This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
to break my heart
as the sun rises,
as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers
-Peonies, Mary Oliver

20 August 2010

The Deep Joy

I married Don on June 5th! It feels perfect and meant-to-be, natural, comfortable, and new all at once. Sometimes the awe of what we have together is overwhelming. It's so special, and we are so grateful for each other!

I think I have this deep river of joy that is running through me all the time, and many things in life bring me to this river. But it's as if Don and our marriage have helped me discover an entirely new experience of joy.

We are so lucky for the good friends and family who are celebrating with us as we are beginning our marriage. Hugs and kisses to you all. <3

25 March 2010

"I'd prefer to just get back on the bus."

Near the end of my trip to Palestine, I took a day-trip from Jerusalem to Bethlehem with just a few others in the group. On the way back, we stopped at the checkpoint of entry into Jerusalem. We were on a public bus, and everyone on the bus had to get off and stand in a line on the sidewalk while the Israeli military police searched the bus for 20 minutes.

I was the very last person in this line, waiting to get back onto the bus. Taking advantage of the moment, I snapped a few pictures, especially getting one of the line of people, just to remind me of the story. (At which point, the story was just that it took a total of 20 mins and counting to get through a check ended up actually taking 40-45 mins)

We started to file back onto the bus, each person having to show their ID to the military police at the front of the line. Oooo, another photo opportunity! I raised my camera, let it focus, and....ooops, the military policeman saw me. He immediately motioned for me to put down the camera. So I put it in my pocket. Darn, no picture taken.

I eventually reached the front of the line, and was the only civilian outside the bus anymore. I held up my "free-pass-to-anywhere" white-American passport, and the Israeli military policeman said, "Show me your picture." I thrust the passport closer to him, thinking he was asking for my passport picture. No.

"Your camera. Give me your camera. You took a picture."

"You want my camera?" An expression of expectation looked back at me.

"But that's my personal camera."

"Give me your camera."

"It's my personal camera, and I'd prefer to just get back on the bus."

"I saw you take a picture of me. Your camera" (holding out one of his hands, the other one holding his gun at his side)

I shook my head. "I didn't take a picture of you. You motioned for me to put the camera down before I could take a picture, and so I put it away."

Perplexed silence.

"Give me your camera."

"That's my personal camera, and I'd really like to just get back on the bus instead."

I looked up the stairs of the bus nervously - my heart was hammering in my throat. 'Why was I saying no to a soldier?' I thought to myself. There are so many things about this situation that I could be miscalculating. What if I somehow got arrested for this? I strongly wished that our delegation leader was with me, but today was a free day, and I was only with a few other members of the delegation. Shanon. Shanon was still on the bus stairs because she had been right in front of me, and was watching the exchange take place between me and the soldier. That made me feel better.

The soldier and I continued to go back and forth for a couple minutes, really not deviating much from what had already been said. I was beginning to contemplate simply turning my back to the soldier and getting on the bus. I didn't know if I could make that big of a decision on my own. (at the moment that felt like a huge choice!)

Then a Palestinian passenger came up to the front of the bus and stepped down on to the sidewalk with me, so I asked him if I should just get on the bus. He quickly affirmed this idea and motioned/shepherd-ed me onto the bus. I boarded the bus without a backward glance, and followed Shanon to our seats. Nervously, I waited to see if the soldier would board the bus after me, but he didn't. A few minutes later we pulled out of the checkpoint.

My feelings and observations about this incident were multi-fold. First I felt relieved to have gotten through it without any consequences (jail, losing my camera, holding up the bus for a hideously long time). I felt overwhelmingly grateful to the Palestinian man who came forward to stand with me and helped me be strong enough to turn away from the soldier. Then I felt proud of myself for doing a bit of resistance work against the occupation. I resisted being bullied into handing over my camera. It felt like a tiny victory! Then I thought about how I was really in a privileged position throughout the incident, being a white American -- and consequently, how much worse it would probably have been had I been a Palestinian woman refusing to give a soldier her camera. The face of the soldier went through my mind. He looked awfully young. Younger than I am. He likely was, considering that all Israeli citizens (both men and women) are required to serve in the military for a few years after high school. I assume he fit into that category. He didn't look mean to me, but he had a lot of mean gear on! Helmet, badges, guns, other unidentifiable (to me) gear.

