Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Fred & Gloria Strickert              http://walkinjerusalem.blogspot.com/

“So what’s the biggest change since your year here fifteen years ago?” That’s the question everyone seems to ask. The answer is simple, in one word, “Settlements.” Of course one-word answers are never simple, and they can never really be explained in just one word.

If you’ve paid any attention to news about the stalemate in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, you know that settlements have become the most serious obstacle to peace.

The settlement problem has been around for forty years now. And everywhere in the world people agree it’s a problem. Every day in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, there are articles and editorials that argue for a cessation of the settlements. The Israeli human rights organization B’tselem recently produced a study on Israeli settlement policy and they titled it By Hook and by Crook, if that gives you an idea of what many Israelis feel about settlements. But settlement expansion has been official Israeli policy for four decades so that half a million people now live in settlements.

Settlements are Israeli housing developments built on Palestinian land—and therefore obstacles to peace. They should not be viewed as economic opportunities, like an American family farm succumbing to urban sprawl. Settlements fall under the ministry of defense. They are a problem because this “settled” land constantly creates new “facts on the ground” and becomes more difficult (or impossible) to negotiate over. The strategic placement of settlements divides up the West Bank like Swiss cheese so that the viability of a possible future Palestinian state becomes a major challenge. As far as present and future security, it doesn’t make sense because Israeli soldiers are stationed to “protect” settlers and thus control the entire West Bank while becoming flashpoints for violence. And in many cases, settlers themselves are the violent ones harassing their Palestinian neighbors.

Two necessary clarifications are in order. “Settlements” might imply that this is merely the development of unused land. In many cases, Palestinian homes are removed to make room for settlements, also olive groves uprooted and farms destroyed. Also some play with the term “illegal settlements.” By international law, all settlements—building on occupied lands—are illegal. The Israeli government argues that settlements are legal because they are built for “security” purposes—while ironically making Israel less secure. The government sometimes refers to renegade settlers as “illegal” suggesting incorrectly that government sponsored settlements are “legal.” They are all illegal.

The official U.S. government policy for all these years—one administration after another—has opposed Israeli settlements. Yet American diplomats, one after another, have winked at public declarations of building slowdowns (while settlement expansion moves full speed ahead). In schizophrenic fashion, Democrats and Republicans alike in congress tend to vote 95 % in favor of the settlements. But American foreign policy under Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, and Obama has generally opposed Israeli settlements. Financially Americans make all this possible, by billions of dollars in annual foreign aid to Israel (that frees up Israeli budgets to fund settlements), by U.S. backed loan guarantees, and by IRS tax-exempt status for American donations to settlements.

So settlements are illegal. Settlements are a provocation. Settlements are the biggest obstacle to peace. But the U.S. government has remained timid and painted itself in a corner so that they are powerless to do anything but to say as they did this last week, “We are disappointed.”

Settlement expansion has gone unchecked for forty years. So what’s new? How is this a change from fifteen years ago when we were here?

What’s new is the proliferation of settlements in East Jerusalem. That’s Arab East Jerusalem. That’s East Jerusalem where we live and where we work. I walk by settlements on the way to the old city, we drive by them when we go to the grocery store. They’re everywhere. They are like armed camps in the midst of civilian neighborhoods. Or as one Israeli writer put it last week, they’re an excuse for independent militias to run free and unchecked.

And over the next few weeks and months there will be more and more of them. That is the significance of Sunday’s diplomatic failure.

In 1995, when looking north from Bethlehem,we viewed a beautiful forested hillside named in Arabic Abu Ghneim. The property was once considered part of greater Bethlehem & owned by families from Beit Sahour, Bethlehem, and also a few Jewish families. But following the 1967 war, Israel annexed this area to Jerusalem and made plans to build a settlement. Ironically, when the UN tried to stop construction, it was the Clinton administration that voted along with Israel and Micronesia against 135 nations and then used its veto power to override UN opposition. So because of a failure or American resolve, today this Jewish settlement now called Har Homa numbers 12-15,000 residents standing within the Jerusalem municipality.

According to Israeli law there is no opportunity for Palestinians to build on such land because this land has been declared “Israeli state land.” According to Peace Now (an organization founded by former Israeli generals & now very critical of Israeli government settlement policies) 93 % of land in Israel (and one third of Arab East Jerusalem) has been declared “state land” which is available only for full Israeli citizens to purchase and build upon. So it’s off limits for Palestinians, including 200,000 Arab residents of East Jerusalem. That probably does not make any sense for people who are used to property transactions as being economic. Israelis can live anywhere they want. Palestinians are highly restricted.

