Monday, November 9, 2009

A visit to occupied Palestine - "Your destiny is not your own"

Rev. Cindy Howard, an Episcopalian priest serving with St. Anne's Episcopal Church in Lee's Summit, Missouri, spoke November 7 about her meetings with a broad spectrum of Palestinian and Israeli groups affected by the Mideast crisis. She traveled with Interfaith Peace Builders in July and during her presentation described aspects of enduring "a stifling occupation." [photo: Billi Jo Larmore]

The purpose of her participation in the delegation was to see the reality on the ground, visit with ordinary Palestinians and Israeli, and, finally, to contribute to a growing peace movement. This was not Rev. Howard’s first travel experience to a conflict zone. In September the Lee's Summit Journal reported on Rev. Howard's trip: “I was a teacher for many years and I’ve taught in Armenia and Bosnia, so going into a conflict zone wasn’t a new thing to me,” she said. “I always think that travel is a life changing experience and I knew a trip like this wouldn’t come along very often.” [1]

During her presentation at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Kansas City she framed several questions on the Israel-Palestine crisis. "What is it like to live in a refugee camp?" set up her description of an overnight stay at the Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem, where she spoke with the third generation of people that lived in the camp and the difficulty they experience separated from their villages. She described the common experience of spending hours to travel short distances cut off by the Israeli separation wall that splits Bethlehem in two. Despite her short-term stay she was able to understand the strict constraints and dehumanizing experience living under Israeli occupation, leaving her to reflect how "your destiny is not your own."

"What does it mean to live in an occupied territory?" For Cindy’s church parishioners these questions allowed her to discuss the challenges that Palestinians face daily on their way to work, school, or business. During the delegation’s visit to Bi’lin, she stayed with a family forced to separate from the male household head because of constant threat of arrest due to his leadership in the non-violent resistance to the Israeli separation wall. Bi’lin represents both the strong example of the Palestinian non-violent resistance movement, as well as the focus of severe repression by Israeli forces.

The Interfaith Peace Builder delegation also traveled to Sderot, Israel on the border with Gaza. The group heard from Naomi Zion, an Israeli woman with a Sderot-based peace group, who wrote her thoughts about the rocket attacks in Sderot, as well as the massive Israeli attacks on Gaza. [2]

Rev. Howard also described a common incident experienced by the delegation. A delegation member of Canadian-Palestinian descent was held for six hours. During this time Israeli customs officials repeatedly asked questions about her family.

A young Palestinian-American girl attending the November 7 talk described her family’s humiliating experience being detained for 6 1/2 hours traveling to the West Bank in the summer of 2009: “they [the Israelis] don’t want us to come back.” Her father described how people had lost their lives seeking treatment for common ailments like diabetes and delivering babies while waiting to cross checkpoints or the separation fence. He “commended you [Rev. Howard] for what you have done” by traveling to the Mideast.


[1] “A life changing experience: Local priest travels to Israel, Palestine,” Lee's Summit Journal,

[2] “A Sderot Woman Speaks out Against Gaza Operation,” Daily Kos,

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