Olives for Hope

If the world is ever going to come to peace,
humanity can no longer be recognized 
on a case by case basis.


That which is hidden

Posted on August 20, 2011 at 12:15 AM

 Each one of us has something to do here that can be done by no one else. If someone else could fulfill your destiny, then they would be in your place, and you would not be here. It is in the depths of your life that you will discover the invisible necessity that has brought you here. When you begin to decipher this, your gift and giftedness come alive. Your heart quickens and the urgency of living rekindles your creativity. ~ Anam Cara, John O'Donahue

I have spoken and written many times about my belief that each one of us has a special concern laid on our hearts. Recently I had the honor of speaking to several young people about that belief and how I am following my path. I encouraged them to find that thing that calls them forward into joy. It was good to be reminded of that as my preparations to leave in September feel very scattered amongst everything else I have to do before then.

Several friends have read and loved Ekhart Tolle's books. I have both "A New Earth" and "The Power of Now". The problem is I have never been able to read very far in either book. (I have also never gotten past the first chapter in the first book of Harry Potter  (another series of books I feel that I am supposed to like). Tolle comes across to me as completely arrogant and detached from his own humanity. The tag line for his official (for fee) website is "Experience his teachings and find inner peace". I could be wrong, like I said I have not read much of either book. John O'Donahue, on the other hand writes with a warmth and generosity of spirit that draws me in and on to the next page. I am rereading his book Anam Cara which I actually recommended last week to the professor teaching my spirituality in counseling section of residency.

I often think the inner world is like a landscape. Here in our limestone landscape there are endless surprises. It is lovely to be on top of a mountain and to discover a spring well gushing from beneath the heavy rocks. Such a well has a long biography of darkness and silence. - J.O'D.

This week I am camping in northern Michigan finishing up my end of quarter projects. I understand why writers choose special places to write. The opportunity to embrace solitude and to concentrate on just one or two things is wonderful. Even though all of the other shoulds are waiting to ambush me when I get home, and the fact that leaving for Palestine is just over a month away has me near panic (sooo much to do!), sitting here watching the ripples on the lake helps to navigate that inner landscape that O'Donahue describes.

It reminds me of the village lights in Galilee that I am so fond of. If you focus on each light it seems individual and separate, but if you widen your view you can see a beautiful puddle of light. And then if you widen your view even farther you can see how each light puddle is connected to the next with a river of light. In life it is not so different. We can choose to see the events of our lives as unconnected bits of our history, or we can widen our view to see the connectedness that creates the landscape of our soul.

There is such an intimate connection between the way we look at things and what we actually discover. If you can learn to look at yourself and your life in a gentle, creative and adventurous way, you will be eternally surprised at what you find. - J.O'D.

There have been a couple of comments made to me recently that knocked me back a little. Some people seem supportive at first and then something else starts to leak out. I could choose to look at my involvement with Israel/Palestine through their eyes, as a "one of event", disconnected from the rest of my life experiences. But, by standing on the shore of solitude, I can see how everything is coming together and preparing me for the next chapter.

I started out in my twenties thinking my life would unfold a certain way. Those expectations led me down one path which divided into another and yet another again. Somewhere along the way those experiences (and some wonderful friends) prepared me to say yes to Palestine. In figuring out how to move that passion to the next phase I find myself back in school. Now I am starting to see how these seemingly separate threads are coming together.

We are earthen vessels that hold the treasure. Yet, aspects of the treasure are darker and more dangerous than we allow ourselves to imagine.- J.O'D.

Of course, I have hopes for this trip and I know some of them will come to disappointment, and some things may take me to those dangerous inner spaces, however the light continues to get brighter and I am excited to see where it leads me.

Now, back to the practical - finishing a term paper and oh yeah, fundraising!

"life unfolds itself in mysteries ways." - Khalil Gibran


Pt. 2: Every Picture Tells a Story

Posted on August 5, 2011 at 4:35 PM


There are 5 things in life you cannot recover: A stone...after it's thrown. A word...after it is said. An occasion...after it's missed. The time...after it's gone. A person...after they die. Life is short. Break the rules. Forgive quickly. Kiss slowly. Love truly. Laugh uncontrollably. And never regret anything that made you smile, Enjoy Life! - Anonymous

Messing up is a common bond all people share – we all do it, and more than once. Do you remember as a kid getting and giving “do-overs”? The chance to start over – try again, is such a gift, I wonder why you never hear gown-ups saying “It’s a do-over”. But, we can give ourselves do-overs too and see each new day as a chance to try again, to do better. And, you don’t have to mess up to want a do-over (although, those can be the best kind). Sometimes it is a good memory that you want to re-live; a feeling or place to revisit. When I go back to Palestine, “there never seems to be enough time to do the things you wanna do, once you find them…” [Jim Croce] But with six months ahead of me I am already accumulating quite the list of moments I hope to “do-over”. The pictures above represent just some of them.

