it
up and found that the two blue lines on the Israeli flag are from the
two blue lines on a Jewish prayer shawl. It was a very interesting
experience to bring someone from the local mosque to Temple Israel to
show him our prayer shawls.
Let’s say something about the Palestinians who left their homes in
1948. It is hard to get a firm count on the number of refugees. The
best estimates I have seen suggest that three-quarters of a million
became refugees in 1948 and as many as half a million more in 1967. A
2005 estimate by the UN said that at that time they had multiplied to
nearly four and a half million refugees. In the Gaza strip, the most
crowded place on earth, there are about one and a half million, about
half in extremely crowded refugee camps. Maps show most of the refugee
camps. The biggest concentration of large camps is in Gaza. There are a
lot of camps in Lebanon where the refugees have been very destabilizing
for the government. They extend into Syria and Jordan. And of course,
there are the camps in the West Bank which was occupied by Jordan from
1948 to 1967 and by Israel since 1967.
As far as I am concerned, a refugee camp is a school for hatred. We
need, in the interests of peace, to get those people out of those
camps, into homes and jobs and schools.
We visited a refugee camp just south of Bethlehem, Duheisheh Camp. When
the camp was first established there were first tents and then small
concrete buildings, two rooms to a building, one extended family per
room, sometimes that meant 12 or 15 people in a room. Latrines were
some distance away.
Some of the wall and the UN office remain today. Parts of the wall are
down, and since Oslo, the gates are open and people can come and go. A
college student who took us around told us that living in a camp under
Israeli occupation is heaven compared to living in a refugee camp under
Arab occupation. They have been allowed to build their houses higher.
The UN still provides a little bit of schooling and some basic
sanitation. If you think of the UN as big buildings in New York, it is
strange to see a UN garbage man carrying garbage to a UN dumpster. A
few people have found laboring jobs outside the camp, but of course the
economy is very bad. We were told that even those who could afford
houses outside the camp did not want to move out, for two reasons.
First they like living next to their old neighbors from their own
village. Second, they still hope eventually that refugees will be
allowed to return to their original villages or will be paid for their
original homes. They don’t want to fall off the UN refugee list.
The refugee camp is very crowded. There are about 11,000 people in an
area of one third of a square mile, that’s about the size of a large
Memphis city block. The passages are narrow and as you can see there is
not much place for children to play.
A Refugee student showed us around. He had grown up in the camp and who
is now attending college in Italy. The Palestinians, like the Jews,
value education. This young man comes back during the summer to work
for a charity in the refugee camp, called IBDAA. They operate a small
storefront in the camp. They take children out of the camp to play
athletics and have a room full of trophies. They also have a room to
teach children about computers.
Wi’am is a Palestinian charity we visited near Bethlehem. Zoughby
Zoughby, the director, teaches negotiating skills, mediation, and how
to solve problems nonviolently. He used to have meetings here between
Israelis and Palestinians, to learn about each other’s lives and each
other’s problems. He can’t do that any more. When Israel turned
Bethlehem over to Palestinian control, and put up the security barrier
which we’ll come to in a few minutes, Israelis were forbidden to come
to Bethlehem. And the residents of Bethlehem can’t visit Jerusalem,
except sometimes by a special pass, for some holidays. It’s about 8
miles away. In 1971, when there was very little violence in the area,
you could hop the corner bus and it took 20 minutes to get to
Back to Jerusalem.
West Jerusalem is a place the synagogue tours do go. Kol Neshamah is
the large Reform synagogue in Jerusalem. We went to services there and
we also had a meeting there with a rabbi from an Israeli organization
called Rabbis for Human Rights. Rabbis for Human Rights is a
broad-based organization of Israeli Rabbis which tries to defend human
rights and Jewish principles where it finds them being violated by
Israeli policy, in the courts and through activities on the ground.
