Where there’s a will, there’s a way

by Toine Van Teeffelen, Arab Educational Institute

A few weeks ago, my colleagues at work and partners came together in a restaurant in the countryside to the west of Bethlehem. The Qassieh family owns a land there of the size of a soccer field, about half an hectare. They exploit a well-known restaurant, the Makhrour restaurant, called after a broader valley to the west of Beit Jala. It is area C – the over 60% of the West Bank lands under complete Israeli control.

It is a bit far located, and so Mary and I had never visited the restaurant. However, the Arab Educational Institute created an opportunity at the occasion of the departure of the German volunteer Fabian, sent out by Pax Christi Stuttgart and Aachen, who was with us for a year. The food during the early evening tasted good and the environment was pleasant, with plenty of green trees and bushes around us, away from the noisiness and the many cars of Bethlehem.

The memories were good, too. Makhrour is an area where Mary and I, family and guests from abroad are used to hike, from Beit Jala to the west of Bethlehem to the beautifully located village of Battir – a few years ago made into a world heritage site partly to prevent the erection of the Wall. It is graced by Roman-time terraces and archeological sites, with spectacular views over agricultural fields and valleys, and an old railroad and small station. Many years ago the Makhrour was an area where the inhabitants of Bethlehem and Beit Jala used to sleep under the trees in the summer and afterwards during harvest time; sometimes even for weeks, as my Arabic teacher used to recall not without nostalgia.

At the end of the dinner we felt rested and promised ourselves to come back, with or without hike.

The Qassieh family is one of those who display sumud or steadfastness by staying on their land. As so many others – the Nasser family of the Tent of Nations immediately comes to mind – they have been absorbed by Kafkaesque Israeli High Court proceedings which last for many years, if not decades. However, they hung on, even though several dwellings on the land have previously been demolished. Many lands in area C are not formally registered though well-known to belong to certain Palestinian family owners. Add to this that almost no Palestinian gets a building permit in area C from the occupier – the Israeli army/Civil Administration.

The Jewish National Fund suddenly came two years ago with proofs of land ownership nobody knew about. Supposedly the family land was sold almost 50 years ago. In a statement about the case, the Israeli organization Peace Now speaks about the Jewish National Fund as the “Fund for the expulsion of Palestinians.” The Israeli High Court did not allow for any further appeal by the family. On Sunday the main house was demolished, live on Facebook for Bethlehemites and anybody else to see.

Don’t forget the context. These years house demolitions have been happening in the West Bank and East-Jerusalem at an exponential pace. A few weeks ago, at least 70 apartments or houses were demolished in the village Sur Bahir to the east of Bethlehem. They were not located in area C, but in area A and B, under Palestinian civil control, and built with permits. The excuse for demolition there was that the houses happened to be in an area of 250 meters on both sides of the illegal Wall which the army has designated as ‘security’ area.

Where there is a will there is a way, especially when all power is in your hands.




Nonviolence, Peace, Women and Peacemaking

The metamorphosis of a female fighter into a peacebuilder

by Sawssan Abou-Zahr

The story you’re about to read is that of armed conflict and gender, ideologies and the business of war, self-criticism and healing, peacebuilding and education. It is that of a woman who went from being a fighter, to fighting for peace. It is a story that proves how easy it is to get caught at a young age in the labyrinth of war, and how hard it is to detox oneself.

“I practice nonviolence and believe in the power of peacebuilding. I want to live in peace and help young men and women do so. I tell my story hoping to be a catalyst for change.”

Salwa Saad is a retired Lebanese educator. Instead of resting, she takes every possible chance to promote the role of women in peace education and peacebuilding as well as convincing vulnerable youth not to fall for sectarian discourses that end in armed conflict.

“I hate killing”, she told me when I started the interview with a perhaps rude question. I asked whether she got involved in killings directly. She answered: “I didn’t kill. Something inside me prevented me from taking lives although I was as good as any man in shooting… Some female fighters were notorious like their male counterparts. They still don’t show any remorse… As for me, I cried for years.”

She added: “When we became combatants, we cancelled the others’ rights; we didn’t perceive them as humans… After the war (1975 – 1990), I met fighters from the other end. It wasn’t easy to reach out to people who used to be enemies. They had their cause and I had mine. I disagree with their thinking, but they have another version of the story of the war.”

A villager in the war

Salwa was a rebel child in a mountain village. At the age of ten she experienced gender inequality without knowing this discrimination had a name. Her conservative father sent her to a public school whereas her brother was enrolled in a private one despite the fact that she was a better pupil.

At the age of 14 or 15, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) that had headquarters in her village started military training for young women. She used to watch secretly and dreamt of being among them, out of her support for the Palestinian cause and admiration to the equality between male and female freedom fighters.

Salwa is Muslim Shiite by birth. When I told her that I have to mention this to help non-Lebanese readers understand the motives of a young woman in a sectarian and still divided country, she was reluctant out of her secularism and refusal to be defined by inherited traits she didn’t choose. She only agreed when I told her I would write she was “Muslim by birth” instead of “Muslim”.

Early in the morning of Sunday April 13th, 1975, the Kataeb (Phalanges) Christian militiamen opened fire on a bus carrying Palestinians passing in the suburb of Ain Al-Rummaneh, killing over 30 people. Retaliation happened shortly after on a nearby church. The war erupted.

Salwa was then enrolled at the public university studying to be an educator. Shortly after, some communist colleagues invited her and other female students to visit their party where she would later sleep over by herself in the ammunition room…

Read this entire article at this link.


Jerusalem keeps making headlines: Is it a city of peace?

by Rev. Paul Lansu

It is not apparent to everybody visiting the city of Jerusalem in the Holy Land. But next to the geographically, religious and historic reality of the city there is the spiritual dimension of Jerusalem as the Eternal and Holy City of Faith.

In the Gospel readings, Jesus wishes his followers a good trip to Jerusalem.[i] Jesus himself is also on his way, with Jerusalem as the final destination. For us, people from here and now, Jerusalem can be a travel destination. We do not even have to take the plane for that. It is a destination in the spiritual sense: Jerusalem is the city of ultimate and total peace, the city of security finding in God.

The city of stone Jerusalem as it is today is still far from that peace. It is now more a city of dissatisfaction and division. However, that reality also speaks for itself: peace is and remains a difficult task, both in the city of people and in one’s own heart. Jesus very much wishes us to find that peace. It must be our first word and our first task when we come to people: wishing for peace.

That peace must already be evident from the way we go. As a “lamb among the wolves,” Jesus calls this. You go on the road to people happens in all defencelessness. You do not have a thick wallet in your pocket to unpack with it, you do not wear trendy fashion clothing, and you have nothing with which you can force or enforce. You only have yourself, the only message being the vulnerable message of God’s love for people.

Jerusalem, this is where you can experience the confidence of God. That place cannot always be found. That destination is not included in a travel guide. It lies in yourself; it is in places where you meet people who radiate peace and where you can give peace yourself. However, a spiritual approach to the city of peace is not unconnected to reality of today.

Come and see

It might be extremely revealing if you as a believer could visit the city of Jerusalem “in persona”. Smell and feel the city. You need sufficient time to empathize with the extreme and many aspects of the city, both religious and cultural.

The Old City as a whole is particularly rich and hides a huge wealth of history and religious tradition. However, Jerusalem is also marked by a violent past. To date, there is deep division. The future is uncertain.

Three monotheistic religions together form a tripartite in terms of holy places and presence: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Two peoples are claiming Jerusalem as their capital city: Israel and Palestine.

Intertwining of holy places

Israel regards Jerusalem as its eternal and indivisible capital. According to Jewish belief, there is the rock where Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac, as well as the holy of holies of the temple of Salome (First Temple)[ii]. The Western or Wailing Wall[iii] symbolizes the Jewish presence.

Jerusalem has the same religious significance for the Palestinians as it does for the entire Islamic world. The city is considered the third most sacred place in Islam, because the prophet Mohammed would have ascended from that same rock to heaven. At that place is now the “farthest mosque”, the Al-Aqsa.[iv]

From a military, strategic and geographical point of view, Jerusalem is not very important – there is no industry, no river, and no airport – but the cultural and religious importance of the city is immense. Ideology here transcends the location. Concerning authority over and access to Jerusalem, it will be difficult to compromise.

