My Trip to Palestine and Israel

Gaining Perspective in the Holy Land
Neighbors East and West Travel Program in Palestine and Israel
Led By Dr. Tony Bing, Prof Emeritus, Earlham College
June 13 - 26, 2011

An Account by Sam Neff  (

I think that if I ever go on another Mediterranean Vacation, it will be somewhere else at some other time.  I’ll happily return to Slovenia, in the fall, or Capri in the Spring, or Dubrovnik anytime, but not to Palestine and Israel in June, or any other summer month.  Anyone who has spent some part of his life reading and believing the Bible should become acquainted with the geography and the religious relics of the Levant, but in this day and age it should not be necessary to see it in person in during the hottest driest time of the year.

It is surprising that so many Pilgrims find this a good time of year to travel through the Holy Land.  I was amazed to see about 10 groups of 50 tourists each, parading down the road to the (Catholic) Church of the Annunciation, each led by a guide flying a numbered flag, and each wearing a badge of the same number.  I assume that the guides are very careful to tell exactly the same story as their groups enter the church, which the Catholics are sure is on the site where Mary encountered the Angel Gabriel.  Of course, the Orthodox Christians have their own site.

  1. The same large crowds were present at most of the Christian sites we visited – often singing beautifully in ancient churches, or listening raptly to convincing accounts of what happened here or there.  I became rather cynical at Yardenit, a short arm of Lake Tiberius, formed by a dam on the Jordan River. There I could observe pilgrims up to their waist in water infested with catfish and hungry otters, in the shade of biblically accurate Eucalyptus trees, wearing official and hygenic white robes only available for rent or prchase at the concessions near by.                                                                                 
Caparnaum                         Church of the Holy Sepulcre                                  Baptism Site  
Crowds at Capernaum                              Crowds at Church of Holy Sepulchre                         Crowds at Yardenit (copied from net)

It is a shame that I reacted that way, since I do believe enough of the bible to call myself a Christian.  The garden site of the Mount of the Beatitudes, overlooking the Sea of Galilee, is a good place to contemplate that part of Jesus’ teachings, but I found myself closed to that sort of thought by the constant commercialization that I had encountered.

Yes, I did see holy places, and perhaps the very spot where Jehu ran over Jezebel with his chariot, if he had one.  But I had to do that.  Traveling to Palestine and Israel just to get a first-hand look at the political situation, and to try to understand life on the occupied West Bank is not an endeavor encouraged by the Israeli authorities.  Any tour agency – even a West Bank agency like ours, must pay lip service to the pilgrimage idea, or else it may lose its charter.  For that reason we were careful not to carry an itinerary of our trip when we entered Israel, and were told not to mention the name of our guide if questioned on departure*.

*(Readers might note that a few weeks after our return, close to 100 travelers to Palestine and Israel, who
 publicly showed their desire to participate in activities similar to ours on the West Bank, were labele by the Israeli
Authorities as“Hooligans” or "Terrorists", and sent to jail, deported immediately, or both.  For a personal account see  Here is an excerpt:
"...The day after we arrived in the prison, a couple Border Police officials visited the prison with an offer – initially to me: ‘For humanitarian reasons, you can go to Bethlehem if you sign a document promising not to visit any place where there is conflict with the Army.’ I asked, ‘Couldn’t there be conflict with the Army anywhere?’ They clarified that the restriction meant places such as Bil'in, Silwan, Jayous, etc....")

NEW Group in Atuwana

The travel group was typical of recent Neighbors East and West assemblies – twenty-five participants from many parts of the US, with the largest contingent coming from Montana.  It included three college students, five college professors, a couple of inveterate wanderers, and a smattering of teachers and others.  Quakers and Unitarians were the dominant faith groups, though “none of the above” enjoyed a good representation.

