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‘Come and see!’ (and you will understand)

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Beit Sahour, with the famous “Shepherd’s Field” at its heart, is a smaller town next to occupied Bethlehem, and many holy-site tourists who visit the Field are unaware that they have even left Bethlehem to see it.  Most tour companies whisking people through the famous “separation wall” and back in the same day want people to think they are still in the city of Christ’s birth, so they don’t mention the fact that Beit Sahour is a different Palestinian town.
If you actually stay in Beit Sahour, when you are grilled by a security person at Ben Gurion Airport on your way out of the country, it is easier to say that you stayed in Bethlehem near the Shepherd’s Field. Saying you stayed in Beit Sahour reveals that you know the difference among Palestinian towns and cities, and that always raises suspicions. So you act uninformed and sacrifice all your self-respect by asking, “Isn’t it all part of the same Holy Land/Disneyland experience?”

We stayed one block from the Shepherd’s Field at the Sahara Hotel for the southern leg of our trip to Israel Palestine because it is the host hotel for those who help with the olive harvest. Beit Sahour is the official headquarters for YMCA’s Keep Hope Alive program. This was the second time I’ve led a group of U.S. Presbyterians (with some Unitarians and Baptists) on a Keep Hope Alive trip. The first time was to plant olive trees in February 2014 (which I described here) and here. This trip was to pick olives, but not from the trees we planted, because an olive tree takes at least six years to start producing. One day the Palestinian farmer told us the trees we were picking were 400 years old.

When you spend time in Palestine, one of the things you discover is how well educated Palestinians are, and Beit Sahour is full of people with many different advanced degrees.   All of this is owing to the fact that long before 1948, education has always been a high priority in Palestinian culture. Palestinians are the most highly-educated oppressed people I have encountered anywhere I have traveled in the world.   One of our stops this year was to visit a Bedouin village. The Bedouins are a nomadic people who live in tents. Originally they followed the herds.   Now, though, they have to move around because they live in the “seam” between the Palestinian West Bank and the State of Israel and, after their tent villages have been set up, the Israeli military comes in and makes them pull up stakes after so many months. Then they have to find another place to live. They have no rights in Israel, and they have nothing in Palestine (and find themselves at the bottom of the Palestinian pecking order).   Even so, the young woman speaking to us after we had lunch in her family’s tent has a degree in English translation and hopes to get a job teaching English, although she is always at the bottom of the waiting list because she is Bedouin.   I was awed by how articulate she was, and I remembered that when we visited Bedouins in 2014, my daughter Tina, who was also on this trip, developed a relationship with a young woman who also had an M.A. degree in education. These friends in Palestine remind me of when I was a teenager and my dad insisted that I go to college, saying: “Remember, in this life you never know… the world can take everything away from you, but it can never take your education.”  As I said, Palestinians value education.

Palestinians also value peace. While we were staying in Beit Sahour, the YMCA held programs for us every night after our days of olive picking and touring. One night we were mesmerized by the Palestinian film, “The Wanted 18: A Story of Bovine Resistance.” It is very creative and has won many international awards. It tells the story of the very beginning of the First Intifada (“intifada” means “uprising”), which was a peaceful uprising of economic resistance to oppression against the Israeli government. Up through the 1980s the Palestinian people were dependent upon Israel for most of the goods they could not produce themselves (and for the most part still are today).   Therefore Beit Sahour city councilors decided they did not want to depend on Israel for dairy products any longer, so they bought 18 cows from Israeli farmers to start their own dairy. The humorous part of the story is that these were people with businesses and/or advanced college degrees, who knew nothing about taking care of cows. So they sent a young man from their community to the United States to work on a dairy farm for months and he came home ready to set up a milk barn. They got the cows and began production.   As the First Intifada took hold, with growing economic resistance to Israel throughout the West Bank, the Israeli military told the Beit Sahour city council that it had to get rid of the cows or have them confiscated.   The city council decided not to comply and hid all the cows in separate locations. With that came the spectacle of Israeli soldiers looking for 18 cows throughout the city every day for weeks to no avail. All Beit Sahour soon joked that the Israeli soldiers would search forever for “terrorist cows.”

