What’s Your Name?

The game, if I remember correctly, began with Peter Makari, the co-leader of our trip, at the YWCA center in the Jalazone refugee camp near Ramallah. It wasn’t really a game, but a group of children crowding forward, shouting, “What’s your name?,” then waiting for our answers and for our return question: “What’s your name?” Their exuberance and energy and brightly colored t-shirts were at odds with the surrounding bleak streets of the camp we had just walked through. I learned a lot of names very quickly — I could hardly keep up — and I learned that there is joy in names. I knew that once.

I thought of those children when Mitt Romney’s analysis of the “dramatically stark difference in economic vitality” between Israel and “the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority,” made during his visit to Jerusalem, hit the headlines yesterday. Romney cited the power of culture, an innovative business climate, the Jewish history of thriving in difficult circumstances, and the hand of providence as the reasons for the difference. He said nothing about the history here. He said nothing about the occupation. He said nothing about the separation wall. He said nothing about water restrictions. He said nothing about land theft.The reader comments following the article in which I’d read about Romney’s explanations were just as bad. Several of them revealed an inability to consider Palestinians in any other terms but terrorism. “What’s your name?” No need for names; the label gives you all that you need to know and want to believe.

I remembered an experience I’d had in the Old City. We were walking through the narrow streets filled with shops when I spotted a display of head scarfs. I quickly ducked into a shop to purchase one. I had obtained some shekels in previous transactions and even though I now knew the exchange rate, I looked at the shekels and still had no idea how to count them. When the proprietor of the shop said the scarf was six dollars, I opened my wallet on the counter and asked him to take that amount from the mix of shekels, dollars and coins I had there. He seemed surprised. I think he felt awkward, but he saw that I really had no idea how much to give him. So he took the amount from my wallet and then he tried to teach me to count shekels, laying them out on his store counter, telling me the amount of each of them, and explaining the denominations of the coins.

My group was waiting. I thanked him and he said, “Be careful. Not everyone might be honest if you just give them all your money.” I thanked him again and picked up the scarf  from the counter to go. Then I stopped and held out my hand. I said, “Nice to meet you.” His face lit up with a delighted smile and he shook my hand warmly. He said, “Nice to meet you, beautiful woman.” It was not meant as flattery and I would not have taken it as such especially in my current condition, a downturn in health that caused extreme hair loss, including most of my eyebrows, in the months before the trip. But I took it as the human currency it was, naming beauty in the exchange of hospitality, a trust and a recognition between strangers. He was a Palestinian. “What’s your name?”

What is the way to break through the labels that have been assiduously applied by what passes for news but is blatant propaganda — but to meet? What is the way to break through the labels that have been taken up by Americans to suit our own prejudices and fears — but to meet? We use labels for Palestinians to hide from ourselves, what we can’t name about us. What should we call the act of declaring an entire population of people terrorists? Terrorism, maybe? And what should we call it when oppression is denied and renamed providence?

What’s your name?

— Kathryn


Do you remember?

I may have lost a friend over this, and I’d hardly even begun the conversation. I’ll call him Dave. We’ve been friends for over 20 years. It was a friendship that grew out of our common activism. We were advocates on behalf of animals and were no strangers to unpopular causes. We participated in a peace march together at the beginning of the war in Iraq.

The text message came when I turned my phone back on at the end of our trip. We were, in fact, still in Chicago, waiting for our connecting flight back to Minneapolis. It said, “Your name came up the other day and I haven’t heard from you in a while. How are you?” I replied that I had been in Israel and Palestine. He was quite surprised; he responded with something to the effect of “Wow!” and “How long were you there?” I explained that it was a global justice trip, with a brief explanation of the reason for our visit. By then we had boarded our flight to Minneapolis and I turned off the phone.

When I reached home, I fully expected to find a message waiting. There was nothing. I waited a couple of days, and then, seeing from his Flickr account that he had been in the U.K. — yes, we also keep in touch through photos — I sent a message asking him about his trip. He replied, briefly. Then, wondering if he had misunderstood something in my message about our Israel-Palestine trip, I explained that we had met with both Israeli and Palestinian groups during our trip. Again, no reply came. This was not like him. I sent another message to say that I sensed that it was not a good topic and I would not bring it up again. I have not heard back from him.

I am mystified, stunned; he is the last person I would expect this from. I have since recognized the folly of undertaking the conversation through text messages, but that is how he usually keeps in touch. And I didn’t expect it would be an issue with him. Not at all.

