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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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.

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?

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.

From Ramallah to Jericho

Having been based near Ramallah for the past week or so, our Quaker Voluntary Action group travelled today via the Mount of Temptations, Jericho, Hisham’s Palace, and a spring near the village of Auja to the Auja Eco Centre.

It is rather hotter in the Jordan Valley than in Ramallah. And it was a fairly steep climb up the Mount of Temptations, said to be the place in the wilderness where Jesus fasted for forty days and was subjected to temptation. There is a monastery perhaps about two-thirds of the way up the mountain. I walked up the path to the monastery in silence. Inside the monastery there are a couple of small chapels. One of them is just a small cave with a low entrance. I had a few moments alone in that little cave, but was very conscious of other people wanting to follow me inside. The chapels were all rather crowded and few people were entirely silent. It was not conducive to prayer or meditation. I was reminded of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem:

I have desired to go

Where springs not fail,

To fields where flies no sharp or sided hail

And a few lilies blow.

I have asked to be

Where no storms come,

Where the green swell is in the havens dumb

And out of the swing of the sea.

Jericho is noticeably greener than the large bustling city of Ramallah. We found a small café/restaurant for lunch, before going on to Hisham’s Palace, which was built during the first half of the eighth century and largely destroyed by an earthquake only five years later, though it was subsequently occupied.

Our next stop was at the end of a road up a narrow steep-sided valley. The hillsides are barren, but we walked a little way on up the valley to where tall rushes were growing along a small stream. Several of us removed our shoes or sandals and found rocks to sit on with our feet in the deliciously cool water. The stream from the spring used to provide a plentiful supply of water to the village of Auja, which used to grow an abundance of melons and other fruit. Now the spring water is extracted for use, mainly for irrigation, in nearby Israeli settlements. The stream has dried up for all but a few winter months, so the land is dry and unproductive. The residents of Auja have to go and work for low pay in the nearby settlements and/or sell some of their own land to Palestinians from Ramallah or Jerusalem who can afford holiday homes.

Our base for the next two days is the Auja Eco Centre. This is a project of Friends of the Earth (FoE) in the Middle East, which has offices in Bethlehem, Tel Aviv, and Amman. Fadi, the director of the Eco Centre explained that FoE in the the Middle East, which has members in Israel, Palestine, and Jordan, supports the claims of the Palestinians to a viable independent state, which would require the dismantling of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Fadi told us about some of the consequences of the unfair distribution of the region’s water resources. Because of excessive extraction upstream, the lower Jordan River is seriously depleted. It is also polluted by untreated sewage. Old artesian wells are becoming saline as the water table sinks. Extraction from existing wells by Palestinians is metered and controlled by the Israeli water authority. The Palestinians are allowed water for domestic use only. They are frequently unable to obtain permits to repair water infrastructure in Area C, which is under Israeli control.

Fadi told us about the Centre’s “Good Water Neighbours” scheme, which fosters cooperation between neighbouring Palestinian and Jordanian villages. In these villages there are “water trustees” who teach children about the importance of water conservation. Unfortunately Israeli settlements, which consume the lion’s share of the water, are not involved in such cooperation. This is because FoE in the Middle East has a policy of non-cooperation with people or organisations who do not recognise the rights of Palestinians.

Such non-cooperation is a classic form of nonviolent struggle or the use of “goodness-power”. (“Goodness-power” will be the subject of a future blogpost.) However, if non-cooperation also means a refusal to talk to opponents, in this case the residents of Israeli settlements, I feel rather uneasy. The sooner opponents talk to each other and begin cooperating to resolve a problem, the sooner the problem will be resolved. Not so long ago I read H. W. van der Merwe’s autobiography. “Harvey” was the director of the Centre for Intergroup Studies in Cape Town. He did much to bring members of the ANC together with members of the Apartheid administration. As a Quaker he made a point of being willing to talk to anyone and everyone.