Thursday, August 28

two years...

two years ago yesterday was our first trip to jericho. you can read about it on our blog in the archives. i hated it. in fact, i was pretty sure i hated being in palestine and would never stay here. i've come a long way.

our first trip to jericho was miserable. jason says it was an adventure - i say it was a disaster. it was soooo hot. we rode on a bus with no air conditioning, bad breaks, and a bus driver with no sense of time. we went with people who we didn't know. it took two hours to get there and like four hours to get back. we knew about four words of arabic. we had no plan, no food, no schedule, and by the end i had no intention of ever visiting jericho again.

today we went to jericho. it was still hot, but not miserable. we went in our own car with air conditioning on our own time. we went with one really good friend and three newer friends who will be really good friend. we left from our house with our child and came back when we wanted to. we went because we wanted to, not because we felt we had to. we could speak the language, or at least sort of. it was a really fun day.

if you had told me this is what my life would be like two years ago, i would never have believed you. when you finally got me to believe you, i probably would have cried. but we are really happy now. we have a good house. we have a church. we have a wonderful community of friends, both internationals and palestinians. we have jobs that we like. we have a butcher and a supermarket. it's amazing to look back and see how God has placed us here over the last two years and all that He has done for us. and it makes me wonder what in the world He has for us next...

Monday, August 25


One of Jesus of Nazareth's most famous statements was recorded by the Apostle Matthew in the 5th chapter of his gospel. "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven."

The 'Love Your Enemy" ethic is one of the most revolutionary and striking things about Jesus' teachings while he was walking around in 1st century Palestine. Now, 2000 or so years later, it is one of the most difficult to apply. For many people, it is difficult to apply because it doesn't feel like we really have enemies. Sure, my neighbor might be really loud late at night, and that guy at the work really annoys the hell out of me when he takes credit for my work, but those aren't enemies. It doesn't cost me a lot to pray for them (of course that doesn't mean I always do it).

For the first time in my life, I actually have enemies. The 200-300 Israeli Jewish Settlers who are trying to take over the land that is bordering Paidia's Adventure Gardens consider me their enemy, and I suppose that I consider them my enemies as well, as they are trying to destroy the work to which I have devoted the last year of my life. They harass me and others in our group over e-mail and phone, they try to get us deported, and a couple weeks ago, they physically assaulted us. When they speak with us, they have hate in their eyes and their voices, and they say things that are supposed to hurt as much as possible.

In the aftermath of our most recent interaction with the settlers, me and a couple others sat together and talked about the idea of praying for our enemies. We decided we wanted to try and get together and pray for the individual settlers with whom we have interacted. We haven't done it yet.

Busyness is one possible excuse, we all have jobs, families, and other responsibilities, but I have think that they idea is not as exciting in practice as it is in theory. To actually look at a picture of someone who hates me, and ask God to bless that person, to fill them with His love, and to do it without an agenda, is a tall, tall order. To respond to taunts of "Jew-Hater," "Euro-Trash," and "Nazi" with blessings seems downright unreasonable. In fact, I have found that I usually end up day-dreaming about ways to "get" the settlers when I sit down to pray for them, and before I know it, I'm angrier than when I started.

I'm not entirely sure what my conclusions is on this topic. I have to do what I have been commanded to do regardless of the discomfort involved, and, to be honest, it hasn't gotten any easier as I have tried to start praying for them on my own. Maybe the solution is our first idea, praying together, supporting one another in this audacious and unreasonable command that Jesus has given us may be the first step to actually doing it.

Friday, August 8

Pray-ers for Peace

Wednesday evening, at about 6:30pm, a group of internationals and Palestinians gathered at Oush Ghrab for an ecumenical service. The Army base is actually built next to ruins of a Byzantine church, so it seemed an appropriate location. We knew in advance that the settlers who were trying to establish a settlement on that site would be holding an event that evening, and we thought we might get kicked out early in the night. We decided, however, that some prayer is better than none, and we went ahead with our plans for the service.

The group praying near the end of the evening

When the first settlers arrived, they questioned us and what we were doing there. Some of them told us to leave, that this was land only for Jews, but we continued with the service. Gradually, more and more settlers showed up with more and more equipment. We hadn't realized this was going to be such a big event, but we carried on singing songs, praying, and listening to some heartfelt sermons.

Our group is to the right of this shot

As the evening got later, some of the children of the settler group started to come over to us. Actually, they climbed on the roof of the building next to us. They began to wave their flags in our faces and mock our words and actions. We moved away from them, more toward the center of the site, and made a prayer circle. As a group, we discussed the things that made us thankful and then began to pray for peace. The praying was followed by singing.

Sometime in the middle of our singing, the settlers decided that they did not want us there anymore. A dozen or so kids put themselves in the middle of our group and started chanting nationalist slogans. The soldiers sensed trouble was brewing and lined themselves up between our group and the main group of settlers. Their "efforts" to keep the settlers away from us proved futile, and we were overrun by 100 or so angry settlers who pushed, hit, kicked and prodded us back into a corner. The English speaking settlers (most of them) shouted at us to "go back to Europe" and "get off Jewish land." One man taunted our minister for his belief in Jesus, saying "if he comes back, we'll kill him again."
All the while, we hear a woman screaming Hebrew into the microphone. Later on, a friend translated for us. She was shouting, "push them back! Get them out of here!"