This conflict cuts across lines in a way that might surprise us. My friend is liberal, progressive, non-religious, cosmopolitan in his outlook (a world traveler). So, you could say, is Bill Maher and I bring him up because he is a comedian with some influence among progressives, who has commented on a lot on this conflict. His 2008 “documentary,” Religulous, which I have not watched but I plan to soon, mocks religion and from what I have read in reviews, at the end of the movie the Muslim faith is conflated with terrorism through several images. Maher then calls for an end to all religions if we are to save ourselves.* In an earlier interview with Larry King, Maher responds to the complaint he has heard from a Palestinian schoolgirl about the attitude of Israeli soldiers at checkpoints with the comment, “Well, yeah, but that’s because a lot of your brothers are blowing up their pizza parlors. Sorry.”[1]

Sorry? This is racism; we know this. Somehow it is okay to mistreat people because they are Arabs or Muslims or Palestinians. Somehow that’s okay with a supposedly progressive comedian and a progressive audience. Maher, like many others, has said there was never a Palestine, so there is no occupation.

We forget our own history; we forget, for example, the Japanese concentration camps in our country during World War II, when a whole population became guilty by association, were considered dangerous, and were rounded up and held without cause. I can’t imagine anyone I know who would not consider that a terrible and regrettable thing in our history; but many simply shrug off similar treatment for Palestinians in their own land. History will judge us for this, I believe, but that doesn’t help the Palestinians now.

Meanwhile, I am heartbroken by the silence of my friend. I keep thinking about picking up the phone, but I am afraid. Will he let it go to voice mail? Will I ever get to explain? What is he thinking?  Has he bought the charge that criticism of the Israeli government is anti-Semitic? Does he know that there are Israelis who are firmly opposed to the occupation, too, and stand against it? Does he view me as terribly misguided and backwards? Can we at least talk about this? Does he remember that when we demonstrated on behalf of animals, wanting only to expose the plight of the terrible conditions under which they suffered, we were called terrorists?  Does he remember?

— Kathryn

[1] CNN Transcripts. http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0201/04/lkl.00.html

*I have since watched Religulous. The film seems calculated to find people who would be easy targets for cheap shots, truck drivers at a truck stop chapel, for instance, or visitors at a Holy Land theme park, or people who are enamored of the end times. People who were sincerely trying to express their beliefs when Maher asked were often interrupted and not allowed to speak: Maher put words in their mouths. It did seem that Islam was depicted largely in terms of violence, with Christianity a runner up. I have no issue with critical analyses of religion, but Maher picked his examples in a highly calculated way, generalized, and then came to a sweeping conclusion: that we need to end all religion. Based on a 90 minute highly selective “documentary” by one man, it doesn’t seem like a well reasoned conclusion for a self-described rationalist to make.

Peaceful Warriors

Peaceful Warriors

by htc

My Palestinian friends, the women and children at the Jalazoune Refugee Camp.

I saw a mutual appreciation of the beauty of the this desert land that these people call home, and of these people whom I now wondrously call family, of the beauty of their customs that they live out in pride.

I saw our mutual anguish over the devastation of domiciles and waterways by war and disrespect, over the devastation of the Palestinians by people full of unresolved trauma and insecurity, over devastation of a culture by the oppressor.

Out hands touched, we shared cardamom coffee, we took iphone photos, and in that brief time I felt the exchange of friendship and female mutuality.

I felt the beginning of friendship, did you my middle eastern friends?

I felt the beginning of a sharing of ideas, of mutual concern for each others’ welfare, of a commitment to the guarding of human rights.

I felt the ending of being uninformed about each other, of being too different from each other to have anything in common, of being strangers to each other.

Our feet walked the same path for a short while, but in that brief span our paths were the same and I felt my understanding surge.

I understood why the Palestinians hold this God-given land sacred, of why they demand to cling to this inheritance and their ways, and why they have tenaciously survived all these centuries.

My political understanding soared regarding the oppression of this nation by the state of Israel and the vagaries of international awareness of the situation.

I did feel God’s presence, though.

I felt God smile at the joy of discovering the same desire to dress attractively, to exercise and eat well, always to establish healthy boundaries; in the happiness of playing tickle with angelic children at summer camp, and hugging and kissing them as I do my own twins.

I felt God cry, witnessing the lack of potable water, free and secure jobs without work permits, parity between taxes paid and utility services received, freedom to drive all roadways and thoroughfares, immediate access to healthcare, normal access to public transportation, proper and full education, living without fear of house demolitions in the middle of the night, witnessing intimidation of young Israeli soldiers at every step of daily life, living without fear that a son is being coerced in prison to become a traitor to his people.

I was bereft when they asked why I could not return the next day.

I saw myself in these women and children’s eyes. I felt the beginning of new acquaintanceship and deeper understanding of pain in the world and gratefulness for my little world of privilege at home. Most importantly, I felt the Holy Spirit in and around me and my circle of expanded relationships. We will remember each other.


