Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Weaving women, Passover and Easter

Kafr Manda is a sizeable Arab village in Western Galilee and is home to a basketry project, in which 9 Arab women, the oldest 53 and the youngest 22, weave baskets. In doing so, they keep alive an ancient craft. The project is run by Sindyanna, a fair trade organisation, which works mostly with the Arab community, but which seeks to promote co-existence between the different groups in Israeli society. In fact, the next basketry course will have 10 participants, 5 Arab and 5 Jewish women, which I find exciting. Even as it is, the workforce is mixed. The project seeks to empower the women, providing them with employment and thereby with money, but also giving them a space away from their home environment where they can chat and share problems. The baskets themselves are works of art, all individual. Needless to say, I bought two for the church in Tiberias! The women also make lunch for groups, so anyone planning a trip to the Holy land should consider stopping off there!

The Monday night of Holy Week – but also this year the beginning of Passover (or Pesach, in Hebrew). I had been invited, along with two friends from Scotland, to the Seder meal at Kinneret kibbutz just south of Tiberias. It was a wonderful experience, with over 300 people of all ages gathered in the kibbutz dining hall. This was the 96th time the Seder had been celebrated at Kinneret, and different families had their own bits of the ‘liturgy’ to read, as the story of the Exodus and the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt was recited. All this was interspersed with singing led by a band of musicians. The walls were also decorated by paintings by one of the artists from the kibbutz, using the ‘Exodus’ theme.

I found it an incredibly moving experience and was struck by a sense of continuity with the past, both immediately (some of the readings were read by children of the first settlers on the kibbutz), but also realising that this meal had been celebrated for all these centuries. I was also struck by the strong sense of community and oneness on the kibbutz. As a Christian, I could identify strongly with the Passover, whose message of liberation from oppression has meant so much to churches throughout the world.

The scouts are an interdenominational group in the Arab town of Reine, and their band beat the drums and led the procession with banners at the Palm Sunday procession, where we moved from the Anglican church (our partners) to the Melkite (Greek Catholic) church to the Latin (Roman Catholic) church, waving our palms and olive branches. A meaningful occasion!

On Thursday, we will hold our feet-washing and communion service, while on Good Friday we will have a series of meditations, as we move around the hotel garden and down to the church, remembering all the events of the day. A dawn service and communion on top of the Migdal in the hotel garden on Easter morning will be the culmination of our activities.

I hope and pray that Easter will be a blessed and meaningful time for all of you, wherever you may be.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010


We drove up from the Jordan Valley through the rain and fog to find the small road leading us to the town of Aqraba and on to the village of Yanoun in the West Bank. Yanoun is surrounded by Jewish settlements and became a flashpoint in 2003 when settlers drove the inhabitants from their homes.

This reminder of the expulsion of Arab populations in 1948 caused Jewish Peace activists to protect the village from being taken over by the settlers, and since that time there has been an international presence in the village, though a few of the houses are still sadly left empty. As it is, shepherds cannot take their sheep up the hillsides to graze, in case of confrontations with the settlers, nor can children play or explore.

I had gone with a friend to visit Jan Sutch Pickard, who is there for 3 months with EAPPI (Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel). Their role is really just to be a presence in the village. Our visit coincided with that of a theatre group, Clowns without Borders, whose programme is called Laughter without Borders. They were spending just over a week in Palestine, before spending a few days in Israel playing to mixed audiences.

In Yanoun numbers were intimate, but it was so good to see the children laugh – there must be precious little of that. It was a happy day and the village seemed almost idyllic – until you noticed the looming presence of the settlements on the surrounding hills.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Meeting the Bedouins

I had an early start to join Clarence and Joan Musgrave & the visiting Guild group as they visited projects supported by the NGO, Rabbis for Human Rights, among the Bedouin of the Negev, the large desert region in the south of the country (turned green with the rain). In the morning we visited a Bedouin village, where we heard of the work of the Pre-Military Academy, which takes young people who have just completed school for a 10 month stint before they start their army service. Their presence seems to have made some difference in the village, in that some facilities had been provided and some women have been learning Hebrew, so they can communicate (though how many of the young people learned any Arabic is another matter), and the women could now read, for example, health pamphlets (which should have been provided in Arabic anyway, as an official language, but which rarely are). The young people from the Academy came from privileged backgrounds in the Centre of the country -unfortunately there didn’t seem to be any Arabs on the programme, but then not many Arabs do military service - and their interaction with the Bedouin had obviously had an impact on them, and I could see that they had had a positive mind-shift, appreciating more about minorities in Israel.

The men in the group were taken round the local primary school. The headteacher bemoaned the lack of resources, but it seemed a lot better to me than many schools in Zambia, so it is all relative. The Head himself was a local Bedouin, but most of the teachers seemed to come from the Arab communities in the Galilee, as few of the Bedouins seem to go in for teaching. Again young people from the ‘Academy’ teach some courses, and thus present a different view of Jewish Israelis to the Bedouin pupils, who are more likely to associate Israelis negatively with the police or army. I was certainly impressed by the young man who took us round and felt that, despite some initial reservations, that the programme was a positive one.

What the Bedouin are associated with is their hospitality, and the morning finished with a lunch of rice, potato and chicken from a communal dish.

Monday, 8 March 2010


Dressing up, face-painting, parties and presents! Purim is a fun festival – and the only Jewish festival which apparently obligates you to get drunk, in order that you are completely happy!!! It focuses on the Book of Esther, which is probably my least favourite book in the Bible (apart from the wonderful character of Vashti!), as its ending encourages vindictive vengeance and slaughter. However, this seems to have been air-brushed out of the versions of the story I have read here, so obviously others are uncomfortable with it too. Indeed most people would be unaware of it.