1. Jenin – I visited Jenin during my first trip and I have not been back since. Friends from the Palestinian Fair Trade Association will be there in October and I hope I will be able to catch up with them. The horse in the picture is made from scraps of vehicles destroyed (including an ambulance) when the Israeli Military bulldozed the refugee camp (See the film Jenin, Jenin).

2. Haifa – My time in Haifa was very short and I would certainly like to visit again and explore more. There was a restaurant that had a wonderful lava cake desert thing – hmmmm. I would also like to see Akko. I took the train there and spent some time lost on the highway, but I did not have an opportunity to see much more, although I did have a wonderful falafel sandwich there. (That was a strange afternoon.)

3. Sea of Galilee –This photo was taken at the Church of the Beatitudes. I felt an almost spiritual connection to the Sea of Galilee. Wherever I was in Galilee I always oriented myself in terms of where I was in respect to its location…And sunsets were incredible! I always have been a water baby, so I would love to find a place to go swimming (I think) and the idea of camping on the lake has not lost its appeal. I hope to go back to the Church of the Beatitudes and this time go to Tagba as well.

4. Carmel Mountains – I would like to see the effects of the fire and talk to people affected. I have also heard something about a bridge that I “just have to see”.

5. Golan –it wasn’t until I left last time that I found out how much more there is to Golan than what I saw. I hope I can find someone to show me more, and I have heard it is possible to kayak there….

6. Jerusalem – there is so much to experience I don’t think I will ever be done discovering Jerusalem.

7. Sunset on the Sea of Galilee - see #3

8. The villages of 48 – I need to learn more about the stories of the villages. My friend Nimer will help me to connect with people from Al Bassa who will take me to the ruins of the village.

9. Imad and Munira – Part of my Palestinian family. Munira made me chamomile tea and chicken soup when I was really sick.

9. Eilaboun – Eilaboun, perhaps because the memories I have specific to that village, has a special place in my heart, and  I love this view. Last year I left just before the anniversary of the massacre. This year I hope to go to the commemoration. There is also a group that gets together in the old church for something they call music for peace. I was invited to the last one they held, but of course I wasn’t in Israel then. I have been told it will happen again while I am there.

10. Bi'ram - See #8

11. Michael and Merriam and the entire Rishmawi clan – more Palestinian family. I will be living in the “Rishmawi neighborhood” and am looking forward to telling Rogeen, "Mabrook" on her marriage in person! Oh – I need to figure out a wedding gift….

12. Hebron – one of the most depressing places I have ever been. I hope this time I will get to see another face of Hebron.

13. Kanafe anywhere – but I do want to make it to Nablus again and visit the folks at Project Hope and Pioneer School.

14. Tiberius – I don’t know why I never made it last time, but this time I definitely want to explore Tiberius

15. The kids – always so open and engaging – it s all for them. These guys were playing soccer in the alleys in the Old City near their school - So different from the Jewish children playing just five minutes (if that) away. So sad to grow up that way. 

16. Majdal Shams/Golan – see #5

17. Dome of the Rock – this time I will make it in time to go inside! - Yes, I will!

18. Nazareth – I would like to get a sandwich and find this park again – good memories.

19. Herodian [the flat topped mountain in the distance]– Another site I have never made it to – although I saw it in the distance every morning last year. It is going to happen this year!

20. Daher’s Vineyard – This is near Bethlehem. I want to go and learn more about the peace building camp they have for children.

21. Celebrations – You can learn alot about people from what and how they celebrate. The harvest, my birthday, Christmas, New Years and Christmas again; I am looking forward to all of the celebrations - I just have to find people to celebrate with!

22. Learning backgammon – Once upon a time I knew how to play, but haven’t in a very long time. I want to get back in the game!


There is no place like home

Posted on July 29, 2011 at 11:58 PM

I have said before that in my travels to Palestine, one of the lessons I have learned is that it is possible to be homesick for somewhere you have never lived. I recently saw a comment by another activist who said “Palestine is like an incurable virus that gets into your blood.” It is one of those intangible things that you have to experience to really understand. Some might even say it is a past life memory – I don’t know about that, but what I do know is that it feels like home.