Not only were we from different places, we arrived from different places and at different times.  The meeting place was the El Beit Guest House in Beit Sahour on the southern edge of Bethlehem.  On the appointed day (June 14) a few of the participants were already in Israel, or at least near by.  The remainder (minus four) arrived at the Tel Aviv Airport at various times during the day and traveled on to Beit Sahour.  Plans were for everyone to arrive by dinnertime that evening, and 80% succeeded.  The full 100% of the group (minus the one that never left home) were finally on the bus two days later.

The trip was the idea of Ruth Neff, who was lucky enough to engage Tony Bing as leader.  Tony has been involved in the affairs of Palestine and Israel since the early 80’s, when he began leading Earlham College groups on a semester abroad program to the “Holy Land”.  In the course of his thirty-six visits, Tony has developed a large body of contacts with concerned people in various parts of Israel and Palestine.  He felt that this could be his last group, and as a result envisioned a program in which we would encounter just about every one of his contacts.  His ideas were facilitated ably by George Ashwari and Iliana Khair Awad, and the others at the Siraj Center in Bethlehem.  This was a full program, and not one for the faint of heart.  An easy day consisted of three meetings, two pilgrimage sites and an hour of travel.  A hard one was about double that.

As an example – the day we left Nazareth (at 8 am) we toured Haifa and saw the Bahai Gardens.  Then we traveled on to Mount Carmel where Elijah is said to have embarrassed the Priests of Baal.  We had a program and lunch at the previously unrecognized Muslim village of Ayn  Hawd, and drove to Tel Aviv.  In Tel Aviv we met with Ruth Hiller of New Profile, Adam Keller of Gush Shalom, and Amos Girvitz.  We drove on to East Jerusalem, where we arrived for dinner at the Holyland Hotel, just as the dining room was closing.  That’s three sites, four meetings, three major cities and about 150 km on the bus for a 13 – hour day.

What follows is a sort of diary of my experiences, as I remember them, and some conclusions:

Day One – From Chicago to Beit Sahour:

Following three forgettable flights, we arrived in Tel Aviv around 2 pm on the 14th.    There we found a brave contingent of mostly unfamiliar Americans holding signs saying “Neighbors East and West”.  In about an hour we were on a bus to Beit Sahour, traveling over a modern, if winding freeway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem via the West Bank.  There are no exits to the West Bank (except to settlements) and no one who lives on the West Bank (outside the settlements) is allowed to drive on this road.   The Israeli Supreme Court ruled that this road should be open to Palestinians and Israelis, but the IDF disagrees.

Welcome to Israel.

We left Israel quickly and slowly assembled at the comfortable and welcoming El Beit Guesthouse.  The food was excellent and the rooms comfortable.  We noted the variable flush toilets, and did our best to conserve water in our showers (wet, soap, rinse).  We (nearly) met as a group for the first time after dinner, and Will Boland joined us dramatically at about 10 pm – he looked at Ruth and me and said “Must be the right place.”  He had traveled with us to Iran in 2009 and had been spending the previous two weeks in Lebanon and Jordan.

Our first day in Bethlehem seemed full at the time, but in retrospect it was easy, and a good remedy for jet-lag.  Mazin Qumsiyeh gave us a thorough outline of the non-violent resistance activities of the Palestinians, and then we went out to see the (Catholic) Shepherd’s field.  Beit Sahour means Shepherd’s Field, and as no surprise several denominations have laid claims to the real one.

* Personally, I think the real Shepherd’s Field is a section of every Christmas Pageant past, present and future,
 but it has little connection to the dry sand of Beit Sahour

What was most notable about the Shepherd’s Field we saw was not the fairly modern chapel, or the caves in the hillside.  What we saw there for the first time was a hill-top Israeli Settlement, with its boundaries steadily removing land from the Palestinians who lived around it.  This sight became familiar as our journey through the West Bank continued.
Chapel at (Catholic) Shepherd's Field                                       Settlement near Shepherd's field
Franciscan Chapel at Shepherd's Field,(1954)                                      Israeli Settlement in Distance                  

We also made our way to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and joined in with other Pilgrims from all over the world.  I have a photo to verify that I climbed down into the Grotto to see the spot picked out to represent Jesus’ birth, but I remember best the loud remonstration by an Orthodox Priest who noticed that someone standing in line was laughing.

