Tuesday, 17 June 2014

A short theory of why the caged bird sings.

Marwan from Holy Land Trust with canaries

There are many, many caged birds in the Old City of Jerusalem and I’ve often wondered why.  Sometimes it seems ironic to me, that a people so lacking in freedom keep birds in captivity. 

There’s the ice cream man’s grey parrot who often greets me as I pass with a raspy, ‘Hello’ or ‘Shalom’. 




There is a multitude of bright yellow canaries in tiny cages above shops, singing their hearts out in the narrow streets. 




One day I came across two boys – twins – carrying an enormous bird of prey through the heart of the Moslem Quarter.



When Maya Angelou, the great poet, writer and Civil Rights activist died recently, I listened to her reading an email from Rachel Corrie to her mother on Youtube : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJ8ilbm6Y_A&list=PL08B8CC403A7C6AFB

It was particularly poignant because I had just been with some of my colleagues to the Israeli Supreme Court to hear the appeal against the court ruling on her death.  In 2003, Rachel was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza, trying to prevent a house demolition.  The district court in Haifa had ruled that her death was an accident but her parents believed otherwise.  Whether her death was an accident or not, Rachel Corrie died for what she believed in – the right of autonomy and freedom for the people of Palestine. 

And  then I read again Angelou's famous poem Caged Bird, which gives the title to her first volume of autobiography.  Here it is:


A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind   
and floats downstream   
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.


But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and   
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.


The caged bird sings   
with a fearful trill   
of things unknown   
but longed for still   
and his tune is heard   
on the distant hill   
for the caged bird   
sings of freedom.


The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own


But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams   
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream   
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied   
so he opens his throat to sing.


The caged bird sings   
with a fearful trill   
of things unknown   
but longed for still   
and his tune is heard   
on the distant hill   
for the caged bird   
sings of freedom.

So many caged birds singing in Palestine.  So many people longing for freedom from the occupation.   Maybe I understand now.






I work for Quaker Peace & Social Witness (QPSW) as an ecumenical accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained in this email are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of QPSW or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting it on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the QPSW Programme Manager for Middle East teresap@quaker.org.uk for permission. Thank you.

Celebrating 'expulsion disguised as archaeology' in Silwan

Silwan
55,000 people live in Silwan, a beautiful but run-down area of East Jerusalem, close to the walls of the Old City. Its name comes from the Greek Shiloam whose pools are mentioned in the Old Testament  books of Nehemiah and 2 Samuel, as well as in John’s Gospel where Jesus heals a blind man.  It is perched precariously on steep slopes along both sides of the Kidron Valley, above the Gihon Spring. The upper part of Silwan is known as Al-Bustan and the lower as Wadi Hilweh.
Until 1967 the area of Silwan was an almost totally Palestinian Muslim area, under Jordanian rule.  The families here had owned their properties since Ottoman times.  After the six-day war, the area was annexed by Israel and it is the declared plan of the Jerusalem Municipality to have 75% of Silwan Israeli-owned.  To this end they are helping illegal Israeli settlers to move into the area, particularly at the end nearest the Old City. 
We have been told of a variety of ways that the settlers have been able to move in. Some of the houses have been purchased using middle men so that Palestinians are unaware that they are selling to Israelis; some obtained by the forging of documents.  Most have been acquired by invoking the Absentee Property Law, a law which came into being after the Nakba of 1948 declaring that any Palestinian property which was empty for three years – or for which no documents of ownership could be produced - could be appropriated by the Israeli State.  Many Palestinians have no documents to prove their ownership.  Historically, land and property has been passed down informally through families.
There are now 250 illegal settlers in Silwan.  Many Silwan residents have been evicted from their homes and 64% of the houses in the area are under demolition orders.  In 2013, 123 houses were demolished in East Jerusalem; most of them were in Silwan.
The biggest illegal settler of all is the controversial City of David archaeological park, to be called the Garden of the King.    Some Israelis believe that this is the actual location of the biblical city of Jerusalem captured by King David over 3,000 years ago. The City of David Foundation (Hebrew acronym, Elad) is dedicated to the preservation and development of the Biblical City of David and its environs.

The excavations, however, which are still ongoing, have been carried out clumsily by bulldozers and some ancient Islamic remains have been carelessly destroyed.  Adina Hoffman writing in the Nation in 2008 describes the methods used:
As Rafi Greenberg (University of Tel Aviv professor of Archaeology explained during an alternative archaeological tour) the digs in Silwan are being conducted in the most tendentious way--with bulldozers clearing huge areas in haste and multiple levels being dismantled in a race to get to "Jewish" bedrock. Settlers build houses right on top of relics, and extremely tenuous conclusions are being drawn on the basis of nationalist ideology and a literalist reading of biblical texts, not the actual shards and stones that turn up in the course of the digging. Historical cross sections aren't being preserved. Instead of the usual timetable for a dig-with one season of excavation followed by months in the lab-the City of David excavations are taking place year-round, straining professional standards and leaving no time for careful analysis.
It is, says Greenberg, "bad science “.