The Oslo Accords brought an end to the First Intifada, to the dismay of many Palestinians, including residents of Beit Sahour. They felt that Yasser Arafat sold out their program of non-violent resistance by making a political deal of convenience. Unfortunately those Accords, along with ending Beir Sahour’s program of non-violent resistance (they sold the cows), eventually led to the Second Intifada, which was very violent. I remember it well because I visited Israel Palestine in 2001 while it was raging.

During this last visit to Israel Palestine, there were many demonstrations in the streets. They actually began peacefully—we even attended one in the middle of Nazareth Square on one of our first nights there. But Palestinians—whether they are Israeli citizens living in Galilee or people with no status living in the West Bank—are not allowed to demonstrate (either for very long or not at all depending on what side of the wall you live on).   The clashes resulted from the fact that the Israeli military chose to come into the middle of Palestinian cities and forcibly end non-violent protests. Given the physical force the Israeli army used on the people–spraying teargas and even spewing sewage–on the crowds, demonstrations turned violent. If the military had not shown up, the demonstrations would have occurred peacefully then ended peacefully with everyone going home, and you would not have heard about it in the U.S. media. But that is not the way it happened.

Demonstration in Bethlehem

Demonstration in Bethlehem

I likened the demonstrations to last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests in cities across the United States. Most people were there to engage in non-violent protest, but some (not the majority) created havoc. Like those demonstrations, the ones in Palestine have been spontaneous and do not seem to have any single group organizing them. As we walked with the demonstration in Nazareth, or watched others from a distance in Bethlehem, with the signature burning tires in the middle of the street, I noticed how many Palestinians were running their shops and going about their daily routines even while young people protested just a blocks away.

Demonstration in Bethlehem

Demonstration in Bethlehem

I found it interesting that, while receiving e-mails and texts from home asking if we were safe, I was watching CNN World News on the hotel television reporting on the shooting (1 dead and 4 injured) in downtown Ft. Myers, Florida, at the “Zombiecon” event. This is only a mile from the Presbyterian church where I serve as pastor. In the last few months, Ft. Myers has experienced a lot of shooting violence and unsolved murders. I have been to Zombiecon in previous years. Given the events in my own hometown I wondered if I were safer in Beit Sahour.

As we were told repeatedly while we were in Palestine, this is not a religious conflict, but a political one. Seeing Palestinian Christians and Muslims living together peacefully and well (as well as can be expected under those conditions), as well as being conducted around for a day by an Israeli Jew who seeks peace and justice, of this I have no doubt. American professor Norman Finkelstein, a prominent Jewish voice for peace in Israel and justice in Palestine, recently co-wrote an article about the present unrest in Palestine and Israel and mentioned the non-violent First Intifada. He observed that right now Palestinians are in a very important position because this unrest could once again give rise to an effective non-violent uprising that could make a difference. The article reads like a playbook on how Palestinian leaders could take hold of this present energy in a positive way. It is my prayer that this indeed might come true.

As with our first trip to plant olive trees in 2014, everyone on our recent trip came home greatly impressed by the quality and perseverance of Palestinian people and their ancient culture. Many of us found ourselves wishing that we Americans could retain the best of our historical cultural practices as well as they. One person remarked, “I haven’t encountered a Palestinian I didn’t like!” Hearing from me about the injustices in Palestine has become routine for members of my congregation and some have complained. But now they do not need not take my word for it, because those who have gone with me on these two trips have seen it with their own eyes, felt it in their hearts, and returned home changed by what they now know is true. The motto in Palestine, among the leaders with whom we lived and worked for two weeks, simply is: “Come and See!” They say it, confident that when we do, we will understand. My two trips with Presbyterians who knew little about Palestine except for what is shared by the American media did exactly that and their lives have been changed in the most profound ways.

