Patience

Peace is a process which takes time, a great deal of time, and patience.

I believe it was Adam Curle who said that the process of reconciliation after a violent conflict takes at least as many years as the build up to the fighting. According to that reckoning, reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis will take well over 100 years. And the process of reconciliation cannot really begin properly until there is a just settlement of the conflict, i.e. an end to the occupation of Palestine.

Those of us who seek peace between Palestinians and Israelis – and that surely includes most Palestinians and Israelis themselves – need a great deal of patience. It is hardly surprising that young Palestinians are losing their patience as Israel continues to demolish Palestinian homes and takes the provocative step of closing the Al-Aqsa mosque for a day. Palestinian youths throwing stones and Molotov cocktails are met with rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas. More fatalities are likely.

There is an urgent need for new negotiations which will lead to a just and lasting solution to the conflict. The international community needs to insist on an immediate end to the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which are illegal under international law. And there should be an embargo on all arms sales to Israel. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be much prospect of that at the moment.

However, more and more countries, now including Sweden, are recognising Palestine as a state. The British government should follow suit, especially after the recent vote in parliament calling for recognition of the state of Palestine. If you live in Britain, you could check out how your MP voted and, according to how they voted, thank them or politely point out the error of their ways.

Quakers here in Brussels are collecting money for kindergartens in Gaza which have been supported by Norwegian Friends for many years. In Britain and Ireland, Quaker Peace & Social Witness, based in London, administers the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) on behalf of the World Council of Churches.

There are things which we can do as individual Quakers and as Quaker meetings. But ultimately we have no control over events in the Middle East. We can only do what we can to sow the seeds of peace and justice and wait for them to grow and bear fruit.

Much patience is called for. Working nonviolently for peace and justice requires a great deal of patience. Indeed, in Latin America peace activists, instead of using the term “nonviolence” or “nonviolent action”, talk about “relentless persistence”.

Patience and relentless persistence are required in personal relationships as well. We need to persist in loving one another, both our nearest and dearest and those who seem to be working against us, until we discover, as Thomas Merton did, that “it is the reality of personal relationships which saves everything”.

This statement is the conclusion of Thomas Merton’s “Letter to a young activist”, which I quoted in my blogpost on “Joy”, published on 21 June. As a footnote to that blogpost I also gave the text of a letter from Isaac Penington to Friends (Quakers) in Amersham, written in 1667. In that letter he tells us: “Watch one over another, in that which is gentle and tender, and knows it can neither preserve itself, nor help another out of the snare; but the Lord must be waited upon, to do this in and for us all.

I’m reminded of a dream which I had quite a few years ago now, at a time when I was suffering from depression. In my dream, I was in a meadow at the bottom of the grounds of a large stately home or castle somewhere in Scotland. I found myself sinking into a bog. I was floundering and beginning to panic. A woman appeared and tried to pull me out, but that didn’t work and she was in danger of being pulled into the bog herself. I then heard someone telling me to stretch my legs down until I felt firm ground beneath my feet. So I stretched my legs down and, lo-and-behold, found firm ground. I was then able to walk out of the bog.

God provides the firm foundation, on which we can stand. No-one else can pull us out of the snare. “The Lord must be waited upon, to do this in and for us all.”

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Peace

“I told (the Commonwealth Commissioners) I lived

in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars.”

George Fox

 

Peace is about people living in right relationship with each other and with the planet. Peace is about justice and wellbeing for everyone. No individual can live in peace, unless the whole community is at peace.

“Shalom”, the Hebrew word for peace in the Bible, encompasses the wellbeing of the whole community. Shalom is characterised by just and peaceful relationships.

“Pax”, peace imposed by force, is not peace at all. It may be better than open warfare, but it serves to perpetuate systems of injustice.

During the Pax Romana of the Roman Empire Jesus challenged unjust laws which allowed a soldier to compel a peasant to carry his pack, a landowner to take the cloak of someone who was unable to pay a debt, or the master of a house to humiliate a servant by hitting him across the face with the back of his hand. Walter Wink has described how Jesus advocated imaginative forms of nonviolent action as a way of overcoming the violence of unjust laws and customs: carrying a soldier’s pack beyond the one-mile limit, giving the landowner one’s shirt as well as one’s cloak, turning the other cheek to the master of the house.

