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.
Tag Archives: Palestine
“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.
On Saturday we drove by the plains of Megiddo, or Armageddon. Fifteen years ago I would have gotten chills seeing the location that I believed the final battle of the end times would take place. Growing up as a conservative evangelical heavily influenced by Darby’s dispensationalism, talk of the end times and return of Christ was a recurring topic that swelled hearts with excitement, fear and hope.
My theology, Christian Zionism, took for granted the establishment of the State of Israel as necessary for ushering in the second coming of Christ. At the time, Israel served almost entirely as an abstract symbol for me, absent of any modern history. As a result, I was able to opt out of awareness, concern or responsibility for the repercussions of Israel’s actions.
I’ve spent the week hearing from Palestinian Muslims and Christians who were pushed off the land they have lived on for generations as a result of the 1948 war. Those who remain are under pressure to leave, and experience intense oppression and discrimination. Palestinian children are arrested for breaking curfew; towns are cut off from one another and from municipal services; communities are terrorized for nonviolently protesting violations to their rights under international law. Though my theology has evolved significantly over the years, the reality check is still jarring. I am ashamed that I once blindly adhered to a theology that accepted the oppression of others as necessary for its own fulfillment.
The State of Israel is able to continue its oppression of the Palestinian people because it has the support of major world powers, particularly the United States. We send several billion dollars in aid to Israel each year which directly funds the weapons, military personnel, checkpoints, settlements, and a concrete wall that segregates the country. We continue to enable this because enough people like me have lent their ideological support in ignorance.
My faith in Jesus, the Prince of Peace, was distorted by a toxic religious/political axis disguised as biblical theology and patriotic duty. I repent that I was ever a part of it.
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.
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.
So many things look familiar when I return to Palestine and Israel. This delegation has an ambitious agenda and is covering a good deal of territory. Friday we left Jerusalem for Nazareth and after visits in the Jordan Valley and a night in Bil’in we are on a short break in Ramallah before our drive to Bethlehem tonight. The roads are well trafficked. Stores in the town centers are busy. The group of 28 wanders off alone or in pairs for a couple of hours without concern, seeking out falafel, shawarma, fresh citrus, coffee. The pendulum seems to have swung to the time just before the first and the second intifada, frenetic but sober.
The holy sites have been refreshed for various celebrations, the Church of the Annunciation glows with a relatively new facade, hotels have been updated whether in East Jerusalem or Nazareth or Ramallah, streets bear Times Square like jumbotron advertising screens. Posters and graffiti are less common but still present.
The externalities reflect what Jonathan Cooke describes as a long term and largely uncontested Judaization of the nether reaches of the country. Enormous Israeli flags mark the entrances to Nazareth Illit or Moi’din Illit as well as to settlements in the West Bank and Jordan Valley. The wall, more seriously contested, especially where its 708km snaking through Samaria and Judea cut communities off from their cropland to further increase the footprint of illegal settlements, is a scar that has become all too familiar. Check points still operate like cattle pens, channeling movement through electronic sieves all day long, day after day. Jordan Valley kibbutz/settlements are surrounded by chain link fences with barbed wire coils, oases in cages.
The physical evidence of occupation are ever present and serve the slowly acculturated narrative of this 21st Century artifact of colonialism.
What is different is the conversation about where the resistance, the struggle for human rights and human dignity, stands today in terms of the way forward. Voices from three different communities seem to be moving toward a shared consensus, that of West Bank Palestinians and their families in the diaspora, that of Israeli allies working through awareness and advocacy collectives like ICAHD and the Boycott Within in Israel and their cognates abroad such as Jewish Voice for Peace, and Palestinian nationals living as citizens in Israel. There is a sense of a tipping point, a watershed.
The discourse over a Palestinian State has already abandoned the “two state solution” and is settling on a single state in which the struggle is for civil rights, equal access to societal resources including health, education, economic resources, mobility, full electoral participation and full municipal services (water, electricity, roads, garbage and waste disposal). The most blank statement of the position was offered by Sam Bahour in walking us through the analysis of his children and their peers at Bir Zeit University, or MIT, or the London School of Economics, or Hebrew University, Harvard, the Sorbonne, Al Quds: ” you win”. The 60+ years of conflict, occupation, cantonization, has convinced them that Israel has succeeded in acquiring full access and control of the land and peoples of this land from the Mediterranean to the Jordan, from Eilat to Nakourra. Conceding that, the full responsibility for the people living under the State of Israel, as citizens or as occupied, will now seek for the full complement of civil and legal rights that come within a legitimate democratic state, without consideration for age, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, national origin or religion.
Given the practices and legal constructs that discriminate against non-Jewish citizens of the current State of Israel, and some argued that similar discrimination’s are leveled against Jewish citizens who are not Orthodox Jews, no one is naive about the hurdles of extending the same rights to a fully annexed West Bank, Gaza and Golan Heights. The thinking seems to be that as long as it may take (and for many this is on the order of decades not years) the moral clarity that has emerged from the last 65 years points to a struggle that is fundamentally about human rights comprehensively applied rather than about land ownership or ethnic identity. This is what is different.
