Israel

A public opinion war on Middle East politics is playing out this spring in new advertising campaigns on public buses and in newspapers.

It began when the American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) launched bus ads during the April Cherry Blossom Festival condemning U.S. aid to Israel because of that country’s continuing occupation of Palestinian territories.

Then on Monday, Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative countered by deploying 15-foot-long ads on 20 buses in the Washington, D.C., system that equate opposition to Israel’s policies with Nazism. One ad shows the grand mufti of Jerusalem meeting Hitler during World War II.

“The bus system is considered public space, so speech has First Amendment protections,” said Caroline Laurin, a spokeswoman for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. “We have no grounds to refuse ads due to their content.”

Pope Francis greets people during a meeting on Nov. 9, 2013. Photo by Alessia Giuliani, courtesy Catholic News Service.

Pope Francis will be accompanied on his first visit to the Middle East by Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Muslim leader Omar Abboud — two friends from Buenos Aires.

It is the first time a pope has made an official visit accompanied by members of other faiths, and it underscores the interfaith focus of Francis’ trip to the Holy Land, the Vatican said Thursday.

“This dimension of interreligious dialogue has great significance,” the Vatican’s official spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, told the media.

4-07-2014
I called my good friend, Jim Wallis, the leader of Sojourners. As we talked about the situation, Jim asked where I was currently located. I told him I was in New York City. Jim said he was amazed, as he had just been discussing my name with Imam Feisal in NYC. That telephone conversation led to an introduction to Imam Feisal, who in 2012 was named one of the hundred most influential people in the world by Time magazine.
Jon Huckins 3-20-2014
Photo courtesy Jon Huckins

Photo courtesy Jon Huckins

Having just gotten home from guiding another The Global Immersion Project Learning Community deep into the lives of the unheralded heroes in the Holy Land to learn from their often untold stories, I am processing emotions, thoughts, and reflections that will soon bud into a renewed set of practices at home and abroad. I have now been to Israel/Palestine quite a few times, and it would be easy to think the experience becomes mechanical or normal or whatever. Well, for me, that simply hasn’t been the case. We encourage our participants to enter the experience in the posture of a learner rather than a hero. I try to do the same, and in doing so, am continually convicted, challenged, and inspired by our remarkable friends and peacemakers embedded within this conflict.

Here are 7 learnings that have risen to the surface since landing back on home soil:

Todd Deatherage 3-04-2014

Todd Deatherage is the executive director and co-founder of the Telos Group. Photo courtesy of the Telos Group. Via RNS

Secretary of State John Kerry brought his argument for a two-state Israeli-Palestinian peace to the annual AIPAC conference this week, and whatever else we might know, we know this: Many evangelical Christians didn’t like it.

Or at least that’s what we’re told by some Christian leaders and their political allies. Supporting Israel’s government by opposing compromise with the Palestinians is a permanent plank in American evangelical political thought. “God told Abraham that he would bless those who bless him and the nation of Israel,” the thinking goes, “and curse those that curse Israel.”

But could it be that the truth is more complicated?

What if the loudest evangelical voices don’t represent the complexity of our community? I raise these questions as an evangelical who is fully committed to supporting the struggle for security, dignity, and freedom for Israelis and Palestinians. And I’m not alone.

3-03-2014
Forward: This is the first piece of mine to have been published in a major American magazine. It seems fitting that this milestone was marked in the pages of Sojourners, a magazine with a robust history of faith-rooted activism (including anti-war and anti-violence activism), and whose “commitments are faith in action in three strategic areas: racial and social justice, life and peace, and environmental stewardship.” I was honored to have the opportunity to write a piece for Sojourners, and was amazed this week when the copies of the February edition arrived at my apartment by how powerful it felt to see my piece printed (and to see my name in the contributors list with Margaret Atwood and Bill McKibben!) This piece weaves new interpretations with old understandings of my decision to refuse military service and the stories that accompanied it. I am proud of this essay, and grateful to have the opportunity to share it.
The Editors 1-16-2014

Yousef Bashir's remarkable story of reconciliation.

The Editors 1-16-2014

Moriel Rothman speaks candidly about his decision to not serve in the Israel Defense Forces.

Jim Rice 1-05-2014

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

"When someone is faced with a gun and chooses to respond with respect and love, that's hope."

Moriel Rothman 1-05-2014

An Israeli-American resister on the spiritual links between violence and nonviolence.

Maysa Al Shaer via Wikimedia Commons/RNS

Overlooking view of Bethlehem, photo courtesy of Maysa Al Shaer via Wikimedia Commons/RNS

Christmas is the one time each year when much of the world turns its gaze to Bethlehem, the West Bank town at the heart of the Gospel account of Jesus’ humble birth in a stable.

But Bethlehem may be in for a second round of global publicity in the span of a few months with the expected visit of Pope Francis in May.

In an interview earlier this month, Francis confirmed rumors that he planned to travel to the Holy Land — probably stopping at sites in Jordan, Israel and the West Bank in the Palestinian territories — and said preparations were underway.

Then last week the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, the top Catholic official in the region, revealed that the visit was set for May.

