MOST CHRISTIANS KNOW about Gaza from its mention in the Hebrew scriptures in the sensuous and heroic stories of Samson, corrupted by Delilah, who lured him into showing the secret of his strength (Judges 16:5). Historically a Canaanite city and then Philistine, Gaza was conquered by Joshua as a part of his conquest of the Promised Land (Joshua 10:41). For thousands of years Gaza has had a history of being destroyed and rebuilt, from the time of Alexander the Great until today.
The Gaza Strip is now a small territory to the southwest of Israel, bordered on the west by the Mediterranean Sea, with 1.8 million people living in only 140 square miles. During my visit there earlier this year, I was overwhelmed by the place’s incredible beauty; at the same time, the lack of functional sewage treatment plants, limited electricity, and other broken infrastructure result in Gazans experiencing a severe humanitarian crisis. Beautiful and tragic.
In 1967, the Israeli military seized Gaza and remained there until 2005, when Israel unilaterally pulled out under Ariel Sharon’s “disengagement” plan. Between August and September 2005, roughly 9,000 Israeli settlers were evacuated and 21 settlements destroyed (rather than turned over to Gazans). In 2007, after Hamas took control of Gaza, Israel intensified the restriction of movement and imposed land, sea, and air blockades on the territory. The blockades have led to severe living conditions for the people there and a growing humanitarian crisis.
Children are suffering from violence in the U.S. and around the world.
Michael Brown. The children of Gaza. The refugees of Central America. Only three of numerous heart-breaking stories to fill the airwaves in the last month. But, unlike the gruesome murders of innocent news reporters by ISIL, these news stories about violence toward unarmed children have faced loud voices justifying that violence.
These voices argue for the “rule of law.” They insist on the inherent goodness of hyper-militarized, monocultural police forces using tanks and tear gas against peaceful protestors. They claim the inherent righteousness of the state of Israel, even after the bombing of United Nations schools. They defend border guards and those who clamber into busses to scream violence and hate at asylum-seeking children.
So, the wounded or dead are put on trial and convicted for their own deaths, even though they were unarmed children. It’s their fault. To say otherwise is just foolishness.
Some Corinthian Gentiles and Jews must have reacted in exactly this way to the teaching of Paul. Jesus was crucified by the Romans — the imperial power that had brought peace to the city of Rome and quiet to the provinces, that legendary pax Romana about Augustus Caesar himself boasted. This was Paul’s testimony.
“What did you do on your summer vacation?”
Even now students may be answering that question in essays at the start of this new school year. Maybe you wrote such a paper years ago. No matter what you did or where you went this past summer, it was almost impossible to escape the heaviness of the headlines. #BringBackOurGirls has become a distant refrain, almost forgotten beneath the crush of summer tragedies:
Thousands of children traveled alone from Central American countries to enter the U.S. as refugees. Ebola deaths spread to more West African nations killing hundreds including many health workers. The forces of ISIS, intent on carving out an Islamic caliphate, took over major Iraqi cities and beheaded a U.S. journalist in Syria. Russia usurped Crimea and threatened the rest of Ukraine. The U.N. refugee agency announced in late August that “the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people worldwide has, for the first time in the post-World War II era, exceeded 50 million people.” Gaza has been reduced to rubble while Hamas rockets still fly toward Israeli cities. Michael Brown, an eighteen-year-old African American man who might have started college this week, was shot and killed by a white police officer in the waning days of August.
After such a summer, how can we do anything but scoff at Paul’s words from Romans?
1. Photo Essay: On the Ground in Israel and Gaza
Two photographers spent the beginning of August chronicling the latest outbreak of violence for New York Times Magazine. The images tell the story of war.
2. WATCH: Jon Stewart Speaking Truth About Race
"Do you not understand that life in this country is inherently different for white people and black people? … Race is there and it is a constant. You're tired of hearing about it? Imagine how ****ing exhausting it is living it."
3. The Lie
"This spiritual lie has shaped our public life since the founding of our nation. We have yet to face it down, name it, and repent." Sojourners' Lisa Sharon Harper writes a guest column for Ed Stetzer's new series: "It's Time to Listen," which lifts up the voices of African-American evangelicals in light of the Michael Brown tragedy.
4. MAP: Where Do the World Religions Live?
Pew Research Center maps where the followers of major religions live. Fact: 1 country is home to 62 percent of unaffiliated people (and contains 19 percent of the world's total population). Guess that country.
5. That Time We Walked Out of a Church Service
"When I walked out of the church, I made a choice. I chose light over darkness. I chose truth over lies. I chose to honor my identity as beloved Kingdom woman over lukewarm, American believer."
6. WATCH: Kirk Cameron's Christian Nation Doesn't Exist
Watch the trailer to Kirk Cameron's latest film in which he apparently fill-on saves Christmas from those heathens bearing tidings of "Happy Holidays." Yes, it's a real thing.
