Gaza

Italy Expels Imam for Preaching Hatred Against Jews

Italy’s Interior Minister Angelino Alfano at the EPP Study Days in Palermo in 2011. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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.

'Silence Is Betrayal:' Speaking Out for Peace

Anti-violence march Saturday Aug. 2 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Kevin Sakaguchi
Anti-violence march Saturday Aug. 2 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Kevin Sakaguchi / Sojourners

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.

Until We See Their Faces

Palestinian children, Dona_Bozzi / Shutterstock.com
Palestinian children, Dona_Bozzi / Shutterstock.com

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.

Israel and Palestine: Peace or Pieces?

gkuna / Shutterstock.com
View from the Mount of Olives on the Dome of the Rock through barbed wire, gkuna / Shutterstock.com

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.

Holy Eucharist: How We See Jesus in the 'Other'

Attila JANDI / Shutterstock.com
Attila JANDI / Shutterstock.com

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?"

Political and Religious Leaders Denounce European Anti-Jewish Outbursts Tied to Gaza

A pro-Palestine rally takes place in the Barbes neighborhood of northern Paris. RNS photo by Elizabeth Bryant.

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.

Messenger of Peace

For years, Yousef Bashir was a prisoner in his own home. He and his family suffered the indignity of having Israeli soldiers occupy their house in Gaza. At age 15, Yousef was shot by an Israeli soldier and continues to live with bullet fragments in his back nearly a decade later. Yet through all this, Yousef has become a messenger of peace.

Check out “Profiles in Courage” (Sojourners, February 2014), where Jim Rice shares Yousef’s remarkable story of reconciliation. The video below also features Yousef’s hopes for peace between Israel and Palestine.

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Profiles in Courage

Yousef Bashir: Victim of violence, advocate for nonviolence. Photo courtesy of Northeastern University

THE ULTIMATE BRAVERY might well be the courage to forgive one’s enemies and hold on to hope.

Nelson Mandela famously emerged from 27 years in prison as a reconciler and uniter, somehow free from bitterness and hatred. He was able to put into practice Jesus’ call to love our enemies—and thus became the father of the new South Africa.

Far from the upper echelons of power and fame, forgiving our enemies can be a difficult task, since “enemies,” by their very definition, aren’t easy to love. But in places of oppression, occupation, and routine violence, it’s even harder.

Take, for example, the story of a young man named Yousef Bashir. He grew up in the Gaza Strip, near an Israeli settlement known as Kfar Darom. In 2000, Palestinians rose up in protest against the Israeli occupation in what became known as the Second Intifada. In response, Israeli soldiers came to Yousef’s house and told his family to leave.

His father had dedicated his life to teaching Yousef and his brothers “how to coexist with the Israelis,” Yousef explained over lunch in Philadelphia early this winter, and he insisted on staying in their long-time family home. As a result, Yousef said, Israeli soldiers moved into the Bashir family’s house when he was 11 years old. They occupied the house until he was 15.

“Every night the soldiers would come down, gather the whole family, and put us in the living room,” Yousef said. “Then they locked the door—sometimes for days or weeks. I had to ask the soldiers for permission to go to the bathroom and the kitchen. I was imprisoned in my own living room.”

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PHOTOS & POETRY: A Unique Look at Gaza

When most people think of Gaza, surfing is not the first thing that comes to mind. But photo journalist Ryan Rodrick Beiler has an eye for capturing the resilience and richness of life in this occupied land.

A former web editor for Sojourners, Beiler now serves on staff with the Mennonite Central Committee in Palestine and Israel. To learn more about Beiler’s extraordinary work, check out his photo essay “Gaza: The Persistent Paradox” (September-October 2013, Sojourners magazine) and the slideshow below.

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While these pictures provide a unique look into life in this war-torn region, the words used in Beiler’s article are just as powerful. Referencing “Silence for Gaza”—a prose poem by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish—Beiler paints a more complete picture of Gaza as a land of both ugliness and beauty.

Sinaan Antoon, an Iraqi poet and associate professor at New York University’s Gallatin School, offers this excerpted translation of Darwish’s “Silence for Gaza”:

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Gaza: The Persistent Paradox

IN "SILENCE FOR GAZA,” Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish captures the contradictions of the coastal enclave, describing it alternately as “ugly, impoverished, miserable,” and “the most beautiful, the purest and richest among us.” Darwish’s antonyms evoke Gaza’s crushing conditions and resilient residents, exemplars of sumud, an Arabic word roughly translated as “steadfast perseverance”—a fundamental form of Palestinian resistance. Darwish’s poem also states that Gaza “did not believe that it was material for media. It did not prepare for cameras and did not put smiling paste on its face.” And yet every person, every story, every image of Gaza illustrates this persistent paradox of a land at once ugly and beautiful.

“I DON’T KNOW why they targeted us. No rockets were fired from our neighborhood,” says citrus farmer Yusuf Jilal Arafat, whose 5-year-old daughter Runan was killed when Israeli warplanes bombed their home. Arafat’s wife, four months pregnant, and their 8-year-old son were found alive in the rubble. His surviving children now suffer from frequent panic attacks at night. Many of Arafat’s trees were destroyed by the bombs, and the ground is covered with oranges now in various stages of decay. Rumors of contamination by Israeli weapons may hurt the sales of his crop, but he will still harvest. The family is living with Arafat’s father-in-law until they can rebuild.

Rebuilding under Israeli import restrictions is no simple task, so salvaging existing materials remains a vital practice—albeit risky, according to structural engineers. But ingenuity-by-necessity is constantly on display in Gaza, whether it’s recovering crushed stone from beneath ruined highways, straightening steel rebar from bombed-out buildings, or pulverizing concrete for reuse in new (but weaker) blocks.

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