Sep 09

Lailat al-Qadr, Eid al-Fitr, Rosh Hashanah…and what I was doing a year ago

This past week has been an important one both for Muslim and Jewish communities around the world.

Muslim communities celebrated Lailat al-Qadr (“The Night of Power”) on September 15, the holiest day in the Muslim calendar; and today celebrated the Eid al-Fitr, the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. Jewish communities around the world celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Eid mubarak and shana tova to all those celebrating. Prayers of peace and blessings to all.

There have been a lot of moments this past year of my life when I’ve moments of sudden realization about what I was doing a year ago. This week has had a lot of those.

Last year, on the day of Lailat al-Qadr, I went to Qalandia checkpoint (in the West Bank between Ramallah and Jerusalem) with my friend Peter and members of the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Program. The reason we were there was to monitor a situation that happens every year around this time. Thousands and thousands of Palestinians attempt to come into Jerusalem and pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque on this holy night. Many of them are denied entry and turned away. Last year, we watched families get separated, as men were told to stand in one line and women in another, unable to wait for members of their family if they got through, not knowing whether or not the rest of their family had been denied or let in.

You can read my post from that day last year here.

I’m just going to share some pictures, which I think mainly speak for themselves–sort of a “what I was doing last year” culture shock album, if you will. You can see the rest of my pictures by clicking here, and see Peter’s pictures by clicking here.

Mounted police charge into a crowd of women at the checkpoint

Mounted police charge into a crowd of women at the checkpoint

The womens line with armored personnel carriers in the foreground

The women's line with armored personnel carriers in the foreground

The mens line

The men's line

Kurt Vonneguts subtitle for Slaughterhouse Five was The Childrens Crusade

Kurt Vonnegut's subtitle for "Slaughterhouse Five" was "The Children's Crusade"

Photo by Peter Miller

Photo by Peter Miller

Photo by Peter Miller

Photo by Peter Miller

Photo by Peter Miller

Photo by Peter Miller

Photo by Peter Miller

Photo by Peter Miller

Photo by Peter Miller

Photo by Peter Miller

Photo by Peter Miller

Photo by Peter Miller

Photo by Peter Miller, coming back through Qalandia checkpoint

Photo by Peter Miller, coming back through Qalandia checkpoint

Sep 09

Shameless Self-Promotion, part 493

I’ve taken a break from the shameless self-promotion for a little while (although having a blog I suppose counts as a constant act of self-promotion), but here’s a few links:

Here’s an article about the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement in the Jewish Daily Forward. It’s pretty good–some inaccuracies, particularly characterization of our work as “pro-Palestinian” rather than “pro-human rights and international law” and as being somehow caught up in a quest to destroy Israel rather than to bring justice and peace, but overall not a bad piece. I’m quoted in it briefly, you can read the full article here.

Pretty good BDS piece from Americans for Middle East Understanding, I’m interviewed about the US Campaign’s website of all things, read that here.

And I was interviewed on Uprising Radio on KPFK in Los Angeles, you can listen to that here.

Sep 09

Patient Widows

An excerpt from the sermon I gave this morning at St. Matthews’ United Methodist Church in Bowie, MD:

I was asked, today, to speak on the topic of “Seeking Peace in the Middle East.” It’s a topic that Jesus Himself wondered about as he looked down on Jerusalem and wept, decrying a city that “does not know the things that make for peace.”

So what are the things that make for peace?

What I want to propose to you today is that as followers of the Human One, Jesus Christ, we cannot talk about peace without talking about justice. And we cannot talk about justice unless we are willing to take the side of the oppressed, the marginalized, the patient widows who struggle against systems and governments that are stacked against them.

Now by justice I don’t mean vengeance. I mean the restoration of right relationships. I mean a special concern for the stories and struggles of the marginalized and the oppressed. I mean doing God’s work of creating a world that is more merciful, more kind, more uplifting, that provides what everyone needs for life and life abundantly.

The call for justice is integral to the scriptural witness. Just look at Deuteronomy 16:20, when God tells God’s people the following: “Justice, and onlyjustice, you shall pursue, so that you may live in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” Or look at Psalm 85, where the Psalmist envisions a future in which God “speaks peace to God’s people,” in which “justice and peace will kiss each other; faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and justice will look down from the sky.”

The call for justice is certainly there in the prophetic literature. Micah, for example, paints a beautiful landscape for us by linking a vision of peace in which “nation shall not lift up sword against nation” with a vision of justice in which “all shall sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid.” And who among us has not heard the words of Micah 6:8, which ask us what the Lord requires of us and answers, simply, “to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God?”

