Understanding Jews and Muslims in Israel and Palestine

It took an hour to get through the checkpoint at Qalandia this morning. It’s always a bit of a lottery. I had three queues to choose from and must have chosen the wrong one. For a long time no one was being allowed through the turnstile. Perhaps the Israeli soldier who was supposed to be checking passports and permits, etc. had gone for a break or something. Or perhaps there was a lengthy interrogation going on.

Eventually a few people were allowed through the turnstile. With it being Friday, most of the people going through into Jerusalem were elderly folk, presumably going to worship or to visit family or friends. Many families have been separated by the Separation Wall.

For me, it wasn’t so bad waiting in the queue for such a long time. There were three Ecumenical Accompaniers on duty at the checkpoint. One of them joined the queue along with me, so I didn’t get bored. She told me that her name was Hanna and that she came from Norway and had studied in Oslo. She was three weeks into the usual three-month stint that the Ecumenical Accompaniers do. She had spent several months in the West Bank before, whilst researching for her M.A., which she entitled “The Wild, Wild West Bank.”

I asked whether she had been to lectures with Johann Galtung (whom I’ve heard referred to as “the father of peace research”, since he founded the Peace Research Institute Oslo). I was dismayed when she told me that he has become vehemently anti-Semitic in recent years. When I heard him speak in Heidelberg about 18 years ago, I was most impressed. I wonder what caused him to go off the rails?

When one sees what the Israeli government is doing in the occupied state of Palestine, it is perhaps tempting to demonise Israelis and Jews. But Jesus, who was himself a Jew, said that we should not judge others, lest we be judged. We should certainly not demonise people, especially if we are complaining about them demonising others.

One of the two workshops which I attended at the Sabeel conference this morning was about the variety of Jewish religious traditions and political standpoints in Israel. Choosing workshops can be a bit of a lottery, like choosing a queue at a checkpoint. I made two good choices this morning.

In one workshop, a rabbi, Arik Ascherman, a former executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights, told us that, of the Jews in Israel, more than half are secular, about a quarter are Orthodox, about one fifth are Ultra Orthodox, and only a few are liberal.

None of these broad groups is monolithic. There are three main traditions of Ultra Orthodox Jews: Sephardic, Hassidic, and Lithuanian. They all enjoy the privilege of not having to work or to serve in the armed forces, so that they can devote their lives to religious study. Hassidic Jews are not only devoted to intellectual study. They also sing and dance and follow the path of mysticism.

Ultra Orthodox Jews are likely to be supporters of the National Religious Movement, which asserts that God has commanded the Jews to redeem the whole of the Land of Israel by whatever means are necessary, including building settlements in the occupied territories. This command is paramount, so it may be expedient to kill Palestinian civilians, if it serves the purpose of restoring the whole Land of Israel to the Jews. Human rights issues and international law are irrelevant.

This is a minority view, but the National Religious Movement plays a key role in the current coalition government. The executive summary and recommendations of a new report from the International Crisis Group, “Leap of Faith: Israel’s National Religious and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict”, are well worth reading.

The impression that I gained from Arik Ascherman is that the majority of Jews in Israel are so fearful of finding themselves at the mercy of a hostile majority population, that, whatever happens, they want to live in a Jewish state, in which they have control over their own destiny. This suggests the necessity of a two-state solution, so that Israel would be assured of a majority of Jews within the state of Israel.

A one-state solution would be problematic from this point of view. In a single state uniting Israel within the 1967 borders, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza would have a majority of Palestinians. Either the state would not be Jewish, in so far as Jews would not be in control, or it would essentially be an apartheid state, with the denial of human rights for Palestinians which that entails.

The other workshop which I attended this morning was about Islam. Mohammad Dajani Daoudi, head of the American Studies Programme at Al-Quds University, explained that the Koran should not be read too literally. According to the spirit of the Koran, “Islam” means submission to God. And anyone who submits to God, including both Jews and Christians, is a “moslem”.

When read in the right spirit, the Koran cannot be used to justify killing people. Individuals have a right to choose their own religion, even if this means converting to another religion. The Koran, like other holy books, does not teach supremacy, exclusivity, hatred, violence and war. The Koran teaches compassion, mercy, peace and inclusiveness.

According to the Koran, we should not only pray, but we should also do good. Then people will see us as models.

George Fox, the main founder of Quakerism, said: “Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come, that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one.”

