Feeling the Pain of the People

By Peggy Faw Gish

We stood in the large prayer room in the Ibrahimi Mosque, built on the site of the Tomb of the Patriarchs, in the city of Hebron, in the southern part of the West Bank. Our guide pointed to a certain area where, until recent times, Muslims prayed in front of that line and the Jews living in Hebron prayed in the area behind them. Things dramatically changed after some of the more extremist Israeli settlers took over a hotel and Palestinian homes in the old city of Hebron after the 1967 War and established their presence. Israeli soldiers were sent in to protect these settlers.  It became increasingly tense after February 1994, when Baruch Goldstein, a settler, originally from the US, shot into the group of Muslims praying there and killed 29, and injured around 100.  The mosque was then divided by a wall separating the Muslim and Jewish sections.  Israel punished the Palestinian citizens of Hebron with more Israeli check points and closures in the old city and daily harassment, so that Hebron is considered the most violent and restricted Palestinian city in the West Bank.

Our group experienced a bit of this as we walked down a mostly empty Shuhada Street, the main city street that Palestinians aren’t allowed to be on, and our Palestinian guide was not allowed to walk with us. Along the street we saw the welded-shut doors of the shops that Palestinian owners can no longer access. It was different from other areas of the city, where people were busy shopping and we felt welcomed and quite safe.

Because of this situation in the old part of the city, four nonviolent international groups have been working there accompanying local Palestinians in order to reduce their daily harassment, and monitoring and reporting on the violence and human rights abuses.  They are the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) (which the Israeli government recently expelled from the country), Ecumenical Accompaniment Presence in Palestine Israel (EAPPI), and International Solidarity Movement (ISM).  They work along-side several local Palestinian organizations working nonviolently to resist the injustices.

For me, it felt like coming home, since I had worked here with CPT several times between 2002 and 2007, and my late husband, Art, had worked there every winter for 15 years. I had already experienced some of what the people deal with daily, but now the situation is even worse. It is becoming a more common occurrence for soldiers to round up, arrest young Palestinian children, lob teargas at children walking to school, raid homes in the middle of the night, and shoot at people on the street, unprovoked.

Being here brought back memories of accompanying school children and speaking up for them at checkpoints they need to go through, and trying to prevent them from being harassed or hurt by settlers or soldiers. I remember working in villages south of the city, accompanying shepherds simply taking their flocks out on their own land, and encountering settlers coming to beat on them or their sheep and goats. One time I was helping out in the barley harvest in the fields outside the village of Jinba.   When two jeep loads of Israeli soldiers stopped at the edge of the road, a Palestinian woman and I walked out and greeted them in a friendly way, inviting them to join us in the harvest—thus diffusing the possibility of their harassing or preventing the villagers from harvesting.  Today, I still weep for the people who are the brunt of this systemic and overt violence, especially knowing that my country supports and doesn’t deter Israel’s oppressive Apartheid practices.

As our study group gathered to reflect at the end of the day, we talked about what we had seen in Hebron, but also ways in which we saw or experienced hope. We mentioned the people working for justice and caring for their fellow brother and sister, regardless of religion or ethnic group, but also how this visit opened our hearts more deeply to care and feel angry at the injustice causing tremendous the pain for the people.  We choose to be angry at this system and the way it demeans the people, but not demonize or stereotype all Jews because of the actions of the State of Israel.  It is important that this outrage we and others feel will compel us to speak out the truth and work for a just and nonviolent turnaround to the realities here on the ground.


Encountering More Walls

By Peggy Gish

As our bus approached Jerusalem, many in our group saw The Wall for the first time.  As we traveled around and south of the city, this massive structure, also called “the separation wall,” or more commonly, the “Apartheid Wall,” snaked up and down the hills. In the following days we spent time walking along the wall that loomed above us in Bethlehem and reflecting on what it means for the people here. We heard comments from local people, such as, “It’s illegal and ugly;”  “It makes our communities more of a prison;” “It’s robbing us of even more land and sources of our water.”   And on this trip, we have visited several Palestinian communities and whole valleys that Israel will soon confiscate by expanding the wall around them. This will force Palestinians there out of their homes and off their farms.

Looking at the wall here in Bethlehem, I couldn’t help but think of the wall my own country has built along the Mexico border.  In the two weeks I recently spent on both the Mexico and Arizona side of that border, I see many things they have in common. Both are huge, monstrous structures, evoking dread and fear in people they affect. They’re both based in racism and colonialization, and help a more powerful nation suppress the flow of movement of a less powerful people and maintain the superiority of the powerful ethnic group. They separate families and communities, and sometimes families from their agricultural land.  Both are incomplete and under construction and have segments made mainly of barbed wire. Both are “enhanced” with massive high tech surveillance equipment and coils of razor wire. They’re both the result of huge confiscations of land and natural resources belonging to the native peoples of the land. Both require massive funding and funnel money into rich corporations—money that would be better spent to care for human needs. Both walls cause tremendous suffering and needless deaths of those restricted.

But there are also differences between the US/Mexico border wall (US/MX) and the Israeli/Palestinian wall (IS/Pl).  The latter is mostly solid concrete along with razor wire. The U.S. wall is mostly thick iron slats with some variations—some places a parallel wall of iron mesh. They both keep people out, but the US/MX wall does not encircle people and their communities, imprisoning them in their own side and progressively grabbing more and more land and aquifers, as the IS/PL wall does.  The IS/PL wall is part of an ongoing strategic plan and process of taking more land and natural resources and to eventually force Palestinians from the entire area. Also the building of IS/PL wall is subsidized by the US and supported by other nations, while nations outside the US have been critical of the US/MX wall.

When witnessing and understanding more of the enormous affects the IS/PL wall has on the lives of the Palestinian people, and how it sabotages any just and peaceful settlement, it’s easy to feel angry or depressed.  One of the hopeful things about both walls, however, is that on the Mexican and Palestinian sides, those feeling oppressed have created wall art, in the form of graffiti and paintings. These works of art try to cover up its ugliness or convey a political message—the truth about the walls and what they stand for.

Two of my favorite are the “open door” mural painted on the US/MX border at Agua Prieta, MX and the “escalator” and near-by “dominos falling down” murals rs have become a way of drawing international attention to and resisting

Butterfly Mural at the Mexico/Arizona border murals at the wall in Bethlehem, which express hope for future liberation.  These and many othe

the oppression these walls cause. These and many others have become a way of drawing international attention to and resisting the oppression these walls cause. They are among many actions that help to keep hope alive for those who are “yearning to breathe free.”

Escalator Mural on the Wall in Bethlehem



“Voices from the Border”

Is there a crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border?  If so, what kind? What role does the border wall play and what are its affects on the local people and ecosystem on both sides of the border? What are many ways people and organizations along the border doing to assist migrants and to humanize their immigration experience. What kinds of changes in U.S. immigration system would help deal with the critical problems?

Migrant trail walk

These are questions that Michelle Ajamian and Peggy Gish will consider in their presentation, “Voices from the Border,” scheduled for March 26, 2019, from 6-7:30 PM, at the Christ Lutheran Church basement, 69 Mill St., Athens, OH, followed by a time for discussion. Bring finger food to share if you are able.

Resisting Walls

Walls take many forms. They may be words, glances, or actions that distance oneself from others, or physical structures that protect from the weather or the vulnerable from further harm.  But the walls we saw at the Arizona/Mexico border, on the Christian Peacemaker Teams borderlands delegation, were  made of concrete, metal, or stone, or even threats, meant to deprive of rights or shut out the tired, the poor, the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free”—the people we’ve prided ourselves on embracing.

There were walls made of steel slats decked with concertina wire. In some places it ran parallel to a second wall of layered metal mesh.  In areas where water flood through arroyos during monsoon rains, large iron gates let the water flow through. Farther from towns were just the barbed wire fences constructed in 1880, with added razor wire, and sometimes crossed over with old rail road rails, called the “Normandy fences.” All are fortified by heavy technological surveillance.

“Normandy Fence”

Postured as a means of security, they’re actually a form of violence, monuments to fear and racism, and an extension of U.S. history of colonialism as the U.S. claimed half of Mexico’s territory after the 1846-48 war.  They’ve been a tool of control, keeping non-whites in an inferior place and maintaining white supremacy. They cut through the lands of indigenous nations—violating their sovereignty and disrupting communities and ecosystems. Billions of tax dollars go to wealthy, private companies that build walls and run detention centers. Maria Padilla, member of the Mayo indigenous nation, and emergency room worker, reminded us that the nation-state operates as policeman on behalf of the rich—who have no border—while patriotism is expected of poor and working class, who are led to believe it’s for their benefit.

The border wall isn’t intended to keep migrants out, only slow them down to catch and detain them. With its increased militarization, migrants

who feel desperate, but can’t cross legally, need to travel longer and in more dangerous areas to bypass detention. So there are more deaths, trauma, and more people locked up, whose only crime is that they felt desperate about migrating. Lupe Castillo, retired history professor with indigenous Hispanic heritage, termed this criminalization system “the invisible wall.”

These are walls to tear down.

In contrast, are many creative organizations and dedicated people along both sides of the border protesting and resisting the affects of the wall by caring for and assisting migrants in their journey, sometimes risking their own safety. Several cooperative businesses are creating alternatives to the economic deprivation and oppression that cause many to flee their homes.

Also resisting the wall are brightly painted murals on it near ports of entry. They tell the truth about the wall,  “erase” it, minimize its power, and not let its ugliness define what role the border should take. So butterflies depict the freedom of flight migrants should have (as well as the plight of wildlife whose paths are interrupted,) wall slats evolve into piano keys, and a painted open door symbolizes the alternative we must work toward.

We left the border feeling an urgency to tell the truth and find creative alternatives as we  work toward a more just, welcoming, and less brutal society that builds—not more militarized walls—but more doors!

–Peggy Gish, Feb. 2019

My plans for borderlands delegation trip

Dear Friends,

Like so many of you, I have felt a lot of grief about what people at the Mexico border go through as they try to cross into the US.  Besides contacting national officials and protesting locally, I have wanted to do more.  I have now made plans to join a Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) delegation to the Arizona-Mexico border from February 6-16.

Sasabe, Arizona border wall

Our group will be based in Tucson, Arizona, and will travel along both the U.S. and Mexico side of the border to meet and learn from migrants, local residents, activists, as well as law enforcement personnel. We plan to visit sites such as detention centers, and human resource centers, and cooperatives, and help where we can.  I hope to bring back information and ideas that could help my local community take action concerning immigration issues.

Feel no obligation, but I would like to raise $1200 to help cover the costs of this trip and for  contributions to organizations along the border and to those arranging our activities.  One way to help with this is to send a check to me at 13206 Dutch Creek Rd., Athens, OH 45701.  Or you can send a check to CPT, at P.O. Box 6508, Chicago, IL 6508, and designate it for ”Peggy Gish, delegation.”  Or make an online donation through CPT’s website, www.cpt.org (click on “Give to CPT”).   If you send it to CPT, please let me know, (peggygish@gmail.com) so that I can plan accordingly.

For those who can’t contribute financially, I will appreciate your loving and prayerful support for me as I go.

Thank you all for the love and support you have given me over the years!   Peggy Gish

“Disrupted Lives” Peggy to give presentation 9-25-18

Disrupted Lives:  Walking with People living in the midst of Violence.

Peggy Gish will share about her summer’s work in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq

Tuesday, September 25, 2018, from 7-8:30 PM at the Athens Public Library, community room, 30 Home St., Athens, OH

Hear more about the current situation in Iraq, the work of local people working for justice and peace, and of how civilians are affected by Turkish and Iranian Military bombing of their villages.

Join in the Q&A Conversation time

Coming home

Greetings from Athens, Ohio!

I just arrived home and am thankful for a good and safe trip and for a meaningful summer in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Before leaving, our team re-visited the family of Dunya Rasheed, the 19 year old who had been killed by a Turkish bomb on June 30th while she and other family members were out harvesting nuts near their home.  Our team visited the family in July and now returned to give them a copy of our report.  While there, Dunya’s father asked our team to write a letter, concerning her death, they would send to the Turkish consulate in Erbil, request for reparations.

Looking up from the Rasheed home, toward the areas where Dunya was killed

The pain of the family became very real to us as we sat with and listened to them.  They told us that the Eid was a very sad time for them this year as it was hard not to be thinking about Dunya as the family gathered together.

I come home, carrying in my heart all the people we met who were affected by the border village attacks, and others suffering from other consequences of violence and injustice there.  But I also bring back memories of a beautiful land and its people and the love we received from them.

I’m grateful to be able to be there and a part of this work.  Thank you all for your love and prayers and your support.

With love, Peggy