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January Action Focus: Support Middle East Peacemaking

By Jim McGinnis and Dianne Lee

 

Supporting peacemaking initiatives in the Middle East is so important at this time, especially with the political opening provided by the election of Mahmoud Abbas as the new leader of the Palestinians. With the Epiphany focus on Bethlehem for Christians, the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha (marking Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son Ishmael), and the Jewish festival of Tu B'Shvat (celebrating the midwinter rebirth of trees), this is also an appropriate time for people of faith to put into practice the full meaning of their worship.

We can support peacemaking initiatives in the Middle East in many ways - through olive oil purchases, donations for planting olive trees, economic and political action options, solidarity with international peacemakers, prayer and on-going education.

  • 1. Purchase extra virgin olive oil crushed manually by the farmers of Palestine to help the farmers and the needy children living in the refugee camps inside Palestine. The oil can be purchased online.  In St. Louis, the Center for Theology and Social Analysis has partnered with the Palestine Children's Welfare Fund to make Palestinian olive oil available to the St. Louis community.  To purchase through CTSA, email oliveoil@ctsastl.org or call 314-647-4812. CTSA sells 8oz bottles for $6.00. The olive oil contains no chemicals or preservatives.  Only love and peace are added.

 

  • 2. Help plant olive trees in Palestine, a symbol of harmony and peace and the livelihood of many poor Palestinians and Israelis.

    • Support the "Olive Trees for Peace" initiative of Rabbis for Human Rights, planting trees in both Jewish and Palestinian villages.

    • Through the American Friends of Neve Shalom/Wahat Al-Salam, youth groups and others can contribute $25 for the planting and nurturing of an olive tree by members of this peace village (a unique community of Jews and Arabs in Israel).  Educational resources are also available through their website.

    • Support the Palestine Children's Welfare Fund "Plant an Olive Tree" Project, planting olive trees and orange trees in Palestine to repopulate the olive and orange groves destroyed and uprooted by the Israeli army during construction of the separation wall and the buildup of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

 

  • 3.  Stand against the bulldozing of Palestinian homes and other unjust practices.

    • Amnesty International, the Jewish Voice for Peace, Human Rights Watch, SUSTAIN, the US Campaign to End Israeli Occupation, and Progressive Portal have publicly called on Caterpillar, Inc. to immediately halt the sale of bulldozers to Israel.  Caterpillar equipment is used by the Israeli military to destroy Palestinian homes, orchards, greenhouses, and sometimes lives.  Since 1967 Caterpillar bulldozers were used to destroy almost 12,000 Palestinian homes, leaving more than 70,000 traumatized and homeless.

     

    • US taxpayers, not the Israeli government directly, are paying Caterpillar for these bulldozers. Caterpillar bulldozers are sold to Israel under the US Foreign Military Sales Program.  These bulldozers are retrofitted specifically for the purpose of conducting illegal home demolition in violation of human rights.

     

    • Contact your Congressional representatives; tell them to ask for an investigation of the US purchase of Caterpillar equipment for Israel. 

    • Visit the STOP CATERPILLAR website to join the CAT boycott.

    • Make a donation to the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, a non-violent, direct-action group originally established to oppose and resist Israeli demolition of Palestinian houses in the Occupied Territories.

     

  • 4.  Political actions for a just peace.

    • Although it may seem futile at times, it is imperative that voices calling for peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land be heard by those in power, especially in the United States.  Israel cannot sustain its military occupation and arbitrary settlement expansions without the financial and political support it receives from the United States.  While the US government may have less influence with the Palestinians, it must likewise urge them to pursue nonviolent alternatives.

     

    • It is in our own national self-interest to deal with the sources of terrorism as well as the threat of terrorism. The continuing military occupation of Palestine, the separation wall, the home demolitions and more, plus the corresponding destruction of hope, have all led to the intifada and spawn more terror.  Many Jewish people see that such a change is in the national self-interest of Israel as well.  Among these Jewish voices is Shamai Leibowitz, a prominent Israeli human rights lawyer, an Orthodox Jew, and a former tank gunner in the Israeli Defense Forces serving in the Occupied Terrorities:

      • “A country which sends all its youth to trample and humiliate the indigenous people of the land, a society where beating Palestinians into submission becomes the norm, is on a self-destructive course.” More of Shamai Leibowitz's statement and perspective.

    • In additional to our emails and letters to political leaders, we might consider

      • Educating ourselves and others on these issues (see websites below)

      • Participating in solidarity demonstrations, e.g., with “Women in Black”

      • The difficult issue of divestment from Israel has been raised by some Church bodies and leaders and needs careful consideration before acting.  At least one thoughtful Jewish  peace activist sees divestment as “punishing Israel for terrorism

       

  • 5.  Support Christian Peacemaker Teams and the International Solidarity Movement

    • Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) offer an organized, nonviolent alternative to war and other forms of lethal inter-group conflict.  CPT provides organizational support to persons committed to faith-based nonviolent alternatives in situations where lethal conflict is an immediate reality or is supported by public policy.  For months, CPTers and other internationals have been escorting Palestinian children past the Israeli settlement outpost of Ma'on as the students walk to school. Twice these internationals were attacked.  You can support CPT through prayer, financial donations, sponsorship of a CPT volunteer, or by joining the "Campaign for Secure Dwellings."