7. MAP: How ISIS Spread Through Syria and Iraq
While the spread of ISIS seemed to surprise many in America, "the victories achieved in the past few weeks were built on months of maneuvering along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, which define a region known as the cradle of civilization." The map visualizes that maneuvering.
8. When the Holy Spirit Is Our Midwife
"… we are enlarged in the waiting; in every agonizing moment of waiting for the promise to be delivered, we are being expanded and transformed. And so we yell and fight through the pain because the Spirit in us, She’s also a warrior and She’s making us fierce, She’s making us brave."
9. Everyday Sexism in 9 Illustrations
"A new book from Taschen titled Man Meets Woman, features simple green and pink pictograms by Beijing-born, Berlin-based designer Yang Liu that examine modern gender roles. The 38-year-old uses minimalist imagery to illustrate a complex culture of gender stereotyping."
10. Treaty-ish: Obama's Proposed Climate Change Agreement Would Be Good for the Planet
"It may turn out that President Obama has simply outmaneuvered Republicans in Congress by entering an agreement that lacks the power of a treaty, but causes other countries to change their behavior—resulting in new forms of international cooperation that subsequent presidents and even Congresses will respect."
A soon-to-be college-bound Michael Brown is shot by Missouri police, reportedly while holding his hands above himself in surrender and while unarmed. The resulting protests turn violent, leading ultimately to police setting up barricades, complete with snipers, tear gas, and flash grenades. Local stores are decimated and scores are injured in the resulting tensions.
Not long ago, Eric Garner, another African-American man, died of suffocation while being submitted to a choke submission hold by a New York policeman.
Last year in North Carolina, a black man was shot 10 times by a policeman. And all of this is in the shadow the Trayvon Martin, whose tragic and unnecessary death, is still fresh in our minds and hearts.
As cited on the Economist website , it’s enough to elicit a grim question from Delores Jones-Brown, director of the John Jay College on Race, Crime and Justice. “People are asking,” she says, “Is it open season on us?”
Meanwhile, half a world away in Iraq, ISIS continues to wreak havoc, and the United States has resumed an airstrike campaign after a decade of military force trying to maintain a tentative peace in a fractured nation. Hardly a day goes by when we don’t have reports of more Israeli and Palestinian blood spilled over the historic Gaza conflict, and Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to — in the words of a recent TIME Magazine article — “create problems only he can solve.” All the while, he stokes resentments between east and west not seen since the Cold War, seeking, too, to weaken the cohesive strength of NATO and to drive a wedge between the United States and its allies in Europe.
What’s happening to us?
A London theater is refusing to host the UK Jewish Film Festival because it receives partial funding from the Israeli Embassy.
But the theater’s artistic director, Indhu Rubasingham, the English-born daughter of Sri Lankan parents, issued a statement Tuesday saying that because of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the theater’s board decided not to host the festival under its current sponsorship arrangement.
“The festival receives funding from the Israeli embassy and given the current conflict in Israel and Gaza, we feel it inappropriate to accept financial support from any government agency involved,” she said in a statement. “We offered to provide alternative funding to cover the loss of the contribution from the Israeli embassy. However, the UKJFF decided it was not willing to decline sponsorship from the Israeli embassy and, to our regret, withdrew the festival from The Tricycle.”
The first Muslim to serve in a British Cabinet resigned Tuesday over her government’s “morally indefensible” policies in Gaza and its role in the Middle East peace process.
Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, who served as senior Foreign Office minister for faith and communities, announced her decision on Twitter, saying: “With deep regret I have this morning written to the Prime Minister & tendered my resignation. I can no longer support Govt policy on #Gaza.”
In her resignation letter, Warsi wrote: “I believe our approach in relation to the current conflict is neither consistent with our values, specifically our commitment to the rule of law and our long history of support for International Justice.”
Labour leaders and human rights groups have criticized Britain’s Conservative government, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, in recent weeks for not unequivocally condemning Israel’s handling of the Gaza crisis.
Conservative leaders expressed disappointment over Warsi’s “unnecessary” resignation on Tuesday, while Labour opposition leader Ed Miliband said Warsi had acted with “principle and integrity” in deciding to step down.
Italian officials on Tuesday moved to expel a Moroccan imam who was caught on video inciting violence against Jews during Israel’s military offensive in Gaza.
Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said he had ordered the imam, Raoudi Aldelbar, to be expelled “for seriously disturbing the peace, endangering national security, and religious discrimination.”
The imam was filmed during a Friday sermon in a mosque near Venice last month calling for Jews to be killed “one by one,” according to the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute, which published the video on its website.
“Oh Allah, count them one by one and kill them all,” the imam allegedly preached during the service at the mosque in the northern city of San Dona di Piave.
