Summer/Fall 2002
Volume 7 Number 1














Open Eyes, Open Doors Peacemaking in the Israeli/Palestinian War Zone


by Christine Caton

"O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie….” Shattered windows, glass and concrete debris everywhere, along with piles of garbage and bombed-out cars. A statue of the Virgin Mary riddled with bullet holes. The close sound of gunfire. Soldiers patrolling the streets. These are the images I have of Bethlehem. This is life under occupation.

I recently returned from a month in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank, living and working in the city of Hebron with the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). CPT is a program of Brethren and Mennonite congregations and Friends meetings from the United States and Canada (although it is ecumenical in scope and staff). CPT arose out of a call in 1984 for Christians to devote the same discipline and self-sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking that armies devote to  war.

On March 25 I wrote home in an email: “Someone said recently that Hebron is like the Old West. Well, this morning was like the shoot-out at the OK Corral. I went on school patrol this morning with two other CPTers and a visiting journalist from the BBC. (CPT accompanies Palestinian children and teachers to school in Hebron to help prevent violence between them and Israeli settlers and soldiers.) Things were calm until we heard a loud explosion, followed by lots of gunfire. Soldiers went running to see what had happened. We quickly followed them. After we got back to our apartment things really started—shooting and explosions all morning…. So this is life in the Palestinian Occupied Territories. This is more than an occupation, this is war.”

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The next day there was more violence, as there would be every day, and I wrote: “Israeli soldiers shooting at unarmed Palestinian children—no rocks being thrown. This is Hell, I think. That’s what I witnessed today. The rocks started flying only after the soldiers had fired several times at a group of children who were trying to get to school. The soldiers also threw a percussion grenade and a tear gas canister (of which I got a strong whiff—and everything you have heard about tear gas is true, it burns like crazy!). I am shaken, but mostly angry at what I haven seen.

“Today I ‘Got In The Way’ (‘Getting In The Way’ is CPT’s motto.) I stood, along with another CPTer, in front of two soldiers who were preparing to shoot at a group of children. We stood there, with our arms outstretched as the guns were pointed at us, and I thought, ‘Enough! No more shooting!’ God was with us in a real and visceral way in that moment. And it was a testimony to the power of nonviolent action.

“Shooting and tear gas and percussion grenades—this is war. And I know this is not what God wants for this beautiful land.”

There are ways you can get involved to help bring about a just peace for Palestinians and Israelis, even if you are unable to commit yourself to going to the Middle East as I did and will continue to do. One way is to join CPT’s Campaign for Secure Dwellings. This program connects local congregations with families in the Hebron area whose houses have been marked for demolition by the government. These houses are demolished for various reasons, including making way for settlements or new roads, or because the family did not have the right papers to allow them to build (papers that are nearly impossible to obtain). You will correspond with your family, and you will commit yourself to public witness once a year on behalf of these families, as well as commit yourself to keeping this subject before your congregation. For more information on the Campaign for Secure Dwellings, you can contact the coordinator of this program, Anita Fast, at [email protected] .

A bombed-out car in the little town of Bethleham.

I believe the words that Jesus read at the beginning of his ministry in the synagogue in Luke 4 apply to us today as his followers: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” My prayer is that the oppressed in the Occupied Territories will go free and that the peaceful and just year of the Lord’s favor will come soon to Palestine and Israel.

Christine Caton (Class of 1991) is an ordained Presbyterian minister. She is currently a mission volunteer with the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship; she plans to work full time for the Christian Peacemaker Teams in September. She lives in Waterford, Connecticut, when she is not in the Middle East.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily represent those of Princeton Theological Seminary.