May 2017 Fact Finding Report

Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Egypt

Our experiences over the course of the Winter were both unique and more of the same. Confusing? Naturally.

It is difficult to resist the pessimistic concludsion that there is no meaningful political process toward resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict even though the non-resolution of the conflict continues to incite violent reactions throughout the region and the world. Islamic extremists have not hesitated to cite the oppression of Palestinians with U.S. and international complicity as a major reason why they engage in violent action against Western targets and in Israel. In the absence of any meaningful political process, Palestinians have become more desparate and the likelihood of violence increases daily. Such violence is taking the form of more primitive, but nonetheless fatal attacks on Israelis. Israel's policies of expropriating land in Palestinian areas of Jerusalem, encroaching on the Status Quo of the Harem esh Sherrif and acceleration of settlement building in the West Bank only exacerbate tension and do nothing to relieve it.

The change in U.S. administrations, with its at least outward disregard for diplomatic precedents and inflammatory rhetoric, has effected everyone. The prospect of moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has made non-zionists verey edgy. The appointment of a right-wing, pro-zionist American to be the U.S. ambassador to Israel was seen as confirmation that the U.S. is not an honest broker in any political process. This Winter, we heard Israelis, Palestinians, Egyptians and Jordanians express disillusionment with the United States. Many expressed sadness that the U.S. seems to have become, in their eyes, anything but the beacon of hope that they expect it to be. Additionally, Muslims seemed to be particularly candid, in light of what they have heard about anti-Mulsim actions and rhetoric in the U.S., in verballizing that they now are afraid to come to the U.S., because they are fearful for their safety there.

We were able to arrange visits inside the Mulsim monuments on the Harem esh Sherrif for the first time in many years this Winter. On the other hand, it is obvious that there are increasing numbers of fundamentalist, Jewish "worshippers" ascending to the Muslim controlled shrine. The perception of Israeli attempts to the Status Quo, which is always a touchy issue in the Middle East and especially in Jerusalem, raises Palestinian suspicions and is likely to lead to eruptions of violence.

Israel is becoming more and more concerned with the growth of the so-called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. This is leading to harrassment and suppression of Israeli NGOs that oppose Israel's occupation. It is also leading to Israeli efforts around the world to discourage tourists to Israel who are involved with the B.D.S. movement. The change to the Entry Law in April has resulted is the barring of some activists from entering Israel.

 

This winter, a number of our groups visited Al Sira, an unrecognized Bedouin village in Israel's Negev desert. In Israel, "the only democracy in the Middle East," over 100,000 Bedouin villagers live in "unrecognized villages." These villages have no legal running water, no legal electricity, and no legal sewerage. They are full citizens of the State of Israel which is trying to force them off their ancestral territory into tiny reservations, just as in Apartheid South Africa, black south Africans were forced into bantustans.
Israel's so-called "security fence" is plainly a wall, 35 feet high carving through Palestinian neighborhoods. It separates farmers from their fields, neighbors from each other and effectively completes the cantonization of the West Bank.

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Our groups often visit Al Arub refugee camp, south of Bethlehem. 12,000 Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war live in an area 1/2 mile square. The Women's Society equips women in the camp with skills they need to seek jobs outside the camp. They also market embroidery products hand made by women in the camp. SBS travelers often purchase these items as souvineers. Responsible shopping is one small way we can make a difference in real people's lives.
The Tents of Nations is a Palestinian Christian project to draw attention to the crisis of expropriated Palestinian land. Many of our groups visit there to learn about the problem and about how Christians are contributing to non-violent resistance to Israel's military occupation of Palestinian territory. Our presence there is an act of solidarity. It is a ministry of Christian presence and it makes a difference. We also send many volunteers there to help with a variety of projects. This is part of our Plant a Tree in palestine program