Perhaps these words would be a scriptural footnote, if they were not echoed by Jesus in the Gospels, Jesus who in Matthew 23:23 calls the Pharisees to task for giving “mint and dill and cumin” while forgetting “the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.” “It is these,” says Jesus,” that you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.” And when we do neglect these things, Jesus says, we are like “blind guides,” who “strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.” Anyone who has ever seen a camel in person will pick up on the satire.

But the text that I want to use to frame our search for peace and justice in Palestine and Israel is from Luke, chapter 18. It goes like this:

“Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice.” For a while he refused, but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming to me.”’ And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to God’s chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will God delay long in helping them? I tell you, God will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Human One comes, will he find faith on Earth?”

When we look and we see the suffering and the injustice and the violence in the Middle East, and especially in Israel and Palestine, it is easy to lose heart. But Jesus has left us with a story about a woman with a strong faith who refused to lose heart. As I’m sure you know, widows in Jesus’ day were protected because they were vulnerable. Cut off from a source of livelihood or familial protection, the widow was supposed to be cared for by the community. But under a situation of harsh Roman occupation—an occupation which, we might speculate, could have cost her her husband and sons and widowed her to begin with—this widow finds justice and protection blocked by an unjust judge—a judge who is satirically described as saying to himself, “I don’t fear God OR have respect for ANYONE.”

Jesus holds the steadfast widow up as an example for us not to lose heart. And he explicitly ties the story in to the quest for justice for marginalized or disenfranchised elements within the community. And so I think a good question to ask, if we are serious about seeking justice and peace and the presence of God in the midst of all that we see in Palestine and Israel, is “Where are the patient widows steadfastly demanding justice?” And if they are there–and I guarantee you, they are–a second question to ask is, “Are we listening to them?” And if we begin to, we will quickly start asking ourselves, “And how do we respond?”

Sep 09

from CPT: Israeli military delivers demolition orders for six Palestinian homes

From Christian Peacemaker Teams in At-Tuwani in the southern West Bank:
17 September 2009
AT-TUWANI: Israeli military delivers demolition orders for six Palestinian houses.

[Note: According to the Geneva Conventions, the International Court of Justice in the Hague, and numerous United Nations resolutions, all Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are illegal.  Settlement outposts are considered illegal also under Israeli law.]

In the afternoon of 13 September 2009, members from the Israeli District Coordinating Office (DCO), accompanied by Israeli soldiers, delivered demolition orders for six Palestinian houses near the village of At-Tuwani.

Palestinian families recently built these houses on their own land in the Humra Valley.  On the night of 16 July, while some of the houses were still under construction, one building was destroyed and a nearby olive tree damaged.  The Palestinian family suspected that Israeli settlers from the nearby settlement Ma’on or the outpost Havat Ma’on had perpetrated the vandalism.  The family began rebuilding their house the next day.

On 20 July 2009, the Israeli military delivered stop work orders on the houses and two other structures, including a cistern.  Now that the families have received demolition orders, they fear the Israeli military will soon destroy the houses.

The Israeli military severely restricts Palestinian building in the South Hebron Hills region, designated Area C under the Oslo Accords, which means it is under full Israeli control. However, the nearby Israeli settlements of Ma’on and Carmel and the outposts of Avigail and Havat Ma’on continue to expand.  Members of Christian Peacemaker Teams and Operation Dove have documented continuous expansion in these settlements since 2004.

Photos from the day are available at http://tinyurl.com/kkb4ez

Sep 09


The following is a message I received from the International Movement to Open Rafah Border. Your prayers, presence, and action are, as always, requested:

