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16 Days in Israel Palestine

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Three years ago at this time, I was in the midst of my first of five trips to Israel Palestine.Everything that follows actually happened, but as I was writing fiction in 2005, my experiences are told through Jack, Terese and Jake.

Everyone else is exactly who they are and over the next three days, I will be offering Chapter 11:


Ten interfaith friends from the U.S. branch of the Olive Trees Foundation for Peace arrived in Tel Aviv on Sunday morning, June 12, 2005, at 3 a.m. Everyone else settled in their beds at the Ambassador Hotel in East Jerusalem, but Jack was wide awake. After a shower, he wandered through the East Jerusalem streets in the dark, and reached the Western Wall just as the sun rose. He walked the empty Via Delarosa and wondered, "Where are all the Christians? I have seen videos of this place with packed streets, and this morning, I am totally alone."

Jack wandered into the courtyard at the Anglican St. George's Cathedral just before noon. He was staring at a statue of St. Francis in a winding, flower-filled courtyard, and thought, "Hmmm--Frankie--you remind me of Julianne. She always greeted everyone with 'As Francis of Assisi said to Brother Dominic when their paths crossed on the road to Umbria: HI!'"

Jack lost himself in good memories before that Tuesday in September when everything changed. He shivered when he heard the snap of gum sound as loudly as Julianne's ever had. He turned and saw a compact balding man of about fifty move by swiftly and enter the guest house. The man rang the bells everyday at noon, and had just descended the bell tower. Jack mused, I think that's Vanunu. I had no clue he was so short.

When Julianne lost her life in a stairway of the Twin Towers that day in September, Jack fell off the wagon. While in rehab for the last time, he also began watching a lot of TV. He caught a show on the History Channel entitled "Sexpionage." It was all about Russian female spies and one from the Mossad. Jack had a faint memory of hearing the name  Mordechai Vanunu in 1986, but everything else he saw that night was news to him. The show informed him that Vanunu had been a low-tech in the underground Dimona nuclear plant in the Negev. When Vanunu had a crisis of conscience about being a cog in the making of weapons of mass destruction, he copped the keys to the restricted areas and shot two rolls of film which proved Israel had gone nuclear. He resigned and left the country, but did not develop the film until nearly a year later. Vanunu had ended up in Sydney, where he was baptized a Christian and met Peter Hounam, a journalist for the London Sunday Times. Peter flew Vanunu to London and began to check out the story, which took more days than Vanunu had patience to bear in solitude. Out of boredom, Vanunu ventured out and met an American named Cindy. He had no clue she worked for the Mossad. After a week of movies and museums, he traveled with her to Rome, where her sister had an apartment. When Vanunu entered the apartment, he was hit on the head, drugged, bound, and flung upon an Israeli cargo ship heading home. The Times broke the story just as Vanunu disappeared. The world did not know if Vanunu was alive or dead. They found out while he was being transported to his closed-door trial. Vanunu had been inspired to write "HIJACKED" on his palm, with the Rome flight number he had been on. His action agitated the Israeli government, and from then on, Vanunu was shielded from the world. Vanunu was sentenced to eighteen years for treason and was released in April of 2004, under house arrest and had been living in St. George's guest house ever since.

The show also ran video from 1986 of Shimon Perez telling the world that Israel would never be the first country in the Middle East to go nuclear. Jack thought for a long time about whether he should approach Vanunu, who had set up his laptop underneath an umbrella table a few feet away. Jack never missed an opportunity.

"Pardon me; you are Vanunu, aren't you?"

Vanunu nodded and shook Jack's hand, while Jack remained standing; Vanunu returned to his laptop. "I want you to know how much I admire you, for your courage and for speaking the truth. I am leaving for the Galilee tomorrow, but if our paths cross when I return to Jerusalem; I would like to invite you to dinner."

Vanunu nodded; Jack left and didn't think anymore about it.

When he arrived back at the Ambassador Hotel, he saw Khaled Diab, Founder of the Olive Trees Foundation for Peace, in the lobby at a table meeting with a slightly built, incessantly chain-smoking man. As Jack approached, Khaled rose from his chair and greeted him like a well-loved son. Then he turned to his companion and told Jack, "This is Hasan Suwan. He is the coordinator for PARC, the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee. As you know, PARC has been doing all the assessing for the need for trees, and assuring the planting and upkeep is being done. He will travel with us to last season's planting sites and help us discover next season's. He was just telling me the problems the wall has caused him, because he is an Israeli citizen married to a Palestinian."

Jack unabashedly asked, "Mr. Suwan, will you tell me more? I have come to Israel and Palestine in support of my good friend and second father, Khaled. I have sought the truth my entire life; please tell me everything about what life is like for you and yours in Israel  Palestine."

"Well, my wife has Palestinian papers, which means she cannot come with me into Israeli territory. Every six months, she must fill out papers and wait in line all day before she is told yes or no. The papers are her permission to leave Palestinian territory. I have Israeli ID, and I cannot go into Palestinian territories, because, I am told, the IDF could not ensure my safety if I went to visit my family! If an Israeli citizen takes a Palestinian in his car and is caught, he is fined five thousand shekels, and the car is confiscated for a month. Before the wall, my wife was able to walk to her mother's home in less than fifteen minutes. Now, it takes an hour and a half to drive through the checkpoints, and one can be told, 'No, you cannot enter. Go back from where you came.' Then, one either does go back, or looks for another way around. In my town of Jabal Al Mukaber, the concrete fence divides our family. So far, the wall has uprooted over two million trees." Hasan lit another cigarette and smirked as he told Jack, "For Palestinians, the worst tragedies make us laugh."

That morning, Jack had been reading "A Call for Morally Responsible Investment: A Nonviolent Response to the Occupation".
25  As Suwan was speaking, Jack kept imagining thousands of Caterpillar tractors plowing up ancient olive groves, and wondered if his church was investing in the Caterpillar company. He wondered if the Olive Trees Foundation for Peace could ever keep pace with the demand for trees as the wall tore down even more.

On Monday night, the ten met over thirty of Khaled's family in a restaurant and became fast friends. Jack, a serious Christian of the Beatitudes and struggling Episcopalian, broke bread with Muslims, who all agreed that all everyone really wanted was for their children to be able to live in peace. They all were educating their children in mixed schools, and struggled with the daily worry of children crossing checkpoints.

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Eileen Fleming,is a Citizen of CONSCIENCE for US House of Representatives 2012 Founder of Staff Member of, A Feature Correspondent for Producer "30 Minutes with Vanunu" and "13 Minutes with Vanunu" (more...)
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