Mas Salaame — Peace be with you, Good-bye Jayyous! (December 8)

On my last day in Jayyous, I went to the South gate to make sure that the Bedouin family had gone home. Yes, they had. The Israeli Defense Force soldiers came on time and opened the gate for them. None of us had to wait long in the hot sun with the hunger and thirst pangs of the midday of Ramadan. But Mustafa** rushed out to make sure he would not miss the excitement. He is only seven–a cute little boy. But for a while I had dreaded running into him at the gate.

Ever since the computer game called “UABE — the Gate” hit the local Internet Café, young boys increasingly became the source of our dread and fear. Some enterprising computer programmer designed a game about the separation fence and the gates. The game simulates a battle between Israeli soldiers and stone throwing teenage boys trying to kill each other. One evening at the gate opening, we found ourselves having to disarm a bunch of young boys who had stones in their hands. Either they didn”t know that they could be shot or they were too young to know what ”being shot” meant. We had to ask the mayor for older persons to be at the gate every time it was opened, and to accompany us when we did the gate watch to prevent the young boys playing games in the real and deadly situation. A few evenings before I had to grab Mustafa and tear a stone out of his little hand. He looked at me with hate-filled eyes and said, “Shalom” — a bad signal, addressing me like he would to an Israeli soldier. Happily, we became friends in a few days after his big brother started to come to make sure the little one behaved. We even had tea at his home one evening. So on this day, when I said “Mas Salaame — Good-bye,” he made peace signs with both hands and gave me a big smile. Or could it be that he was saying, “Victory” like Winston Churchill during the Second World War?
Things got worse after I left Jayyous. I was in Jerusalem preparing to go back to Canada when I heard that the day after I left, the South gate was never opened in the afternoon. The Bedouin family waited all afternoon and all evening for soldiers to open the gate. No soldier came. One village family took the four kids and the mother in and gave them their first liquid and solid food since sunrise. It was Ramadan. Nobody eats or drink between sunrise and sunset. They slept in the home of the kind family and went home the next morning when the gate was at last opened, totally exhausted. Of course, kids missed school.

Now I”m home in Lethbridge in Canada, safe and sound. I came back with a touch of chest cold I picked up in Jerusalem but nothing serious. It”s so beautiful here. The air is crisp, the sky is so high, and deer roam in the snow in the coulees. Crab apples and chokecherries have been made into jelly ready to adorn toast. Yum! People are animated about increasing electricity rates and same sex marriage, Paul Martin is waiting to be anointed as Prime Minister and the union between the Alliance and PC is a fait accompli. I”m sure they are important–but please save me from peaceful boredom. Peace is hard to take. The life at the gate, on the other hand, is about waiting, a lot of it, but is far from boring. Waiting for soldiers is about anxiety and frustration. Anger builds up as we wait. It sometimes explodes.

I heard a few days after I came back from Sebastien that the South gate in Jayyous is indefinitely closed. Sebastien is a young Swiss theologian from Neuchatel working with children suffering post-traumatic-stress-syndrome. He came to live with us for a week and watched the South gate with me. He also picked olives with Abdul Karim†. He was the man who once gave me a ride on his donkey. Sebastien and Abdul Karim became best of friends. Now he tells me that the gate is closed for good and Abdul Karim could not go to his field unless he walks one and a half hours through the North gate to the field he could see right in front of the gate. Why? Did any boy throw stones? Were the gate and the fence vandalized again? What is Mohammed† going to do? His field was divided into two because of the fence while losing acres of his land for fence construction. The Israeli District Commander promised that his land would be returned when the fence became redundant. Sure, in the next millennium? I feel so helpless. Sebastien also wrote to me about an old man who never spoke to me. He waited days on end for the gate opening. The Bedouin mother saw him sitting by the gate on the other side of the fence, and asked him what he was doing. He said, “I have to speak to my trees.” His family had those olive trees for centuries, everybody spoke to the trees everyday as though speaking to the ancestors. So the brave woman stopped an IDF jeep and demanded that the soldiers let the man through so he could speak to the trees. The soldiers just laughed and went on.

I know that I don”t belong to Palestine and have to let go of it and go on with my life. After all, it”s the struggle for Israelis and Palestinians to resolve by themselves. So many US Presidents got involved. But where are their “Peace Plans” now? The Geneva Accord, though not an official agreement, gives us a glimmer of hope. But how long do they have to suffer? Do I have any right to tell them to wait?

When I first went to Israel and Palestine in 1979, I thought things could never be any worse. It will explode soon, I thought. Settlements built by the Israelis were in their beginning stage. Scholars theorized that the settler population would reach 100,000 soon. That would be the benchmark to indicate an irreversible permanent annexation of Palestine by the State of Israel. Now there are more than 200,000 settlers. Some of the settlements are so old and well established that the residents don”t realize that they live on the illegally occupied lands. They are simply called “communities.” The Jordan Valley does not resemble the Palestine I used to know at all. It looks like California with totally commercialized mechanized corporate farming. The whole of the West Bank is divided by highways connecting settlements, ignoring and cutting off roads connecting Palestinian towns and villages. It is now much worse than in 1979.

For 20 years, Palestinian friends have told us to work on government policy and public opinion in Canada. So, I went to Ottawa with briefs, asked our colleagues who went to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva to support our briefs. I traveled with a Rabbi from the Canadian Jewish Congress to Israel and the Occupied Territories so we both could see what others” views were based on. And we did many other things for the cause of peace. We were happy to see Manahem Begin shaking hands with Anwar Sadat in front of a smiling Jimmy Carter, or Itzak Rabin with Yasser Arafat, in front of Bill Clinton, and other presidents and the shaking hands of Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Did things get better? No, they got worse. The bloody Intifada of the eighties didn”t produce anything positive. And this time, the second Intifada and the Israeli response have been more bloody. It looks hopeless, as many friends agree. Political leadership on both sides lacks vision, and perhaps is corrupt. They speak about peace in unison but the word sounds so hollow. Do I still hope for peace? I had given up. I wanted to get away from all this and start enjoying my quiet retirement.

Then I was sent to Jayyous thanks to some creative persons in the United Church House. Or perhaps they were mad? Who would think of sending someone old and retired like me to be the first participant from Canada in a brand-new program, which nobody is quite sure how it would work? I am immensely grateful for that creativity, madness or not, because I regained faith and hope for the future. No, I didn”t see any new policy initiative. The leadership on both sides is just as bloody minded and is bankrupt of policy initiative and of vision. But I lived with Palestinians and Israelis. They love life, love to be let to live and to be loved. They have the same aspirations to good life, family and friends. They don”t mind hard work so long as they can eat the fruits of their labour. They don”t want their children to die and want to live long lives as God allows. Like the cliché, they are like us. Yes, they are easily led by demagogues and propaganda, and are afraid of and hostile to the other party. But I saw them: when peace loving Israelis come face to face with Palestinian villagers to pick olives they saw human faces in the others. Even some soldiers, confronted by suffering of children and women, cried and apologized for having to obey orders. There and then I saw a glimmer of hope. Now I have faith. The Lord will come. Peace will come, God willing — Inshaala. Goodbye Jayyous till we meet again. Peace, Shalom, Salaame!

