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Solidarity Pilgrimage Israel / Palestine 2016

A trip organised by Pax Christi Austria and Inter. Fellowship of Reconciliation

Ein Karem, Monday, 14 November 2016

On October 23rd we welcomed the group of Pax Christi Austria and International Fellowship of Reconciliation – Austrian branch with a delicious picnic lunch in our community. Also Sr. Juliana went with the group to the garden to explain about Fr. Theodore and Fr. Alphonse Ratisbonne and how sisters came to Jerusalem. After that, we walked with them to “St. John in the Desert” and then we continued by bus to Bethlehem where we stayed for 7 days at Caritas Guesthouse “Betharram” and later we went for three days to the Casa Nova, in Tiberias.

Next day in the morning, we went to the “Tent of Nations” south of Bet Jala / Bethlehem, where we had a presentation about this project with Daoud Nassar a Palestinian Christian. Also, he explained about the history of the place and the difficult situation that happened with the Israeli government and the Jewish settlers about the land. As well, they do educational projects, for instance tree planting, children’s summer camps, almond, grape and olive harvest. They welcome groups and visitors. Their motto is: “plant hope for a just future”. So we went to walk around the farm and after we started our first experience picking olives to help them. We really enjoyed this experience and had our delicious Palestinian lunch there.

In addition, we went to the WI’AM (agape) centre in the afternoon, where we had a presentation with Zoughbi Zoughbi about this organization that helps resolve disputes within the Palestinian community in Bethlehem. They promote peace, values and justice. Also, they have different programs that involve all the community for instance youth programs, women’s department, children’s department, citizen diplomacy and nonviolent resistance.

After dinner, we had a presentation about what “The Library on Wheels for Nonviolence and Peace (LOWNP)” is and what they do. LOWNP tries to integrate Palestinian families in order to promote and develop the ideas of non-violence and peace as part of their daily life. Also, they offer educational programs and have an active library for promoting nonviolence and peace especially for children and youth, for instance children can learn about their country and Jewish tradition. Moreover, LOWNP visits many places in Israel and distributes educational materials like books and educational videos. It is one way to teach how to respond to conflicts and violence.

On October 25th, we went to the Basilica of the Nativity and the Milk Grotto Church. Later on, we went to L’Arche Bethlehem which is a project of the International Federation of L’Arche Communities where men and women have an intellectual disability. They have a lot of creativity and make felted-wool ornaments, nativity sets and other gifts. We shared and helped them. We could not speak in Arabic, but we spoke with our gestures and some people were translating. We had a delicious lunch and we had good laughs and enjoyed our time with them. In addition, we went to the Tent of Nations in the afternoon to pick olives. Later we went to a Palestinian restaurant called “Grotto” in Bet Sahour just beside the Sheperd Fields. We ate delicious Palestinian food and enjoyed a beautiful Palestinian folk dance, and had the opportunity to dance and learn how to do it.

Written by Andrea Chacón NDS, Novice.

On October 26th, we had a different schedule from the group. The group went to Hebron to the place where the cave of Abraham and Sara was which is now a Mosque and a Synagogue and to the villages of Atwani and Susiya in the South Hebron Hills. We visited an orphanage in Bethlehem called “Creche” run by the Sisters of St. Vincent. Sr Juliana led us to the orphanage because she used to help them when she was a novice. This orphanage is for abandoned babies and children, from newborn babies until 6 years old, when they go to another place to have an education and go to school. For us, it was very hard to see babies and children growing up without family, in some cases they don’t have anybody to call mother or father and some of them don’t have any reference about their families or places where they came from. That reality made us think about our own reality and how much importance we give to family values. Or how much we complain about our reality when we have the basics to live. For us it was sad to hear that in the Muslim culture it is forbidden to adopt and these children are very lucky, because they were found alive and are in a safe place.

The same day, we went to the Austrian Hospice in the Old City of Jerusalem to celebrate Austrian Independence Day with the group. We had a lovely Mass in German and then a talk of the rector of the Austrian Hospice. We closed our lovely evening with a delicious Austrian dinner and some information about the work of the Official Representative of Austria in Ramallah for the Palestinian Territories.

