Then justice will reside in wild lands,Isaiah 32.16-18
and righteousness will abide in farmlands.
The fruit of righteousness will be peace,
and the outcome of righteousness, calm and security forever.
Then my people will live in a peaceful dwelling,
in secure homes, in carefree resting places.
Dear friends, it has been a long time since I last wrote. I was on holiday for the second half of August, speaking with churches, schools, guilds and groups in Scotland for the month of September, and then returned to a backlog of admin and writing in October. It has taken me longer than I’d expected to catch up, but I hope now to return to more regular blogging again.
One of the pieces I have been working on over the past couple of weeks is a report on the different organisations the Church of Scotland works alongside across Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Our partners work at grassroots, national and international levels. They challenge unjust systems and advocate for structural change. They provide vocational training and employment opportunities, health care and psychosocial support, education and rehabilitation. They empower young people, women, refugees, minorities and prisoners. They work uni-nationally, creating safe spaces where members of the same community can explore their hurts and fears, and bi-nationally, creating opportunities for encounter and exchange between different groups. And they do their work with self-awareness, proud of their cultural heritage and religious identities but also honest about the ways their own communities have contributed to the current division of society in Israel, military occupation of the West Bank, and blockade of Gaza.
I highlighted some of them during my talks in Scotland, and I thought it might be of interest to some of my readers here to know who they are (bearing in mind that this is only about half of them; my colleague Rev John McCulloch works with most of the Jerusalem and West Bank partners). So below is simply a summary of our partners’ work. I have attached links to their websites if you would like more information about their programmes and ways to support and encourage them. Maybe your community or congregation would like to link with them in some way; or maybe you’re planning a visit or pilgrimage and would like to visit one or two of them. If so, I am happy to help you find ways of doing that.
Sindyanna, Cana of Galilee
As they describe themselves on their website (sindyanna.com), ‘Sindyanna is a unique non-profit organization led by a team of Arab and Jewish women working to create social change from the ground up. Our goals are to produce outstanding olive oil and other premium food products, while enhancing Arab-Jewish cooperation, promoting Fair Trade, creating economic opportunities for Arab women, and assisting local growers and producers.’
Sindyanna is also currently developing eco-initiatives to ensure its visitors centre is environmentally friendly and sustainable. Their new hydroponic agriculture programme enables the women they work with to grow herbs and vegetables for their families and communities even in densely populated neighbourhoods where few families have their own garden.
Sindyanna’s high quality olive oil is widely available in the States, but they’re still looking for a way to enter the UK market. And if you buy olive oil beauty products from LUSH, you’re already supporting the work of the women of Sindyanna!
The International Christian Committee in Israel (one of the organisations under the umbrella of the Middle East Council of Churches’ Department of Services to Palestinian Refugees), runs a number of different programmes:
- They work with girls aged 12-21 in marginalised areas of Acre, offering psychosocial support, academic tutoring, and opportunities to discuss contemporary issues the girls face.
- They run a youth leadership and develop programme in Me’elya, a Christian town on the Lebanese border, focusing on creative thinking, team building, and communication skills.
- They have begun a special project in conflict transformation dialogue, bringing together Arab and Jewish students and teachers from the Carmel School in Nazareth Ilit (recently renamed Nof Hagalil) and the Baptist School in Nazareth, to promote understanding and exposure between the two communities through art and sport.
- They have also started an interfaith programme, in which more than 60 Jewish, Druze, Muslim and Christian teachers visit sites significant to one another’s religions, as a way of promoting understanding of ‘the other’.
You can read more about their work in their 2017 Annual Report online.
Galilee Society, Shefr’amr
As they introduce their work on their website (gal-soc.org) the Galilee Society — the Arab National Society for Health, Research and Services — ‘aims to achieve equitable health, environmental and socio-economic conditions, and to increase development opportunities for Palestinian Arabs inside Israel, both as individual citizens and as a national minority living in their homeland’.
They conduct extensive research into the physical and environmental health of the Arab communities and use their findings to work alongside both the Israeli government and other grassroots organisations to improve the wellbeing of Arab citizens of Israel. They also run programmes in bio-technology and the use of traditional medicinal plants. A core value is the preservation of Arab culture and identity.
House of Grace, Haifa
The House of Grace is a residential rehabilitation facility for Arab ex-prisoners in central Haifa. Run by the Shehade family, House of Grace is the only facility of its kind for Arab prisoners in Israel. Released prisoners spend nine months living on-site, during which they are helped to reintegrate into society and offered any support they may need for drug or alcohol addiction. They spend an additional year living in the community but making regular visits to House of Grace to meet with social workers to ensure they are well supported during the transition period. House of Grace also runs an after school programme for at-risk children and summer camps for children from low-income families. During each holiday period (for all religions) they distribute food parcels to families in need, made up of food collected by the local community, especially school children.
