Report of the August 2002
Holy Land Fact Finding Mission
"Come and See...Go and Tell"
A mission of fact finding,
solidarity, witness, and
advocacy in Jordan, Israel, Palestine
The August fact finding mission included sixteen people from eight Christian denominations and eight states. It was lead by the Rev. Peter Miano, Executive Director of The Society for Biblical Studies, and included Kenneth White, a political consultant and specialist in citizen advocacy. Mr. White's contributions proved to be highly beneficial, making the program distinctive and unique. A summary of his seminars appears below.
Upon arrival in Amman, Jordan, the group began their work of exploring in depth the contemporary dynamics of the modern Middle East through seminars and interviews with Jordanian Christians. The Rev. Hanna Monsour, an Anglican priest in the Diocese of Jerusalem and the Director of the Schneller School in Amman hosted the delegation at the Schneller School and introduced us to the Palestinian experience since 1948. Fr. Monsour is a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship from Nazareth who has also served churches in Nazareth, Nablus and Zababdeh in the occupied West Bank.
The delegation travelled from Amman to the occupied West Bank by way of the Allenby (King Hussein) Bridge. Travel throughout the West Bank was hindered by the restrictions imposed by Israeli occupation forces. All cities (Area A) were under strict curfews, the duration of which varied arbitrarily. It was impossible to enter Jericho. Ramallah, where we were scheduled to meet with Palestinian president Yasser Arafat, was also under strict curfew. We learned immediately that circumstances would require us to adjust our West Bank itinerary frequently and would not permit us to predict our exact itinerary more than a few hours in advance.We also realized that the inconvenience we experienced paled in comparison to the enormous hardships experienced by the Palestinian population. Under curfew, Palestinians are not allowed to leave their houses for any reason. Even when curfews are lifted, the occupation forces forbid Palestinians from travel on main roads in the West Bank. Thus, movement between Palestinian cities is virtually impossible in most cases and extremely difficlt in the best cases.
The lifting of the curfew on the city of Bethlehem enabled us to enter the city for a lengthy visit with Dr. Jad Isaac, Director of the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem (ARIJ). Dr. Isaac lead us through a detailed description of the impact of Israel's recent military incursions on the Palestinian population and a general description of Israel's responses to Palestinian violence. We toured Bethlehem, Beit Sahour and Beit Jala to view the extent of damage from Israel's April 2002 invasion. Since that time, the Bethlehem area had been under curfew (house arrest) for over 85 out of 115 days. We also explored Bethlehem by foot, including a brief visit to the Church of the Nativity.
Our program included extensive visits with Israeli and Palestinian non-governmental organizations in Jerusalem as well. Jerusalem is unecumbered by travel restrictions and curfews. In a detailed briefing at Betselem, the Israeli human rights monitroing group, we examined Israel's policy of "targeted killings," i.e., assassinations. Israel had only a few days earlier fired a rocket into an apartment building in Gaza that was the temporary resident of a Hamas activist. The attack killed its intended target, fifteen civilians and wounded scores of others. We also inquired into the recently revealed story of the Palestinian employee of Betselem who had been working as a undercover agent for Israel's Shin Bet (secret police). Betselem has vigorously criticized both Israel's policy of assassination and its use of Betselem employees as undercover agents.
Dr. Gershon Baskin of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information provided us insight into Israel's internal political struggles, summarizing his views with the candid assessment, "There is no end in sight to the current cycle of violence. There is neither the required configuration of Israeli leaders nor the appropriate intervention of the international community to break the stalemate." Dr. Baskin, an American born Jew who has lived in Israel for thirty years, stressed the need for strong international intervention, especially that of the U.S. admnistration, to impose an agreement that would allow both Israel and the Palestinians to disengage from violence. To anyone who knew Dr. Baskin's characteristicly optimistic personality, it was significant that he did not speak of "peace," but only of "disengagement."
The delegation examined the role of the Bible and Christian churches in supporting Zionist colonization of Palestine, the role of fundamentailst Jews in promoting settlement of the Palestinian territories and the role of Christian Zionism in promoting sympathy for the Zionist enterprise. Rev. Miano differentiated between fundamentalist Christian Zionism, represented by the International Christian embassey in Jerusalem and mainstream Christian Zionism. He stressed that while fundamentalist Christian Zionism is the focus of much critical attention, mainstream Christian Zionism represents a much broader, deeper and involved problem. He stated, "Contrary to popular opinion, Zionism has been and continues to be a primarily Christian phenomenon--not a Jewish phenomenon. Moreover, mainstream protestant Christian Zionists outnumber fundamentalist Christian Zionists by at least 10 to 1."
The delegation had a lengthy visit with Ekrima Sabri, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, at his home. The mufti, speaking through an interpreter, expressed his frustration with Western stereotypes of Islam and stressed the broad areas of harmony between Islam, Christianity and Judaism. He insisted that the conflict in Israel-Palestine was not primarily a religious one, although some religious people exploit it and distort it. He insisted that Jews, Muslims and Christians could coexist harmoniously in Israel-Palestine as soon as Israel ended its occupation of the Palestinian Territories. He also insisted that the Harem esh Sharif, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, a site considered sacred in both traditions, must remain under Muslim sovereignty, thus pointing to one of the areas of obvious conflict.
Additional visits included the Muqata in Ramallah, where Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has been under an ongoing seige by Israeli occupation forces, an interview with Jabril Rajoub, the former head of Palestinian security in the West Bank,Sabeel, the Society of St. Yves, a legal aid society, Al Arub refugee camp, Efrat settlement, an afternoon with the Christian Peacemaking team in Hebron, and a meeting with the Epsicoal Bishop in Jerusalem, Riah Abu al Assal.
Seminar topics were led by Rev. Miano and Mr. White. They included modern Middle East history, including chronology and map orientation, and biblical foundations for Christian advocacy. The advocacy theory and tactical advice provided by Mr. White focused on effective Christian advocacy techniques and enabled us to identify productive future directions, as well as tools for evaluating effectiveness. He pointed out a number of typical errors committed by well meaning, but poorly advised and amateur advocacy groups. For example, he mentioned that frequently, advocacy seems designed to make the advocate feel good, rather than effecting positive change. By way of preparing participants in the mission for their re-entry into their home communities, he alerted them to several potential pitfalls. He mentioned that over zealous advocates frequently alienate their intended listeners by expecting that listeners conform dogmaticly to their views. He reminded participants not to presume more expertise than they have. He encouraged the group to allow their listeners to enter the discussion at their own levels, rather than, for example, require that a particular ideology be adopted or that only certain words be used. He invited participants to avoid us/them or good guy/bad guy language that tends to divide an audience into the right side and the wrong side. He cited frequently invoked yet counter productive cliches. For example, while main stream peace and justice advocates frequently insist on speaking truth to power--a widely repeated slogan in church circles--Mr. White asserted that such a phrase actually has the effect of alienating a listener, because those in power rarely see themselves in that light. Rather, Mr. White encouraged the participants to respect the humanity of their listeners and appeal to their consciences.