Wednesday, December 31, 2008

In Gaza

Something broke long ago
tender neck, brittle bones,
olive branch in the desert.

And how do we make
repairs to the dead?
Straighten the spine,

push rebar through marrow,
sew ring-ed time and bark?
Do we let the wounds lie, hoping

they will close with the hours?
Only the living form scars
and even those burst

-Kohleun Seo (Dec. 30, 2008)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Gaza is in pain

It's the Sunday after Christmas. Carols are still reverberating through our churches and our homes. The Christmas story is fresh in our minds, and we've all been told that the angels sang news of great joy: peace on earth and good will towards men. But in Gaza, as they suffer air-raid after air-raid, I'm sure the message rings a little hollow.

Jewish Peace News writes, "Reports indicate that Israeli air strikes today alone [Dec. 27] have killed 205 People in Gaza and have left over 400 more hurt. These strikes come after several weeks of a tight blockade which left many of Gaza's 1.5-million inhabitants without sufficient food, water, fuel or medicine." They urge Americans to take action and write to their congressmen, their senators, and President-Elect Obama.

Kohleun Seo reflects on watching the news from her home in Arizona:
In the words of Naomi Shihab Nye, "This is not a game. This was never a game."

What can I say as an outsider, watching from afar, caught in a different time zone, peering through news reports? Does anyone hear the bombs, the screams? According to BBC News, today was the most violence-filled day in the history of the Gaza Strip. You would think that would be hard to accomplish. I really don't know what to say right now as I take it all in, sitting on my sofa late at night. Inside I want to scream with each Palestinian woman, man, and child.

Will this day, this year be remembered as another 1948, another 1967? Will next year be different?
And Tabula Gaza has no words.

Brothers and sisters, it's Christmas. A new year is about to start. It isn't enough to want change, or vote for change, we need to be change. Please join me in praying for the fathers and mothers and daughters and sons and husbands and wives and grandmothers, grandfathers, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, friends, lovers, cousins, teachers, mentors, great-grandparents . . . in short, the flesh and blood human beings who are losing their lives and their loved ones right now, today. Don't close your eyes. Don't go back to your carol singing as though no babies are crying behind a wall in Bethlehem or under fire in Gaza. Pray on your knees for justice. For peace. And yes, do write that letter to your congressman.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

B'Tselem Joins Facebook (and you can too =)

I just discovered that B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, has a facebook group. I'm not sure if this is a new development, or if I've just been oblivious. Either way, I encourage you to join. If you happen to be a facebook hater, I exert no pressure (and respect your position), but if you're already a member, this is a good way to dialogue and make connections.

They have a recent news column, and lots of links to related topics (most not posted by B'Tselem, just those interested). They also give an email address ( and offer to respond to any questions.

If you're not already familiar with B'Tselem's work, I strongly suggest you become so. Their website ( is an excellent source of information, whether you want general information, or specific statistics related to home demolition, the separation barrier, Israeli settlements, casualty counts, or related topics.

Here's the blurb from their facebook group, which gives an idea of who they are, and what they do:
B'Tselem is the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The name means "in the image of God" in Hebrew, conveying that we are all born equal.

_________________Our Intentions_______________
We endeavor to educate the Israeli public and policymakers about human rights violations in the OPT, combat the phenomenon of denial prevalent among the Israeli public, and help create a human rights culture in Israel.

As an Israeli organization, B'Tselem acts primarily to change Israeli policy in the OPT and to ensure that its government, which rules these territories, protects the human rights of its residents and complies with its obligations under international law.

________________Shooting Back_________________
In this video project that has been running for the last two years, we distribute video cameras among Palestinians that live in areas of especially high conflict in the OPT, so they can film violations on human rights. The films are used as court evidence. Also, they have become a non-violent weapon that we use to advocate justice, to protect the rights of Palestinians in the OPT, and to show how life under the occupation really is.

_______________Getting Involved__________________
Sign up at our website to get RSS feeds or bi-weekly updates by email (Hebrew or English) on new publications and recent incidents B'Tselem has dealt with.

We'll be happy to answer any questions - by email or here on the wall.
One interesting element of the facebook group (which I haven't found on their website) is a link to videos. Among others, there's the July film clip of a soldier firing a rubber bullet at a bound and blindfolded Palestinian (the event that inspired Amal's "Inappropriate Behavior: the Art of Shooting Blindfolded Palestinians," which I posted back in August). Here's the blurb B'Tselem posted:
On 20 July 2008, B'Tselem was given a video cassette a Palestinian youngster filmed through the window of her home, in Ni’lin. The footage, filmed on 7 July, shows a soldier firing a rubber-coated bullet at a handcuffed, blindfolded Palestinian from almost point-blank range. Several security forces were present, among them a lieutenant-colonel who was holding the Palestinian’s arm when the shot was fired. B'Tselem immediately published the footage and sent a copy to the Military Police Investigation Unit. The media reported that following the airing of the video, the army opened an investigation, and that the Judea and Samaria Division Commander had known about the incident but had taken no action in the matter.

The video was shot by SalamAmira, a Palestinian high school student, from her family home window, in the village of Ni’lin. The ‘Amira family did not earn any material reward for the video, but paid a high price for its brave act. Three days later, the family’s head, Jamal ‘Amira, was arrested at a protest in his olive grove, and was detained for over three weeks.

Following an appeal by Adv. Gabi Laski, Jamal ‘Amira was released on bail. The military appeal judge strongly criticized the handling of the case by the military prosecution, and wrote that: "It is doubtful that the evidence in the case will lead to a conviction". The judge treated seriously the family’s allegation that the arrest was official revenge for the video’s release.
The family is still struggling to pay legal costs.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election Responsibility

Here are some thoughts from Jim Wallis (president of Sojourners), reminding us that responsibility does not end with voting. I think it's also a challenge to look at this election as an opportunity, regardless of political perspective (I am so tired of all the badmouthing -- whatever happened to love, and support, and respect? Especially in faith based circles? Yes, they are politicians, and yes, they are human. Treat accordingly):

A Prayer and Pledge for Real Change

Yesterday’s election represents a watershed moment in the life and history of our country. Regardless of how you voted, our entire nation can celebrate the milestone of our first African-American president. We can all embrace this profound opportunity for deeper racial reconciliation and social justice.

But this is also a moment that demands prophetic leadership and the power of a faith-inspired movement. From the abolition of slavery, to women's suffrage, to civil rights, history shows us that political change happens when social movements push on open doors of political leadership. And the best movements have spiritual foundations.

Please join me in telling President-elect Obama that we will pray for his presidency while also holding him accountable to the promises of a new kind of politics.

This election represents a new and open door for change. However, we know that President Obama will face tremendous pressure and obstacles in pursuing an agenda that addresses the moral imperatives to overcome poverty, develop renewable energy, responsibly withdraw from Iraq, and dramatically reduce the number of abortions.

That is why your commitment is needed now more than ever. We must ensure that the campaign slogan of “change” becomes a new movement for change.

Join us in ensuring that these campaign promises become a reality.

In recent times, religion has been both too narrow and too divisive. The faith community can now play a new role—bringing people together on the biggest moral issues of our time—even across old political divisions.

