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Warm blessings to all – also to those who differ from me

Whether you are non-religious, Jewish, Christian, Muslim or from another faith… please allow me to share with you wishes for goodness, inclusivity, compassion, peace and dignity in this festive time.

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It is true, as Christians we often fail to live these values. But Christmas reminds us of what really matters in life – human dignity, peace, love and life for all. May we remember that we are co-creators of in our lives. How we live matters. Our thoughts and actions participate in the shaping of our realities. May we all experience more justice, peace and love in our lives.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Nativity Church on Manger Square in Bethlehem was built over the place believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ.

I planned to be in Bethlehem this year for the illuminating of the gigantic Christmas tree on Manger Square, but as you can read in another post, I was denied entry by Israel. I share with you some links I found on the internet:

kersboom 2Click here for Reuters: “We need the solidarity of the world.”

Christmas tree stands in the courtyard of the Nativity Church in the West Bank town of Bethlehem after the lighting ceremonyClick here for a short, but great Youtube clip taken by former EAPPI member Hildegard Lenz.

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Israel’s Wall: Is it legal? Is it secure?

The Israeli Wall is not on a border. It is on occupied Palestinian land and Palestinians need Israeli permits to go to work, to church, to a hospital, to school, or to a wedding.  See for yourself what a check point looks like early in the morning when thousands of people go to work…

The short video in the link could have been filmed in any of the other Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank.  In Bethlehem, for example, the dark, cage-like corridor of Checkpoint 300 starts to fill up at 02h00 with the sleeping bodies of those who await the opening of the gates two hours later.  They are mostly Palestinian labourers who risk losing their employer-endorsed permits if they are not on time for work.  Sometimes they buy coffee and tea from the vendors to stay warm in the mornings that are ice cold – even in summer.  (I love their peppermint or sage infused tea.)

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During peak time on work days about 2 500 people need to pass through the turnstile, then queue for clearance at a metal detector and finally for a passport check.

Checkpoint 300 is not between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, but within Palestinian territory.

At any point in this sequence the gates may close.  Sometimes this happens because a soldier shaves himself in the face of those waiting to earn their daily bread or need to go to a hospital, but more often it happens with no clear reason and for an undefined period.

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Israel started to build (what is commonly known as) the Wall in the West Bank in 2002 and almost 62% of it is now complete. In reality it consists of fences from between three to twelve meters, ditches, razor wire, groomed sand paths, patrol roads, buffer zones, electronic monitors, watch-towers and – of course – checkpoints.

Is this legal?

According to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) Israel “has the right, and indeed the duty, to respond in order to protect the life of its citizens the measures taken are bound nonetheless to remain in conformity with applicable international law.”

Yet the ICJ, in its 2004 advisory opinion to the UN, found that the Israeli Wall violates applicable international law.  It demanded that Israel cease construction of the Wall, dismantle the sections already completed and “repeal or render ineffective forthwith all legislative and regulatory acts relating thereto”.

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But over the years Israel has extended the route of the Wall, despite the ICJ’s viewpoint. Part of Wall’s route is through the Palestinian city Bethlehem and its governorate. Since its building started here, Palestinians have submitted 520 cases to the court in an attempt not to lose property to the Wall, mostly to no avail.

The city’s surrounding hills offer a clear picture of how the Wall twists away from the internationally recognized border, the Green Line, to grab fertile Palestinian-owned agricultural land in and around Bethlehem. On completion the Israeli Wall will be 709 km long, more than twice the length of the  internationally recognised border.  Moreover, only 15% of the Wall will be constructed on the Green Line (the internationally recognised border) whilst 85% of the Wall will be inside the West Bank itself.

Says Haggai Matar, an Israeli journalist and political activist in +972:

Most countries in the world and the International Court of Justice would agree to Israel’s building a security wall on its recognized border, the Green Line. Yet as long as 85 percent of it is built beyond the Green Line on Palestinian land, as long as it remains transparent to Israelis, as long as it harms (Palestinian) farmers and workers the way it does, and as long as the occupation continues – no solution and no barrier can truly offer Israelis security.