After the video was aired in Italy by the center-right daily, Libero, Alfano said: “Uttering anti-Semitic sermons that explicitly incite violence and sectarian hatred is unacceptable. May my decision in this case be a warning to all those who think you can preach hatred in Italy.”
The government’s decision drew widespread support across the political spectrum and from the Muslim community in the Veneto region, where the imam is based.
Saturday marked the third time since Israel began military operations in Gaza on July 8 that I let my voice be heard. I stood and marched alongside some 20,000 other individuals that like me have become utterly disgusted by what is unfolding in the Middle East.
A cease-fire has been struck, but as of yesterday, at least 1,800 Palestinians, most of whom are civilians, have been killed and nearly 7,000 have been wounded. Another 200,000 have been displaced in a territory whose infrastructure is now in ruins with mass power and water outages.
Despite the horrific events that have happened halfway across the world, the protest last Saturday, which took place at the White House, was a beautiful sight. Among the 20,000 protesters were Muslims, Jews, and Christians. There were blacks, whites, Arabs, Asians, and Latinos. There were women and men, both young and old, who had come from cities like Chicago, Tampa, Baltimore, and Boston. Many barriers were broken as we stood and marched in solidarity with the people of Palestine.
There were times when my heart was completely broken as I saw signs with photos of dead and mutilated bodies and others that listed the names and ages of children who had been killed by Israeli airstrikes. But in those same moments I would look across the sea of protesters draped in black, white, green, and red yelling phrases such as "Free, Free Palestine!" and "Stop the killing, stop the hate!" and I would once again become a prisoner of hope. I take refuge in the rock that is Christ Jesus. I know my God stands with those being oppressed, with those seeking justice and peace. I know my voice and prayers along with millions of others around the world will be heard.
Although I am pro-Palestine, that does not make me pro-Hamas or anti-Israel. I recognize and condemn Hamas's involvement in the failed peace talks and inability to find solutions. I also mourn equally for the loss of life on the Israeli side. However, despite the part Hamas has played in all of this I do not find Israel's actions to be justified. So I march.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, God calls us to love and show compassion to the stranger, particularly those who suffer. But first, they must become real to us. And there is nothing more viscerally real, perhaps, than the face of a dead child.
Is it possible to let our hearts by broken by the dead children of our enemy? Is our God big enough to allow us to imagine that God loves those we fear and despise?
Not until, I believe, they have faces.
Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Israel, Gaza – though religious fervor is alive and well in these embattled areas, loathing, horror, and hatred seem to reign, darkness to rule. In the grim night, we cannot see each other’s faces.
The first thing that visitors and volunteers see at the Tent of Nations just outside of Bethlehem is a large stone on which are written the words, “We refuse to be enemies.” As Israeli settlements draw ever closer to their land and the Israeli Defense Forces destroy their orchards, the Nassar family continues to pay a heavy price in their practice of Jesus’ teaching, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you (Luke 6:27-28).”
The Nassars refuse to divide the world into friends and enemies, challenging the rest of us to do the same.
As a Christian, I was raised to be pro-Israel. Since going to the region many times, I’ve become pro-Palestinian and pro-peace, too, which has led me to explore the narratives of Palestinians as well as Israelis. I grieve the deaths in both Israel and Palestine. Every human life has extraordinary value. The loss of even one life is a loss to all of us.
When the Word becomes flesh, when the Son of God becomes one who bleeds, Jesus demonstrates God's humble solidarity with human nature from Adam and Eve onward, to the last person born in history.
This vulnerability of God for us, this identification of Jesus with our collective human frailty, changes our perspective on everything. In the light that shines from the face of Jesus Christ, we at last see God and humanity with 20/20 vision.
Paul comes to this vision late in the day, well after the events of God in the flesh that reconcile the Father to God's creation. The vision of Jesus blinds him but when his eyes are healed, having seen Jesus, he sees God and humanity and the world very differently than he did before the vision of Christ that overwhelms him.
Years later, in a letter to the Corinthians, speaking about the church's worship with blest eyes he writes: "When we drink from the cup we ask God to bless, isn't that sharing in the blood of Christ? When we eat the bread we break, isn't that sharing in the body of Christ?"
Amid mounting protests in Europe against the Gaza conflict, political and religious leaders in the region have sharply denounced anti-Semitism within their borders.
“Anti-Semitic rhetoric and hostility against Jews, attacks on people of Jewish belief and synagogues have no place in our societies,” the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and Italy said in a statement Tuesday from Brussels.
Fears of escalating unrest are perhaps sharpest in France, home to Europe’s largest populations of Jews and Muslims. Many have roots in North Africa, and violence in the Middle East resonates strongly here. Thousands defied a government ban against Paris-area protests over the weekend, staging pro-Palestinian rallies that degenerated into violence.