<  Reflection Four:  Snapshots from the Delegation

May 2015 Delegation to Palestine/Israel
Co-Sponsored with the University of Georgia's Catholic Center
and the Central Presbyterian Church of Atlanta

OVERVIEW: In the final collection of reflections from the May 2015 delegation, participants offer final thoughts and poignant observations on their last days on the ground. Danny Beagle reports on his homestay in Deheisheh Refugee Camp; Dan Fishback tells us to leave our stereotypes behind when it comes to Palestinians; Gary Charles contributes a poem; Vicki Collier evokes the power of memory; Regina Willis discusses the imperative of decolonization; David Evans offers a series of powerful reflections; delegation co-leader Ilise Cohen contributes her thoughts on the future of the land shared by Palestinians and Israelis; and Michael Lloyd reflects on loyalty and finding peace even in a harsh reality.


GAMAL  l  Danny Beagle – Oakland, California

Near Bethlehem in the Palestinian refugee camp of Deheisheh. I stayed at the home of Gamal and his family. Gamal is in his 20's, he volunteers as an IT guy at community center in the camp. They run art, theater, health and other programs. He is extraordinarily frustrated by the lack of resources to go abroad to study architecture and by his lack of mobility. He can't go to Birzeit, a somewhat local university because he would be stopped for hours at checkpoints,  both ways - up to three hours even though it is only a short ride away if there were no checkpoints separating Palestinian cities from other Palestinian cities. He is frustrated as well by his own traditional family restrictions.

He described his own childhood experiences of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) breaking into his family home - forcing family members including his mom to disrobe, slapping him and other family members around, one soldier, literally forcing his boot into his mouth. I'm angry a lot of the time he said - describing how the other day he spilled coffee and lost it, throwing the cup at the wall. This life of occupation affects family relations and everything in his life. Fundamentally he is a sweet guy, warm and hospitable. Humorous.

He described one night as a teenager climbing the wall - there is no easy way to get a permit to enter Israel, especially at his age - he cuts his hand badly on barbed wire, and a friend drives him to the coast. He's never seen the sea before. He sits up all night staring at it.

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WE CAN BE LESS AFRAID  l  Dan Fishback – Brooklyn, New York

As my time with IFPB winds down, I keep thinking about fear. So many people in the U.S. resist advocating for Palestine because they are afraid of religious fundamentalism, afraid of terrorism, afraid of so many things. And in that light, I will be coming home from Palestine with good news: we can be less afraid.  This trip has confirmed what I already surmised: that the past decade has seen a flourishing age of non-violent Palestinian activism, from religious and secular Palestinians alike.

I have seen the incredible diversity of Palestinian society -- girls in hijab laughing in the street with girls whose hair flies about in the wind, or Bethlehem, a majority-Muslim city where the mayor is a Christian woman. Even the non-violence we have studied here is remarkably varied in approaches and frameworks. 

All in all, these experiences have defied the stereotypes U.S. Americans have of Palestinians: that they are monolithic, fanatical, motivated by hate, hard-wired to murder Jews, beat women, throw gays off of buildings, etc. The good news is: Palestinian society is rich, thoughtful and human. And the Palestinian non-violence movement is full of incredible leaders whom we can honor and follow.

HOLY LAND  l  Gary Charles – Atlanta, Georgia


Barbed wire
Machine guns

The call to prayer
Muffled by a concrete wall

Crosses, menorahs, and minarets 
Defamed in denial

Land stolen
Return denied

Water restricted
Terror incited
Hope raped


REMEMBRANCE  l  Vicki Collier - Sandy Springs, Georgia

Remembrance . . . It is an acknowledgement of your existence, of the value of your history, of the validity of your perspective, of your worth as a fellow traveler on this planet. There has been so much erasure here. Ultimately, the lack of acknowledgement of another's experience is a dismissal of that person, that people. Listening to another's story is the beginning of the healing process for each of the people's affected by erasure. With the knowledge gained from listening comes some measure of responsibility for the actions that caused or sustain pain, but the starting point is listening and remembrance. May we all be listeners and validators of each others' experiences.  

DECOLONIZATION  l  Regina Willis  – Decatur, Georgia

I've been thinking a lot about decolonization. I've been thinking a lot about how little I know about the indigenous peoples of my home state of Georgia. I've been thinking about how state power divides people.

The ignorance that comes with privilege never ceases to amaze me - how very obvious things can remain hidden because our privilege protects us from knowing and experiencing historical and present-day oppression. I now can carry a very small piece of Palestinian history(s) with me, in being able to name people and places that have been destroyed or displaced by Zionist colonialism or Israeli state powers. I know nothing of the names of the indigenous peoples who live(d) in my home state of Georgia. 

Decolonization - what I understand as the act(s) of removing present day/ongoing colonial oppression - needs to happen both in the US and Palestine.

