Sophia's Peace Work

Friday, July 30, 2004


“Why are you here?” they asked me.
“I just have this thing about occupations.”

Fresh from the Iraq Occupation to Palestinian Occupation, I’ve spent the past four days participating in a CPT delegation.  There are six other members of the delegation: Shelly, an agnostic graduate of the Messiah College, John the funny one who asks the stupid questions (which we are all secretly glad he asks), Ed a soft-spoken former Jesuit and now Roman Catholic and the oldest of our delegation, Kevin a 18 year old student with an easy going nature, Bret a college professor of public policy from D.C., and Barbara, a school teacher.  Our delegation leader, a methodical, thoughtful but nearly blind man named Jim, has kept us running all over Jerusalem and the surrounding area meeting one group after another, touring refugee camps, settlements, visiting checkpoints and constructions sites for the “Security” Wall that Israel is building.

Here is a list of some the groups we’ve visited:

Israeli Committee Against Home Demolition (
Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (
Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center (
Badil - Resource Center for Palestinian Residency & Refugee Rights ( )
Bereaved Families for Peace – Palestinian and Israelis who have lost family because of the Occupation ( )
Rabbis for Human Rights (
B’Tselem – Israeli Human Rights group (
Sabeel – Palestinian Liberation Theology group (

We also stayed one night at the Deheisha Refugee Camp in Bethlehem with the family of Atallah Salem who left their land due to the violence in 1948 during Israel’s War of Independence … what the Palestinians call Al Naqba (The Catastrophe).  We also spent a morning talking to Rifka and David, a settler couple from the Efrat Settlement, near Bethlehem.

Am I being presented with a balanced view of the situation here?  Probably not.  I wish we could here more of a pro-Israel viewpoint.  Aside from Rifka and David, the Palestinians and Israelis have uniformly condemned Israeli policy and shown us how it merely promotes continued violence. 

I am glad we had a chance to listen and speak to Rifka (a former Quaker from New Hampshire who converted to Judaism and moved to Israel) and David (born and raised in Jerusalem), but even they would say they are not typical settlers.  And having listened to them I found their arguments, which were generally (but not completely) supportive of Israeli policy, to be flimsy at best.   At worst their viewpoint is unsettlingly in its implications.  They understand that there are inequities in Israeli policy but (and this is a big BUT, which seems to outweigh the statement just made) they make all sorts of excuses for these inequities.  Rifka spoke at great length about the historic roots that Israelis have in the area, which no one in the room denied.  Both she and David made many references to their “Arab” friends (it seems to be a policy, we are told, among many settlers to use the word “Arab” rather than “Palestinian”) and the symbiotic relationships between Israelis and Arabs (i.e. Palestinians used to work for the Israelis before the first Intifada).  But in the very next breath they would speak and share anecdotes about the different attitudes towards violence that Arabs have (implying but unwilling to say explicitly that the Palestinians are more violent than Israelis and don’t value their children as much as Israelis do).  When we pressed Rifka on this issue to see if this was what they really meant, squirming in her seat (as I’m sure anyone would trying to skate on such thin ice), she said, “Well no, if I said that I’d sound like a racist.”

The night before, in Deheisha Refugee camp, Fatima, Atallah’s 71 year old grandmother, had told us the story of how she had fled her village in 1948 and has been a refugee ever since.  I told her that we were going to the Efrat Settlement the next day (which the Palestinians in the camp call “The Snake” because it is strung out along the crests of the Judean hills opposite the camp).  Was there anything, I asked her, that she would like me to know before I went to talk to the settlers?

“Such people are clever and play with words,” she said, “They will say that they are the victims of Palestinian violence or that God has given them this land.  They thought that after the first generation of Palestinians forced from their lands had died, that their children would forget about their claim to the land.  But we teach the children and we will never forget our original land.”

I’m very glad we had a chance to meet with Fatima, Atallah, Rifka and David … to see Fatima’s facial tattoos, to make a game of pulling Noor’s pony tail (Atallah’s niece), to be present as Rifka and David’s 16 year old son passed through the room with two automatic weapons slung across his shoulder and to see their toddler Noam smiling in her lap, very friendly with the strangers around him.  They were all very nice people living out their lives in an extremely bizarre and violent situation.


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