After lunch we met with a young community organizer at the Daheisha Refugee Camp.  He spoke accented English very rapidly, and with jet-lag still in control it was hard to concentrate.  Probably the sights gave us a subjective montage of the camp.  These included the paved roads with hardly a patch of dirt, pictures of young “martyred” men on the walls, a trophy case, small children in various situations (walking in the street, looking out a car window, peeking from a partially open door, following us as we wandered), and a no-longer-used turnstile entry gate, into which camp residents have thrown the keys to the homes from which they fled in 1948.  Also we could recognize the 12x12 concrete bunkers that were the first permanent structures in the camp, replacing tents.  Now they are often the bottom floor of a three-story building housing the extended families of the original residents.

    Original building in Daheisha   Daheisha Graffiti  Daheisha Martyr
Old cement building in the center                         graffiti and a camp child                           a young martyr

We returned to the Siraj center for a meeting with Nora Korumi of Kairos Palestine, an ecumenical Christian organization working for peace and understanding between Arabs and Israelis.  Her suggestions?
(1)    End the Occupation
(2)    Take every opportunity to enter into dialogue
(3)    Speak to the Jewish people, and help them have a future in this land.

(We later heard Israeli Jews say often say that if the occupation and the settlement encroachment continues,
the Jewish People are going to lose Israel again.)

The day was not over – we had a “de-briefing” followed by a dinner at the Grotto restaurant near the Shepherd’s Field.  The high-point was Debka Dancing by a troupe from the Lutheran School in Bethlehem, with some participation by members of our group.

Debka Dancers
The evening, and the morning, and the third day.
  Today we visited Bethlehem University – it reminded me of a very good community college, with a a good business program but limited curriculum in the sciences.  It is a Christian (Catholic) university – originally a commuter college, but now forced by the occupation to provide housing for students. 

Foutain at Beth U     Beth U Students in Cafeteria

The campus is beautiful and well-kept, and the students, Muslim and Christian, bright and lively like college students in many parts of the world.  Bill Harvey was pleased to find a first-class genetics research program underway with support from the United States.

Later we saw the part of “The Wall” that snakes through Bethlehem. We could only see the top of the old Byzantine Chapel called Rachel’s Tomb, but we saw plenty of graffiti, and the menu of "The Wall" Restaurant.
Aparteid Wall in Bethlehem    Aparteid Wall in Bethlehem  Apartheid Wall in Bethlehem  Apartheid Wall in Bethlehem  

We also visited the Tent of Nations – the Daoud Nasser family’s stand in opposition to the settlement on the hill.
 It seemed ironic that after our stay at the Tent of Nations, and our views of the settlement that is threatening its existence, we encountered several Palestinian young men waiting for a bus near where ours was parked.  They were working at that settlement.

Tent of Nations        Daoud Nasser       Settlement

We returned to the Siraj Center to meet our host families in Beit Sahour.  Ours was a Palestinian Christian family with two  daughters, and a son who is generally doted upon by the entire family.  He encounters very little discipline (the advantage of being a single son).  They also are hosting a young Canadian who is working with an online  “Youth Newspaper” in Bethlehem.
Home Stay Fammily  Home Stay Family  Home Stay Family  Home Stay Family

Our next day in Hebron and the South Hebron Hills was tiring and bizarre.  We attended a presentation by the Hebron Restoration Committee that highlighted their work to keep the old city a good place for Palestinians to live.  In the old city there are a few hundred radical Jewish settlers living among 150,000 Palestinian Muslims.  In addition there are 2500 IDF protecting the settlers.  Seeing garbage-covered screens over Palestinian shops (garbage thrown from the settlers’ windows above) and the carefully guarded Jewish only streets was unsettling.  We also found out that the presence of the settlers and the IDF severely hampered transportation and commerce around the old city.  We missed seeing the Tombs of the Patriarchs because it was Friday.  That’s ok.

