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October 18-19, 2002, at National Presbyterian Church, Washington, DC

The conference was opened with a call to have each church in the US partnered with a church in the Holy Land; and to have each student in Christian schools in the HL sponsored by someone here. Pictures and bios of students were available in the lobby; attendees were asked to pledge $300 per year in order to keep these students in the schools, which have suffered immense financial burdens since the military invasion of the Occupied Territories.

Father Alex Kratz, archdiocese of Detroit (currently living and working in the HL) reported on the current hopelessness of the Palestinian people. "Children no longer dare to dream, because all their dreams have been shattered, and they don’t even know if they will have a home or be alive tomorrow. Israel has destroyed everything outside and in us." People don't die so much from hunger as hopelessness. (Contrast this with the somewhat upbeat tenor of last year's conference, which took place just as the first invasion of Bethlehem occurred.)

Brother Vincent, of the Univ. of Bethlehem (Christian), with 2,150 Palestinian Arab students, 32% Christian, 68% women. This Univ. was closed 12 times by Is. military order from 1987-1990. The residence of the 12 Brothers has taken 100 bullets, and has caused considerable expense to repair damages. Fr. Vincent was used as a human shield by Is. soldiers when approaching a building suspected of harboring "terrorists." Students and faculty have been under curfew = house arrest = prisoners, and are traumatized. The loss of freedom of movement even when not under curfew is time-consuming and humiliating. A permit is needed to go from one village to another. Anyone applying for a permit to attend a conference out of the country never knows if or when the permit will be received; sometimes it is received a day after the conference is to begin.

Fr. Majdi Siryani had planned to attend this conference and had applied months ago for a visa. He finally was told that he could leave, but that he could not come back. This constant living in uncertainty is a constant stress. Ordinarily a letter from our president facilitates matters, but no letter was provided this year, which is unusual.

Statistics: 1,089 schools closed at times for various reasons. 216 students killed; 2,500 injured; 164 arrested. There is a lot of anger, outrage, mixed with overwhelming mourning.

Propaganda is used to justify what is unjust.

Hon. Hanna Nasser, Catholic, Mayor of Bethlehem. Born in Bethlehem; on PLO committee for negotiations with the Vatican. Most Christians in the West appear to be unaware of the indigenous Christians in the HL. Christians used to be 18% of the total population in Palestine; now 2%. Christians were 95% in Bethlehem; now 40% . Israeli aggression does not differentiate between Muslim and Christian in their efforts to "encourage" non-Jews to leave.

Professor Jad Isaac, Director General, Applied Research Institute, Jerusalem. Prof. Isaac used maps, aerial photos and diagrams to describe the geographic, economic and demographic impact of illegal Israeli settlements, bypass roads, military camps, industrial sites and checkpoints on the civil and cultural life of the West Bank and Gaza. 64 different bantustans (similar to South Africa) have been created by separation of Palestinian villages from Israeli settlements and the bypass roads (for Jews and foreigners only) which connect these settlements to each other and to Israel. A move is now afoot in colleges and universities in the US to have their institutions divest themselves of any investments they have with Israel, similar to what was done with South Africa.

Since Sharon came to power, settlements have been expanded and new ones instituted, plus 117 "outposts." These outposts, consisting of one or two trailers, are sometimes removed for propaganda purposes; Sharon is then applauded by the US for removing three or four settlements, where in fact nothing has been done. Palestinians are constantly excoriated for not adhering to the Oslo Accords because they continue their violence, whereas Israel is given a pass for violating their agreement to cease their settlement activity, which is of course the major cause of the problem.

Israelis have a tremendous incentive to settle in Palestinian territory—they get tax exemptions, subsidies, and the US provides funds for separation walls and barbed wire (as well as weapons) to keep them safe. Citrus groves and olive groves have been bulldozed so that roads can be built connecting these settlements and Israel.

Bethlehem is currently being walled in, so that it has no access to Jerusalem. Pictures of Jenin (before and after) show the extent of damage inflicted by the Israelis, who then denied access for UN investigators.