The question, therefore, is not whether or not a wall, any wall, offers security – but rather whether this specific wall with this specific route offers true and lasting security more than other existing alternatives.

The answer to that is almost certainly: No.

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South Africans: Christmas Message from Bethlehem

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As we listened to the different sides of the stories shared by Christians, Muslims, Jews, political representatives, NGOs, soldiers, and ordinary local people concerning the situation in Palestine-Israel we were starkly reminded, in this time of Advent, that the Christ-child came to bring a message of peace and justice on earth.

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We were deeply grieved and appalled that this is not the situation in this Holy Land of God and are concerned that the integrity and credibility of a message of inclusivity and human dignity as expressed in the Gospel is at stake. However we were encouraged by the initiatives undertaken, by Christians, Muslims, Jews and others to find peaceful solutions to the problems of Palestine and Israel.

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We were a group of leaders of various churches and church organizations (including women and youth) in South Africa gathered in Bethlehem in Palestine from 2-9 December 2012. our visit was a response to the call of Palestinian Christians to “come and see” for ourselves.

Mindful of our own history and the ongoing need for healing, reconciliation and peace we were able to identify and engage with certain experiences in a deeply meaningful and personal way. We also recognised with sadness our own sense of judgments and complicity as Christians in addressing the realities of God’s people in this part of the world; often out of ignorance and due to misleading information and untested beliefs. It is for these reasons that we wish to humbly share our experience with the South African public and, Christians in particular, during this journey with our friends in Palestine and Israel.

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In our days in Palestine and Israel we saw the following for ourselves:

  • The infrastructure built to reinforce an apartheid system, for example separate roads for Palestinians and Israelis and especially the Wall which brings limited security to Israelis but ultimately steals land, oppresses, and separates Israelis and Palestinians from each other.
  • The different kinds of checkpoints and blockages and how they humiliate, harass and oppress Palestinians psychologically, politically and economically. We were deeply alarmed that foreigners were accorded a far easier passage of travel from one place to another than the Palestinians in their own land.

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  • Young Israeli soldiers being used to uphold the military occupation of Palestine which also included some former South African young Jews with whom we engaged.

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  • Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories in direct violation of international law depriving Palestinians of land, natural resources and freedom.

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  • Christians working together in addressing the issues of the occupation which is evident in the Kairos Palestine initiative and in their broad involvement in non-violent resistance to the occupation.

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  • Christians and Muslims praying and working together to end the occupation.
  • The destruction and demolition of homes inter alia incited by the intention to dispossess Palestinians of their land resulting in a broader picture of ethnic cleansing.

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  • The economic impact of the occupation as seen in the following: businesses abandoned because of the wall and blockages, the doors of shops wielded and closed, olive fields destroyed, restrictions on movement and the emergence of ghost towns in what used to be thriving communities.

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  • How believers are restricted and or prohibited from worshiping and visiting places of religious importance to them.

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  • Water tanks on the roofs of Palestinian home as evidence of restrictions on the use and provision of their water whilst this was noticeably absent from homes in the Israeli settlements.

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  • In spite of the resentment and even hatred we saw signs of hope, resilience and tenacity of the human spirit in the face of injustice and oppression and commitment to a just peace. In this regard the message of love also for the enemy albeit expressed in non-violent resistance in the Kairos document is a sterling example of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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  • The arrogance, blindness, insensitivity, self-destruction, and the illusions of security in the use of military might.

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We wish to reiterate that our intention is not to take sides with the Palestinians or Israeli Jews or to make statements of judgment but to focus on the perspective of justice and to report on what we have heard and seen from the many different people and sources we have encountered with this in mind.

This matter is not about Jews versus Muslims, or Muslims versus Christians, or any religious group versus any other. Not at all.  It is about justice whilst also being sensitive to the injury of self-destruction by those who oppress and destroy in violation of international law.

In this time of Advent we are reminded again that we want to align our consciousness, our beliefs and our actions with what our respective faith traditions teach us about peace, love, reconciliation and justice on earth. In Christianity, we try to follow the example set by Jesus. We ask our fellow brothers and sisters to reflect on his example in these weeks leading up to Christmas.