161027_trip_pc_ifor_lucia_001October 27th, we visited the Hand in Hand School in Jerusalem. This school has a special mission, to show the world that Jews and Muslims are able to study together, share the same space and they can live in peace. One of the highlights on the trip was in this school when we had a sharing with two Jewish girls and one of them said “It is not only the matter of agreeing to make peace between Jews and Muslims, I have to do something concrete to make it happen”. That sentence challenged us in the sense of “to go, to see and to talk about”, and challenged us because we cannot do much, we cannot get involved with the political situation of the country, but we are trying to bring that challenge to our reality and see how much am I involved to speak up and try to make the situation around us better or more peaceful.

161028_trip_pc_ifor_lucia_002After the visit to the Hand in Hand School we went to visit the SABEEL centre, an “ecumenical grassroots liberation theology movement among Palestinian Christians. which “calls Christians from around the world to work for justice and peace in this long-lasting conflict.” We joined the weekly Community Prayer. We arrived early and had time for a nice walk and coffee. At 12am we had Mass presided by Fr. Naim Ateek (he is a Palestinian priest in the Anglican Church and founder of the Sabeel Centre) followed by lunch. About 1:30pm we had a talk by Cedar a Palestinian lady from Haifa. She shared with us her experience during the time that Israel declared this land a state for Jewish people. She shared how it was hard for many Palestinian families who lived here at that time, including herself and her family.

We finished that day with a walk from the main check-point 300 at Rachels tomb to enter Bethelhem, until the house where we were hosted. We, the whole group, got off the bus on the Jerusalem side and walked through the check-point to have a little bit of the feelings of many Palestinians who pass every day to go to Jerusalem to work or study. On the other side in Bethlehem Toine (who was Dutch married to a Palestinian woman) was waiting for us to share about the occupation and what it is like living near the wall and his work with young people in the “Summud house”. When we got back, just before dinner we had a time of sharing about the day with some questions: How do you feel about what you heard today?

October 28th, we left at 8:30 to go to the Tents of the Nations to harvest olives. For us it was our last experience to harvest olives from trees.

161028_trip_pc_ifor_lucia_003After that we went ‘home’ just for 30min to have a shower, and then we went to the Synagogue “Kol HaNeshama”. In the courtyard of the Synagogue we had a talk about the Center for Jewish Nonviolence with their members Isaak and Erez. The goals of this centre are: working with Palestinians and Israelis, believing and engaging in nonviolence and against the occupation – ‘occupation is not our Judaism’ – is their motto.

After that we had an explanation from Sr Maureena Fritz NDS about the Kabbalat Shabbat prayer. She explained to us each step of the prayer, especially the beginning of the prayer with the sentence of the Song of Songs “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!” She tried to explain to us that Shabbat is like a honeymoon with our God, a day to have with him. Then we participated in the prayer with the Jewish community to welcome Shabbat.

Written by Lúcia de Fátima NDS, Novice

During our trip with the Austrian group of Pax Christi and Fellowship of Reconciliation we visited many places around Bethlehem and in the Galilee. We met people from different Israeli and Palestinian organizations who are promoting Non Violent actions in the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

On October 29th it was our last day working in the Tent of Nations. We cleaned the area around the new olive trees, then we put some compost around them. Some of us also picked up some stones to clean the soil and then we used the stones to build a wall in the surrounding area of the new olives trees.

Our experience in the Tent of Nation was very rich since we met people from different places. In addition; we shared with them not only work, lunch, and talks but also we were united in the same spirit looking forward for a world of justice and peace.

On the same day in the afternoon we had a talk with some people from GIZ, Carola and Sami (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit in English: “German Organization for International Cooperation”). This organization has a project called FASPAR, Facilitating Social Participation of Palestinian Refugees. Their objective, as it is written on their website, is to promote the social participation of Palestinian refugees, developing their prospects of improved living conditions. It cooperates with UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East). Our speakers also talked about a project called “Beyond”, its goal is to facilitate Palestinian youth, training to create networks to work together improving their actual social situation and promoting a better future for them.

161030_trip_pc_ifor_nancy_002On October 30th, Yaniv Mazor, a tour guide who works for different NGOs, gave us a bus tour through East Jerusalem neighbourhoods. He explained to us about the effect of the barrier caused specially to Palestinian people in Jerusalem. This experience was excellent to see more clearly the extension of the barrier and to understand all consequences it brought to the Palestinians and Israelites.