The minister leading our service just ducked a flag pole (right side)

One we were in the corner, the soldiers decided to keep us back, rather than punishing the people who provoked the violence. In fact, both groups simply carried on doing what we were doing, although we spent a good hour searching for lost glasses, backpacks, etc that had been knocked off during the fracas. I was incredibly proud of the group of people I was with that day, as they showed great restraint in the face of insults and violence.

As the settler event came to a close, the men and women rose to pray. In contrast to the disrespect that the settlers showed to us, we grew quiet and prayed along with them.

Lord, we ask that you bring peace to this land.

Monday, August 4

Life Takes Over

Who knew that running an NGO, having a child, and being unwillingly drafted into a political showdown in the Middle East could be this time-consuming? In order to catch people up on what has been going on (all both of you who still check this blog, thanks mom and Steph) I'd like to fill you in on the above mentioned items: Hiba, Paidia, and the settlers.

Hiba: I'm going to start with her, because I like her the most of the three. I never imagined that I could get so much enjoyment from spending time with someone who never talks to me, only occasionally recognizes me, and constantly pukes on me. I often find myself trying to leave the office early, skip out on social obligations, etc just so I can spend time with Hiba, and she doesn't even know the difference! I know that a lot of parents feel this way about their children, but I really think that she is the most beautiful, strong, and intelligent 3.5 month old that has ever occupied the planet. Seriously, check out these pictures.

Look at that personality! Those beautiful blue eyes! Her smile! Sorry moms and dads of other children, it's been decided . . . mine is the best.

Paidia: We've just completed summer camps, and while this is technically the second summer that we have held camps, this is the first summer that we have done independent summer camps, without going through another organization. Let me tell you, that is very different. The most importance difference was recruiting kids to be a part of camp, which is more work than you might think. Simply getting our name out there for the community to be aware of was more effort than I imagined. But, after all is said and done, we did give about 60 kids the chance to be a part of one of the coolest camps that Palestine has seen. A number of people from here and from the states contributed money to the camp effort, and for that we are very thankful. There are some kids who got to attend camp that would have spent the week waiting for their parents to get home from work if y'all hadn't stepped up. Thank you very, very much.

Settlers: Now this is where this update really gets long. On May 15, a group of right-wing Israeli's descended upon an abandoned army base that directly borders Paidia's Jack Forrest Adventure Gardens. The group's stated purpose was to start a new Jewish settlement on the land, because they wanted to prevent the Palestinians from building a hospital for children with disabilities (the land is under the jurisdiction of the Israeli Army, but is owned by the Municipality of Beit Sahour, the town we live in). A number of Palestinians and internationals (including the Piston family and Paidia employees and volunteers) gathered in the are to see what the Israeli Army would do. After all, there were signs posted on the road leading to the area that inform Israeli citizens that their presence is illegal in the area (since it is a Palestinian town). Eventually, the settlers left that day, but they promised to come back.

Who wouldn't want this guy as a neighbor?

They have come back over a dozen times since that initial foray into our lives, and they show no signs of stopping. They have stated their intentions to start a settlement in a number of right-wing websites and newspapers, and thus far, little has been done to stop them. Each time they come, the settlers spray paint the base with racist and nationalist graffiti, hang some Israeli and right-wing flags, and leave. Each time, we paint over the graffiti with pictures and sometimes silly things, remove the flags, and we leave.

So far, we have been unable to discern the intentions of the authorities in the midst of all this. The military that shows up to the site every time the settlers come are basically just there to protect the settlers (even though they are the ones carrying guns anyway) and regularly give us conflicting answers to lie to us outright when we ask them about what they are going to do. The army and the Israeli civil authority continue to say that they are not going to allow the settlement to be built, but that is something that can easily change if the political winds change.

The last encounter we had with settlers was particularly disturbing. Some of us were painting over graffiti from the week before when a group of about 70 teenagers came onto the site, they started shouting at us to leave, that the land was only for Jews, and threw at least one paintbrush and a rock at some people who ignored them and continued to paint. The soldiers watched. Rather than risking confrontation or injury, we decided to abandon our painting project. The group of settlers spent the night at the site, despite the fact that the soldiers present told us the teenagers were not allowed to be there.

A settler shouting at a Paidia volunteer.

If the settlers succeed in establishing a settlement at this location, Paidia's Adventure Gardens, the Municipal park, and the children's hospital that Cure International wants to build here are all finished. Even now, we have noticed fewer families coming to our free climb because they are afraid of settlers and soldiers. I really don't know what will happen next. I wish I could have faith in the Israeli government and army to do the right thing, but I am far from convinced that they will.

God Bless,

P.S. If you are interested in learning more about the issue of settlements in the West Bank, the links below contain useful information.