Tag Archives: Middle East

The World is Turning Around by Betsy Simpson

This refrain form a song we sang at our closing worship and party was affirming at so many points along our way this past two weeks. It was especially, joyfully, and enthusiastically, shared at the Tent of Nations on Wednesday night and reiterated Thursday morning at Sabeel. Planting trees on the Palestinian hilltop, the gathering in the chapel for song, prayer and the contemporary “gospel” of building relationships with an “enemy” who became a friend and neighbor was a truly inspiring time. It is a holy site and aptly named Tent of Nations.  In the midst of incredible hardship and systemic suffering the stewards of this place refuse to have enemies and always work for peace.  Amal says it best, “Hope builds bridges and fear builds walls.  We are bearers of hope and are called to share that good news with the world , the peace may come to this holy land and spread throughout the peoples of the earth.

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Dominus Flevit by Jeri Parris Perkins

“As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!” Luke 41-411 NRSV

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Matthew 23:37, RSV

            Five years ago I was privileged to participate in a Clergy Pilgrimage to the Holy Land through the Cousins Family Foundation and Columbia Theological Seminary. On that pilgrimage we saw many of the holy sites but there was one in particular that took me by the heart and shook me and shakes me still. It was the Dominus Flevit – a place I had never heard of – an experience of haunts me still. The Dominus Flevit is a church built in 1955 upon an old Byzantine site on the top of the Mount of Olives overlooking the Kidron Valley. The church is a small domed-shaped building. The front side is all glass resembling a tear drop. The church marks the site where Jesus looked out over Jerusalem and wept. He wept over the unwillingness of the faithful to recognize him and to allow him to heal their wounds and release them from the chains of sin and separation that bound them. He wept because he realized that it was going to destroy itself by walking in the way of violence.

On this Presbyterian Peace Fellowship Delegation it is that image that keeps coming back to me – over and over and over again –

I see God weeping:

Weeping over the bodies and souls of the oppressed and the oppressors;

Weeping over Jews and Palestinians, Druze and Christians, Muslims – people of every faith and no faith – who continue to fail to recognize God and allow God to heal our wounds and release us from the chains of sin and separation that bind US;

Weeping over walls designed to protect, provide security, keep the others – the enemies out but in reality only imprison, create more insecurity, keep the others – our brothers and sisters out of our lives, our hearts, our minds, our souls;

Weeping over our refusals to see, to hear, to understanding, to “stand under” the burdens of the others – OUR brothers and sisters – US;

Weeping over the land, the water, the walls, the barbed wire, the guns, the bombs, the deprivation, the inhumanity, the humiliation, the systematic removal of rights and righteousness;

Weeping over hateful, shameful words and weeping over the uninformed and cowardly silence;

Weeping over the violence all around, about, among and within;

Over and over and over again – I see God weeping:

Weeping over my/our refusals to “let the ears that I/WE have HEARD and the eyes that I/WE HAVE SEEN”;

Weeping over my/our failure “to love The Lord, my God, with all my heart and soul, and strength”;

Weeping over my/our failure and, sometimes my/our outright refusal,  ” to love MY neighbor”;

Weeping over my/our persistent questioning, “who is my neighbor?”;

Over and over and over again, God, you weep – thank you for loving us so much.

Over and over and over again, God, you forgive – thank you for loving us so much.

Over and over and over again, God, you refuse to give up on me/us – thank you for loving us SO much.

Over and over and over again, God, you urge me, call me, teach me, command me, inspire me/us to weep – thank you for loving ME/US SO MUCH.

From the very beginning, you are God.

Thank you for my/our very beginning and new beginnings.

Over and over and over again, thank you, God. Teach me to weep and “weep with those who weep”;

Over and over and over again, God, teach me to DO more than just weep;

Teach me to care, comfort, accompany, give up, take on, follow, serve, love with heart – soul – mind and strength;

Teach me never to have to ask, “who is MY NEIGHBOR”;

Over and over and over again…to love my neighbors…all of them…every single last one of them…till your kingdom comes, your will be done, on this EARTH as it is in HEAVEN…Amen.

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Slingshot by Luke Rembold

The young boy stood in the center of the road, his slingshot in his hand. Above him loomed the giant, a power that had defeated the boy’s fathers and grandfathers. Everyone else fell back behind the boy, fearful and scared to draw too close to the giant. Yet the boy stood his ground, calling out and jeering at his enemy.

Sound familiar?

David and Goliath, anyone?

The funny thing is, it is modern day Palestinians that are referred to as Philistines in the David and Goliath story of the Old Testament. And today, while in the Aida Refugee camp outside Bethlehem, I watched from a roof as a young boy played with a sling, aiming at telephone poles and streetlights, yelling out loud as he released stones at his targets. His actions gained the attention of the watchtower at the nearby security wall, and we watched as the gate was rolled open and an armored jeep began to roll out. The boy’s friends gained courage, still yelling and jeering at the Israeli Defense Force manning the jeep.

Our group was quickly herded to the bus, as our hosts were worried about our safety.

I worry for that boy. For Palestinians in occupied territories, resistance is life, and I applaud that young boy’s courage. Yet that boy will likely live his entire life in that refugee camp with no opportunity to leave, and in that situation, that frustration could turn into hatred. His heart could turn hard. How can he still have hope?