SOME REFLECTIONS  l  David Evans – Atlanta, Georgia

I have been dumbfounded over what I have seen.  How can one people claiming to be a democratic state exercise such injustice over both its Arab citizens and its “disputed territories” better known to the rest of the world as the illegally occupied territories of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights.  East Jerusalem, which has been illegally annexed by Israel, separates the largest commercial and political center of Palestine from the rest of the West Bank.

- - -

The Wall is insidious.  In East Jerusalem, it snakes around EVERYWHERE, not along any recognized borders, but cuts Palestinian villages in two – rendering the unfortunate part of the village that happens to be on the wrong side cut off from its livelihood.  Among other evil purposes, the Wall is used to improve the “demographics”, reducing the number of Arabs in Jerusalem and ensuring, by official policy, that Arabs make up no more than 30% of the Jerusalem population (note – the National demographic goal is no more than 20% Arab). 

We stopped along a section of the Wall on the historic Hebron Road, a historical and previously important transportation and trade route for Palestinians and East Jerusalemites, into and out of Jerusalem.  The Israeli government didn’t even have the courtesy of putting a checkpoint on the road.  The Wall literally cut a Palestinian neighborhood of East Jerusalem in half, making life miserable for those East Jerusalem residents who have to find a way around, over, or through the Wall to get to their jobs, to trade their goods, go to their schools and hospitals, etc.  The Wall here serves no security purpose, and like so many actions of the state of Israel, serves only to advance its domination of an occupied and humiliated people.

- - -

After we crossed into Bethlehem, we parked our bus next to the massive Wall and guard tower on the Bethlehem side of the Wall.  I got out of the bus, and literally could not stop sobbing for about 15 minutes as I walked around looking at the wonderful graffiti, which was pleading for peace and justice.

- - -

Settlements are EVERYWHERE.  Over 500,000 Jewish–Israeli (no Arab–Israelis allowed) have established highly protected lives in the occupied territories of the West Bank with all the rights of and even more protection than the citizens of legitimate Israel.  These can be highly planned communities stretching miles and miles within the West Bank, sometimes surrounding Palestinian villages on all sides cutting off future expansion, sometimes planted in the middle of major roadways like on the Samaritan Road, and most revolting of all in the middle of a Palestinian commercial center like in Hebron where the settlers urinate and throw thrash and harass shop keepers and entire community – all with the coordinated support and protection of the Israeli Defense Force and unjust military court system.

- - -

Lastly, I have reached the conclusion that a Jewish Democracy is an oxymoron.  Although all citizens have the right to vote, all citizens do not have equal rights under the law.  Surprisingly, Israel does not have a Constitution.  It perhaps more importantly does not have a Bill of Rights designed to establish the equal rights of all of it citizens.  There are, in fact, many rights granted to all “Citizens” of Israel, but unfortunately the rights granted on the basis of one’s “Nationality” take precedence over Citizen rights.  There are 137 recognized Nationalities including the main two: Jewish and Arab, plus many more like British, etc.  But the key point, as you might have guessed, is that “Jewish Nationals” have certain rights not available to others – with the most obvious one being that any Jewish person from anywhere in the world can automatically become a citizen of Israel.  This Right of Return would not be so problematic if there was also a Right of Return for the displaced Palestinians who literally and not figuratively had this as their homeland. 

There are over 50 documented Discriminatory Laws against Arab–Israelis (I’m not talking about the state-less Palestinians of the occupied territories here, but the Palestinian Citizens of Israel who make up nearly 25% of the state’s population).  There is rampant discrimination in the ability to develop and expand Palestinian Arab communities because 93% of the land is owned by the state and such development is almost never approved for Palestinian–Israelis.  Instead, what happens is that Jewish communities (which we would call Settlements in the West Bank) are approved and built right next to Palestinian towns and villages, boxing in their natural growth in a very obnoxious way.

- - -

This trip has caused me a lot of soul searching and reflection on all of the discrimination and injustice we also have in the United States.  I make these comments not because I think we (the US) are better or morally superior.  I am reminded about my visit to the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta right before I left for this trip and remember feeling so ashamed of the racist Jim Crow Laws that we lived under in the South.  Or more recently, how what I have witnessed in Israel and the West Bank compares to the images we’ve seen from Ferguson, MO, and Baltimore. 

We have tons of our own faults (which I regularly and proudly as an American am willing to name), but I don’t believe that just because we are far from perfect or because other countries in the Middle East may be even more repressive, that this should silence us about the injustice that we have witnessed in Israel/Palestine.

ISRAEL/PALESTINE  l  Ilise Cohen – Decatur, Georgia

Being the co-leader with Julie Norman for this Interfaith Peace-Builders delegation these last two weeks has been powerful. Usually, I find myself more in touch with the heartbreak and grief, the impossibilities of making change.  This time I found myself constantly unstable - listening deeply to each perspective being offered, waiting for a sense of direction that seemed feasible - and each time more unsettled, trying to unravel the insidiousness of the occupation.