But really, I can't assume that he wanted to be doing what he was doing. I think Israeli young people are in a tough position. Without a legal choice in the matter, SOME of the Israeli militants must be opposed to the occupation, or at least just don't want to serve in the military. If they refuse to join, they suffer being arrested. This is one way in which I think Israeli soldiers are victims of the occupation themselves. -- they are legally forced to participate in maintaining a huge military operation. An operation that is illegal under international law, and teaches them that it is normal and good to operate illegally. An operation which often places soldiers in compromising positions, forcing them to make hard choices. Often, soldiers end up making violent choices that they didn't want to make. They are often told lies about the communities to which they are being sent to occupy.

For instance, (according to the permanent CPTers who live in Hebron): in Hebron, soldiers only stay there for 2-3 months. Before they arrive, they are told that Hebron Palestinian citizens are especially violent and always plotting how to kill soldiers. The soldiers arrive in Hebron very scared and suspicious! And they stay in Hebron for such a short time because if they stayed longer, they could begin to know the citizens and understand that they aren't actually violent. Then, at the end of their time in Hebron, ALL of them are moved out, and a completely new group of soldiers is moved in. This avoids the possibility of more experienced soldiers of the area telling the new soldiers that the Palestinians there are not violent like their superiors told them.

I am trying to demonstrate with this story and extra information that Israeli soldiers face their own set of difficulties in the occupation. They may be lied to, they may be serving unwillingly, they may be scared, they may later regret their choices. I wish to avoid demonizing Israeli soldiers. I wish to affirm their humanity, dignity, and recognize that they are suffering from the occupation.

Celebrating The Woman I've Become

I love to celebrate myself! I feel full of the joy that comes from being comfortable and ecstatic in my own skin! As India Arie, one of my favorite singers sings:

"I'm havin' a private party
Ain't no body here but me, my angels, and my guitar singin' baby look how far we've come here
I'm havin' a private party
Learning how to love me
Celebrating the woman I've become, yeah

I'm gonna take off all my clothes
Look at myself in the mirror
We're gonna have a conversation
We're gonna heal the disconnection
I don't remember when it started
But this is where it's gonna end
My body is beautiful and sacred
And I'm gonna celebrate it!"

It's so good to connect with myself and love myself!

02 March 2010

"I believe if MLK were alive now, he would write a letter from the Bethlehem jail."

-Zoughbi Zoughbi, of the Bethlehem Wi'am Center

I have faith in the power of nonviolent direct action. And I am sorely disappointed in the results of negotiation thus far for Palestine and Israel. Like MLK was tired of waiting, waiting, waiting for the white folks to feel like it was the right time to negotiate, Palestine is tired of waiting for Israel to negotiate in good faith.

Palestinians are systematically and violently discriminated against every day. Israel has been occupying their land since 1967! Like MLK, I think negotiations are worth having, but so far, the negotiations have been reflective of the lopsided situation of political power. Before FAIR negotiations can take place, I believe that Palestine will have to build a successful nonviolent direct action campaign. (or the tide of American political influence will have to shift in favor of justice) If my trip has shown me anything, it's that Palestinians are working on it. The peace-seeking organizations are growing, and villagers are uniting in the strategy of nonviolence.

I also believe that most of the hard work for peace will have to come from the people who live there. BUT, considering the U.S.'s huge role in allowing Israel to continue to operate illegally against the rest of the world's opinion, I recognize that as a U.S. citizen I have a responsibility and the possibility for effecting change in U.S. opinion and legislation.

MLK's words from his letter from Birmingham jail encourage me to act: "I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."

And further along in his letter, MLK says: "You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling, for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth."

Let us recognize the potential for change through nonviolent direct action, and support the Palestinian people as they explore this potential themselves.

01 March 2010

Israeli security

I was not a welcome visitor in the Israeli government’s eyes.

I had no problems entering the country, but upon leaving, I was questioned and searched for 2 hours. Questions from airport security personnel included: When did you arrive? Have you been here before? Where did you go? Hebron?! (Tourists don’t ever go here) Where did you stay there? Did anyone invite you into their home? Did anyone give you something to take back with you? What church did you say you travelled with? Where’s the rest of your group you were with? (Traveling alone is suspicious) Do you have a camera? Can I see a picture of your group? Can I look at your pictures as you scroll back to the group one?

Apparently some of my answers put up some red flags. I was questioned by 3 different people, often asking for the same information in different ways. Every item in my bags was taken out and thoroughly searched 2 or 3 times (I observed many other people just being shooed through security). Looking at my things that I had purchased in the West Bank, I would be asked things like, “so are you a fan?” (implying a fan of Palestine) Since I was seen with suspicion, I also gained a personal escort through the entire process (not complaining about this, though!). I was taken up to counters where most other people were in line under a normal heading, and I was led to the aisle labeled high security. I was taken to another room to undergo a full body search. I was allowed to keep most of my clothes on, but underwent a thorough (often repetitive) body pat/search.

Even though this was an uncomfortable experience, I really didn’t mind having my belongings searched or even my body because those are relevant to preventing a person taking a bomb onto the plane. I did mind, however, that the selection process for who to search this thoroughly is based on discrimination against the Palestinian community. Also, I was bothered by many of the questions because they often crossed the line of relevant information into racist, suspicious, and invasive information. For example, no way would I give them names of Palestinians I met or stayed with. Nor did I reveal the entire nature of my visit. I was truthful, but gave no more information than asked. For example, when asked why I am here, I would respond, “I was with a Christian group touring the holy sites.”

Our delegation leaders were barred from entering the country and banned for 10 years.

When our 2 delegation leaders arrived at the airport in Tel Aviv, one of them (white male) was stamped to go on through, but he waited for his co-leader to get cleared. She is an American citizen, but has an Egyptian last name. Because of her last name, they asked her questions like, Who is your father? Where is he from? She was quickly taken aside for more questioning. The other delegation leader stayed with her in the hopes of alleviating suspicion and helping her case since he is white. Unfortunately, it did not work that way. They were both then subjected to 12 hours of questioning and searching. This included an internet search, discovering online evidence of their sympathy with Palestinians. In the end they were both deported and banned from entry for the next 10 years.

CPT quickly put a CPTer who was already in Palestine in their place to fill in as our delegation leader, and she did a wonderful job. We are hoping for the day when peacemakers will be welcomed into conflict areas instead of banned.

[This is one of their accounts in her own words:]

Thank you to family and friends!

I’ve safely returned from my two-week visit to Israel and the West Bank! You are among the many friends, family, and coworkers who were worried about me, supportive of me, and anxious to hear back about my experience. Thank you so much for the ways that you have supported me. I am grateful for the opportunity to share with you about what I saw and learned.

To remind you of the group I was with, I traveled with an organization called Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), an initiative of the three historic peace churches: Mennonites, Church of the Brethren, and Quakers. CPT’s work is an answer to the question: “What would happen if Christians devoted the same discipline and self-sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking that armies devote to war?” CPTers non-violently live and work daily in areas of violence, including Iraq, Columbia, and Palestine.

During our delegation, we visited Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, and a village near the Southern border of the West Bank called At-Tuwani. I had many kinds of experiences with many kinds of people including Israeli and Palestinian peace activists, an Israeli Jewish family, Israelis and Palestinians who have lost family to violence, Israeli soldiers, Israeli military police, Palestinian refugees, an Israeli settler, and a Palestinian schoolteacher.

Some important things that I learned:

1. A long history of built-up hurts is used as a rationale for violence from both sides. Not everyone chooses violence, though.

Hurt people hurt people. But hurt people have choices, and I do not excuse Israelis for their occupation because of Palestinian suicide bombers. Nor do I excuse Palestinians for their suicide bombers because of the Israeli occupation. One of my biggest joys from the trip was witnessing many Israelis and Palestinians choosing to work proactively against violence by using nonviolence. A few of the peace-seeking organizations I met with are: B’tselem, Holy Land Trust, Rabbis for Human Rights, Women in Black, Badil, the Wi’am Center, and Breaking the Silence.

An admirable example of nonviolence in the West Bank is the village we stayed at for two nights, At-Tuwani. An aggressive Israeli outpost and settlement have been built right next to the village, causing several violent incidents to occur over the last several years. (It is important to note that not all settlements are violent towards their Palestinian neighbors, but all settlements are illegal under international law.) The villagers of At-Tuwani have suffered the destruction of their crops by their neighboring settlers, numerous threats of violence against villagers, threats of arrest, and actual incidents of violence against old women, fathers, and children. It is an especially dangerous situation for children who walk from other villages to attend school in At-tuwani, and have to pass by the settlement. One of CPT’s roles is to accompany these children part-way in an effort to reduce the violence because of their international presence. Despite the obvious hatred and severe violence (often resulting in hospitalization) directed at the villagers, At-Tuwani has decided to respond nonviolently. I joined them on a nonviolent march to advocate for children’s rights to a safe journey to school, and to protest the Israeli confiscation and destruction of their only school truck used to transport the children to and from school across the steep, rough, and rocky hills. When the Israeli military or settlers invade the village with threats of arrest or killings, the villagers do not react out of fear. Instead, they are calm and say that they will not leave their homes no matter what is done to them. Parents in this village are adamant about teaching their children principles of nonviolence and activism, and strive also to balance their children’s lives by giving them things to think about other than the occupation, such as teaching them traditional dance.

2. Israelis and Palestinians alike are afraid.

I walked around cities and villages in Israel and the West Bank constantly confronted with the fact that everyone there is living a life of military occupation and fear. Soldiers and walls and checkpoints are EVERYWHERE. On a street in Hebron, I witnessed 5 soldiers in full gear converge on one Palestinian civilian who had a barking dog. Along the road from Hebron to Jerusalem, I witnessed a Palestinian man’s car getting searched by 3 soldiers. In Hebron I responded as part of the CPT team to an emergency call from a Palestinian man whose home was being invaded by a group of 6 or 7 soldiers with no legal papers to verify their right to enter the premise. I spoke with an Israeli who expressed that he would normally stop and help a person stranded by apparent car trouble along the road, but he is too afraid to do this if he sees that the person is Arab. Another Israeli I spoke with said that he is dismayed by the fact that the occupation is causing whole generations of Israelis to grow up thinking that illegality is the norm. The occupation is much more oppressive, abusive, and deadly for a Palestinian on a daily basis than for an Israeli. However, I believe both Israelis and Palestinians suffer from the occupation.

3. The current situation is more political and less religious than I had previously thought.

The Holy Land contains holy sites of three major religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. I was awed and appreciative to be able to visit a number of these sites myself. My general impression is that for the most part ordinary Jews, Christians, and Muslims respect each other’s holy sites. Unfortunately, because of the ongoing conflict some sites are not as accessible as they used to be. Of course land is a central issue to the conflict, but not necessarily because of each religious group feeling that they deserve the Holy Land for its religious significance. Mostly, the people I met want to live where they grew up at because that is home to them. This includes both Israelis and Palestinians, whether or not they support or oppose Israel’s presence and occupation in the Palestinian territories. Historically, Zionists wanted refuge from persecution through establishing their own state. Anti-Semitism was and still is real. Zionists considered other locations for a Jewish state such as Argentina, Uganda, and even Florida, which have no religious significance. I feel that the biggest problem is the Israeli government rather than any personal hatred on an individual level between people of different faiths. I believe that the current Israeli occupation and oppression of Palestinians is political in nature, and that the Israeli government uses religion and anti-Semitism as a manipulative cover to hide its inhumane and illegal acts towards the Palestinian population.

4. The separation wall is incomplete, and building has been halted in some areas.

I find this to be important because many people have understood the wall to be an unfortunate yet necessary evil. Suicide bombings dropped dramatically around the same time as the wall was being built. There is some doubt, however, that these two events are in a causal relationship. People I spoke with told me that the rate of suicide bombs has decreased because Palestinians have changed their strategy upon realizing that violence will not help their cause, and not because of the wall being built. Personally, I think a strong point to consider is the fact that the wall is incomplete - there are places where Palestinians can still get through the wall or around the wall without ever going through a checkpoint and being searched. If a Palestinian suicide bomber wants to get into Israel, he can. Further, the wall does not actually separate Israel from Palestine’s West Bank. It does not follow the 1967 “green line”, and it literally cuts through some Palestinian communities, placing some Palestinians inside the Israeli side of the wall. I view the wall as an unfortunate and unnecessary structure that is used to divide Palestinians from each other, make their daily lives harder, assuage the fears of Israelis, improve Israeli international image, and, in effect, annex more land to Israel than the green line allows.

5. Israel has all the power.

My experience was not anything close to what a typical tourist would see, and I learned what a typical news-browser would not learn. I experienced both the Israeli exceptionally forgiving treatment of a white tourist, as well as the Israeli paranoid and suspicious treatment given an international peacemaker. Tourists don’t go to Hebron or At-Tuwani. They don’t meet with Palestinian or Israeli peacemaking organizations. Tourists don’t challenge Israeli soldiers to get off of their roof. They don’t stay in a Palestinian home overnight, nor do they witness children being prevented from attending school. I have seen things that most people don’t see when they visit Israel, and I am grateful for it because the mainstream U.S. news agencies fail to report these things. Because I saw the daily life of a Palestinian, and because I got to learn from Israelis who used to serve in the army in the West Bank, because I stayed overnight in a refugee camp, and because I was personally faced with situations in which I had to make quick decisions regarding my rights, I can say with the authority of my experiences that Israel has all the power. Israel has international recognition as a sovereign nation, and it has the backing of the United States. Palestine has neither. International consensus is in favor of monitoring Israel’s actions, as demonstrated by the sheer volume of UN resolutions proposed either against Israel in some way or in support of Palestine. Despite this international consensus, the U.S. repeatedly shelters Israel from criticism by being the only country to veto many of these resolutions. Israel has been militarily occupying the Palestinian territories since 1967 and exerts incredible military force on Palestinians’ daily lives. Israel’s occupation of the West Bank has become so entrenched in society that Palestinians have actually become economically dependent on it. How can fair negotiations take place with such an imbalance of power and influence? The situation there is NOT equally hard for Israelis and Palestinians, and my concern for human rights and well-being causes me to be more concerned for Palestinians because they are suffering more.

It is hard for me to imagine a just solution considering certain current factors, but it seems obvious to me that there can be no peace as long as the occupation continues. In the words of a post- military-service Israeli man I met, “What kind of two-state solution? What kind of one-state solution? If it doesn’t include equality, I’m not interested.” As Americans and perhaps people of faith, I know you and I are interested in equality. It is core to our national identity and pride. I encourage you to join me in being a peacemaker by searching for a solution of equality in the Middle East. If you feel uneducated, learn more about the situation. Learn more about the U.S. role and influence in Israel. Read the news from, and a variety of alternative sources! Research what your representatives are doing, and contact them if you disagree or if you want to urge them to do more. Learn about the economic link between the U.S. and Israel. As citizens of the U.S. we really do have an incredible chance to positively impact what’s going on in Israel and Palestine. And of course, give me a call if you ever want to talk about it more or hear more of my experience than what I could reasonably include in this letter.

Thank you again for your love and support. My experience was uneasy at times, and it was comforting and important to me to have a community to return to who is interested in listening to me and concerned with matters of peacemaking.

Love Mary

23 February 2010

A full and beautiful world

Stretching to take in the loveliness of nearby lakes.

The feeling of a good hard race.

Belonging to a team.

The child-like joy of playing.

Drops of beauty to quench a longing thirst.

A vast, pretty view in New Zealand.

New Zealand landscape

Teamwork is the best feeling.

The rugged life of Nicaragua.

Overlooking Ciudad Antigua from the church bell tower.

The surprise of being silly!

flowers at a lake

flowers in Kyoto

Sunset over Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.

Japanese spread.

The beauty of recognizing humanity.

Still waters at the Hiroshima Peace Park.

Family across the ocean - my beautful sister Haruka

The joy of creating a bond.

God's love tying us together

As I walk through life, I often find friendly feet along the way.

The stark contrast of light and dark. The stark difference between freedom and oppression.

A picture of courageous exploration.

Discovering paths through a world of nature

Jagged pictures of the world. Jagged pieces of life. I work with the pieces I discover.

Display of the power of nature, an uprooted tree

Architecture + Sunlight

Seeking beauty on campus

the beautiful expanse of Arab land and culture

The delight of snow in Berlin