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The Keep Hope Alive Olive Tree Campaign in Palestine Israel

Jan. 2020 Report by Walt Davis

Reinhold Niebuhr’s quote on the front of the Jan 12, 2020 bulletin—"Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.”—captures the spirit of the Keep Hope Alive Program. Again and again Palestinians and anti-Zionist Jews tell us that our visits and our services on their behalf continue to give them hope and to nourish their “sumud.” (Sumud is tenacious refusal to be dehumanized by the humiliation and violence they suffer on a daily basis.)

The Keep Hope Alive (KHA) mission project involves our congregation in both the domestic struggle for racial justice & peace and similar international struggles in the Middle East. Congress and The White House continue to fund Israel’s military occupation and aggressive colonization of Palestinian lands. In spite of promises to withdraw U. S. troops, the past four administrations have engaged in what appear to be unending wars from the Mediterranean Sea to Afghanistan.

In December 2019, on the 10th anniversary of the proclamation of Kairos Palestine, Christian Palestinians and their supporters from all over the world produced a statement noting that with the passage of the Jewish Nation State Law by the Knesset in 2019, Israel has moved “from de facto Apartheid to de jure Apartheid.” Many commentators have compared the sharp uptick of mean-spirited Jewish supremacy in Israel with a similar uptick of mean-spirited White Supremacy in the U.S. both fueled by the rhetoric and the actions top national leaders.

In his sermon on Sunday, Scott noted the temptation to throw up our hands at the magnitude of the problems we face as a nation and as a world. But this leads to fatalism and acquiescence in the face of oppressive systems. Instead, Scott urged us to engage the big issues in small ways accessible to us. In the Adult Ed. Class on voting corruption, Carl Carter and his team said the same: choose an issue, get engaged, and stay with it.

Our KHA project is a partnership with the YMCA and YWCA of Palestine and the Kairos Palestine appeal from the leaders of Christian Churches and organizations in Palestine and Israel. It started small, with a 2008 trip to Palestine to plant olive trees and attend educational seminars in Palestine and Israel.

At present our modest engagement in this partnership consists of:

  1. Maintaining two pass-through financial accounts by Laurie Buntain, Church Accountant

  2. Olive oil sales at Christmas by Walt, Herman Waetjen, Marita Maher, et al.

  3. Nationwide olive tree donations throughout the year, by American Christians who are directed by the Ys of Palestine to send their donations to them through FPCSA.

  4. Monthly reports to C & S proving an update of the evolving facts on the ground and interpretations of their significance.

  5. Moral and political advocacy in congregations, presbyteries & the General Assembly in consultation with the Bay Area Chapter and the Steering Committee of the Israel Palestine Mission Network of the PC(USA) Dave Jones has taken the lead in this area.

In spite of the modesty of this project, its ripple effects are significant.

Maintenance by our Church Accountant of two pass-through accounts.

A. Acct # 212 receives income from

  1. Bay Area olive oil sales during the Christmas season, and

  2. expenses paid by those who participate in a trip to Palestine-Israel to join Palestinian farmers in planting olive trees in February or picking olives in October. The 12-day work/education programs in the West Bank and in Israel are designed and conducted by our Palestine Partners with the assistance of the PC (USA) trip leaders.

The Israel-Palestine Mission Network of the PC(U.S.A.) has taken over the recruiting of these PC(U.S.A.) trip leaders who in turn recruit the participants.

As Church Accountant, Laurie Buntain receives funds from olive sales and trip participants. Before each trip to IP, she receives an invoice for the in-country expenses of the trip participants, and sends a bank transfer to the Jerusalem bank of the Alternative Tourism Group that makes all the arrangements (hotels, meals, transportation, professional guides, etc. on behalf of the Palestinian Ys. The Ys’ staff designs and executes the work/education program and the visits to various Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups and think tanks.

[Often congregations and the IPMN provide trip scholarships for young adults. In the past few years RT air tickets from US cities to Tel Aviv have cost $900-$1,100. For the past 5 years in-country expenses for the 12-day program have remained at $1700 per person (double occupancy)].

B. Acct. # 227 is for olive tree donations. Each olive seedling costs $20. If a person mailed a $20 check to the YMCA or YWCA in Palestine, the banking fee would be much higher than the amount of the check. Thus, the Ys asked our congregation to serve as the repository for olive tree donations from individuals and congregations all over the U.S.

When a donation is received, Royce fills out an official Y certificate with the name of the donor or the honoree in whose name the tree is donated, and mails it to that person.

Each year in January, Laurie sends a bank transfer to the Y account in Jerusalem for the total sum of the previous year’s donation. The bank transfer costs only $45, less than the cost of processing one $20 check.

1917 donations: $7,540 (377 trees) (over 300 by one congregation in Ohio)

1918 donations: $2,392 (120 trees)

2019 donations: $

For the past 12 years I have coordinated this project with exceptional support from Church & Society, many members of this congregation, Redwoods & San Francisco Presbyteries (especially John Anderson and Jack Shriver), the IPMN, and especially my wife Libby. I am profoundly grateful to all of you for your support in this very personal call from God.

Before Libby and I leave for Maryland in April, 2020, I would like to hand over the co-ordination of this Mission Project to Dave Jones. He is eager to “move the ball forward.”

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