It is not unusual for Israel to declare as “state land” East Jerusalem property where Arabs are currently living, paving the way for the expulsion of these residents and for settlers to buy the land from the government and to move in. So in the Silwan area on the eastern slopes of the Kidron Valley & south east of the old city, hundreds of Palestinians have been evicted in the last decade & replaced by Jewish settlers. Knowing they are not welcome, the settlers hire armed guards (often untrained) which results in a recipe for disaster—such as the shooting several nights ago of a Palestinian by an off-duty guard and the subsequent demonstrations (and such clashes will only cause more harm and solve nothing).

On Sunday, with attention on Washington and the peace talks, dozens of buses headed to the West Bank in support of the settlements, and demonstrations were held to support East Jerusalem settlements. Police were barricading various streets in East Jerusalem where we normally drive. Over the next weeks and months, it has been suggested that there will be a major land grab. The more Jewish residents in East Jerusalem, the more difficult it will be for peace negotiators to establish East Jerusalem as part of the proposed Palestinian state, let alone be its capital. So the longer the delays, the greater the obstacles to peace.

If you want to follow one story, remember the name Sheik Jarrah. You’ll be hearing a lot about it in the coming months. Sheik Jarrah is an area north of the old city that was home to high Palestinian society in the 1940s and 1950s. A proposed settlement here has been disputed for some time. This morning’s paper announced—interesting timing !--an Israeli Supreme Court ruling that opens the door for new settlers. The ruling centers on the fact that there were Jews living in several houses in Sheik Jarrah in the early twentieth century—living side by side with Arabs peacefully. In the 1948 war, as in all wars, people get out of the way of the violence. These Jewish residents fled to west Jerusalem while many Arab residents of west Jerusalem fled to east Jerusalem. From 1948 to 1967, a divided Jerusalem kept Jews in the west and Arabs in the east.

The UN refuge commission resettled Arab families from west Jerusalem in the then vacant East Jerusalem buildings, and now sixty years have passed. Although the pre-1948 Jewish residents are no longer involved, these houses have been declared as “state property” and a wealthy American who has never lived in Israel has bought the property for the settler movement. The case has been held up in court because of disputes about whether the houses were owned or merely rented in the pre-1948 period. According to the morning paper, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the settlers and these Palestinian families will now have to leave to make room for the settlers. Of course by Israeli law, these Arab families have no recourse to their families’ pre-1948 property in west Jerusalem, nor any compensation. But they are to be evicted for other Israelis whose families were not even around in 1948.

The goal is not just for a house or two, but, once the foot is in the door, for a large housing complex of over one hundred units.

The bottom line is that such settlement activity leads neither to peace nor the security of Israel.

Once again, it is important to stress that a stance exposing the problems of Israeli settlements is consistent with official U.S. policy, international law, and world opinion. It is consistent with President Bush’s 2003 Road Map. It is consistent with the Obama administration’s approach to the peace talks. It is also listed as one of the basic issues needing to be resolved for a just and secure peace between Palestinians and Israelis according to the ELCA Peace Not Walls Campaign.

See http://www.elca.org/Our-Faith-In-Action/Justice/Peace-Not-Walls/Major-Issues.aspx

For Israeli opinion critical of the settlements see:




For an American Jewish view see:


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Yom Kippur

From Fred & Gloria Strickert                     http://walkinjerusalem.blogspot.com/

Silence. Rest. Peace. That’s Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. A time to end quarrels. A time to make amends. A time for fasting and asking forgiveness at the beginning of the Jewish year, now ten days old after Rosh Hashanah.

This year Yom Kippur falls on a Saturday, Shabbat. So it’s a day of rest squared, or, more likely, the day of rest to the seventh power. Though a poll taken last week by Haaertz newspaper confirms that by far the majority of Israeli Jews are secular, Israelis take this day seriously, for many the one day of the year to attend synagogue, to hear the blowing of the Shofar, and to recite the Kol Nidre. For the die-hard secularists, the long weekend provides a good excuse to get out of town for a trip to the Mediterranean seacoast.

In Jerusalem, the significance of the day is obvious for all—Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike. No TV. No radio. Driving is forbidden. The streets are barricaded. Even where we are in East Jerusalem, shops are closed and only an occasional taxi passes by. In the more secular coastal city Acre a riot broke out two years ago when an Arab drove his car through a Jewish neighborhood. So for us, it’s a quiet day at home alone reading.

In the traditional spirit of “building a fence around the law” buses stopped running at mid-afternoon Friday, shopkeepers closed up at noon, tour groups made the rounds on Thursday to head north to Galilee, and check-points from the West Bank were closed already the previous midnight. One of our church staff traveled an extra ten miles out of his way to reach work on Friday, others could not make it at all.

The sun set at 5:38 p.m. Friday night, beginning the fast--now that daylight savings time has ended—seeming so early for mid-September. Sitting outside and observing the city from our Mount of Olives perch, we noticed the high-rise office buildings of West Jerusalem off in the distance shrouded in darkness. Closer down the valley, we spotted red and green traffic signals now flashing amber. Gazing to the northwest, and down upon “Settler highway # 1” that tunnels under the Mount of Olives to the mega-settlement Ma'ale Adumim, not a car or truck was in sight. And looking southwest toward the old city below and the lighted Dome of the Rock upon the mammoth remains of the Herodian temple platform, we could only imagine what it must have been like two thousand years ago, and earlier, when the high priest donned his special robes, and, for that one day only, entered the Holy of Holies, while the crowds filled with awe stood by in sacred silence.

24 hours of silence, 24 hours of rest, 24 hours of peace.
So why not peace for the entire year?

Fred & Gloria Strickert


Monday, September 13, 2010


From Fred & Gloria Strickert

On Sunday 12 September, in the St. John's Chapel --a structure dating back to the 12th Century--Bishop Munib Younan installed Fred and Gloria as Pastor and diaconal minister of the English speaking congregation, along with our new colleague, Rev. Elly McHan, as Communications assistant for the ELCJHL.
Congregational President & Director of LWF Jerusalem Mark Brown, Bishop Munib Younan, Probst Uwe Graebe of the German Lutheran Church.

An ecumenical laying on of hands: Palestinian Lutherans, Church of Sweden, Reformed Church of Scotland, Finnish Lutheran Church, Lutheran Church of Norway, German Lutheran Church, and USA Presbyterian, UCC, & ELCA.

Gloria singing Kyrie

church musicians

Elly & Gloria presented to church

The Readings

The congregation


Tuesday, September 7, 2010


From Fred and Gloria Strickert

Last Thursday evening I (Fred) had the privilege of attending an Iftaar hosted by the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem.

Iftaar is simply the Arabic word for breakfast in the literal sense--the breaking of the fast of Ramadan. Western calendars sometimes mention the Eid ul-fitr, the day of celebration after the month of Ramadan has ended. However, every day includes an Iftaar when the sun has set and another day of fasting has come to an end.

Back home, the local mosque often hosts an Iftaar to educate community members about Islam. Yet here in Jerusalem on this particular evening, it was the Christian leaders hosting their Muslim neighbors, businessmen and imams alike. It was my own Bishop Munib Younan who initiated this tradition a number of years ago, who having lived his whole life in close contact with Muslim neighbors understands that respect for another's religion is the key to successful relationships.

So there we were, a room filled with Christians and Muslims sitting side by side around four large tables spread with a mesa of Middle Eastern salads--Hummus, Tahina, Babaganoush, Turkish Salad, Kibbeh, Sfeiha, and more--with baskets of fresh baked Pita. Yet sitting down we patiently meditated on the food before us. "The sun sets at 7:10 tonight," said Ibrahim Matar, a development specialist with the Italian Consulate, sitting to my left. Then in a humorous way, like a congregation when the pastor has gone on too long, individuals around the room took secret glances at their watches until the canon sounded outside, signaling the setting of the sun.

Ibrahim first offered me a plate of dates, "The Hadith tell us that Muhammad always broke the fast with a newly picked date." And then we continued with a modest feast: soup, the salads, roasted lamb, and a pancake filled with nuts and honey.

The meal, as important as it was for those who hadn't eaten since five o'clock that morning, seemed secondary to the speeches. Theophilus, the Greek Orthodox patriarch, talked about the mutual appreciation that Caliph Omar and Patriarch Sophronius had for each other when Islam first came to Jerusalem over thirteen hundred years ago. Latin Patriarch Twal mentioned the positive contributions that Muslim-Christian relationships have for modern Jerusalem. Then Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, addressed the current problem of Christian emigration with Christians now dwindling to less than 1.7 % of the population, first encouraging the Christian leaders to work diligently with their congregations so that no more Christians move away from the Holy Land, and then speaking to fellow Muslims that they must support the ever-dwindling Christian community because Muslims and Christians need each other and depend upon each other.

We all had come for the food, but it was the impact of powerful words that continued over the following days. The future of this ancient city depends on mutual respect among its three religions, and, as all three religions teach, the strength of the largest is determined most by its care for the smallest. 

So I wonder what it is that drives a pastor in Florida to promote the burning the Qur'an, or a radio talk show host to misrepresent a peaceful Sufi Muslim as a potential terrorist, or politicians to oppose the legitimate building of a Muslim community center in New York for their own political gain.  When religious majorities lord it over minorities and when extremists misrepresent the beliefs and practices of other religions, then communities are doomed to failure whether in Jerusalem or back home in America.

* * * * * * *

On Monday, I accompanied the Bishop to extend greetings to the police officers responsible for keeping order in the old city. Such greetings are common within Judaism at the approach of Rosh Hashana, a time of repentance and mending of relationships to begin the New Year afresh.

Because Judaism and Islam both follow lunar calendars, this year marks an unusual convergence when the new moon appears this Wednesday night, September 8. Thus the Muslim Eid ul Fitr (the celebration at the end of Ramadan) and the Jewish Rosh Hashana fall on the same day. The 10 days beginning with Rosh Hashana are High Holy days leading up to Yom Kippur, a day of Jewish Fasting on Sept. 18. To bring Christians into the picture Sept. 14 is Holy Cross Day commemorating the visit of Constantine’s mother Helena to Jerusalem, discovering the cross and initiating the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

With these holy days beginning at sundown, matters become more complicated in this early fall season. A number of years ago the Israeli Knesset set the end of daylight savings on the Sunday before Yom Kippur as a way of making the fast lest strenuous. Since Yom Kippur is extremely early this year, we are preparing to set back our clocks this coming Sunday, Sept. 12. However, this has created something of an uproar with many secular Jews who are upset that the religious parties have influenced legislation that does not make economic sense. So there is currently a bill in the Knesset that would negate the change (scheduled in just a few days) and make Nov. 1 the end of daylight savings time each year. However, in the spirit of compromise another group of Knesset members has proposed allowing the current Sept. 12 time change to take place and then reverting back to daylight savings time on Sunday Sept. 19 and continuing until Nov. 1. If that is not enough, several city leaders in Tel Aviv are threatening to establish the Nov. 1 date of change on their own, which would mean the secular city of Tel Aviv would be operating at an hours’ difference from the religious city Jerusalem, just 30 miles apart.

And there’s more: The West Bank already changed to standard time a month ago to make the Ramadan fast a bit easier. So we in Jerusalem are still on daylight savings time while the West Bank is now on standard time. As a result Gloria arrived in Bethlehem an hour early for an appointment this morning. Since Augusta Victoria Hospital employs a large number of West Bank residents and treats many West Bank patients, they are operating now on West Bank time (Standard time), and we living across the street are operating on Jerusalem time (Daylight savings time).

So we’re wondering what time it will be when we show up for church this Sunday morning.


Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Litany for Peace: to support those engaged in the peace talks

From Fred & Gloria Strickert

Our new colleague Robert Edmunds, Canon of St. George's Anglican Cathedral, shared this litany used in their worship here in Jerusalem:

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the birth in Bethlehem of the Word made flesh, Jesus your Son; who dwelt among us full of grace and truth.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We thank you for his life; his death here in Jerusalem as he carried our sins and suffering, and for his glorious Resurrection in which he gave us new life with him.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We thank you for entrusting to us the ministry of forgiveness, reconciliation and peace-making for the healing of your creation.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We pray for all victims of bloodshed, violence and persecution and those who are in danger here in this Land -- in Gaza, Israel, Palestine and throughout the world.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We pray for all who grieve for loved ones who have died in the desperation of violent actions this past week.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We pray for all who promote violence, that their hearts may be turned to the way of peace.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We pray for children and young people that you may fill them with hope for the future.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We pray for the guidance of your Holy Spirit upon us; upon all the leaders of the Land of the Holy One; upon President Obama and President Abbas, Prime Minister Netanyahu; upon all those in leadership positions among those who bear arms; upon all the leaders of the United Nations and upon all those in authority in the nations of the world to seek peace and pursue it.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Heavenly Father, we praise and glorify you. You are our only refuge in a troubled world.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to us and the people of all the nations a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that all of your people may use their liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.