This election has shown that the era of single-issue voting is over and a broader moral agenda that seeks common ground on moral issues has begun. Members of Black churches, Catholics, evangelicals, Latinos, and mainline Protestants are acting on a broad set of biblical values. I look forward to the day when both poverty reduction and abortion reduction become nonpartisan issues and bipartisan causes.

Please join me in offering President-elect Obama our prayers and our actions as he assumes the responsibility of leading our nation in a very challenging time.


Jim Wallis
President, Sojourners

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Remembering War: the Imperial War Museum

Here's a different perspective on the trip to the Imperial War Museum: Remembering War. Kohleun (the blog's writer) raises questions about why, and what, we remember about war:
In the main room fighter planes hung from the ceiling with huge propellers. Tanks of many shapes parked in various places shone with green paint. And the largest bullet stood straight up, looking to the sky. But this was dwarfed by the massive bomb in the middle of the atrium, visible from all balconies.

And I can't help but think, that is not the stuff of life. Manipulated metal and explosives are not the stuff to base our memories upon.
The above extract is short, but it gives you a sense of her perspective. I was reading through the comments she'd received, and especially liked the following from Michelle:
"Let the sight of rubble be forever present before the leaders' eyes so that the flame of peace will light constructive solutions in their minds."

So can we forget (or forgive) war to the extent that we let go of victim/perpetrator status but remember it to the extent that we are motivated to make peace?
I certainly hope so.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

In Memoriam: The Great War

Youth Mourning by George Clausen (1916)

The 11th of November will be the 90 year anniversary of the armistice of World War I -- a war still remembered, in much of Europe (for its hugeness and its horror), as the Great War.
Whenever the November sky
Quivers with a bugle's hoarse, sweet cry . . .
I remember,
Not the war I fought in
But the one called Great
Which ended in a sepia November
Four years before my birth.
-Vernon Scannell, from The Great War
In September, I went to visit the London Imperial War Museum, where a year-long exhibition, In Memoriam, commemorates this anniversary. It tells (in their own words) the stories of those who lived and died in one of the most gruesome, and costly, conflicts in history:
Lice, rats, barbed wire, fleas, shells, bombs, dug-outs, bodies, alcohol, mice, cats, artillery, FILTH, bullets, death, fire, metal. That's war. It's the Devil's work.
-Otto D., Journal

Day after day the butchery of the unknown by the unseen . . . war has become stupid.
-"Changing Warfare. Some New Developments" (24 Nov. 1914)

From Praematuri:
But we are young, and our friends are dead
Suddenly, and our quick love is torn in two;
So our memories are only hopes that came to nothing.
We are left alone like old men; we should be dead
But there are years and years in which we will still be young.
-Margaret Postgate Cole (1893- 1980)

Aftermath (1919):
Have you forgotten yet?...
For the world’s events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heaven of life; and you’re a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.

But the past is just the same-and War’s a bloody game...
Have you forgotten yet?...
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.

Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz-
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench-
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, ‘Is it all going to happen again?’

Do you remember that hour of din before the attack-
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads-those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet?...
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget.
Siegfried Sassoon
Walking through the permanent World War I galleries, the discrepancies between the propaganda (especially for recruitment) and the reality at the front made me want to simultaneously weep, scream, and be violently, violently, ill. I couldn't stop crying while viewing The Children's War exhibition, and the whole experience left me exhausted and numb.

We need to be reminded. The horrific weight of death. But what does one do with the pain? Is remembering enough?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Quaker Professor's Poetry

"Here are two poems, published by one of my writing and literature professors at George Fox University. You can also find them on Poets Against War.

It’s always about loss,
this kind of epistemology
philosophers regard with dread.
And we can fool ourselves with thinking.
Like the grandfather
I read about recently
who picked up his four-year-old grandson
in two pieces on a Baghdad market street,
after a sudden car bomb there.
And then just yesterday grocery shopping,
concentrating on which broccoli florets to buy,
out of the corner of my eye
a little blond four-year-old girl
is running to the side of my leg
yelling grandpa, grandpa, we saw your car
in the parking lot and knew it was you.
And my son and his beautiful wife
are smiling an aisle away,
near the potatoes and sweet onions,
she holding their year-old daughter
on her hip the way mothers do.
And I’m so happy to see them all there
in one piece that I begin to cry,
like a foolish, foolish old man.

-Ed Higgins

In Baghdad
Silent beneath the women’s wailing
the boxed dead lie like wrapped gifts
to the god grief waiting there
beside open unmarked graves.

Caught in their sorrow sound
these photographed women
sway their silent voices slowly,
like bent minarets of black.

Their eyes sad as charred craters
in the market street. Mothers, wives,
and daughters their naked hands
raised in skeins of grief.

They twist and mourn their war
consumed husbands, sisters,
brothers and children.

So many counted and uncounted
dead they blur a tear-drained land
against a another daylight bomb’s
killing darkness.

In noon’s blood-stained heat
and smoke-lingering light,
graves that keep on filling.

-Ed Higgins

If you're interested in reading more of his poetry, just hit Google. He's everywhere. :)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Belfast Murals

I just got back to Oxford (where I'm currently residing) after spending the weekend with a friend in Belfast. She's in Northern Ireland for the year, working with a local church toward reconciliation and community building. While it was wonderful to see her, and beautiful to see Ireland, I was a bit shocked by the overt support of paramilitary groups still evident in murals throughout the city (particularly on Shankill Road, where I spent over an hour -- just wandering). Though "the Troubles" may be simmering down, it was eerie to see so much hatred and one-sided remembrance of pain. And I had to wonder, how can peace and true healing occur when one side still remembers themselves as heroes, and labels their enemies terrorists?

"He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Revelation 21:4"

"IN THE NAME OF LOVE. 1 John 3:16-18, Eph. 5:1-2, Mark 12:30-31"

"hope. love. forgiveness."

The friend I was visiting has an interesting, and succinct, description of the Troubles on her blogsite.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Kohleun's Bethlehem Poem, Published

So, if you're familiar with my site, you've probably run across Kohleun's name a few times. Her blog, Poems from a Small Place, is filled with wonderful poetry about peace and gender and the small details of living. This summer she visited Palestine, Israel, and Jordan, and much of her recent poetry (such as "A Letter to the President of the United States") was inspired by her trip.

And now for the exciting news: she just had one such poem, "For Those Who Talk to Plants," published by Poets Against War. Go check it out. :)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Words of Jenny Holzer: Visual Art and Exhortation to Scream

The following is by American artist Jenny Holzer, and is part of a display of alternating statements found in London's Tate Modern (which I recently had the pleasure of visiting). While I find her medium (that of words) a fascinating choice for a visual artist, I find the actual words just as interesting. Much of her work (in this particular display) focuses on power, violence, strength, weakness, freedom, and hatred, but it was this piece that I found the most gripping (though not, perhaps, the most jolting). I think it goes hand in hand with some interpretations of the Sermon on the Mount (found in Matthew 5-7) -- an exhortation to force tormentors to recognize the humanity of those they tread on, and the significance of their own actions.