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The Bethlehem Call: Here we stand – Stand with us

Children at their demolished house (Jericho)

The multiple and illegal forms by which Israel occupies Palestine have taken on dimensions of systemic injustice.  The unthinkable has become globally accepted and supported.  As if it is normal and unavoidable.

In December 2009 a group of Christian Palestinians, in solidarity with their Muslim brothers and sisters from Palestine, cried from within their suffering under the Israeli occupation in their Kairos for Palestine document:

“…a cry of hope in the absence of all hope, a cry full of prayer and faith in a God ever vigilant, in God’s divine providence for all the inhabitants of this land.”

As Christians and as Palestinians they called out for help from the world.   They explained the reality on the ground.  They spoke about faith, inclusion, hope and the mission of the Church.  They spoke about love and non-violent resistance and they appealed to Jewish, Muslim and other spiritual and religious leaders to stand up for the oppressed.  They addressed the Palestinian people and the Israelis and asked them to see the face of God in each other.

Two years later, in December 2011 the Palestine Kairos group met with more than 60 people from 15 countries from all the continents in the world.  They gathered in Bethlehem, Palestine, to launch the Kairos for Global Justice initiative.

Why global justice?  The conflict between Palestine and Israel is financed by the international community, and hence this conflict is an international issue.  We dare not turn away from this, they say.  Justice is the other side of love.  Kairos for Global Justice calls on the world to take a stand and be part of a solution as opposed to maintaining the pain.

What is a Kairos moment?  “Kairos” time is qualitatively different from “kronos” time.  “Kronos” time relates to a chronological span of time over a period. “Kairos” time on the other hand is about the present, about an appropriate, opportune time.  One cannot catch up with Kairos time as it is a decisive moment that asks for participation in the here and now.  If one misses this critical opportunity, it may pass you by.  A Kairos time needs action, courage and transformation.

“’Come and see,’ said the Christians of Palestine.  ‘Come and see the olive groves, bulldozers, the ancient terraces, the segregated cities.  The situation is worsening.’”

Their appeal in The Bethlehem Call is urgent:

“We now say: ‘Injustice no more. Here we stand. Stand with us.’”

They call the Israeli occupation a crime and a sin.

In a bold move, they list things that they cannot accept.  These include:

  • The silence of the Church;
  • Any arguments by the international community that claims that Muslims as opposed to the Occupation is the cause of the problems;
  • Any tours to the Holy Land offered by church related organisations that do not include encounters with local Palestinians and their position.

“In love, we rage against injustice and yet refuse to be destroyed by our anger.”

They call on affirming voices from Jewish, Muslim and other religious traditions in the vision for a democratic, pluralistic society in the Holy Land.

They demand the dismantling of Israeli apartheid in Palestine that will include:

  • People living side by side in justice and peace within pre-1967 borders;
  • A shared Jerusalem, including open access to all holy sites;
  • The right of return for Palestinian refugees;
  • An end to all settlement extensions and a dismantling of the settlement system;
  • Free access to water and sanitation;
  • The breakdown of the apartheid wall.

They are committed to non-violent resistance, including active co-operation with Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS); and to promoting tourism in the Holy Land that includes the Palestinian perspective.

Click on the link to read The Bethlehem Call
en in Afrikaans Die Bethlehem Oproep

Olive trees broken by Israeli settlers (Qusra)

The segregation wall

And now there is an Islamic Response to Kairos Palestine

This response was issued by Peace for Life (PFL), a global solidarity network of peace:

“We say to our Christian sisters and brothers in Palestine: ‘We hear your cries; you are not alone. We need each other now more than ever before and we commit ourselves to walking the journey towards freedom and justice in Palestine side by side with you.’  In responding to Kairos Palestine we respond to the Islamic imperative to identify with the oppressed and the marginalized. We do so in a manner that

  • reflects our inadequacies as Muslims;
  • rejects attempts to co-opt our faith for the agenda of Empire; and
  • offers a vision of Islam that is just, compassionate and recognizes the sacredness of all of humankind while maintaining a particular bias for those whom the Qur’an refers to as the marginalized in the earth (mustad`afin fil-ard). Muslims across the globe are invited to sign this document.”