> List of Palestinian farmers & other civilians shot in Gaza Strip’s rural communities since the declaration of the ceasefire on the 18th of January 2009
> Several farmers and other Palestinian civilians have been shot by Israeli forces while in rural communities since the 18th of January 2009 when Israel declared a unilateral “ceasefire”. This list includes only confirmed cases of Palestinian civilians killed or injured by gunfire or (shrapnel of) artillery shells. It doesn’t include Palestinian civilians killed or injured by air strikes, previously unexploded Israeli ordinances, or injured while trying to escape from Israeli gunfire. It doesn’t include cases of casualties reported but not confirmed with their names
> According to this list, 7 Palestinian civilians (among them 3 boys and 1 girl) have been assassinated and 28 others (among them 7 boys, 1 girl, 2 women) have been injured by IOF gunfire or shelling.
> In this list we should probably add the case of Ahmed Abu Hashish who went missing on the 21st of April and his dead body was found on the 14th of June by a group formed by locals (including his father and activists of the Beit Hanoun Local Initiative) and ISM Gaza Strip activists that went under Israeli gunfire too. Ahmed Abu Hashish is believed to have been assassinated by IOF troops.
> 1. 15 September 2009, Khan Younis: Fadi Odeh Abu Mu’ammar, 28
> 2. 15 September 2009, Khan Younis: Muhammad Odeh Abu Mu’ammar, 26
> 3. 9 September 2009, Beit Hanoun: Maysara Mohammed Hussein al-Kafarna, 24, wounded by a gunshot to the right foot.
> 4. 4 September 2009, Beit Hanoun: Ghazi al-Za’anin, 14,was wounded by a bullet to the head and died the following morning.
> 5. 2 September 2009, Beit Hanoun: 17-year-old ‘Abdul ‘Aziz al-Masri, was wounded by a gunshot to the right foot.
> 6. 24 August 2009, Beit Lahia: Mas’oud Mohammed Tanboura, 19, was seriously wounded by several bullets to the chest
> 7. 24 August 2009, Beit Lahia: Sa’id ‘Ata al-Hussumi, 16, was instantly killed by two bullets to the chest
> 8. 23 August 2009, Beit Hanoun: Fawzi ‘Ali Qassem, 63, was wounded by a gunshot to the left thigh
> 9. 22 August 2009, Sheikh Zayed, Beit Lahia: Murad Salman al-Wazir, 17, wounded by a gunshot to the left leg.
> 10. 21 July 2009, Abassan: Majed Majdi al-Farra, 20, was wounded by shrapnel to the right hand
> 11. 19 July 2009, east of Gaza city: Ahmed Zuhair al-Semari, 22, was hit by a gunshot that entered the abdomen and exited the back. Kidnapped, transferred to Israeli hospital where died.
> 12. 15 July 2009, Abassan Jedida – Faraheen: Karem Hamdan Sarem Qudeh, 16, injured by shrapnel, above the eye
> 13. 2 July 2009, Juhr Ad Dik: Husam Abu A’yesh, 24, was also injured by shrapnel
> 14. 2 July 2009, Juhr Ad Dik: Hiam Abu A’yesh, 17, killed by Israeli shell
> 15. 5 June 2009, Shoka, Rafah: Khaled Ismail Mohammed Jahjuh was shot in his lower spine
> 16. 3 June 2009, Beit Hanoun: ‘Ali Mohammed al-Zummara, 65, injured by shrapnel in the back
> 17. 3 June 2009, Beit Hanoun: Saleh Mohammed al-Zummara, 66, injured by a gunshot to the left hand
> 18. 3 June 2009, Bedouin village ‘Um An-Nassir’: Ahmed Tawfiq Abu Hashish, 17, injured by shrapnel to the left shoulder and foot.
> 19. 3 June 2009, Bedouin village ‘Um An-Nassir’: Saleh Ahmed al-Madani, 17, seriously injured by shrapnel to the neck and the left shoulder
> 20. 20 May 2009, Beit Hanoun: Ziad Salem abu Hadayid, 23, was shot in his legs with live ammunition by Israeli forces.
> 21. 7 May 2009, Rafah: Randa Shaloof, 32, was shot in her hand and chest with live ammunition by Israeli forces.
> 22. 3 May 2009, Beit Hanoun: Mohamed Harb Shamia, 12, was injured in his leg and abducted by Israeli forces.
> 23. 3 May 2009, East of Jabalya: 30-year-old Mona Selmi As-Sawarka was injured by shrapnel wounds to her chest
> 24. 2 May 2009, Khoza’a: Nafith Abu T’eima, 35, injured in his neck by shrapnel from Israeli forces.
> 25. 10 March 2009, al-Maghazi refugee camp: Muhannad Sehi Abu Mandil, 24, was shot in the left foot with live ammunition by Israeli forces.
> 26. 24 February 2009, Khoza’a: Wafa Al Najar, 17, was shot in the kneecap with live ammuntion by Israeli forces.
> 27. 18 February 2009, Al Faraheen: Mohammad al-Ibrim, 20, was shot in the right leg with live ammunition by Israeli forces.
> 28. 14 February 2009, Jabaliya: Hammad Barrak Salem Silmiya, 13, was killed when Israeli forces shot him in the head with live ammunition.
> 29. 27 January 2009, Al Faraheen: Anwar al Ibrim, 27, was killed when Israeli forces shot him in the neck with live ammunition.
> 30. 27 January 2009, east of Deir Al Balah: Mohammed Salama al-Ma’ni, 21, was wounded by a gunshot to the left thigh.
> 31. 25 January 2009, Khoza’a: Subhi Tafesh Qudaih, 55, was wounded by a gunshot to the back
> 32. 23 January 2009, Khoza’a: Nabeel Ibrahim al-Najjar, 40, was wounded by shrapnel from a gunshot to the left hand by Israeli forces.
> 33. 22 January 2009, Sheyjaiee: 7 year old Ahmed Hassanian shot in the head
> 34. 20 January 2009, al-Qarara: Israeli soldiers shot Waleed al-Astal, 42, in his right foot.
> 35. 18 January 2009, Khoza’a:Maher ‘Abdul ‘Azim Abu Rjaila, 23, was killed when Israeli forces shot him in the chest with live ammunition.