Hebron old city             Garbage on screen over market              Hebron Palace/Mosque
Israeli Soldiers in the Hebron Market     Trash Screens over the market                      Another of Herod's Palaces

In the hills we visited the besieged village of Atuwani and talked with the Christian Peacemaker team working there.  More on that later. 

in Atuwani   CPT Worker   Atuani
Looking at the Brownie Book                CPT Worker in Atuwani                               A View of the Village

 We returned to Beit Sahour to  meet with a member of the Palestinian Parliament.  He impressed on us (to the extent that we could stay focused) the importance to the government of the attempt to petition the United Nations for the recognition of a Palestinian State.  Many of those who have talked to us have suggested that if that effort does not receive good international support, it may mean the end of the Fatah government.  Then what?

The next two days, by comparison with the two previous ones, were relaxing.  We drove through the Valley of Fire, a steep, curvy road around the settlement of Ma'ale Adumim which Palestinians must drive to get from Bethlehem to Ramallah.  The straight route is not available, since it would have to cross Israeli-only roads.  Ironically USAID has spent a few million dollars to improve the Valley of Fire road.  I’m sure the Palestinians are thankful, since that verifies that the US government considers the settlements quite legal, and supports one aspect of Israeli Apartheid.

Valley of Fire Road       Bedouins        Stolen Tree at Ma'ale Adumim Entrance
Wadi Mar (Valley of Fire) road                 Bedouin Encampment                          Transplanted Olive tree at Ma'ale Adumim

In Ramallah we visited members of the Quaker community at the meeting house complex, and then went on to a short meeting with the head of the Ramallah Friends School, now more than 100 years old.  The presence of well-watered shrubbery and trees made these areas comfortable and cool-feeling, despite the regular temperatures near 90.  The Friends School seems to be doing very well, and I am sure serves a wealthy segment of the population.  It does consciously take needy students who can meet the school’s high standards.

We finished the day driving on to Bi’lin, expecting a rustic home stay.  We were wrong.  The Bi’lin stay was comfortable in many ways, and unlike many experiences on the trip, I look back on it with pleasure.  Our hosts were generous and gracious, and the sleeping quarters like a penthouse . (The mattresses on the floor were firm, but encouraged a good night’s sleep.)

Bil'in Patio    Bil'in Group    Bil'in Breakfast
We walked to the barrier and saw the debris remaining from four years of non-violent demonstrations against it, and then spent much of the afternoon simply enjoying the cool shade of the overhead grape vines.  It was memorable.

We traveled on to the north through the busy cities of Nablus and Jenin, visiting some biblical sites and the strange and small Samaritan community overlooking Nablus.  We visited the Freedom Theater in the Jenin Refugee Camp, and a cooperative that produces olive oil, promoted in the US as a fair trade item. 

Jenin Camp     Freedom theater      Fair Trade Store      Jenin horse
Jenin "Refugee" Children                Jenin Freedom Theater                        Fair Trade Olive Oil             The Scrap Metal Horse

Then we traveled on to the border crossing out of the West Bank on the road that led to Afula and Nazareth.  I was one of the ones chosen at the crossing to have my luggage examined.  Having a US passport seemed to be helpful – Palestinians making the crossing were under careful surveillance, even if their goods were just boxes of melons.  The border guards seemed to be mostly teen-agers, fulfilling their required military service.  One of them laughed a little when my harmonica set off the metal detector.  (He didn’t seem concerned by the knife and flash drive I pulled out of the same pocket).