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Use and abuse of the Bible

Participants have enjoyed (or endured) an intensive second day at the Sabeel conference. The conference is being held at the Notre Dame Hotel in Jerusalem, just across the road from the Old City. The Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre is celebrating its 25th anniversary. So this afternoon we acknowledged the important part played by national and regional coordinators of Friends of Sabeel.

The theme of the day was “The Occupation of the Bible”. Four one-and-a-half hour sessions were interspersed with meals and coffee breaks. The four sessions were entitled: “Biblical Authority”, “The Occupation of the Bible”, “The Bible and the Occupation of Palestine”, and “The Land of Promise”.

This was a day of theological discussion, which suited me fine. I’ve read enough theology and participated in enough Bible study sessions over the years to be able to follow the discussion with interest.

One of the speakers, Nancy Cardoso Pereira, a Methodist minister from Brazil, said that we need more than good theology to challenge Empire. Of course, she’s right. But we do need good theology. Bad theology is likely to cause us to make a bad situation worse. Good theology helps us to open ourselves to the guidance of the Spirit, keeps us on track, and enables us to source the strength that we need for the long haul.

A lack of theology, which I often find amongst Quakers, is little better than bad theology. So I make no apology for writing about theological issues.

Each of today’s sessions had the same format: a panel of three speakers, each of whom spoke for 15-20 minutes and then responded briefly to each other before questions were taken from conference participants.

Of all the speakers, David Mark Neuhaus impressed me most. He was born into a Jewish family in South Africa and converted to Catholicism when he was 26 years old. He became a Jesuit priest and is now secretary-general of the Hebrew-speaking Catholic Vicariate in Israel. He took part in the panel discussion on “Biblical Authority” together with Nancy Cardoso Pereira and Gary Burge, an evangelical theologian from the USA.

Before discussing the question, “In what sense is the Bible authoritative?”, David Neuhaus stressed that Jesus had authority. Unfortunately, we are tempted to turn authority into a hegemony of violence and destructiveness. However, the Bible is authoritative because it teaches each of us how to speak about God, our self, and our community.

Revelation may be given to us as we read the Bible. The Bible gives us answers to the questions: “Where do I/we come from?”, “How should I live today?”, and “Where am I, where are we going?”

We shouldn’t attempt to use the Bible as an instrument with which to impose our vision on the world. Instead of using the Bible for self-justification, we need to open ourselves to being challenged. We are likely to recognise that we’re not living up to what we profess. “The Bible humbles us.”

The doctrine of “sola scriptura” carries the risk of seeing clarity in biblical texts where none exists. We should read the Bible together in community. The Bible can’t be divorced from tradition. We need to relate to the Bible as we read it. There is a need for authoritative teaching which attempts to change the march of history and serves the people of God.

The world shuts us off from the flow of the Holy Spirit. The flowing of the Holy Spirit is blocked by our blindness and deafness.

We are all the time in a kairos moment (a moment of crisis and opportunity) and need to live in an awareness of this.

Jean Zaru was one of the panellists in the early afternoon session. She had been given a permit to enter Jerusalem at the second time of asking. Nevertheless, she was held up at the Qalandia checkpoint for two hours.

Jean voiced some Quaker affirmations: “All of us have indwelling divinity.” “All of us are special.” “All of us are equal.” She told us of her involvement in Christian-Jewish dialogue. Palestine/Israel was always a taboo subject. What is the point of dialogue, if it doesn’t affect how we live?

David Ben Gurion, who was the first prime minister of Israel, said: “The Bible is the sacrosanct title-deed to Israel.” The Jews claim a divine right which trumps all human rights.

Jean said: “We are one world. We either transform it together or blow it together.”

She explained that Christian Zionists are fiercely pro-Israel, but anti-Jewish. They want Israel to take over the whole of historical Palestine in order to hasten the second coming of Christ. But Jews will then all be killed, unless they convert to Christianity.

The later afternoon session about “The Land of Promise” was also interesting. Here are a couple of thoughts from Yohanna Katanacho, the Dean of Students at Bethlehem Bible School: Israel abuses scripture to claim, steal, and exploit the land. According to the Gospel of John, the Spirit of God is everywhere and is not confined to one place. The Holy Land is everywhere.

Palestinian Christians committed to nonviolent resistance

The ninth international conference of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre began today in Jerusalem. I got there just in time to catch up with the main group of participants as they were heading off to the Melkite church in the Old City. I was greeted by Omar, one of the Sabeel staff whom I met in the office last week. He led me and a few other stragglers down through the Old City. We soon caught up with the people ahead of us.

