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A letter from Kate Taber in Israel-Palestine

July 2014

Greetings friends and family,

The house of the Arafat family was ransacked and their property damaged after the Israeli army raided it in the early morning of June 16 in Balata refugee camp near the West Bank city of Nablus as part of Operation Brother's Keeper.
Photo Credit: ActiveStills photographer Ahmad Al-Bazz

I write during what is the most difficult period I have ever experienced in Israel and Palestine. At this moment riots and clashes are happening in various places in Jerusalem, some near to my home, in the wake of all that has happened the past few weeks. On June 12 three Israeli teens were kidnapped as they were hitchhiking from their yeshiva (religious school) in a West Bank settlement. Following the kidnapping, Israel launched a major military operation dubbed “Operation Brother’s Keeper,” a security sweep and closure of the West Bank. It has been the largest such military operation in seven years. The operation searched for the kidnapped teenagers in the Hebron area, but the invasion went far beyond what was necessary for the search.  It seemed Israel was taking advantage of the situation to purge the West Bank of anyone or any institution that had any ties at all to Hamas.

It is difficult to imagine the extent of the disruption and chaos caused by the invasion. The army raided centers of most major Palestinian cities, despite the Oslo Accord that considers these areas under total Palestinian security and administrative control. Hebron, the largest populated district, was put under a complete travel ban. Soldiers invaded thousands of Palestinian homes, and widespread destruction against the homes and property was reported. Over 570 Palestinians were arrested in these two weeks, most taken from their homes in the middle of the night without charge and many of them teenagers or even children. Home demolitions left dozens homeless in the past two weeks. The Arab American University in Jenin and Bir Zeit University near Ramallah were raided by Israeli troops—2 of about 1,000 Palestinian institutions that have been raided. Attacks by armed Israeli settlers against Palestinians have increased as well, including attacks involving live ammunition. Over 100 Palestinians have been wounded. Six Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops in the West Bank, including a 14-year-old. These numbers do not include at least two who were reported to have died from heart attacks during military raids of their homes or those killed in Gaza. Since those numbers were published a 16-year-old Palestinian in Jenin was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers.

Israeli soldiers walk during clashes in the West Bank city of Hebron, after the Israeli army raided the city June 16 as part of Operation Brother's Keeper.
Photo Credit: ActiveStills photographer Oren Ziv

Those numbers also do not include the attacks that have occurred since the bodies of the kidnapped teens were found. Israelis, mostly minors, started rioting in the streets yesterday, looking for Palestinians to attack. Many were injured and hospitalized. This morning we woke to news that the body of a Palestinian teenager was found, assumed kidnapped and murdered in an act of revenge. As I write, clashes are taking place in the city, even just one neighborhood over.

The number of Palestinian dead now numbers almost four times the number of Israelis dead since the kidnapping. What is enough revenge? That doesn’t even take into account the misery and destruction inflicted by the massive military operation over the past few weeks. There has been no global outcry against—or even a mention of—the murder of the Palestinians killed since June 12. How do we allow ourselves to value some lives so much more than others?

An Israeli soldier shoots rubber coated bullets during clashes with Palestinian youth in the West Bank city of Hebron, after the Israeli army raided the city June 16 as part of Operation Brother's Keeper.
Photo Credit: ActiveStills photographer Oren Ziv

In the midst of this deeply troubling context, it has been a joy to hear from so many local partners—from Lutherans, Jews, Anglicans, Quakers and others—thankful for the General Assembly’s vote to divest from three U.S. companies—Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard, and Motorola Solutions—whose products are used to further the Israeli occupation of Palestine.  Many are touched to know that people around the world hear their suffering and want to respond. Many applaud us for abiding by our own polity and values even when it was so difficult to do so. Many wanted us to know that there are Jewish Israelis grateful for this kind of nonviolent action. I know it’s the company I keep—our wonderful partners here seeking peace with justice—but every single person I’ve seen since the vote has offered praise and thanks for its outcome.

Sahar, an Israeli Jewish partner working with the American Friends Service Committee here in Jerusalem, said: “The past couple of weeks in Israel-Palestine have been hard on all of us—the kidnapping of three Israeli youth, the military raids into all Palestinian cities, the curfews, the Palestinians killed during this large-scale military operation in the West Bank, and the bombing of Gaza. All of these serve as a painful reminder of the realities of the occupation, and the prices our two communities pay for the continuation of Israeli occupation. In such times, hearing that nonviolent tactics, such as calls for boycott and divestment, are being heard and successfully implemented around the world gives us hope that nonviolence can be used to bring this violence to an end."

Safa’, a Palestinian partner at the YWCA of Palestine, said: “Although the vote passed by a thin difference—7 votes—it was really, really the best news we’ve heard in a long time. It gave us hope. It meant that people, if they were informed well, will stand by what’s right, what’s just, and be in line with their principles and values. It meant that money/profits should never be more important than human beings. I can say we slept with a smile that tomorrow could be better.…I tell our Presbyterian friends who voted for or against divestment, we are struggling to live freely and in dignity. We have lives and dreams that are not very different from yours. But sometimes little things are really dreams for us....The very basic things that you take for granted as an American we have to struggle to accomplish, i.e., the right to education, the right to mobility, the right to carry a passport that says you are a citizen of Palestine (the right to citizenship), etc. So, rest assured that your vote has an impact on us. It assured us that you could hear the voice of the oppressed, that you chose to stand by justice and human rights. For that, I and my family genuinely thank you."

The Muslims’ sacred month of Ramadan began on Sunday, and the pace of life has already slowed down significantly. Ironic and painful that this holy month comes at a time of such incredible hatred and violence.

I cannot thank you all enough for the notes and prayers you have sent my way in the past days and months—it sustains me especially during this difficult time. This ministry continues to rely on your generous prayers, encouragement, and financial support.

May hope and mercy abound both here and wherever this letter finds you.
Kate

The 2014 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, Israel/Palestine/Jerusalem, pp. 333-335

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