Tad Mitsui
Lethbridge, Alberta
Monday, December 8, 2003

† Not real names

Learning to Share Powerlessness (October 31)

We had been waiting for the Israeli soldiers to come and open the gate in the “separation fence” for two hours here in Jayyous, allowing the farmers to get to their fields. The sun was already high, children were already late for school, and the day was getting shorter for harvesting. Olives, as precious as gold in this community, were overripe and starting to dry up on the trees. And we continued to wait.

As the hours passed by, Mustafa looked at me and my mobile phone and demanded: “Why don”t you call soldiers?” “I can”t!” I shot back. But he didn”t believe me. He didn”t realize that I was as helpless as he was. After all, as far as he was concerned, foreigners are supposed to fix everything that needs fixing. We accept the lot with pride, and feel badly when we cannot fix it. We don”t know how to share powerlessness. Hence, a search for it has become my spiritual journey in this little corner of the Holy Land.

For far too long, we have designated ourselves as “fixer-uppers.” When we face a situation with no possibility of fixing, we get frustrated and sometimes take inappropriate actions. Meanwhile, some people have the capacity to live with helplessness and share it with others, often accompanied by soothing tears.

Recently soldiers stopped all those who were younger than 35 and did not allow them to go to work in the fields for reasons of “security.” Women bunched together and cried as another day”s harvest was lost, while men resorted to destructive behaviour such as vandalizing the fence. Louise, a journalist from Denmark, joined the women who were prevented from going to the fields and cried with them. Hearing this, a British volunteer from an international solidarity organization said: “That must have been the most healing thing that happened to those women–sharing tears. I wish I could do that.”

The trouble is that even though we have come to Palestine and Israel to accompany and journey with our brothers and sisters on their rocky road to peace, we still hold advantages. These advantages prevent us from fully sharing in the lives of our brothers and sisters. We have foreign passports, for example, which allow us to go where Palestinians or Israelis often have difficulty entering. It often takes hours for Palestinians to go through checkpoints, if they are allowed through at all. Israeli peace activists are prohibited from entering areas that are supposedly under the total control of the Palestinian Authority. However, we can go through checkpoints in three seconds by flashing our passports. Maren, a medical student and Ecumenical Accompanier from Denmark, thought that her presence helped an ambulance go through a checkpoint in a shorter time than usual recently. But her Palestinian colleague said to her: “I wanted you to see what a checkpoint really is like for us.”

All of us carry mobile telephones, which we are required to keep on at all times, ostensibly for our safety. Recently the soldiers were once again late in arriving so I telephoned HaMoked to find out the reason for the delay. HaMoked is an Israeli human rights organization, which is called the “Organization for the Defence of Individuals” in English. It maintains up-to-date information about the conditions at checkpoints and gates and helps Palestinians who are having difficulty getting through. It often intervenes by contacting the authorities. The representative at HaMoked said: “I will call you back as soon as I find out what the problem is.” A second later a jeep pulled up, and the gate was opened, a complete coincidence. A man on a donkey saw all this and flashed the thumbs up sign as though to say: “Thanks, you did it again.” “No, I didn”t. It was just a coincidence!” I thought. But as far as he was concerned, a foreigner did his magic bit again.

People often ask: “Do people in the village accept your presence?” Of course most do but sometimes I wonder. There are a few older men and women who don”t seem to care if I am there or not. I see this old man who always comes to the gate with a donkey cart, wearing a traditional kaffiyeh. He always wears an old worn-out dress jacket underneath the kaffiyeh. He usually sits on a stone near the gate, looking at the ground while patiently waiting for the opening. He never says anything to anyone. I try to sit next to him to somehow engage him. He always ignores me and keeps looking down at the ground between his shoes. I can feel his embarrassment over the whole humiliating situation. Why does he have to depend on foreign occupying troops to open the gate so he can get to his field? Worse still: why does he have to endure the presence of foreigners to solve his problem for him? I saw the same proud but humiliated eyes in the soup kitchen in Montreal. While others seemed defeated and servile, some looked disdainful. I see others who are like him, often older men and women. Some may think I am reading too much into his stoicism but I don”t think I am. Why? Because I know the humiliation of being on the receiving end of charity.

I was desperately hungry once and Americans gave us food. They saved us from death by starvation. This was in Japan after its surrender in World War II in 1945. Was I grateful? I have to say I was; after all I am still alive today. I should have been, if I wasn”t. But what I remember more vividly was a feeling of humiliation rather than gratitude. Receiving charity is humiliating. Having to depend on other people always is. We feel strongly that we should be independent and self-sufficient. That self-confidence makes us proud creatures who believe that God made us in his own image as beings only slightly below Him. This is the source of our dignity. It makes sense, therefore, that Jesus said: “It is better to give than to receive.” We have to realize, however, that we may not always be privileged to give.

When I went to Africa, I was called a “missionary.” The term was everywhere around me. I went to the Missionary Orientation Conference in London, Ontario and to L”Ecole Missionaire in Paris. It was assumed that I knew something “they” didn”t, and had something to give which “they” hadn”t. I am glad that those days of Western conceit are over. This is why I like the notion of accompaniment very much. I like it especially because of the situation people are facing in Palestine and Israel. We in the West bear a lot of responsibility for creating the problem here. The Western Christian world persecuted the Jewish people for millennia. We barely acknowledged the suffering of Palestinians for nearly half a century. Yes, we have helped cause many of the problems here but let us not compound our mistakes by behaving as though we know so much and can do so much to fix things here. The only thing left for us to do is to share in the humility and powerlessness of people.

Tad, Ecumenical Accompanier

Unhappy New Year (November 7)

Tad Mitsui, an Ecumenical Accompanier (EA) in Jayyous, has been chronicling his experiences in the small farming community near Qalqiliya, which has been virtually split in half by Israel”s "security fence." He wrote the following letter as the Israeli military continued to deny farmers access to their own fields during the critical harvest season. Military officials cited recent terrorist attacks as well as threats of further attacks during the Jewish holidays as the reason for keeping the gates closed.

Tad MitsuiAnother day was wasted for at least four young farmers at the south gate in Jayyous today. It was an ideal harvest day–sunny, not too hot and the rains had yet to come. But the gates were closed for them. Probably much of the crops in the fields, greenhouses, and olive groves are ruined by now after nearly a month of forced neglect. It was the first day the gates were opened since Rosh Hashanah — the Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashanah was followed closely by two more Jewish holidays — Yom Kippur and Succoth. The gates were closed throughout all three holidays. Today, when the gates were finally opened, the soldiers allowed only women and men older that 35 to go to work.

