Loving the Land and It’s People: Palestinian Hospitality

Veena Brekke, Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, October 31, 2012

On October 28th we departed the beautiful city of Nazareth to visit Palestinian towns, villages, farms and spend two nights in Palestinian homes. I would like to share my experience of visiting the small farming village of Nusf Jubayl, West Bank (Area A – occupied territory) and a home of an Israeli Palestinian family in Akka, Israel.

Nusf Jubayl farmers are part of a small farmer’s co-operative (1200 farmers around the town of Jenin) who harvest olives and sell its products through Canaan Fair Trade. The village is located in a mountainous, rocky area. We were welcomed by Khader and Ransees’s family.

A group of us walked along the beautiful mountain side, peaceful, barren and rocky land, to reach the olive trees that needed harvesting. We worked alongside children and adults from the village until sunset and watched the full moon come up as we walked the mile and half back to the village.

Several families had planned a meal for us in a common court yard. We were offered a delicious dish, Maqlouba, of chicken and cauliflower in rice, tomatoes and cucumber salad, and yogurt. I was impressed by the caring actions of Palestinian teenage boys who rushed to help older travelers with their luggage and offered chairs for their comfort.

After dinner four of us travelers were guided along the dark uphill narrow streets of the village by Noor, age 12, and his older brother to their home. Niveen and Asaad, their parents, are farmers and have seven children. They vacated their kitchen, large first floor living area and bathroom for our overnight stay. It is clear that they have little material wealth but offered so much in their generosity.

The next morning, following coffee and breakfast, Khader showed us a restoration project of an old building to create a child care and community center. Everyone in this small village lives with extended family, cares for their children, values elders and works towards improving their community. It was refreshing to note that there were no Israeli settlements and military towers threatening their existence. My hope is that their farming co-op will be prosperous and they will be left alone by Israeli settlements.

My second overnight home stay was with Sirri and Hindiah Idilbi’s family in Akka, a city near Haifa. They are Palestinians that live inside Israel. It was the last night of the Muslim holiday Eid Al-Adha and a feast awaited me and Alexandra, a traveling companion: three salads, stuffed grape leaves, chicken pastry, kibbeh, and other delicious items that I can’t identify by name.

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2012 West Bank Olive Harvest Delegation

Interfaith Peace-Builders Delegation Arrives in Israel/Palestine

Interfaith Peace-Builders, October 23, 2012

October 23, 2012 – Interfaith Peace-Builders (IFPB) is pleased to announce that our 32 member delegation to Israel/Palestine arrived at Ben-Gurion airport Tuesday morning and is now safely in Jerusalem.

The purpose of this delegation, the 42nd to make the trip since 2001, is to educate North Americans about the region and deepen their understanding of its conflicts.

The delegation focuses on the Palestinian olive harvest which takes place each autumn. The olive harvest is an occasion of particular cultural and economic importance for Palestinian communities and a time when tensions between Israeli settlers and Palestinian residents of the West Bank run high.

As the Presidential Election heats up in the United States, the US-brokered peace process continues to show few results and US military aid to the region continues to flow unabated. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict played a significant part in the US Presidential Foreign Policy Debate which took place on October 22 in Boca Raton, Florida.

Participants on this Interfaith Peace-Builders delegation have the unique opportunity to hear directly from Palestinians and Israelis regarding their hopes for peace and the role of the United States, the US government, and other international actors, in promoting a resolution to the conflict.

D42 group
A photo of the delegates at orientation in Washington, DC

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A Gift to Rafah

How Madisonians helped create a respite from violence for Palestinian children

Kathy Walsh, Isthmus, April 29, 2005

Children were everywhere. They were standing on rooftops, shooting marbles in the streets, playing “football” wherever there was bare ground, making their way to and from school. And always in the background there was machine-gun fire.

This was a “quiet” time in Rafah. There were no tanks in the streets, no missile-firing helicopters overhead, no Israeli soldiers to be seen. But day and night, there was firing from Israeli towers on the edges of town.

I visited Rafah from Jan. 31 to Feb. 5 with my daughter Karen, a recent UW-Madison graduate. We hoped to help dedicate a new playground built in part with funds from Madison residents and support from the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, a group whose appeal for official city recognition was rejected by Madison’s mayor and Common Council last year.

Rafah is a Palestinian city and refugee camp of about 145,000 people in the southern Gaza Strip on the border with Egypt. More than 80% of its residents are refugees. Many have lost their homes two or more times and lived under the constant threat of losing them again as the Israeli Army razed row after row of homes along the Egyptian border.