The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement has been growing and this is substantial. I remember when Israeli left groups rejected the notion of BDS based on the idea that this would further isolate Israeli Jews and harden their positions. Ironically, those same organizations are now some of the biggest advocates for BDS, as are individuals who feel they have no voice here that matters.  Shortly after the Palestinian civil society call in 2005, they realized that the external international pressure was going to be the only thing that changed the Israeli government. 

In a discussion last night with friends, it was painfully clear that each of the groups that have been talking about a one state solution do so in very different ways, whether Israeli or Palestinian. Ironically, the one settler we met advocated no walls, open borders, complete annexation of the West Bank and had the statistics formulated to keep a majority Jewish population. He did so by quietly and intentionally eliminating Gaza as part of this one state solution, keeping almost 2 million Palestinians isolated and under siege, even though the Israeli government to the international world for the most part denies this reality. He claimed that 20-30,000 Jews will make Israel their permanent home and residence as new immigrants to Israel and about 20,000 Palestinians will leave the 'country' each year (with no indication about what are the causes of this emigration out). Of course the right of return for Palestinians is not achievable nor desirable, but if the refugees that remained in this new one state were here, that would be fine. He forgot to mention that the intimidation strategies used by the Israeli occupation forces and military mirror the kind of security apparatus used in Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

Though I am not an expert on this, I can tell you the experience of leading a delegation to Iraq in 1998 when the security apparatus was know - there was someone in charge of each neighborhood and or cluster of families and communities - and from there it was understood that there was an informant but no one knew who it was so it made it impossible to fully trust anyone. In the Israeli case and context, Israeli military will use even non-political Palestinians reshaping their entire lives and relationship to their communities by picking them up, keeping them for a few hours and then releasing them in the midst of their community shaking hands and saying thank you so much. Then whoever is picked up next is assumed to have been part of a list given by this new 'collaborator.' only no one knows if anything actually happened or if it is only a tactic of intimidation. The reason the settler can talk about having no walls and one Jewish majority state with Palestinians and because of the effectiveness of these kinds of intimidation strategies.

I was terrified to know that the internalization of the occupation for some Palestinians is not just by living under it for almost 48 years, but an intentional disruption in communities, undermining even the fabric of relationships that depend on one another for survival and resistance. 

A couple of Palestinians from groups we heard talked about a one state solution as well. They even mentioned that the one state is already here because the settlements are already filled with 2-3 generations of Israeli Jews. All these communities would have to be displaced to make two states. The conversation is happening in a vacuum because the control is still under the Israeli government who is clearly moving to a one state - with the discriminatory laws already passed making it clearly an apartheid state not allowing Palestinians the same rights as Jews - and declaring that Jewish nationality is more important than any other. So the identity cards no longer need 'nationality' to discriminate between populations, it is clear by your name, where you live, where you were born, your father's name, your citizenship (at least the new East Jerusalemite Palestinian ID - an already artificially created identity - says nationality as Jordanian). 

Though the Gaza Strip is a concern for Palestinians in the West Bank and is part of the ongoing occupation, I rarely heard it mentioned. The blockade has been effective in persuading even the imagination to cut off Gaza. It might be that Gaza was automatically part of the one state discussion and because the territories are 'one' was not mentioned separately, but the daily realities and struggles in Gaza are different. The intimidation tactics used in the West Bank are not needed in Gaza because it is besieged differently. A friend yesterday mentioned that there is a fear that Egypt's declaration of Hamas as a terrorist organization may be an indication of an Egyptian invasion. 

I almost skipped the time at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. Only because I had been there so many times and wanted a break. But 28 members of my family were killed during the Holocaust, all within the last 9 months of the war when the Isle of Rhodes was invaded and the Jews of Europe were deported.

I tell the story about how my family was originally from Turkey (and formerly Ottoman citizens) and the act of my family becoming European is when they were killed. For anyone that wonders why I have an investment in searching and understanding the history of Jews in the Muslim world, it is because families like mine survived and thrived and were not systematically targeted by Christian and European anti-Semitism until they were actually considered European Jews.

So I went to Yad Vashem to honor the memories of all the Jews and all the millions of others that were killed. One small poster effected me deeply this time, differently than before - talking about the ghettoization of the Jewish community, the starvation of the community, the inability for the community to leave, the weapons used on the community (not yet talking about resistance) - everything about this particular part of the exhibit mirrored what is happening in Gaza, except a larger concentration of people in one location and multiple attacks from the ground and sky over a six year period.

