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What if Eric and Suheir Had a Chance to Talk?
Bethelehem, Dheisheh, and Sderot: July 29 and 30

Bethlehem Prison

Today was devoted to Bethlehem and the surrounding environs. The drive to Bethlehem was interesting in itself; I previously had no concept of how compact this land is. If it weren't for the checkpoints, I wouldn't have been able to tell that we had left the Jerusalem suburbs. Of course, this is because Bethlehem and Jerusalem have been connected for millennia. Trade, travel, and family between the two cities have traditionally been intertwined, but now Israel's apartheid wall, checkpoints, and permit system have made these age-old traditions a thing of the past for Palestinians.

We went to Wi'am, a community center dedicated to uplifting the citizens of Bethlehem through empowering women, youth activities, conflict transformation education, and providing mediation services. From Wi'am's office we had what must have, at one time, been a lovely view of hills speckled with olive trees. However, the view was scarred by the apartheid wall and a large Israeli settlement creeping ever closer to Bethlehem. This view gave me a new perspective on Israel's occupation, I felt surrounded, watched, and reminded of the fact that the people of Bethlehem live at the whim of the Israeli state-military apparatus. Our delegation will only spend one day in Bethlehem, I cannot imagine what this view, this perspective of powerlessness, must be like for those who call Bethlehem home.

After Wi'am, we toured the Church of the Nativity and many of us prayed at the site of Jesus' birth. However, our visit to this holy place was not all quite reflection, we met a member of the city council who related his tale of being under siege in the Church in 2002, when 23 of the over 200 people seeking refuge from an Israeli invasion were killed by sniper fire.

The second part of our day was dedicated to learning more about Palestinian refugees. Our delegation met with a representative from Badil, the Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights. After learning about Palestinian refugees from a legal and historical perspective, we went to see the real thing, touring the Deheisheh Refugee Camp and Al-Feneiq (the Phoenix) Cultural Center. At Al-Feneiq, we spent over two hours with a Nakba survivor. Our host was a policeman in Jaffa prior to the founding of Israel and fondly reminisced on his mixed police academy class and his Jewish friends, before he was removed to a "Palestinian area" in 1948. Hearing this old man tell us about the harsh differences between the days in his twenties when he lived in harmony with his Jewish, Christian, and Muslim neighbors, and his life today as a refugee living in a cramped camp with only intermittent utility service, literally clinging to an Ottoman-issued document that certified his family's ownership of property which he is no longer allowed to visit made painfully clear the reality of Israel's apartheid policies. This man, who devoted his young life to protecting Jaffans of all religious and ethnic backgrounds, was forcibly removed from his home to a camp in an area that he had no connection to, and can now only share his heritage and memories of an integrated life with his children through his poetry, and a deed to a house that has been occupied by Israelis for 62 years.

--Katherine Fuchs

Passionate Tears…and Intellectual Clarity

Two powerful experiences from yesterday occupy my mind and heart.

As we prepared to spend the night at the Deheisheh Refugee Camp, we listened to a dynamic camp resident, a woman named Suheir tell of her own experiences as one born in that camp, married there and one who has raised her children there. With a combination of fiery anger and passionate tears, she made real for us the awful reality of the Israeli occupation which has meant soldiers arriving under the cover of darkness to invade homes, humiliate parents in front of their children, murder young people and leave a trail of blood and terror throughout the camp. While American leaders turn their eyes away from the horror of the occupation and close their ears to the cries of the Palestinians, Suheir called on us to move beyond witnessing the impact of the occupation to actually doing something -- boycotting Israeli products and boycotting products made by American companies that support and help enable to occupation. Certainly that is the least we can do!

The second experience was listening to Zoughbi Zoughbi, the founder of the Wi'am Palestinian Conflict Resolution Centre. This is the third time I have heard him speak and each time I am amazed at his intellectual clarity, his gentle spirit and his unshakeable commitment to nonviolent activism. If Suheir brought the occupation to life with the stories of her personal experiences, Zoughbi Zoughbi did so with a long list of frightening statistics and accounts of how the occupation is destroying the fabric of Palestinian families. But he refused to let despair shut the door of hope -- he kept returning to images of the success of Martin Luther King, Jr. and of the nonviolent liberation of South Africa.

Somehow we need to combine Suheir's fiery anger and Zoughbi Zoughbi's hope for nonviolent change as we seek to end Israel's illegal and immoral occupation and colonization of Palestine.