The Silwan excavations
You can read her excellent article in full here if you are interested: http://www.thenation.com/article/archaeological-digs-stoke-conflict-jerusalem
In Silwan the roads are pot-holed and narrow like a refugee camp and the neighbourhood itself is greatly overpopulated. Palestinians residing in Silwan are plagued by poor infrastructure. Even though East Jerusalemites pay 47% of the city’s municipal taxes they receive a mere 5% of the revenue back in benefits.  There is no secondary school, no post office and the small number of green spaces they had have been appropriated by Elad and named as archaeological sites, off-limits to Palestinians.
Tour of Silwan with Mahmoud Qaraeen

Mahmoud Qaraeen, who works at the Wadi Hilweh Information Centre and conducts tours of the area, says that the Silwanis feel that they are constantly under scrutiny from the Israeli police and army.  There are more than 550 CCTV cameras around the area. There are many night raids and child arrests.  Both children and adults are frequently assaulted and abused by settlers, the settlers’ armed guards and the Israeli army. There are not enough school places for the children of Silwan and the school dropout rate is 65%, compared to 52% in Jerusalem as a whole.


Wadi Hilweh Information Centre

In 2007 the residents of Silwan decided to take matters into their own hands and, with mostly European funding, established the Madaa Silwan Creative Centre, as a means of non-violent resistance.   Here women can do courses in cookery, sewing and life skills and children can learn music, dabke dancing, drama and art.  It started small but has grown and now has after- school activities for the children, including a computer room and a well-stocked library.  More than 200 children per week participate in the activities here and it also provides a safe place for adults to meet and talk.

The computer room
Singing lesson at Madaa Centre
The library

Life is still hard for children in Silwan.  In 2012, Jawad Siyam the General manager of Madaa Centre, formed a Children’s Protection Committee. It came as a result of the frequent assaults and abuses of children, who are often kidnapped and arrested in ways which flagrantly violate the International Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Room No 4 is a photographic project which was based on a Madaa report published in 2012: The impact of child arrest and detention.  
Room number 4 is the room in the Russian Compound – the main Israeli police station in Jerusalem – where Palestinian Jerusalem residents, including children, are investigated.  The exhibition deals with issues such as night arrests, investigating children without the presence of their parents and assaulting and threatening them.  It has been shown in various places in Israel/Palestine and also in Europe. This exhibition, which is based on real testimonies of children aged 7-17, can be seen here: www.roomno4.org



To return to Adina Hoffman’s account of the area, she says of the Israeli plan to take over the area of Silwan:
Most clever of all was Elad's decision to fix on archaeology as the key to winning the hearts and minds of the wider Israeli Jewish public. Archaeology has, of course, long been something like Israel's national pastime, a "scientific" discipline that, in this particular cultural context, has often blurred into the realm of major-motion-picture-scale mythmaking (see under: Masada). Since the early days of the state, archaeology has provided vivid settings and props that have helped Israelis both secular and religious to dramatize the stories they like to tell themselves about their historic bond to the modern homeland.
In the last few weeks, Hoffman’s words have come to seem prophetic. NBC, which owns the USA cable network, has started shooting its Dig archeological thriller series there. Starring Anne Heche and Jason Isaacs, it will be broadcast on popular channels in the United States and has brought tens of millions of dollars in investment to Israel. It is based on the story of an FBI agent stationed in Jerusalem who is investigating the murder on an American archeologist at the Silwan excavations. NBC will receive a $6.5 million grant from the Israeli government, via the Jerusalem Development Authority, to make the series.  A Youtube film by Dave Lippman about the project calls it a celebration of 'expulsion disguised as archaeology' https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4NjlNpggCo8
The raising of Silwan’s profile by the presence of Hollywood is unlikely to make any positive difference for Silwan’s Palestinian residents. It is much more likely to give strength to the Israeli settlers who some call colonisers. As with many, many of the injustices of the occupation, the international community appears to be turning a blind eye .
In the gospel of John, Jesus takes dirt from Silwan and makes a blind man see.  Is it too much to hope that it can happen again?


I work for Quaker Peace & Social Witness (QPSW) as an ecumenical accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained in this email are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of QPSW or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting it on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the QPSW Programme Manager for Middle East teresap@quaker.org.uk for permission. Thank you.



Tuesday, 3 June 2014

The Pope's Visit to the Holy Land



Pope Francis said in his Vatican address on the Wednesday before his visit that his upcoming trip to the Middle East would be entirely devotional.

‘It will be a purely religious trip’ he told the 50.000 pilgrims in St Peter’s Square.  He said the main reasons for the visit, billed a ‘pilgrimage of prayer’ by the Vatican, were to meet with Orthodox Patriarch of Contantinople, Bartholomew and to pray for peace in that land, which has suffered so much.