Muhammed, a young farmer, was so angry that he appeared to turn blue as he was shouting at an Arabic-speaking soldier. His two brothers had to pull him away. All three did not want to go home, knowing that that the Islamic holy month of Ramadan is approaching. Beginning October 27th, Muslims abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset, making working in the fields a health risk. So we sat down under an olive tree and began the futile wait. At that moment, we heard an old woman shouting. It was Muhammed”s mother who had stopped a jeep and was demanding that the soldiers reopen the gate so she could cross back from the fields and to the village side. She had seen the confrontation her sons had had with the soldiers and wanted to be able to prevent any further trouble, both for her family and the other villagers.

By the time we sat down again for tea and cigarettes it was 8 a.m. The sun was making its ascent in the sky, dissipating the cool of the morning and bringing on the heat of the day. We”d been at the gate since 6 a.m. I took my jacket off, rolled it into a pillow and decided to take a nap. All the trees on the village side of the fence had been cleanly picked of olives, leaving no work for us. All those olives were already extra virgin oil by now — thick, green, beautiful stuff. But there was so much work to be done on the other side of the fence and time was running out.

The military had announced that the gates were going to be opened after Yom Kippur. But two events led to the extended closures. The fields between the 1967 Green Line and the "security fence" in Jayyous were declared "military zones" after a suicide bombing in Haifa and an armed attack on a settlement in Gaza. Jayyous and a few other communities were cut off from their fields or from their work places by the security fence, or wall, because the gates were not opened. People watched helplessly as their valuable crops ripened unharvested on the other side of the fence.

During the time of closures we kept going to the south gate because it was supposed to be opened for the children who live on the other side of the fence so they could attend school. One day last week I was with fellow Ecumenical Accompanier (EA) Maren, a Danish medical student visiting in Jayyous. It was 2 p.m., the time when the gate is to be opened so the children, with their mother Zarefeh, can go home. The soldiers were late but so was Zarefeh. The construction of the fence has been a particular hardship for her as she must spend her entire day in town after accompanying her children to school in the morning. Zarefeh”s tardiness created a nervous situation. "What if the soldiers don”t wait for the family?" I thought. We went to the gate and asked the soldiers to wait, initiating a tense 10 minutes.

Maren ran to the house where the children said their mother was. She came back huffing and puffing, reporting that Zarefeh was expecting some vegetables to be delivered. She did not want to move without her vegetables. "Oh, dear!" I thought. "I hope she knows what she is doing." I asked the soldiers if they could come back in half an hour and they agreed. One half hour later six jeeps arrived with 30 soldiers! But Zarefeh was still not at the gate.

Maren and I were scared at the seemingly inexplicable actions taken by the soldiers. Both sides of the road on the other side of the gate were blocked by four soldiers and the rest faced us with their rifles poised in our direction. Finally Zarefeh appeared, laden with vegetables of all sorts, as if she didn”t have a care in the world. She went right to the gate, asked the soldiers to open it, told the children to follow her with some vegetables, and disappeared down the hill as though nothing unusual had happened. Maren and I, the two foreigners, were the only ones sweating. We wondered if, because they were asked to wait so long, the soldiers thought that there was something sinister being schemed on our side of the fence, necessitating 30 soldiers for reinforcement. But Zarefeh, a tough Bedouin woman in black, was in command of the situation.

The following day, I went to the south gate again, this time with Louise and Arn, two more Danish EAs visiting Jayyous. This time there were farmers waiting, causing us to wonder if they had heard something we hadn”t. There was no problem getting Zarefeh and her children through to the village side of the fence. But the farmers were a different story due to the declaration of a "military zone." Louise went to the soldiers and said, "These people haven”t been to the fields for nearly a month! Their crops are being ruined." A grey-haired reservist with a pony tail looked at Louise and said, "I”m sorry. I”m just following orders." He looked sad and remorseful as he gave his reply.

Louise left the gate and went to sit with the women who were still lingering around, hoping somehow that they could still go to the olive groves in order to harvest. A few minutes later, I found all of the women with tears in their eyes. These were signs of the days of frustration that had been building up in all the people of Jayyous as they saw their livelihoods imprisoned and ruined behind a chain-link fence.

On our way back to the north gate we ran into some British aid workers who were sitting on a rock to catch their breath. We told them what had happened at the south gate and one replied, "You cried!? Good for you! I have been angry for so long that I forgot to cry. It”s the most helpful thing you could do."

Unhappy New Year to you Jayyous! Ramadan is nearly here and we wish all of Jayyous a proper month of fasting and prayers to acquire the strength to endure until a better day.

Tad, Ecumenical Accompanier

Waiting in Jayyous (November 24)

Life at the gates of Israel”s so-called “separation fence” is a life of waiting in Jayyous. As accompaniers, we wait for long periods until soldiers arrive to let the Palestinians cross. Accompanying at the gate means waiting with the farmers and the school children. When Iwas a seminary student, I read a sermon by Paul Tillich in which he used waiting as a metaphor for faith. In our culture, however, we put value on speed and technology, giving the concept of waiting a negative connotation. But in Samuel Becket”s play Waiting for Godot, some profound truths about the human condition are explored through the vehicle of waiting. Psalmists sung about our faith as “waiting patiently for our God.”

During the last few weeks, I have noticed that the Bedouin girl in Jayyous, who needs to cross the gate every morning to get to school, is showing increased signs of defiance. She sits away from her mother on a rough rock instead of under the cooling shade of an olive tree. She looks at her younger brothers in disdain as they engage in childish fooling around while waiting for the soldiers to arrive. She argues with her mother more often nowadays as she grows impatient during the interminable waits. It”s painful to watch a young girl covered with a hijab and a long dress while sitting in the hot sun waiting for soldiers who can”t keep to their own schedule.

The South gate of Jayyous, where I often do the watch, is the only access to the village for the Bedouin family, which lives on the other side of the fence from the village. The children, a girl and three boys, two of them quite young, have to depend on the Israeli soldiers in order to get to school in the morning and return home in the afternoon. Their mother always accompanies them and spends the day in the village until the children are dismissed from school. She dares not let the younger boys try to make the crossing alone, even though it is a short 10-minute walk. Despite the schedule written on a sign by the gate, more often than not the children are late to school. Sometimes they miss school altogether. It”s not the fault of the family but of the soldiers, who almost never keep to the schedule. I have been told that there is an older boy who some time ago decided to quit school because of the difficulties. I have also been told that they are not doing well in school because of their irregular attendance.