-Jenny Holzer, "Inflammatory Language" (1979-82)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Quote on Peace: George Bernard Shaw

"Peace is not only better than war, but infinitely more arduous."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Inappropriate Behavior: the Art of Shooting Blindfolded Palestinians

Okay, last one, and then I'll try to calm down. This is still from Amal's blog. More fighting words, and yet the world seems to excel at conveniently ignoring the facts:

If You Shoot a Bound and Blindfolded Palestinian in the Foot...

This update is for those who were holding their breath:

The Israeli soldier who shot a bound and blindfolded Palestinian man with a bullet at close range was found guilty of "inappropriate conduct" and was reassigned.

So if you were holding your breath, you can exhale.

I hope now you understand how the occupation works:

If you shoot a bound and blindfolded Palestinian in the foot, your conduct is "inappropriate."

If you shoot a bound and blindfolded Palestinian in the eye, your conduct is "rather inappropriate."

If you shoot a bound and blindfolded Palestinian in the head, your conduct is "really inappropriate."

If you shoot ten bound and blindfolded Palestinians in the foot, eye, and head, your conduct is "very inappropriate."

If you shoot one hundred bound and blindfolded Palestinians in the foot, eye, head, mouth, and genitals, you are a national hero.

In all the above cases, you will be reassigned. Depending on how many you shoot and where you shoot them, there is a good chance you will be reassigned to be Prime Minister or Chief of Staff.

To put things in perspective:

If a Palestinian throws a stone at an Israeli armored tank, his conduct is labeled "criminal" and he is reassigned to an Israeli jail for a few years.

Inhale that!

Fighting Words: the Illegality of Settlements

Wow, wow, wow. The more I read of Amal's blog, the more I want to repost every entry on mine. Here's something to chew on (as Homer [of Iliad and Odyssey fame] might say, "fighting words"):

Repeat After Me: Settlements are Illegal!!

A BBC article about building new Jewish settlements in the Jordan Valley ends with this question:
The future of the Jordan Valley, its Jewish settlements and Palestinian villages, will be decided in a Palestinian-Israeli peace deal. If and when that happens, might there be a way of accommodating both Jasser [the Palestinian farmer] and Yossi [the Isreaeli colonists] in this stunningly beautiful but often hostile strip of land?
Ending the article in this way equates the victim and the thief. Jasser has international law on his side: this land is his land; he owned if for generations and all settlements built under occupation are illegal. Yossi has the power of a colonial state on his side and a god who works in his free time as a real estate agent.

We know who is going to win.

A Palestinian Woman's Blog and Palestinians at the Olympics

Interested in a Palestinian woman's take on life and politics? I would highly recommend you check out Amal A.'s Improvisations blogsite. Her statement of purpose reads:
These are improvisations: neither a manifesto nor a treatise because life is too complicated for either. Yet, I'm improvising as an Arab -- Palestinian -- woman with a progressive point of view always under construction. Since I often find myself caught between anti-Arab racism and arab reactionary politics, both of which threaten to gag me, I'm raising my voice against both, hoping in the process to contribute an improvised note to a progressive Arab blogosphere.
Here is her moving account of watching the Palestinian delegation march into the Olympic opening ceremony:

The Awesome Palestinians

Last night I did something I usually don't do: I planted my eight-year old son in front of the TV and ordered: watch. It was the opening ceremonies of the Olympic games. We watched over two hours of amazing choreography, high-minded symbolism, cute children, huge screens, thousands of performers (basically men doing the heavy lifting and women the pretty dancing). We commented, argued, admired, and shrugged as the spectacle unfolded in front of our comfy sofa.

Then the parade of nations began.

We stopped our snacking and waited.

We blushed when the Bahrain delegation marched holding a picture of the country's leader over the flag. The only people to do so! As my son explained: "they must love their ruler very very much."

We groaned when the commentator described Jordan as a somewhat "progressive country." (define "somewhat")

We snickered when the commentator pointed out that the two women flag bearers for the UAE delegation happened to be the prime minister's daughters (he concluded: "but that maybe a coincident.") (then we fumed for continuing to be the butt of jokes)

We frowned when the Saudi Arabia delegation appeared with no women on it and we had to be reminded that "Saudi women need a male guardian to travel."

We were deeply saddened by the uniforms of the women on the Hungarian delegation.

But we mostly waited.

There were huge nations and small ones (the population of one participating country was 46,000 people). There were bullying and bullied countries. We patiently waited.

Finally, they appeared. The Palestinians.

Now jumping on the sofa, pointing at the screen, and screaming "Palestine, Palestine," my son and I drowned out everything that the commentators said and could hardly focus on the picture. All I remember is this: there were four participants: two runners and two swimmers. The flag bearer was the runner Nader al Masri, who trained in Beit Hanoun, Gaza, during Israeli "incursions." I could see two women dressed in traditional Palestinian dresses. They all walked around the stadium holding hands and raising the victory sign.

They appeared for a few seconds. The Cuban delegation followed and the Palestinians disappeared from the screen.

We know they may not win any medals, but they already won. For despite the occupation, the closed borders, the divisions, the poverty, the misery, the lack of official support, the lack of facilities and the empty promises, they came for Palestine. They had no Olympic-size pools to swim in. They had no shoes or safe roads. They had no budgets. They had to wait for exit permits that may or may not be granted. But they persevered and came.

My son and I cheered for this, not for an abstract nationalism or an "us against them" idea. We cheered for the tenacity of young women and men who insist on dreaming of a better future.

When it was obvious that we will not see more of the Palestinians, we settled down. My son, breathless and flushed with excitement, turned to me and said: "They were awesome!"

Yes, they were: Nader, Ghadeer, Hamse, and Zakiya. We thank you for your awesomeness!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

More Darwish

Visit Behind the Lines for a different translation of Mahmoud Darwish's "Under Siege" and an Al Jazeera film clip on Darwish's legacy (also available on YouTube).

A Tribute for Mahmoud Darwish

The following is from the blog Improvisations:

Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008): Why Did You Leave Us Alone?

The poet is dead. Who will tell the world our story? Who will tell us the stories of the world? He leaves us when we needed him most: when we are no longer heard, when we no longer can see ahead, for our horizons have become prisons.

The poet is dead. No more new poems for us. We have to do with what he left behind. And do we must: for his poems are the oxygen mask that failed him but gets us through our days.

The poet is dead. Words weep. Like us, they know what they have lost. Like us, they have been orphaned, adrift, in a world that has only politicians.

The poet is dead and with him my dream that one day I will hear him live.

The poet is dead. But his poems stay. We will know them better now. We will pour over them and squeeze every word the way we squeeze an olive to get out of it its last drop of goodness.

Goodnight, poet.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Letter to the President of the United States: Regarding the Middle East and Israel

One of my best friends, and favorite poets, recently visited me in Amman, Jordan, gathering research for a Richter's Grant on poetry and peace. During her six-week stay we traveled extensively in Jordan, as well as visiting Bethlehem and Jerusalem (the inspiration for much of my recent blogging). She is keeping a record of some of her thoughts on the experience (as well as her musings on poetry and poets) on one of her blogsites: From Here to There and (Maybe) Back Again. Her other site, devoted entirely to her poetry, is Poems From a Small Place, which I would highly recommend. As I've mentioned before, she tends to focus on the small details of peace and life -- of being and becoming.

