50 years of occupation: Enough is enough!

by Toine van Teeffelen
Arab Educational Institute, Bethlehem

U.S. President Donald Trump, labeled the ‘most mocked man in the world’, burst out in anger during his Bethlehem meeting with Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas was supposed to curb the ‘incitement’ of which Israel and the U.S. continuously accuse the Palestinian Authority. Trump’s Israeli information sources however showed him quotes that ‘proved’ that the incitement continued.

A favorite subject in the incitement discussion is the Palestinian curriculum. All pupils in the West Bank, whether they are at government or private schools, follow the same curriculum. The Palestinian curriculum is centralized and standardized. At most there are a few additional subjects at private schools, such as a second foreign language besides English. In other words, the lesson books of my son Tamer are largely the same as anywhere else in the West Bank. I ask Tamer (15) how the Palestinian curriculum speaks about Israel. 

Tamer says that Israel is indeed a regular topic in the books. There certainly arises a negative image of Israel. However, it is not the result of direct negative attributions to Israel. The image comes in a more ‘indirect’ way he says. You will read that Israel takes away land from Palestinians. Because of the actions attributed to Israel, you draw your own conclusions and build up a negative image. The actions are well-known, he says.


Trump refused to visit the Church of Nativity because he then would have had to walk along the tent with family members of hunger-striking prisoners. He demanded the tent be removed. The hunger strike of the Palestinian political prisoners was at the time of Trump’s visit a daily topic of conversation, until its cessation by the prisoners after 40 days on water and salt. As always when demands of hunger-striking political prisoners seem to be met by prison authorities, it is a matter of wait-and-see whether there will be a lasting change in the prison regime.

A few days ago Mary went on a visit to the hospital in Beit Jala to meet the son of Imm Hassan. She is a peasant woman from a village, Ma’sara, to the south of Bethlehem. For years she has brought fresh vegetables and fruits to our former and present family homes. Recently she was elected as a council member in the village. Her son was just released after a stay of many years in Nakba prison (Negev desert). He had to be treated in the hospital after losing 12 kilos due to the hunger strike.

I recently heard that in the refugee camp Aida near Bethlehem it happens that at a single moment no less than 200 of the 5,500 camp dwellers are in prison, mostly on accusations of stone throwing. In actuality most of the extended families there are likely to have a family member in prison, with all the ensuing worries and loss of income. Many more will have had a prison experience, once or more times.

All of this obviously has to do with occupation.

On June 5, the Arab Educational Institute has a four-hour program around the commemoration of 50 years of occupation, organized along the Wall in north-Bethlehem. 


Presence, or, a star is born

by Toine van Teeffelen
Arab Educational Institute, Bethlehem

On Saturday, March 4th, Ya’coub Shaheen was cheerfully welcomed in Bethlehem and Ramallah. After his performance in Arab Idol in Beirut, he shook not only the hands of VIPs but visited and performed in several Palestinian refugee camps near Beirut, together with his co-contestant Amir Dandan from Majd al-Krum in the Galilee. The people in the camps always long to see people coming from Palestine, we hear. And like a week ago it was again a festival in the streets in Bethlehem with Syriac-Orthodox and Palestinian flags and Ya’coub on people’s shoulders. People took a break from the usually depressive news of the moment. (For instance, in the month of February 2017, 420 Palestinians were detained by the forces of the Israeli occupation).

Large banners with the image of Ya’coub decorated apartment blocks. Businesses took care of him. Many local companies covered the 3,5 shekels (almost a Euro) which each SMS vote costed. Many millions of votes seemed to have been cast for him. Christian and Muslim votes came from Palestine – but also from Muslim cities, like Hebron, where he studied – and from throughout the Arab world, Arab communities across the world.

It is a fact that where Palestinian politics does not succeed to unify Palestinians, Ya’coub succeeded. At Idols he gave voice to a range of identities. ..

Click here to read the rest of this story.

Nonviolence, Peace

Sumud: Neither resigning to the occupation nor becoming absorbed by hate

by Rania Murra
Director of the Arab Educational Institute, Bethlehem, Palestine

Note: The following story was submitted to the Nonviolence and Just Peace conference in Rome in April 2016. Conference participants were invited to share short reflections on their own experiences of nonviolence and peacemaking.

My personal, family, work and political circumstances as shaped by the Israeli occupation have motivated me to participate in nonviolence and peacebuilding. During my work at the Arab Educational Institute (AEI)/Sumud Story House in Bethlehem/Palestine, I have been exposed to different kinds of formal and informal education and participated in several of AEI’s nonviolence activities. Examples are interreligious prayers and retreats; singing and acting in front of the Separation Wall; collecting, editing and fixing story posters in the so-called Wall Museum; vigils and marches; encouraging the Bethlehem Sumud Choir; filming, documenting, and interviewing peace activists; and holding an annual Sumud Festival.

Sumud is Arabic for “steadfastness”. It refers to an active, nonviolent lifestyle in which one neither resigns to the occupation nor become absorbed by hate towards the enemy. Sumud is a third way in which one keeps head and dignity high, stays actively connected to the land and the community, and challenges occupation by a peaceful lifestyle with preparedness to suffer. Sumud is about being tested as Jesus was tested in Gethsemane and afterwards. It’s a concept which gives space to stories and voices of individual women, families and communities. Jesus, as well as personalities like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., are examples showing the personal leadership of sumud.

Sumud implies a solid strategy, living by example. Strategy means that we have to work on educating and liberating people, and especially raising the voice of women. Women have to participate and present their stories, but they should also be decision-makers in their communities. Each woman has her own way to make a difference. This has also a personal and family dimension. It is about raising your children in the spirit of sumud, against the occupation, against despair and emigration, against bare survival. In the case of women’s rights, you are trying to build your country in a way that aims at ending the occupation. When I fight what are called “honor killings”, it is not only a fight for humanity but also a fight against the occupation because you make your people and community stronger.

I believe that we have several strategies available to deepen and widen the practice of nonviolence in the worldwide Catholic community. All require our energy:

  • Living by example: working with Catholic communities on local and global issues of justice, inequality, discrimination, poverty and peace – and showing the many linkages between the different issues in an increasingly interconnected world. A practice of nonviolence can only be fostered by working together on real world problems.
  • To encourage joint working and living by example it is important for the church to increasingly involve lay people in the church organization. Conversely, it is helpful to have more clergy involved in directly dealing with real life problems.
  • To approach world problems nonviolently, it is important to work on peace/nonviolence education, including the ability of people to raise their voice in different forms and genres.
  • Essential for strengthening nonviolence in the Catholic community is working with women on issues important for protecting her human security and rights. It is also essential to promote women’s participation in society, including her participation in the church.
  • We should try to strengthen the dialogical capacity of the Catholic Church with regard to both ecumenical dialogues within the Christian church and dialogues across religious borders. Dialogues between religious communities are important for allowing a broad-based, global, nonviolent peace movement. While there are many institutional and dogmatic obstacles here, we can use the exemplary practice of the present pope to illustrate the need for inter-religious dialogue and living together.
  • It will be important for believers in the Church to make a direct connection between the example of Jesus’s life of suffering sumud and approaching nonviolently present-day world problems. Symbols referring to Jesus’s life of struggling nonviolently for a just peace are meaningful. Showing the life of the Virgin Mary and the life stories of saints in appealing forms and designs can help to illustrate a nonviolent lifestyle. Some spiritual traditions of the church are inspired by nonviolent approaches including indigenous traditions in newly established churches in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Last but not least, it is extremely important that the church itself gives a good example of nonviolence, including preventing the abuse of children in its own ranks.