Jesus wasn’t advocating meek submission. He was encouraging poor folk to harness the power of active nonviolence, to stand up for themselves whilst at the same time demonstrating goodwill towards their oppressors. He told his followers: “Love your enemies. Do good to those who persecute you and spitefully use you.”

Martin Arnold, a retired German protestant pastor, has coined the term Guetekraft for the power of active nonviolence, the power of goodness. In four volumes Martin explains how Guetekraft, “goodness-power”, works – even against a ruthless dictator. Martin’s books are the fruit of research into the life and works of three practitioners of nonviolence who have successfully employed Guetekraft: Hildegard Goss-Mayr, Mohandas K. Gandhi, and Bart de Ligt.

It is because Guetekraft is powerful, that we do not need to resort to armed violence, which is invariably counterproductive, as Holly Near points out in the chorus of her song, “Foolish Notion”: “Why do we kill people who are killing people to show that killing people is wrong? What a foolish notion that war is called devotion, when the greatest warriors are the ones who stand for peace.”

If we live in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars, as George Fox did, we will not be persuaded to join an army, however just their cause may seem to be.

Violence cannot be overcome with violence. Violence breeds hatred and further violence.

On the other hand, peace grows from the seeds of peace. Small gestures of goodwill begin the creation of a climate of trust in which antagonists can eventually cooperate to dismantle systems of injustice. It may be a long and painful process, but it is far more likely than military action to bear the fruits of peace.

Key to the way in which Guetekraft works is the willingness to accept the costs of engaging in nonviolent action rather than do violence to one’s opponent. Peace warriors may sometimes be called upon to make the greatest sacrifice as Jesus did. Franz Jaegerstaetter, the Austrian farmer who was executed because he refused to serve in Hitler’s army, comes to my mind.

Millions of soldiers died in the First World War. What a fruitless undertaking!

When he was dying, Jesus prayed for those who tortured him. He is the Christ within us, the life and power in whom we live and move and have our being.

Jesus told his disciples: “My peace I leave you. My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives peace do I give you my peace.”

This war-torn world of ours is very much in need of peace – in Syria, in Palestine and Israel, in Ukraine, and in northern Iraq.

Britain is in need of peace too. A society in which significant numbers of people have to go to food banks to get enough to eat is not a peaceful one. And Britain’s possession of weapons of mass destruction makes the world more dangerous and less peaceful.

The world is in need of the peace that Jesus gives. We are called as individuals to be peacemakers. And we are called as communities of faith to be a force for peace in the world.

It is hardly surprising that we have got into the habit of thinking that life is a right to be defended. But we need to think of life, like peace, as a gift to be shared.

There are Quakers serving with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). I know of a Friend serving with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Ukraine. And there are Quakers serving in Afghanistan and in northern Iraq.

By no means all of us are called to this kind of service. There is much that we can do to foster peaceful community relations wherever we happen to live. And we can play our part in the peace campaigning and advocacy work of our faith community. When we join together with other faith communities and harness the power of goodness, we will become a force to be reckoned with.

Yearly Meeting Gathering of Quakers in Britain, 2-9 August 2014

It was a busy and enjoyable week, spent amongst 2,000 Quakers, mostly British, in Bath in the southwest of England. It was an all-age gathering with babies present and at least two Friends over 90 years old. And there were more than 80 Quakers from other Yearly Meetings, including half-a-dozen from Germany.

I sneaked into the overseas visitors’ tea on Sunday. Although I am still a member of Banbury & Evesham Area Meeting and hadn’t received an official invitation, I justified this on the grounds that: 1. my wife had been invited; 2. I am living overseas; 3. until I moved to Brussels, I was serving as a representative of Britain Yearly Meeting to the Friends World Committee for Consultation. Fortunately few of the other 2,000 Quakers had the same idea and the Friend at the entrance to the tent did not ask me whether I had an invitation. So I was able to enjoy conversations with a number of guests from other yearly meetings. Since I was travelling to and from Bath on Eurostar, I described myself as an “underseas” visitor.

