Dear Friends and Family:
We regret our long silence! As Bob is now on the staff at St. George’s Cathedral in addition to being Acting Director of Sabeel, life has been busy! Maurine continues to work primarily on editing projects and hopes that the book of papers presented at last fall’s Sabeel conference on The Forgotten Faithful, the Palestinian Christian community, will soon be ready for publication. We also continue to meet with various groups visiting Sabeel and to guide those interested in seeing the “facts on the ground.”
While life in Jerusalem is free from the violence and chaos of Gaza, we are experiencing in the Palestinian community a level of sadness and hopelessness that we’ve never before encountered. As you know, June 6 marks the 40th year of the Israeli Occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. This sad anniversary is a reminder to all Palestinians of how much they have lost, not only since 1967 but since 1948. Palestinians have gone from owning 93% of the land of British Mandate Palestine in 1947 to trying to hold on to some 12% but that is diminishing each day.
Jerusalem is at a crisis point. The building of the Wall through East Jerusalem means that house demolitions continue each week and more and more Jerusalemites are being “walled out” of their city. About 1/3 of the population of Jerusalem are Palestinians who pay almost 40% of the taxes. (Many of the Ultra Orthodox Jews, who comprise an ever expanding proportion of the Jewish population in Jerusalem, do not work or pay taxes.) However, Palestinians receive less than 9% of the municipal budget and are seeing their homes and land confiscated by Jewish settlers both within the Old City and in the neighborhoods of E. Jerusalem. In the neighborhood near St. George’s Cathedral where we live, this expansion is vividly obvious on the streets with more and more houses flying Israeli flags. And on May 15, celebrated as “Jerusalem Day,” thousands of young people paraded through the Muslim Quarter wrapped in Israeli flags — the remarkable patience of Palestinians in the face of such behavior is an inspiration to us!
Bethlehem is now essentially a prison. We went there this morning for hearing aid repair because the Israelis prohibit Palestinians from opening hearing aid centers in Jerusalem! So even though we live on the main shopping street of East Jerusalem, we had to make the trek to Bethlehem: a bus to the checkpoint, a walk through the “terminal” with its multiple turnstiles and chutes, a separate taxi ride to the medical center, and then the whole process in reverse. All of this took us 2 1/2 hours even though Bethlehem is 7 miles from Jerusalem. Of course, we can go and come easily with our US passports, but Bethlehemites cannot leave the city without very special permits and even greater delays!
And Gaza breaks our hearts. Try to imagine 1.4 million people living on 360 sq. kilometers, more than 2/3’s of them living on less than $2 per day. Drinking water is contaminated both by sea water and inadequate sewage. The tragic result is a total breakdown of law and order and the resultant internecine battles you see on TV between Fatah and Hamas or between clans, to which people are reverting as civil society collapses. Now that is compounded by the daily bombings by the Israeli Air Force. Our friend Suhaila at the Ahli Anglican Hospital (whom we had hoped to visit last Wednesday but could not because of the violence) says that she has never seen such desperate conditions.
Where is there hope in this situation? It is very hard to see much that is hopeful here on the ground with both the Israeli and Palestinian governments on the verge of collapse and US efforts apparently limited to Condoleeza Rice’s whirlwind visits that lead nowhere. There is not now and has not been for years a “peace process.”
We do see signs of hopefulness in the growing awareness of the American and US public. Israel’s excessive aggressiveness in Lebanon (which failed in its military objectives) seems to have opened the eyes of many to the ways it routinely treats Palestinians. Jimmy Carter’s book has given a realistic portrayal of Israel’s many refusals to truly seek peace while constantly expanding its holdings and making a viable Palestinian state virtually impossible. Ilan Pappe’s book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, based entirely on Israeli archives including Ben Gurion’s diary, explodes once and for all the myth that Israel was fighting for its survival in 1948 when it purposefully destroyed 531 villages and created 750,000 refugees in a well-planned, systematic campaign. We urge you to read this book by a very courageous Jewish Israeli historian.
Ultimately, growing public awareness may bring pressure to bear on US policy; changing world opinion may ultimately bring pressure to bear on Israeli policy. There are many events planned in the US and around the world to say that 40 years of Occupation is more than enough. We need to recognize that US and EU policies of starving the whole of Palestinian society have increased despair and hatred, producing a generation of unemployed young people with no hopes for the future and little reason to reject terrorism. Israelis have not become more secure as a result of their repressive policies. Militarism and Occupation have not worked.
We hope you will participate in some way in speaking against Occupation on its 40th anniversary — through prayers at church, through writing your elected representatives, through participating in one of the planned events in Washington or elsewhere. This is not a time for any of us to remain silent.