Most of the conference participants are from the USA. Scandinavian countries are also well represented. I found a few people from England, Scotland, and Ireland. Many, perhaps most, participants are past retirement. There seems to be a good mixture of people from various protestant churches, as well as Anglicans and Catholics. I chatted briefly with three people from Dublin, who turned out to be Methodist, Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic.

The Melkite or Greek Catholic church, in which we worshipped, is very ornate, similar to an Orthodox church. This is not altogether surprising, since the Greek Catholics use Orthodox rites and liturgy, although they owe their allegiance to Rome. The worship was ecumenical, with Greek Catholic chanting of a prayer, an Anglican sermon (given by Naim Ateek, the director of Sabeel), and one or two Taizé chants. We all recited the Lord’s prayer in our own language.

After the worship we returned to the Notre Dame Hotel, where the conference is being held. Before the evening meal, we watched an excellent film, “The Stones Cry Out”, slightly less than an hour in length, about Palestinian Christians, whose ancestral roots go back to the first followers of Jesus.

In the film, Elias Chacour, author of “Blood Brothers” and now Melkite Archbishop of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth and all Galilee, and other Palestinian Christians are interviewed about their experience of Al Nakba, the Catastrophe of 1948. The Palestinian inhabitants of Kafr Bir’im, including the eight-year-old Elias Chacour, were driven out of the village by Israeli forces and never allowed to return. Many Palestinian villages suffered a similar fate.

The film also told the story of nonviolent resistance in Beit Sahour, a predominantly Christian town next to Bethlehem. In 1989, during the first intifada, a campaign of tax resistance prompted a harsh response from the Israeli military. Furniture and other household goods were confiscated, the town was placed under siege for 42 days, and 40 people were arrested.

The evening session began with an excellent short (less than ten minutes) animated film, which gave a summary of the history of Palestine/Israel since 1947. Maps showed how the Palestinians have lost more and more land. The film was made by Jewish Voice for Peace.

The keynote speaker for the evening was Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, General Secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative, and a candidate in the presidential election in 2005. He showed us how the Palestinians are being confined within a shrinking space. The West Bank and Gaza constitute 22% of historical Palestine, west of the River Jordan. Without Area C, over which they have no control, the Palestinians are left with only 39% of the West Bank.

Mustafa Barghouti believes that it was a big mistake for the Palestinian Authority to go into renewed peace talks with Israel without insisting on a freeze on settlement construction. The continuing expansion of settlements is not only illegal under international law. It is also in contravention of the Oslo Accords.

There has to be a change in the balance of power between Israel and Palestine, if there is to be a just and lasting peace agreement. Palestinian nonviolent resistance needs the support of international solidarity. Mustafa Barghouti said that Israel should be punished, e.g. by a boycott, for its violations of international law. Boycott, divestment, and sanctions must make the occupation costly for Israel.

Sitting on the bus back to Ramallah, I thought to myself: The occupation will come to an end, when the USA decides to stop financing it.

Life under occupation

The afternoon began with a film documenting daily “life” at the Qalandia checkpoint on the road between Jerusalem and Ramallah. An Israeli activist took it upon herself to spend each day for about eight years filming what was happening at the checkpoint.

We saw crowds of people in the “cattle pens” pushing to get through the turnstiles, which are reminiscent of the machines which are used to remove the feathers from chicken. Once through the first turnstile, you have to put whatever you are carrying onto a conveyor belt to go through a scanner as at an airport, and walk through an arch to be scanned yourself.

Then you have to show your passport or ID card by placing it up against the glass screen which separates you from the Israeli soldiers who decide whether or not to let you pass through into Jerusalem. If you are an international or a Palestinian with a valid permit you are allowed to go through a second turnstile. There is then a third turnstile at the exit from the checkpoint.

Workers who need to get to work in Jerusalem or further inside Israel face delays of up to two hours. Or they may even be refused entry into Jerusalem. They are likely to lose their jobs, if they don’t turn up for work, or if they are too late too often.

The film also showed scenes of would-be worshippers, including elderly women, being forced to wait for hours in the hot sun during Ramadan.

After the film, Jean Zaru, presiding clerk of Ramallah Friends Meeting, talked to us about the violence being done to Palestinians in the occupied territories. The direct violence, such as the shooting of two Palestinians at checkpoints last week, is only the tip of the iceberg. There is a great deal of structural violence, which is economic, political, cultural, and religious.

The response of many Palestinians to this oppression is to withdraw into themselves (“inner emigration”), to accommodate or adjust to the situation as best they can, or to manipulate the system to their own advantage by fair means or foul. And those who have family connections in the USA or elsewhere may literally emigrate, if given the chance.

Jean advocated nonviolent resistance as the Christian response to oppression. Jesus’ way was to oppose evil without becoming evil oneself. He preached the reign of God, which is free of domination. “Struggle changes us. It gives us life. … It not only transforms us, but also makes us transforming people.”

The second of three speakers was a human rights lawyer working with the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association. There are 5,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, including 15 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, nine of whom are being held in administrative detention.

Prisoners can be kept in administrative detention for six months at a time. But the detention order can be renewed indefinitely, sometimes for as long as eight years. Detainees are not charged and their lawyers are not allowed to see any evidence which may (or may not) justify their incarceration.

According to international law prisoners who have committed crimes in an occupied territory must be imprisoned within that territory, not inside the occupying country. But all Palestinian prisoners held by the Israelis are held in jails within Israel. This means that family members are often not able to visit them, because they are not able to obtain the permit required for entry into Israel.

What can we in the West do? Campaign for a boycott of G4S, which provides security in Israeli prisons and interrogation centres, and at checkpoints.

The third speaker was Sam Bahour, managing partner of Applied Information Management, a Palestinian business which provides “professional and independent consulting and research”. Sam explained how Israeli control of Palestinian infrastructure restricts economic development.

Palestinians who are experts in particular fields, but who live in other parts of the world, are not allowed to enter Palestine. Israel controls all the borders, including those between the West Bank and Jordan and between Gaza and Egypt. The journey between Ramallah and Bethlehem – only about 20 miles as the crow flies – takes about 1 hour 45 minutes because of the circuitous route: south to Qalandia, east to the Jordan Valley, south towards the Dead Sea, and then west to Bethlehem. And there are three checkpoints on the way.

Sam told us about his daughters’ reading of history and prediction of the future. There was the “Catastrophe” of 1948 when many thousands of Palestinians were driven from their homes. Palestinians have been trying in various ways to reclaim their homeland ever since.

War and armed struggle hasn’t worked. Appealing to international law hasn’t worked, because the superpowers turn a blind eye to Israeli violations. Negotiations with Israel brought the Oslo Agreement which has allowed Israel to entrench the occupation and further colonise the West Bank. The “facts on the ground” created by Israel make a two-state solution virtually impossible.

So, Sam’s daughters say, we will let Israel have everything, the land and the people. We will then campaign for our civil rights within a unitary state. It may take some time. But we will win.

A day in Jerusalem

I set off rather later than intended this morning. Then it took longer than usual to get through the checkpoint on the way to Jerusalem. The bus that I caught from Ramallah only went as far as the checkpoint at Qalandia. We all had to walk through, instead of going through on the bus. There was then a hold-up, because the Israeli soldiers refused to allow a teenage girl to go through. Presumably she didn’t have the right papers.

So it was past eleven o’clock by the time I reached the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre in East Jerusalem. I found Bridget, a British volunteer, folding hymn sheets to go inside orders of service for the worship on the last full day of next week’s international conference. I set to work inserting the folded hymn sheets into the orders of service which we had folded and stapled yesterday.

I was able to do one other task before I left the office: numbering sticky spots to go on conference participants’ name badges, so that they will know which table to sit at either during meal times or during group discussion sessions.

As I was about to leave, I was invited to stay for lunch. I was tempted. Lunch had been good on both the previous two days. But I had to get away in order to find my way to Karmon Street in West Jerusalem in good time for Meeting for Worship at two o’clock.

There’s a tram line which runs all the way from a settlement in East Jerusalem to Mount Herzl in West Jerusalem. I’m told that Palestinians are discouraged from using it. They use the buses which run from the Qalandia checkpoint to a bus station near Damascus Gate.

I took the tram, which is, of course, much quicker and more comfortable. It would also have taken me all the way to my destination, if I hadn’t got off one stop too soon. I studied the local map at the tram stop and my own less detailed map of Jerusalem and decided that I would do better to wait for the next tram to take me to the next stop. The trams run every seven minutes or so. It would have taken me a lot longer to walk.

The Quaker Meeting for Worship was held in the ground floor flat of one of the two Quakers who live in/near Jerusalem. Maureen is still in the process of moving from Oxford to join her husband, who is Israeli. Linda, whom I had met at the Garden Tomb at the start of the Quaker Voluntary Action “pilgrimage” that I joined last month, works for the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority and lives, with about twenty cats, in a settlement just outside Jerusalem.

After meeting in silent worship for half-an-hour, we had a fascinating discussion about the archaeology and ancient history of the Middle East. Actually, I basically listened to Maureen and Linda’s discussion, perhaps throwing in the odd question. Both of them are far more learned than I am about these subjects. Linda, who is a botanist, told us of her plans to take part in an archaeological excavation in Jordan. She will be trying to sort out and study organic matter: seeds, pollen, and maybe textiles and rope.

I forget whether it was Maureen or Linda who pointed out that studies of people’s DNA in the Middle East show that Palestinians and Israelis have much the same DNA. It seems that both are descended from the Canaanites.

There was some discussion of the story of the Exodus, which is central to both Jewish faith and Christian liberation theology. It seems that only a small group of people left Egypt and crossed the River Jordan into Samaria, which now forms the northern part of the West Bank. It seems likely that the walls of Jericho were brought down several times by earthquakes rather than by a trumpet blast.

The conversation wasn’t only about ancient history. Linda told me about the Hope School for Palestinian children with special needs, which is situated in Area C between Bethlehem and the settlement where she lives. Quakers from Sunderland in the northeast of England have provided funds to furnish the newly-built school dining room.

At the end of the afternoon Linda kindly gave me a lift from Maureen’s flat to the Old City. The trams and buses stop running before sundown on Fridays at the start of Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath. As we drove towards the Old City, Linda pointed out the President’s house and other notable buildings, such as the YMCA, which seems to me to be an upmarket hotel from what she was saying.

Linda dropped me off at the Jaffa Gate, so I was able to enjoy an amble through the Old City to the Damascus Gate. The main streets and alleyways are lined with shops selling all sorts of souvenirs, jewellery, T-shirts, scarves, dresses, footwear, etc. There are a few food shops as well, and restaurants and barber shops. I wandered down through the Christian Quarter and then along to the Damascus Gate, so all the shopkeepers were Palestinian. It was getting near to closing time, but there were still quite a few tourists wandering through the streets. One or two groups of Orthodox Jews passed by. A group of tourists gathered round their guide at one point. I couldn’t really hear what he was saying, but it sounded like Russian or Polish to me. There were also Palestinians going about their business. It was dark by the time I emerged from the Old City through the Damascus Gate.

The buses to Ramallah are quite frequent. And they are fast as far as the checkpoint at Qalandia. So I was back “home” at the Friends International Centre around 6.30 p.m. I cooked myself a simple meal (and ate it) and then sat down to work through my e-mails.

Sabeel

If you get off at the right bus stop on the way from Ramallah into Jerusalem, you will find yourself just a few yards from the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre. “Sabeel” is an Arabic word meaning “the way”, a “channel” or “spring”. In this case “Sabeel” refers to the Way of Christian discipleship.

As well as the Centre in Jerusalem, Sabeel is “an ecumenical grassroots movement among Palestinians”, which “seeks to make the Gospel contextually relevant, and strives to develop a spirituality based on justice, peace, nonviolence, liberation, and reconciliation for the different faith communities”.

I spent much of yesterday and today at the Centre in East Jerusalem, helping with preparations for the ninth international conference of Sabeel, which will be held in Jerusalem next week. Friends of Sabeel will be coming from the USA, Canada, Sweden, the UK, one or two other European countries, and Brazil. An unknown number of Palestinians will be joining the 180 participants who are expected from overseas.

Before lunch today a group of Friends of Sabeel from the USA arrived in time for the weekly communion service, presided over by Naim Ateek, an Anglican priest who is director of Sabeel. The Gospel reading was from Luke’s Gospel.

Some Sadducees, who didn’t believe in resurrection, asked Jesus what would happen in heaven after a woman had been married to each of seven brothers in turn after each one died. When she then also died, to which of the seven brothers would she be married in heaven? Jesus explained that people would not be married in heaven. And he went on to tell the Sadducees that God is the God of the living and not of the dead. Moses recognised God in the burning bush as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, implying that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were alive.

Instead of a sermon, Naim Ateek shared some reflections on the two Bible passages which had been read and invited other people to share their thoughts. Naim highlighted the contrast between Muslim and Christian Zionist fundamentalists on the one hand and followers of Jesus, who focus on living a life of discipleship during this life, on the other hand.