Sep 09

The Snark Hits the Fan re: Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (or How Jonathan Swift Renewed my Faith in Academia)

So a few posts back I wrote about the growing debate about boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) in the U.S. and Israeli press. (If you don’t know what BDS is, click here and here to learn more!)

Well, the snark has hit the fan (in a manner that I, as a bit of a snark afficionado myself, truly appreciate), at least in the Israeli press.

Take a look at this op-ed from Rachel Giora in Ha’aretz, which starts out sounding like a defense of Ben Gurion University preisdent Rivka Carmi’s attack on Ben Gurion University professor Neve Gordon for publishing an article supporting boycott in the LA Times.

The mainstream Israeli press is superior to the mainstream U.S. press in a lot of ways, and apparently “level of snarkiness allowed” is one of them, because it quickly becomes evident (if you didn’t pick up on it from the title of the piece, “A Modest Proposal,” a reference to the Jonathan Swift’s 1729 essay in which Swift satirically proposes that Irish parents eat their own children in order to curb starvation) that Giora is letting Carmi and her crew have it, satirist style.

Just to give you a taste, here’s how the piece starts:

Like the president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Prof. Rivka Carmi, I too believe the demand that Dr. Neve Gordon resign as head of the university’s Department of Politics and Government is a legitimate and even modest demand, given the financial damage the university will sustain if he fails to do so. Accordingly, it is up to Gordon, who desires what is best for his institution, to comply with the demand forthwith.

Here’s how it ends:

Students, you are our future, and I have a modest proposal for you: Stay in the ivory tower. Try not to see reality as it is. And certainly do not describe it with pejorative words like “apartheid” or try to change it. Try to understand, in practical terms, what is worth studying and what you are better off not publishing, since your future depends mainly on the degree of flexibility you can display and on your ability to toe the line. Above all, you must remember that to adapt is to survive. See the Carmi case.

In between, Giora quotes a letter written by students to Carmi, which, if I can find a full version of, I will share, because the quote is priceless:

“We are taught history, but we are forbidden to learn from it. In gender studies, we are taught to identify violent discourse, but we are expected to go on speaking the routine and familiar militaristic language. We are taught to be social workers, but not to identify with exploited cleaning workers. Learning is allowed, but not drawing practical conclusions – especially not in a newspaper, in English, with a large circulation.”

Publish THAT, U.S. press!

Sep 09

Whose mission? Who’s mission?

A parable:

On Monday night, I was hanging out with some young adults from Dumbarton United Methodist Church and Wesley Seminary at the Cosi’s at Metro Center.

We were having our regular Monday night Bible study, in this case on a passage from the letter of James, 2:1-17. Here’s a couple of excerpts (without which this story isn’t as powerful):

“My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person with dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please,’ while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there,’ or, ‘Sit at my fee,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kin-dom that God has promised to those who love God? But you have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? You do well if you really fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’….What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you hav faith but do not have works?”

We were doing the Bible study using four questions that I learned from stories of Christian Peacemaker Team member Tom Fox:

1) What is your first impression of the text?
2) How the text make sense in your life experience?
3) What is difficult about the text?
4) What in the message of the text could change your life?

We’d reached question 3 and were about to move to question 4 when a man approached us.

He asked us if we were studying the Bible. We said yes.

He told us that he was homeless and couldn’t see very well, but asked if he could listen in. We said of course, and read the passage again. Go back and read it, again, with that in mind.

As we talked, we found out that the man’s name was Ray. He told us some of what it was like to be homeless in the city, to not have a sense of protection or shelter or community. He talked about sleeping on a bench–in fact, the one moment in which any anger was evident in him was when he talked about sleeping on a “goddamn bench,” a phrase that I think has a certain literal application given the text at hand. He also spoke about not feeling accepted by a church community, of having “no place to go and hear the Word.”

Now, as I’ve said many times before, one of the fun things about this blog is that I never know who (if anybody) reads it. So I don’t know what you think when you read “the Word.” (It was def. capitalized when he said it). That’s a long discussion. But we all need a place where we can hear the Word, I think. Or at least a Word. A word of compassion. Of being included. Of mercy. Of justice. Of truth. Of comfort.