I have also said that I feel a sense of guilt because it is easy, at least relatively, for me to travel to Palestine. I definitely have to plan around concerns about how security will treat me and each time I go I am a little more nervous that they will decide I don’t need to come back. However, that is nothing compared to the struggles experienced by my friends who, by rights should be able to travel there freely, but can’t just because of their Palestinian heritage.

It is not just that it is difficult for them, for some it is not possible at all. It depends on “what kind of Palestinian” they are. If you are Palestinian with Israeli citizenship you can travel abroad and return, just like any other Israeli. Well, not exactly. You may be subjected to increased interrogation by security upon arriving and/or departing. The one thing Israeli security is open about is its policy of racial profiling. The same is true if you are a Palestinian who, because your family was expelled in 1948 and became citizens of another country, never received Palestinian ID. In that case you can travel to Israel on your foreign passport, American, Canadian etc. However, because you are Palestinian with a connection to the lands that became Israel, you should be prepared to spend some ”quality” time with the “welcoming committee”. If you are a Palestinian from Gaza or the West Bank, well visiting within Israel is pretty much not happening…. And they are certainly not able to fly through the Ben Gurion airport (they have to exit through Jordan).

Recently when I was talking with my friend from the Al Bassa community in Lansing, he told me about a group of Canadian ‘Bassawis’ who traveled for the first time to their native village of Al Bassa in what is now Israel. (Earlier in the year I posted Nimer’s story of the events of 1948 that resulted in the expulsion of the villagers of Al Bassa.) I contacted a couple of the women from the group to ask them how they experienced the trip.

Helene is 27 and Rolla is 24. Both were born in Kuwait and moved to Canada when they were toddlers. Although they never lived in Al Bassa, they both expressed an immediate connection to the land of their ancestors.

Rolla - This trip was amazing as it gave me the opportunity to see first-hand where my family comes from. I felt bittersweet - happy, because I finally got to see the beautiful country. Sad - because not a lot of Palestinians will ever get to see what I saw, including those in the West Bank or Gaza. Also a bit angry to see what my people have been stripped of, and robbed. I have never seen or smelled such breathtaking things. The olive trees, countless mountains and hills, lush green forests. The Palestinian people, especially from the Al Bassa community that still live in Palestine were so humble and welcoming. The food tasted sweeter there. The sun was warmer there.

They each recounted their experience with Israeli security on arriving at Ben Gurion Airport. After a 13 hour flight, they endured a seven hour interrogation because they are Palestinian.

Helene - The issue that stuck out for me the most was being held in the airport for 7 hours upon arrival in Tel Aviv. This unnecessary prolonged and repetitive interrogation was quite ridiculous. I could understand wanting to protect everyone and keep the place safe, but extensive interrogation towards people of Arab descent was clearly biased, unprovoked, and the epitome of discrimination. It almost felt like the authorities were trying to deter us or other people like us (Palestinians) from returning to visit - even if they are Canadian, even if they are simply there to visit the holy land and the land of their ancestors, with no political agendas - as we were. I will never forget how frustrated our travel group was after a 13 hour flight, to be put through over 7 hours of interrogation simply because we were of Palestinian descent.

Both also spoke of their profound sadness, (although joy as well) to visit the Albassa church, which is the only remaining building of the village, and it too is being lost to time and vandalism.

Helene - I could almost feel the presence of the people that used to live there before they were exiled. Standing in the beat down church, I almost started crying, knowing that my grandparents and great grandparents probably used to pray in the very same church of their village, a church now in shambles - a church that has been abused time and time again by disrespecting Jews.

Rolla -When we stepped into the church, there was an aura I couldn't explain. I began imaging how my grandparents would have walked through there, would have celebrated milestones and occasions... And with that another hard moment was hearing the stories of vandalism and disrespect by the local Israelis to what they did to the church ….only because it is Palestinian. For example, our fellow Bassawis laboriously try to clean and restore as much as they could, and lock it up to preserve it, but only to discover it gets broken into, and find drugs paraphernalia (ie needles) inside. It's disheartening to hear and know that happens; that this is all that remains from my roots; a town only now of a few ruins to mark its existence, only to be vandalized and disrespected...

While at the church, Helene took some soil from the ground to bring home with her - to “bring home, back home”. Her grandmother, who always yearned to return to Al Bassa, died several years ago. She had not been able to return, so Helen brought something of Al Bassa back to her grandmother by sprinkling some of that dirt on her grave.