During the many hours of waiting at both gates, some young farmers become so impatient that they resort to reckless behaviour. The younger boys are even worse. When the older villagers see them resorting to destructive acts, they usually stop them. The older residents should know the proper way to behave — they have been living under occupation for a long time. I once saw an old man chasing a man in his thirties with a whip. The younger man was trying to bend the razor wire in frustration over the late arrival of the soldiers. The young boys frequently throw stones at the fence. This behaviour is usually met with severe reprimands from the older men. One of my colleagues met a family with a son in his 30s who is in prison. He has been held without trial since he was 14 years old for throwing stones at soldiers during the first intifada, according to the family. The older men know the futility of throwing stones. But is it worthwhile to be patient and wait? Or should they just give up? Is that what it means to wait?

The Israeli government says that the fence or wall is a temporary measure to stop suicide bombers. Additionally, the government says the land will be returned to the original owners and the barriers will be removed after a political settlement is reached. But if one examines the preceding rationales, it is difficult to find credibility in either. The fence is made in such a way that a child with an ordinary wire cutter can cut a hole large enough for a person to go through. It was said that the fence is “electrified” but, in Jayyous at least, it has never worked; everybody touches it. There are some contraptions that would indicate that it is “motion sensitive.” That has never been true in Jayyous either. I have often seen people climbing over them. In any event, the fence will not stop determined, half-crazed individuals intent on killing themselves and taking the lives of others. To be sure, there are tall concrete walls in Qalquilia and Tulkarem but they are not very long. In short, the barrier will not stop suicide bombers.

As for the claim about the temporary nature of the structure, it would be more believable if it was being built on the pre-1967 green line. The situation begs many questions. Why do some parts of the barrier penetrate deep into the Palestinian territories and surround the settlements? Why, if one looks at the areas around Jayyous, does the barrier separate people from their land, greenhouses, and olive groves? Why does the barrier separate people from their source of water? In the Qalqilia and Tulkarem districts Palestinian farmers now cannot reach their wells. Those two districts contain two of the three most important aquifers in the West Bank. Are these temporary measures? Is it really worthwhile waiting patiently until all the gates are opened and the barriers come down? Is the Bedouin girl unreasonably insolent? Is the old man with the whip right? Should they all still wait? What does the term “wait for God” mean?

I don”t believe that waiting is a mere passive action. I believe that there can be active waiting just as there can be passive resistance. A few days ago, I stumbled very badly and injured my knee, drawing quite a bit of blood. Per Einar, my Norwegian colleague, brought out his first-aid kit and did a professional job dressing the wound. Sure enough, it healed in a very short time. I said to Per Einar, “You performed a miracle.” But Per Einar replied, “No, I just prepared for the miracle.” Surely there can be a lot of preparation when you wait for liberation. I haven”t quite figured out how this active waiting fits into the context of Palestinian liberation yet. But there must be ways to prepare for the arrival of freedom.

When I watched Nelson Mandela walking out of the prison, I thought that I was surely seeing a miracle. I never thought that the liberation of South Africa would ever come in my lifetime, but the miracle did happen. And what a lot of preparation was needed for its arrival! We have faith in God”s agenda. We wait patiently for the Lord.

What happend on the day after the suicide bombings (September 16, 2003)

Today, two grown men cried. Don and I had the noon watch at the farmers” gate. Noon is the time when family members take food to those who work on the other side, in case they cannot come back. We were there until 4:00 p.m., but the gate never opened. Don is a minister of the United Church of Christ in the USA.

At two o”clock, we became seriously concerned about those waiting at the gate, three on the other side with one donkey, and about a dozen young men and a tanker truck on this side. So Don phoned the Center for the Defence of Individuals (HAMOKED an Israeli Human Rights organization, to find out what was going on. They said that because of the two suicide bombs last night, a widespread armed forces operation was being conducted and that all the check points and all the gates were shut completely. I phoned the Jerusalem EAPPI office to find out about the events after the bombing. What I heard explained all those jet plane and helicopter noises we had been hearing since early morning.

The young men gave up and went home. Apparently in the morning, when many farmers were going to work, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) had allowed only the older men to go through. So those young men had been waiting since early morning. A young man and a tanker truck driver remained waiting, hoping beyond hopelessness. The young man was carrying food for his relatives, and the tanker truck was for those machines which ran out of fuel. At 3:00 p.m., the young man made a fire and boiled water for tea, collecting all of our canteen water. It was good to have sweet spiced tea under the hot sun in the shade of an olive tree. But the situation looked hopeless. The donkey was protesting on the other side, trying vainly to lie down and have a nice scratch on the back. The old farmer was having a hard time keeping the poor animal standing with a full load of guava and tomatoes. We sent tea to the other side and threw some pita bread over the fence. He threw some guava to us. It was a picnic. I do not understand how they manage to keep a sense of humour in such a cruel and desperate situation. But they”ve been at it for a long time. At about 4:00 pm, Don and I gave up and started to climb the hill-4 km climb-for a shower and supper.

About half way up, we ran into an old farmer with a mule going down. Don tried to explain to him in his elementary Arabic that the gates were closed and would never be opened today. He looked completely lost. A "what-the -hell-am-I-supposed-to-do" look needed no translation. He stood there looking at us for a long time. Then he looked up, pointing a finger upwards, and said, "Inshala–God willing." When we started to climb again, tears formed in my eyes and I didn”t know what to do. But I noticed that Don took his glasses off and wiped them on his shirt. He was crying, too. We looked at each other and decided without words that it was okay to cry. So we did.That was the day after the suicide bombings in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Tad Mitsui

Thou Salt Not Kill, Never (September 18)

Once in my life I wanted to kill someone. Only once. I was twelve. I am glad that I was a coward; it would have been suicidal if I had done what I really wanted to do.

My father was a minister of the Methodist Church in the busiest part of downtown Tokyo. The second world war had just ended and the Allied Occupation Forces had just landed in Japan, most of them being Americans. One Sunday, after the worship service, my father came down the aisle and stood by the door to greet the congregation with his Geneva gown still on. Two young GI”s passed by and started to push my dad around saying something like, "Monkey playing priest." They looked like boys just out of high school. I was so angry, I wanted to kill them. Cowardice stopped me — or should it be called something else. I have forgiven them now that I have reached an understanding of the effect a weapon gives a person of a false sense of authority and power, especially when it is in the hand of an immature person.

I see a similar situation too often at check points every time I travel from Jayyous to Jerusalem. There are three, sometimes more depending on the situation. People are often bullied and insulted regardless of their age and gender at check points. I am sure some of them must belong to the young soldiers” grandparents” generation. I am sure that the Israel Defence Force does not train troops to be bullies. There are some rotten apples like this in any society they say. That may be the case but there are a too many of them to call them "a few exceptions." I got talking to one of the soldiers who said, "You never know which one is a suicide bomber." He was scared. True, but wouldn”t the way they treat people make them even more angry? Many of them have to get to work or to write an exam. The occupation of one people by another gives a false sense of authority and power especially to many immature occupiers, like the ones who bullied my father.

Another problem of occupation is the psychological damage to the occupiers. One feminist activist in an Israeli peace organization once told me that she was really worried about the damage caused by the occupation to the minds of generations of Israeli young people. "It is creating generations of racists. The noble ideals of Zionism based on Judaism are lost. So then, what”s the point of a Jewish State?", she asks. And she conclueded, "This is why I belive that the occupation of the Palestinian territories must end for the sake of Israelis as well."

When I was in Lesotho teaching at the University we sometimes went to South Africa for shopping. It was during the Apartheid days. We”d ususally part ways to do whatever we needed to do as soon as we entered the city of Bloemfontein. But one day, the reality dawned on me about Apartheid society. After having lunch in a fast food joint, I found my colleague drinking water from a hose in a park. He had no place to sit down to eat nor drink in the city. All eateries were for whites only. I was an "honorary white" not because I was a Canadian but because I was Japanese. Black persons could buy food at a take out counter and eat sitting on the grass. Benches were for whites only. One of my colleagues at the time was Desmod Tutu. My shopping mate that day was not Desmond but he was equally brilliant and dignified. I felt ashamed. I don”t know why. Apartheid was not my fault. But I guess everybody must feel ashamed to live in a society which insults personal dignity. I feel the same every time I am at a check point or at a gate. I feel ashamed that we allow such a society to exist, that renders indignity to people. I agree with the Israeli feminist peace activist–it is against the belief of Judaism, but also, I would add, against Islam and Christianity.

I do admire those people who patiently wait for their turns to have their ID”s checked for what seems like hours on end. They have been doing it for years, for as long as the occupation. Anger must be piling up inside along with many other calamities of occupation like house demolitions, land confiscations, etc. Even then, I don”t condone suicidal killings of innocent people. But retaliatory actions by the military, which inevitably cause "colateral damage" of innocent people can not be justified either. Violence triggers more violence, and a spiral of violence accelelates in its downward descent. And there is no end in sight. And this is Holy Land? Perhaps we should learn from those people who have endless patience on the check point queues. They are truly brave people–not those who are misled by a few twisted minds and kill others and themslves. Perhaps we should learn from those Israelis, scared at the randomness of bombings as others may be, who speak against the occupation and for human rights for every person. They are courageous people because the cause of peace is less and less popular among ordinary Israelis just like in the United States since 9/11 where it is thought that those peace activists are traitors.

Unless, God forbid, by some cruel accident of history either of the unthinkable things happens — ethnic cleansing of Palestnian people or the elimination of Jewish state–the future of the region lies in a paeceful co-existence of two peoples, Israelis and Palestinians. In order for that to become reality, they have to start living as friends and neighbors. But at the present time, they are moving in the exact opposite direction. The first step could be, stop killing people. Retaliatory killings are not working. One side could be so brave, to blink first and miss a beat and stop. Both sides at the same time will be so much better off of course.

Tad Mitsui

After the bombing (September 19)

Jayyous Letter: After the Bombing

On [August 9] when the suicide bombers struck, we were at a farewell party for a colleague who was returning to the UK. Someone at the party said there had been a bombing today somewhere. Nobody knew anything more. We have no radio nor TV. Our only source of news is street talk. We wondered what kind of retaliatory actions the Israelis would take. But we had a nice party. It is amazing that Muslims can have so much fun and noise without booze. We all went to bed happy affirming our friendship.

Next morning, I was on the noon gate watch with my American colleague, Don. There was an unusual number of jet planes and helicopters buzzing all morning, but we did not take too much notice of it. This is a quiet and peaceful farming village. As we climbed down a dusty, rocky, twisting path between olive trees, a 4 km hike, we noticed a dozen young men lying under the olive trees waiting for the gate to open. "Why not", I said. "It”s hot. Might as well take a nap. You never know when they will show up." But this was an unusually large number of people who would take food to the field for the workers. We didn”t think too much of it and joined them under the tree. I often take a nap in this way, waiting for the jeep”s arrival. We waited and waited, and at 2 pm we decided that there was something funny going on, and phoned the Center for the Defense of Individuals–an Israeli Human Rights organization, that helps Palestinians with information about check points and gates.

We were told that all the check points and gates were closed until further notice. They never give any notice about the gates opening time; you just have to wait. I phoned the EAPPI Jerusalem office to get a bigger picture of the situation. We got the picture, and it was frightening. With the news about an extensive military action everywhere, we decided that it was hopeless to wait and told the farmers so. They started to climb 4 km uphill. Apparently, they were there at the 5:30 a.m. opening, but the military allowed only the older men through. So they were waiting under the tree hoping that they could still work in the afternoon and earn some money. Jesus didn”t speak about those who never showed up in the vineyard, so there was no biblical reference about how much they should be paid! Then a group of workers showed up on the other side of the fence and started to install speed limit signs and no entry signs. A young farmer who was still hanging around trying to learn English from us went and helped them from this side. It was the funniest sight you could imagine. But as soon as those workers disappeared over the horizon, he tore apart the signs he just helped to install. I didn”t know what to do. If he is found, he could be shot: a warning sign says so.

Fast forward three days. Don and I were on the way to Jerusalem. Per Einer, our Norwegian colleague, didn”t want to come because the news sounded too scary to travel. Besides, being a pastor from a country church, he didn”t find Jerusalem attractive. I had a meeting of WCC-EAPPI to attend for the Canadian churches. We reserved a taxi to come at 5 a.m. We thought it was early enough to get to the 9 a.m. meeting since it is only 80 km. But no, I didn”t make it. It was nearly noon when I got there.

There were two check points we knew about. But there were a few more mobile check points that were set up at random. And the checking was thorough. They took a long time to search every vehicle and asked many questions looking at ID. Crying babies, or sick persons, didn”t make any difference. Soldiers looked scared and were more rude than usual. And there was absolutely no respect. Young men treating older persons in such a rude manner is not allowed in any culture, but especially in the Middle East. What amazes me every time I go through the check points in the Occupied Territories is the stoic way people endure such ill treatment. I would lose my temper much sooner than these people, and I am not known for my short temper. I can also imagine how much anger they are piling up inside. And this has been going on for how many years?

Jerusalem was chaotic. Cars and people were bottled up on every street corner in East Jerusalem. I didn”t have time to go to West Jerusalem, so I didn”t see what the atmosphere was like. The German Colony section where the second bomber struck is an area I often visited. This is because, ironically, it is where many Israeli peace groups have their offices and they are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

I was glad to be back in Jayyous. But how long can peace last under such abusive conditions with the fence and the gates? I wonder what will happen when olive harvest time comes? They need hundreds of day workers to pick olives. Can they go through the gate? How long would it take to check that many IDs? Or do the Israelis intend to let the crop fail? The Palestinians have already been told that from yesterday on anyone who stays in the field overnight will be arrested. Is this a signal that the harvest is not going to happen? We decided to test their will by having some of us to stay overnight with the farmers. Tonight, Per Einer is out there. I wonder what will happen? Olive harvest is in the middle of October.

Till next time, peace, salaam, shalom!