All you really have to do is go and see….

Rev. Dr. Jeffrey DeYoe

Rev. Dr. Jeffrey DeYoe is Pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Ft. Myers, Florida. He is moderator of the Israel Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

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13 Responses

  1. just on October 24, 2015, 3:04 pm

    Thanks for all that you continue to do to expose the truth, Dr. Rev. Jeffrey DeYoe. I am still confounded by the reluctance of so many churches to join with you and others on your journey toward truth, justice, and peace.

    You’re a lucky man to have experienced the beauty of Palestine and the Sumud and grace of Palestinians.

  2. JLewisDickerson on October 24, 2015, 3:31 pm

    RE: While we were staying in Beit Sahour, the YMCA held programs for us every night after our days of olive picking and touring. One night we were mesmerized by the Palestinian film, “The Wanted 18: A Story of Bovine Resistance.” ~ Rev. Dr. Jeffrey DeYoe

    DEMOCRACY NOW!: The Wanted 18: U.S. & Israel Bar Palestinian Filmmaker from NYC Film Premiere About Intifada Cows
    Published on Jun 12, 2015 – The annual Human Rights Watch International Film Festival is underway here in New York City, but one of its featured directors won’t be able to attend his film’s U.S. premiere this weekend. That’s because Israel recently deemed Palestinian filmmaker Amer Shomali a “security threat” and prevented him from traveling to Jerusalem to obtain a U.S. visa. Then he went to Amman, Jordan, where the U.S. approved a visa but said their visa machine was broken. Shomali had previously attended half a dozen European festivals without incident, and his film has drawn international acclaim. Interestingly, the film, “The Wanted 18,” shows how Israel has historically tried to undermine any form of Palestinian nonviolent resistance by branding such resistance as dangerous and threatening, and recreates an astonishing true story from the First Palestinian Intifada when the Israeli army pursued 18 cows, whose independent milk production on a Palestinian collective farm was declared “a threat to the national security of the state of Israel.” We speak to Amer Shomali in Ramallah.

    • just on October 24, 2015, 3:49 pm

      Thanks, John.

    • a blah chick on October 24, 2015, 4:11 pm

      This story reminds me about another similar incident that took place in the fifties. I think I read it in one of Lilienthal’s books. it concerned a flock of merino sheep that had wandered (or were sheepnapped) over the border into Jordan (West bank). The Israelis were ready to send in the commandos to get the sheep back because they did not want them breeding with “inferior” stock. In the end I think the UN intervened otherwise there would have been blood.

  3. JLewisDickerson on October 24, 2015, 3:57 pm

    RE: “Norman Finkelstein, a prominent Jewish voice for peace in Israel and justice in Palestine, recently co-wrote an article about the present unrest in Palestine and Israel and mentioned the non-violent First Intifada.” ~ Rev. Dr. Jeffrey DeYoe

    Finkelstein, Rabbani and Stern-Weiner on What’s Happening in Palestine
    On Wednesday, October 21st, 2015 in Blog, News.

    “Is This the Third Palestinian Intifada?”
    The current uprising could advance the cause of liberation—but only if it’s transformed into a nonviolent mass movement, coordinated closely with international solidarity activists.
    By Norman G. Finkelstein, Mouin Rabbani and Jamie Stern-Weiner
    LINK –

    • JLewisDickerson on October 24, 2015, 4:03 pm

      Rabbani, Finkelstein & Roman: Why is Netanyahu trying to rewrite history?
      Published on Oct 22, 2015
      Dareen Abughaida asks whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fueling tensions by his claims of Palestinian involvement in the Holocaust. Guests: Norman Finkelstein, lecturer and author who specialises on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the politics of the Holocaust. Gregg Roman, director of the Middle East Forum. He’s also a former official at Israel’s Ministry of Defense and former political adviser to Israel’s deputy foreign minister. Mouin Rabbani, co-editor of Jadaliyya and a senior fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies.