I don't ask the question about how can Jews do this to Palestinians or how the Germans did this to Jews, but how human beings intentionally make these decisions to alter the state of humanity and slowly eliminate a group of people, while others know and do nothing. Any state is capable of this, and a state that calls itself Jewish is performing this horrific act while the international world and the US in particular knows, watches, and supports it - all the while creating justifications, waiting for a solution where there is none on the horizon, and expecting someone else to intervene. The intervention has to happen NOW, not when the Israeli government decides it is the right time. A friend said that his diplomat friend said intervention internationally might come if 1 million people were killed - MIGHT come if a ONE MILLION PALESTINIANS were killed. This is madness.

I saw Tel Aviv beach yesterday - the beautiful Mediterranean Sea, 1000's of people enjoying the sun, beach, swimming. It is essentially a Jewish beach. I wondered if Gazans were enjoying the little piece of the Mediterranean they have, the place where fisherman get shot at when they go 3 nautical miles to fish, or whether anyone tries to swim in the sea full of sewage because of the damage to water treatment infrastructure by Israeli aerial bombardment in each assault/war. Israel does not claim to occupy the Gaza Strip, therefore assumes it has no responsibility for the people there.  The Israeli government uses “disputed territories” as a technical way to refuse its obligation to the people it occupies. People in Gaza will slowly die not just from lack of food and proper nutrition but from lack of potable water by 2016. BY 2016!!!! 

Three Palestinian young men (15-17) were picked up on the beach by Israeli police yesterday, fingerprinted and placed in a police car. They had nothing on them, no identity cards, no materials, just themselves. The municipal worker said that they were from Ramallah (thousands of Palestinians enter Israel 'illegally' each day, through the hills) and that he assumed they were stealing people's bags. They were being taken to another station.  I don't know if they will be released or if they will be detained. The police officers said, “This is under control, you don't need to worry, everything is fine.” 

My thoughts were, “actually nothing is fine, you are arresting three young people for wanting to be at the beach, to see the sea, the live a normal life, and now you are detaining them because there is a (made up) military law and practice that keeps Palestinians imprisoned each day and this disrupts the daily life of an Israeli to even tolerate a Palestinian from the west bank to be sharing its Jewish beaches.” 

Only a glimpse, and so many voices....


REFLECTIONS  l  Michael Lloyd – Atlanta, Georgia

Although a virtue, loyalty can be dangerous, even deadly.   Frankly, until this trip I had sustained a deep loyalty to Israel.  The Israelis were the “good guys” wearing white hats. Even though I attended presentations, read the books and articles to the contrary, I was holding out.  Reality quickly trumped loyalty within a few days and my inner sentiments seemed betrayed, my heart felt stomped into the dry, hot sand. I literally got sick in the stomach and dizzy in the head. 

I’m not special and have no extraordinary powers.  Maybe it was the heat, the stomach, hallucinations, something.  But I had some pretty extraordinary experiences or at least thought that I had.  Upon reflection, these may have been signs that I was stepping into a new reality.  I’ve heard that reality often comes disguised as an illness.

Seeing the injustices, the pain, the suffering and the horrible oppression of people just like you and me was a harsh awakening.   I was fearful, pissed off, agitated and depressed all at the same time.
How can there be peace in such a harsh, violent reality?  Oddly and ironically, there was.  Although fleeting, I had a profoundly peaceful experience at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.  I couldn’t resist the chance to pray.  The young man who helped me with the "tefillin" was profoundly calm and seemed pure of heart.  I recited the blessings in Hebrew just as he instructed. A sense of peace and calm came over me.  Such is the power of prayer.  This is a perennial reality of heart and soul.  Even in the midst of madness and hate, there is peace.  What a paradox.   This is the Israel meant to be.  This is the real “promised land.”   It’s a land of peace, a place for the heart and soul, not a geographical land to be hoarded and used against your neighbors.  There is an Israel that I can be loyal to.  But I have to help make it the reality that God means for her to be.

“Take care for yourselves, lest your heart be seduced, and you turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them.”  --- from Deuteronomy chapter 11

On a specific note of hope, there is a young man named Muhammad who hosted some of us at the Dheisheh refugee camp south of Bethlehem in the West Bank.  When he spoke with us he spewed a vitriolic, angry story of how he was forced by Israeli soldiers to watch his mother being stripped on her clothes, how a soldier made him put his mouth into the tips of his shoes and how he had gnashed his hands on razor wire and traveled through miles of fences and walls to see the Mediterranean Sea for the first time.  Certainly his will is strong.

We listened to him attentively and empathetically.  Slowly Muhammad’s voice tamed as we listened.  Then we shared a meal together and talked about music and art.  He relaxed more.  He even smiled for the first time.  Then we laughed.  We shared contact information and hopefully we will connect.  Even if for only a fleeting moment there can be peace in a harsh and inhumane place.  But we have to work to help make it the reality that God wants it to be.



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