The walls being built are not on the 1967 borders, but rather inside the Occupied Territories, placed so as to incorporate 3 acquifers. Israel allocates an extremely disproportionate amount of water to itself—485 gallons vs. 115 for Palestinians; and Palestinians get nothing from the Jordan River.

Rev. Dr. Michael Prior, chair of Living Stones of the Holy Land Trust, UK, spoke about a great anomaly of Christianity: there is support for other oppressed of the world, but not for Christian Palestinians. Christians appear content to see the end of Christians in the HL, Christ's birthplace. In fact, some "Christians" appear eager to have the Jews rid themselves of all Palestinians by whatever means so that the Second Coming of Christ may occur. Their God appears to be a military genocidal tyrant, who see ethnic cleansing as fulfillment of God's prophesy.

Rev. Dr. Victor Pentz, Pastor, Peachtree Presbyterian Church, Atlanta, also referred to the Christian Zionists of having bad theology. The Old Testament promises as to return to the land for Jews is nowhere repeated in the New Testament. Jesus fulfills all promises of the OT. We need to acknowledge the heroism of our Mother Church in the HL just for surviving under horrific conditions. The Jews support Israel, Muslims support the Palestinian Muslims; it is only the Christian Church which ignores its people.

Ms. Claudette Habasch, Director, Caritas Int., Jerusalem, spoke feelingly of the plight of the children, saying that they are being contaminated by unprecedented brutal measures. It has become a basic question of perishing or surviving.

Dr. Viveca Hasboun, MD, Adult-Child Psychiatrist, was born in Palestine, then moved to the US, then back to work in Palestine (she is classified as a tourist, even though having been born in Palestine). She spoke of the privation of the Palestinian people under the Israeli curfew: 45% of the population in Gaza suffers from malnutrition; 54% suffer from trauma; 70% of children are now bedwetting; 30% of children display aggressive behavior. Some have become sociopaths, who try to get rid of their pain by inflicting it on others (projection identity). A couple examples of trauma: 1) a child who lost her hair was able, through therapy, to have it grow back; 2) a child whose mother assured her that she would be safe if she stayed in a certain room became mute when a bullet then went through right in front of her—she could no longer trust even her mother; 3) children now draw pictures of barbed wire, iron bars, dead people. Sleep is being intruded upon by all the atrocities. The children no longer express any wishes, which Dr. Hasboun says is a more serious condition than cancer or any malignancy. A familiar cry: why hast thou forsaken me?

Mother Agapia, Administrator, Orthodox School of Bethany, lives and works in a mostly Muslim area, and finds them to be unfailingly hospitable and gracious. Their lives are shattered though; there used to be a "leak in the tire of optimism," but now, since Sharon went to the Temple Mount, the tire went flat. The economy is bad; they are edging toward anarchy. There is constant danger from the settlers; bombs have been placed in school yards, and the Israeli government says they do not have the soldiers to protect the Palestinians from the settlers because they are occupied in perpetuating the curfews.

The injustice of the situation is tolerable; the thing that is intolerable is that the truth is not being allowed to be known. A striking example of this is Jenin. Lives of Palestinians do not seem to count for much as compared to Israelis.

Dearwood Simon, a commentator, observed that the killing often seems so wanton and unprovoked. Palestinians have been trying for a long time to get international observers so that their voice can be heard, but the Israelis say no, and so nothing is done.

When children are denied nutritionally in their formative years, it harms not only their physical well-being but also their mental development. This situation is occurring in Iraq and now in Palestine.

Rev. Dr. Donald Wagner, spoke of the Christian Zionists as being strange bedfellows, who are traditionally almost anti-semitic, but have made peace with these feelings in their anxiety to have Armageddon happen. They have shifted the covenant from the Church to Israel. "America will be blessed to the degree that we protect and support Israel." This fundamentalist Christian movement used to have Russia as an enemy, but has now shifted to Islam. Israel is happy to go along with this group at long as the funds and other support are rolling in ("we keep them on a very short leash," says Sharon), even though at Armageddon, the CZs say that all Jews will either be killed or converted to Christianity.