I recently learned that the home my parents built and we lived in during my high school years has been torn down and replaced with a new home. I certainly can not say that it held the same connection for me that the Al Bassa church has for these women, but I did feel a small pang of loss – like a touch stone had disappeared. I can only imagine the sense of loss for Helen, Rolla and the others from Al Bassa. And, I know that if tomorrow I was told I could not return to Palestine, it would break my heart.


The Best Laid Plans

Posted on July 23, 2011 at 1:22 AM

“….even if you bear the light, you are not the light, and even if you are a lute fastened with strings, you are not the lute player.” ~Gibran

During the last few days,   as I was making the final preparations for a dinner to raise funds for my trip to Palestine in September, I have experienced many unexpected challenges. Then, the day of the fundraiser (the hottest day of the year) it seemed as though nothing could go ‘right’ – from getting stuck driving the car that did not have air conditioning, to the hatch of the car flying open as I drove down the freeway and almost losing everything for the dinner. The worst moment though was arriving to pick up a promised donation of food, only to find that the store owner was no longer feeling charitable. In the end he did make the donation, and yes, tears were involved.

It seemed as though I had upset some devil who was following me through the day, determined to derail me. But equally determined were the angels that also watch over me. In the end, there was food (lots of amazing food), good friends and we raised some money (how much – I don’t know yet). At one point a friend said to me “There is a lot of love for you in this room.” I looked out at all the people gathered there and realized that they were all there for me and what I cared about. Some had driven a distance to be there, others had rearranged plans to support me. Others had worked hard to make the night happen, a real blessing in its imperfections. I am sure there will be a bit of fundraising to do yet, but I feel pretty confident that we are on the way. Thank you to everyone for getting us started! (And now, to sleep for a couple of days…) 


Waiting to Exhale

Posted on July 2, 2011 at 2:55 AM


So much seems caught on the edge of a pregnant pause.  As the Gaza flotilla attempts to break Israel's naval blockade of Gaza (but cannot get out the Greek harbor), as Fatah and Hamas waver at the brink of reconciliation, and as the international community wavers at the brink of recognizing a Palestinian State in September, we hold our breath waiting to see what will happen next (although we probably already know).   And, as I begin to prepare to leave for Palestine in September I am not even sure how to begin.


This trip will be different from previous trips. This time I will have a 'job' and of course I will be there much longer. I have not even begun to wrap my mind around what I need to do to get ready. As I try, I am thinking back to my first trip, there were a lot of unknowns then as well. Deciding whether or not to go to Palestine for the first time, I participated in a Quaker tradition for discernment - the clearness committee. During that process one of the Friends that sat with me asked “what are you afraid of?”   Without hesitation, my answer was "that I won’t want to come back".


I have said before how each time I go, the return to the States does get harder and how I have learned that it is possible to be homesick for a place where I have never lived. I have also learned that there are people that you can know all your life, after only an hour. I know it's not possible, but it is true. Chuck learned a little of this when Father's Day weekend we were invited to a picnic with a community of Palestinian - Americans living in the Lansing area - my Albassa family (they are originally from the destroyed village of Albassa in Israel). When it came time for group photos, they insisted that we were included saying, "You are family!" It is truly a blessing to be 'adopted' by Palestinians!


It is hard sometimes though, to not wonder what I have accomplished. After the last trip, I actually considered not going back at all.


Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything. ~  Thomas Merton


Through this work my life has intersected with wonderful people and I am so grateful for the opportunity to work for them;

Imad and Munira - my first Palestinian family (and my first taste of Arak [kind of like oozo, but more]). I recently heard from Imad that they have been without water for 29 days and the cistern is running dry;

Baha - focused and sweet, and VERY funny (and yes, his mother makes the best tabouli!);

Michael and Miriam - my second Palestinian family. They have just celebrated the marriage of their daughter Rojeen. Michael so patiently helped me start to learn Arabic;

Kristel - the wonderful Dutch girl who lost her heart to Palestine too;

Bana - the beautiful spirit from Beit Sahour that I did not meet until she came here;

Nimer - who drinks coffee with me while we talk politics and Palestine at Biggbys (and introduced me to my Albassa family);

Marcus(and Sue & Nabil) - my first Palestinian friend in the States (I will never believe that random chance brought me to his office) I am honored that he and Nabil trusted me to tell their stories;

Hanna - intense and full of contradictions, showed me the beauty of Galilee and he did say that March is the best time to see Galilee... (maybe, someday, I can finish the post I began to write about him);

and so many more....