Tad Mitsui

Meeting with Bishop Munib Younan

August 26, 2003 in Jerusalem


Bishop Younan focussed on the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) and then expanded his presentation by discussing some of the pressing political and religious issues. The section on the EAPPI can be divided into the role of the different denominations, the program”s origins and the role of the Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs). The political and religious discussion can be broken down into the cause of the conflict, the Christian position, the "Wall," Fundamentalism, and the continued Christian presence in the Holy Land.

Bishop Younan was very interested in our denominations in order to determine which churches are sending Ecumenical Accompaniers. He expressed happiness that the Catholic Church is starting to send members.

The Accompaniment Program began with the call of the local churches to the World Council of Churches. The local churches requested no more statements but instead that people come to "be with us." The EAPPI is administered by the WCC but the ownership belongs to the local churches. The EAPPI was modeled after successful programs in South Africa, Nicaragua, etc.

The role of the EA is to see the truth. The EA is pro-justice. It is important to work with Israeli NGOs so that the program will be seen as balanced. The injustices will be seen quickly once volunteers begin their assignments. Advocacy not activism is expected. EAs see what is happening in order to report to the world what the Palestinians cannot report. The program does not come easily as the Israeli government continues the attempt to deny entry to peace workers if they are thought to be pro-Palestinian. Accompaniers are the eyes, ears and voice of the Palestinian people.

Political and Religious Issues
Cause of the Problem
Suicide bombings complicate the issue because they make Israelis victims for the whole world. The Churches are against this and have stated repeatedly that only non-violence will bring peace. However, as in any violent situation, violence is a symptom of a root cause. The root cause is occupation, which is a sin against human nature. This also hurts the occupiers because they, in this case the Israelis, are living the lie of superiority. The world powers, particularly the United States, are with the Israelis. "Bush has said

Arrested (September 25)

Living in Jerusalem, one can almost forget that there is a conflict and an occupation going on. But in the blink of an eye, the reality of the situation can rear its ugly head. One such reminder occurred recently right outside the EAPPI office, driving home the reality of what it can be like to be a Palestinian even in Jerusalem.

My Swedish colleague, Klaus, and I had just come out of our morning briefing and were on the way to our rooms to pick up some things for our next appointment. We were crossing from our offices to the other side of the road where the guest house is located when we heard a loud commotion. We looked down the hill to where the noise was coming from and saw a man clinging to an iron fence while three Border Policemen were trying to pry his hands loose. We both rushed down the hill to see what the problem was.

We were astonished when we realized that we knew this unlucky individual. It was Murad†, who works in the building where our Jerusalem office is located. Klaus and I tried to talk to the policemen, but they ignored us completely and kept shouting something in Hebrew. These three officers continued trying to extricate Murad from the fence and into their military jeep.

Murad looked absolutely petrified and he was turning blue with fear. The shouting grew louder and the sight of machine guns loomed ominously. We didn”t know what to do so we backed off. Murad finally gave in to the fatigue and was taken into custody. As soon as the jeep disappeared down the hill, Tom Connors†, Murad”s boss, ran out of the office building. Tom was sure that Murad”s work documents, his "papers," were all in order. Palestinians from the occupied territories need special documents in order to work in Jerusalem; otherwise they are subject to arrest.

Later, as Klaus and I were rushing to our appointment in a taxi, we discussed the overpowering feelings of guilt we felt about our helplessness in such a desperate situation. Just at that moment, Tom called asking us to meet him at the police station so that we could be witnesses for Murad”s defence. We welcomed the opportunity to come to his aid.

Robert†, who also works for Tom and is fluent in both Hebrew and Arabic, was already waiting for us when we got to the police station. He told us that the police were charging Murad with assault of the law enforcement officers. "That”s a lie," I said to myself. We saw the incident and, more importantly, we know Murad. Hitting a police man? Never! We went to the entrance and asked to see Murad but they only let Robert go in after a thorough check of his papers.

So, Klaus and I waited outside for Tom. He eventually arrived and we went to the entrance together. "No way!" shouted the policeman. "The man you arrested is my employee, I must see him," said Tom. "No, you can”t. Go, just go!" he shouted in response. His behaviour was just like that of the three officers who took Murad away. "Can I see your superior officer?" Tom asked. "I am the superior officer!" he replied. This seemed to be a blatant lie since the superior officer would not be guarding the entrance. Tom decided to use another approach and called his attorney.

We waited outside for about 40 minutes, the young policemen continually looking at us from inside. It must have been a rare sight to see three foreigners standing outside of the police station. Then, Murad came out with Robert, looking tired but smiling. "I threatened to bring serious charges against the police, and told them that I had two witnesses who saw it all," Robert said in explaining the startling turn of events.

I have never personally seen any police force act so ruthlessly and without any regard for individual rights in my life. "It”s like a bad comedy — a caricature of a police state," Klaus said. But we saw it all happen right in front of us.

Tad Mitsui

† Names changed for this report

Peace and Justice Groups in Israel (September 27)

I have been in Jerusalem since September 20th accompanying the team of Swedish Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) who are meeting with peace and justice groups based in Israel and run by Israelis. I have not been relocated for good and I am still hoping that I will be able to return to Jayyous soon.

The reason I am temporarily working in Jerusalem is because the United Church found that the travel insurance I was carrying, for accident, illness, injuries, and death, was only valid in Israel proper and did not cover the West Bank and Gaza. This necessitated my being pulled out of Jayyous. In order for me to be insured in the Palestinian territories, I have to have war and terrorism coverage. I am here reluctantly, waiting for the church to find the proper coverage. The whole situation does not make sense to me. I wonder if the insurance companies realize that suicide bombers attack Israeli cities like Jerusalem, Haifa, and Tel Aviv, not a West bank village like Jayyous.

While I am here in Jerusalem, the Program Coordinator said it was fine for me to travel with the Israel Team of the EAPPI, which consists of three Swedish EAs. The team”s mandate is to visit selected Peace and Justice groups in Israel to find ways for the EAPPI to support and work with them. The selection of these groups is based on whether they have the same aims and objectives as those of the EAPPI. Towards that end, the selected groups all have the same objectives as the EAPPI: to end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, to ensure human rights and justice for both Palestinians and Israelis, and ultimately to bring peace to the region. It is a very worthwhile task, and I am thoroughly enjoying it.

We walk a lot in West Jerusalem where most of the Jewish Israelis in the city live. We even passed the area called German Colony, where the most recent suicide bomb attack occurred. I was once in the café that was struck, two years ago. People there are afraid and, in some way, this is a kind of accompaniment in solidarity with people who live in fear. German Colony also happens to be where some of the Israeli peace groups, like Bat Shalom,* have their offices.

The work of making greater connections with the Israeli peace movement had already begun before the current EAPPI Israel Team started its efforts. A survey was conducted in June by two Swedish researchers. The goal of the work, commissioned by the EAPPI and the Swedish Council of Churches, was to list the Israeli organizations which would fit the EAPPI criteria. The result of this survey was a comprehensive list of Israeli organizations with which the EAPPI could work. So, we have an excellent guide to follow.