The visit began on Saturday May 24, when Francis flew to Amman in Jordan and met Syrian refugees. He then travelled on to Bethlehem, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, concluding his tour on Monday 26 May with mass in the place where Christians believe Jesus had the Last Supper with his disciples.  He met with refugees from both Aida and Dheisheh camps in Bethlehem , as well as  praying at the Western Wall, laying a wreath on the grave of Theodor Herzl - the founder of  Zionism - and made a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum here in Jerusalem.  He met with Christian families as well as political and religious leaders from all three monotheistic faiths.

In keeping with his unassuming and humble persona, he rejected the armoured car, or Pope mobile, we have been used to seeing on papal visits.  He was also, unusually, travelling with a rabbi and an imam who worked with him on inter-faith dialogue in Argentina.

Francis’s visit was met with high expectations by the faithful and politicians alike but there had been some opposition.  The previous week, vandals daubed hate graffiti on Vatican owned property in East Jerusalem.

Christianity was born in this region but the ancient community has dwindled to around 2% of the population, as economic hardship and the bitter realities of the Israel-Palestinian conflict have sent Christians searching for better opportunities overseas.  Catholic leaders fear that if the trend continues, the Holy Land will become a sort spiritual Disneyland, full of tourist pilgrims but devoid of local believers. The Pope said in a November speech that ’We will not be resigned to think about the Middle East without Christians”. 

The Catholic Herald said that this would be Pope Francis’s greatest test yet.  To quote their recent article ‘His prophetic style of leadership is likely to cause all sides some discomfort.  Let’s just hope that it also leaves them just one step closer together’

After Francis’s meetings with local Christians in Manger Square and the refugee camps in Bethlehem, followed by the highly publicized and controversial stop by the Israeli Separation Barrier in Bethlehem, the local Christians here in Jerusalem were very excited about this visit.  There was a palpable feeling of anticipation in the Old City.

According to David Kuttab of Maan News: ‘the highlight of the entire trip was not planned, rehearsed, or even expected'.

The Pope had decided not to cross any checkpoints to enter the UN-declared non-member state of Palestine and so the idea of an image of the Pope interacting with the occupation or seeing the wall was thought to have been bypassed.  However, as he was driving around Bethlehem in his open car, the Pontiff passed by the entrance of the Aida refugee camp and noticed the separation wall. It is hard for anyone not to take notice of the 8-meter-high wall and it was even harder for the Jesuit Pope who has empathy for the weak and oppressed not to stop.

The wall at this point, built deep into Palestinian land, divides the Aida camp in half, surrounds Rachel's Tomb and cuts off Palestinian communities from each other.

He alighted from his car and spent some time praying here at the separation wall.  The powerful symbolism of this was not lost on a Bethlehem taxi driver I met a few days later.  He said, ‘I was pleased the Pope prayed at the wall and didn’t just ignore it.  He is a good man.’

In Jerusalem, as expected, the Pope did meet with church leaders and politicians and leaders from other faiths, including the Islamic Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.  The public, however, including local Christians, were almost entirely prevented from catching even a glimpse of him for most of the day.  The Old City and roads around the papal route were blocked by the Israeli army and police.  Screens had even been erected at viewpoints to ensure that no one could see his visit to pray at the Western Wall.

Many Jerusalem Christians were beaten by the Israeli army as they tried to get to see the Pope.  Some of them wrote him a letter after his visit, which was published on Palestine News Network on May 27th:

Our women, children and disabled were beaten this evening in Jerusalem while they were trying to get a glance of you passing in the streets of their city … the Israeli Police ordered us to go to another place, to the streets, and then accused us of blocking the streets!! Women and children were injured and young men were arrested for some timeNo one came to our rescue.

The very persistent were rewarded in the evening with a wave from his car as he departed for his return journey on Monday night to Tel Aviv.


Photo by Sandra Sych


David Kuttab of Maan News believes the visit to have had a positive effect and that it will do much ‘to strengthen and empower the local Christian community’.

It remains to be seen whether this optimistic view will be borne out. For Jerusalemites, the visit was more than disappointing.

We long to live normal lives in our city with full human rights and total freedom. Not with barriers and bars. We long for a living church, not empty stones. We aspire to self-determination, liberated from an oppressive occupation that imposes discriminatory regulations and laws where Jerusalem becomes exclusive for one people and one religion.

it will take more than symbolic gesturing at walls to bring about the peace and justice required to entice Christians back to their holy land. 


Photo by Michaela Whitton


I work for Quaker Peace & Social Witness (QPSW) as an ecumenical accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained in this email are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of QPSW or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting it on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the QPSW Programme Manager for Middle East teresap@quaker.org.uk for permission. Thank you.