Lost Harvests

We had planned yesterday to visit one of the villages we have not yet been to, but when our driver arrived to take us there he told us that there had been an “incident” the night before in one of the other villages.   We made some inquiries and learned that olive trees in the village of Khirbet Shuweika, located southwest of Yatta, had been destroyed by settlers.  We decided to change our plans and go there immediately.  Part of our role here is to document settler incursions of villages  so that this information can be shared with human rights organizations.  Another part of our role here is to provide an accompanying presence to those in need.

As we drove along the bumpy dirt road to get there, we met Israeli army and Israeli police leaving the village, and a car full of villagers who stopped to tell us they were enroute to Hebron to report the incident to the police there.  Apparently, for these villagers living in the Israeli controlled Area C of the West Bank, it is not enough to report a crime and have the appropriate authorities come to see the crime….you have to drive 2 hours or more to officially report it.  It is understood by these villagers that in all likelihood there will be no charges laid, no repercussions to the perpetrators of the crime, but still….it feels necessary to report the crime.

When we arrived at the village, we could see that representatives from the  news media, the UN, and  B’Tselem (the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories –  see http://www.btselem.org)   were already there.  We talked with them briefly, and then  walked downhill to the grove.  There we found the first of the destroyed olive trees, broken over, branches ripped off, olives and branches laying on the ground.   I felt physically ill as I looked at the scene.  Why would anyone do this?  Why would anyone wantonly destroy these olive trees?   Why?  Why?  Why????

destroyed olive trees, Khirbet Shuweika, Sept 29, 2011

I approached the farmer who had found this destruction only hours before.  Through my broken Arabic,  I attempted to convey to him my sorrow.  He looked at my face and understood.   Nodding, he motioned his agreement. Then he said “Come”.  I followed him down the hill, to more damage, more destruction.  Silently we walked from destroyed tree to destroyed tree, surveying the damage,  reverently touching the branches that lay on the ground.  He picked some of the olives….olives that in one month’s time would be ready for harvest, but now are worthless, and handed them to me.

immature olives, 1 month pre-harvest....olives that were lost in yesterday's destruction

“Come” he said again, and we walked further down the hill.  As we did so,  we crossed the barbed wire fence that separated the sections of the grove.  He very carefully held the wire down to the ground,  intent on keeping me from injury.  More broken trees.  More loss.  Again, I conveyed my sense of shock, of disbelief, of horror. Again he nodded, understanding my emotion.   His eyes showed such deep despair, such sorrow, and such grief.

Salami standing beside one of 46 destroyed olive trees

Again, he said “Come” and so we climbed  back up the hill.  He turned to me as we climbed and gently took hold of my arm, wanting to ensure my safety as we climbed up the steep and unsteady bank.  We walked over to a message that the perpetrators of this terrible crime had spray painted in Hebrew on the rocks on the hillside.  It was clear that neither of us could interpret the words written there, but each of us felt the hatred that had motivated this terrible act, and each of us felt the horror of it.

I learned from him that 46 olive trees in total had been destroyed that day.  They were 12 year old trees, only a month away from harvest.  Had they been left to mature, these olives would have been pressed into oil.  The trees themselves would have been productive for hundreds of years to come.  Later, the school teacher and a classroom full of students arrived to see the damage.  The teacher explained that these trees were 46 of their total of 200 trees.

As we left, we wondered to ourselves what the cost of this loss would be.  Beyond this year’s lost harvest,  how do you calculate the lost economic potential of hundreds of years of growth and production?   How do you calculate both the economic and the human cost of raising these trees to the point they were at?   And how do you begin to count the human impact of this loss,  the emotional toll that such a violent invasion to one’s life work and livelihood brings?

Later, we learned that the translation of the  message spray painted on the rocks said that this was done in retribution for a stone throwing incident near Hebron earlier this week.  An incident that these villagers were not a part of and very likely knew nothing about.  But an incident that they will pay dearly for over the months and years to come.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom


Is News Truth?

Our EAPPI South Hebron Hills Team 41 arrived at our new home in Yatta on Friday morning.  As we eagerly unpacked our belongings, happy to FINALLY put our suitcases aside, the doorbell rang and we discovered that our neighbour and driver, Abed, had come for a visit.  We invited him in.  “Welcome, welcome, welcome new team” he repeated with a broad smile over and over again as we sipped our tea.  Although we had met him when we were here for training, we once again introduced ourselves so that he could get us straight. Christine from the USA, Bosse from Sweden, Matti from Finland and myself from Canada.  As he was leaving he invited us for coffee that evening to the home he shares with his parents.  It wasn’t long until the doorbell rang again.  It was Abed, back to explain that according to Palestinian culture new neighbours are invited to share the evening meal on the day they move in and so we were to come for dinner, not coffee.