Last Wednesday, when Israelis were preparing for their New Year — Rosh Hashanah — they were startled to see in the newspapers a letter signed by 25 Israel Air Force pilots declaring their intention to refuse to carry out targeted attacks to assassinate leaders of "terrorist" organizations in the occupied territories. This letter came as a profound shock to the Israeli society because the Air Force pilots are an elite group — the pride of the nation. Many of the alumni occupy important positions in business, government, and politics. In the letter, they said, "We, who were taught to love Israel and contribute to the Zionist enterprise, refuse to take part in attacks on civilian population centres. It is immoral and unjustifiable." The Jerusalem Post, which is owned by a former Canadian, Lord Black, of course, was full of condemnation of the action by those pilots.

I think my temporary assignment in Jerusalem is particularly important and interesting for me, because many Canadians do not realize how diverse opinions in the Israeli population are. It is refreshing to hear vigorous debates and disputes on public policies, or even a severe criticism of the actions of the military. Meanwhile, in Canada, there are those who call us anti-Semites whenever we criticize the Israeli government over actions we believe to be violations of human rights or international laws. These critics so often intimidate us. We very often criticize our own government or the United States. But we love Canada and we are not anti-American or racists. Likewise, we believe that the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories is wrong, not just for Palestinians, but also for Israel. We meet many Israelis who believe likewise.

For all the above-mentioned reasons, it is so helpful to meet with groups such as Rabbis for Human Rights. They have asked us to participate in their project to profile the Palestinian families whose homes are earmarked for demolition, often for the purpose of expanding the settlements in the occupied territories. They want to use the material to let the Israeli public know how morally wrong the occupation is. Often, they take direct actions. For example, when they know about the imminent arrival of a bulldozer, they stay with the family in their home. They think that the presence of EAs is particularly useful because Israelis are not permitted to enter certain areas of the occupied territories.

"Women in Black" is another major player in the Israeli peace movement. It was started by Israeli women in January 1988. They wore black and started to demonstrate every week, on the same day of the week and at the same time in the city centre, often at a major intersection. They silently carry placards that say, "End the Occupation." They are like the "Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo" in Argentina. Those Israeli women are still maintaining their demonstrations, now often joined by men. Of course, "Women in Black" is everywhere in the world today, demonstrating against violence on women, poverty, war, racism, and many other justice issues. I joined them once in Ottawa in a demonstration against homelessness.

Recently, an activist in "Women in Black" facilitated the formation of the "Coalition of Women for a Just Peace" with some Jewish and Palestinian feminist organizations. There are several member organizations already. "Women in Black" and Bat Shalom are two of which I have known for some time. This group is a mix of Zionist and Non-Zionist organizations but they are united in their call to end the occupation and negotiate a just solution. Most of them are volunteer organizations. Only Bat Shalom (Daughters of Peace) has an office and staff. They want EAs to participate in demonstrations. So, we went with them to Tulkarem to demonstrate against the separation wall. Palestinian partners did the same on the other side. Several "Women in Black" went to the wall, and presented the symbolic gifts of school supplies through a gap on the barrier. Bat Shalom, because it has an office, is willing to accept the services of interns and volunteer office helpers. That could be something that EAs can provide. Otherwise, EAs can always participate in demonstrations to show the solidarity of the worldwide Ecumenical community.

Some people may complain that those Israeli activists represent such a small minority of the whole population. I don”t believe in this assumption. I believe that the size of peace-loving people is quite large. Even if it is a tiny minority, so what? Have I seen any of the social justice issues The United Church of Canada advocated winning a landslide victory in the ballot box? We have inherited the tradition of the prophets. And they were more often than not in the wilderness. Listening to Gila of "Women in Black" under a huge leafy tree in a Jerusalem park, munching a falafel sandwich, or sipping spicy sweet tea made by farmer Ahmed under an olive tree waiting forever for a gate to open in Jayyous, I can assure all that we love peace and each other. There is hope, even here in Israel or in Palestine. There is hope.

On Shabbat of Rosh Hashanah

A Suicide Attack in Haifa (October 6)

It was good to be back in Jayyous after an unplanned absence. It even rained, as though to celebrate my return. The eucalyptus, jacaranda, and fig trees lining the street on which we live, looked greener and welcoming. I arrived too late to catch the gang of olive pickers even though I left Jerusalem at 6:00 a.m. The gate was closed by the time I got here so I had to look forward to the next day to join the joyous olive harvest. The olive harvest is the very life blood of many communities in Palestine, Jayyous being no different. This year”s, however, is complicated by the presence of the "separation fence."

The next morning I went to the South gate, which is used mainly by school children who live on the other side of the fence. Since it was harvest time, some farmers were waiting for the opening of the gate there as well. The soldiers came on time on this morning but they were different. Two of them were grey-haired older men, one of whom was even wearing a pony tail which made him look like an overgrown hippie. The rest were scared-looking young kids.

This was the beginning of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and the regular soldiers were on holiday. A representative from Yesh Gvul told me about some activities planned for Yom Kippur this year. Yesh Gvul is an organization of reservist officers who refuse to participate in the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, many facing jail time because of their convictions. This year the plan was to go to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon”s ranch in the Negev in order to demand that he repent and atone for his multiple sins against Palestinians.

The reservists who were serving today, however, had some bad news for the farmers. The gate would be closed for four days during the Yom Kippur holiday. Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights told me that it was difficult to argue against the closure because Yom Kippur is the most important holiday on the Jewish calendar. I understand that, since we impose Christian holidays on non-Christians in Canada as well without giving the individual the right not to observe the holiday and work instead. My problem about this particular closure is that the farmers had no warning about it. The harvest is the most important time of the year for farmers, but they were given no chance to schedule accordingly. Farmers, donkeys, and tractors were forced to turn back, seemingly to observe a holiday from a faith that is not their own.

Before we headed back, my fellow gate watchers and I agreed to phone and E-mail everyone here and abroad to inform them of the situation and ask them to try to change the minds of the occupying authorities. For a few brief moments, there were some signs of compromise — a hint that the gates would be open the next day. But the news of a suicide bombing in Haifa smashed all hopes of such a possibility. That evening, my fellow Ecumenical Accompaniers Don, Per Einar, and I were invited to dinner at the home of the Imam of the local mosque. Abu Sameh, the Imam, and his son were beaming with happiness. His son had just become an imam and was waiting to be assigned to his first mosque. The Imam said that this was a dinner for all the clergy in the village, the three of us all being current or retired ministers. Though we were from two religions, we were all partaking from one common dish of the delicious chicken and rice. While sharing food and laughter, there was a public announcement over the village P.A. system: all the gates would be shut until further notice, due to the military emergency triggered by the suicide bombing in Haifa. All of us fell silent.

