Jan. 7, 2010
“Blessed are the peacemakers…” (Matthew 5:9a).
ON EARTH PEACE DELEGATION CONTINUES IN ISRAEL AND PALESTINE DESPITE DEPORTATION OF LEADERS
“What’s the purpose of your trip to Israel?” was the question asked by six different Israeli security officials of Sarah* and On Earth Peace executive director Bob Gross this past weekend, in the course of more than 12 hours in the custody of Israeli airport security.
Eventually, Bob and Sarah were denied entry, jailed, and then deported from Israel. They have been barred from re-entry for 10 years. On Tuesday, they arrived back in the United States instead of meeting with the 13 people who were arriving in Israel to take part in a peacemaking delegation co-sponsored by On Earth Peace and Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT).
The two were supposed to lead the delegation in its travels in Israel and Palestine from Jan. 6-18.
On Earth Peace is a Church of the Brethren agency providing skills, support, and a spiritual foundation to face violence with active nonviolence, through ministries of education, reconciliation, and community organizing (go to http://www.onearthpeace.org/ ). This is the fifth annual Middle East delegation co-sponsored by On Earth Peace and CPT, providing an immersion in the realities of the current moment in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
What are those realities? On Earth Peace sees evidence that a nonviolent movement is on the rise, again, citing the following developments: This week, over a thousand international activists attempted to enter into Gaza from Egypt, bearing humanitarian and medical aid. Some Israelis and Palestinians who are weary of decades of bloody conflict are creating nonviolent pathways to resolving the situation.
On Earth Peace also expresses concern about the situation in Israel and Palestine: A separation wall continues to be built by Israel, dividing Palestinian families and communities and taking Palestinian land. Israelis live in fear of suicide bombers. Many Palestinians who live under blockade and military occupation continue eking out daily life without access to safe water, medical care, or basic foods.
The remaining 13 members of the delegation entered Israel without incident. The delegation includes seven members of the Church of the Brethren. The group will visit with Israeli and Palestinian peace, social justice, and human rights groups, and will be hosted by families and community leaders. From these visits and meetings, delegation members will gain an understanding of Palestinian and Israeli perspectives and concerns. Upon returning to their home communities, delegates will be prepared to speak of what they have learned and experienced first-hand.
“I am anxious to see how nonviolent action works in real-life circumstances, rather than just reading about it!” said delegate Shannon Richmond of Seattle, Wash., a recent college graduate with a degree in criminal justice and violence studies, who also has spent time traveling in South Africa and Mexico.
Back home in North Manchester, Ind., Gross reflected on the interrogation and deportation experience. “During our time being held with Israeli security, we saw many other people coming under additional questioning as well,” he said. “Almost all those pulled aside were people of color. Most were of Arab and African descent. We’re clear that Sarah’s Egyptian heritage as well as her photographic documentation of Palestine via the Internet were motivating factors in their decision to deport us. In addition to this racism, there is also the Israeli government’s fear of anything that seems to value Palestinian equality or human rights, which means that those of us who are committed to nonviolent peacemaking are considered a threat.”
Supporting the struggle for Palestinian rights as well as Israeli rights, and for safety, equality, and security for all people in the Middle East is the purpose of the On Earth Peace delegation, and of Bob and Sarah’s aborted entry into Israel. A blog has been set up for delegates to report on their experiences in the field, and readers may email questions, blessings, and comments to the delegation. Go to http://www.mideastdelegation.blogspot.com/ .
— Matt Guynn is program director for On Earth Peace. Contact him at 503-775-1636.
*Sarah’s last name is being kept confidential to protect her from further scrutiny on subsequent trips to the Middle East.