Now, on my way back to Brussels, travelling at high speed towards Lille, I shall take a little time to reflect on my experience of Yearly Meeting Gathering in Bath. The positives far outweigh the negatives:

Meeting up with friends. It was great to meet up with so many old friends. On Sunday morning I joined in some circle dancing after breakfast. It was a large circle, but opposite me I recognised B, a fellow Sidcot old scholar. We last met some time in the eighties, so I wasn’t entirely certain that she was who I thought she was, until I was able to peek at her name-label. When I told her of my marriage, she congratulated me warmly and was keen to be introduced to Sasha. It was good also to meet friends whom I originally got to know when I lived at Woodbrooke in 1978/79, through my involvement in workcamps, through my peace campaigning work, through my active membership of Hampshire & the Islands Area Meeting (2001-2005) and Banbury & Evesham Area Meeting (from 2005), and through serving on various Yearly Meeting committees (Peace Campaigning and Networking group, Quaker Committee for Christian and Interfaith Relations, and Quaker World Relations Committee).

 Two addresses to the whole Gathering have stayed in my mind: Ben Pink Dandelion’s Swarthmore Lecture, “Open for Transformation: Being Quaker”; and Jan Arriens’ introduction to the theme to be considered during Yearly Meetings over the next three years, Quaker witness in the world. Ben warned of the dangers of individualism and secularism. We are called to live out our Quaker witness not only as individuals, but as a faith community. Indeed, our witness may only be effective, if we act together as a community. We must also beware of losing the spirituality which is the foundation of our lives and witness. Ben said that Quakerism is a Do-It-Together religion. Jan Arriens reaffirmed the mysticism which is at the heart of our Quaker faith. There is a divine spark within each of us and we can each have direct contact with the divine, the promptings of love and truth in our hearts. When we rely on the Spirit for guidance and strength, we are likely to find ourselves engaging in effective witness to truth, equality, peace, simplicity, and community.

 I attended two “journey” sessions on Palestine/Israel. One of these took the form of interviews with four former Ecumenical Accompaniers, who had each spent three months in Palestine as part of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). There was a strong feeling that the Yearly Meeting should put out a statement in response to the Israeli attack on Gaza. A small group of Friends drafted a carefully crafted statement, which not only called on the UK government to recognise Palestine as a nation state and condemned the use of violence by both sides in the conflict, but also reiterated our firm opposition to anti-semitism as well as islamophobia. Whilst opposing the aggression of the Israeli armed forces and the occupation of the Palestinian territories, we stand together in solidarity with Jews who are increasingly being subjected to attacks just because they are Jewish. The statement was published before the end of the Gathering and can be found on the website of Britain Yearly Meeting (Quakers in Britain).

 I was pleased to be able to support Sasha (Representative of the Quaker Council for European Affairs – QCEA), Andrew Lane (Deputy Representative), and Sally Sadler (a member of the Bureau of QCEA) at special interest group sessions and in two “journey” sessions. A significant number of Friends attended at least one of these sessions and we look forward to enjoying their support.

 I found programmed worship organised by the Friends World Committee for Consultation most inspiring. There was spoken prayer and a sermon with a message of hope in a time of crisis. Without the hope which derives from our faith in God, we cannot be patterns and examples bringing love and peace into a fearful and war-torn world.

 I twice joined some other “owls” for some late-night singing of simple songs, mostly rounds. That was great fun and perhaps a foretaste of the community choir which I hope to join in September.

There were very few negative aspects of the Yearly Meeting Gathering, so far as I’m concerned, the chief one being that my wife had to return to Brussels half way through the week! The accommodation at the university was lacking in some respects (no cutlery, crockery, or kitchen utensils in the kitchen, so lunch preparation was a little difficult), but the cost of the accommodation for a whole week was very reasonable.

I wished I could take all my friends back with me to Brussels. I shall have to be content with the prospect of meeting up with them again at Yearly Meeting at the beginning of May next year – God willing.

The plight of non-Jewish communities in Palestine

It’s cold here in Ramallah. It snowed last night. It was still snowing when I got up this morning. But it was wet snow. And by the time I set off to go to Jerusalem it had turned to rain.

Nevertheless, when I arrived at the bus station, there were no buses. A taxi driver offered to take me to the checkpoint at Qalandia for 50 Shekels. I knew this was extortionate, so I turned down the offer. He called me back and went down to 40 Shekels and then to 30 Shekels. I suggested 25 Shekels, but was persuaded to agree to pay 30 Shekels. I probably needn’t have paid more than 25 Shekels, but I don’t like arguing.

The checkpoint was very quiet, just a few men who were probably going to work in spite of the weather. We were soon allowed through the barrier and the security check. The soldier gave my passport a very cursory glance and waved me on. On other occasions my passport has been studied very carefully as I held it up against the glass pane separating the Israeli soldiers from those of us passing through the checkpoint.

