Report of the August 2003
Holy Land Fact Finding Mission
"Come and See...Go and Tell"
A mission of fact finding,
solidarity, witness, and
advocacy in Jordan, Israel, Palestine
In many ways the August fact finding mission exceeded all our expectations. It included fourteen people from four Christian denominations and ten states. It was lead by the Rt. Rev. Samir Kafity, the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem (ret.) and the Rev. Peter Miano, Executive Director of The Society for Biblical Studies. Bishop Kafity is a founding member of S.B.S.' Board of Directors. The delegation also included the Rev. Dr. Charles Lippse, who is the current President of S.B.S.' Board of Directors. Several members of the delegation wrote reflections that will be included in the 20 September 2004 S.B.S. newsletter and should be considered part of this report. When the newsletter is published, their reflections will be posted on the web site along with the newsletter.
The delegation arrived in Amman on 2 August 2003 and began briefings and orientation. We worshipped with the Anglican congregation of the Church of the Redeemer in Amman on Sunday, 3 August. Bishop Kafity preached and celebrated the eucharist. The Rev. Salem Duaniy and his parishioners welcomed us warmly and engaged us in lively conversation during fellowship hour. From there, we began a stimulating and illuminating series of meetings with Jordanian government officials, including Minister of Foreign Affairs Marwan Muasher, Minister of Planning Bassem Awadallah and Minister of Information Nabil al Sharif. The next day, we met with Jordan's second most influential politican, Speaker of the Upper House of Parliament, Zeid al Refai. Meetings were held at government ministries and at the Parliament building. Immediately several motifs that would recur throughout our jounrey emerged. First, the government officials voiced universal support for U.S. military intervention in Iraq. There was no sympathy whatsoever for Saddam Hussein, although the ministers voiced concern for humanitarian conditions and generally expressed preference for finding an alternative to warfare to resolve regional problems. All empahsized Jordan's tenuous position between Iraq and Israel, as an ally of the U.S., but also a front line Arab country. One minister quipped, "We find ourselves between Irag and a hard place."
Second, contrary to popular misconceptions in the United States, the minsiters expressed strong admiration for American values and affection for american people. Mr. Refai said, "Jordanians look up to American people, culture and values...Every man dreams of sending his son or daughter to school in the United States." While we universally warmly received wherever we went, many were candid in their assessments of U.S. foreign policy, differentiating between American people and U.S. policies. Mr. Refai went on to say, "Politically, American policies produce anti-American feeling." United States policies are perceived as short sighted and overwhelmingly favoring Israel in oppoisition to Israel's Arab neighbors.
A third motif that emerged was precipitated by the visit by Representaive Tom Delay (U.S. House Majority Leader), which coincided with our delegations visits. Our hosts had met with Mr. Delay the day before they met with us. Mr. Delay is a fundamentalist Christian Zionist whose support for Israel is based on the peculiar notion that the establishment of the State of Israel is foretold in the book of Revelation and thus obliges Christians to support it. About Mr. Delay, Mr. Refai said, "I do not want to use the word 'ignorant,' so let's just say there is a lack of knowledge." Mr. Sharif, when asked what we as Americans could do about idealogues like Mr. Delay, said, "Some things are incurable."
The delegation visited the King Abdullah mosque in Amman and met with the Grand Mufti of Jordan for our initial introduction to Islam. Bishop Kafity translated the Mufti's remarks. One of our most illuminating visits was with a group of more than 35 Jordanian women who assembled at the YWCA in Amman. The women represented a variety of NGO's and included Jordanian Members of Parliament and a former Ammbassador. No one was constrained by their positions i government to voice their opinions o any subject and the dialogue was lively. The women, many of whom were themselves Palestinian refugees, were very candid in expressing their frustration over U.S. foreign policy, U.S. military intervention in Iraq and their perception of being forgotten by Western Christians, although most of the participants were Muslim.
After being delayed in Israeli entry formalities the Allenby Bridge for four hours, our delegation entered the occupied West Bank. during our wait, we observed that only Americans were being delayed. Other nationalities passed through procedures quickly. From there, we proceeded to the Palestinian city of Jericho, but Israeli forces barred our entry. Thus, our initial entry into the occupied West Bank brought us face to face with the realities that Palestinains experience daily: travel restrictions, road blocks, checkpoints and arbitrary, seemingly meaningless gestures of harassment. After being barred from Jericho, we proceded to Jerusalem for meetings with Samwil Avyatar, the Director of Christian Affairs for the Municipality of Jerusalem and with Ruth Matar, the co-founder of Women in Green, and Israeli fundamentalist Zionist group that advocates for expansion of Israeli setlements in the West Bank and Gaza.
Our delegation arrived in Bethlehem on the evening of 5 August. Bethlehem was our home for the next five nights. While Bethlehem has been the base of oversees operations for S.B.S. since its inception six years ago, this was only our second group to stay overnight there in the past three years.
Our program included extensive visits with Israeli and Palestinian non-governmental organizations in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Ramallah.We had a detailed briefing at Betselem, the Israeli human rights monitroing group. We visited Bat Shalom, an Israeli women's peace organization. We had a long visit with Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom, a long time advocate of reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, Director of the Health, Develpment, Information and Policy Institute in Ramallah, gave us an extensive briefing on humanitarian conditions in the occupied territories. Dr. Jad Isaac, Director of the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem, briefed us on Israel's construction of its security fence/wall/barrier. The effect of this barrier is to completely surround Palestinian population centers and isolate them from each other and from Israel. While the fence/wall has received some media attention in the U.S., few realize that it is the only such fence in existence in the world today. It renders the Palestinian population not merely occupied, but incarcerated. We met with Rabbi David Rosen, International Director of the American Jewish Committee, who stressed that Israel is threatened by the effects on itself of its own occupation of Palestinians territories more than any enemy.
One of the highlights of our visits were with Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, who is well recognized in the U.S. from frequent appearances on news shows. Dr. Ashrawi was the spokesperson for the Palestinians during the Madrid talks, has been a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council since its inception in 1996, has served as a minister in the Palestinian National Authority and now directs an NGO that promotes the development of democratic institutions within Palestinian society. She is a candid critic of Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, the recently appointed and continually beleagured Palestinain Prime Minister. About Arafat, she said, "There is such a thing as graceful retirement from public affairs." About Mr. Abbas, she said, "He is a transitional figure." About House Majority Leader Tom Delay, she said, "I call him the fifth horseman of the Apocalypse," trusting that we biblical students would understand the reference. She added, "I am not constrained by governmental protocol or decorum."
The delegation was highly honored in its visit with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, who presented Board President Charles Lippse and Exectuive Director Peter Miano with presents. The delegation had brought presents for Mr. Arafat in honor of his birthday two days prior to the visit. While we do not usually break new ground with Mr. Arafat, he was typically cordial, generous with his time and surpisingly candid on several occasions. When asked he endures his daily living conidtions (he is under house arrest by Israeli forces, confined to one small building in the middle of what remains of his compound), he smiled sarcastically and said, "I am used to it." He then went into a long recaplitulation of his contests with Israel, including narrow escapes from death.
Extensive field trips were augmented by mini-seminars on Christian Zionism, conflict, mission and effective advocacy, led by the Rev. Peter Miano.