Rabbi Ascherman, the director, speaks movingly of both Jewish
principles and of the many ideals held in common by the citizens of
Israel, who include members of many religious groups.
Most Jews know this line of the Torah, the Bible, it occurs regularly
in our prayers:
Exodus 22:21: Thou shall neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him,
for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Perhaps fewer know this line. I learned it when "defoliation" was a US
policy during the Vietnam War:
Deuteronomy 20:19: When you besiege a city to make war against it,
thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof...
One of the main elements of the old Palestinian agricultural economy
was olive orchards. A single mature olive tree can yield hundreds of
pounds of olives. When Israelis initially began to travel in the West
Bank, for example when I was there in 1971, things were quite peaceful.
But when terrorism began in earnest, snipers began hiding behind olive
trees and shooting at automobiles. Israel responded by destroying the
olive groves in question. As Israeli settlements in the West Bank grew,
more olive orchards were destroyed and there was increasing dispute
centered on the olive groves.We saw a 100 year old olive tree in a
traffic circle in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank; the
Palestinians say it was stolen from them. This destruction and
transplanting of olive trees deals a real blow to the Palestinian
One consequence of the separation barrier is that there is far less
suicide bombing, and far less sniping. Recently many Palestinian
leaders have told their people that suicide bombing is not effective.
One of the projects of Rabbis for Human Rights is to organize groups of
Jews to help Palestinians harvest the olives, and to help protect the
olive groves from right-wing Jews who sometimes attack Palestinians
trying to harvest their olives. The Rabbis also help replant olive
groves where that is allowed. Rabbi Ascherman leads mixed group of Jews
and Palestinians in replanting Palestinian olive groves.
Another issue that Rabbis for Human Rights works on is the issue of
home demolition. We met with another group, The Israeli Committee
Against Home Demolition. Once houses were demolished in neighborhoods
where suicide bombers lived. That proved ineffective, and the practice
has largely ended.
The shape of Jerusalem.
Let’s back up, and look at Jerusalem from the south. In the center you
see the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Look at the city
beyond them. To the left is modern West Jerusalem, the Israeli city
with high-rise buildings. To the right is east Jerusalem, the low rise
Asiatic city which was occupied by Jordan from 1948 to 1967 and annexed
by Israel in 1967. One of the jobs I would least like to have is city
planner in Jerusalem. That Eastern part of the city had poor roads,
poor water supply, poor sewers, poor electricity. You know that someday
there will be a border, but where? Bringing services up to snuff is
going to be very expensive. Israel wants to make this a Jewish city.
They want more Jews here, they want fewer Palestinians.
On a poor street in downtown East Jerusalem there are low rise
buildings. Many are two-story buildings, or even one-story buildings
with false fronts. Over time a Palestinian family grows. The children
marry and have kids themselves. Land is hard to come by for the
Palestinians, so they want to enlarge the house. Applying for a
building permit can cost as much as $20,000. And almost always, the
permit is denied. What do people do? In many cases, they build anyway.
A new room, or a new story on top of the old one. When they do, the
house is put on the demolition list. It may stay on the demolition list
for three months or for two years. But eventually, a wrecking crew
shows up, perhaps at three in the morning and give the family half an
hour to get out.
A lot of Israeli Jews think that some other solution has to be found.
The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions has raised enough money
from Jewish sources that they plan to rebuild every Palestinian house
demolished in Jerusalem in 2008. We are talking well over one million
dollars. I’m not sure that’s the best way to spend money. But for every
house they rebuild, there is a whole Palestinian neighborhood and a
whole Palestinian extended family that realizes that not every Jew is
against them, that this is a political squabble, a problem the present
government hasn’t solved, and not an eternal religious conflict.
Let’s talk about West Bank Jewish Settlements. The Jews, of course, are
proud of making the desert bloom. We visited a settlement in the Gush
Emunim block, east of Jerusalem, built almost cantilevered out over the
Judean Desert. It is very convenient to Jerusalem, as a suburb. It also
pretty effectively ruins the chance of a good road from Northern to
Southern Palestinian areas that doesn’t go through a Jewish settlement.