  4. Steve6644 on October 24, 2015, 5:50 pm

    I went on a Come and See trip with Mennonite Central Committee two years ago. Though it is a different type of trip, I would just confirm, once you see Palestine your life will not be the same. Mine isn’t it.

  5. bryan on October 25, 2015, 6:21 am

    If only there was a host of ex-pat Palestinian billionaires living in the USA who would be generous enough to fund students, politicians and opinion-formers to visit Palestine and see for themselves what is going on, the situation could be transformed.

  6. kalithea on October 25, 2015, 6:42 am

    I like the word scam to describe Zionism! It’s a scam that milks the Holocaust and everyone’s guilt; it’s a scam that liberal Zionists sell best; it’s a scam our politicians pander to to have the illusion of power; it’s a scam the Lobby peddles and a scam that pretends there’s a ready peace process if only Palestinians would give up the farm. It’s a scam that pretends democracy. It’s a scam that pretends to fight terrorism when it’s really squashing resistance to injustice. It’s a scam that pretends Israel is a normal state with normal people when in reality and fact, it’s an apartheid state with people experiencing self-induced prolonged delusion and total apathy. It’s a scam fronting a religious legacy to cover for supremacy.

  7. DavidDaoud on October 26, 2015, 10:47 am

    Hello Dr. DeYoe,
    I enjoyed reading your article. It brought back memories of December 2000 when I first went to Palestine. I had gone mid-month, in response to an invitation to internationals to participate in a march in support of Palestinians from Bethlehem wishing to pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. That event was unfortunately canceled due to the fact that a Palestinian man was shot and killed by Israeli forces.

    Christmas Eve, I walked with a multitude of people from Shepherd’s Field in Beit Sahour to Manger Square in Bethlehem. I saw men on camels. That I will never forget.

    I was the only foreigner among Palestinians and instantly very comfortable. I enjoyed a stage presentation involving both singing and dancing lasting two and a half hours. The same people did the dancing as did the singing, and vigorous dancing it was. Just imagine that!

    When it was over, 10:30pm, people went home and I found myself almost alone on the street, in the dark and cold, not at that time knowing how to get back to the Faisal Hostel in East Jerusalem. I asked a young man approaching me on the sidewalk if he could help me.

    He took me to his home where I met all his family which included 13 children! After milk and cookies, I stayed the night with these friendly strangers. Thus was my introduction to Palestinians and their famous hospitality.

    I had gone for 2 weeks, but after what I witnessed in East Jerusalem I let the flight back to Canada go without me. I found volunteer work in Nablus at An-Najah University. This was early in the 2nd Intifada; I am witness to what happened in Nablus in April 2002, the bombings, the shooting, the home invasions. The army shot out every window in the downtown, drove tanks over the interlocking paving stone sidewalks. They drove a tank into the ATM machine of my bank, and destroyed the computers inside. This is not fighting against terrorism, but instead it’s the systematic destruction of a civil society.

    I went to Jenin refugee camp and saw the destruction there.

  8. gracie fr on October 26, 2015, 6:23 pm

    Thank you for your moving account Dr. Rev. Jeffrey DeYoe. and to the many intrepid organizations world wide that take people to Israel/Palestine and show them what is really going on there behind the Wall and further afield. Having been a part of such a group on at least 9 occasions, I usually come away deeply moved on how my fellow travelers, Christian, Jewish and Muslim, are incredulous, dumb struck, angry at their country’s media and invigorated to fight the good fight…..

  9. ckg on October 26, 2015, 8:11 pm

    Thanks, Rev. DeYoe. On that day in June 2014 that the US Presbyterian General Assembly announced support for divestment I rode in a taxi from East Jerusalem to see Bethlehem. Our Palestinian cab driver pointed out St. Andrews proudly flying it’s Saltire. I smiled. I wish you well. And many thanks to IPMN.

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