"It is an honor to have had Christine Hobbi travel to the Holy Land with HCEF. Christine is a member of the Pinnacle Presbyterian Church in Scottsdale, AZ. Her reflections here tell the story of her travel. She recounts her meeting with Hugh Dempsey and me about four weeks before her Holy Land odyssey began. Her desire met our needs and a partnership was formed and a friendship has been built. On Christine's last night in Bethlehem, the staff of HCEF presented her with a plaque on which she is honored as to as a, "True Ambassador for Palestine" We have all been changed by Christine's presence with us and know that God in His plan will reunite us all in the Holy Land in the near future." Rateb Rabie 


Christine Hobbi, visiting the HCEF's Birzeit Senior Citizen Center on a Women's Empowerment Workshop  
"Christine Hobbi – My Week In Palestine"

It is with mixed emotions that I write this reflection of my past week in Palestine. Tomorrow is my flight back home. Back to Arizona – back to my life. I made many new friends on this trip to Palestine and saw many people, events and circumstances that I will not forget, but this trip was quite different from the 1st trip I made here in 2007.   

In 2007, I came to Palestine to see if what I read and heard could be true. I could not believe the things that I read, saw on the internet, and heard from Palestinians in the Diaspora. I had to see it with my own eyes. So, I came with a group that wanted to talk to people and groups on all sides of the conflict. Some of the people/groups we met and talked with about their views included: ICAHD, ARIJ, CARE International, B'tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights, IDF Soldiers, Settlers, UNCHA, Women in Black, Bat Shalom, Mayor of Beit Omaar, Jabber Home in Hebron Hills, Christian Peacemaker Teams, Palestinian Authority. Some of the places I visited in 2007 included: International Christian Center, Aida Refugee Camp, Shu'fat Refugee Camp, Efrat Settlement, Beit Omaar, Jabber Home in Hebron Hills, Hebron Old City, the village of At-Tawaney, Daher's Vineyard, etc. I wanted to hear from all of these and create my own opinion from my own experience here in the Holy Land.

Christine Hobbi joins Sir Rateb Rabie, KCHS – HCEF President/CEO & Hugh M. Dempsey, KMOb., KHS.- HCEF Vice President, in a group photo with participants of the Women's Empowerment Workshop hosted by HCEF – ECRD

What I learned and heard and saw astounded me. It changed my life and it has been on my mind every day since that trip in 2007. In the past five years since my trip, I have connected with other people who feel that same way that I do about Palestine. These people try to talk to others about how difficult this life is living under occupation. The Presbyterian Church, of which I am a member, has many discussions, classes and groups who study and talk about Palestine and what can be done to help bring about peace in Israel/Palestine. That has been my outlet for bringing awareness to others about the facts on the ground in Palestine. But I longed to go back. Well, I was about to get my chance…

Only one month ago, I met Sir Rateb Rabie, President/CEO and Dr. Hugh Dempsey, Vice President of Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF) while they were visiting Phoenix. They were there bringing the message of HCEF—commitment to the continued presence and well-being of Arab Christians in the Holy Land and to developing the bonds of solidarity between them and Christians elsewhere.

We talked about HCEF and we talked about my work at ServiceElements, a customer service/organizational resource management training company. Sir Rateb asked me if I could come to Palestine to do customer service training with the new HCEF/Reach Bethlehem Call Center.

That was where it began. So, I came to Palestine. Not as a paid consultant, but as a passionate volunteer who wanted to make a difference and show the solidarity that I felt (and many others feel back home in America) for our brothers and sisters in Palestine.

During this week, I also discovered that there is business opportunity here. There are top innovators and educated, forward thinkers here with regard to IT, education, health, business, human relations and on and on. When I return home, I will begin planning and connecting with contacts that I made to network on possible business opportunities for the future. There are so many talented and educated young people without opportunities in the Holy Land. I hope to be a part, with HCEF, of changing that unfortunate paradigm.

Christine Hobbi joins in celebration with the HCEF family at the Grand opening of HCEF/Reach Call Center

Now as I reflect on the past week, there is much information to digest. The Call Center training was filled with 28 women and 1 man for a day of training on expectations of American customers. I was amazed at the fluency in English, since I facilitated the entire day in English. There are so many educated, multi-lingual young people in the Bethlehem area that have so much to offer the world. They are very knowledgeable, positive and energetic about making an impact on the world. The Call Center will be handling multi-national clients in America and abroad. I have the utmost confidence that this Call Center will be one of the top competitors in its field in a very short time with the talent and opportunities given to these young workers by Reach, PalTel and HCEF.

There were also two Women's Empowerment workshops that I conducted while in Palestine. One was in a small village called BirZeit in the HCEF BirZeit Senior Citizens Center. The women welcomed me, a bit hesitant at first because they did not know what I might be offering to them. They were all ages—from young students at BirZeit University to grandmothers. Some were educators at the University and some worked for local NGO's. We spent several hours together discussing empowerment and the role, struggles and feelings of the women in BirZeit. It was a magical day that opened my eyes to the similarities women in BirZeit have to the women I know back home in Arizona and in all the other places around the world where I have been able to interact with different cultures. We have the same dreams, goals and ambitions for our lives. But the struggles that these women deal with under occupation are unimaginable to someone like me. I thank them for sharing a piece of their life with me, and feel that of all the people in that workshop—I probably learned the most!

The 2nd Women's Empowerment workshop I facilitated was at the HCEF headquarters in Bethlehem. We had another dynamic group of women who shared their stories and struggles in dealing with empowerment under occupation in a society with many old, societal/cultural restrictions. One woman shared her story of struggling with life when the man she loved was imprisoned for 10 years, and how she dealt with this challenge. How does a professional business woman from America who has led a privileged life with many opportunities teach a Palestinian woman about empowerment? I was the one who learned about empowerment from these women. In fact, we all learned-by being given the opportunity by HCEF to meet and discuss this topic in an open environment that is free from the fear that comes with ignorance of this situation.

Christine Hobbi joins Sir Rateb Rabie, KCHS, HCEF President/CEO and Hugh M. Dempsey, KMOb., KHS, HCEF Vice President, in presenting certificates to participants of the Women's Empowerment Workshop hosted by HCEF at the ECRD

Another workshop I did while in Palestine was a training program with the employees of HCEF. Topics included: Time Management, Leadership, Engagement Assessment and Communication. The interactive session was attended by both the staff here in Bethlehem and executives visiting from the Washington, DC office. Some of the topics had to be adjusted from the way I would teach in the U.S. For instance, how do you succeed at time management when your life is controlled by checkpoints and other occupation tools?!  

  

There are many things I will take back with me to the U.S. from Palestine—like the hope that more will listen and come to see the Holy Land—so that they can see with their own eyes the suffering of a people who are the living stones of our faith.    
There are also a few things that I will leave here in Palestine—the main thing will be my heart. It will stay in a wooded olive grove in Beit Jala where I shared dinner with the local residents. The electric poles had just been knocked down by the Israeli soldiers and the Christian residents who live there (as their ancestors have for the last two thousand years) are trying to stay steadfast. Meanwhile, time is running out on their beloved land with fresh air and olive trees, as one of the last pieces of green open space in the Bethlehem area will be replaced by the Wall. The impending and monstrous Wall and eventually the Gilo Settlement will swallow up the winery, the greenery and the restaurant while Christians around the world sit silent. This is where my heart will stay – in an olive grove in Palestine.  

  

*Editor's Note: The day after Christine Hobbi and her group dined at this country-side restaurant, it and the surrounding acreage were bulldozed and demolished by the Israeli government while armed troops stood by.