Update from the 2016 Mosaic of Peace Conference
(These blog entries provide brief reports and insights from our conference in Israel and Palestine. They are written by our participants Anne French and Emily Oshinskie and are neither comprehensive nor in depth reports, but simply glimpses into the amazing experiences we are having together.)
On Sunday, we attended Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church for a service in Arabic and portions in English. Rev. Victor Makari, Presbyterian Church (USA) Liaison for Ecumenical Partnership in Israel and Palestine – whom we met the night before – preached in Arabic and highlighted for our group in English the important points of his sermon and welcomed us to this church and community.
Sunday afternoon came with a juxtaposition of two speakers: Mayor Oded Revivi of the Israeli settlement, Efrat, and the granddaughter of the Founder of the Palestinian farm, Amal Nassarof the cooperative and education center, Tent of Nations.
Mayor Revivi greeted us at the municipal office in Efrat and told us about this community of 30,000 Israeli residents and his mission to have “mutually beneficial, friendly relationships with its Arab neighbors.” He went on to explain to our group that he thinks that Efrat is succeeding in the process of peace. Mayor Revivi pointed to a map of Efrat with Palestinian towns to the east of Efrat’s perimeter and showed that the Israeli government started to pave the way for the border but the town opted out of this part of “The Green Line” in an effort to participate in the process of peace. In efforts to create peaceful relationships with the neighboring Palestinian towns, he says that his family and his community of Efrat have cultivated interpersonal relationships with a few Palestinian families. However, as soon as their Palestinian neighbors hear of the media coming around, these friendships are shut down. However, Mayor Revivi says he can hardly blame his neighbors. Peace is not some simple covenant here in the Holy Land. It’s more politically and emotionally loaded.
From the Israeli settlement we drove a short distance to the land owned by the Nassar family, now called the Tent of Nations, a beautiful piece of hilltop property that has been in this family for generations and is now surrounded by 5 Israeli settlements. We met with three members of the third generation of Nassar family owners: Amal (which means “hope), Daher and George and one fourth generation family member, Matilda. We were met by Daher out on the road at the place where Israel has blocked access for security reasons. As we walked into the property we encounter a goat farmer and noticed the incredible view and vegetation on the property: vineyards, apricot, olive, almond, fig and apple trees.
Daher explained that every summer, they conduct a two-week camp for children from both Muslim and Christian families. The camp helps the children find common ground through community painting and other art projects. As we sat down and listened to Amal’s narrative and the history of this land, she told us how hard it is for Palestinians to own, maintain and retain their land. Many obstacles exist, from access to water and electricity to building restrictions, demolition orders and high taxes, making it a very difficulty situation for Palestinians to continue to live in the occupied territories. The water for the tea that the Nassar Family served us, for instance, had to be purchased and carried onto their land. To conclude our time, Amal told us the heartbreaki
ng story of May 2014 when a group of Israeli settlers came onto their land just before harvest and uprooted over 1,500 olive trees, burying the fruit-bearing portions and taking the trunks and larger limbs for their saleable wood. Such treatment by neighbors is hard to imagine, but the Nassar family, with the help of the international community, is steadfast in their hope to remain on their land alongside their Israeli neighbors. “We want peace and equal rights for all,” Amal told us. And across the valley, in the settlement of Efrat, Mayor Revivi is working to block the completion of the separation wall, believing that it neither brings peace nor security. “We don’t need walls to live in peace with our Palestinian neighbors,” said Revivi.