Art in Bethlehem

Art has been retired from teaching for a long time but a Vatican ll Catholic with a social justice orientation, he knows there is no retirement from a world in need of profound healing.

For many years he has chosen to give much of his time to the Christian Peacemaker teams, active around the world and especially in Israel and in particular the schizoid city called Hebron where 800 Israelis are surrounded by 140,000 Palestinians in this large West Bank city.

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In Hebron, Christian Peacemaker Teams Palestine is a faith-based organization that supports Palestinian-led, non-violent, grassroots resistance to the Israeli occupation and the unjust structures that uphold it. By collaborating with local Palestinian and Israeli peacemakers and educating people in our home communities we strive to help create a space for justice and peace.

Here is Art’s recent email.
 My 15th tour with Christian Peacemaker Teams – 2017

Entry at the Ben-Gurion Airport.

This is somewhat nervous making since some members of our team have suffered between one and eight hours of interrogation, some have been put back on the plane and disallowed entry into Israel, but for the old fat white guy it is easy to move through customs.

After a shared taxi ride [ $20 US] I arrived at the dark Jerusalem Hotel, formerly a  lovely Ottoman mansion owned by a wealthy Palestinian family, I  rattled the gate  at 1 AM. As usual, Jacob the night manager answered promptly, carried my bag upstairs to a very large room with a vaulted ceiling and booked me in. Then, as is our custom, we both went to the large terrace, now empty but usually crowded where he treated me to a bowl of peanuts and a large glass of Taybeh draft beer, made by Palestinian Christians in a  a village somewhere north of Ramallah.

At noon I awoke after a solid eight hours of sleep, was served a nice breakfast on the terrace with a cappuccino, even though it was well past the breakfast hours. This is why I stayed there  even though it’s relatively expensive at $132.

However my entry was not yet complete. At bedtime, in Hebron I found a lock on my carry-on bag which I did not put there. Would crazy Israeli security have done this? I looked for our hacksaw , then a teammate asked are you sure this is your bag ? Sure enough this red bag identical to mine had a sticker with a different name. That enforced trip of eight hours through Jerusalem to the airport near Tel Aviv the next day and back. Included of course was another security interview at baggage claim. I’m not even sure that the clothing inside was worth the cost of the trip of  about $100.

The upside of this this eventually came a few days later. A former teammate with CPT was laughing when he came to visit from where he works with Holy Land Trust in Bethlehem. Apparently my entry story had gotten around and was the cause of much mirth among shopkeepers in the old city. I was happy to hear it because they suffer from the checkpoints surrounding the old city. They need more chances to laugh. Few tourists or even people from uptown come here because they can be arrested by the many soldiers and held without charge for three months which is renewable. Some Palestinians have been held for years in this administrative detention system.

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According to B’Tselem the Israeli organization for human rights that tracks such things, there were 644 prisoners, including one woman and 10 minors in administrative detention at the end of August 2016. On Wednesday a couple of us went to a noisy demonstration uptown intended to encourage those prisoners who started a hunger strike to protest the harsh conditions of the Israeli prisons. They say that the Israeli prison service has refused to release this year’s numbers.

Unfortunately, many countries have such a system of unfair detention. when at home I often spend time taking my friend Mohammed Mahjoub to the office near Pearson of the  Canadian border services agency where he must swipe an ID card  in  their machine twice a month. Although Moe emigrated to Canada in 1999 he and his brothers were active in nonviolent opposition to the Egyptian dictator  Hosni  Mubarak. A few of those brothers were imprisoned  by the dictator and his corrupt secret police sent  information to the RCMP and Mohammed was arrested for suspicion of terrorism, one of the five Canadians subjected to this treatment. As happened with the others Mohammed was put in prison without charges or a chance to defend himself in court. The 8 Years in MetroWest detention center and four years of house arrest destroyed his  marriage to a Canadian woman and he has not seen his two boys for over a decade.

Only recently has Mohammed been allowed to use a computer to communicate with his family in the Nile Delta. Our government spent tens of millions to build a special security wing at Kingston penitentiary after 9/11 for all the suspected terrorists they thought they would arrest. But this building was never used for this purpose. Two of the five people arrested by the RCMP on the fake information have successfully sued the federal government and I think two of them have received millions of dollars in compensation for the injustice. So, we cannot be smug in our country. Even one of the interrogators from CSIS, our own secret police, told Mohammed that he did not know why he was there. He said we have no reliable evidence against you at all.

Meanwhile I am enjoying my day off sitting at a table on the corner of Manger Square having a couple of cold beers and catching up on my email. It is very pleasant, about 27° and sunny so I have nothing to complain about. Later I will write more about this situation.

Take care of yourself.

Art in Bethlehem . peace

3UKARSz

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