They Don't Shoot Donkeys Do They?

Prepping the Palm Sunday March against Occupation

By Greg Moses

CounterPunch / ViolaChic / Umkahil / Dissident Voice

In the few days before Palm Sunday, Hasam Jubran has a lot to do. As co-director of the Peace and Reconciliation Department for the Holy Land Trust in Bethlehem, much work falls on his shoulders to make sure things go well when Palestinian children begin a peace march to Jerusalem. First, there are the children themselves who thought up the idea. Then there are the adults from Palestine, Europe, and the USA who will carry the march into an Israeli checkpoint where delicate strategic decisions must be made. And finally, who can forget the donkeys?

“The idea came a long time ago,” says Jubran via telephone. Children listening to the story of Jesus riding a donkey to Jerusalem thought it would be great if they could do what Jesus did. “One of the kids mentioned the idea to one of our volunteers. She came to us and suggested that we do a Palm Sunday action on the day that Jesus came in peace to Jerusalem. By riding donkeys on the road we could encourage children to express their desire and symbolize the need of all Palestinians, but especially children, to travel to Jerusalem.” The idea was communicated to John Stoner, founder of Every Church a Peace Church in the USA. “After that,” says Jubran, “they started to consult with us.”

About forty days ago, Jubran helped to form a committee that would work on the shape of the protest. Other organizations in the area were invited, and meetings during the past two weeks have intensified. “One of the first questions to come up was should we invite Israelis to participate in the action,” says Jubran. “But in this action we decided to show that the Palestinian people are involved in nonviolence, leading their own nonviolence movement, so we did not invite Israelis this time.”

I ask Jubran if he has a model of nonviolence that guides his work. For him the most important consideration lies in the distinction between the spiritual side and the pragmatic side of nonviolence. “We focus on the pragmatic side here when we work with people on the ground,” explains Jubran. For theory he draws on Gandhi, King, Islam, and Christianity alike. “I don’t stick to one thing. It’s multiple.” Likewise, the international participants will be Christian, Muslim, and Jewish. Palestinians will be Christian and Muslim. “We do not want to limit this action to any religious faith. This is a national movement, not a religious one.”

Duties have been divided up. Invitations have been distributed throughout Palestine. Training has begun. A sign-making committee will work on Saturday. And yes, there is someone in charge of donkeys. The Palm Sunday action is unique for its involvement of animals. Of course, dogs were made famous in news pictures that came out of Birmingham, Alabama during the Civil Rights struggle of 1963. But in that case the animals were put to work on the violent side.

“This is unusual,” says Jubran, with a quiet chuckle. “The most difficult part is finding the donkeys and being able to protect them. But the donkeys are important to the image we want to show the world and the commentary we want to make. When people see the picture, we want them to relate it to Jesus and his message for peace in the Holy Lands.”

As Easter draws near, donkey images infiltrate the news. Says Linda Wardle, wife of Rev. John Wardle of Priory Church in Bridlington, England, “We’ve had a donkey for quite a few years and they do make a difference on Palm Sunday, especially for the children.” In a Passion Play at Nauvoo, Illinois, Jesus has been riding a live donkey to the stage since 1983. And a farewell sermon recently preached in Tennessee had the Baptist pastor declaring, “I am the donkey!”

Or who has not picked up the story of Pacho the donkey, jailed by Colombian authorities on March 6 for the crime of being hit by a drunken motorcyclist. “The suspect was a little long in the face after being arrested and is braying for an early release,” wrote AP reporter Kim Housego. For three days, Pacho’s loyal master brought him food, while human rights defenders agitated for release. When Pacho was freed the international press cheered. Who in the world doesn’t love a donkey?

But where to get donkeys for a peace march? “People who are going to bring their donkeys were afraid the animals might be shot. So they wanted guarantees,” says Jubran. “For these farmers, their donkeys are important to their work. So we have made guarantees. And yes, the farmers will be there with the donkeys,” he says with a quiet laugh. “I don’t know how to handle them!”

Children also require special arrangements. “We have many, many children coming,” says Jubran, “a hundred or more, and for the children the demonstration will be organized in two parts. The younger children, 5-10 years old, will leave the demonstration as soon as we come close to the checkpoint. The teenagers are going to continue with the march, but they will move to the final end, not in the first rows or the middle. They have been trained how to protect themselves in case they are attacked, but if there is any trouble at the front end of the march, they have been trained to run away. We have made arrangements for first aid and ambulances and we have alerted local hospitals, but we don’t want any children to be hurt. That’s the main thing.”

At least half the marchers will be women says Jubran, but once again as a precaution, women will not approach the checkpoint in the first line. “We don’t want any women to be beaten or hurt or humiliated in any way, because that may spark emotions that cause people to lose control.”

Marchers in solidarity with the Palestinians will come from USA, Great Britain, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Spain. Two organizations will do the training for international marchers. Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) has been working in nearby Hebron since 1995 and has experience training Americans for local activism. The Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People (PCR) has a working relationship with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and therefore has been exposed to a variety of nationalities in peace work and nonviolence resistance.

On Saturday, after separate training has been completed for Palestinians and international marchers, everyone will be brought together. “We have things we want to accomplish on Saturday,” says Jubran, “but we want people to participate so we don’t have a clear agenda. We will sit together all of us, Palestinians and internationals, and we will think of the best way to do things. Important also is the process, not just the activity by itself. Nonviolence is something we have practiced for years, and now we are trying it again. We will try to strengthen ourselves.”

Notes on Intermission: While writing this story, the author took lunch & music at Threadgill’s South, where the old Armadillo used to be–wow can Brennan Leigh sing–had to leave as Jimmy Dale Gilmore was pulling in–that’s Austin painful–but as Sandra Bullock would say, time to get back to World Peace–for instruction in the ethics of shameless namedropping, be sure to attend a show by Ray Wylie Hubbard

Why Can't We Go to Jerusalem on a Donkey?

On Palm Sunday Palestinian Children to Ask the World

By Greg Moses

MilkRiverBlog / UPI Religion & Spirituality Forum / ZNet / GlobalResistanceNetwork / Ekklesia / ECAPC

George S. Rishmawi is so busy that he nearly forgets to call. “But your email reminded me!” It is five o’clock Bethlehem time and Rishmawi has had a busy Wednesday. “Yes, yes, full days every day. That is the way we want it to be. Full days.” For Rishmawi, this will be an eventful week. On Palm Sunday he plans to ride a donkey into Jerusalem. And if Jesus could do that 2,000 years ago, why can’t he?

The idea for the donkey ride, explains Rishmawi, came from Palestinian children who were fascinated by the story of a Bethlehem man who could just get on a donkey and go to Jerusalem. “Why can’t we ride donkeys to Jerusalem?” Rishmawi shared the story with Pennsylvania peacemaker John Stoner, and the rest will soon be history. While Rishmawi helped to organize children and adults in Bethlehem, Stoner recruited 16 Americans. The Americans arrived last Saturday for a week of preparation. On Palm Sunday everyone will simply go down the road with donkeys.

“Neither children nor adults from Bethlehem are allowed to go to Jerusalem,” explains Rishmawi. “Of course you can apply for a permit to go, but 99.9 percent of the permits are denied.” And even with permits, there is no guarantee you will be allowed to pass. “So we are going to walk from Manger Square at the Church of the Nativity, and we will be trying to get to Jerusalem as Jesus did.”

At some point the donkeys will approach a military checkpoint and, hopefully, all the world will see what happens next. Most likely, cameras will snap images, not of palm fronds being thrown under the donkeys’ feet like 2,000 years ago, but of guns and uniforms blocking the way. “Right now the checkpoint is heavily militarized,” explains Rishmawi. “There is a military base with lots of patrols going back and forth. Rooftops in the area have been camouflaged, and Israeli snipers are all over the place.”

When the soldiers order a stop to the ten donkeys and their human escorts at the northern border of Bethlehem along the Jerusalem-Hebron Road, a few folks will be prepared to break from the procession to engage in some form of nonviolent resistance, perhaps a sit-in. “There have been many positive responses to the plans,” says Rishmawi before hanging up. There are voices at his end of the telephone and he has to go now.