We ended the day in Bethlehem receiving at just the right time in our journey, a refreshment of the call issued by our Palestinian brothers and sisters, and their beloved enemies, to be responsive to the moral, theological, political, economic and social imperatives that must be at the nexus of our faith, hope and love as Christians. Kairos Palestine issued in 2009 a statement from the 13 recognized Christian denominations to their compatriots urging patience, steadfastness and nonviolent resistance. Subsequently the statement was translated from Arabic and became the basis of a global discourse on the place of the indigenous Christian community in the future of Palestine and Israel. It continues to be an excellent resource for discussion groups and personal reflection.
The moment of Kairos, urgency and justice as a measure human accountability, may move at a different pace than our Gregorian calendar or Greenwich clock, but there is still an end time implicit in the counting of days, a time after which something that was still possible no longer is. Rifat Kassis’s growing fear is that the moment of the possibility of peace is passing, not just for the moment but forever.
This is what is different.
Mark C. Johnson
January 13, 2014
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!”
It is dark and quiet in the home where several of us are being hosted by a Muslim family in the town of Bil’in in the Palestinian West Bank. As I write these words, seated on my sleeping mat on the floor and covered with a blanket to ward of the chill, I hear the predawn call to prayer from the loudspeakers of the mosque in the center of the village.
Bil’in, along with a dozen or so sister villages, is arguably the world capital of the nonviolent direct action movement in the world. Last night, as twenty-eight of us crowded into the living room of Iyad, the president of the local committee of resistance, we watched nearly an hour of short video clips from the weekly, nonviolent vigils that have taken place here each Friday for nine years.
Bil’in is nearly seven kilometers inside of the green line that supposedly marks the beginning of the Palestinian territory. However, when the wall was built in the early two thousands, it snaked all the way to this village, cutting its territory in half, in order to include two new Jewish settlements. The people of Bil’in lost their land, and many their livelihood, in the process.
As the people of Bil’in responded with weekly, nonviolent demonstrations, they actually forced the Government of Israel to tear down the twenty eight foot high concrete wall and move it fifteen hundred meters back toward the edge of the two Jewish Settlements.
Though this is a story of creativity and a remarkable success and affirmation of the people of Bil’in for their faithfulness in adhering to strategies of nonviolent resistance, it has come at a high cost. There were moments of laughter as our delegation applauded the creativity of the people who were documented in the video. In one instance, three people dressed in remarkable likenesses of King, Gandhi, and Mandela to lead the march. In another, villagers chained themselves in their olive trees in an unsuccessful attempt to keep the trees from being bull-dozed.
But the laughter faded and the group grew serious as we also saw the brutal repression of the nonviolent resistors by the Israeli Military. They were sprayed with “skunk water”, a euphemism for a dangerous concoction of chemicals that smells like rotten corpses and feces. They were routinely tear-gassed, which sounds unpleasant but harmless, until one watches someone who is shot directly with a tear gas canister from as a high pressure projectile. They were shot with “rubber bullets” that are actually lead balls about half an inch in diameter and coated with a thin layer of rubber. We saw video footage of a demonstrator being shot twice in the head with these so-called rubber bullets, and there is nothing innocuous about it. They are beaten with clubs and arrested – women, men and children taken away for two to three weeks to be held without charge in a ten by fifteen foot room with thirty to forty other people, and released only upon the payment of fines that are the equivalent of seven hundred to five thousand dollars.
And then our sense of outrage changed to horror as we watched the footage of Bassem, a local leader in the nonviolent resistance movement, being shot in the chest and killed by the soldiers as he yelled to the military captain to stop shooting people in one vigil that turned particularly violent.
Lest we think of these as unusual events of the past, Iyad was shot in the leg at one of the demonstrations in the last month, and he described a young guy who was shot in both legs just three weeks ago. The nonviolent resistance continues, he explained, because the illegal expansion of the settlements has been a daily reality, continuing without ceasing even through the moments in which peace negotiations are being carried out and the Israeli government has insisted that they have temporarily stopped construction. The people of the two settlements built on the land of the people of Bil’in, and controverting both Israeli and international law, now number more than 60,000.
Later in the evening, I talked with Iyad about the challenge of raising his nine year old daughter, Myar, who had clung to his arm throughout the evening and stolen the hearts of everyone in the group with her coquettish antics. “She seems brave during the day,” he said, “but her terror comes in the night.” She has been raised on night raids and watching her father get arrested repeatedly. She was born as the struggle of the people of Bil’in to resist the wall began, and her nine years mark both the struggles and the successes of that movement.
This is what principled nonviolent resistance looks like. There is a high cost, and successes are typically measured in the smallest of increments. May we find the courage to show similar creativity, courage, and commitment as we struggle to support these people in the United States.
The story of the people of Bil’in has been documented in an Academy Award-wining film called “Five Broken Cameras.”