Find out more at house-grace.org.
New Profile, Nationwide
New Profile is a feminist organisation working for the demilitarisation of Israeli society. They have two main programmes: a counselling programme for young people seeking exemption from military service and one which educates teachers and social workers about the harm caused by a militarised curriculum. Around a thousand young people contact them each year through their counselling service. They are the only organisation in Israel working to tackle directly the problem of militarism as the root cause of the military occupation of the Palestinian Territories and the lack of peaceful solutions to the conflict. You can read some of their news and testimonies on their website: newprofile.org.
Sadaka-Reut, Tel Aviv-Jaffa
Sadaka-Reut is an organisation of Palestinian and Jewish activists from central Israel who are working to build bi-national partnerships through education programmes for youth and young adults. They have three main programmes:
- ‘Building a culture of peace’ is a programme of youth groups for Jewish and Palestinian students aged 14-18 which addresses issues relevant to the young people’s lives and creates opportunities for respectful encounters between the communities, encouraging the youth to build social and political partnerships.
- ‘Community in action’ is a volunteering and leadership development project for Palestinian and Jewish high school graduates who organise local campaigns within their communities and work as counsellors and role models for Palestinian and Jewish children and youth.
- ‘Partners in shaping reality’ establishes groups of Jewish and Palestinian university students who engage in dialogue and action on university and college campuses throughout Israel. It creates space for civil, political and social discussion about the conflict and Arab-Jewish relations.
In addition to these programmes, Sadaka-Reut also offers tours of Jaffa which highlight the impact of gentrification on the Arab community and tell the history from a bi-national perspective.
Learn more about their programmes at reutsadaka.org
Physicians for Human Rights, Tel Aviv-Jaffa
Physicians for Human Rights have a volunteer base of 3000 medical staff. They run an open clinic in Jaffa for migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers who have no access to the public health system, operate mobile clinics in the West Bank, and send doctors (Arab citizens of Israel, because the Jewish doctors are not permitted) into Gaza to provide medical care and training. They help Gazans seeking medical treatment in Israel or the West Bank to navigate the process of applying for permits. And alongside the services they offer, they work to effect structural change, challenging laws and systems which are discriminatory towards Palestinians in the Occupied Territory, prisoners and detainees, migrant workers, refugees, undocumented persons, and Israeli residents. They have an extensive range of reports on their website: phr.org.il.
Near East Council of Churches, Gaza
The NECC Gaza offers vocational training, psychosocial support, and primary health care to some of the poorest people in Gaza. Their services are available to all, regardless of religion, gender, age, political affliction, and they are a witness of peace, hope and reconciliation in the midst of almost unthinkable deprivation and ongoing tension and trauma. Their work is highly respected and hugely appreciated by the people they serve. Their clinics and centres not only fill some of the gaps left by a healthcare system struggling due to a lack of medicines, funds, electricity and clean water as a result of the blockade, they also provide valuable employment opportunities in an area where unemployment rates are as high as 65%. Their 2017 annual report highlights the extent of their work: http://dsprme.org/uploads/Annual_Report_2017_19-4-20181.pdf
Nuseirat Women’s Project Centre, Gaza
Nuseirat refugee camp is home to more than 80,000 refugees. Those who live there suffer overcrowding, high unemployment and poverty, contaminated water, and frequent electricity cuts. The Women’s Programme Centre in the Nuseirat Refugee Camp, one of UNRWA’s gender initiative programmes, provides vocational training to women, including sewing, embroidery and hairdressing. On site is a nursery for the children of the women who work there, and a kindergarten for the community. In 2006 UNRWA established a legal aid clinic at the centre as part of a job creation programme. The US government’s cuts in funding to UNRWA’s work in the West Bank and Gaza had a direct impact upon the centre, and a year ago, eight employees were working on a voluntary basis because they could not find other work and preferred helping their community to staying at home. I have written about their work before: https://imaginationofpeace.com/?s=we+Try+to+stay
Ahli Arab Hospital, Gaza
Ahli Arab Hospital is committed to offering high quality medical care to all regardless of religious, ethnic or economic background. It also trains doctors and nurses throughout Gaza. In addition to its hospital facility, it provides free mobile clinics to villages across Gaza and offers specialised care for elderly women, underweight or malnourished children, screening for early detection of breast cancer, and psychosocial support. It has eighty beds, of which only fifty are currently in use because of lack of funds. The Diocese of Jerusalem gives more background on its website: http://www.j-diocese.org/index.php?page=129666024424&sub=129698368736
The YMCA Gaza is a safe, politically neutral space for both Christian and Muslim children to play and families to meet. They have two gyms (one for men, one for women), a basketball court, a football pitch, an art studio, a library, and a games room. Gaza has one of the youngest populations in the world, but there are very few leisure and sports opportunities for the young people, which has serious implications for their physical and mental wellbeing, so the facilities provided by the YMCA meet a significant need. The YMCA also runs a youth camp in the summer and social initiatives throughout the year and is sourcing funding to start a music programme for its young people. They offer a summary of their programmes in English on their website: ymcagaza.org.
Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, Gaza
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, Gaza is dedicated to protecting human rights, promoting the rule of law and upholding democratic principles in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). They describe their work on their website: ‘The work of the Centre is conducted through documentation and investigation of human rights violations, provision of legal aid and counselling for both individuals and groups, and preparation of research articles relevant to such issues as the human rights situation and the rule of law. The Centre also provides comments on Palestinian Draft Laws and urges the adoption of legislation that incorporates international human rights standards and basic democratic principles. To achieve its goals, the Centre has recruited a committed staff of well-known human rights lawyers and activists.’
The PCHR provides weekly reports by email, updating the public about the situation on the ground and human rights violations in the Gaza Strip. You can sign up for their newsletter online: pchrgaza.org.
Atfaluna has helped thousands of deaf children and adults and their families in Gaza through their programmes of deaf education, speech therapy, income generation, vocational training, community awareness and counselling. Onsite they have a school and workshops for woodworking, ceramic, and embroidery. On our visit in June of this year, they told us that they have had to reduce the number of students from 300 to 250 and reduce staff salaries as a result of funding cuts. You can read more about their work and view their high quality crafts through their website: atfaluna.net.
The following are organisations we don’t currently have a direct connection with (though I have recently met with Zochrot to learn more about their work and see how we might collaborate). But I have huge respect for their work and often use their websites for my own research, especially here in the Galilee, though also further afield.
Adalah is an independent human rights organisation and legal centre, initially founded as a joint project of the Galilee Society and the Arab Association for Human Rights. They promote human rights in Israel in general and the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel in particular. They also advocate on behalf of Palestinian residents of the West Bank. They publish special reports and briefing papers in English on their website and is a helpful resource. https://www.adalah.org
The Mossawa Center, Haifa
The Mossawa Center ‘promotes the economic, social, cultural, and political rights of the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel and the recognition of this community as a national indigenous minority with its own national, cultural, and historical distinctiveness. [It] seeks to promote a democratic society and acts against all forms of discrimination’. It engages in grassroots, national, and international advocacy as well as economic research and budget analysis. It produces reports and newsletters including its findings in English on its website. http://www.mossawa.org/eng/
Al-Marsad, Majdal Shams (Golan Heights)
Al Marsad’s mission is ‘to work to protect and promote human rights and respect for the rule of law in the Occupied Syrian Golan’. Through its work, it ‘seeks to monitor and document human rights law and humanitarian law violations, and to urge the international community to pressure Israel to respect international law, stop its violations, and end its occupation of the Syrian Golan’. Al Marsad also offers alternative tours of the Golan, discussing with visitors the history of the region and the current reality for its residents. https://golan-marsad.org
Zochrot, Tel Aviv-Jaffa
Zochrot is an organisation of mostly Jewish Israelis who are committed to acknowledging and addressing the Nakba of 1948 as a key part of resolving the current conflict. Their work is not only about naming the injustices of the past but also about enabling Israeli society to envision a decolonised future in which Palestinians and Jews are fully integrated. They believe that granting Palestinians right of return has the potential to heal the rift between the two communities. They offer tours to villages destroyed in the years following the establishment of the State of Israel, host conferences and study groups, provide resources for teachers, and organise an annual film festival. https://zochrot.org
Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, Southern Israel
The Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality is the only Arab-Jewish organisation which remains focused solely on the specific problems confronting the Arab-Bedouin communities in the Naqab/Negev. Their mission is to achieve full civil rights and equality for all who live there, and their activities include grassroots efforts to ensure vital basic services are delivered to Bedouin communities, legal advocacy at a national level, and representation at international meetings and conventions (including the submission of shadow reports to the UN). https://www.dukium.org