Warm greetings from Jerusalem!
Less than two weeks after having received a request from the United Church of Canada asking me to consider a second appointment to EAPPI, I find myself in Jerusalem, about to begin training with the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) Group 47. I have been assigned to the Jerusalem Team, and so this city will become home for the next three months.
While my heart will always be with the people of the South Hebron Hills, I am excited to be placed in Jerusalem and to have my heart expanded by the people I meet people here, as my new teammates and I provide nonviolent protective presence and the ministry of accompaniment to the people of this area. As we are here, we will also learn more about the crucial issues in and around this city – issues of settlement expansion and home demolitions, issues of checkpoints and permits, issues of humanitarian injustices. The area directly outside of East Jerusalem known as E1 is an area of particular importance. It is a 12 square km area of Palestinian land, located between the Jerusalem municipal boundary and the large Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. This is the area through which the main north south artery of the West Bank passes. Announced plans for Israeli expansion of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement would displace Bedouins living in E1, would cut off the West Bank from East Jerusalem and the northern part of the West Bank from the southern part, effectively destroying any future possibility of a contiguous Palestinian state. This is the area that was recently in international news, as Palestinian protestors built the tent city of Bab al Shams there, only to have it quickly demolished by the Israeli army. Obviously, with so many areas of tension, there will be considerable work for the Jerusalem team. I feel deeply grateful to once again be entrusted with the privilege of serving with EAPPI, for the support of the United Church of Canada, and for the privilege of offering this form of ministry to those who are suffering under the weight of this brutal occupation.
Needless to say, the last two weeks have been full, as myself and my family discerned a response to this request, as I finished up work in Canada and prepared to leave for three months, as travel arrangements were made, as I hurriedly packed for this venture and prepared myself as best as I could for the demands that I know lay ahead.
One week ago, a short, but meaningful commissioning service became part of our regular joint United-Anglican worship in Clearwater. I come to this work very aware of the wonderful and amazing community of support that I am blessed with, a community that begins in Clearwater and spreads across our province, our country, and beyond through international friends, encouraging me and offering prayers of support for myself, for this work, and for peace for both the Palestinian and Israeli people. For the ongoing support of this wonderful network of people, I offer my heartfelt thanks.
Yesterday, after an 11 hour overnight flight from Toronto, the plane touched down in Tel Aviv. This time, I was happy to be accompanied by another Canadian, New Brunswicker Steve Berube, who will serve with the Bethlehem Team.
As we drove to Jerusalem, Steve asked about a new development we were passing. “Another new city” our Palestinian driver responded. “Built on Palestinian land?” queried Steve. “Yes” our driver quietly said. The tiredness in his voice spoke volumes. Oh, I thought. It goes on…….Somehow my heart had hoped otherwise….. As we drove along the highway, I couldn’t help but notice the fence running parallel to the road, with razor wire strung along the top of it. Not a sight you see in Canada. A little later, “the Wall,” discreetly finished so as to look less offensive to visitors. The military lookout towers. And the checkpoint with the soldier closely peering in as we passed by – our Palestinian driver acknowledging that our white skin made all the difference – had he had Arabs with him, he would have been stopped. Past the immaculately kept homes and manicured yards of West Jerusalem into East Jerusalem with its more dilapidated looking buildings, clear evidence again of the disparity of occupation.
A warm smile, a handshake and a sincere “welcome back” from our hotel manager, the wonderful colour of the Old City, a friendly visit with a restaurant owner whose father spoke of the value of EAPPI, and introductions to some of our Group 47 who have begun to gather here from around the world. I am feeling such deep gratitude for the privilege of being here. It’s great to be back! A welcome, if unexpected gift, to live this portion of the mosaic for peace journey.
Peace, Salaam, Shalom,