Fear – the Israeli Perspective – the Separation Barrier

This reflection was written by Suella Henn

Israeli perspective on the Security Fence / Barrier Wall

It has been harder for me to credit the Israeli perspective both during and since our trip.  But I do take seriously the role that fear plays in understanding their motivation and actions.  Youval Ben Ami, our outstanding Israeli guide, emphasized this frequently.  Several times he brought friends along when we went to the West Bank, young people who had never dared to venture there.

Signs such as the following are posted at checkpoints into Area A, which is fully under Palestinian control and is forbidden to Israeli citizens.  As Youval so often said, it is difficult to begin to understand one another when normal contact between peoples is forbidden.


I have just finished reading Ari Shavit’s new book, “The Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel” which begins with the sentence: “For as long as I can remember, I remember fear.  Existential Fear.”  Born in 1957 he remembers how he has felt during the wars involving Israel since then.  The Jewish history of pogroms, oppression and the Holocaust coupled with an understandable longing for a place where they belong, can be self-determining and flourish is masterfully drawn in Shavit’s book, as are the tragedy of their blindness to the people who were already on the land and the moral evils of the occupation.

Our day devoted to the Israeli perspective began when we met with Col Dany Tirza, an engineer and the IDF’s chief architect for the Security Fence.  He emphasized: The fence is needed for Israeli security.

 He took us to a road on the outskirts of West Jerusalem overlooking a valley to the south.  Behind us were attractive, substantial 3-4 story apartments with barred and bulletproof windows.  In the valley immediately below were olive groves and on the distant hills a large populated area.  An empty road snaked along the valley between the olive trees and the town.  Looking more closely we could see that there were fences along both sides of it.  The fences are electrified, topped by barbed wire, with frequent sensors and surveillance cameras placed along them.  There are wide cleared areas on either side of the road and outside the fence.  The barrier averages 200 ft. in width.


Its construction began in 2002 following numerous suicide bombings and terrorist attacks and was designed to restrict access of terrorists and to control the entry of Palestinians into Israel.  Numbers tell the story.  In 2002, before construction started, 457 Israelis were killed; in 2009, 8 were killed.  So the fence seems to have been effective in deterring the attacks.  It has also prevented easy movement of Palestinians into Israel, those seeking work, education, and medical care.

The fence is built more or less along the Green Line, though its placement has been disputed, especially when it separates Arab villagers from their farmlands and olive groves or cuts off access to other parts of the West Bank. Col. Tirza emphasized that in designing the barrier he tried to be sensitive to Arab concerns, trying to exclude Arab villages from the area within the fence, and to provide access for farmers to their trees and farmland through crossing points.  I could not help wondering about the olive groves visible here on the left and the populated area on the right.  I could spot no obvious crossing point and was given no opportunity to ask.

Such fences comprise 90% of the barrier.  The rest is a 26 ft. high concrete wall, usually through or around more populated areas.  Here the goal has been to deter sniper fire on roads or nearby settlements.  The wall, the fence and their effects on the Palestinians were painfully obvious during much of the remainder of our trip.

Suella Henn

Dec. 2, 2013


Thoughts on the pilgrimage to Israel/Palestine

Nadine’s thoughts on her pilgrimage to Israel/Palestine

In the first week back – October 10, 2013

  •  A collage of impressions is my attempt to capture my feelings about the pilgrimage.  These continue to challenge my equilibrium.  As a person of faith, God is involved in all the details and I continue to wrestle with the clash of “tawdriness and transcendence” that some of the most treasured holy sights evoked.But I have learned again about an “allowing God” and it is no use asking questions like “how could He?”• There is a part of me that is patient with goodness and evil – “a part of  me that stands vigilant and patient in the tragic gap which almost every moment offers” (Richard Rohr)- that stands in awe not just at the Dome of the Rock but in crowded shrines, churches with promises of Jesus’ touch, and in the crowded Palestinian camps where lives are crushed by poverty and denial of possibility and in the Hebron market where Palestinian shoppers and merchants have long been abused by Israelis throwing garbage and debris into their midst in an effort to discourage their livelihood.

    • Access to the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock guarded by Israeli soldiers and permission granted to only the few.  Security gates and soldiers granting limited access to the plaza and massive retaining wall believed to have supported the Second Temple – the Wailing Wall which is in fact a “thin place” inviting reflection and prayer.  Who is restricted from these places of prayer and why?   Who choses those who are allowed and those who are kept out of these holy spaces?