These are pretty communities.
The community we spent the most time in was Efrat, in the Gush Etzion
block south of Jerusalem. Efrat is within the bounds of the 1948 to
1967 "West Bank", and is regarded by its Jewish residents as a suburb
of Jerusalem. The "security boundary" includes it on the Israeli side.
From the point of view of an American developer or city planner,
working without regard to politics, it is a very logical place to have
a suburban development. The population of immigrants from the US is
large enough to make it attractive to Americans, and the residents we
talked to said that most of them have come because they find it an
attractive and convenient suburb and a good place to raise children. We
visited one of the synagogues there, where we talked with local
The Palestinian view of these settlements is, of course, different.
Many object to any settlement of Jews in areas Israel conquered in
1967. The Oslo Accords, which Israel agreed to, prohibited new or
expanded settlements in the West Bank. Israelis point out in reply that
the borders of 1948 to 1967 were never recognized by any of the
surrounding countries; why is Israel supposed to be bound by them now?
Land titles are often obscure: between 1918 and 1948 the British never
developed a system for recording the old Turkish land titles, and deeds
may well be disputed. For example, Israel prefers to expand Jerusalem
suburbs onto land not being actively farmed. They can show you
photographs showing that "this field was abandoned, not being farmed,
when we rezoned it." The locals retort: "Hey, grape vines can get a
disease. When they do, you cut them down and leave the field fallow for
a year or two before replanting. We can show you photographs showing
the grape vines here two years earlier."
Everyone agrees that Efrat sits on the wellhead of a major aquifer, and
controls a major source of water for the area. Water is one of the big
problems of the region.
Where are these Israeli settlements? They are scattered around like
raisins in a pudding connected by Israeli only roads. Road blocks keep
Palestinians from crossing the roads except at specific points, and
then on foot only. This breaks the West bank up into small disconnected
fragments. The Israeli super highways have walls on each side which
look from the Israeli side like attractive sound barriers. They make
travel easy for the Israelis and difficult for the Palestinians. But if
a Palestinian is trying to get from a village on one side to a village
on the other, he is likely to come up to stones or barriers. He has to
go to a legal crossing point, often he has to leave his car, walk
across, and take a taxi on the other side. The World Bank has estimated
that these road closings alone cause nearly a 50 % reduction of the
There are also a lot of temporary roadblocks, called ”flying
checkpoints”. We encountered one on our way to visit the East Jerusalem
Women’s Center, a place that does discussions and job training classes
for Palestinian women. US Aid had been cut off to it, incidentally,
because the US discovered it gave job training classes to women whose
husbands were in prison. As you know, the United States will not aid
criminals, or their families.
The Security Barrier.
Many of these checkpoints are associated with the “security barrier”.
The barrier, and the checkpoints, are working in one important respect
- there has been a major drop-off in suicide bombings in Israel. Even
the very radical Palestinian leaders are now saying suicide bombings
are not effective and shouldn’t be done. It doesn’t stop rockets from
coming across the barriers. In the area around Gaza there have been
thousands of rocket hits in the last few years. The Qassam rockets you
hear so much about are rather small primitive, but obviously dangerous
and disruptive to the communities where they strike.
Israelis object when the security barrier is called “a wall” since, in
terms of miles, most of it is a fence rather than a wall. But most
people see it in urban areas, where it is, often, a high wall. In
places it runs right through an urban area, dividing family members
from one another. Transformers feed the electrified razor wire coils on
top. The graffiti on the Palestinian side of the wall reminded us of
the Berlin Wall. We admired a particularly well executed drawing of
Gandhi, who first showed the power of nonviolent action. “We will bring
love to this place.” “Justice”. “Freedom”.
We went through a major check point, the major crossing between
Jerusalem and Ramallah. Only Israeli cars can go through. Palestinians
cross on foot, if they have the right identification or permit, and the
wait may be several hours. These long waits also impact the Palestinian
economy. Like at the Berlin wall, there are imposing watch towers.
One thing that the Palestinians praise Israel for is improvement in
education. Jordan did not allow Palestinian Universities. Israel does,
and there are now some excellent Palestinian Universities. Al Quds
University, the Palestinian University, is located in Abu Dis, a
near-in suburb of Jerusalem. It is of interest in part because some
people in the Israeli government have suggested that maybe the
Palestinians would be willing to have their capital in Abu Dis instead
of in Jerusalem itself. The wall has been built to put Abu Dis outside
the city of Jerusalem. It threads directly passing the front gate of
the University. The trouble is that this puts the University outside
the city of Jerusalem; most of the students live inside. It takes them
several extra hours to get to class - they have to go to a checkpoint
and wait to get through there. The wall twists around the campus behind
the gym. I’m sorry, I was a student at Berkeley in the 1960's; I can
tell you from first hand experience that seeing this wall every day
makes students more radical, not less radical.
We talked with a mathematics teacher in another suburb of Jerusalem,
Sur Bahir. He is relatively well off. As a teacher in the Jerusalem
schools, he was being paid in the spring of 2007 - unlike the teachers
in the Palestinian Schools, who were not being paid. After the
Palestinians held a democratic election, which we had insisted upon,
and elected some Hamas representatives to the Palestinian Parliament,
the US and Israel had cut all funds to the Palestinian government. Thus
there was no money for Palestinian schools, which do keep students busy
and off the streets.
He has several children and has managed to send them to University.
When Israel started building the security barrier, it was planned to
run right through the center of his village. The village petitioned and
convinced Israel not to divide the village. Instead, the fence runs
along one side of the village. We stood in front of this man’s house
and looked at his olive orchard which is now on the other side of the
fence with its electrified rolls of razor wire and a road for Army
vehicles only. He has to drive an hour to get to the nearest gate where
they may or may not let him through to his orchard that day. It is an
hour back home. It’s not very practical economically.
In downtown Ramallah we visited the Quaker meeting house and the
demonstration garden of the secondary school there. The Quakers sponsor
some excellent programs to encourage initiative among Muslim girls and
women in the West Bank. Some of the girls they worked with, from a
remote village, managed to found a library for their village. Ramallah
was a prosperous place in better times, and now most of the cars can’t
get to anywhere else. A lot of young men are on the streets during the
day, because there is very high unemployment.
Do people recall a few years ago, when Yasser Arafat was under siege in
Ramallah and the Israeli Army was knocking down buildings around him?
We visited the Parliament building, now being rebuilt. It looks more
like a parking garage than a parliament building. Across the street is
a large monument to Yasser Arafat under construction.
Hebron is not typical of Israeli Palestinian relations. It does
illustrate that the various branches of the Israeli government do not
agree on what should be done. The various segments.
The Tomb of the Patriarchs or Cave of Machpelach which Abraham bought
to bury Sarah is in Hebron. Isaac and Ishmael came together in peace
and buried Abraham there and later the other patriarchs and their wives
were buried there. Rachel, who died in Bethlehem giving birth to
Benjamin, is buried in Bethlehem. In 1971, when Edward visited
Bethlehem, Palestinian and Israeli women, who were having trouble
getting pregnant, prayed together at Rachel's tomb. Due to the
separation barrier - which at this point is a tall wall almost
surrounding the tomb - this is no longer possible.
The building at the Cave of Machpelach is called the Ibrahimi Mosque by
the Muslims. This Mosque is where Dr. Goldstein, a Jew who had come to
Israel from Brooklyn, shot and killed 29 Muslims at prayer and wounded
many others. Israelis in Hebron consider him a saint. After that the
synagogue and mosque were divided by a wall. Those entering the
synagogue or mosque are searched much more thoroughly than at an
The building has now been divided inside between Jews and Muslims. The
symbolic tomb, or cenotaph, of Abraham, is located on the Muslim side.
Those on the Jewish side see it through a barred window. From the
Jewish side, I (as a Christian with a US Passport) could visit both
sides. On the Jewish side I saw the Ark with the Torah Scrolls, and
Jews wearing tefillin and praying. They spoke with me about Jewish
On a map of Hebron you can see the Tomb of the Patriarchs near the
center. Many of the streets in the city are now forbidden to
Palestinians. Originally this was done to provide access to the Cave of
Machpelach and the Jewish cemetery for the Jewish settlers at Qiryat
Arba, on the outskirts of Hebron. Muslims must make a long detour from
most of the city center to get to the mosque or the Palestinian
cemetery. More recently, Palestinians have been forbidden in more and
more streets to protect the Israelis in tiny settlements established in
the center of town, near the Cave of the Patriarchs.
Elaborate system of fences and gates, and check points guarded by
Israeli soldiers with automatic weapons, restrict movement through the
city. Elementary and preschool children on the way to school have to go
past check points without their parents. Many refused to go. We visited
with the Christian Peacemaker Team, an interdenominational group
originally organized by the Mennonites. Members of this group walked
with the children to reassure them. After a while settlers beat the
women Peacemakers with chains and clubs and broke their bones. The
Peacemakers had promised not to use violence even in self protection
and kept their promises. The Israeli newspapers told the story. The
Knesset, or Parliament, decided this had to stop. The Soldiers should
take the children past the checkpoint. In that the drawn rifles of the
soldiers may have been what frightened the children in the first place,
that did not seem like an ideal solution. The Peacemakers are still
there, and are watching to see if the children continue to go to
school. The Knesset is more fair to the Palestinians than the army. The
courts are even more fair, but the Army does not always obey court
Soldiers in Hebron say that Israeli children who throw stones are just
children. “You can’t do anything about it.” But if Palestinian children
throw stones, they are terrorists and should be put in prison.
We walked along Shahadah street in Hebron. The new awnings on this
former main Palestinian shopping street are part of a recent UN
sponsored rejuvenation. When the Israelis closed the street to
Palestinians, the modernized stores had to close and people went to a
less central shopping street.
In the center of the historic old city, near the Cave of the
Patriarchs, is a narrow pedestrian shopping street that was the
thriving heart of the pilgrimage and tourist area when Edward visited
it in 1971. Now many of the shops are closed, and there are few
visitors. Radical Israeli settlers have occupied the upper stories of
buildings adjoining the street, and they throw their garbage down on
the Palestinians below. The Palestinians have put up chicken wire above
the street. It catches, shall we say, the solids in the garbage. The
There is an excellent article in the December 2007 National Geographic
about Bethlehem, you can get it in the library or on line. The Church
of the Nativity is in Bethlehem. It is very old and rather a
fortress-like structure. Inside it is all chopped up into the Armenian,
Greek Orthodox, Anglican, and Roman Catholic sections. A silver star on
the floor marks the spot Jesus is supposed to have been born. A sort of
cage like thing is supposed to represent the manger where Jesus was
laid. A manger is an animal feed box. No animal would eat out of that
thing. In the church there are some lovely spots, such as a stained
glass window of the holy family, and Saint Jerome’s Cave where he spent
20 years translating the Bible. We watched Ethiopian Pilgrims praying
in one of the crypts. But there are many fewer visitors to the church
now than thirty or fifteen years ago, and the businesses in the town
are suffering. The security barrier seals off all but one road to the
town, which is largely surrounded by Israeli settlements.