That evening the four of us went to their home where we were treated to a delicious meal of makluba, a chicken and rice dish served in traditional Palestinian style.  The men and the guests sat on cushions on the floor around a square mat.  On the mat was placed a heaping platter of rice with chicken pieces on top, and on each side of the mat were bowls of a yogurt soup that we were encouraged to spoon onto the rice, and bowls of a cucumber/tomato/lime salad.  As we ate, we were taught that Palestinian culture dictates that we be silent until the meal is over and then we would visit.

This happened to be Friday, Sept 23….the date that the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas presented, on behalf of the Palestinian people,  the Palestinian Authority’s request to be recognized as a full member state at the United Nations.  With the 8 hour time change, President Abbas gave his UN speech just as we were completing our meal. (for a transcript of the speech see  http://gadebate.un.org/sites/default/files/gastatements/66/PS_en.pdf )  Together we sat around the television and listened to his speech (given in Arabic).  Before and after the speech, the screen showed scenes of huge crowds gathered in Bethlehem, Ramallah and Jenin to celebrate this profound moment in Palestinian history.

Words cannot express how important an event this was for the Palestinian people, and for the family we were visiting that evening.  Through a painful history dating back to the  Nakba (catastrophe) of 1948 when they were displaced from much of their land, through the war of 1967 when the Israeli occupation began, and then through numerous unsuccessful attempts and negotiations for peace until the present, their people have suffered through the loss of land, loss of opportunity and personal as well as national humiliation.  Today, many live in poverty clinging to their remaining land, struggling daily to survive against the passive and aggressive violence of the Israeli army and the Israeli settlers.  This bid for statehood represents an opportunity to be recognized as a people, an opportunity to stand together and have the world acknowledge their right to exist as a state and their right to determine their own future.  Should they be recognized as a state, they  could then stand as equals on the international stage and at the negotiations table in the search for peace with Israel.

Our hosts listened intently to President Abbas’ speech, but as they did so they also recognized the reality of their situation.  A new member state can only be admitted to the UN on the recommendation of the Security Council.  The 5 permanent members of the Security Council (China, France, The Russian Federation, Great Britain and the United States) all must agree before a motion moves forward  (see  http://www.un.org/sc/members.asp)    If this happens, the General Assembly will then vote to determine whether they will ratify the Security Council’s decision.  A majority of the UN member nations have indicated that they would vote in favour of the Palestinian motion at the General Assembly level.  Unfortunately for the Palestinians, the United States has clearly stated that it will veto the request at the Security Council level, effectively halting this latest ongoing attempt by the Palestinian people to achieve peace and international respect through nonviolent means.

Knowing all of this…. knowing the importance of this motion to the hopes, the aspirations and the desire of the Palestinian people for peace  and for their desire for the end of the Israeli occupation… and knowing the US government’s stated intention to veto this motion…..our hosts welcomed each one of us wholeheartedly, including our American team member Chris.  In a night of such profound importance for the Palestinian people, she was as welcome in their home as the rest of us were.   They showed absolutely no animosity towards her, no anger, and no resentment. Only warmth, good food,  and laughter….lots of laughter, accompanied by a strong sense of goodwill that readily overcame our arabic/english language barrier.

I thought back to the numerous news reports I have heard over time portraying the Palestinian people as  terrorists, as a people who pose a  high level security risk to all around.  How terribly we have been misled.  We have allowed the actions of a desperate few to taint our perceptions of many.  In so doing, we have become the violent one, perpetrating a huge injustice towards this country and it’s citizens.  How sad for them…..How sad for us….

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,


The Journey Continues

Thursday marked the end of our EAPPI training and at 4pm we gathered in the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the Old City of Jerusalem for our official handover ceremony.  Present were representatives from a number of  denominations of the World Council of Churches who are serving in Jerusalem, as well as EAPPI staff, the outgoing Team 40 and the incoming Team 41.   Scripture was read from Psalm 121, Matthew 5: 14-16 and 1 John 3:16-20; prayers were spoken, and music was both sung and played.  In a moving ceremony, each member of the outgoing Team 40 from each placement location lit a candle and passed on the light of the candle to an incoming Team 41 member, symbolically passing on the work of the outgoing team to the incoming team.  Dianne Baker, from the outgoing EAPPI South Hebron Hills Team 40, and myself from the incoming EAPPI South Hebron Hills Team 41, shared the rich blessing of passing off from one United Church of Canada member (and Manitoban) to another.