    • The Sea of Galilee – at times calm and then bouncing with white caps.  Was this the place of Jesus calming the waves?  At night Compline, singing in the church of the Sermon on the Mount.                                                              Sea of Galilee - MEJDI Tours

  • Sea of Galilee – MEJDI Tours
  • • Brave Palestinian NGO leaders who work to create healthier outcomes for the children, mothers, workers, displaced families who have waited for 60 years with a fading hope for restoration of human rights.• Jewish pacifists who step outside the actions of Israel to advocate for a “just peace” and human rights for all.  Palestinian prisoners and their families who wait in fear and dispair; those held in administrative detention, with no charges brought.  Israeli and Palestinian and expatriate volunteers protesting the building of barriers and re-building houses destroyed by Israeli tanks; visionary Palestinians and expatriate volunteers providing drama, dance, art and hope to current and next generation refugees.

    • The Palestinian family, with deeds of ownership dated from the Ottoman Empire for their 100 acres of farm land have created The Tent of the Nations.  Their hospitality to talk about and learn about peace – their efforts to protect their land and the environment with the planting of trees, low impact waste solutions, and solar panels on top of the only building allowed on the property under Israeli law.

    • The generosity and hospitality of our Palestinian hosts – food and lodging and conversation in Burqin and Jenin.

    • “Dual Narrative” pilgrimage – one young Jewish Israeli guide, and one senior Palestinian guide, risking their safety and a potential criminal record to pass the security checkpoints between disputed lands.  They travel with us to interpret “foreign” territory and conflict.

    “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:)


The meaning of pilgrimage

From Justi Schunior, St. Mark’s Associate Rector


This was my second pilgrimage to the Holy Land. My first, taken in 2010, was life changing. For me, pilgrimage is about incarnation and longing. As a Christian pilgrim, I longed to be physically in the places where Jesus was. As a person who had inhabited a real physical space, Jesus was someone I could imitate. I could be where he was; I could touch the places he had touched; I could become a little more like him by walking in his footsteps. The Church of the Resurrection, the Church of the Nativity, the Mount of Olives are all holy ground to me because they are part of the rich tapestry of faith. Even when we are not sure if the actual Jesus of Nazareth walked in a particular place at a particular time, we know that his followers did for centuries. They hallow the ground I walked on.

The St. Mark’s pilgrimage visited these holy places, of course. But we did more as well. Walking in the footsteps of Jesus and not noticing the pain of the people who dwell on the way is to not soak up the spirituality of the place. As we all know, there is pain, discord, and confusion in the land of our spiritual history.

For me, I needed to listen, truly listen, to the pain of the Jewish Holocaust narrative. I needed to meet a bishop who reminded us that there are still Christians in the Holy Land – Christians who provide perspective and balance to a tense situation. I needed to hear from a lawyer who passionately advocated for the rights of Palestinian prisoners and members of refugee camps who provided a future far brighter than the lights of suicide bombs. I needed to see young people committed to traumatized Palestinian parents and youths despite horrific shortages of resources. I needed all of these wonderful and terrifying experiences because I think following Jesus – really following Jesus is about expanding compassion. Comparing suffering never happens in his ministry. Suffering is suffering. And all kind of suffering happens in this Holy Land. It is ancient and contemporary; and it calls our attention. And yet I hope that the widening of our compassion expands to our own home as well – its ground no less holy. We also imprison a population, fail to care for and educate children, and ignore debilitating and painful history.

Pilgrimage should be life changing. It’s not just about travel and adjusting to foreign food and lodging. It is about changing the shape of our very being to accommodate new and uncomfortable truths. I look forward to discussing this pilgrimage with you all!



October 2nd – We go to the West Bank

In 2004, toward the end of the Second Intifada, I visited the West Bank for the first time.  This was my fourth visit since then and while it was good to see construction booming in Ramallah, Kalandia checkpoint remains a stark introduction to life in the West Bank and the harsh realities of Occupation.

 In planning the trip with MEJDI, Karen and I had suggestions for people and organizations we thought would be of interest to the St. Mark’s pilgrimage group.   After hearing Sahar Francis speak in the U.S., Karen knew we could learn a great deal from the dynamic Director of Addameer – http://www.addameer.org – a Palestinian NGO that supports political prisoners in Israeli and Palestinian prisons.

At the Tarwee’a coffee shop in Ramallah, Sahar briefed us on the very difficult situations of those prisoners.  Because they live in occupied territory, they are under the jurisdiction of Israeli military courts, not civil courts.   The result is that the legal safeguards that would otherwise be available to prisoners are not.  These range from how long they can be held without being charged – administrative detention – to who can visit them and how often.  Importantly, the offenses for which West Bank residents can be arrested include civic activities such as organizing protests and trying to influence public opinion! Later in our trip, some of us would have a personal encounter with the pain this causes when we met the family of a young man who has been held for over a year in administrative detention.

My spirits lifted when we visited Tomorrow’s Youth Organization (TYO) (www.tomorowsyouth.org) in Nablus.  I had met Suhad Jabi in Washington when she was part of a delegation organized by Telos (www.telosgroup.org), a terrific organization doing outreach to U.S. evangelical Christians about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. IMG_1885

Situated below the Samaritan village of Mount Gerizim, TYO serves the children of Nablus and refugee camps nearby, many of them traumatized by the circumstances of their daily lives and the violence of the intifadas.  Staffed primarily with volunteers, both American and Palestinian, who gain valuable skills for their own future employment, TYO offers children classes in education and physical activity, art and music.IMG_1908

 For their mother’s, there are women’s empowerment classes.  TYO has the only co-educational classrooms for children in Nablus.  Suhad, the psychosocial program manager, touched on some of the serious issues they encounter in their work, including domestic and political violence for the women, anger management, and children deemed too difficult in school.  Importantly, TYO is constantly measuring impact and adjusting their programs to the needs of the community.  The enthusiasm of the staff and the laughter and joyful singing we heard as we left gave hope in a place where it often seems there is little.

Two vibrant organizations working in difficult places on difficult issues, two vibrant women committed to their work and a better future for the Palestinian people – inshallah.


Family Night in Palestine

Before Christmas, the St. Mark’s Middle East Working Group sells olive oil from the Canaan Fair Trade Company in Burqin on the West Bank.  Profits are sent back to Episcopal institutions, such as hospitals and children’s centers.  A number of us spent the night with some of the olive farmers and this account was posted by Mary DeNys on her travel blog.


It was getting late, so we drove to the Canaan Fair Trade center, where we were to meet our hosts for the evening.  While we waited, we were taken on a tour of their facility where they process oil from olives and almonds.  Finally the time came to go to our hosts for the evening.  Two of my friends, both named Karen, and me were staying with one family.  We climbed into the back seat of Emad’s pickup truck; other folks piled into the truck bed, and we were off.  He dropped off two groups at different houses, and then took me and the Karens to his house.  It was quite a cultural adventure.

There we were with a group of about half a dozen women, two men, and a varying population of children, none of whom spoke English.


Family Night in Palestine


One of our number had about a dozen words of Arabic. The Ancient Granny–who was probably my age–took my hand and spoke long and earnestly in Arabic.  One of her granddaughters tried to explain to her that I did not understand.  Upon which, Grandma took my hand and declaimed yet more earnestly, which completely cracked up the granddaughter.  Somehow, we managed to communicate our marital statuses and how many children we had of both genders.  They managed to tell us that our host was one of twelve offspring of Ancient Granny–six men and six women.  We figured out that at least one of the women with us was his sister and another was his wife.  But it was pretty confusing because most of the family lived within two blocks (at most) and different individuals wandered into the circle, accompanied by various children off and on all evening.  It was a gathering heavily skewed to women, most of whom were shouting at each other and laughing heartily.  It was a raucous and jolly group.  The men were very quiet.

Eventually, Dana, our host’s niece dropped by.  She is studying English at the local university, and she was eager to practice.  That helped a bit, and her efforts emboldened her nine year old sister who spoke the best English of the group.

When we arrived, we had been served the largest, most delicious dates I have ever eaten along with tea.  But we saw no sign of dinner.  Then at some point, we realized that the women were discussing how they were going to feed us.  This did not make us feel secure!  We later learned that this kind of discussion is “part of the dance.”

Beqin dinner



  As you can see from the picture, we ate well!

One of the .  . . relatives? . . . neighbors? . . . friends? was Christian.  When they learned that we were Christian (How many times a day do you have to pray?), they urged us to go see the local church, the Church of the Ten Lepers, which wikipedia confirms is the third oldest church in the world. Faraj had wanted to take the group there in the afternoon, but there was no time. So we would go there.