We had relaxing nights at the St. Margaret’s Hostel overlooking the old city of Nazareth.  The days, however, were typically busy, although they were largely filled with visiting pilgrimage sites in Galilee and Nazareth.  We did travel to the northeast corner of Israel to visit a destroyed Muslim village, and we met with a Christian Israeli official whose comments were notably critical of West Bank politics.  The  boat ride and swim in Lake Tiberius (aka the Sea of Galilee) provided brief relief from the oppressive heat.

Eventually we embarked on that “impossible day” mentioned earlier as we traveled from Nazareth to Jerusalem, and our final three days were a mixture of pilgrimage sites, shopping and more meetings mostly in the old city.  On the 14th day of our journey many tired Americans negotiated our way through Israeli Security to our flights home. 

No one asked if I had enjoyed my visit to the Holy Land.  I am not sure how I would have answered.

In the waiting room we engaged in some short conversations with others leaving – some Christian some Jewish.  They refused to believe what we told them we had experienced, and when critical of the Israeli government, we were admonished on one occasion to “Think like a Jew”.

General Observations:

We have taken trips to The Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Bosnia, Cuba, Iran and now Palestine / Israel with groups similar the one we led on this one.  Our goals in general involved making contact with people who may be vilified by our home press, and learning about the physical aspects and politics of the countries we are visiting.  The emphasis on these various aspects of our travel have varied, depending on leadership and on the travel opportunities that the various governments would allow.  On this trip we were lucky to have practically no government observing our activities, except at entry and departure, and at the transit from Jenin to Nazareth.  Of course, the Israeli IDF was never far away, and in Hebron and East Jerusalem they often seemed threatening. 

So, what did we find?  We were very comfortable with the Palestinian people as soon as we stepped off the bus.  Was that also true with Israelis? We hardly met any Israelis casually. As a result I left the country with the same stereotypes in my mind that I had when I arrived.  We did meet two Russian Israeli Jews – one of whom had met my brother Charles in Moscow in 1958.  They were friendly and relatively normal, but neither had ever been to the West Bank (except to an Israeli Settlement) because they were not allowed or because they thought it would be too dangerous.

We did see Israelis.  We saw nice enough Jewish children going to some kind of a day camp or Sabbath school upstairs in an East Jerusalem shopping area.  I could only think that they were part of the movement to force Palestinians out of the old city.  We saw men with beards and black top hats making their way determinedly to the Western Wall, and I could only think of the fact that they do not serve in the military, but, unlike “refuseniks”, get all the benefits, anyway.  “Paid to Pray” was what came to my mind.  We saw Israeli soldiers guarding the streets of Hebron for the 500 settlers, who inhabit upper stories above the Palestinian market and throw trash down on the streets below.  It is strange that I can start to form such anti-Israeli thoughts even though I have gone to school, studued with and respected Jewish people all my life.

We also met with many Israelis from such organizations as Gush Shalom, B’tselem, ICAHD, and New Profile, who raise questions about the legality and sensibility of the current Israeli policy with regard to Palestinians and the occupied territory.  We also met with Palestinians, Americans, and many Internationals who seemed to share their views.  Generally they blamed the occupation for the current situation, and demand that it should end.  Here are arguments that we heard from all sides:

According to the Fourth Geneva Conventions:

1.    Occupation by a foreign power should be short.
2.    Those under occupation have a right to resist.
3.    No territory should be acquired as a result of military force
4.    An occupying power cannot colonize the occupied territory
5.    Refugees from a conflict have a right to return to their original homes.

The Israeli occupation of the West Bank is illegal on all five of the above counts, and the settlements are as well.