Click in the link below to read the full response and,
if you are a Muslim, to sign it:

An Islamic Response to The Palestinian Kairos Document

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Santa in distress, three wise men arrested


FROM BETHLEHEM, in the occupied territories of Palestine…
read a brilliant Christmas parody issued by BDS South Africa,

 Santa in Distress, Three Wise Men Arrested (24 Dec 2011)

Is the Christmas Star still shining?

Or is it mourning
over the little town of Bethlehem?

In Bethlehem today people are fenced in

behind a concrete wall
that cuts across fields and olive groves,
separating people from schools,
hospitals and work places.
In Bethlehem today Mary must give birth
at a military checkpoint,
shepherds cannot reach the stable,
the three Wise Men, gifts in hands,
stand helpless before the wall.
In Bethlehem today the star has vanished
where angels sang

hilltops are scarred by
illegal houses
Yet while we search
the darkness in vain
The angels’ message is still
Peace on Earth
So let us listen
Let us stand up and act.

Peace and Justice for Palestine.

(Ulrike Vestring 2009)

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Foto’s uit Bethlehem

Voor die Muur: Alicia (SA), ek en Barbara (Switzerland) afgeneem deur Jan Egil (Noorweë)

Voor die kerk wat gebou is op die plek waar Jesus klaarblyklik gebore is. Die deur se hoogte is deur die eeue aangepas… die laaste maal sodat perderuiters nie die kerk kon binnestorm nie, en ‘n mens dink natuurlik ook aan die kameel en die naald se oog 🙂
Alicia en ek het die kerk besoek op een van ons verpligte afdae, en ons het ‘n gids gehad…  daarom ook foto’s wat hy ywerig geneem het nadat hy ons aangesê het hoe en waar ons moet sit vir die foto’s.  Nietemin….  dit was ‘n besonderse ervaring en ek hoop om op my eie daarheen terug te gaan as ek in Desember weer in Bethlehem is.

So lui die storie…. die geboorteplek van Christus

Binne-in die kerk

‘n Huis in Bethlehem se vlugtelingskamp

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Bethlehem se onwettige Israeli Muur

Bethlehem se onwettige Israeli Muur
(soos verskyn in Die Kerkbode, Desember 2011)

Die donker, hok-agtige staalgang van Checkpoint 300 in Bethlehem, Palestina, begin reeds om 02:00 opvul met die half-slapende liggame van diegene wat wag op die hekke se opening om 04:00. Dis meestal Palestynse werkers wat, as hulle nie betyds opdaag vir werk nie, hul werkgewerpermitte en dus hul inkomste verloor. Ander probeer hospitale bereik.

Tydens spitstyd op werksdae moet ongeveer 2500 mense daagliks hier deur die draaihek, metaalverklikker en die paspoortkontrole gaan. Soos baie ander kontrolepunte in die Wes-Oewer is hierdie Israeli-beheerde punt nie ‘n deurgang tussen Israel en die besette Palestynse gebied nie, maar binne-in Palestynse gebied.  Die prosedure kan ‘n paar uur duur en die hekke kan sonder aankondiging en onbepaald op enige punt sluit. Soms gebeur dit omdat ‘n soldaat homself skeer in die aangesig van diegene wat hul brood wil verdien, maar meermale is daar geen duidelike rede  nie.

Israel het in 2002 begin bou aan (wat algemeen bekend staan as) die Muur in die Wes-Oewer na ‘n reeks selfmoordbomaanvalle. 60% daarvan is reeds voltooid.

Die Internasionale Geregshof meen Israel “has the right, and indeed the duty, to respond in order to protect the life of its citizens (but) the measures taken are bound nonetheless to remain in conformity with applicable international law.”  Volgens die Internasionale Hof voldoen die Israeliese Muur nie aan toepaslike internasionale wette nie en hulle het Israel reeds in 2004 versoek om alle bouwerk te staak, voltooide dele af te breek “and to repeal or render ineffective forthwith all legislative and regulatory acts relating thereto”.

Maar deur die jare het Israel se planne vir die Muur herhaaldelik uitgebrei en die bouwerk gaan voort. ‘n Deel loop deur Bethlehem en die aangrensende distrik. Sedert bouwerk aan die Muur hier begin het, het Palestyne 520 hofsake in Israel aanhangig gemaak, meestal sonder enige effek.