The “camp” areas of Rafah where we spent most of our time are concrete jungles. The homes that remain nearest the border are pockmarked with bullet holes. Tanks, bulldozers and missiles have severely damaged many buildings.

Yet people continued to live in them. If they left, the homes were deemed “abandoned” and destroyed, and there was no place to go. Amid this rubble, children continue to play, go to school and live their lives.

Last spring, Playgrounds for Palestine donated a playground to be built in the Tel al-Sultan neighborhood of Rafah. One of the poles for the playground was missing from the original shipment, so the playground was stored in a neighborhood home.

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Return to Rafah: Journey to a land out of bounds

Jennifer Loewenstein, The Electronic Intifada, 17 February 2004

Pictured, Maha, the wife of Ibrahim Aoda Abu Shatat, sits together with baby Zyad in her house during shooting at 3:30 AM. Their house is 40 meters from the border. (Johannes Abeling)

The border between Gaza and Egypt passes through a city called Rafah. Israeli tanks regularly drive along the border in the middle of the night and shoot randomly at the surrounding houses. Sometimes it is just shooting, sometimes without warning bulldozers come to destroy some houses ‘for security reasons’. The fathers in the area near the border stay up every night until 4:30 AM, in case the tanks come to their street and they have to quickly evacuate their family. The children mostly don’t sleep well because of the shooting. Many children have symptoms of stress.

Said Zoroub drives a white pick-up truck with the words “Rafah Municipality” painted on the driver’s side in Arabic and English, a gift from the Norwegians.[1] Less than an hour after my arrival in Rafah, Zoroub, the mayor, receives an urgent call on his cell phone. An Israeli bulldozer has struck a water main eight feet under the earth in the process of demolishing homes along the border between Rafah and Egypt. This has cut off the water supply to the western half of the city. From the passenger side of the municipality truck I get to survey the latest damage.

Outwardly Zoroub looks unperturbed, but his words belie the appearance. “We live each day here in a state of emergency.” On either side of the road the homes and buildings on the streets of Rafah are dotted with bullet holes as if suffering from a contagious disease. The nearer we get, the more ravaged are the buildings —crumbling from disrepair, caved in where tank shells and mortar fire have hit them during the night, their inhabitants make-shifting roofs, walls and doorways as needed. Lines of drying laundry hang outside the windows and political graffiti and posters of martyrs decorate the walls. Poverty and ruin define the city landscape. The edge of town is a no-man’s-land of rubble torn up and rolled over by the heavy tracks and claws of the armored vehicles that rule this terrain.

Puddles, stones and broken glass adorn the path alongside the homes on the city’s perimeter that the Israeli army has blasted into gaping gray caverns too treacherous to stray into for long. More and more children appear from the alleyways of the neighborhood to our left following us curiously toward the end of the street. Men and women come out to greet the mayor as we pursue the sound of the tank in the distance that is flattening the earth beneath it, its guns pointed toward us. A bulldozer is pushing up mounds of dirt and rubble behind it with a steady roar: more homes gone and no water in western Rafah until the Israeli authorities give clearance for the municipality to send out a repair crew that won’t be shot on sight. A boy points to a hole in a wall from where I can snap pictures without being easily detected. From the same vantage point, children can watch the progress of the demolition. I have only taken two photos when the mayor tells me to “get away now, it’s dangerous.” It is Thursday afternoon the 15th of January 2004.

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Getting the hell into Gaza

The entire border of Gaza is surrounded by heavily-patrolled walls and fences. A network of Israeli checkpoints tightly controls movement in and out of the Strip, and between population areas within the Strip. (Jamal Wilson)

Laura Gordon, The Electronic Intifada, 15 January 2004

Following the suicide bombing at Erez Crossing that left four Israeli soldiers dead and several Palestinian workers injured, Erez (at the north of the Gaza Strip), and Maabar (the other way in and out of the Gaza Strip, on the border of Egypt), have been under tight closure, with crowds of people waiting for days to be let through.

The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project has managed to get only one of three of their delegation to Rafah. The closure on Gaza has intensified with yet stronger measures. As of January 4, 2004, any internationals wishing to enter must have official Israeli permission.

Israeli permission requires an Israeli press pass, an official invitation from one of a short list of Israeli-accepted organizations, and a five-day background check by the Israeli authorities. Here are excerpts from a letter home from one of the delegation as they were attempting to enter. They are an excellent description of the great extremes Israel will go to keep out international eyes.

Laura Gordon

Excerpts of Monday’s letter from Jennifer, one of the delegation members

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