Of course there is another view.  The Israeli position is basically that this is not a case to which the Geneva Convention applies.  This is not an occupation of the land of a hostile government, since there is no recognized government in the West Bank.  This occupation is to provide security to Israel in the face of a group of disorganized hostile individuals;  therefore, the Government of Israel is free to decide which actions to preserve that security are justified.  As far as settlements are concerned, the Geneva Convention refers to “forced transfer” or “deportation” to the disputed area, and does not involve the voluntary settlement of people to that territory.  Furthermore, Article 80 of the UN Charter specifies that in any disputed territory, there should be no infringement on the right of people who have lived in that territory to remain there.  Since there have been Jewish people living in the West Bank throughout the Zionist era, they have a perfect right to remain there (and I suppose, invite their friends to join them.)  That may be the idea behind Bibi Netanyahu’s statement “…We have been building in Jerusalem for 3000 years”.

The International Court of Justice has ruled that the settlements are illegal, but that decision is strongly disputed roughly on the lines I have outlined.  (See the opinion piece by Eli Hertz at

Is that all there is to it?  What is missing is the deep sense of injustice which seems to capture most open minded people who become acquainted with the situation in the West Bank.  The Israeli policy is laid out to obtain the most land while adding the fewest (non-Jewish) people.  As the occupying (but not really occupying) power they have made the rules for land ownership on any piece of land under their military or civilian control.   Land in the West Bank, for which the long-time inhabitants seem to have a legitimate claim, can be confiscated for a variety of reasons.  Here is an incomplete list:

1.    The land is needed to preserve Israeli Security – thus settlements guard the valleys that lead into Israel.  The fact that these valleys contain good agricultural land and water resources is a happy coincidence.

2.    Individual Palestinians must prove ownership, normally through deeds dating to the Ottoman period before WWI.  It was the practice, in the time of Ottoman Control, for a farmer to register only part of his land, to keep taxes at a minimum.  Furthermore, grazing land near communities was used communally and there was an understood collective ownership.  This is a way for Israel to take ownership of the good land, leaving the farmers with the bit around their houses.

3.     Even if there is evidence of ownership, owners must show proof that they are using the land, or else it can be taken over for better use.  This is called the “Absent Present” rule, or in my mind the “Oklahoma Law”.

4.    It there happens to be some kind of Archeological evidence of ancient Jewish habitation on the land, the government can take it over as a historical site.

We can see how some of these rules play out.

I.    Daoud Nasser’s land, “The Tent of Nations”.  Despite the fact that the Nasser family can show clear ownership of the land from 1923 documents, the Israeli courts continue to delay ruling on land ownership.  The “Tent of Nations” land is about 100 acres, covering a hilltop between two Israeli Settlements among the string which seem destined to isolate East Jerusalem from the West Bank.  Despite the 10th commandment Israel strongly covets this land.  Since the ownership issue is clear, and the Nassers continue to live on the property despite serious access and water issues, “security” is the Israeli “wedge”.  Twice since 2005 the Nassers have been threatened with building demolition, and with plans for security roads to be built between the settlements.  So far the Israeli courts have put a hold on such action, but the pressure is always there.  The IDF may act anyway.  The courts don’t always have the power to stop the establishment of “facts on the ground”.

II.    Atuwani, in the Hebron Hills.  Atuwani is a barren little village between the Israeli settlement of Ma’an and the “illegal” outpost called Hill 933.  In Atuwani is the only primary school available to the children of surrounding Palestinian villages, some of which are on the other side of the narrow passageway between the two settlements.  Once again Israel covets the land of Atuwani, so that the two settlements can be joined and the Palestinian land absorbed into their combined area.  The plan then would be to demolish the buildings of the village, including the school.  Here the first effort of the Israelis is to apply the absent-present rule.  Settlers have put out poison baits to discourage the shepherds from grazing on the land – and if they don’t use it (and prove that they are using it) they will lose it.  The settlers also have been known to harass children on the road between the settlements so that they will not use the road to go to school.  (If they don’t use it …).  Atuwani’s plight has attracted Christian Peacemaker Teams – “Internationals” who simply observe the actions of settlers and IDF forces to be sure that the children are protected.  Because of Atuwani’s international notoriety, the inhabitants have managed to maintain their precarious existence.  However, we noted that there were Israeli bulldozers excavating a site near the center of the village.  “Have they found anything?” Of course – dig enough anywhere in the Levant and you probably will find something, and if one shard looks Jewish, then it is a historical site.  The threat is always there.