A Palestinian who was leaving the checkpoint along with me, asked where I came from. “England”, I said. He complained that the Israelis treat him and his fellow Palestinians like animals. In fact they probably treat animals better, he said. Then, referring no doubt to the Balfour Declaration, he complained about us British giving their (the Palestinians’) land to the Israelis.

The Israeli government seems to have forgotten or, more likely, simply ignored the clause in the Balfour Declaration which states “ it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.

In 1948 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes and became refugees. In 1967 during the Six Day War many more refugees were created. And the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights were occupied by Israel.

Since then many Palestinians have lost their land where Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law, have been built. Some of their land, especially in the Jordan Valley, is now farmed by Israeli enterprises which export most of their produce, mainly dates, to Europe. And some of their land has been designated as military zones which may be used for training.

There was some good news today, though. The Prawer Plan, which entails the removal of 30,000 to 40,000 Bedouin from 35 villages in the Negev, has been withdrawn from the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. An ostensible reason for the withdrawal is that one of the two authors of the plan told the Knesset that, contrary to what some government ministers were saying, he had not consulted the Bedouin when drawing up the plan.

The vast majority of the Bedouin have made it very clear that they do not wish to have their land taken away from them and their semi-nomadic way of life destroyed. If the Israeli government were serious about consulting the Bedouin, they would know that they want their existing villages to be provided with the same services and infrastructure that Jewish communities are provided with: water, electricity, sewerage, and schools.

The Israeli government encourages and supports the establishment and expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. These settlements are effectively stealing not only Palestinian land, but also Palestinian water. The village of Auja, which I visited with Quaker Voluntary Action a few weeks ago, has suffered especially. Most of the villagers used to work on the land, but the nearby springs have dried up due to Israeli extraction of the water. So the villagers are now unemployed or have to find work in the Israeli plantations where water is plentiful. The “miracle” of making the desert bloom is performed using stolen water.

Benjamin Netanyahu is apparently insisting that Israeli soldiers be stationed in the Jordan Valley for ten years, if a two-state solution is implemented. I wonder whether he would agree to Palestinian soldiers being stationed in the Negev to protect the Bedouin? I guess not, because he wants any Palestinian state to be demilitarised (apart from the stationing of Israeli troops).

I’m all for states being demilitarised. Israel could begin the process by dismantling and disposing of its nuclear weapons.

Settlers and refugees

The milk that I buy in the small supermarket round the corner turns out to be a “Product of Palestine”, as I had hoped. It comes from the Al-Jebrini Dairy Co. of Hebron. So I guess they must have dairy cattle down in the south of the West Bank. I’ll look out for them when I go to Hebron on Saturday.

One of the “attractions” for anyone who wants to see the occupation of the Palestinian territories at first hand is the “settler tour”, which takes place in Hebron each Saturday during the Jewish Sabbath or “Shabbat”. I have yet to witness this ritual, but I’m told that both Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers take part in it.

The venue is the Palestinian market in the centre of Hebron. The soldiers enter first, around 3 p.m., making way for the settlers, who then wreak havoc by turning over the market stalls, scattering produce everywhere. They cause considerable damage, but I don’t suppose anyone compensates the stall holders.

I’m keen to see as much as I can, whilst I’m here in Palestine/Israel, and to talk to lots of different people. Yesterday I went to meet with two women, both of them mothers, in an Israeli West Bank settlement not far from Jerusalem. This morning I visited a small refugee camp just south of Ramallah.

These are two different worlds. But both of them are inhabited by mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters. And, so far as I could gather, most people in both the settlement and the refugee camp just want their children and grandchildren to be able to live in peace.

Both the women in the settlement made it clear to me that, if it would bring about peace, they would be prepared to move out of the settlement and find somewhere to live with their families within the 1967 borders of Israel, in spite of having made the settlement their home around 20 years ago.

The three of us agreed that it would need a miracle for the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority to agree to a two-state solution to the conflict. Both mothers would accept a one-state solution, so long as the state were Jewish.

I tried to ascertain what it is that would make a state Jewish. High standards of education, health care and social welfare provision were clearly important to both women. But all that could be equally well provided in an Arab state, in my opinion. A Jewish state would be democratic with every citizen having the right to vote. In my opinion, an Arab state could be equally democratic. (I accept, though, that in practice Arab states tend not to be democratic according to our Western understanding of democracy.)

