Holy Land

The Impact of Settlements

Fr. Paul Esser – Archdiocese of Milwaukee

Osama Shakanah addressed our CRS delegation to the Palestinian village of Nahaleen, near Bethlehem. Everyone sat on white plastic chairs in the dusty, cold room. Small plastic cups of hot coffee were given to everyone. Amid the cacophony of cell phones and the scraping of chairs being moved; the coming and going of men, women and youth; we were welcomed by Osama. President George W. Bush was in town and nearby, creating a massive traffic mess. In this village of 7,000 persons, there is a 70% unemployment rate. They depend on agriculture but the Israeli settlers have taken their land and cut down their trees.

The people of Nahaleen poured out their hearts to the members of our group. They wanted us to know how the four Israeli settlements that now sat on the hill overlooking Nahaleen have drastically changed their lives. “We want to live here; this is our land,” they said. They have lived in peace for generations. Everything they said added up to a cry for help. CRS’ Food for Work program is a help, but merely sufficient for them as they struggle to survive, though they want to live.

After the 1948 UN resolution creating the State of Israel, Palestinians were advised that they could return to their home shortly. Our visit to the Dehaisheh refugee camp showed us the successive generations still waiting to return home. The youth of this camp are full of the spirit of hope. They are being worked with to develop their leadership abilities. Through a CRS program called Cyber Bridges, they are in contact with a high school in Chicago; they exchange names, learn about each others countries, but they long to meet face to face. Only lack of money keeps them from coming to the United States. Meanwhile they use the computer to visit with each other. They are helped by leadership programs to develop their social skills and they are guided to stay clear of drugs and to avoid giving up hope.

A visit to Hebron showed our group the significance of the Jewish settlement right in the middle of the bustling Palestinian city. Many Palestinians have been displaced from their homes; their shops have been permanently closed and sealed. The Israeli military is a strong presence in the city as they patrol and set up checkpoints. We came upon a Palestinian being questioned at length by a group of Israeli police. A certain area of the city has been turned into a ghost town by vacated Palestinian homes and shops. Our visit several days ago to B’Tselem and the CDs they gave us showed us the violence the situation in Hebron has caused.

Fr. Paul Esser, from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, is a member of the Global Fellows: Parish Homily Program. The Global Fellows: priests, deacons and seminarians, travel to the developing world to experience the plight of the poor and marginalized overseas. Upon their return, the Global Fellows are empowered to preach in parishes across the United States about social justice and peace around the world. This entry is a personal reflection by one of the participants in this program, and does not necessarily reflect the views of Catholic Relief Services, or its partners.

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