But first we had to go to the soap factory!  The young Christian woman and her husband have a small factory where they make olive oil soap. So okay, to the soap factory we went.  Emad, silent as ever, loaded us all into the truck and drove us, It was quite interesting to see the vats of soap and the molds into which they poured it.  They gave each of us a bar of soap.  We were most grateful, and then we thought that since they had hosted us, it would be good to buy some soap.  This became complicated.  The couple insisted that we should take the other bars too as a gift.  We felt bad, because we were then depleting their inventory, and after all, they had only wanted to give us one apiece.  After much negotiation–“Take it as a treat for your children.”–we managed to leave a few shekels and move on to the church, which a neighborhood boy opened up for us.  It was really lovely.


“Leper Cave” at the Church of Ten Lepers


The nave is actually 18th century.  It is the “leper cave” that is so very old.

After we returned from the church, Dana begged us to come with her to her house (only two minutes!).  So we went and met her father–her mother and sisters had been in the group at the table.  He turned out to be a boys high school principal who spoke quite good English.  We chatted away, with him quoting Wordsworth to us, for some time.  But we were pretty wiped out and so bid our good-byes and headed back to Emad’s house.  The children had been put to bed in their parents’ room, so we got the kids’ room with beds covered with images of Spider Man and some Arab knock-off of Barbie.  I can’t say I slept well, but that’s me.  My roommates did fine despite a fine cast of goats and roosters.

Refugees and Dual Narratives

             One of the things that encouraged us to use MEJDI tours is their concept of a dual narrative, that we would have an Israeli and a Palestinian guide, representing their unique backgrounds and perspectives.  Two books that were highly recommended for understanding Palestinian and Israeli histories were A Tale of Love and Darkness by Israeli author and activist Amos Oz and Once Upon a Country by Palestinian activist, philosopher, and President of Al-Quds University, Sari Nusseibeh.  These two excerpts from their books help underscore the different views about refugees:

Amos Oz (after 1948):  “Nearly everything in the young state in those days was named for those who had died in battle, or for heroism, or for the struggle, the illegal immigration and the realization of the Zionist dream.  The Israelis were very proud of their victory and entrenched in the justice of their cause and their feelings of moral superiority.  People did not think much about the fate of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees and displaced persons, many of whom had fled and many others of whom had been driven out of the towns and villages conquered by the Israeli army.

Sari Nusseibeh:  “…addressing an Israeli audience….It doesn’t matter whether you set out premeditatively to cause the Palestinian refugee tragedy, I told them, the tragedy did occur, even as an indirect consequence of your actions.  In our tradition, you have to own up to this.  You have to come and offer an apology.  Only this way will Palestinians feel that their dignity has been recognized, and be able to forgive.  But by denying all responsibility, besides being historically absurd to the point of craziness, you will guarantee eternal antagonism – a never-ending search for revenge.”

Preparing for the journey


Although our St. Mark’s pilgrimage does not “officially” begin until September 25th in Jerusalem, the truth is that we have been preparing for over a year.  In good St. Mark’s tradition, we have spent time educating ourselves about the Holy Land and the Arab/Israeli conflict and we’ve invited the whole community to join us.  This blog is an important part of that sharing.

Our speakers have included Amb. Philip Wilcox (Ret) director of the Foundation for Middle East Peace and former Counsel General in Jerusalem, and Aziz Abu Sarah who heads MEJDI Tours which attracted us because of its “dual narrative” approach, meaning we’ll have both an Israeli and a Palestinian guide.

We’ve explored peace making strategies with Rabbi Marc Gopin and heard first-hand about life for Palestinian Christians from Rev. Sari Ateek and Philip Farah.   Rabbi Jack Moline gave us an American Jewish perspective of Israel.  Corinne Whitlatch, former Executive Director of Churches for Middle East Peace and glass artist, and author Jane Geniesse shared cultural insights.  Our own Lindsey Jones talked about her work in a Bethlehem refugee camp.

Peter Hawley maintained a lending library of books, DVDs, and CDs about all aspects of the conflict as well as taking us through a mini-version of a class on Steadfast Hope.  Individual members of the group researched some of the Biblical sites we will visit.

Some of us will have read a lot, some of us will have not, some were able to attend all of the discussions, some only a few.  And that is just fine.  No matter how much any of us knows or doesn’t know, there will be much to learn individually and as a group.

When he learned he and Gretchen could not make the trip with us, David Willson wrote:  “I wish you all a journey of peace, nourishment of the body and soul, enrichment, learning and understanding.

That is our hope as well.