What it seemed to boil down to in the end is this: A Jewish state would have the (military) means with which to defend itself and Jews would be in control of defence and security.

It seems that the average Jewish Israeli citizen wants to be sure that the Israel Defence Forces can keep any enemies at bay and that Israel’s borders can be made secure against the infiltration of terrorists.

One of my favourite songs is a Taizé chant: “Nie par puissance, nie par force, mais par l’esprit du Seigneur.” (Not by power, nor by might, but by the spirit of the Lord.) I’m afraid I can’t quote chapter and verse. But many of the Old Testament prophets said much the same thing: Don’t put your faith in horses and chariots. Put your faith in the Lord your God.

Peace and security cannot be assured by force of arms. Peace will reign when we put our faith in the God of love, who leads us to do justice.

Peace will not be possible in Israel/Palestine until the refugees who were driven out of their villages in 1948 and 1967 are compensated in some way, so that they can escape the overcrowding and poverty of the refugee camps. There is no realistic prospect of them returning to the villages that they came from. Many of these villages have been destroyed. But their “right of return” needs to be recognised and they need to be compensated for the failure to fulfil that right.

Friday prayers – Christian Peacemaker Teams – Nelson Mandela

Friday mornings are quiet in Ramallah, like Sunday mornings used to be in Britain. Today I got to go along to the mosque for Friday prayers around 11.30. A visiting Quaker friend and I were taken along by Saleem, whose wife works as a part-time administrator for the Quakers here.

Jews, Christians, and Muslims all worship the same God. And I learnt at a workshop at the recent international conference of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre in Jerusalem that “Islam” means submission to God (Allah) and that, broadly-speaking, anyone who submits to God is a Muslim.

So it felt right to join my Muslim brothers in prayer, to bow to God along with Saleem and everyone else, and to kneel and prostrate myself with my forehead touching the carpeted floor. Would that it were as easy to submit myself to God inwardly as it is to submit myself outwardly.

Apart from occasional references to Muslims and the Quran, I understood nothing of the sermon. If I come to Palestine again for any length of time, I shall want to make a serious attempt to learn Arabic.

Christopher Hatton, a British Quaker who has been living in Hamburg for ten years, appeared just as I was about to set off with Saleem for the mosque. Christopher came along with us. He knows some Arabic, but I don’t think he understood much more of the sermon than I did.

Christopher was on his way to Hebron. He is about to begin his third stint with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in Palestine. CPT aims to support Palestinian nonviolent resistance to injustice.

A couple of years ago Christopher served with CPT in the South Hebron Hills. One of their tasks was to observe the goings-on at “flying checkpoints” which were being set up on the roads by the Israeli occupying forces. The Palestinians, mostly shepherds going about their work, were treated less violently when CPTers were watching.

Christopher is now going to spend five weeks with CPT in Hebron, where a growing population of Israeli settlers is harassing the Palestinian inhabitants. The harassment is worst on Saturdays, when settlers, with the protection of Israeli soldiers, go on the rampage through the market. I plan to visit Hebron next Saturday and may get to witness that

When Christopher and I got back from visiting the mosque this morning, I opened up my laptop to show him some photographs. There was the news that Nelson Mandela had died.

I remember watching on TV when he walked out of prison in 1993. Few Nobel Peace Prize laureates deserve the prize as much as he did. After spending 27 years in prison (all but the last year or two on Robben Island), he negotiated a peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy, offered white South Africans reconciliation and forgiveness instead of retaliation and retribution, and voluntarily relinquished power at the end of a five-year term as president.

No doubt it helped that F.W. de Klerk and other leading white politicians recognised that the writing was on the wall for South African apartheid. They had the choice between a negotiated transition to majority rule and a likely bloodbath.

When will Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet ministers in the Israeli coalition government realise that the writing is on the wall for Israeli apartheid? They have a choice between a two-state solution that does justice to Palestinian aspirations (and that has to include recognition of the right to return of refugees from 1948 and 1967) and a long battle against Palestinian resistance which could eventually result in majority rule in a single democratic state.

But perhaps the real question is: How much longer will the world tolerate Israel’s apartheid policies and their oppression of the Palestinians?

In and around Bethlehem

The winter rains started today. I needed a waterproof jacket as well as an umbrella. I haven’t needed a jacket until now. I’ve been warm enough in a vest, shirt, and pullover or cardigan. But it was colder today.