Rishmawi serves as Coordinator of the Travel and Encounter Program for the Holy Land Trust. For a month or two during the summer, pilgrims to Bethlehem can learn Arabic, work with volunteer organizations, and see the sights. And since they are pilgrims, not Palestinians, they can even visit Jerusalem, too.

“I am myself committed to peacebuilding and resisting the occupation through nonviolent means,” Rishmawi has explained earlier in the phone call. He grew up in Beit Sahour, a town East of Bethlehem that he describes as very active. “I was raised up this way.”

“The Western media do not pick it up,” he says, “but a strong nonviolent resistance struggle has been active in Palestine at least from the 1930’s until now.” From 1987 to 1993 for example, the people of Beit Sahour participated in a tax revolt, refusing to pay taxes to the Israeli occupation. “We had a slogan for that movement,” he deadpans: “No taxation without representation.” Growing up, the 33-year-old Rishmawi remembers how his uncle, who had one arm only, was beaten up by soldiers during a downtown protest and taken to the hospital.

Around the issue of walling, Rishmawi remembers going downtown with his mother during a general strike and joining a series of nonviolent demonstrations in protest of the coming fences. And when the Intifada started in 1987, he remembers a December day shortly after the Greek Orthodox Church left town, when he and other young men piled stones in the street to block the advancing Israeli Army. When the teenagers saw the army coming down the street, they ran.

As a peacemaker, however, Rishmawi is not running from plain talk about Palestine. I ask him to respond to impressions that we are getting from American media that the Israeli government is relaxing its grip on Palestinian territories. I’m not used to Rishmawi’s sense of humor, so I don’t quite know how to handle his comeback: “Do you want me to answer in French or English?”

“Well, let me answer in French,” jousts Rishmawi as I stumble, “It’s bullshit. Total crap. They are betraying us. The source of violence here is the Israeli occupation, and we still have 600 checkpoints, and we are still totally restricted. We don’t even come into downtowns anymore. Zone C is what they call the West Bank, and nothing there has been removed, nothing has been changed.”

“Last week, a friend of mine got an injury in his eye. I called the ambulance. But the ambulance could not get through the checkpoints. They said an eye injury is minor and ambulances are not permitted to travel through checkpoints for minor injuries. So we could not go to the Hospital in East Jerusalem. Meanwhile they are building the wall, and for that thousands of acres of land are being taken daily. And America is giving funding to all this.” Rishmawi wastes no time speaking clearly.

“The media have been lying to the American people and betraying them all the time. The American people are being betrayed because they don’t know how many of their tax dollars co-fund the occupation in Palestine.” Rishmawi’s raw expression of Palestinian experience leads me to wonder what makes the refined lie necessary?

Who’s afraid of Americans hearing the blunt truth that Palestinians are simply not free and that American tax dollars are partly to blame? Is it the occupiers themselves? Or is it their American proxies who on Easter Sunday would rather not have their churches full of dressed-up Christians asking questions about where the money for this occupation comes from? In either case, the carefully planned Palm Sunday image of the donkey at the checkpoint will speak with the innocence of a Palestine child who would simply ask the world–especially the Christian world–why can’t we ride to Jerusalem like Jesus anymore?

Bethlehem Rising

International Middle East Media Center

Bethlehem Photo Gallery

Bethlehem Checkpoint

Child Inspection (Al Khadr)

Photo Hebron-Jerusalem Road

Map of Israeli Checkpoints

Checkpoint Map

Arab East Jerusalem

Map of the Wall

Holy Land Trust

Singing All in All

Just Try Getting Out of Bethlehem

To Ruth’s Tomb


Intl Ctr of Bethlehem (

Palestinian Center for Rapprochement between People (PCR)

“Living under these circumstances and refraining from resistance is incompatible with mental health”– Psychiatrist Samar Jabr

Building a New Home for Greatness

By Greg Moses

Both the War Resisters League and Martin Luther King, Jr. were born in the 1920s, the decade after the Great War. And both have worked to stop the cycles that compel us to simply rename our failures. The Great War had to be renamed World War I; today we rename Gulf Wars, the better to number them as they come along.

Against great and persistent structures of violence, King and WRL built movements of resistance, seeking to end something, stop something, prevent something from happening again. This kind of work—the stopping kind—continues. Whether World War or Gulf War, who needs a number three?