There is still a little tourist business. We were reminded of the
importance of olive trees to the economy when we saw olive wood
carvings of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, and of the Last Supper,
which tourists can buy. In that tourism was the source of Bethlehem’s
prosperity, many of those who can, leave. Only the Christians can
leave, in practice, and the Christian population has declined
dramatically. It is very hard for a Palestinian Muslim to get a visa to
go anywhere else, even if he wants to. Last Christmas (2007) Israel
even refused to give many Christian priests visas to come and perform
services at Churches in Bethlehem where they had been doing it for
Returning to Israel, we visited the lovely home of an upper class
Ashkenazi family in Herzliyah, just North of Tel Aviv. The owner told
us about her daughter who served loyally in the military and about her
son who said he couldn’t morally serve. She supported both children and
hired lawyers to help the son to do as he wished. She said that having
all young people serve time in the military at a formative age,
produces a population that thinks only of military solutions to all
problems. The group she is active in, New Profile, has a good web site
where you can sign up for e-mails of recent events in Israel.
In Jerusalem, we met with two representatives of the Bereaved Families
Association. One was an Israeli whose daughter was blown up by a
suicide bomber. The other was a Palestinian whose father was shot and
killed by an Israeli soldier. The usual response is to hate each other,
but these two turned to each other in sympathy, empathy and love. It
was most impressive. They frequently speak, together, to school groups
and others on both sides of the barrier.
Many things we have mentioned produce lower incomes for Palestinians:
home destruction, Settlers picking their olives, destruction or moving
of the olive trees, being cut off from their olive trees, roadblocks so
that raw materials, finished products, and farm produce cannot get to
where they can be sold. Olive growing is one of the main sources of
income for Palestinians. Executive and engineering jobs are often not
open to them. Chinese and Filipinos have been imported to do many of
the laboring jobs in Israel formerly done by Palestinians. When people
see no future for their children, they become suicide bombers. But if
they have hope for a better life for their children, they’ll work hard
to bring it about. Let’s convert the enemies of Israel into its allies
by helping them build democratic governments and helping improve their
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Incidentally, House demolition is not just a problem
of the Palestinians. Did you know that Tel Aviv has slums?
We visited a neighborhood called Kfar Shalem. This is a
neighborhood of poor homes, many of which were abandoned when the
Palestinians fled or were driven out in 1948. When the Jewish
refugees arrived from the Arab countries, these so-called Eastern Jews,
or Mizrahi Jews, were given these houses to live in. These people
feel very discriminated against by the so-called Ashkenazi
establishment, the Jews who came from northern Europe. The
immigrants from northern Europe were put on kibutzim, collective farms,
and got title to that land. When the city suburbs arrived,
they could sell that land and become well-off. The Mizrahi Jews
never got title to their houses, and now they are surrounded by the
skyscrapers of Tel Aviv. The government has turned the land over
to developers, and the residents are being evicted. They can’t
afford housing anywhere near here, and their communities are being
broken up. As with the home demolitions in Jerusalem, the
bulldozers often arrive in the middle of the night. Last December
25, about 400 policemen arrived with the bulldozers to evict 30
families in the neighborhood we had visited. This is a picture
from the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. Our contacts there say that
many of the personal possessions were loaded on trucks but no one knows
where the trucks went. A lot of the people are camping in tents.
Incidentally, these people are patriotic Israelis. Many make
careers in the Army because as in the US, the Army discriminates much
less than many other institutions in society. They tend to vote
for the right-wing parties because, since they were expelled by the
Arab states, they have no love for the Arabs.
What we can do:
Look at some of the web sites on our handout.
Read the Christian Science Monitor and/or the Hebrew Watchman published
here in Memphis. Both give both sides of many issues.
Urge US legislators and officials to listen to all sides and work for
peace in Israel and elsewhere. Reduce money for armaments for the US
and Israel as well as other places.
Make friends with Muslims in Memphis. The Muslims at Masjid As
Salam arefriendly and like to get to know others here. The mosque
is at 1065 Stratford Rd. Near Macon. Phone 685-8906
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