I was expecting to go to Hebron. I found a “Service” minibus to take me to Bethlehem. It was 10.30 when the minibus was full and we set off. I kept my fingers crossed, metaphorically speaking, that we would arrive in Bethlehem before 12 noon, which is when Rachelle, Mennonite Central Committee’s worker in Bethlehem, had said that we would be departing for Hebron.

The road through the hills to Bethlehem is far from straight. There were several hairpin bends to negotiate as we descended into and then climbed up out of a deep valley. It would almost certainly have been quicker to go through East Jerusalem, but the apartheid Wall (or “separation barrier”) makes that impossible.

Nevertheless we reached Bethlehem around 11.40. I rang Rachelle. (How did I ever used to manage without a mobile phone?) She said she would pick me up in Manger Square. I found Manger Square and after one or two more phone calls I found Rachelle.

The planned trip to Hebron had been cancelled because of the rain. When the winter rains begin, things tend to shut down and it didn’t seem like a good idea to be wandering around Hebron in the rain. So Rachelle gave me a guided tour of Bethlehem and environs instead.

The Bethlehem district has a total population of 188,000. The urban area includes Beit Jala to the northwest of Bethlehem and Beit Sahour to the east. Within this area are three refugee camps, Dheisheh, Aida, and – wait a minute, I’ll have to look this up – Azza.

According to Wikipedia, Dheisheh was established in 1949 on 0.31 square kilometers of lamb (sic) leased from the Jordanian government. The camp was established as a temporary refuge for 3,400 Palestinians from 45 villages west of Jerusalem and Hebron who fled during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Six decades of natural population growth have expanded the camp’s dimensions into an area between 1 and 1.5 square kilometers. … 15% of the camp remains unconnected to the local public sewage system. These homes make use of communal percolation pits.”Rachelle told me that there are now more than 9,000 refugees living in Dheisheh.

Aida is about a third of the size of Dheisheh in terms of population. There are probably fewer than 2,000 people living in Azza (aka Beit Jibrin). Rachelle’s guided tour took me into Aida and past Dheisheh.

This was very much an alternative sight-seeing tour. The first sight was of the Wall blocking off what used to be the main road from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. Rachelle then showed me a stretch of the Wall which separates the houses of two brothers who lived just across the road from each other. The Wall snakes around this northern part of Bethlehem in order to take Rachel’s Tomb onto the “Israeli” side of the Wall. The brothers now have to drive a long way round in order to visit each other.

A little while later, Rachelle showed me the friend’s house where she took refuge recently when Israeli soldiers were firing “live” ammunition (as opposed to rubber-coated steel bullets or tear-gas) during a “clash” with Palestinian youths. Just inside a large metal gate, where the Israeli soldiers come through the Wall, Rachelle picked up three tear-gas canisters. They were marked “Made in U.S.A.” The manufacturer: Combined Tactical Systems of Jamestown, Pennsylvania.

Israel receives aid from the USA in the form of coupons which they are required to spend in the USA. One of the things they spend it on is tear-gas canisters. Combined Tactical Systems and their employees have a stake in continuing military aid to Israel.

The Wall runs along one side of Aida refugee camp. Rachelle pointed out to me where bullet holes in the walls of the houses had been filled in. The large windows of a UN school had been blocked up, leaving only a row of small windows just under the roof. The main entrance to the school was exposed to direct fire, so it is no longer in use.

We drove on through Beit Jala. Rachelle stopped the car where we had a view northwards across a valley. Where there once used to be pine forest, there is now an Israeli settlement on top of the hill. Directly below us was a stretch of Route 60 which entered a tunnel going south towards Efrat and Hebron. The road is protected by a high wall on both sides and over the entrance to the tunnel. I have travelled twice to Efrat and back on that road.

We drove on out to the village of Khadr, which is destined to be completely encircled by the Wall, leaving just one entrance/exit to/from Beit Jala and Bethlehem. On the way back towards Bethlehem we passed a couple of outposts linked to Efrat. The colonists have erected two huge Israeli flags which fly over their mobile homes.

Back in Bethlehem I didn’t see many tourists around. I guess the rain, which was now fairly heavy, must have put a few people off. And perhaps it is still a bit early for people coming to Bethlehem for Christmas. I encountered only one group of tourists in the Church of the Nativity – nothing like the crowds that I expected.

If I were not planning to spend Christmas in Prague, I would be tempted to stay here and join the celebrations in Bethlehem.