Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Article for the Wheaton Record

Below is an article I wrote for Wheaton's newspaper, The Record (hopefully it won't be edited too much).

Stereotypes exist because they simplify an otherwise complex reality. This summer in Israel/Palestine I experienced an extremely complex reality that didn’t match the stereotypes of Israel and Palestinians played by the western media. Take, Hossam, for example. I met him while living for three months in his refugee camp for three months.

Hossam’s story includes losing his two and a half year old brother who died of suffocation after Israeli soldiers threw seven gas cans into his house. When his mom was trying to take the little boy to the hospital she was shot at by Israeli soldiers (though was unhurt). Hossam was also shot at, years later, while filming a documentary beside the so called “separation barrier” that cuts off the West Bank from Israel. His camera was hit, saving his face from a direct hit that could have severely injured or killed him. “I want them to come and see who is the terrorist and who isn’t,” Hossam told me. “Because all the media says Palestinians are terrorists. Just they show the children, that the children are throwing stones, but they don’t show that Israeli soldiers shoot these children.”

Hossam does not fit the image that Americans have of what a Palestinian is like. He doesn’t wear a kuffiyeh (think Yasser Arafat), he doesn’t own a gun. Hossam isn’t even religious: he considers himself basically an atheist. As an accomplished actor and dancer of debkah, a traditional Palestinian dance form, Hossam has traveled widely throughout the West Bank and several years ago performed in Paris, along with the other members of his dance team. Dancing has become his form of resistance, a way of telling the story of his people…peacefully. Hossam is Palestinian and yet, surprisingly for some, he isn’t a terrorist.

The American media has largely portrayed Palestinians as gun toting, ski-mask wearing terrorists. This has seeped deep into our sub-consciousness. If there is ever an attack against Israel, it is all over the media and Palestinians are shown as the aggressors, as the enemy. When was the last time, however, you saw media coverage of the daily Israeli military incursions into Palestinian cities in the West Bank and Gaza, of the Palestinians who die daily from Israeli bombings or raids? Israeli Defense Forces have killed 173 Palestinians this year alone in the Occupied Territories ( Rarely does the media cover this.

On the flip-side, Americans tend to hold a positive stereotype of the state of Israel, an innocent nation surrounded by a sea of Arab enemies. This is especially true of evangelicals who hold on to a Sunday school flannel-graph picture of the state of Israel. Since many consider it a direct fulfillment of prophecy they think it is a state that can do no wrong. According to a recent CNN article, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimates 85 million evangelicals believe God tells them to support Israel ( search). This article went on to state that churches raise millions of dollars each year in support of Israeli settlements within the West Bank. Needless to say, in the US there is a deep gut-level support of Israel.

As a further example, on August 15th the U.S. signed an unprecedented military aid package to Israel that amounts to $30 billion over a ten year period. Congress and the American public barely batted an eye. It’s incredible. Of course, this serves to further American interests in the region (such as containing Iran), but do we realize that this money is supporting what Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former President Jimmy Carter, among others, liken to the South African apartheid state? Do we realize that Israel is a militaristic state that has maintained a harsh forty year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and that involves countless human rights abuses? To cite a few examples, from October 2001 to January 2005 Israel demolished 668 homes in the territories as a form of punitive punishment which is illegal under international law ( As of August 9th Israel maintained 47 permanent checkpoints within the West Bank that severely limit freedom of movement for Palestinians ( Clearly these statistics show that our stereotypes need some examining.

Stereotypes are single dimensional representations of a multidimensional reality. Maybe the reality in Israel/Palestine is much more complex than we would like to admit. What I experienced this summer certainly was. As Christians we are to continually strive to move beyond stereotypes, to pursue the truth. I am ashamed and saddened that misunderstandings have led evangelicals to blindly support Israel. I have seen the direct results of our support. Let us not allow simple stereotypes keep us from the truth and pursuing justice. Reality really is iconoclastic, as C.S. Lewis states, and it certainly isn’t a friend of stereotypes.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Summary and Conclusions

Jonathan: “Do you think there will ever be peace here?”

Fadi: “If you have a home and you sleep in this home, you and your family. And some people come and break [down] your door. And tell you: “this is my home, this is not your home.” But… [you] built this home and you lived in this home, you and your family. And the people come… and tell you, ‘this home [is for] us, [but] we can give you this room…’ What would you do? Tell me, I ask you!”

“…if you go and tell the police and the police do nothing. What do you do? You tell the world, all the world? And all the world don’t do anything. What do you do? And these people come and take your kids because your kids say “no, this is my home, you can’t take my home!” and [they] put your kids in prison…What do you do? And they say ‘We want peace’ but the truth is, they come and kill you and [then] go to the media and say we want peace… Now who is the terrorist: the Palestinian terrorist or the Israeli, the Israeli government? Tell me.”

Hossam: “I will do the peace with the Israeli soldier who killed my brother in 1988? Should I do the peace the Israeli soldier whom arrested my father for 5 years or my cousin for 3 years? I will do peace with the Israeli soldier whom didn’t [let] me pass from Bethlehem to Ramallah? With whom will I do the peace??”

(from a personal interview with Fadi and Hossam, 18 and 17, refugees in the camp where I lived. The interview was in english and was edited for grammare and clarity)

Returning Home: A Privilege

Last Friday, August 9th, at 2AM, I returned home to Waxhaw, North Carolina, after spending 11 weeks in the Occupied West Bank. Shaky is the best way I can describe my condition after getting back. 15 pounds skinnier, I felt 100 pounds heavier with the weight of 3 months of accumulated Palestinian stories of pain and suffering. Faces, names, places, memories, all swim around in my head as I try to nail down, to understand, all that I experienced this summer and how it is to affect my life from now on. I struggle to summarize it on paper.

I lived with a Muslim Palestinian host family in the ’Azza refugee camp in the city of Bethlehem. Those in the camp are refugees or descendents of refugees from the 1948 war (known to Palestinians as “the Nakba,” meaning “the catastrophe”). They were forced to flee their homes in the village of Beyt Jibreen when Jewish militias overtook their village. Although less than an hour’s drive away, they have never been able to return.

Bethlehem: Occupied

The city of Bethlehem, including its 3 refugee camps, is one of the central cities in the West Bank with a population of 60,000. Of these, 80% are Muslim and 20% are Palestinian Christian (mainly Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox). Many of which claim ancestry from the earliest of Christians. Here Muslims and Christians largely live together in peace. Bethlehem and the other cities of the West Bank have been under a harsh military occupation since 1967, when Israel took it from Jordan. For these 40 years Palestinians have not been granted Israeli citizenship nor have they been granted their own state. They have remained in a state of limbo.

Bethlehem today is severely affected by the Israeli military occupation. From the north it is surrounded by what is called variously the “separation barrier” or the “apartheid wall.” This wall cuts off Bethlehem from its sister city, Jerusalem, upon which it has been dependent economically, culturally and religiously and it cuts off the West Bank from Israel proper. Today, Israel does not allow Palestinians into Jerusalem (or outside the W. Bank at all), only 30 minutes by car, without a difficult-to-get permit. Most citizens of Bethlehem have never met an Israeli personally or been outside the West Bank.

Bethlehem is also affected by neighboring Israeli settlements, one of which looks down from a hilltop onto Bethlehem from the east . Slowly Bethlehem is being squeezed from all sides. One result of this (and just a sign of the how difficult it is to live under occupation) is the ever growing rate of emigration to the West, especially by Palestinian Christians for whom it is easier to get visas to the West.

Life in a Refugee Camp

Living in a refugee camp was a unique opportunity and experience. Within this closed community, I quickly became another one of the “guys from the camp” and was participated in elements of daily Palestinian life including: weddings, inter-family fights, parties for prisoners released from Israeli jails, “hair-cut Fridays“, soccer games, and lots of hanging out. I also experienced the wide ranging effects of the Israeli occupation including: lack of adequate medical care, water cuts for weeks at a time, Israeli military incursions, the fear of Israeli informants, the 70% unemployment rate, and the overarching sense of hopelessness. The occupation affects every aspect of Palestinian life. Nothing is left untouched.

Learning Arabic, Teaching English

Much of my time was spent learning Arabic. By choice I lived with a family that spoke no English and I was surrounded by Arabic every day. Thanks to this my Arabic ability grew rapidly and by the end of my trip I could understand much of daily conversation and was comfortable maintaining an hour or so of basic conversation about myself, what I was doing in Palestine, and, of course, the basics of my political views (a must for the Middle East J). Arabic acquisition was one of my main goals for the trip, and for this I am very, very thankful.

I also spent most mornings teaching English at a center for college students from the Bethlehem area called the Student’s Forum. My English teaching was generally very rewarding as well, though it is now fairly clear to me that this is not something I would like to do vocationally. The best part was building relationships with the students and getting invited to their homes. I built strong a strong friendship with three students in particular, one brother and his two sisters, who were very motivated to learn English, visiting their home four or five times.
A Difficult Trip, Much Learned

Overall, this was an very difficult trip for me, more so than I had expected. It was difficult on several levels. First, it was very challenging culturally and linguistically. In an all Arabic environment the possibilities for miscommunication and cultural faux paus were endless. Simply communicating involved seemingly infinite effort and strain.

Second, the enormity of the suffering and the harsh political conditions were hard to handle. Every day I was flooded with stories and sights and sounds of suffering, pain and death. For three months I absorbed these, day after day after day. Slowly they wore and weighed on me.

Third, and most importantly, I realize now how alone I really was. I was almost completely on my own. Knowing that this was not a Christian program, I had hoped to find a community on arriving by attending local churches. This did not work out as planned. Really for most of the trip, I was without any kind of spiritual community and this proved very unhealthy. Under these kinds of circumstances, spiritual community is more essential than ever. By the end of the trip I was hanging on a thread spiritually. It was too much for me to take alone. I have learned much from this.

1) I learned the necessity of a spiritual community wherever I am, but especially in the M.E. I have largely decided to not return to the Middle East alone or without an assurance of community before getting there.
2) I built a solid foundation in Arabic upon which I can continue to build in the future! This is a foundation for future effectiveness in the region.
3) I gained a first hand understanding of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and of the state of the Church in Israel/Palestine.
4) I built relationships with: Muslims, Christians, and Jews; Israelis and Palestinians.
5) I now feel the responsibility of sharing the Palestinian story that is largely not being told in the West.

Now What?

So here I am, back in plush and comfortable USA trying to put this all together in my head, trying to make sense of it all. What I know is that I have more questions than answers, more questions than before I left on the trip. Questions about what is to be done in Israel/Palestine, questions about who I am, questions about my future and questions about what God wants me to do with my life.

In a week I head back to Wheaton to finish up my last semester there. With few commitments and extra credits to spare it will be a light semester. The main thing planned is to live in downtown Chicago with three of my friends and to commute to Wheaton three or four times a week. We desire to learn more about the inner-city and issues such as poverty and racial diversity.

After this semester I will probably stay in the Chicago area and work while my friends finish up their time at Wheaton. I plan to then head back to the Middle East for a year or so, to complete my Arabic studies. This is still quite tentative. I appreciate your continued prayers (and any advice you would like to send my way) for my processing of the trip, for this coming semester and for decisions about the future.

Saying “thank you” again sounds somewhat trite, but I am thankful for you all. I hung in there this summer thanks to your prayers. I am very, very sure of it. Of course, the fact that this trip happened at all is thanks to those of you who were so generous in providing my way. God provided for me once again. I pray that your investment in me will have been worthwhile.

Praise be to God who faithfully stands with us! Praise to God whose joy it is to bring light to the most hopeless of situations. Praise to God who leads us in right paths, bringing honor to his name.

!لا اسمو نشكر
(To his name be thanks),

Jonathan Kindberg

Friday, August 10, 2007

Home, sweet home!

Im home! After a long 26 hours or so of travelling I made it back to NC last night at 2AM. I had no problems in the Ben Gurion, Israel Airport, for which I am very, very suprised. Thank you so much for your prayers! God is to thank for this.

Now, begins the process of resting and processing all of my experiences. Thanks so much for your thoughts and prayers this whole time!


(below is my story of getting out of the Israeli airport if you are at all interested. For many it is a terrible experience. For me it was somewhat unusual, that is why I wrote it down.)

I decided that it would be too hard to hide the fact that i had been in bethlehem, so I decided to just go out and tell them the truth (but of course to not say any Pals. names, etc).

So after taking a Nesher to the airport, I walked inside and got in line at the B area, since that was for the airfrance flights. At the front of that line a lady looked at my passport and asked me the purpose of my visit. I answered "a summer study program." She then asked where it was and I said that we travelled some, but it was mostly in Bethlehem. "Bethlehem?" she repeated. Yeah, I said. Then she asked what exactly the program was. I said that it was called Middle East Fellowship, that I studied arabic. "Did you volunteer" she asked. Yes, I said and then she asked what I did. I answered saying I tought english at a student center. And that was it. She put some stickers on my passport and bags and sent me on to the x-ray. After the x-ray I went to the counter where they checked my bags. They didn't pour out all the contents on the ground, they didnt turn on my electronics, they didnt take everything out (and they didnt see my Arabic books or my "against the occupation" t-shirt :). They mainly just touched everything with this "wand-ish" thing with a cloth at the end of it which they put in this machine (i think to check for bomb dust, etc).

After my bags, my personal security escort (which stayed with me until I went to my gate) took me to a back room where he had me take all the things out of my pockets and put them through the x-ray (as well as my belt and shoes). Then he patted my down fairly carefully.

That was it. We went to the ticket counter, I had some problems with my ticket, but he stuck with me until it was all worked out and then I went to my gate.

I really cant figure it out, especially since I told them specifically that I lived and volunteered at Bethlehem, a Palestinian area. They usually go bezerk at the mention of a palestinian area such as this, and even more bezerk if you say you were "helping" Palestinians. Helping Palestinians usually translates into to aiding and abetting terrorists, in their minds. After that first lady, I didnt get any more questions about what I had done or anything. No one asked me if I had met any palestinians or for their names or anything. This is very, very unusual.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Last Days

No, I am not refferring to another "Left Behind" book, but rather to my last 5 days in Palestine. I am not sure what to think about it. In general I am really ready to be home and really miss my friends and family, but at the same time I really love it here. I really have been here for a while and everything here feels so normal now.

I am afraid of the transition back, too. For one, it is likely that I will have a hard time leaving the Israeli airport. I will get out eventually, but since I have spent time with Palestinians I will most likely get the royal treatment: long questioning, extensive luggage check, threats, etc. I'll get out eventually for sure, but it won't be fun. (Please pray that they won't give me any problems with my camera and computer. Often they say they need to search/check them and then you never get them back. Please pray also for wisdom in aswering their questions and for courage in general). Beyond this, I know that my transition back to the US will be difficult. I have a lot of unprocessed experiences, such as the death of my close friend and everything I have experienced here, that I think will come bursting out once I am back in the US. Please pray for my emotional strength and health once returning, as well as good processing of my time in general. (If any of you have some good "processing" suggestions, please pass them on!).

These last days will be spent wrapping up the last details as well as saying goodbyes. One of my friends from Wheaton (Colin) will be coming up to visit me from Egypt on Sunday and will stay two nights. It will be great to see him and to get to show him some of my life here. Wed. night i will head to jerusalem, where I will spend the night in a hostel. The next morning, bright and early (4ish) I will take a taxi to the airport and be off. Oh boy, here I go again....

Once I get back and catch my breath I will write up some sort of overall summary/conclusions of my trip.

مبرك وسلام (blessings and peace)