The power of the CZs is exemplified by the Israeli bombing of the Iraqi nuclear plant in 1981. The first person to be advised of this in the US was Jerry Falwell, so that he could work his magic in getting this action approved by the public.

Michal Terazi, Ph.D., Advisor to the Palestinian Authority, offered some good news and some bad news; he would present the good news first. Oddly enough, the good news, according to him, are the obstacles to peace which are continually cited: 1) Jerusalem, 2) settlements, and 3) refugees. These obstacles could be easily solved, he maintains.

Jerusalem: could be designated an open city, with free access to all.

Settlements: Most people live in settlements since it is cheap to live there because of all the subsidies. If the subsidies were removed, it is likely that all but the most extreme Zionists would move back to Israel. Those who remain could be issued green cards; or they could become Palestinian citizens. There is no problem in Palestine as to different religions living together (on a harmonious basis) as there is in the Jewish state. Israel’s fundamental fear is losing the Jewishness of their state.

Refugees: Palestinian refugees could stay where they are; e.g., Jordan and Lebanon, if arrangements are made for their citizenship. Or—they could go to a third country; e.g, Canada, which has offered to take them. Or—they could come back to a Palestinian state. Or—they could return to their original homes in what is now Israel. Israel fears that most would opt for the latter, but this is highly doubtful since the landscape has been changed so drastically.

All of the above has been discussed, and needs only a good push to implement it.

The bad news is the inability of the Israelis to recognize that Christians and Muslims have a right to live in the HL. They do not see them as equals. "We threaten their demographics."

The Camp David peace plan was definitely not a "generous" offer. It offered only the equivalent of bantustans, or Am. Indian reservations. All the power and control was still to be with the Israelis. The so-called State which is now being offered is not worth having.

"In 1948 they took the meat and left the bones; now they have come back to take the bones; i.e., agricultural land and water."

Labels: "illegal settlements" are now spoken of as "Jewish neighborhoods." Palestinians are "terrorists" because they resort to suicide bombing which targets civilians, whereas Israel targets civilians (all Palestinians are civilians, by the way) with more sophisticated weaponry.

The idea of two states is at present moot because of the settlements. A viable Palestinian state is not likely to be offered, in which case there are only two options: one is to have one State, with equal rights for Palestinians (OK, annex us, but give us full citizenship), and the other is ethnic cleansing, similar to what the Jews encountered in Nazi Germany. Israel has gone along with a lot of barbarous behavior with the excuse of "security." There are many Jews who are ashamed of being Israelis, but no Palestinians are ashamed of being Palestinian, despite the suicide bombers.

International Solidarity Movement. It has often been suggested that Palestinians should practice Ghandian civil disobedience, but this works only if the public is made aware of it. The first intifada was practiced primarily with children throwing stones and burning tires in the road to keep the Israelis out of their territory; this was beginning to actually have an effect until Israel allowed Arafat back from exile in Tunis, and he co-opted the movement for his advantage. The present situation is different. Reporters are barred from certain areas, and what they do report rarely reaches the masses here in the US. Palestinians (and even foreign observers) have been shot by Israeli soldiers when they ventured out of their homes in violation of the curfew; and very little notice is taken of this. "We are being killed like birds and animals every day without accountability"

Rev. Dr. Fahed Abu-Akel, Moderator for the Presbyterian Church, told the following story as an example of how 15 million Arab Christians do not exist in the American psyche. He was being interviewed by NPR, and was referred to as a Muslim, despite the title Reverend, and his having just prayed to Jesus.

He appealed again for every church in Palestine to have a sister church in the U.S.

NOTE: The above report is not to discount the suffering which Israelis are also experiencing. It is however to suggest that, since Israel has all the power, that it is up to it to allow a solution, with justice for the Palestinians, who have already given up over 78% of their original homeland. If Israel has a right to exist, then surely so does Palestine.

2002-11-09 Sat 15:20ct