I am told frequently that I am brave – I don’t know about that, but I do know that as I set out on this new adventure, I will need the strength and friendship of all of them (And I certainly could not do this without the love and support of those I leave behind).


I was not sure where I was going, and I could not see what I would do when I got [there]. But you saw further and clearer than I, and you opened the seas before my ship, whose track led me across the waters to a place I had never dreamed of, and which you were even then preparing to be my rescue and my shelter and my home. ~ Thomas Merton (The Seven Storey Mountain)


Patience Grasshopper

Posted on May 6, 2011 at 10:31 PM

If you are wholly perplexed and in straits, have patience, for patience is the key to joy. (Rumi)

Now that I am not working, what was somewhat of a fantasy, can actually happen (although my parents seemed to think that because I lost my job, I would not be going); and I am preparing for my next trip to Palestine & Israel - this time for three months. Those words - three months - echo in my head - though I know in reality, it really isn't much time at all. The reality of it does bring a strong case of the butterflies; there are so many what ifs....what about school,  where will I stay,  who will I see,  what will I do - can I do this? Not to mention, I will be there over Christmas. So, yeah, I am nervous - but in such a good way.

Anyone that knows me, I think even superficially, knows how affected I have been by my time in Palestine. I was speaking to a friend the other day, whom happens to be gay. I spoke of my discomfort around people that cannot accept my passion for Palestine as an important part of me and their judgments of me because of it (of course I have been told I support terrorists and will go to hell). I found myself saying that my feelings for Palestine were as much a part of who I am, as being gay is a part of him. I wasn't making light of his experience but making the point that Palestine is at the core of me. I did not choose this, and it does inform who I am and many of the decisions I do make. Paraphrasing the words of Parker Palmer - it is the life that wants to speak through me.

Planning for this trip is already proving to be a test; and patience seems to be the life lesson I am working on these days. I want to be able to tell people that when I go to Palestine this time, I will be doing ________.   Especially now that I am at the point where I need to get serious about fund raising, and people want to know why....  But, I am frequently reminded that a different sense of time exists over there - "Oh, we don't plan that far in advance here".

Of course I will be participating in the olive harvest as before, but this time I will be able to follow it into November as it moves north. That part will take care of itself - the challenge is what I will do after the harvest. More and more I feel myself gravitating toward the issues facing the Palestinians living inside Israel. While I was in Galilee last year, I was struck by a semi-hidden 'Jim Crow' system that exists in Israel and I realized that, in many ways, it is harder for these "forgotten Palestinians" to tell their stories.

Many certainly have a difficult time telling them on their own - there is so much at stake for them. But the usual activists are not giving them voice either - the Occupied Territories are where the 'action' is found. Isabella Humphries, one activist that has put her efforts into working for the Palestinians in Israel wrote;

When I tell activists abroad or in the West Bank and Gaza that I work for a Palestinian NGO in Nazareth I often get a similar reaction: a half-disappointed look crosses their faces as they say “Oh, in Israel, you mean.” The one million Palestinians living inside Israel are labeled and classified in a box by the Israeli state as “Israeli Arabs.” The disturbing fact is that many people who claim to support Palestinian rights, both foreigners and Palestinians, do precisely the same thing.

Even I, when I began thinking I would spend a good share of my time in Galilee, have felt a bit like I was "cheating". The West Bank, after all, is where I first discovered my love for Palestine.

Every time though, that I think I have found "the thing" I will do, an obstacle arises. One organization that looked interesting is a Palestinian NGO in the Galilee that is working on environmental education. However, when I tried to contact them, none of the email addresses on their website were functioning. The only organization so far that is a concrete possibility is a mixed school in the village of Sakhnin. But a friend in the West Bank told me that it does not have a good reputation amongst rights oriented Palestinian NGOs; that it is more of an opportunity for some to say "look how nice this is - we all get along" without really addressing the core issues. Then I learned it is actually in a settlement, and I think that is a deal breaker for me.

I have to trust that things will become clearer with time. I am also reminded that it isn't about what I do, but it really is about the stories that are never told here. Collecting them, that really is the job before me. (and, there is a Ukulele, peacenik community in the mountains I could hang out with....Maka Laka Hinnie Ho, or something like that....8))

The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg - not by smashing it.       - Arnold Glasow