III.    Bi’lin  Like Atuwani, Bi’lin has attracted international attention.  The route of the well-known wall or barrier between Israel and the West Bank originally cut off most of the agricultural land of Bi’lin from the village itself.  The route of the wall had been chosen to “protect” an illegal settlement outpost much closer to Bi’lin than the large settlement behind it.  It was at least 10 km from the green line marking the internationally accepted Israeli border.

 (Note that name for this barrier in Hebrew is Geder HaHafrada, or “separation barrier”.  In Afrikaner that becomes the “Aparteid” Wall.)

                   In 2007 the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the wall had been improperly routed, and established the compromise that Bi’lin should get half its land back, and the outpost would become legal.  Well, half a loaf is better than none.  However, the IDF showed no inclination to implement the ruling, and for the past 5 years the people of Bi’lin have been demonstrating non-violently in front of the barrier, and have been sprayed with tear gas, sewage, and some rubber bullets. 
Frieday, 6/24/2011 Bi'lin             Friday, 6/24/2011,  Bi'lin                 Irsaeli Response 6/24/2011
6/24/2011  Non-Violent Demonstration in Bi'lin                                                                 The Israeli Response

There also have been occasional forays of the IDF into Bi’lin.  We saw the results – we could pick up spent tear-gas canisters, and smell the fluids that had been sprayed on the demonstrators.  We also saw that hundreds of the olive trees in between the new and old routes of the barrier had been burned to the ground.  Is my anger justified?

Tear Gas Cannisters T Bi'lin                              Old Olive Tree and Bi'lin Owner                             Burnt trees behind the fence
  Spent Tear-Gas Canisters                                         Bi'lin Resident and One of his Trees                            The Remains of his Trees Beyond the Fence

Yet we experienced the dogged and cheerful resistance being put up by the local people, and their international supporters.  In this besieged corner of the West Bank we felt safe and comfortable, as long as we didn’t get too close to the gun-wielding IDF forces on the other side of the fence.  We enjoyed two hearty meals with our hosts, and spent a relaxing afternoon with other Bi’lin residents of the village under grape vines in a cool patio.  We slept on the third floor of a new house with a view of the hills, marred only by the Godzilla - like settlement, marching over the hill toward the village.  Of all the experiences of this trip, this is one of the few I would happily repeat.

Just as we left Israel we found out that the Supreme Court decision was being implemented, and in the US papers it was described as a victory for the inhabitants of Bi’lin.  As Pyrrhus said – “One more such victory …”

IV.    Near Kafr Yasif, in the northwest corner of Israel, we observed the remains of a village which underwent a forced evacuation (for security reasons) in 1948.  The inhabitants, all Muslim, moved to Kafr Yasif to wait to return to their homes.  When they tried to return, the Israeli army responded by bulldozing every building except the mosque.  What remains now is the rubble of many destroyed homes, amid a plantation of pine trees, and occasional lines of prickly-pear cactus which mark the old property lines.

Closed Mosque                                                        Daoud,  he grew up here
Mosque, Standing but closed to Worship                                                Daoud, who was born here

The mosque still stands, but the former villagers are not permitted to worship there.  This could be construed to be an anti-Muslim action by the Israeli Government, but there also are ruins of formerly Christian villages in various places.  The difference seems to be that the Christians are allowed to return once a year at Easter for services in the church, if it is still there.