--Jerry Stinson

"I Am A Refugee in My Own Country"
as told by Suheir - Deheisheh Refugee Camp

Why have us suffer?
All the time we are under oppression
The Soldiers come
They explode the house
When we stop suffering
When I take the children to the beach?
We are human
I don't know what we do
We want real peace
We need your help
We are not alone
We need your heart
We will be free one time

Abu Yasser - "Hope from Palestine"

Saying to my mother
    on her birthday
The pain of jail is not far away.
The love of family is
    in my eyes
With my friends
    we have hope.

--Laurie Siegelr

A Conflict with Three Sides

Today I thought about how similar the recent American government and the Israeli government are in that they both have been trying to solve the immediate problem with solutions that will work in the short-term but in the long term will undermine every goal they are working for. Like all the wealthy financial and commercial people in the US that took their huge short-term profits and ended up causing our current economic crisis. It seems to me that many of the policies and strategies of the Israeli government are doomed to likewise backfire.  Take the policy of controlling Gaza. It seems to me that the Israelis’ heavy hand there is directly responsible for the Hamas win. And then there is the effect of occupation on the IDF soldiers who must enforce it. Increasingly there are refuseniks, but Israel is also raising generations to live lives dominated by prejudice and fear.  In the long run, these strategies will undermine everything Israel once stood for and it will implode from within.

Tonight during our group session, many talked about coming here to understand the perspectives of both parties and desire not to become biased against either and the feeling that we can be more effective in discussing the conflict if we understand the motivation of both sides.  For me, this is a conflict with at least 3 sides – the Palestinians, the Israelis, and the Americans.  It is my belief that the conflict would have ended years ago without US involvement.  The role played by my country and my fellow Americans horrifies me.  We need to take responsibility for our own role in this conflict – our government, our tax dollars, and supportive Americans and American organizations.  A big part of the reason I am here is to better understand what I can do, as an American, to change how the US government and Americans support the continuation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

--Kristin Loken  

Eric and Suheir

a father and a mother
one Jewish and the other Muslim
One living in Sderot 1 mile from Gaza
the other living in occupation/oppression in the
Palestinian Refugee Deheisheh Camp in Bethlehem


I am a Jew living in Sderot
There are trees. There are parks.
A nice room with air conditioning, painted pictures and clean walls.
And there are shelters; many shelters from the qassams

Eric: a father with three sons in Sderot
My sons are afraid; my sons live in fear
The rockets; the qassams
There are five months of peace and then 28 december
The terror, the suffering, the mental anguish
Twenty rockets today?; forty rockets today?
Israel is responsible; U.S. is responsible and it is my responsibility
Pressure on Israel: stop the settlements.

To be that “other voice” to create a dialogue
Life must go on in Sderot
“Civilians will make a difference “
I am “hope man”; he is “peace man”
I want to sit down and talk that is all;
no politics, no titles
just person to person sitting on the other side of the wall.


I am a Muslim living in the Palestinian Refugee Deheisheh Camp in Bethlehem
The camp: the narrow streets covered with dirt; the smells no running water
Children running playing riding their bikes  bare foot.
The adults despondent despair in their eyes.
The murals; large painted on the walls telling of their suffering the martyred children, the men taken tortured and killed; their pain their anguish
a mural of the villages each of them came from.

Suheir: a mother with two sons and two daughters living in the camp
I was born, raised and married in the camp.
My children are afraid; my children live in fear.
The occupation; the oppression 
I am a woman; I love as a woman, I cook, I dance, I feel . . .
I have never known normal.
“the beach is ten minutes away and I cannot bring my children”
Nobody cares about us!
I am smothered; I am trapped
I want to get out of the wall
I want to get out of the hell.
This hell must end soon.

To bring hope to a hopeless situation
To make a difference
My husband and I dreamed of a center for hope
The center: a place to learn, to dance, to play,
to share one another’s pain; one another’s suffering
we created “The Phoenix Center”
for the people of the Palestinian Refugee Deheisheh Camp in Bethlehem
we must have hope in this hell


What if Eric and Suheir had a chance to talk
For Eric to share his story with Suheir
For Suheir to share her story with Eric
A father with three sons living in Sderot
A mother with two sons and two daughters living in The Camp

--Shannon Little


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