Bethlehem se omliggende heuwels bied ‘n duidelike blik op hoe die Muur wegswenk van die internasionaal erkende grenslyn (die “Groen Lyn”) om vrugbare Palestynse landbougrond in te palm.  Wanneer dit klaar is, sal die Israeli Muur 709 km lank wees, dus meer as dubbel die lengte van die Groen Lyn.  Slegs 15% van die Muur sal wettig en op die Groen Lyn (of in Israel) wees met 85% daarvan onregmatig in Palestynse gebied.

Die dorp Al Walaja, wes van Bethlehem, is in 1948 uitgewis waarna talle inwoners vlugtelinge geword het. Dié wat terug gekeer het, het weer huise gebou, maar talle hiervan het tans slopingsbevele van Israel waarvan baie reeds uitgevoer is. Muna (40) en Aisa (50) Hagahla is op Maandag 3 Oktober onregmatig van hul familiegrond vervreemd ten spyte van hul regsaansoek.

Al Walaja is daardie oggend om 06:00 afgesper sodat niks buiten stootskrapers en soldate die dorp kon binne nie.  Teen 14:00 was 50 volwasse olyfbome reeds ontwortel en die nuwe “slegs-Israeli’s” pad en area vir die Muur reeds skoongeskraap was.

Ons het die middag saam met die Hagahla gesin in die skadu van ‘n boom gesit en kyk hoe die Israeli stootskraper se geel tentakel die ledemate van gebreekte, ontwortelde bome hys deur stofgevulde lug.

“Waarheen kan ek gaan?” het Muna gevra. “Die Israelis praat van menseregte, maar hulle respekteer dit nie.  Hierdie grond is ons brood en botter en dateer ses geslagte terug. Ons eet hieruit en verkoop die res om ander dinge te koop.  Wat het ons nou vir ons kinders?“

Artikels 47 and 49 van die Vierde Geneefse Konvensie verbied ‘n besetter om privaatgrond te konfiskeer en eienaarskap oor te dra aan sodanige besetter.

Ons was daar todat dit stil geraak het, die stof gesak het en die gewapende soldaat op die oorkantste heuwel saam met die stootskraper weg is. Die wind het opgekom.  Ek het bly kyk na die beskadigde bord van World Vision wat die dorp se fontein in 2003 herstel het. Wanneer dit klaar is, gaan die Muur hier alle landbougrond inpalm en die dorp afsluit van ander Palestynse gemeenskappe.

Bethlehem se area strek oor 660km2, maar Palestyne beheer net 13% daarvan, die meeste daarvan gefragmenteerd. Israel se onwettige setlaarsdorpe en Muur verbied Palestyne op die meeste van hul eie grond.

In die stad wat geboorte geskenk het aan ‘n Boodskapper van inklusiwiteit, menseregte en liefde, lei toergidse hul reisigers verby die onwettige Muur en die effek daarvan op Christen en Moslem inwoners.

Die Bethlehem EAPPI-span moniteer Checkpoint 300 elke dag vir vyf dae per week, twaalf maande van die jaar, reeds sedert 2003. Ek was daar op ‘n plasingsbesoek. Ons staan om 3:00 op om 3:40 by die kontrolehek te wees waar mense reeds sedert 2:00 wag.

EAPPI is die enigstes wat deur Israel toegelaat word om diens in die kontrolepunt te doen.  Ons tel hoeveel mense deur die normale ry gaan asook hoeveel deur die humanitêre lyn gaan en skakel die “Hot line” wanneer van die hekke sluit in ‘n poging om dit weer oop te kry.  Hiefdie nligting word deur die VN se Humanitêre afdeling gebruik om tendense te moniteer en aksie te neem waar nodig. Hulle gee weer op hul beurt die inligting aan politici en ander rolspelers.

Ons mag nie daar foto’s neem nie, ek kon net ‘n paar op redelik veilige plekke neem:

Ons begin in die donker werk… hier breek die dag

Wagtend

Let op die mense bo-op ander se skouers