A Voice in the Wilderness

Last fall I took a class in the theology of Bonhoeffer, perhaps best known for his work, The Cost of Discipleship, with its critique of cheap grace and its contrast of costly grace. He is also known for his participation in a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler, for which he was hanged. During the course, I scrutinized Bonhoeffer’s theology carefully, looking for clues to what had made him speak out and actively oppose the Nazi regime when so many others did not. Over and over in his theology, Bonhoeffer emphasized concrete responsibilities and he resisted abstractions; he said that we were responsible to the concrete realities of history. In Toward A Jewish Theology of Liberation, Marc Ellis discusses solidarity and he writes: “Solidarity also means the willingness to enter into history with authenticity and fidelity. Entry into history is the willingness to engage in a critical dialogue with economic, social, political and religious issues….A lived witness means to make a choice within the critical dialogue, to plant one’s feet without all the answers, to choose a way of life in the mix of history.” Choosing responsibility without all the answers; as Bonhoeffer had written decades before: “Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behavior.”

If is often said that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complex and it is in certain respects, but in other respects it is not complex, it is a matter of a fundamental injustice, of an illegal occupation and of egregious human rights abuses in violation of international law. But because a resolution seems difficult and the conflict at times intractable, because no one of us has all the answers, the inclination may be to opt out of critical dialogue. Or we may opt out because of criticism for speaking out, charges of anti-Semitism, questions of our loyalties. But we bear a responsibility to the concrete realities of history, to what we know is occurring now, a situation that I believe history will charge us with if we fail to address it. I believe history will ask: how could they have let this go on?

I take my baptism in the Jordan River seriously, and I have decided not to call it a rededication; with all respect to those who had me baptized at birth, this is not a choice that can be made by proxy. I am a quiet person and I want nothing more than to walk off into the sunset and live a gracious life at home and in nature; to read, write, bake bread, care for my family, and for animals. But I walked into a green and ancient river, and although I did not hear an actual voice crying in the wilderness, I felt it. I knew that I was agreeing to walk in wildernesses whose ways I don’t yet know.

Of the many images and moments I take away from this trip, one that keeps returning are the faces of Palestinians who told us: “We are not terrorists.” One is Salim, the man whose home has been demolished five times by Israeli bulldozers, who after the first demolition found his frightened son eight hours later hiding among the rocks, whose daughter knows that her father can’t protect her; she says: “I saw what the soldiers did to you.” Another is the face of a man from the Bereaved Families circle, who in spite of the senseless shooting death of his father by Israeli soldiers wants to dialogue with Israelis who have also lost family members in the conflict. It is not about forgiveness, he says, but about choosing reconciliation, to understand the path of other side. He says, “Our case as Palestinians is about justice, not revenge… we are not met as human beings.”

And the Separation Barrier, the Wall reinforces this every day. On one side are the alleged terrorists, on the other, those who allegedly are not. But when you hear the stories, those distinctions prove to be muddled. And the Wall is ugly — not as though one would expect beauty — but it rises like an insult into the air with its crown of barbed wire. It has boxed some Palestinians in on three sides. That, to me, is terror, to have the horizon barred, the sunrise and sunset imprisoned, to be in a barbed and concrete wilderness. Yet on the wall of that wilderness, a voice emerges. Someone has written, “The dirt whispered, child, I’m coming home. Love conquers all.”


Holy Ground

“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.” (Psalm 24:1-2 NRSV)

This Psalm states clearly one of the major insights I had on my trip to Israel/Palestine. The land was created by God and belongs to God. The ground we all stand on is Holy Ground. 

The conflict in this region is over the land and who the land really belongs to. The land is sacred to the three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. My eyes, however, have been opened to the real issues. The way the Israeli government is taking over the land and controlling the movement of the Palestinians is truly unjust. 

We listened and spoke to many incredible people on our pilgrimage. One of the women we spoke to was Jean Zaru. She shared with us why it is important to work for peace and justice. She pointed out that both the occupied and the occupier need liberation and that non-violent resistance is not a transfer of power from one group to another. One of the last things she said to us was, “If it is difficult to hear it, it is more difficult to live it.” 

I did find that it was difficult to hear some of the stories that were shared. There was the man whose house had been demolished five times and the worst story was about a little boy who happened to be walking on a closed road and was killed. I won’t share the details here, but let’s just say it was horrific.

The bottom line really does come down to the land belonging to God. I am a child of God and this is a privilege for all people.

“For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. …there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26, 28-29)

The Garden Tomb

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The Garden Tomb was not on our official tour of biblical sites. However, I had read about it as an alternative to the tomb at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and that it was more appealing to Protestant Christians. The tomb was a couple blocks from our Jerusalem lodging, so during a 30 minute break in our schedule on our last day, I walked briskly up the hill and down another one on Nablus Road to get a quick view of this site. The hill near the tomb certainly looks like a skull (Golgotha-skull hill) to me, but you take a look and decide for yourself.

