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To learn more about Palestine as General Synod delegate

Dee Eisenhauer visits Holy Land for first time

When Dee Eisenhauer, as a General Synod 2015 delegate, received an invitation to participate in a March 10 to 20 trip to Palestine with Tree of Life Educational Fund, she decided to go with a group of 31 people.

dee eisenhauer plants tree

Dee Eisenhauer plants a tree in Palestinian farmland.  Photos courtesy of Dee Eisenhauer.

It was her first trip there.

“The invitation came because General Synod is considering a resolution in Palestine,” said Dee, pastor of Eagle Harbor UCC on Bainbridge Island.

The Tree of Life Educational Fund grew out of an effort by the Old Lyme UCC in Connecticut to host interfaith conversations after 9-11.  They found people wanted to avoid discussing the Palestine-Israel conflict.  So they began taking people on one or two pilgrimages a year.

Leaders of her group included a pastor at Old Lyme UCC and the pastor of Storrs Congregational Church nearby.  The group included six Muslims from a mosque in Old Lyme.  Most participants were UCC, but there were also Lutheran, Presbyterian and Unitarian participants.

A Palestinian made arrangements for their visits in Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Nazareth and surrounding areas—sites visited by many Holy Land pilgrims—and for four lectures or conversations each day.

“It was one-sided.  The purpose was to learn the Palestinian point of view not filtered through the generally pro-Israeli U.S. media,” said Dee.

Cutting across the landscape, she saw the “big, ugly, horrifying” Separation Wall, which is twice as high as the Berlin Wall was, and will be 500 miles long if it is completed.

“I learned that life can be miserable under occupation and that Israeli settlements that now have more than 500,000 settlers, living illegally in the West Bank, forming whole, self-contained towns in closed-gated communities.  They claim the high ground on hills and gradually annex Palestinian farmland,” she explained.

Dee said settlers first establish one to six mobile homes on a ridge, build a guard tower and permanent housing.  Then they invite people to move there.

Once a settlement is built, she said, Israeli settlers find ways to take Palestinian farmland that has been in families for generations, but they may lack a paper trail of deeds.

dee eisenhauer by wall

Dee Eisenhauer stands by the Separating Wall, which is filled with art.

“Running from one settlement to the Palestinian farmland below, I saw two large sewage pipes dumping raw sewage,” Dee said.  “In another place, we replanted trees in an area where settlers had poisoned trees.  We met a family who was involved in a 23-year legal battle to keep their land.  Settlers came one night with bulldozers and uprooted hundreds of fruit trees.”

Dee heard of “bad behavior” and misery from ongoing harassment.  She also experienced and observed some when traveling by bus through checkpoints, being asked for passports and waiting to pass through.  Young Israeli men and women soldiers with machine guns would board the bus.

For instance, one of the group’s home stay host who travels to Ramallah for work—about a 25-minute drive under normal circumstances—has to expect a three-hour delay to go through a the checkpoint on his commute, even though he is not crossing the border.

Violence has varied over the years during the Occupation, with two periods of open armed rebellion or Intifadas (“intifada” means “shake off”) in recent years.  Palestinians are normally prohibited from owning weapons.  So stone throwing is a frequent occurrence.  Palestinians throw stones, and Israeli soldiers respond with gunfire, arrests of tear gas.

Dee witnessed one such episode at a refugee camp they were visiting in Bethlehem, when a 12-year-old boy was arrested for throwing rocks.

“Palestinian men are often arrested for days, months or years,” she said.  “One was arrested for following our group on a street in Hebron where Palestinians are not allowed.”

“We had outings from and in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nazareth to many of the headline holy sites, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Church of the Annunciation, the Dome of the Rock, the Wailing Wall, the Negev Desert, Jericho, the Jordan River, Dead Sea and Sea of Galilee.

The group had a feast with a patriarch in a tent, visited schools, refugee camps and an Islamic Druze group. They learned of efforts to rehabilitate the Jordan River and protect wildlife.

“In the U.S., talk of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is awkward because many feel guilt about the Holocaust and want Israel to exist as a Jewish homeland,” Dee said.  “Many are afraid to raise questions for fear they will be seen as anti-Semitic.  We need to find a way to talk about the Middle East that supports the State of Israel, supports a state and freedom for Palestinians and tells of injustices Palestinians experience.

“We, the United States, send $3 billion in aid to Israel annually, mostly military aid for weapons and the army that enforce injustice and harassment.  Since 1948, Israel has become the largest single recipient of U.S. foreign assistance, a total of $121 billion—almost all for military purposes,” she said.  “Because we invest so much, we have a right and obligation to be critical about what our money supports and what happens in the West Bank.”

At Annual Meeting and General Synod, there will be resolutions on the Palestinians.

Dee said she will be involved in debates, present slide shows, give talks and encourage local interfaith dialogue.  In June, she will host two students from Palestine and arrange opportunities for them to speak on Bainbridge and in Seattle.

“I believe peace is possible,” Dee said, “but people with power, as well as the underdogs, must want it.  We in the UCC and U.S. are people with power, and we have a responsibility to make peace in the world, not just passively hope for peace.”

For information, call 206-842-4657 or email


Copyright © April 2015 - Pacific Northwest United Church of Christ Conference News


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