So many unhoused people in this city, and so many of them might go a whole day without ever really hearing a word, or at least a kind word, directed to them, as a person, a human, an individual.

At the end of the evening, some people from the group gave Ray the little money they had, and we all prayed together. We prayed for Ray, and Ray prayed for us, and for all people experiencing homelessness. When he left, he told us he felt like he had “some armor on for the night.” Because it’s a battle, living without a home, in the capital city of the richest nation on the planet.

Guess that sort of answers question number 4.

— — —

On this blog and in all sorts of other places, I’ve often written about the question, “What is mission?” I’ve written about mission as relationship, about mission as justice, about mission as listening, about mission as solidarity.

And Ray’s gift of his presence at our Bible study was another reminder to me that, after more than 2 years in this mission program, I still haven’t even begun to answer that question.

How many times over these past 8 months in DC have I rushed to work, using my busy schedule as an excuse not to talk to or even acknowledge a human being asking me not just for money but for acknowledgment of their personhood? Too many times to count.

My mission placement here in Washington, DC, is at the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, and indeed my work here educating at advocating and sharing my experiences on behalf of a just peace in Palestine and Israel is a mission. When I forget that this is a ministry, when I lose that focus, I lose motivation and I lose clarity and, most importantly, I lose legitimacy.

But in the end, that’s a placement. That’s work. And mission, if it’s to mean anything–ministry, if it’s to mean anything–is something that happens every step of the Way.

Mission isn’t about me talking–or writing this blog, for that matter. It’s about listening and being open–to Ray, for example, who ministered to us much more than we ministered to him.

Whose mission is it?

And who is mission?

Those questions are just as important as what.

Thank you, Ray. May God be with you, and with us, reminding us of the need for compassion–and the need to end this societal sin of empty houses, forced evictions, and children of God sleeping on Goddamn Benches.

Sep 09

Shout out to Sam Nichols


Read Samuel Nichols’ blog, SammerTime.

Sam’s working with Christian Peacemaker Teams in the West Bank. I bumped into him a couple of times while I was there, although I unfortunately didn’t get to know him that well. His blog is always great, but I was particularly struck by his recent post on the occupation as disembodied actor. I left a long winded comment on the post so I won’t talk about it anymore, just read it. Also check out his post on how bad theology kills people and some recent great news from the World Council of Churches.

Sep 09

Quiz: Why do I like this video?

Hint: There’s more than one right answer.

Covered from John Greyson on Vimeo.

“This short film has been pulled from official selection at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in protest against their Spotlight on Tel Aviv program and in solidarity with the Palestinian call for a boycott against the Israeli government.

It will available here online for the duration of the festival (until September 19th, 2009).

*Note: If video playback is choppy, turn off HD*

Read the open letter to TIFF here: tiny.cc/tiff_open_letter

Tell TIFF what you think of their Spotlight at tiffg@tiff.net

If you would like more information about Queer Sarajevo or to support the festival contact Organization Q:

Sep 09

From Democracy Now!: Actor, Director Tim Robbins Takes Up Historic Vietnam War Protest in Production of “The Trial of the Catonsville Nine”

I first heard about the Catonsville Nine from my godfather when he was driving me through Catonsville to look at guitars at Appalachian Bluegrass, oh so long ago….

From Democracy Now!:

“Academy Award-winning actor, director and writer Tim Robbins is involved in a new production of Father Daniel Berrigan’s acclaimed play The Trial of the Catonsville Nine. The play centers on the events of May 17th, 1968, when nine Catholic peace activists, including Father Daniel Berrigan and his brother, the late Father Philip Berrigan, entered a draft board in Catonsville, Maryland, and removed draft files of young men who were about to be sent to Vietnam. They were arrested and then sentenced in a highly publicized trial that galvanized the antiwar movement. We speak to Robbins about the play, which is being staged by his Los Angeles troupe, the Actors’ Gang.”

Check it out.

Sep 09

My current favorite music video

Another one from Invincible (see last post), this time a video/music-documentary about the Nakba of 1948, in which more than 700,000 Palestinian refugees fled their homes never to return, and hundreds of Palestinian villages were totally depopulated or destroyed. The video is directed by Iqaa The Olivetone and features Suhell Nafar from the Palestinian hip hop group Dam and Abeer (aka Sabrina Da Witch). Note appearance of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation’s fancy banner around minute 4:00. The video also includes testimonies from Palestinians as well as people from other backgrounds sharing their own stories of displacement: