As more and more members of the ELCA come to understand the real conditions under which people in Palestine (both Christian and Muslim) must live every day, the call for some sort of truly meaningful response from our Church grows. Important witnesses to the brutality of occupation are our very own ELCA young adults who have volunteered in Palestine:
I was originally in Nablus working for a NGO called Project Hope, working on English and French instruction across all ages. While I was there I saw many effects of the occupation. Many times lessons in the neighboring villages would be canceled because the checkpoints encircling the city were closed, or the threat of settlers kept the villagers indoors. I saw the fires of olive groves burning. Just outside one of the refugee camps there is a church known as Jacob’s Well and a location alleged to be Joseph’s Tomb. Every week the settlers would use these locations as an excuse to enter Balata. They would burn things, yell, assault, and deface the entire area escorted by the IDF. So every week once the headlights of the caravan were seen Balata residents had to make sure they made it indoors before they arrived. If one of the local volunteers I worked with was in the city and couldn’t make it back, they couldn’t go back that night.
I returned to the West Bank a year later with [a] program through our church. Most of the year, we were not allowed to go to Nablus because incidents with the settlers had increased. I met my friend halfway once, and he said every single person leaving the city (to elsewhere in the West Bank) was being searched and harassed. While I was serving in YAGM, one of the schools Project Hope used to teach at was demolished by the IDF. Uncounted numbers of olive trees burned according to local news sources. Eventually I was able to go Nablus and visit my friends. I got there late because the checkpoint was choking movement in and out of the city. This was unfortunate because that night the settlers were coming and my friend had to leave early. I found out later that night that thousands of settlers escorted by IDF forces had entered Balata fully armed and a friend of my friend was shot in the head.
A few weeks later I went on a dual narrative tour and met some settlers. I raised the question of settler harassment violence, specifically in Nablus, with the organization leader. He didn’t know I had spent time in Nablus. He responded to me not to trust the media and that it was so unfortunate that a few teenagers leaving graffiti was so blown out of proportion and used in the media to give settlements a
bad name. I said nothing back because I couldn’t form a professional response at that moment. I had seen the fires from burning trees, the hate graffiti on schools, and the pain my friend felt.
Settlements continue to grow and settlers’ actions and rhetoric continue to be unchecked in anyway. We are nearing a point of no return where Palestinian communities in the West Bank are so cut off and brutalized they won’t be able to function properly. We need to raise our voices to call for Israel to hold itself and its citizens accountable for their actions.