Peace Teams News, PO Box 10372, San Antonio TX 78210-0372, Tel: 877 814 6972







FALL, 2001: Volume 6, Issue 3

Joining Israeli and Palestinian Peacemakers: “These are the real heroes…” by Bill Durland

Thanks to my association with Friends Peace Teams as a Coordinating Committee member representing Intermountain Yearly Meeting, my wife, Genie and I were led to join the recent Christian Peacemakers Team mission to the West Bank, July 27 to August 8. We were the only Quakers in our delegation of fourteen, which consisted of Mennonites, Episcopalians, a United Church of Christ pastor and several unaffiliated, but clearly Christian-oriented, peace activists.

To report on all we saw, did and experienced in detail would be far beyond the scope of this newsletter, so I will try to summarize briefly the flavor of the experience, with some highlights. We began in Jerusalem with two days of orientation and training. One of those days was a First Day and Genie and I were fortunate enough to have an opportunity to get to Ramallah to share Meeting for Worship with Ramallah Friends Meeting, certainly a highlight for us as Quakers. A group of Friends from Guilford College was also there doing a work camp at the Friends School which suffers continually from the Israeli harassment of Palestinian people and institutions in Ramallah. We also met Jean Zarou and her sister-in-law, Violet, who has given years of service to a nursery school for refugee children which she founded.

Our time as CPTers in the West Bank was given over to meeting with local peace and justice workers on both sides and taking part in actions of resistance and solidarity. Among the local peace and justice workers we met and talked with were the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center whose spokesperson, Samia Khoury, gave a moving presentation about their work on liberation theology in the Palestinian context. There, we also met Jeff Halper, an Israeli activist and founder of Israelis Against Home Demolitions. We met Arik Ascherman, founder of Rabbis for Human Rights and visited the Dheisha Refugee Camp in Bethlehem where we saw amazing examples of the triumph of the human spirit over almost unimaginable poverty, deprivation and oppression. We met the staff of the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People in Beit Sahour and the Palestinian Center for the Study of Non-violence in Hebron which is dedicated to implementing the principles and practices of Gandhi in the Palestinian struggle for justice and freedom from occupation. At each meeting and in each place we were treated with warmth and enthusiasm and given so much valuable background and information about the current efforts of each group that it will take months to integrate it all! 

Our actions included taking part in a human shield effort in Beit Jala. Beit Jala is a Palestinian (mostly Christian) town located across a valley from the large and well-established Israeli settlement of Gilo. The town is subjected to bombardments from Gilo, often without provocation. As human shields we CPTers volunteered to fan out in pairs and sleep in Palestinian homes in vulnerable neighborhoods. We spent our first such night under five hours of heavy shelling at very close range—pretty terrifying for us and yet something innocent families must live with constantly. We were blessed because the mother of the household later said that she was blessed to have us in her home. Such actions do not stop the Israeli shelling, but the fact that they are publicized to inform the world of the presence of internationals who care enough to do such a thing can be a deterrent to Israeli aggression. In this case, CBS News heard of the action, took an interest and aired a short piece about it on Monday, August 13!

While in the Bethlehem neighborhood, my wife and I were asked to provide help and suggestions on non-violence training to the leadership of an international solidarity group expected to arrive the following week. Members of that group were subsequently involved in protesting the seizure of Orient House after our departure. Our final week was spent at CPT headquarters in the city of Hebron which is neither Palestinian nor Israeli, being divided arbitrarily into “H1” which is presumably controlled by Palestinians, and “H2” which is controlled by Israel.

Bill and Genie Durland

While there we accompanied Palestinians on essential errands which could not be accomplished without help because of the imposition of curfew; visited the homes of Palestinians besieged by settlements built literally on their roofs and who, in order to protect themselves from stones and garbage thrown on them by settlers had to cover their courtyards and streets with wire mesh; helped landowners harvest their grapes and almonds (illegal under Israeli law) to save their land from confiscation; and spent the night with a family living on the border between H1 and H2, exposed to stoning and shelling from the adjacent settlement. Every day, family members see a large poster facing their house which reads: “Death to Arabs;” and their children must climb a steep hill and a 3-meter wall on a round-about route to get to school without walking on the road reserved for settlers. The elderly father of this family is ill and bedridden. When his sons tried to get an ambulance to take him to the hospital the settlers stoned the ambulance.

Finally, we visited Yatta where Palestinian shepherds, reduced to living in caves, had their caves destroyed by settlers and are now living in the open trying to protect what’s left of their sheep and vineyards. There we were accompanied by three bus-loads of ordinary Israelis who oppose their government’s actions in the occupied territories and risked their lives and freedom to deliver humanitarian aid to the dispossessed shepherds. These are real heroes, willing to publicly oppose such monolithic and oppressive official policies and public opinion!

These scenes and especially these intelligent, generous, forbearing people are in our hearts for good. Our experience gave us clarity that our next step must be to undergo the intensive training offered by CPT to become CPT reservists and make ourselves available for more full-time service. Our thanks go to Albuquerque Monthly Meeting and Intermountain Yearly Meeting for their generous financial and spiritual support and to the Elise Boulding Fund for an essential grant making our travel possible. Our next step is an act of faith since it means finally giving up our part-time employment, living only on social security, and trusting that the financial support for extensive CPT service will be forthcoming.

For contact information about CPT see Urgent Need for Spanish Speakers.

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