In 2017, President Trump stated that the USA recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.[v] Congress had been in favour of this since 1995 and had made funds available to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. However, Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama had repeatedly signed for a six-month postponement of the placement. The official move took place in May 2018.

For the Palestinians, this is a provocation and blocks a two-state solution with Jerusalem as the capital for both nations. Despite the further Judaization of the city of Jerusalem, East Jerusalem should also become the capital of the Palestinians as recognised in international law.

In response to the USA move to Jerusalem, 128 countries voted in emergency session of UNGA on 21 December 2017,[vi] to null any decision or action that could alter character, status or demographic composition of Jerusalem. Call on states to refrain from establishing their diplomatic missions from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The role of the UN in the peace process should not be compromised.

Keeping the Status Quo of Jerusalem

Free access to the holy sites for all three religions is essential. The history of insisting on the free access goes back to the Caliph Omar Bin Al Khattab who visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in 637 AD with Patriarch Sophronios and declined to pray at the Church when the noon call to prayer was heard. This symbolic and practical measure by the Caliph ensured for generations to come the right of Christians to their own holy places unhindered.

In 1852 Ottoman Sultan Abdul Majid issued the Status Quo decree[vii] that sought to regulate freedom of access, possession and worship in the Holy Sepulcher and six other Christian sites. Later in history, the holy places remained under the existing religious custodianship arrangements.

The UNGA Resolutions 181 of 1947 and 194 of 1948 recommended respectively for Jerusalem to be placed under international trusteeship and the internationalisation and demilitarisation of the city in order to presence free access and protection of Jerusalem’s holy sites.

Also after the June 1967 war and the beginning of the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights, the West Bank and Gaza, the freedom of access to the different religious sites have been ensured. The international community repeatedly stated not to accept any unilateral initiative designed to change the status quo of Jerusalem. Today, it is stated that Jerusalem is a final status issue that must be resolved through direct negotiations.

Judaism and Islam have both the same sacred sites

Some religious Jews argue that they should have the right to pray at Al Haram Al Sharif, the Temple Mount.[viii] They are right in principle. In an open society and climate of political and religious tolerance, Jews should visit holy sites of Muslims and vice versa. Muslims should be allowed to visit the Western Wall or the Rachel’s Tomb,[ix] both sacred to Jews and Muslims. In addition, the Abrahamic Mosque in Hebron is divided as well.

The policy should be no exclusivity over the holy sites. They should be open and reachable for all believers. All monotheistic believers of the three religions should guarantee the multi-cultural and multi-religious mosaic character of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem and Bethlehem are one identity

Since 2002, the Israeli government has built a separation wall and introduced a permit system.[x] These measures have virtually divided Bethlehem from its twin city Jerusalem. Historically and for pilgrimage and tourists purposes, the twin cities have never before been separated. Bethlehem sits practically at the southern border of Jerusalem.

The United Nations when it proposed a Corpus Separatum[xi] idea, Bethlehem and its surroundings, were also included together with Jerusalem. Jerusalem and Bethlehem cannot be separated from each other; their historic, religious and geographic complementarity must be considered in any future political settlement.

In conclusion

  1. The international community should develop the political will to unequivocally oppose unilateral plans to change the status of Jerusalem; to continue to respect Security Council Resolutions 478 and 2334 (stop annexation and further building of settlements in East-Jerusalem); as well as to take measures to ensure an end to the occupation, and its ongoing violations of international law and human rights such as house demolitions in especially East-Jerusalem.
  2. The international community needs to persist in monitoring infractions on the right to free access to holy places by Palestinians, Muslims and Christians alike. Maintaining the Status Quo, in spite of talk that circumstances and conditions have changed, should be the basis in regulating relationships to sacred holy places. This is important especially when there are holy sites sacred to more than one religion.
  3. Lastly, the need for a political solution remains paramount. Jerusalem remains a universal city and the international community should do whatever in its means to ensure this character of the city and to ensure access to the relevant holy sites for the different religious communities. Jerusalem will never be one, open city until the reality of two Jerusalems (East and West) is recognised and accepted by both sides. Sustainable peace in Palestine and Israel can only be achieved if Jerusalem remains the current home of Israelis and Palestinians alike and the future capital for their two nations. Jerusalem should be the city of the blessing of all peoples.

“Come and see” is the Biblical call to come to Jerusalem and the Holy Land in order to visit the holy places but at the same time to get in touch with local people. A pilgrimage becomes a quest for spirituality through encounters with other people, and a quest in search of God’s truth. It is recommended for pilgrims to seek people-to-people encounters, a path that leads to mutuality, solidarity and the real discovery of human community. By doing so, pilgrims and all people of good will can support and bless all Palestinian and Israeli peace builders.


Faith in Action – 800 years of Francis and the Sultan[xii]

Francis of Assisi is commemorated on October 4, 2019. This day is dedicated to Francis’ meeting with the Sultan of Egypt, 800 years ago; a particularly inspiring peace initiative in the time of the Crusades to break through the enemy thinking. Francis and the Sultan is a story of inspiring meeting and peace building. However, if we want to make such moments of reconciliation possible 800 years later, then it will also be necessary to invest more in peace.

On Friday, October 4, 2019, around 2 p.m., simultaneously with Muslims’ afternoon prayers, worldwide church bells will sound as an invitation to pray in solidarity with each other for peace, dialogue and get-together.


[i] See Luke 10, 1-20

Do elections offer hope for change? Peace remains absent in Israel and Palestine

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi Internationa

Elections in Israel took place on 9 April 2019. Elections are a key element in any democracy. Citizens have the final say. Do elections bring hope for change? Is there a new beginning or is it just the same as before or worse? The voters opted for the status quo and for the continuation of a right-wing policy. They choose to continue the conflict instead of making peace with their Abrahamic cousins. 

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not able to form within a limited given time a new government and it is decided to have new elections in September 2019. Israel is a much-divided society. Palestinian citizens of Israel (22%) failed to bring out the vote.

Minority rights in Israel

A fifth of Israel’s citizens are being delegitimized in the past and that is one reason why so few Arabic citizens went to vote. The reality is that an overwhelming majority of Palestinian citizens of Israel are law-abiding ones who contribute to the building of the state. They work in all parts of the country, pay their taxes, follow the laws, contribute to the economy, teach in the universities and care for all Israelis in the hospitals and clinics. They are part of the Israeli society so why is there that discrimination? We only can support the Arabic citizens to go voting in September.

Religion and nation

Israel continues to move to the right. The majority is silent. Israeli society is becoming more and more religious and conservative and less and less tolerant. The aspiration of being a society based on equality no longer exists in reality.

Since the adoption of the Jewish nation-state basic law of 19 July 2018[1], division and exclusion has more deepened. Israel should be the nation-state of the Israeli people, with full political, civil and individual rights for all its citizens. A non-Jew cannot become a member of a Jewish nation-state without changing their religion. Being Jewish is not only being a member of a nation – it is also being a member of a religion. This is a fundamental problem. Religion and state should be two different identities and be separated in functioning. Belonging to a nation should be inclusive. Freedom of religion and belief is a human right. All citizens should be equal!

Peace is not an issue!

Peace is not only missing in reality, it has disappeared from the political agenda, both on the national and international level. The result of the elections will not bring a new dynamic certainly not in the direction of a constructive peace process with the Palestinians. On both sides of the conflict, there is a firm assertion that there is no partner for peace on the other side.

The acceptance of the non-existence of a partner allows the current and future leaders to escape from dealing concretely with the primary existential issue facing Israel – the question of its borders, and the human makeup of the people living under the control of Israel and their basic political and human rights.

The main drive of Israeli politicians has to do with the prevention of war and terrorist attacks and to keep Israel safe. Security of the Israeli population comes first. The Israel government has the right and the duty to protect its people. Defending your population is a moral duty. However, defence does not mean expanding your territory through the further development of new settlements and the continuing occupation of the Palestinian territories. Safety for your/one people is only possible if there is also safety for the other neighbouring people.

The current leadership in Israel and the one in Palestine will not bridge the gaps between them on the fundamental core issues that must be agreed upon. The main question is the acceptance of the two nations as a reality. The acceptance of each other’s existence is the start of a peace process towards a situation that offers sufficient guarantees for both peoples.

There have not been any genuine Israeli-Palestinian political negotiations during the entire previous two terms of the past Israeli governments. It is almost a generation that has seen the reality not changing, just opposite, more settlements, more injustice and inequality and continued occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Division on all sides

There is a growing gap between the Arabic population and the Jewish majority in Israel. At the same time, racism is on the rise, part because of hate speech and preaching of fear. We see a much more divided society, lacking social solidarity and with a declining vision of a shared society. Arabic citizens of Israel have been delegitimized and categorised as second citizens. The Arab people of Israel should be counted as full citizens.

Jerusalem is also more divided than ever and becoming more conflictual with ongoing government plans to remove Palestinians from their homes.

The continued division between Fatah and Hamas remain a serious impact on the lack of a consistent approach of the Palestinian leadership and its people as a whole in the direction of a peace process and a final two state solution. Elections should be held in Palestine as well and new leadership should be able to start a process of contacts and networking with Israeli politicians in order to unblocking the immovable situation.

If you’re not with us, you’re against us

Each time you criticise the policies of the Israeli government you are categorised as a “leftist” and in some cases blamed for “anti-Semitism” or “Arab lover”. If you talk about peace, you are a leftist! Such a way of responding to not having to take criticism seriously was embraced by other (Western) governments and in May last by the national parliament in Germany, the Bundestag, in stating that support for the BDS campaign[2] is an expression of anti-Semitism.[3] Any citizen has the right to be critical of Israeli policies. There are alternatives!

March of Return

The situation in the Gaza Strip is constantly tense. The weekly nonviolent action “March of Return” continues to be held already more than one year. Many Palestinians believe that nonviolence is the path to follow towards the end of occupation and possible self-determination.

The nonviolent protests launched by Gaza civil society activists, and quickly taken over by Hamas (which resulted in violence also because of retaliation by the Israeli army), are meant to be a constant reminder that Palestinians are not going anywhere, and that the situation in which they live is very unacceptable. Israel and Egypt have enforced a siege and closure on Gaza since 2005. Cycles of violence between Hamas and Israel continue with ups and downs until today.

When Israel withdraw from Gaza in 2005, Israel demolished all of the settlements, not leaving anything, not one stone, that could have been used, for example, to resettle Palestinian refugees or to offer housing for Palestinians still living in camps.

Can young Palestinians live in hope?

Some 35.000 young Palestinians left Gaza in 2018.[4] The young Palestinian generation are the most non-political generation of Palestinians since the beginning of the Palestinian national movement. This is probably a result of lost hopes and emigration, failed peace processes and unfulfilled promises. There is indeed little belief that peace is on the horizon.  Young people have no chance to build up their own society (politically) and a lot of anger, hatred and a loss of hope have replaced that.

Deal of the century?

The USA administration will soon present their so-called “deal of the century”. So far, it seems the talk of a new deal seems empty rhetoric in the present situation.

No doubt, that expectation for the deal is very much in favour of Israel. There might be some positive elements in the plan for the Palestinians. At the same time, they cannot accept further Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank along with their continued statement that east Jerusalem is Palestinian while west Jerusalem is Israel.

The Palestinians are expected to reject that deal.[5] Any deal that leaves Al-Aqsa (meaning all of Arab east Jerusalem) in the hands of Israel will be rejected by the entire Arab and Muslim world. The Palestinians will confirm their ultimate wish for independence and sovereignty.

Jerusalem is not for sale!

A step in the “deal of the century” is an economic workshop-taking place later in June in Bahrain.[6] Palestinians believe that their national agenda will be bribed out. Aspirations will be further delegitimised. “Jerusalem is not for sale”! Palestinians will never leave Judea and Samaria for a pocket with money. You cannot buy out Palestinians from their homeland. Every native population in the world resists colonists as long as it has the slightest hope of being able to rid itself of the danger of being colonised.

Who has given the USA a mandate to present a deal? It can be assumed that the international community will also reject the suggested deal if it is not be based on the two-states solution and allows Israel to annex parts of the West Bank, but offers no political solution for Jerusalem. It should be the responsibility of the United Nations to accompany a peace process. The international community should protect the Palestinian people from punishment through financial and political isolation.