WE GO  Out into a Broken World Bearing Peace

O God of many names,

Lover of all nations, we pray for peace

In our hearts, in our homes

In our nations, in our world.

For the peace you will, we pray.

For everything there is a time;

A time for going out and a time for coming in.

For everything there is a season,

and a time for every matter under heaven.


And so, for each of us, the journey of peace continues.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom


United Church of Canada members Dianne Baker (L) and Jan McIntyre (R) in Jerusalem, as Dianne symbolically passes on her cell phone, a crucial tool of Ecumenical Accompaniers, to Jan




A Prayer for Peace

There is tension in the air here in East Jerusalem tonight on the eve of tomorrow’s vote at the United Nations Security Council regarding the Palestinian request for statehood, and mere days before Friday’s UN General Assembly vote on the issue.   That same tension was palpable over the last week in the South Hebron Hills.  While the politicians in New York carry out their high pressured negotiations, people on the ground here wonder what will happen, how will this unfold.  What will the coming days and weeks bring?  While no one knows the answers to these questions, it is clear that history is in the making.

Amidst this tension, my heart and mind goes back to a visit last week with a Palestinian villager.  His village, typical of many we saw, consists of a few houses, many of them tents, with a few corrals for sheep and goats, and chickens roaming freely.  Water shortages are the norm.  Life here, at the best of times, is difficult.

The village’s closest neighbours are an illegal Israeli settlement whose inhabitants have a history of harassing the villagers.  Looking across the road, signs of prosperity abound at the settlement, and  it is evident that for them water is readily available.

Slightly more than a week ago, the Israeli army arrived and demolished two of the village homes, as well as a communal toilet.  Demolition orders remain for most of the other buildings in the village.  The army maintains that these buildings are illegal because the villagers do not own the land, even though they hold title to this land that was purchased in the 1950’s.

According to the ways of the world, this man has every reason to be full of anger.  But his quiet demeanor spoke another message.  Never have I met a stronger witness to peace.  His voice carried a sense of remorse as he spoke of his sadness about the relationship of the settlement and his village.  In spite of the hardships that have happened,  “there are lots of good people in the world” he said.

It is well known that the settlements in the West Bank have received extra arms and tear gas to prepare for violence in response to the UN votes.  But yet, as this gentle man spoke of this week’s votes at the United Nations and the potential for violent repercussions towards the Palestinian people, he was very clear.  “We Palestinians must not respond with violence.  Violence only leads to more violence.”

As we were preparing to leave the village, we stood overlooking both his village and the settlement.  “We live a simple life here.  We only want to be left alone to live in peace.”

May this be so.

May peace be our prayer.


Orientation to the South Hebron Hills

We’re back in Jerusalem now for further EAPPI training, having spent the last 4 days with the outgoing SHH EAPPI Team 40 for orientation to the South  Hebron Hills.  Our thanks to Team 40 members Dianne, Jonas, Javid and Jane for their wonderful hospitality and enthusiastic introduction to the people and the area.   We are truly appreciative of your kindness and the effort you put into our orientation and the excellent work you have done in the SHH.  You have set a high standard for us to follow.

In a few short days we visited a number of villages,  met some amazing people who bring a new definition to the terms resistance and resilience, have been touched by the pain of occupation, and traveled over a countryside that is unlike any other I have ever seen.  It feels like we have fit at least a week’s worth of living into a few short days.

Our home base is the community of Yatta, located south of Hebron and home to approximately 100,000 people, many sheep, goats and a noisy neighbouring rooster .  The house we are living in is spacious and modern, a short walk away from the local shops for purchasing food and other supplies.

When we travel out into the countryside to visit the various villages, we go with our neighbour Abed who serves as our driver and interpreter.

Most of the village people live in relatively small communities of 30-250 people.  They tend to live in permanent tents, often with a stone or concrete foundation,  with some tents serviced with electricity allowing for refrigeration and television.  Cell phones are also used.  Access to many of these villages is by almost impassable roads…roads that give new meaning to the term rocky, roads that take a heavy toll on vehicle suspensions, undercarriages and tires.  Often times visitors can drive part way and then walk the remainder of the distance.  One village we visited required a drive along one of these roads and then a one hour hike down a mountain.

When you visit, you are most often invited into one of their tents.  You take your shoes off at the door and sit on small mattresses on the floor (very comfortable) for your visit.  The people are always very hospitable, serving guests a sweetened tea offered in small glasses.