This poem is one of her recent ones -- a reflection on her time in the Middle East -- and is posted on From Here to There. Please don't let the length deter you (especially if you don't tend to be a huge fan of poetry); I assure you it is well worth the read.

A Letter to the President of the United States

To the President of the United States:
I am not a politician, or an official diplomat.
I am a university student, a philosopher, a poet,
a theologian, a woman, a novice world traveler,
a feminist, a peacemaker.
I love God, most of the time, and at others, do not know
how to love God, but like any honest
theologian, I must admit I often do not understand
what she/he has in mind for this world,
a world that is both beautiful and broken.
People do many things in the name of “God”
that I also do not understand. Contradiction
is everywhere. And Jesus, let’s not get started
on the things people say about Jesus. I believe
he was God and human, but schizophrenic? Well,
it’s possible. I find it dangerous to talk about
what Jesus could or could not be.

But enough about theology and those confusions.
I recently traveled to the Middle East. My goal
was to speak with women, hear their stories, see
their faces. And from that, write poems about their lives
in their voices, about their homes, their families, their
thoughts, their struggles, their power. Some of these women
were of Jordanian heritage, one an Iraqi, a couple more
Lebanese, most were Palestinian, forced from their homes
and welcomed by Jordan, but Jordan is a small country.
For five and a half weeks, I was based in Amman, and traveled
for too short a time to Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Do you want to know why? Because of peace.

I am sure, Mr. President, that you know Jerusalem
is in Israel, and Bethlehem is in the West Bank.
I am sure you also know the United States gives a disproportionate
amount of funds to the Israeli government to use to their “benefit.”
I think it’s great to live in a country that helps others.
A country that makes friends of other countries.
But true friends hold each other accountable.
True friends do not let each other do harm.
True friends stay close, and ask questions.
True friends treat each other as equals, not spoiled children.

And I mean no disrespect,
but after my visit, I am sure you do not know these women’s
stories. You do not know their land or their voices,
their struggles, their thoughts, their homes,
their families, their power. You do not know Palestinians.
You do not know hot tea with mint, directions from a kind stranger,
breakfast and lunch that could make you pop—all daily
occurrences, not rare kind Arabs. Normal kind Arabs, who are pained
by their rare, violent cousins.

You do not know the empty streets of Bethlehem,
fresh plums—a gift—from a woman in the market whose land
has been taken from her. I am sure, though, you know who
took it. You do not know the horror of a checkpoint gate, the wall,
or how long six hours waiting at the Israel border for wanting to
visit Bethlehem feels. You do not know the humiliation
human beings suffer every day. You do not know the inequity.
You do not know how closely refugee camps resemble the ghettos
of Eastern Europe during the Holocaust of WWII,
how much hurt the Israelis are still facing, and how much healing
I wish I could bring them. You do not know how they remind me
of children who grew up with abusive parents, vowing to never
be like that, but who bruise and batter their children. When they are old,
they cry themselves to sleep, and whisper prayers of regret.

Their children cry too.

Mr. President, do you want to know why I believe you
do not know these things?
Because if you did, if you knew them, they would be different.
You would be different.
Knowing details makes peace possible. Our enemies become
neighbors. People have faces that cannot be blown up.
I do not know your reasons for aiding Israel with such gusto.
Perhaps you wish to help God’s “chosen” people. But aren’t we all?
Perhaps you want to make up for America’s late entry into WWII,
and the masses of human beings with families and wishes who
should not have been treated as they were. But is this the way to do that?
Won’t our next generation have a debt to pay the Palestinians?
Perhaps you want Americans to feel safe from Arabs. But aren’t we
more afraid?
Again, I do not know, and I am sure it is complicated.

Perhaps we should make it simple again.
I will make a few things
simple for you.
I do not support any violence Palestinians inflict, on anyone.
I do not support any violence Israelis inflict, on anyone.
I do not support any violence Americans inflict, on anyone.
I do not support any violence any humans inflict, on anyone.
I do support the kindness of Israelis. The kindness of Arabs.
The kindness of Americans. The kindness of humanity.
I do not want tax money that comes from my paycheck, that I
have earned in peaceable ways, to go toward the systematic
destruction of lives, those of Arabs or Israelis or Americans.
When we are no longer inspired by the humanity of our neighbors,
something has been destroyed. Many Israelis have been destroyed,
as they destroy Palestinians. And the United States pays for this.
Is that being a good friend?

This is the United States’ conflict. We are involved.
This, quite simply, must stop.
Mr. President, what have you done this week to bring peace
among Israel, Palestine, and the United States?
I will ask again next week. And the week after that. Like the mother
in Bethlehem who will wait 500 years for her son’s prison sentence to end,
I will keep asking, until we are free. Until we have peace.
Salaam, Peace, Shalom.

Respectfully and with great hope,

Kohleun A.

A poem for Palestine by Mahmoud Darwish

Under Siege
Here on the slopes of hills, facing the dusk and the cannon of time
close to the gardens of broken shadows,
we do what prisoners do,
and what the jobless do:
We cultivate hope.


A country preparing for dawn. We grow less intelligent
for we closely watch the hour of victory:
No night in our night lit up by the shelling
our enemies are watchful and light the light for us
in the darkness of cellars.


Here there is no "I".
Here Adam remembers the dust of his clay.


On the verge of death, he says:
I have no trace left to lose:
Free I am so close to my liberty. My future lies in my own hand.
Soon I shall penetrate my life,
I shall be born free and parentless,
and as my name I shall choose azure letters...


You who stand in the doorway, come in,
drink Arabic coffee with us
and you will sense that you are men like us
you who stand in the doorways of houses
come out of our morningtimes,
we shall feel reassured to be
men like you!


When the planes disappear, the white, white doves
fly off and wash the cheeks of heaven
with unbound wings taking radiance back again, taking possession
of the ether and of play. Higher, higher still, the white, white doves
fly off. Ah, if only the sky
were real (a man passing between two bombs said to me).


Cypresses behind the soldiers, minarets protecting
the sky from collapse. Behind the hedge of steel
soldiers piss—under the watchful eye of a tank—
and the autumnal day ends its golden wandering in
a street as wide as a church after Sunday mass...


(To a killer) If you had contemplated the victim’s face
and thought it through, you would have remembered your mother in the
gas chamber, you would have been freed from the reason for the rifle
and you would have changed your mind: this is not the way
to find one’s identity again.


The siege is a waiting period
waiting on the tilted ladder in the middle of the storm.


Alone, we are alone as far down as the sediment
were it not for the visits of the rainbows.


We have brothers behind this expanse.
Excellent brothers. They love us. They watch us and weep.
Then, in secret, they tell each other:
"Ah! if this siege had been declared..." They do not finish their sentence:
"Don’t abandon us, don’t leave us."


Our losses: between two and eight martyrs each day.
And ten wounded.
And twenty homes.
And fifty olive trees...
Added to this the structural flaw that
will arrive at the poem, the play, and the unfinished canvas.


A woman told the cloud: cover my beloved
for my clothing is drenched with his blood.