A young woman from Jenin, a fledgling lawyer, had killed herself and many other innocent people, including young children. Pure madness and evil. Abu Sameh offered the following theory on the suicide bombings. "Sharon does not want the suicide bombers to stop so that he has an excuse to continue the military operations with devastating consequences."

Abu Sameh reminded us that the number of Palestinian casualties increases greatly because of the consequent military operations following suicide bombings. In time, the living conditions of Palestinians will become so intolerable that Sharon will be able to rid the land of Palestinians without Israel actually expelling them. Palestinians will give up hope and just leave.

"That”s why Sharon will never stop the targeted assassinations of extremist leaders, even though it has been proven that they do not stop the bombers. It is a provocation. Sharon is responsible for the deaths of innocent Israelis," the Imam continued. "Besides, where do we go? The other Arab states don”t like us. The Gulf States expelled us. Palestinians are too clever and take jobs away from local Arabs."

"I am not sure. I have to think about this," I responded. "However, we have to have hope."

On Wednesday, October 8th, many people were expected in Jayyous to join in the olive harvest, including many peace-loving Israelis. The event was to be sponsored by Rabbis for Human Rights. But would the gates be open so that this celebration of people from three different faiths — Christians, Muslims and Jews — working together could go on?

Writing from Jayyous

Military Order: Gates completely closed in Jayyous for 10 Days (October 9)

The powder keg that is Jayyous showed some signs of igniting recently when the gates that are supposed to allow farmers access to their fields remained closed through the Yom Kippur holiday and beyond. The gates were originally supposed to be reopened on the Tuesday following the end of Yom Kippur but that never happened. Instead, farmers were left to contemplate another lost day in their olive harvest, the life blood of this community.

The farmers were all ready to go harvesting in order to recover the lost four days following Yom Kippur. The soldiers came, but they didn”t open the gate. The already tense situation became even more volatile as the angry farmers demanded the right to make a living. One young man became so enraged that after the soldiers left he started to shake the gate. An old man stopped him so that cooler minds prevailed this time.

The Tuesday after Yom Kippur was supposed to be a big day, a solidarity day with the Palestinian farmers. Many Israeli and international peace activists were planning to join the farmers to pick olives, including from those trees near the settlements. Israeli peace organizations such as Rabbis for Human Rights, Women in Black and many other solidarity groups from other parts of the world were coming to help in the all-important harvest. Many of my fellow Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) from all over Israel and Palestine came to Jayyous to join in solidarity. We had an almost party-like atmosphere at our house the night before with wall-to-wall people sleeping everywhere. I cooked ratatouille–the best from my repertoire–for 12 people.

The following day, Wednesday October 8th, fellow EA Anna and I went to the south gate at 7 a.m. I was concerned about the school children whose home unfortunately is located on the wrong side of the fence. A jeep came by but didn”t stop–an ominous sign. There were two young mothers, three babies between them, who were standing on the side. They were from Jordan, visiting relatives in Jayyous and on their way home. They had a taxi waiting for them but they couldn”t get to it because of the closed gate. They were on the verge of tears but then they did the unthinkable. They started to climb the fence while wearing traditional Muslim attire. I couldn”t believe my eyes. Many men rushed to help them. Even I wouldn”t do that–going over the fence with barbed wire and all, and I wear pants. They went over one by one, then the babies were brought over, and finally five heavy suitcases–all over the fence. Desperation will cause people to do things they wouldn”t consider under ordinary circumstances. I was immobile watching the whole scene while Anna went to help the women climbing down the fence. I broke out in cold sweat, not so much because of the danger of climbing up and down the fence but because of the soldiers. They are under orders to shoot those who would climb over the fence and they can show up at any time. Fortunately they managed to complete the long process before the soldiers returned. What a relief!

We waited, and waited as the sun moved higher in the sky and the temperature, both literally and figuratively, grew hotter and hotter. The children gave up and went home, losing yet another day of school with no end in sight. Some people sat down in the shade of the nearest olive trees. There were 20 farmers and eight donkeys. A woman in traditional black Palestinian clothes brought me a cup of strong Arab coffee. “Shukran! Thank you,” I said. “The best coffee in the world!” In the shade of a tree, Mohammed, one of the farmers, told me that he lost about 150 trees when the fence was constructed. They just came, took the land, and uprooted centuries-old trees, he said. Olive trees are a symbol of life here, of belonging to the land–almost sacred. He has lost about a third of his possessions.

I received a phone call, which I asked Mohammed to translate to the others there. The situation at the north gate finally boiled over as farmers broke the lock and walked to the other side, international activists joining them. Most of our colleagues were also at the north gate. With that action, any hope of the south gate opening was dashed. Mohammed wanted international people to come to the south gate as well so they could do the same thing. But there was no one left, just Anna and me. Anna agreed to walk the 40 minutes down to the north gate to see what could be done.

Anna phoned and informed me that the incapacitated north gate would remain open until 6 p.m. So it seemed that it would be possible for farmers to get to their fields, if they could get to the north gate. The farmers with me were infuriated. “Our trees are right here,” they said.

Gaining access to their own land would require a 40-minute walk to the north gate and then another 40-minute walk back to their trees; a trip that would take a few minutes had it not been for the fence. Instead of moving to the north gate, they started to shake the south gate violently until it broke wide open. But as soon as it broke open, they got scared and quickly moved away. By the time the soldiers came around, there was nobody there except me. I tried to talk to the soldiers, but they completely ignored my presence. They calmly took a heavy chain out of the jeep and tied the gate with it, padlocked it, and went away. I thought that any hope of the gate opening anytime soon was gone.

But the farmers came back, one by one, with their donkeys. About half of the original men and women returned. Mohammed asked me again if internationals would come to accompany them to other side. I phoned a person from another international organization, and waited. At about 10 a.m., Anna phoned to inform me that there was a complete closure of all gates and check points in the District of Qalquilia, of which Jayyous is a part, for 10 days. The area had been declared a “military zone” on the spot. The people of Jayyous would be prisoners in their own village with no ability to go to work. I asked Mohammed to relay the information to the people, which he did. Women started to cry before heading home. On the way back to the house, one of the younger farmers said in his halting English, “We will break it tonight.” I didn”t have the nerve to say, “Don”t do it.” I knew very well that it would be very unwise to do such a thing–break open the gate. There could be severe retaliation on the part of the military and the whole community would suffer.

Helicopters were buzzing overhead following the holiday of Yom Kippur. I wondered what their purpose was. Was all this in retaliation for the suicide bombing in Haifa? Would punishing the farmers of Jayyous bring the dead back? Abdul, another of the farmers, gave me a ride back home on his donkey, the poor beast carrying two men on its back. But it sure was nice to have a ride, after a morning under the hot, scorching sun. There had been quite a bit of unwanted excitement but my mind was dark with a foreboding sense of doom.