Member of Christian Group Recounts Recent Trip to Israel

News Reporter
Oregon Daily Emerald
University of Oregon, Eugene

Police frequently arrest Palestinians when they cross the road from their village in the southern hills of Israel’s West Bank to a nearby Israeli settlement. When an Israeli settler attacks a Palestinian, Springfield resident Matt Chandler said, the local government fines him one Shekel – about 25 cents.

“There is a faAade of justice,” Chandler said.

Returning to Eugene after more than two months of service in At-Tuwani, a village of 150 to 200 people, Chandler said the Israeli settlers in Ma’on are aggressive, radical and completely intolerant of non-Jews.

At the university on Friday evening, Chandler said “many Jews around the world would be ashamed to be represented by these settlers.”

The Pacifica Forum, a local discussion group for peace activists, sponsored the talk, group member Orval Etter said.

Chandler spent his time in the village as a member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams, an organization that aims to reduce violence through grassroots action. Chandler said the Chicago-based group sends young people to support non-violent, indigenous people in Iraq, Israel, Columbia, the U.S.-Mexico border and Ontario, Canada. Mennonite, Brethren and Quaker churches fund and operate the organization, but Catholic, Baptist and Presbyterian groups support it as well.

Stopping the settlers’ oppression of the Palestinians is the work of all Christians because Christianity values equality for all humans, stresses the necessity of justice and humility, and because Jesus died for humanity’s sins, Chandler said.

Jesus taught people to stand up, he said, to eliminate fear without violence.

Chandler said that Israeli settlers work with the government and military to rob Palestinians of their basic human rights. From At-Tuwani, it takes 45 minutes on Israeli roads to get to Jerusalem, but for Palestinians, whom the government restricts from travel on certain roads, the journey takes four hours. In addition, Chandler said, the government withholds access to water and electricity from the Palestinian village. Chandler spoke of a time he saw troops repeatedly punching a Palestinian man’s face, only stopping when a CPT member yelled to the soldiers that she was filming them.

“They can get away with all kinds of crimes,” Chandler said.

Israeli military officers are “empowered to do just about anything they want to,” Chandler said. “Many soldiers are settlers with political agendas.”

The Israeli police escort Palestinian children to school along a dangerous four-kilometer stretch of road, but the settlers often block the escort and harass and beat the children, Chandler said.

“If it’s settlers, they can’t touch ’em,” Chandler said. “They have that much political power.”

Chandler compared the segregation and the power structure of the area to white Americans oppressing black Americans in the pre-civil-rights-era South. He compared the settlers to members of the Ku Klux Klan.

Restrictions on access to water and the construction of a wall between Israeli and Palestinian territory unite the Palestinians and spur them to action, Chandler said. CPT, Chandler said, helps the people confront these issues in a non-violent, constructive manner. CPT’s goal in At-Tuwani is to ensure children don’t end up living like their fathers. Chandler said the next generation of Palestinians should spend their lives learning to farm, not learning to deal with oppression.

The Pacifica Forum began in 1994, embroiling itself in controversy in mid-2003 when it began a program called “Zionism and Its Links”, Etter said, which examined the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I have to admit that I have a strong anti-Israeli bias,” said Etter, a professor emeritus. “In some circles, that makes me anti-Semitic.

“I like to claim I’m not full of hate,” he said.