Both Muslim and Christian Zionist fundamentalists focus on life after death. Muslim fundamentalists imagine that if they are martyred whilst killing their enemies, they will enjoy a life of pleasure and comfort in heaven. There was mention of the stabbing a day or two ago of an Israeli soldier by a 16-year-old Palestinian who had crossed the border from Jenin into Gallilee.

Christian Zionists seek to hasten Christ’s second coming and are not at all concerned about people, Palestinians in particular, who suffer injustice today. Their support for Israel’s Zionist colonisation of the West Bank is extremely destructive.

In contrast, Jesus’ option for the poor and his option for nonviolence form the basis of our discipleship. And discipleship is about how we live our lives in this world, never mind what we imagine might happen in the next.

I’m looking forward to learning more about Sabeel’s theology and praxis during next week’s conference.

Unfortunately, it will be difficult for Palestinians from the Occupied Palestinian Territories to take part. They need to obtain a permit for entry into Israel. Jean Zaru, the presiding clerk of the Quaker Meeting in Ramallah, is scheduled to speak at the conference. But she has been refused a permit. So she is having to put in a new application…

Three weeks in Palestine: Taking stock

I’ve now been in Palestine/Israel for just over three weeks: nearly two weeks on a Quaker Voluntary Action (QVA) “pilgrimage”, and now ten days at the Friends International Centre in Ramallah.

The QVA project was very intensive. Twelve of us met in Jerusalem on 18 October, joined in the weekly vigil of Women in Black and then went to the Garden Tomb to meet with Linda, a Quaker who works for the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and lives in a settlement just outside Jerusalem.

We spent the following week based in a village north of Ramallah. During that week we visited the Friends School in Ramallah, attended Sunday morning Meeting for Worship in Ramallah Friends Meeting House, heard a talk by Thuqan Qishawi, who used to work for the American Friends Service Committee and now works freelance with young people, spent a day picking olives in Al-Jib, a village between Ramallah and Jerusalem, visited Jacob’s Well and a refugee camp near Nablus, visited the Palestinian Association for Cultural Exchange, and visited Efrat, an Israeli settlement south of Bethlehem.

An eco-centre in a village near Jericho was our base for the next couple of days. On our way there we visited the Mount of Temptation and Hisham’s Palace. We spent a morning working at the eco-centre. Then in the afternoon a few of us visited the place on bank of the River Jordan where Jesus is said to have been baptised by John the Baptist. We left for Tel Aviv the following day after a long and arduous hike down a wadi, a steep river valley which is dry during the summer until the rains come in December.

North of Tel Aviv we visited Dorothy Naor of New Profile and Amos Gvirtz, a veteran peace activist. Both of them impressed me greatly.

Half of the QVA group returned to Britain on 29 October when the QVA “pilgrimage” ended. Two of us enjoyed a train ride to Jerusalem, where Harriet wanted to stay and do some sight-seeing. I took a bus to Ramallah and somehow managed to find my way to the Friends Meeting House and the Friends International Centre (FICR) without getting lost. Hekmat, who has been keeping FICR going since Kathy Bergen left in July, was waiting for me along with three of her children.

Since I have been in Ramallah, the pace of life has been more relaxed. I have succeeded in posting something on my blog every evening, although this has meant some very late nights. I’ve met quite a number of people, largely thanks to Kathy Bergen, who is back in Palestine/Israel for a couple of weeks and will be attending the international conference of Sabeel, the Palestinian liberation theology centre in Jerusalem, 19-25 November. I’ve spent quite a lot of time “working” on my laptop, avidly reading about what’s happening in Palestine and Israel. So I’m piecing together a picture of what the occupation of Palestine means for the people living here.

I’m looking forward to meeting whoever comes to Meeting for Worship on Sunday. And some time next week Jean Zaru, the presiding clerk of the Meeting should get back from the States in time to speak at the Sabeel conference. Having just read her book, “Occupied with Nonviolence: a Palestinian woman speaks”, I’m keen to meet her at last.

Just living in Ramallah is quite an adventure for me. Even going shopping is exciting. I’m still not sure where to find everything that I want.

I won’t just be stopping in Ramallah, though. Next Friday I shall meet for worship with Linda and another Quaker in Jerusalem. From Tuesday to Saturday the following week I shall take part in the Sabeel conference, which includes an excursion to the Negev where Bedouins are being evicted from their villages. A week later, I’m planning a visit to Bethlehem followed by a second visit to Efrat. Before I return to Europe on 16 December I hope also to fit in trips to Hebron and Nablus. So I expect to have a few more stories to tell.