161030_trip_pc_ifor_nancy_003After the tour with Yaniv we had our lunch and then we met Roni Hammermann. Born in Tel Aviv she grew up in Vienna going through her whole school carrier. Today living in Jerusalem she is part of Machsom Watch an organization of Israeli women who are peace activists. We received Roni’s explanation about their work in Ecce Homo where we were welcomed by the NDS Sisters of the Community. They also joined us listening to Roni’s talk. The focus of the group is to monitor and to keep record at checkpoints in the West Bank. We appreciated the time and learned a lot from Roni´s experience. The last activity of the day was to visit the Old City. We were divided in three groups and then each group went to visit some of the Jewish and Christian holy places.

161030_trip_pc_ifor_nancy_004On October 31st we had a nice time visiting the National Park Beit Alpha with its ancient Synagogue. This synagogue is from the Byzantine period, and there is a beautiful mosaic floor illustrating a Zodiac, the Ark, and the binding of Isaac.

After we finished the visit of the Synagogue some people bought souvenirs and then we had our lunch in order to continue our journey. We are very grateful for this amazing opportunity to visit, meet and learn more about Israel and Palestine. We continue having all of them in our prayers.

Written by Nancy Mena Fernandez NDS, Novice

161031_trip_pc_ifor_maria_001On October 31st, we visited Givat Haviva, a movement which promotes a cooperation between neighbouring Arab and Jewish communities, and educational programs where Jews and Arabs study together. Lydia Aisenberg, a study tour guide and journalist, gave us a short introduction about Givat Haviva focused on the Green Line, the separation between Israel and its neighbours set in the 1949 Armistice Agreement after the end of the war of 1948. She gave us a map showing the line in green, orange line marking the separation barrier and a blue line marking the 1947 boundary rejected by Jordan and other neighbours. This issue has been controversial since Israel took military control since 1967.

We headed toward the Green Line, taking the road to a hill with a panoramic view: the West Bank to the east and the Mediterranean to the west. Aisenberg pointed out how narrow the strip of land is between the sea and a proposed Palestinian state. As we reached the town of Barta’a, Aisenberg explained that the Green Line was drawn by a United Nations commission that did not actually visit the area. So in the Arab town of Barta’a, the line goes along a drainage channel in the middle of the town. From 1949 to 1967, this ditch was the border between Israel and territory controlled by Jordan. Families who lived in the same town were cut off and separated from one another split into two different citizenships. This exposure is not only to educate Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs the importance of learning each other’s narrative but also for us as foreigners, would be better informed, so that our judgments are based on facts and not on beliefs or imagination.

161101_trip_pc_ifor_maria_003On November 1st, we visited the Palestine Fair Trade Association (PFTA) in Jenin, a national union of fair trade producing cooperatives and exporters of the organic products from the local Palestinians farmers. After listening to a short history of this Association, we went to the factory where we could see the wholeprocess of making the olive oil, some toiletry products, food supplements and others161101_trip_pc_ifor_maria_002. A farmer with the two staffs members shared with us how this Fair Trade system helps the family financially a lot but also about some difficulties they are facing as farmers. Then in the afternoon, we had a chance to visit an old church in Burqin, also known as St. George’s Church, where according to the Scripture Jesus healed the ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19). One of the priests shared with us the short history of the church. The priest showed us a cave like a deep well used by the people to hide when the Roman soldiers come. Some of us spent little bit of time to pray.

161102_lochamei_hagettaot_012On the 10th day, the last day of our exposure, we visited the Yad LaYeled Museum: a memorial museum for children who died during the holocaust. Lisa a german woman told us as staff member the history of the museum which focuses on the experiences of children during the Holocaust and the two worlds they inhabited: those of reality and imagination which are beautifully drawn on stain glass windows created from children’s drawings in Terezin / Theresienstadt and exhibited at the start of the museum. Most of the items displayed on the walls are about the children and the documentaries are about the adults who cared for them. It was a sad feeling but was positive at the same time because this project also aimed as part of the integration of the Palestinian and Israel students to the context of each other’s history. This will hopefully somehow bring some healing and reconciliation to both peoples.

This same day in the afternoon, we bid farewell to the group of Pax Christi as we dropped them at the airport with the bus. They were our companions during these ten days of exposure. Eventually, this experience became more significant because we were able not only to get in touch with our feelings but also to share our opinions and especially recognizing the need to work for justice with mercy and stand with those who are oppressed. We had a chance for this sharing the night before our last day of exposure and we thank the Lord for this group for giving us this significant experience.

Written by Odor Maria Malau NDS Novice

A message of Peace!