V.    In the hills not far from Mount Carmel, south of Haifa, there is a small Palestinian Muslim town of `Ayn Hawd al-Jadida.  Below it is the Israeli Artist Colony called by a similar but “Hebrewized” name, Ein Hod. 
'Ayn Hawd from a distance                    House in 'Ayn hawd                    Ein Hod Artist Colony    
      'Ayn Hawd from a Distance                                             In 'Ayn Haud                                             Ein Hod, Israeli Artist Colony
The colony exists in the homes of the Palestinians who live above them.  The artists extol the rustic and ancient qualities of their town, and even praise life without electricity.  Above them the Palestinians must generate their own electricity and count on only a provisional supply of water (and no other services) because their village is not recognized.  Somehow, over the past 63 years they have survived being absent/present, recognized/unrecognized, and under demolition order, and cling to a precarious existence.  The situation can be described as  “An invisible reality moving phantomwise beneath a visible fiction”.

We were there for a showing of a video describing the history of the village.  I believe it was the documentary “500 Dunams on the Moon” by Rachel Leah Jones.  Afterwards we enjoyed a sumptious if expensive meal at the town’s restaurant.  We were not the only international group making this kind of pilgrimage to `Ayn Hawd.  This was their way of keeping the village in the minds of people outside of Israel, and avoiding demolition through embarrassment. 
Luncheon at 'Ayn Hawd
What a Meal!
 (for a more complete description see

“Ayn Hawd and the "Unrecognized Villages”  Muhammad Abu al-Hayja'   with an introduction by Rachel Leah Jones
Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 31, no. 1 (Autumn 2001), p. 39
For a pdf version of the full article click here,
VI.The Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem is not a village, but it is another threatened Palestinian institution.  Its 47 acres of land is on a hill top not far from the Hebrew University in West Jerusalem.  The building was originally built by Kaiser Wilhelm as a power center for Germans in Jerusalem.  Some time after WWI it was given to Lutheran World Federationnmand converted to a hospital.  It now provides “Tertiary” care to Palestinians, and houses modern medical devices such as two linear accelerators for Cancer radiation therapy.  It is the only Palestinian Hospital that can provide high-level treatment.  Israel limits its effectiveness by invoking travel restrictions on patients who must cross through checkpoints to reach the hospital. 
Mark Brown, Director, AVH                                                     Augusta Victotia Hospital
Mark Brown, Hospital Director, Speaks to Group                                                        Augusta Victoria Hospital

Again, Israel covets the land upon which the hospital sits.  No building permits are granted to the facility, even though space is needed to for hospital expansion.  In addition, any use of the land surrounding the hospital is curtailed by planning rules imposed on the occupied territory. Recently the Israeli Government sought to impose retroactive property taxes on land held by international organizations (no matter what the use of the land.)  .If this law were enacted and enforced, the hospital will have to sell its land to meet obligations and to lower its tax base.  Although the law was not allowed by the Supreme Court, the threat still exists.  In addition, settlements are pushing up against the AVH boundaries, and the IDF wants to build a War College on the property.  This reminds me of the story of David and Bathsheba – not the adultery, but Nathan’s allegorical condemnation.

As I go through these examples, I become angry at the injustice and long for a modern-day Amos to speak to the Israeli people.  Perhaps many of the Israelis whom we met are trying their best to fill that role, but as with most prophets, they are barely heard in their own country.

Jean Zaro at Ramallah Quaker Meeting                              Jeff Halpern of ICAHD       Learning about East Jerusalem
Jeam Zaru and Neta Golan at FICR                              Jeff Halper, Angela Godfrey-Goldstein CAHD

  Adam Girvitz, Gush Shalom   Ruth Hiller - New Profile  
       Adam Keller,  Gush Shalom                Ruth Hiller (center) New Profile

 To me, the injustices of the present situation are clear and blatant – the official Israeli explanations, even though they are convincing to our legislators, are crafted from a technical reading of international law, with clear disregard for intent. 

Like many others, I see a close similarity between the steady accumulation of land without people by Israel in the West Bank to be similar to the settling of the Western United States in the last part of the 19th century.   I read historical books on that era, hoping that I will find a new ending.  It is a sign of insanity.