And what of those 19 and 20 year old young men and women of the Israeli Defense Force that are supposed to patrol that security wall and control the children? What of their hearts as they are charged with orders they may or may not want to carry out? How much of their fear turns into posturing with their guns and armored vehicles? What is happening to their hearts and their humanity?

The Old Testament David and Goliath had a clear winner. The modern-day story I saw today does not.

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Yalla! By Rick Ufford-Chase

I remember one particular night in about 1990 on the US/Mexico border almost like it happened just  last month. The wars in El Salvador and Guatemala were almost over, though the death squads and paramilitary forces were still as brutal as ever in their repression. The flow of refugees escaping for their lives had slowed considerably, as the first wave of those targeted had mostly been killed or had already fled, and the Tucson refugee support group was smuggling a few of the remaining, high risk folks or their family members across the border each month, as opposed to the high numbers each week we had seen at the height of the US-backed wars earlier in the decade.

One night at about two a.m. we received a phone call at the house for young adult volunteers who worked in the church-based Sanctuary movement. One of the young women in our group was in northern Mexico, trying to bring a Salvadoran who had received a death threat and his wife and child north by bus through the US-funded checkpoints of northern Mexico that were trying to intercept Central American refugees before they could enter the United States to seek asylum.

All she had time to say from her pay phone in that tersely-worded phone call was “they checked the bus – we had to run – I’ll call you when I can.” We spent a sleepless night awaiting the next call, strategizing our next moves with too little information, second guessing the decisions we had made earlier, and sharing off-color humor in an unconscious attempt to blow off steam as we waited anxiously for news.

I thought about that night as we met earlier this week with a group of young, Jewish-Israeli activists who came to meet us in our hotel in East Jerusalem. They had an easy way with one another, with self-deprecating humor and thoughtful, honest analysis about their shortcomings. They were savvy and creative as they wondered what to do next to resist the violence of the Israeli Government in its unlimited construction of new Jewish Settlements and continued confiscation and/or destruction of Palestinian homes. It reminded me of our close friendships and camaraderie back in the dark days of our government’s complicity in the Central American Wars.

Like the Palestinians of Bil’in whom I met this week, these young Israelis know the personal costs of resisting the repression of the Israeli military occupation. One young woman served a prison sentence for refusing to serve in the military in the Occupation of the West Bank. Another, a musician, had his hand intentionally broken by Israeli police to keep him from drumming during a large demonstration of Jewish and Arab Israelis that took place to keep the Israeli Government from confiscating the homes of Palestinians in East Jerusalem and giving them to Jewish Settlers. All four have been arrested repeatedly, and each has dedicated his or her life to holding their government accountable for its illegal actions.

Those of us in the nonviolent, faith-based movement for justice in the US would do well to remember these acts of courage as we struggle with our own next steps. Too often we have found ourselves negotiating with the Capitol or Park police in Washington for an acceptable arrest. “You stand here,” we are told, “And we will arrest you when you cross this line.” In one demonstration I helped to plan against the war in Iraq, one of the officers helpfully brought signs across the street in front of the White House to hand to activists who wanted to be arrested but who weren’t carrying signs that made them arrestable. Plastic cuffs, a ride in the back of a paddy wagon to the police station, a few hours of inconvenience, a modest fine or a summons to court, and we’re back on the street and headed home.

Of course, not all the arrests have followed this pattern. Plenty of activists in the Occupy Movement pressed against real boundaries, and prisoners of conscience have served serious time in jail for demonstrating to close the school of the Americas. Code Pink has been leading our movement with great creativity for about a decade, and they have often taken serious risks. Environmentalists, often led by Native Americans, have walked and paddled thousands of miles to bring attention to environmental degradation that threatens us all. Still, it feels to me as if our movement in the US has been largely domesticated.

Jim Corbett, a mentor to many of us in the Sanctuary movement for Central American refugees, coined the term “Civil Initiative” to describe what happens when citizens take responsibility together to uphold human rights and international standards of law when their own government is breaking those standards. He believed that nonviolent direct action, grounded in communities that are open and transparent about their actions and deeply honest in holding one another accountable, is the best way to change entrenched, institutionalized, and government-sanctioned violence. “Be the Church,” Jim might say, “Don’t count on your governmental leaders to make choices that will honor your values for you.”

We in the United States are complicit in this Occupation. Our tax dollars support the Israeli government to the tune of four billion dollars a year, most of it paid for by contracts that come right back to defense companies and other corporations in our own country that profit from the Occupation. My pension is invested in companies like Motorola Solutions, Hewlett Packard, and Caterpillar which offer machinery and technology that has been evident as I have traveled throughout the West Bank.

We would do well to remember the price that those young Israeli activists have been willing to pay to hold their government accountable for the actions it is taking that violate basic human rights. We should ask ourselves what options Palestinians will have left without genuine solidarity in the international community from people like us if we choose not to take similar risks for a nonviolent resolution to this conflict.

Rifat Kassis, a personal friend and the coordinator of Kairos Palestine (a Christian Palestinian plea for action) told our group last night that he believes we are called to do this work not for him or for his people, but for our own souls as we seek to be faithful to the Gospel. Those moments of genuine risk twenty-five years ago remain the deepest moments of community, and of living my faith, that I have ever had. Hmm, perhaps a lesson for a church in decline?

 Yalla! Adelante! Loosely translated – “Let’s move!”

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