Given the political and religious combustibility that attends almost any event in the Holy Land, a papal trip was bound to be fraught and a debate over the visit quickly erupted as Israeli newspapers reported that the preliminary itinerary for Francis’ pilgrimage has him spending just one full day in Israel proper — probably arriving in Jordan on Saturday, May 24, traveling to Israel on Sunday morning, then celebrating Mass in Bethlehem on Monday before heading back to Rome.

Tom Getman 12-12-2013

Embracing Israel/Palestine: A Strategy to Heal and Transform the Middle East. North Atlantic Books.

Brandon Hook 11-22-2013

How can we save 40,000 lives in under three minutes?

That question served as the provocative title of Israeli medic Eli Beer's TEDMED talk. Beer is the founder and president of Israel-based United Hatzalah (which is Hebrew for "rescue"), a rapid response team of 2,000 skilled volunteers — EMTs who range professionally from "expensive lawyers to people who sell fish or shoes," he said to CNN Health.

Beer answered his question this way, "The average response time of a traditional ambulance is 12 to 15 minutes — we reduce it to less than three minutes. Our response is the fastest in the world. We call our approach a lifesaving flash mob. On motorcycles, traffic doesn't stop us. Nothing does."

Tom Getman 10-18-2013
Dome of the Rock and Western Wall, Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock.com

Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock and Western Wall, Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock.com

What do you do with critical information on intractable justice issues when reputation, methods, or prevailing propaganda make it difficult for people to believe the truth? How does one find ways to strengthen the fragile line between democracy and the lurking dark social disorder? Limiting or reversing anarchy in the U.S. and abroad may depend on finding ways to persuade and protect the common good.

A current question is in regard to the 20-year Oslo peace process (which was to be completed with separate States after 5 years). When it failed, its successor peace plans promised to bring flourishing democracy and a just peace that would hold back the winds of war and be good for Israelis as well as Palestinians.

The strategy of negotiations with prolonged periods of stalling has only widened the occupation and allowed Israel to strengthen its hold on Palestinian property. It has been conquest by a 1,000 cuts on people (1,500 Israelis and 15,000 Palestinians dead), as well as uprooted trees and bulldozed property. Less than 10 percent of 1967 war land area of Palestine is fully controlled by the Palestinian Authority. It is as though a volcanic cloud blocks the sun. Even with Secretary of State John Kerry’s vigorous efforts to diminish the rumblings and forestall an eruption, those who assure us there are signs of hope declare time is growing mercilessly short.

Members and supporters of Women of the Wall pray with prayer shawls at the Western Wall. RNS photo by Michele Chabin.

Where once it seemed that uncritical devotion to Israel was the norm for U.S Jews, that Zionism and Judaism were hand-in-glove, new research finds that’s not the case today — if it ever was.

The Pew Research Center’s newly released, comprehensive Portrait of Jewish Americans not only delved into myriad ways people identify as Jews, it also probed their emotional connection and their theological and political ideas about the Jewish state.

Lynne Hybels 10-02-2013

A young woman prays for peace at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Photo by Christine M. Anderson

"The alternative—not having negotiations—is guaranteed to fail."

Neighbor illustration, Rolf E. Staerk / Shutterstock.com

Neighbor illustration, Rolf E. Staerk / Shutterstock.com

Our relationship to place is so conditioned by our life experiences. When I moved to North Cambridge, Mass., from the expansive West Coast, I got a lesson in the meaning of “near” and “far.” Walking around my new neighborhood, I greeted an old woman sitting in front of her house.

“Did you grow up around here?” I asked.

“Oh no,” she assured me, “I grew up way over on Sherman Street.” Sherman Street is about three blocks from where we were talking, but it is a different neighborhood. So in the language of her personal geography, Sherman Street is not “around here.”

When I traveled to Israel this summer with a group of seminary students from Andover Newton Theological School and Boston University School of Theology, what struck me most was another lesson of geography: If you live in a country the size of New Jersey, your sworn enemy might literally be your next door neighbor. 

Jon Huckins 8-21-2013
Typewriter, sematadesign / Shutterstock.com

Typewriter, sematadesign / Shutterstock.com

Upon my recent return from the Middle East (with The Global Immersion Project), I was struck more than ever before at our Western infatuation around military aggression, violence, and division. Not only are these the primary narratives we are fed through our major media outlets, they are the narratives we subconsciously embrace through the latest bestseller, box office hit, or video game. Violence, death, and division have become normative. We are becoming numb to the very things that we – as ambassadors of hope and reconciliation – are to turn from as Resurrection People. It is as though there is a stranglehold on our on our ability to see and participate in the stories of healing and new life.  

As surprising as this may be, embedded in the midst of these conflicts are endless stories of hope that never make the latest headline or sound bite. And in the times I've followed Jesus INTO these places of conflict, I continue to encounter stories of peace and hope that embody the Gospel message, stories by real people, happening right now, in places usually known only for conflict, violence, and death.

Julie Polter 8-02-2013

The March by PBS / Secular Days, Sacred Moments edited by David Cooper / One True Vine by Mavis Staples / The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict by Dale Hanson Bourke

Gaza, a land at once ugly and impoverished—and beautiful and rich.

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