If you are not rain, my love
be tree
sated with fertility, be tree
If you are not tree, my love
be stone
saturated with humidity, be stone
If you are not stone, my love
be moon
in the dream of the beloved woman, be moon
(So spoke a woman
to her son at his funeral)


Oh watchmen! Are you not weary
of lying in wait for the light in our salt
and of the incandescence of the rose in our wound
are you not weary, oh watchmen?


A little of this absolute and blue infinity
would be enough
to lighten the burden of these times
and to cleanse the mire of this place.


It is up to the soul to come down from its mount
and on its silken feet walk
by my side, hand in hand, like two longtime
friends who share the ancient bread
and the antique glass of wine
may we walk this road together
and then our days will take different directions:
I, beyond nature, which in turn
will choose to squat on a high-up rock.


On my rubble the shadow grows green,
and the wolf is dozing on the skin of my goat
he dreams as I do, as the angel does
that life is here...not over there.


In the state of siege, time becomes space
transfixed in its eternity
In the state of siege, space becomes time
that has missed its yesterday and its tomorrow.


The martyr encircles me every time I live a new day
and questions me: Where were you? Take every word
you have given me back to the dictionaries
and relieve the sleepers from the echo’s buzz.


The martyr enlightens me: beyond the expanse
I did not look
for the virgins of immortality for I love life
on earth, amid fig trees and pines,
but I cannot reach it, and then, too, I took aim at it
with my last possession: the blood in the body of azure.


The martyr warned me: Do not believe their ululations
believe my father when, weeping, he looks at my photograph
How did we trade roles, my son, how did you precede me.
I first, I the first one!


The martyr encircles me: my place and my crude furniture are all that I have changed.
I put a gazelle on my bed,
and a crescent of moon on my finger
to appease my sorrow.


The siege will last in order to convince us we must choose an enslavement that does no harm, in fullest liberty!


Resisting means assuring oneself of the heart’s health,
the health of the testicles and of your tenacious disease:
The disease of hope.


And in what remains of the dawn, I walk toward my exterior
And in what remains of the night, I hear the sound of footsteps inside me.


Greetings to the one who shares with me an attention to
the drunkenness of light, the light of the butterfly, in the
blackness of this tunnel!


Greetings to the one who shares my glass with me
in the denseness of a night outflanking the two spaces:
Greetings to my apparition.


My friends are always preparing a farewell feast for me,
a soothing grave in the shade of oak trees
a marble epitaph of time
and always I anticipate them at the funeral:
Who then has died...who?


Writing is a puppy biting nothingness
Writing wounds without a trace of blood.


Our cups of coffee. Birds green trees
in the blue shade, the sun gambols from one wall
to another like a gazelle
the water in the clouds has the unlimited shape of what is left to us
of the sky. And other things of suspended memories
reveal that this morning is powerful and splendid,
and that we are the guests of eternity.

-Mahmoud Darwish

The Death of Palestinian "National Poet" Mahmoud Darwish

"Darwish is the essential breath of the Palestinian people, the eloquent witness of exile and belonging." -Naomi Shihab Nye
(quoted in a Yahoo! News article on Darwish's death)

Mahmoud Darwish, once described as the Palestinian poet of exile, died Saturday (Aug. 9th) at the age of 67.

For access to his website, portions of his poetry, and an article on his life, take a look at Jewish Peace News: Mahmoud Darwish (I highly recommend that you do so).

Writer (and poet) Nathalie Handal writes:
On many occasions [Darwish] has expressed the notion that only poetry can bring harmony to a world devastated by war: "Against barbarity, poetry can resist only by confirming its attachment to human fragility like a blade of grass growing on a wall while armies march by," he has written. I ask him if he still believes that.

"I thought poetry could change everything, could change history and could humanize, and I think that the illusion is very necessary to push poets to be involved and to believe," he responds, "but now I think that poetry changes only the poet."

Darwish died an honored poet of peace and a man of hope.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Ahlan wa Sahlan — the gift of hospitality

I post this here for Um and Abu Ahmed, who shared their beautiful home, their tears of grief, their mint, and their tea. May they who welcomed strangers find welcome in return.

Red Brocade

The Arabs used to say,
When a stranger appears at your door,
feed him for three days
before asking who he is,
where he's come from,
where he's headed.
That way, he'll have strength
enough to answer.
Or, by then you'll be
such good friends
you don't care.

Let's go back to that.
Rice? Pine nuts?
Here, take the red brocade pillow.
My child will serve water
to your horse.

No, I was not busy when you came!
I was not preparing to be busy.
That's the armor everyone put on
to pretend they had a purpose
in the world.

I refuse to be claimed.
Your plate is waiting.
We will snip fresh mint
into your tea.

-Naomi Shihab Nye
from 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East

Monday, July 28, 2008

Bethlehem: the things that made me cry [the stonecutter's family]

A faded tattoo dots her chin. Blue. The color of air and water. Life and pain.

The soldiers do not see her garden. Do not recognize her mint. The cups of tea she gives to all her guests. The Bedouin coffee in small mugs. Just a taste of cardamon. A welcome gift.

Her husband speaks softly in his throat. Hobbles on two legs, mismatched (only one is flesh). Coos softly to his doves. His baby sheep. His goats. His gazelle with the soft brown eyes. Calls them his children. Watches them grow.

He builds with his hands. Cuts stone and polishes wood. Erects a house. Piece by piece by piece. Lovingly, he creates beauty from the dust. The ashes.

He knows the guards will come again. Tomorrow. The next day. Or the next. The soldiers with the bulldozers and the trucks. The settlers with their guns. Tear his life apart. The furniture, carved and polished with his gnarled fingers. The paintings on the walls. Of a different Palestine; a peaceful Palestine. Will crush the stones beneath their feet -- machine and human. Will leave nothing but rubble. Where her dishes used to hang. Her cupboards. Her tea.

They know it will happen, because it has always happened before. Three times they have rebuilt. Three times he has cut rocks for his walls. Three times he has polished wood for his bed. But still he does not despair. Still he builds for beauty. They can tear our homes apart, he says, but not our souls. Never our souls.

She speaks with tears in her eyes. Of her life. Of her family. Talks of her sons. Every mother, she says, loves her children. Wants to see them grow old. Survive her. Know happiness and joy. Already she has watched one die. Another lives in an Israeli prison. His sentence: five-hundred years, and to never see his son -- never kiss his cheeks in greeting, never scare the monsters from beneath his bed. Her last child sleeps in the adjoining room. Gone for years -- just released. They are building him a home attached to theirs. They want to never let him go.

This woman with her mint, this man with his soft voice -- they are the enemy. Because he worked for the PLO; believed in a free Palestine. Because her sons threw stones.

And yet they testify to hope. To humanity. To perseverance and the creation of beauty. He says they live, waiting for God to come.

Our guide introduced him as a man with a powerful spirit. As a friend.

We left them amid their stones.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Father Joe: a look at war and peace, love and hate

My older brother (giver of good books) recently entrusted me with a copy of Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul -- one of his favorite texts. The book recounts a powerful journey of faith, but most of all, it demonstrates the awesome, subtle, and transforming power of love.

About halfway through the book, Tony Hendra (the author) and Father Joe discuss militarism and the destructive power of hate. Hendra is a teenager at the time, and filled with a teenager's black-and-white conviction. I think I hear myself (a little too much) in his anger and his judgment:
"Father Joe, I believe that war is not just some neutral thing that happens, like the weather. War is sin committed by certain people. A certain kind of person will always try to find ways around the Fifth Commandment because of their terrible need to kill. These men are called 'soldiers.' They exist in any tribe, nation, empire, or superpower, and wherever they're found, they're the same murderous parasites. People whose lives can only be fulfilled by crushing the life out of another. They call themselves heroes but they're actually diabolical lunatics who arrogate to themselves the power that belongs to God alone -- the power to end life."

"You could be right, Tony dear, about military men and their motives. But you must remember: military men too are children of God, loved by God, candidates for salvation. Even mass murderers, if they want forgiveness and reach out for it, can be forgiven."

"They don't want forgiveness, Father Joe. They hate forgiveness. It prevents war. They're a brotherhood that cuts across all beliefs, all causes, all interests, all politics, all patriotisms. Their greatest enemy is not, as they argue, another nation's military, for it is another nation's miliary that gives them their raison d'etre. Their true enemy is us, people of peace, like this boy called Piggy in The Lord of the Flies who resists death and embraces life, who doesn't want to murder or to die. And whom the soldiers of the tribe therefore murder . . ."

"Tony, dear, you sound angry. Very angry. Like a military man speaking with hate of his enemy. War involves terrible sins, and it arises more often than not from hate. But you can't conquer one sin with another, hate with more hate. It only makes hate stronger. Love alone can conquer hate."

He took my hand between his. The usual warmth flowed into me, and as I relaxed I realized how pumped up I'd been, how cold and hard and alien I had made myself to get my point across. How in some way I could not discern, dishonest.

". . . Remember: God's grief at the unspeakable things we do to one another is beyond measuring, but so is his mercy. It might seem a terrible thing to say to people who've lost and suffered so much at the hands of hatred and violence. But true courage is not to hate our enemy, any more than to fight and kill him. To love him, to love in the teeth of his hate -- that is real bravery. That ought to earn people m-m-medals."

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Schindler's List

I put my hand over my mouth.
I tremble in silence

for the absence; for the ash
for the scalding, burning,
grief of remembrance

I put my hand over my mouth.

* * *

"The list is an absolute good. The list is life. All around its margins lies the gulf."

I watched it again today: Schindler's List. It's very possibly the most powerful movie -- the most powerful story -- I've ever encountered.

And it's true.

I'm overwhelmed by the weight again. The horror. Who am I to say this is wrong, or this is right? Who am I to say anything at all?

The furnaces. The ghetto. The children. And a man crying for one more life. Just one more.

May God forgive me for my arrogance.

"He who saves a single life, saves the world entire."


Jesus wept. (John 11:35)

Tears on a Sunday

Risen unbidden
For those left behind

A steady stream of out of focus faces

Bathed in them, immersed in them
Scorched by them
Scorned by them
As by the Ghibhilli Wind raging beyond the window

Each tear drop contains an image
A twain-ness of opposites
OF what IS and what still MIGHT BE

Christ, too, weeps within and behind me
His hands secured to wood cannot reach them.

But mine can in His name.

-Rev. Maria Shepherdson
From Both Sides Now: Auschwitz to Palestine

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city,
he wept over it. (Luke 19:41)

(the church built to commemorate Christ's weeping)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Bethlehem: the things that made me cry [the Intercontinental]

The hotel sits empty. White stone and glowing candle light.

Survivor of two world wars and a hundred years of human history, it contains an elegance that only age can bring. A grace earned by living. By surviving.

Inside, the night smells of jasmine. Running water. Bright hibiscus. Beauty within walls. In the face of perseverance.

The ceilings are high. Chandeliers and Arab glass. Art and carved stone.

Each table setting is ready. Waiting. Blue goblets, elegant silver, fine china.

But there is only silence.

How does one carry on? Keep waiting, day after day.

Is it through faith? Or hope? Or love?

What grants this kind of courage? To maintain beauty in the midst of nothingness? To prepare each table every night, when no guests come?

For who would want the hassle? Six hours in line to come to the West Bank, when it is so easy, so simple, to stay on the Israeli side. To see only what the soldiers tell you to. Want you to. To know nothing of Palestinian courage. Of beauty that defies violence.

If Christ can be manifest in a building, he was there that night, at the Intercontinental. There in the relentless clinging to hope -- the rejection of despair. There in the waiting and the faith.

Bethlehem: the things that made me cry [the woman and her plums]

A woman selling plums. Sitting in the dirt, with her beautiful Palestinian brocade. The traditional garment of a loving, laughing, people.

Our guide calls her 'haji' -- a term of respect. A recognition of her age. Of her dignity.

He asks her where she's from. She tells him the name of her village. A village cut off by the wall. She shows us her plums. Picked that day from her trees. Her beloved trees, growing on land that was always hers. Now separated by concrete and guards.

She had so many once. Trees growing strong and tall. Now there are only two.

She stood in line for hours. To exit the gate. To pick her fruit. To return and sell them here, in the dirt. She does it every day, she says. It's a long process; a hard fight. But what is she to do? The trees are all she has.

Like children, they are loved for being hers. For existing.

We turn to leave. She presses the dark plums into our palms, like a blessing.

Or a prayer.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Exclusion and Embrace: the Mechanics of Oppression

This poem is a somewhat-companion to my last post. Though rather flawed, the element that really struck me when I first read it -- and that continues to strike me -- is the theme of distance. And how distance breeds hate and violence. Without human contact, it's easy to stop believing in the humanity of the other. And when the other is not human, or at least not as fully human as you believe yourself to be, oppression ceases to be difficult.

It is for this reason that the separation barrier is so terrifying.

Another note: Shepherdson states "Faceless voices make demands/ Travellers scarce could hear." We found this VERY true, and very odd, on our recent trip to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. At checkpoints, guards sit in glass boxes, far removed from the traveler, and it is almost impossible to hear their instructions. We pondered the reason for this on our trip, but couldn't seem to understand. It's inefficient and extremely frustrating. However, it does serve one purpose: it separates the Israeli from the Palestinian, and keeps contact and communication to a bare minimum.

As one (Arab?) proverb states: what we do not know, we fear; what we fear, we hate.


Concrete-clad confinement cells
Iron rails and turn styles
Sheds and bars and wire and rocks
Line the lonely mile

Faceless voices make demands
Travellers scarce could hear
Distance, planned, enforces space
No human contact near.

Compassion, bred from guarding eyes
Purely duty calls.

Withdraw the contact of the eyes
In airport hanger halls
And men become a processed part.

Without this window on human hearts
It's easier to number us
Than face, the hurt, the pain, the loss of those who
mirror now the past
To those descended from Holocaust

Yet surely some must wonder
As they rend Arab homes asunder
Why they comply in genocide
Of Palestinian hearts and mind.
And surely some who've heard the tales of apartheid
And Robyn Island jails
Must question in their silent hearts
Why scraggy donkeys pull decrepit carts
On dusty roads and potholed 'mac
The poor, who break their ragged backs, and
Cling to Gaza's desert tracks, their homeland?

And surely we must question why
This land turns into nibbled cheese
And check points fear and barricades
And mortar fire and bullet littered streets
Are all their lives entail
In Gaza's cramped and foetid jail.

-Rev. Maria Shepherdson
From Both Sides Now

Crossing the border into the West Bank

Bethlehem. What to say about Bethlehem?

It took us six hours to cross the border. Six hours. Because we told them -- the guards behind their glass walls -- that we wanted to see Bethlehem.

There was no bathroom at the checkpoint. Hundreds of Palestinians, waiting in long lines, and no bathroom. Crying babies. Crying mothers. Crying children -- too old to use diapers, too young to understand.

Israel is one of the most advanced nations in the world. It's wealthy. It's efficient. And yet, it took the soldiers hours to process a single family. After each individual was questioned, and prodded, and finally given the okay, the guards would take a break, and leave the others waiting.

A man in the line next to ours asked: Do you see? This is what we go through. Every day. Because we are Palestinian.

It was hard not to get angry. Not for myself. After all, this is not my life. I am not trapped in this hell of lines and questions and guards. I will spend my few days in their country, and then I will leave. But angry for the people around me. For the pointless chaos, and hassle, and tears. For the degradation of begging your enemy for the dignity of a toilet.

The woman behind us -- with her blue Chicago Cubs baseball hat, and crying baby girl -- was American. Palestinian-American, but still American. But they do not care here. It is not the color of your passport that concerns them, but the color of your blood. The ethnicity you can't hide.

I want to yell at the guards who come near us. Want to slap their faces. Want to shake them out of their complicity. Don't you see? -- I want to yell -- don't you see they're human?

But so are the soldiers. With their young-scared-children faces. With their strawberry colored hair and new uniforms.

It's our first day, one girl says, shaking her head apologetically. She looks so lost. I want to tell her it's alright. That I understand she can't help us. But I don't. Because won't that be aiding and abetting the enemy?

So I say nothing. Show my stony-faced disapproval.

And so doing, separate my humanity just a little more from hers. Add to the war of "us" versus "them." Of dehumanization and separation. Of walls and glass prisons.

I fail to extend love. I fail to be Christ.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Jews who will not celebrate Israel's anniversary

On Wednesday April 30th, 2008, this letter, written and signed by U.K. Jews (some who were once Israeli citizens) was published in The Guardian. It details why some Jews will not, cannot, celebrate Israel's anniversary.

We're not celebrating Israel's anniversary --

In May, Jewish organisations will be celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel. This is understandable in the context of centuries of persecution culminating in the Holocaust. Nevertheless, we are Jews who will not be celebrating. Surely it is now time to acknowledge the narrative of the other, the price paid by another people for European anti-semitism and Hitler's genocidal policies. As Edward Said emphasised, what the Holocaust is to the Jews, the Naqba is to the Palestinians.

In April 1948, the same month as the infamous massacre at Deir Yassin and the mortar attack on Palestinian civilians in Haifa's market square, Plan Dalet was put into operation. This authorised the destruction of Palestinian villages and the expulsion of the indigenous population outside the borders of the state. We will not be celebrating.

In July 1948, 70,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes in Lydda and Ramleh in the heat of the summer with no food or water. Hundreds died. It was known as the Death March. We will not be celebrating.

In all, 750,000 Palestinians became refugees. Some 400 villages were wiped off the map. That did not end the ethnic cleansing. Thousands of Palestinians (Israeli citizens) were expelled from the Galilee in 1956. Many thousands more when Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza. Under international law and sanctioned by UN resolution 194, refugees from war have a right to return or compensation. Israel has never accepted that right. We will not be celebrating.

We cannot celebrate the birthday of a state founded on terrorism, massacres and the dispossession of another people from their land. We cannot celebrate the birthday of a state that even now engages in ethnic cleansing, that violates international law, that is inflicting a monstrous collective punishment on the civilian population of Gaza and that continues to deny to Palestinians their human rights and national aspirations.

We will celebrate when Arab and Jew live as equals in a peaceful Middle East.

To see the article in its original context, and view the names of those who signed, go here.

To view the article in a different context, and read more about Israel's 60th anniversary, visit Jewish Peace News (the specific article is about halfway down the page, dated May 1st).

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Israeli views of the wall

The Israeli side of the wall: clean, sterile, and devoid of "unpleasantness."

"Peace Be With You"

The separation barrier, in Bethlehem.

Pictures from my recent trip.

The wall: six to eight meters (20-26 feet) in height

Hope, amidst violence and pain.

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." -MLK Jr.

"Say No!"
To what, exactly? Violence? Occupation? The separation barrier? Dehumanization? Fear?

"Here is a wall at which to weep"

Bethlehem, encircled

"Know Hope"

"Freedom for Everyone"

"This is for the broken confessions lost in translation."

"No Walls"

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted"

"We are all Palestinians"

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Place a Pebble

Place a pebble on a gravestone and remember
6 million individual holocausts
1 Holocaust of 6 million
For every life taken on the journey
add another
For every life given to protect the weak and innocent
add another

For the few soldiers who said
"I won't"
And died add one more

One more
For all who survive with the pain of memories
For those who cannot take a train journey or a shower
Visit a doctor
Hear a door bang
Or a 100 thousand daily mediocrities without being jolted
back to hell

For those who perpetuated the evil
and felt remorse

For those who still believe that what
they did was right

For those who could remain un-
touched by what they saw

For standers-by unwilling to speak
out when it began

For those whose love of God
grew stronger
And faith remained a strength
to those around them
For those who were the Face of
God to others
For those whose faith was
weakened or destroyed
For those who felt abandoned
For those to whom God is dead

For the pain of separation
Broken bands of selection
Terror and calmness
and acceptance

For those who starved
and thirsted yet shared
their meagre scraps with

For the Judas who sold a Jew
A gay, a communist, a Roma
A brain damaged child,
For goodwill, bread or freedom,
Place a pebble and remember.

-Rev. Maria Shepherdson
From Both Sides Now: Poems for the Journey -- Auschwitz to Palestine

Both Sides Now: Introduction

Here is the introduction from Rev. Maria Shepherdson's From Both Sides Now: Poems for the Journey -- Auschwitz to Palestine:
The peoples of the Holy Land are held very close to my heart and in prayers before God. The situation they face is complex in the extreme and all peoples, Israeli, Palestinian, Arab, Jew, Christian, and Muslim, suffer.

The poems offered in this book are those written at two significant moments of discovery. The first at Auschwitz, tracing a Belgian family lost in the Holocaust, when I discovered the true meaning of God with His people and what it means to be part of God's family in Christ. I also understood more fully the 614th commandment and determination to survive that prevails amongst Jews in Israel: a determination strengthened by anti-Semitism through the ages and the Shoah in particular.

The second was during a visit to the Holy Land, teacher training in Gaza, where I witnessed the fear and pain of the Palestinian people, their suffering and their wish to survive and thrive. A wish that echoes that of their Israeli brothers and sisters.

Most of all I understood the deep hurt caused to Christian Palestinians, forbidden the right to travel and worship at the Holy Places of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

These poems reflect one person's journey of discovery. As you read them I ask you not to take sides but to hold all the pain of all peoples in the Holy Land up to God. Hold them before Christ who weeps over Jerusalem still and pray earnestly for peace.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Both Sides Now: Auschwitz to Palestine

While at Bethlehem Bible College this past week, I picked up a booklet of poetry about the Holocaust and the Gaza strip. It's called From Both Sides Now: Poems for the Journey -- Auschwitz to Palestine, and is written by Rev. Maria Shepherdson.

The inscription on the cover reads: "Unless you see from both sides of the divide you cannot begin to travel a mile in the other person's shoes. Unless you travel that mile your prayers will always be one dimensional when they need to be all encompassing, all embracing."

When I first opened the book at random, I found myself reading the second half of a haunting poem. Haunting because it speaks of a complicated reality. A reality that I can't quite fit my mind around. A reality where there are no monsters -- no convenient orcs to demonize -- but only humans. Humans that can love and hate, kiss and kill.

I wish I could swear I would have been different, had I been there. That I would have been one of the few, risking my life to save another. Not having lived through it, we all believe it to be true: we would have been different. But what are we doing now, today, about Bethlehem? About Gaza? About the ghettos and the walls?

It's not the same. We say it's not the same. No one's dying. At least, not to the same degree. This isn't a holocaust. It's just a protective barrier. A war against terrorism.

How quickly words protect us from the truth.

What scares me, is that the Holocaust was not an act of creation: something out of nothing. It was a process. A slow road of dehumanization. A separation of "us" from "them". Stereotyping and demonizing. And when you build a wall, and allow your young boys to carry guns (as though there were rabid dogs roaming the street -- dangerous and savage), and implement collective punishment, and deny a race of humans their rights to lawyers and courts and laws and justice, where does the road lead? Where has it already led? Sabra, Shatila, Hebron, Bethlehem.

May God have mercy on a generation that has looked, is still looking, the other way . . .

* * *

(the last four stanzas are my favorite)

Where is God?

Christ carries His cross
And five Arimethean Joseph's lift the timbers off his lacerated back
Themselves torn apart by grief, hunger, angry pain and

The boots were stolen from one who became smoke
Consumed by flames in the giant bakery of the enemy
It did not lessen the sickening thud of impact
Nor make the bruises less waspish in intensity

The foot belonged to a fellow Jew
A human whose humanity had long ago been traded for an extra crust
A chance to survive
Through serving a whimsical master-overseer of Life and
One more day in a hell marginally less hellish than for others.

The voice that shrills a threat
Has also cooed and chortled to a child
And whispered love nothings to a wife
Spoke out the texts
And prayers
In Church

The eye that witnessed such degradation
Without being moved to pity or protest
Once wept for the death of a wounded bird.

And Which would we have been

Christ crucified
Josephs petrified
The booted dehumanised
The watcher desensitised?

-Rev. Maria Shepherdson

Palestinian-Israeli Basketball Rules (Hilarious and Sobering)

Humor, at its best, is humor that is provocative and challenging. It strips you of your defenses, and allows you to view an old issue with new eyes. The satire in this article, which paints a vivid picture of the absurd abuse taking place in Israel (absurd because it is so severe, and so overlooked), does that exceptionally well:

New Basketball Rules in the Middle East
Yasser Jordan, BNN's Sports Editor, 8 February 2006

The International Basketball Federation (FIBA) has directed its Middle East commission to implement fifteen new rule changes from March 1. Regarding the use of a smaller ball for midget basketball, the commision for midget basketball events will consider the matter in April before the Central Board takes a final decision, according to a statement from Michael Lebanon, FIBA secretary general. The statement said rule changes proposed by the Technical Commission in December 2005 were accepted by FIBA Central Board.

Following are the rule changes:

Rule 1: Israelis have the right to play on both sides of the court, whereas Palestinians can only play on their own side.

Rule 2: For security reasons Palestinians do not have the right to pass the ball between players, the ball could hit an Israeli player.

Rule 3: There will be no basket on the Israeli side.

Rule 4: Israel is allowed to shoot at any time even during time-outs.

Rule 5: Palestinians are not allowed to have supporters. Only Israelis should be supported.

Rule 6: Israel selects the sports press writers and what the they reports:

Rule 7: Israel encourages Palestinians to shoot into the Palestinian basket. Players who refuse will be nominated as terrorists and will not be allowed to play.

Rule 8: Palestinian players are allowed to leave the field, but cannot return. One exception: A Palestinian can be replaced by an Israeli.

Rule 9: Israel selects and instructs the referees, and tells them when to look away.

Rule 10: Israel selects the captain of the Palestinian team.

Rule 11: Israeli faults and Palestinian good plays will not be shown on TV.

Rule 12: Israel takes the money which sponsors pay to Palestinians clubs.

Rule 13: Only Israeli players get refreshments.

Rule 14: Palestinians are required to play, when and where designated by Israel.

Rule 15: Rules only apply to Palestinians, Israelis may change the rules during the game and are not required to advise the Palestinians of the changes.

Al-Bassaleh and BNN are satirical. Disclaimer.

Visiting the West Bank

I just returned from a trip into Israel, visiting Bethlehem and Jerusalem. There are so many things to say, so many stories to tell, that I don't know where to start. So I will begin with a letter written by a dear friend. A friend I was traveling with, and who was encountering the Middle East for the first time:
Everybody, friends, as the Arabs would call you even if they just met you,

I am sitting in the guest house of Bethlehem Bible College paying ten shekels an hour for internet (about 3 USD).

And I have something very important to tell you, something that must be shared.

I have received nothing but kindness and welcome from Arabs (mostly Palestinians in Jordan and here in Bethlehem). Complete strangers have had us in for tea and stories. Young women whom I have never met come to the Magnusons' home to visit Karith and me, and they leave telling us to call them anytime we want help around the city. A woman selling plums in Bethlehem would not let us leave her little square of sidewalk (she just sat on the stone) without plums from her trees free of charge. Friends of our guide just randomly gave us peaches as we walked down the street. The silversmith engraved my bracelet (I asked him to inscribe "SALAM") out of kindness, then visited and offered us tea and juice. A family in the refugee camp gave us tea and a place to sit in the home they have rebuilt and beautified (I have never seen stonework done by hand like this) with their bare hands -- three times. Our guide introduced us to two women and translated on his own time, and he too offered his help just a phone call away.

After six hours of being hassled at the Israeli border because we told them we were planning to visit Bethlehem (we got just a taste of what the Palestinians go through day to day), I was standing by the bus to Jerusalem, and a woman in hijab walked up to me. "Where are you going?" she asked. "To Jerusalem," I replied, a bit unsure why she was asking. "We are also going to Jerusalem. You can sit with us on the bus, if you would like. You can ride with us."

And what have all these people told me they want? Peace. Salam.

What do they have? Some could say nothing. But they tell me, "Amel," hope.

Thank you, everybody for listening to my rant.

Ma Salaama (with peace/Arabic "good-bye")