     

    • The International Solidarity Movement is a Palestinian-led movement committed to resisting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land using nonviolent, direct-action methods and principles.  ISM volunteers also accompany children, assist with the olive harvest, and maintain an international presence at checkpoints and at protests against the separation wall.  ISM volunteer in St. Louis, Dianne Lee, is available for presentations.  See her Christmas 2004 reflection in #7 below.

 

  • 6.  Distribute and say Pax Christi's "Muslim, Jewish, Christian Prayer for Peace." (Contact Pax Christi, for copies of this prayer card).

    • "O God, you are the source of life and peace.  Praised be your name forever.  We know it is you who turn our minds to thoughts of peace.  Hear our prayer in this time of war.

      “Your power changes hearts.  Muslims, Christians, and Jews remember, and profoundly affirm, that they are followers of the one God, children of Abraham, brothers and sisters; enemies begin to speak to one another; those who were estranged join hands in friendship; nations seek the way of peace together.

      “Strengthen our resolve to give witness to these truths by the way we live.
      Give to us: understanding that puts an end to strife; mercy that quenches hatred; and forgiveness that overcomes vengeance.  Empower all people to live in your law of love.
      Amen."

     

  • 7.  Pray over these 12/04 reflections from Dianne Lee, an ISM volunteer

    “One year ago I traveled with three friends from St. Louis to Palestine.  We spent Christmas Eve in Bethlehem and attended midnight mass at the Church of the Nativity.  As we left Manger Square it was dark, the sun had not risen on Christmas 2003 yet, near the Bethlehem checkpoint, men on Caterpillar bulldozers were already at work plowing under ancient olive trees, while others were grading the earth in preparation for construction of the separation (apartheid) wall. Now it is Christmas, 2004, and the wall surrounds Bethlehem, isolating its citizens, both Christians and Muslims, from Jerusalem
    and the rest of Palestine.

    “On December 26, 2003 we stood in solidarity with the people of Mas'ha as the Israeli army opened fire on unarmed Israeli, Palestinian, and international demonstrators trying to open a gate in the apartheid wall separating the villagers from their own land, their olive groves and orchards.  I accompanied a young Israeli, unconscious from gunshot wounds, and an injured American woman, one of my travel companions, from the clinic in the neighboring village of Bidya, where the Israeli's life was certainly saved, to a hospital in Peta Tiqwa, Israel.  The young Israeli, Gil Na'amati, will never fully recover from his wounds.  He participated in the demonstration at Mas'ha three weeks after his discharge from the Israeli army.  During his years of military service, he was stationed in the West Bank and came to understand that the military occupation and the construction of the wall were fueling a spiral of violence, death and destruction throughout Palestine.  His first public act after leaving the army was to take part in the non-violent demonstration at Mas'ha in
    protest of the separation wall.

    “We visited mothers and children in Qalqilia, Ramallah, Jayous, Nablus, the Balata Refugee Camp, and in Bethlehem.  All of the mothers spoke of despair.  There was little hope and much fear as they tried to imagine what the future held for their children.  The children were amazingly resilient, smiling and welcoming us, asking our names, and posing for photographs.  In Qalqilia, the boys shared dreams of college, of becoming engineers or doctors.  All of this as we stood in front of a sniper tower where armed Israeli soldiers kept watch and a 25 foot high concrete wall, covered with poignant, defiant graffiti.  The children displayed a large banner with the words "The wall deprives 6500 farmers from their land" scripted in both Arabic and English.

    “As we celebrate the Christmas season singing carols, exchanging gifts with loved ones, relaxing at parties, and catching up with old friends, let us remember the people, especially the children, of Palestine.  Thirty-seven years of military occupation, the
    confiscation of Palestinian land, arbitrary home demolitions, and the ongoing collective punishment of every Palestinian does not make Israelis secure in their neighborhoods but does cause the needless suffering of millions of innocent people.  652 Palestinian children were killed by  Israeli military forces from September 29, 2000, the beginning of the second intifada, to November 20, 2004… During the same period 117 Israeli children died, most were killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber.  769 dead children, 1,538 heartbroken parents, countless grieving relatives and friends, and none of these children were a threat to their killers.  How many more children must die before US citizens, politicians, and faith communities say NO MORE?  Please act now -

    • Visit the Remember These Children website and then act.

    • Call or write your elected officials.

    • Share what you learn with others in your faith community.

    • Pray for hope and peace in Bethlehem, not just at Christmas, but in every season. 

      ‘Oh little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie
      Above the deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by
      Yet in thy dark street shineth, the ever-lasting light
      The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight’

    Salaam, Shalom, Peace – Dianne Lee

     

  • 8.  For more information, contact these additional websites: