Thursday, August 03, 2006

Report from Shadia on the Masalah Summer Camp

"The story of Jonah teaches us that God's love embraces everyone, even our enemies. For a camp of 50 Israeli and Palestinian kids, it is a fitting theme for children coming together with people from the other side. Our special guest speaker was the whale. We were reminded that God's love is unconditional and embraces all, and would like to believe that we succeeding in implementing God's love throughout this camp.
This year the number of participants almost doubled, and some say that was the best Musalaha camp so far. The program was slightly different than previous years, the counselors more experienced, returning campers even helped the program flow smoothly. This age group of 9-12 year olds is a perfect age to bring kids together, and there are few projects that bring together Israeli and Palestinian kids of this enthusiastic age.
The situation in the country does not allow both sides to interact one with the other on a daily basis. For the most part, Israelis only see Palestinians on a television screen. The only interaction Palestinians have with Israelis is through the check point. Although there is a Palestinian population in Israel names "Israeli Arab," they too live segregated and in their own neighborhoods. Living side by side does not necessarily mean that both sides interact. Holding a camp like this one is something unique. We spend 5 whole days together depending on each other and building the unity of the camp.
A counselor noted, "The part I enjoyed most was taking a step back to watch the kids interact with each other. At this age, they are very social, dependant on friends for approval, and it seemed to be easy for the kids to connect with each other, across all perceivable barriers, to create a week of unforgettable memories."
By the end of the camp kids could sing worship songs in both Arabic and Hebrew. They went home singing songs not in their language and parents praised our work. We also had one section during Bible study where we would say words and the kids had to find them in the Bible. For example, they had to look up “stone” in the Bible. So, the first group that found one reference to a stone in the Bible won.
There were two levels of reconciliation in the camp: one between the children and the other between the counselors. This year, the counselors’ level of interaction and commitment stood out to me when one of the Israeli counselors, Avi, chose to spend his last week before enrolling in the army with us. The last evening, we held a party for this event. At first we all shared a nice snack and then some cultural dancing. It was moving to see Israelis attempt to dance to Arabic music, but mostly funny. I felt like the distinction of Palestinian or Israeli was removed and we became one group of brothers and sister. However, at the end of the evening, we decided that we wanted to pray for Avi as he goes onto the army. The Palestinians’ view of a soldier is very negative because often their only encounters with soldiers are at check points or in conflict situations. Palestinians view soldiers with fear, and perceive them as aggressors. However, to Israelis a soldier is someone who could be their brother, sister or parent; someone they love and admire. Once every Israeli Jew turns 18, he or she is drafted into the army. I was somewhat concerned about how Avi's party and his step into the army would be received by the Palestinian counselors. When we gathered to pray, many prayers were raised for Avi. Most of these prayers were said by the Palestinian side and they were in Arabic. I imagine it wasn't easy for them to pray for him, however, their love and care for him surpassed this fear. At that moment I felt like the group had made another step in reconciliation.
The counselors were a great crowd of young people to work with and I appreciate that they came and volunteered with us. For both the counselors and the campers, this camp ended with a high. I know that each kid who participated will remember the great friendship that evolved among the counselors and will take that friendship as an example of reconciliation for themselves".

~ Shadia Qubti, project coordinator

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Encounter Israel-Palestine

Hi everyone!
So - how was Israel? Did you have a good time? Bet you're glad you came back when you did!
I'm sure these questions are sounding pretty familiar to the rest of the team as well. It's a struggle as, depending on my mood, I either feel like replying to the second question with a simple and emphatic 'yes', or doing some extensive and disconnected rambling in an attempt to conjure the sights and smells, people, politics, and emotions we experienced over a cup of decidedly un-Arabic church hall coffee. I usually end up doing something between the two, and getting frustrated with my lack of decent adjectives. It's also hard to know whether to jump straight in with the shocking stories of oppression we heard, or to keep things a bit lighter.
I understand why people ask the third question, but I also - rightly or not - feel quite frustrated with it, because
1) I felt completely safe and was sad, rather than anxious, to go home
2) Whilst we could just leave, we were leaving many friends behind who could not escape the new conflict so easily
3) I would rather be asked about how the actions of the Israeli government affect the people living in Israel-Palestine, rather than whether or not I felt scared.

In Zebabdeh, we saw what it meant to be a Palestinian Christian caught up in the conflict, and how difficult it was for them to travel (even to work), to have a career, to envisage a peaceful future for their children, or to be free from fear. We were struck by their unwavering faith, their community spirit, and their warm welcome and attentiveness to us. Since being home, I have realised how much we can learn from the people there. We could do with some more of the Zebabdeh-style hospitality, their honesty and passion in conversation, their loyalty to each other, their determination to get on with life in the face of adversity, and, of course, their amazing cuisine and eating with fingers! I was worried at first that all the memories would fade too quickly, but I think my perspective on the world has changed, which is something that will be a lot more permanent than the lingering taste of falafel...


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Encounter with Grace and Tension...

Check out the news story that has been written for the CMS website talking about our visit to Israel-Palestine and reflecting on the current political tensions in the Middle East.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


I have managed to upload about 300 photos to give you a flavour of the visit! They are split into three sections - Musalaha Childrens camp, our three days in Zebabdeh and then the rest of the time in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and the Dead sea.

Do enjoy!!

Monday, July 17, 2006

We are home!!

Thanks to everyone who has been supporting our team on this trip to Isreal-Palestine. The prayers, comments and support have a been a huge encouragement for all of us as we took this this journey and put oursleves in Gods hands.

Now home it feels a little strange as we begin to reflect and talk about all that we experienced. The two weeks were great but also were emotional on many different levels. My mind is full of all the people we met and the stories we heard, and then I see the news of the bombings between Israel and Lebanon and it all feels a little more real than just a story on the news.

Throughout the two weeks we saw and heard very much how the Palestinians are being treated by the Israeli Goverment and army. As we spent time with Palestinian Christians we cried together, we prayed together and we ate together. We saw the wall in Bethlehem causing huge divisions and cutting the Palestinians off from any Israei's, and we saw the checkpoints in Palestine which create anger, humiliation and insult.

There are many questions that arise as we try and find any sense in this situation. We didn't have that much opportunity to understand the Israeli point of view or their reasons for behaving in this way, but from the little we did hear about fear and creating a Zionist state, this in my mind, does not qualify the actions that are being taken against the Palestinian people.

There are many questions I am now toiling with regarding the whys and wherefores of the whole situation, but I think the main question is will there ever be peace in the Holy Land? It is an absolutely beautiful country with great people, but this beauty is continually marred by the ongoing conflict and oppression.

I will be doing some more reading and research over the next few weeks as I am eager to try and understand all this a little better.

The other thing that I think many of us found difficult was visiting the Holy sights. We did this at the end of the visit and after all we had heard and seen, it was very difficult to connect with ornate church buildings which are thought to be the birth place, or the resting place of Jesus. So many tourists come to see the Holy sights without any understanding of the people and lives happening around them. They arrive by bus, visit the sight and then leave by bus. Its like a bubble where the tourists are protected from the reality of the country they are in.

We will all continue to reflect over the next few days and weeks about our experiences and hopefully blog some posts about it all.

We will also try and get some photos connected to the blog today so you can see all that we got up to while away.

Thanks again for all the support and we will continue to keep telling you all loads of stories over the coming weeks.


Ps, we spent the day at the dead sea, not the black sea!! Just to clarify that point!!

Also, Judith, Susie and Paul did you reach home ok? Paul, how was ur night with Andy?

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Turning home

Thank you again to all of you who have been reading and/or praying through our blog.

The comments have all been really appreciated and a source of encouragement for us.

We had a good time yesterday at the Black Sea. It was unbelievably hot (thermostat now set to a more believable level) which I think slowed down the pace of our thinking and reflections. That may not be a bad thing but we are still well short of having coherent answers! Hopefully however our hearts in some sense are more settled.

Thanks Dad for two cracking verses on dealing with difference (Gal 3:28 and Eph 2:14). I want to think about this some more below, before saying a word or two about us coming back.

The spilts we have seen are immensely frustrating. Injustice is compounded by ignorance. Whatever political, religious or other conclusions one arrives at, I think most would agree that many people here are trapped. They are trapped by leaders, media, history, physical barriers, identity cards and lies. The truth we know is meant to set us free. Jesus came to proclaim the now and not yet of the kingdom, of Jubilee, including freedom for the captive. I think we are all coming back with a desire to tell the truth and in some sense release words into the cosmos which changes situations.

There are three options for identity - it is innate, it is imposed, or it is adopted. Personally I think that it's a bit of all three. But here difference is manufactured. We are all different yet we share a common humanity. As well as pondering the verses above some more, I'd like to paraphrase a Christian Aid prayer which I came across>

"Pray not for Jew or Muslim or Christian, Israeli or Palestinian or Arab; pray rather for ourselves, that we might not separate them in our minds but instead join them in our prayers."

We don't want to be guilty of perpetuating the same divides.

Lastly, just a few (semi-flippant) notes on the returning team members:
Please feed us, but not too much! We have really eaten incredibly well here.
Please ask us questions. A lot are very eager to talk.
Be patient when waiting for answers - it's hard to communicate everything in one go. Please don't assume that our first answer is necessarily our best one. Ask us again in a few days or weeks.
Ask us for stories, particularly about the people we have met. We can tell these honestly and accurately.
Don't put us on a pedestal. We are very conscious that we are only here by grace.

Thanks and see you soon!

Please pray that we do not get asked any questions at the airport.

God bless,

AJ x

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Blog happy

Thank you to all of you who have read or contributed to the blog. Thanks also to those of you who have been praying for us. It is more valuable than any of us know!

We have found a very pleasant internet cafe around the corner from St George's where we are staying. Indulging in fixes technological and caffeinated.

I think we feel that we are winding down. We have had 10 frantic days of running after young people in the very different settings of the two camps. Some rest feels due and this morning has been relaxing.

The assimilation process continues. In this sense, I think the next few days' visits to meet people in Bethlehem and at a liberation theology centre (Sabeel) could be very helpful. As Dauda said last night, I think that oppression is a much more apparent theme than poverty here. I will be writing more on this but have yet to decide how to pitch it and with what intent.

We are also starting to think about how we reflect on this trip and carry its effects into our lives in England: linking individual with community with world. Please pray for us as we do this. We're anticipating a hard day of thinking, praying and discussing by the Black Sea on Friday ;o)

Please also pray that we might continue to encourage those we meet over the coming days. A lot of this is like drops in an ocean - you never really identify or quantify the effects, but no drops equals no ocean. I think we have received a lot here, but knowing what and how to give is quite mystifying... Some insight would be good!

Looking forward to seeing you all.



Not long to go!

Hi all!

Where do I start ????? This trip has been amazing, I have learnt so much about God, the situation in Israel/Palestine and myself. I have made some incredible friends and talked to some of the most amazing people. Part of me would like to stay here for ever and part of me can't wait to get home and to see loved ones and tell everyone what I have learnt since coming out here. I have done things I did not know I was capable of doing, but with God's help I know I can do anything!

As a team we have grown together, we have relied on eachother when things have got tough and had a great time. We have hopefully changed a lot of the lives we have been in contact with in a positive way.

As a brief summary of what we have done so far; the first week at Musalaha camp was awesome. We talked to Christian - Jewish Israelis, Arab Israelis and Palestinians. We learnt about their culture and some Hebrew and Arabic. We got involved in all aspects of the camp including sports, competition games, crafts, music, dancing, singing, etc etc. We were accepted by everyone which felt so nice.

We then went to Zebabdah where the people were some of the most hospitable people EVER! I have to go now, getting kicked off the computer. I'll continue this ramble later


back to Jerusalem

Thanks to everyone who has posted a comment on Andys note from Saturday. It is such an encouragement to hear from you all.

Well...what a 10 days. Its probably fair to say we are 6 confused people! Father Hasam at St Georges Cathedral said he had two words to sum up Israel-Palestine - Crazy Place! and from all we have seen and heard that is very true.

On a prctical note, we are all exhausted from the intensity of the last 10 days, we have all caught the sun, we have many mosquito bites, we are all a lot stronger and fitter (carrying bags and running around with children in 35 degree heat), and we have all eaten enough pitta bread and humous to last us a while, but we are all very excited and happy about all that has happened over the last 10 days and each feel it has been a great experience.

On a spiritual note, we feel that God has been so close to us throughout the visit. We have had a few moments where the reality of the situation has hit home and yet throughout God has protected us all. Going through the check points to and from Zebabdeh was at times quite worrying and showed the intense power the Israeli army have over causing immense disruption for the Palestinian people. At one point the army ordered our driver out of the van. he had to show his chest to prove he was carrying no weapons and had to walk 50metres to the soldiers who were pointing a gun at him the whole way! Here is a Palestinian travelling within Palestine and yet this is the treatment they are given. We passed through safely and our driver was fine...I think this is the reality of daily life!

Ok so much more to be said here but little time so we will talk more on our return. Its just so confusing, feels so wrong, and for many people we have spoken to they are trapped and oppressed by such an unbalanced situation.

On a personal note though we have met some great people who are such a witness to the Christian faith in the face of oppression. We were welcomed into homes, and treated like friends. The people of Zebabdeh had little but gave so much. Huge lessons for us to learn!

On a team note...we are getting on great, laughing lots, sharing loads, and are trying to help each other work out what this is all about! These past few days we have finally had more time to be a team and reflect which is so very important.

Off to Bethlehem today to meet more people and hopefully understand a bit more.
God Bless