Call for human dignity and common good

The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land made a statement[7] in May 2019 saying that peace, mutual equality, and respect must be the foundation of progress in Israeli-Palestinian relations, despite continued setbacks. Continuing difficulties in Palestine and Israel have caused many people to question, “whether international diplomacy and the peace process were ever actually based on justice and good will,” “Many in Palestine and in Israel feel that since the launch of the peace process, their lives have become more and more unbearable.” “Many have left; many more consider leaving and some are resorting to violence. Some die quietly and others are losing faith and hope.”


It is time for the Palestinians to go on the offensive with a strategy of peace that focusses on their own right of self-determination. Endless occupation is not the option. The hope is that the two peoples can live in each own land, side-by-side. The two-state solution should be made again relevant.

Any resolution must be based on the common good of all who live in the Holy Land without distinction. All people in the region have to learn to live together as equals and human dignity in the Holy Land.



Violence, imposed solutions cannot bring about peace

by Patriarch Michel Sabbah

Ed. Note: Patriarch Sabbah, Latin Patriarchate Emeritus of Jerusalem, was President of Pax Christi International from 1999 through 2007.

There is a war on Gaza, as it has been once, twice and more. Gaza and its people are in a state of permanent war. It has been under constant siege for 13 years, which is war imposed upon them every day.

Today, the month of Ramadan has started for fasting, prayer, repentance and good deeds. Instead, we see death exploding in and around Gaza. Israel itself complains of the war. Yesterday, Sunday May 5, the Israeli defense minister tweeted and cried out to the world to notice and see Israelis waking up for the second day in a row of rockets coming from Gaza and falling in Israel.

War is painful, after two days, in Israel. It is as painful and more painful in Gaza after 13 years of siege. War is an absolute evil both for the Israelis and for the Palestinians. O minister, the key to peace and the end of war is not in the hands of a world that we summon but simply in your hand and in the hands of Israel.

The issue is not only that of Gaza but the issue of all the Palestinian people. The issue is the injustice imposed on the Palestinian people since generations. Israel refuses to see Palestinians as human beings with same rights and equal to all human beings. Israel has tried the methods of war and violence repeatedly to solve the issue. So far, it has not succeeded and now, on the near horizon, there is talk about a solution wrapped in darkness and non-recognition of Palestinian rights. It will not bring a just solution. It will be another failure.

The solution is simple if Israel restores discernment, namely if it wants to recognize that the Palestinian people have the same rights as the Israeli people do, all being equal in humanity. It is in Israel’s hands, Israel is the stronger, to realize this equality. Avoiding this equality until now was useless. Israel itself today suffers from war launched on Gaza…

Click here to read the rest of this article.

Our Stories, Peace, Women and Peacemaking

Sumud – Keeping the community alive

by Rania Murra and Toine van Teeffelen
Arab Education Institute

In late October, a group of 30 local young women launched the “Artas Deserves to Be Beautiful” advocacy campaign in Artas, a village to the south of Bethlehem. They wanted to solve the waste problem in the village. One participant relates, “I used to read slogans such as ‘After failure comes success!’ or ‘When there is determination, we can reach our goals.’ I did not understand the meaning of those words until I saw some powerful models of women showing determination, passion, and strength.”

“When I was a university student, my only ambition was to graduate and get a job. However, after participating in the project, I started to see things from a new perspective. A sense of responsibility started to grow in me. I felt that I was responsible for my village. I wanted it to be a beautiful place, and I increasingly felt a sense of belonging.”

The women in the village entered the field of tax collection. As volunteers, some went from house to house to encourage inhabitants to pay waste-collection taxes and to raise awareness about the problem of waste; others went to schools to give training sessions to students. They explained the tools of advocacy and campaigning, how to involve stakeholders and address those in authority. The cleaning campaign featured additional activities such as removing garbage from the street, putting flowers in tires along the road, asking the police to take care of parking issues, and celebrating the campaign with a photo exhibit and hanging slogan posters on walls in public areas. As a result, the participants won over students and teachers as supporters and volunteers. The mayor and village council as well as a local heritage NGO supported the actions. The women made an arrangement with the solid-waste department in the Bethlehem district. Authorities agreed to make Artas a “model waste-collecting village.”…

Click here to read the entire article.