These are agricultural communities with sheep, goats and chickens to care for.  The land now is parched dry….drier than we Canadian farmers are used to experiencing.  Seeding of wheat and barley will take place later this fall when the rain season begins.  Given the dry conditions, there is no pasture as we know it and food for the livestock must be brought in.  As well, water also must be trucked in for both humans and livestock.  In this subsistence existence, the challenges of feeding one’s family are great and the people work very hard with minimal equipment.  The challenges imposed by the occupation…..things like intentionally blocked roads, violent settlers, water shortages and poisoned cisterns,  intentionally destroyed power lines, house and communal toilet demolitions….. all of this and more…. serve to make a difficult life all the more harsh.   At each village my heart has been touched by these wonderful people, and on at least 2 occasions I have felt tears well up as we pull away…..tears of frustration,  tears of incomprehension, tears that speak to our shared humanity and to  the pain, the resistance and the hope these people live on a daily basis.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,


Just a Pile of Gravel??

Bulldozed gravel blocking road to village of Wadi J'Hesh

You might wonder the significance of what appears to be just another pile of gravel.  It looks pretty ordinary.  But to the people of the South Hebron Hills village of Wadi J’Hesh, this pile of gravel has proven to be a significant intrusion on their way of life and livelihood.  It blocks access into their village from the main road.  Access to their village now must happen over a long and rocky road, a road that by our North American standards would only be considered passable by the hardiest of 4 wheel drive vehicles with the toughest of tires.  An inconvenience for the villagers for sure, but it’s also far more than that.   In an area that is chronically dry,water for both people and livestock must be purchased and trucked in to be stored in underground cisterns.  The water truck driver is reluctant to make the journey over that treacherous road and current water supplies in the village are dwindling.

The gravel was recently moved onto the primary entrance road to the village by the Israeli Defense Force, (IDF) –  the Israeli army, for the purpose of blockading the road.  There are IDF lookout towers dotted along the main highway.   The village people know that if they were to move the pile of gravel off of their road there would be serious repercussions – either arrests, other forms of harassment,  or the gravel pile would be replaced by any even larger impediment to travel.  I asked them why didn’t they take a water tank and truck out to the road to meet the water delivery truck and transfer the water over the gravel pile by hose from the delivery truck to their truck.  Their response was that they would be seen by the army personnel manning the lookout towers and an army truck would quickly come along to stop them.  Stopped vehicles along the road always brings prompt attention from the army whose soldiers are not friendly to Palestinians.  For these villagers, this is a real but unwanted part of life as they attempt to eke out a living on their land in this time of occupation.

It hurts to see such unnecessary suffering.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,


gravel pile blocking the entrance to the highway of the road to Wadi J'Hesh

Arrival in Jerusalem

After an amazingly wonderful week – a week of preparation, a week of family and friends – I arrived in Jerusalem yesterday.  The flight from Toronto was long but uneventful.  I was met at the Tel Aviv airport and driven to our hotel here in East Jerusalem where I have met many members of the incoming EAPPI Team 41, each of whom will be serving in one of 7 teams located in Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank.

Last Sunday night was my commissioning service  in our home congregation of Clearwater United Church.  It was, first and foremost, an amazingly wonderful worship service, including a celebration of all of our ministeries, with of course a commissioning of myself into the EAPPI ministry.  You couldn’t help but feel the presence and strength of our ecumenical faith community as Mennonites and Anglicans from around our area joined us United church folk to praise and worship God.  Through the music, the prayers, the scripture and the spoken and unspoken words, you couldn’t help but feel the palpable presence of God in us and among us.  I give thanks for, and feel so very blessed by, the care and the prayers of my family, friends,  and community as I embark upon this form of ministry.  I also am very thankful for the blessing of  living where I do, amongst the people I do, as part of a welcoming and inclusive community that stretches beyond Clearwater to encompass our neighbouring towns and region.  I also give thanks for the work of the United Church of Canada as they  serve God  in partnership with others, both in Canada and around the world in a wide variety of ministeries.  Sometimes, in the  busy-ness of life, we take all of this for granted. Over this past week, and today in Jerusalem, it feels right to acknowledge these important elements of life, these important elements of God`s presence in our lives.

Today will be spent in Jerusalem, with a tour of the city later this afternoon and a Team 41 dinner this evening.  Tomorrow will begin our offical training here and then we will be going out to our placements late tomorrow afternoon, returning to Jerusalem on Saturday.  Last night over dinner I met the 3 people I will be living and working with in Yatta as part of the South Hebron Hills EAPPI Team 41.  We are all pleased to be here and eager to be part of this ongoing work.

One can feel the presence of the 3 Abrahamic faiths here in Jerusalem – Christian, Islam and Judaism.  As I sign off, I do so with the words of peace in English, Arabic and Hebrew.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom