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Board of Advisors

Tree of Life Educational Fund gives thanks for those who serve on our Board of Advisors. However, we would prefer to think of them as our “Shepherds” for surely by their courage, integrity and steadfast dedication they exemplify what it means to be a keeper or a shepherd of that sacred vision.

 

Ilan PappéIlan Pappe, author of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, spoke for several of our Tree of Life programs at the beginning of 2016. With uncommon intellectual clarity and integrity, he helped us to see the damage done by “settler colonialism”. In his gentle persuasion, he reminded us of the prophetic voice described by Isaiah. “His voice will not be heard in the street, but he will not fail or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth.”

Barbara Lubin

Barbara Lubin, founder of Middle East Children’s Alliance spoke for our Tree of Life series a few years ago. The prophet Isaiah spoke of how “a little child shall lead us into a more peaceable future, a time when the wolf shall lie down with the lamb.” The little children of Palestine have led Barbara to build an amazing human rights organization, and in the 2017, Tree of Life was honored to work in partnership with MECA in the “Shoruq Debka and Hip Hop Tour.” These are young people who live under occupation in the Dheisheh Refugee Camp. With their music and their dances these children demonstrated the dignity of the human spirit and hopefully led us to become the children that Isaiah prophesied.

Laila El HaddadLaila El-Haddad, author of Gaza Mom and The Gaza Kitchen, spoke eloquently for the October 2016 Wheels of Justice Festival. In reviewing and sampling her recipes, we’re reminded of the words written on the Apartheid Wall in Bethlehem, “To Exist is the Resist.” Refusing to be defined by the injustices of colonialism, we love how Laila celebrates the goodness of Palestinian culture. We also appreciate how she helps us to see how such basics as food and water can be used as weapons by those in power. Having grown up in Gaza, she understands how water has been severely rationed for Palestinians whereas it flows without restrictions for those who live in illegal Israeli settlements. In thinking about Laila, we are reminded of Mary’s Magnificat, “God has filled the hungry with good things.”

Graylan Hagler, Senior Pastor of Plymouth Congregational UCC in Washington DC, is a leader in the Black freedom movement and an eloquent advocate for Palestinian human rights. By his example he has helped us to see how all struggles for civil rights and human rights are inextricably linked. The Rev. Hagler after return from leading a 2016 witness trip to Palestine he said in his December blog post, “This journey to Palestine is a story that needs to be told because there is so much will to silence the Palestinians and their cause and those who support them. But silence is not an option when your eyes have seen and your heart is filled with memories of Jim Crow, apartheid, discriminations and human beings’ inhumanity to other human beings.” In this season in which we sing “Silent Night”, may our blessed silent nights inspire us to break our silence on what we have seen and heard!

Paul Verryn, during the dark days of Apartheid in South Africa he was the only white minister living in Soweto. In his home he offered sanctuary to boys detained and tortured by the South African police. Subsequently, Paul has traveled with us on several of our Tree of Life journeys and has spoken at our conferences. He has helped us to see that the word “Apartheid” is an appropriate word for the cruel reality of checkpoints, detentions, house demolitions and the asymmetrical use of violence. In his ministry at Central Methodist Mission in Johannesburg, Paul welcomed over 2000 refugees from Zimbawe and so taught the world the true meaning of the words “radical hospitality”, the very antithesis of apartheid.

Col. Ann Wright, a retired colonel in the US Army, as a matter of conscience, has been an outspoken opponent of the Iraq war, and wherever there are struggles for justice and human rights, one can see the indefatigable spirit of this woman. As a Captain in the Gaza Flotilla, Ann helped the world to see how the State of Israel, aided and abetted by our own country, has turned the Gaza strip into the world’s largest open-air prison. From Pennsylvania Avenue to the campfires of Standing Rock, Ann has distinguished herself as an unfailing voice of conscience. We were very honored to have her speak for our Tree of Life series a few years ago. I think of this “retired” Colonel, and I think of the poem “Ulysses” by Tennyson. Think of her plying the waters of the Mediterranean, sailing toward Gaza, saying, “Come my friends, tis not too late to seek a newer world.”

George SaadehGeorge Saadeh, a native of Bethlehem, Palestine, has a B.S. degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Southern California. He is the principal of the Shepherd’s Field Greek Orthodox School in Beit Sahour and has served as the Deputy Mayor of Bethlehem. On March 23, 2005 his 12 year old daughter, Christine, was shot and killed by the Israeli army at a checkpoint in Bethlehem while she was in the back seat of the family car. He, his wife Najwa and his daughter Marianne were all seriously injured as well. Since then, George and Najwa have been members of the Parents Circle Family Forum (PCFF) which brings together bereaved parents, both Israeli and Palestinian, who have lost children because of the conflict. The members of the Parents Circle, an organization of Jews, Christians and Muslims, have resolved to be in a community of mutual support. George’s daughter, Marianne is a graduate of Bethlehem University in Palestine with a major in Sociology. She works in a family clinic and has co-edited the book, A People Without A Country – Voices From Palestine, AuthorHouse, 2011. George has welcomed numerous Tree of Life delegations in which many have benefitted from his gentle and powerful voice of conscience. Here in the US, a number of Tree of Life audiences have had the honor of meeting George and his extraordinary family.

Khalil AlamourKhalil Alamour, a Bedouin attorney, mathematician, and community leader from the village of Alsira in the Negev/Naqab, Israel. As well as being an attorney and Co-Director of Alhuquq Legal Center, Khalil is also a member of Alsira village Community Council and member of the RCUV (Regional Council for the Unrecognized Bedouin Villages in the Negev) and since 2009 a secretariat member of Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality. In this capacity he has initiated and partnered in many projects to enhance the welfare of his village – establishing a daycare in the village, preparing a detailed plan for the village in order to present alternative solutions to governmental offices, persuading the government to establish an afternoon program for youth in the village and hosting tours, such as our Tree of Life Journey.

Mazin Qumsiyeh  We have saved Mazin for last for Mazin has been our shepherd from the very beginning of our engagement on this issue. Mazin was a professor of biology at Yale University when the Rev. David Good got to know him through the interfaith group, “We Refuse to be Enemies.” It was Mazin who first introduced us to his home community of Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem.

Subsequently, Mazin has returned to his beloved home in Palestine where he teaches at Bethlehem University and has distinguished himself as a leader in the non-violent resistance movement. In addition to being a champion of human rights, Mazin also has a deep love for the land of Canaan. Opposite his home, he can see the horrendous scar of Har Homa, an illegal Israeli settlement on what used to be the beautiful woodland of Jabal Abu Ghneim, a place where Mazin as a child fell in love with the beauty of the land. Out of that love and devotion, Mazin has now established a Natural History museum in Bethlehem, a place that will help future generations to cherish and preserve the sacred land on which they live.  “Beit Sahour”, means “place of vigilance” and Mazin and his neighbors pride themselves on being the descendants of the shepherds who received the angelic vision of “peace on earth, good will to all.”

We give thanks for our “shepherds” – Mazin, Khalil, George, Ann, Paul, Graylan, Laila, Barbara and Ilan. May they inspire and instruct us to be “a place of vigilance” wherever we live, to keep alive the songs of hope, to be ever vigilant on behalf of the vulnerable and the fragile, and especially for our children, be a voice for those who do not have a voice and to light the candles when all seems dark.

In this age when so many children suffer from war, bigotry and injustice may we all work toward that day when the streets of Jerusalem and indeed all our cities and towns will be filled with children, no longer divided, no longer afraid. May we all be shepherds of that Sacred Vision!