“Many have come to believe that this could be the site of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus because it so clearly fits the description provided by the writers of the New Testament.  Whether it is the actual site or not, noted archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon has described the tomb as a good example of a Second Temple Period burial site, so it gives a glimpse of what Jesus’ tomb could have looked like.

Site of the Crucifixion:Skull Hill

  • Outside the city walls of Jerusalem
  • Near a gate of the city
  • Along a busy thoroughfare
  • At a place of public execution
  • At the place of the skull – Golgoatha
  • A garden nearby

Site of the Tomb:The Garden Tomb

  • Located in a garden
  • Belonged to a rich man (Joseph of Arimathea)
  • Hewn out of the rock
  • Sealed with a rolling stone
  • Entered through a low doorway
  • Burial chamber situated to the right of the entrance”
  • Source:    http://www.gardentomb.org/why.php
Click on the link below to see a video of the inside of the tomb.

Pamela Y. Cook

Our Trip to the Dead Sea

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On our last afternoon in Palestine-Israel, we visited Jericho and then the Dead Sea. Unlike many of the places we have visited, the Dead Sea does not figure prominently in biblical narratives. Since the shore of this body of water is the lowest land point on earth at  1300 feet below sea level, the water has no where to drain. Fed by the Jordan River, 7 million tons of water in the Dead Sea evaporate daily leaving many minerals behind.  Aristotle, Queen of Sheba, King Solomon and Cleopatra were all familiar with the sea’s medicinal value and many companies market its precious minerals.

It was 104 degrees on the Friday afternoon that we visited. While it was extremely hot, a constant light breeze cooled us off. However, the changing rooms with no ventilation were sweltering. We were greeted by a Speedo clad man who  offered to give us Dead Sea clay massages for $10. I put my belongings down and got in the water. The sea bed was not nearly as rocky as internet reviewers had claimed. I reached my hands down to feel the bottom. At places it was rocky and sandy, but mostly it was clay like. I tried to sit down so I could examine this earth more clearly, but my bottom kept floating up. I finally just gave into the floating. It was so easy! I never imagined it would be so much fun.

I got out of the water for a break and “Mr. Speedo Massager” was right there trying to convince me I would love his massage. I avoided him for as long as I could, but finally yielded. I had done a lot of walking during our trip and my feet deserved a treat. However, the massage was much too quick and only covered my feet and legs. At the end, he put some clay on my face and said it was a bonus. I really did not want it on my face, but he had it on before I could protest. I let the clay dry and then got back in the water. Everything was fine until I started sweating and some of the clay got in my eyes. My eyes started stinging  like they do when I get sunscreen or chlorinated water in them, so I could not see. Fortunately, “Mr. Speedo” noticed I was having difficulty and came down to lead me out the water, up the stairs, and to a hose where he rinsed out my eyes. I had some redness in the corner of my eyes, but otherwise, I was back to normal. It was the end of my Dead Sea adventure, but not the end of my reflection of the politics of this place.

If you did not already know, you would have no idea that the Dead Sea is in the West Bank. This means that it is Palestinian land and should be controlled by the Palestinian Authority; however, it is another resource in Palestine from which Palestinians do not profit. Israel has taken control of most of the prominent tourist sites in the area – the northern shore of the Dead Sea, Wadi Qelt, the Qumran caves, the springs of the ‘Ein Fashkha reserve, and the Qasr Alyahud site (where John the Baptist baptized Jesus). This appropriation of Palestinian land is in open defiance of international law and overwhelming international condemnation. Although we had engaged in an afternoon of fun, the politics of Israeli apartheid was still apparent.

Pamela Y. Cook

Our Lunch Hangout on the Mount of Olives

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We went to this lunch spot on our first and last days in Jerusalem as well as one day in between. Located on the Mount of Olives, it is next to a butcher shop that supplied our fresh meat ingredients. On Fridays, the menu is falafel, chicken, or meat (lamb) in a pita. On other days, the selection includes shawarma. The beverage selection included Fanta Orange (a favorite in our group), Coke Zero, diet Coke, and fruit drinks. Since we were there on two Fridays, we saw people passing by as they left noon prayers at a nearby mosque.

Click the link below to see a video of the preparation of our meal on Friday, June 29, 2012:


Pamela Y. Cook

Church of the Primacy of Peter on the Sea of Galilee

“9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some

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of the fish that you have just caught.’ 11So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord. 13Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ 16A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ 17He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.”

John 21:9-17 (NRSV)

These photos are from the Church of the Primacy of Peter on the Sea of Galilee. Located at Tagbha on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, it is a modest Franciscan chapel that incorporates part of a 4th-century church. According to tradition, this is the site where Jesus made his 3rd appearance after the Resurrection as well as where Jesus reinstated Peter (after his three-time denial of Jesus at the crucifixion) with the words “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-19).

Click the link below to look at video of Kathryn reading the gospel:


Pamela Y. Cook