Israel

Lynne Hybels 7-01-2013

Ronit Avni, photo courtesy of Changemakers

We need to hear more about the people committed to peace.

Unique fingerprint surrounded by data. Photo courtesy Maksim Kabakou/shutterstock.com

What does the ancient arrangement of tents in an ancient Israelite encampment have to do with the ultramodern question of whether the U.S. government should be peering into the ultramodern phone and Internet records of hundreds of millions of Americans?

Or to put it another way, are there any spiritual and religious roots to the notion of personal and household privacy?

To start from the Bible: Many Jewish prayer services begin with a quotation from a non-Jewish shaman, himself quoted in the Torah (Num 24:5 — this passage of Torah will be read two weeks from now, on June 22.) There was a king, Balak by name, who hired an expert shamanic curse-hurler, Balaam, to curse the People of Israel who were swarming across the wilderness after their liberation from slavery under Pharaoh. 

Rabbi Sidney Schwarz sees a divide between generations of American Jews. Photo via RNS.

Rabbi Sidney Schwarz, ordained in the liberal Reconstructionist tradition, sees a divide between generations of American Jews that could spell disaster for the community.

One generation he calls “legacy” or “tribal” Jews — those who built the national organizations and synagogues that have served for decades as the backbone of American Jewry. But reams of statistics show legacy Jews have enjoyed limited success attracting younger Jews.

The other is what he calls “covenantal” or “innovation sector” Jews, a younger generation that has founded a myriad of niche Jewish organizations — environmental, social justice and political — that can, in Schwarz’s vision, build on their parents’ work toward a more brilliant American Jewish future.

Gregg Brekke 6-05-2013

Arab Christians are vital to a thriving Middle East - and their numbers are dwindling.

Duane Shank 4-26-2013

An Israeli jet shot down a drone off its northern coast on Thursday. While some Israeli officials said they believed it was an Iranian-manufactured aircraft sent by Hezbollah, that group denied it. The Associated Press reported:

Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said the unmanned aircraft was detected as it was flying over Lebanon and tracked as it approached Israeli airspace.

He said the military waited for the aircraft to enter Israeli airspace, confirmed it was “enemy,” and then an F-16 warplane shot it down, smashing its wreckage into the sea about five miles (eight kilometers) off the northern port of Haifa. Lerner said Israeli naval forces were searching for the remains of the aircraft.

He said it still was not clear who sent the drone, noting it flew over Lebanese airspace, but that it could have originated from somewhere else.

RNS photo by Michele Chabin

Many members and supporters of Women of the Wall pray with prayer shawls. RNS photo by Michele Chabin

JERUSALEM — The ultra-Orthodox rabbi in charge of the sacred Western Wall assured a government emissary on Thursday that Jewish women will not be arrested if they try to recite the mourner’s prayer at the holy site, despite a warning from Israeli police.

Tensions have grown between traditional Jews and reform-minded women over prayers at the Western Wall, which contains the remains of the Temple that was destroyed nearly 2,000 years ago.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has tapped Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency, with defusing the conflict and ensuring “that every Jew in the world can pray in the manner that they are accustomed to at Judaism’s most important national and religious site,” according to a statement issued by the Jewish Agency.

Antwan I. Saca 3-20-2013
ryanrodrickbeiler.com

Bethlehem-area Palestinian Christians hold a weekly prayer vigil to protest the Israeli separation wall. ryanrodrickbeiler.com

Mr. President, just like the many other visitors that we receive here in this land, we would do our best to overwhelm you with our cultural hospitality and our traditions. I would seize this opportunity to not only welcome you to visit Bethlehem, but also to welcome all U.S. citizens to visit my small city.  

I invite you, Mr. President, to be in my city within the nation that has a dream of liberty — a dream that goes in rhythm with all nations’ right of self-determination. We have embraced, as other nations, our pursuit of democracy, human development, and security. We have tumbled through our pursuits and have made mistakes, and because like all humans, as part of our human nature, we slip. We have built, learned, developed, and made our existence known to all nations.

Mr. President, I hope that in your visit you would not only enjoy the blessings of the Holy Land, but be encouraged to return and experience this city to its fullest. After you finish your presidency you will be able to visit without a big security escort and you will enjoy wandering the old streets and spending time in the old city of Bethlehem when you come back with your family.

Munther Isaac 3-14-2013
Photo: ryanrodrickbeiler.com

Obama's campaign slogan appears on the Israeli separation wall dividing the West Bank town of Bethlehem. ryanrodrickbeiler.com

President Barack Obama is planning to visit Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity as part of his visit to Palestine/Israel. The Church of the Nativity, of course, is not the only thing to see in Bethlehem. I suggest that as the president enters the town, from Jerusalem I presume, that he takes a look to his right, and he will see the separation wall. It is hard to miss. It is that ugly concrete structure that gives you the impression that you are inside a big prison. I am sure the president will notice how the wall is killing life in Bethlehem, cutting deep into our neighborhoods.

As he continues on his way through the main street, I suggest he pays attention to his right, to the Azza Refugee Camp. I hope it reminds him of the misery of more than 5 million Palestinian refugees today, who are still waiting in hope for a just resolution to their suffering.

Alex Awad 2-22-2013
Photo courtesy Ryan Roderick Beiler, ryanrodrickbeiler.com

A Palestinian youth confronts Israeli soldiers at a nonviolent demonstration. Photo ryanrodrickbeiler.com

President Barack Obama will be visiting Israel and Palestine in March. I call on you to write to Obama and tell him that if he is coming to engage Israelis and Palestinians in talks that will lead to a just peace, he is then welcome. Otherwise tell Obama to stay home.

Tell Obama that the world will be watching his upcoming visit and people all over our planet will look to his visit with hope and expectation. Tell him not to disappoint humanity by carrying on U.S. politics in the Middle East as usual.

Tell Obama when he visits us here to stand by the values that he reiterates in almost every speech: freedom, independence, equality, and justice for all. 

Tom Getman 2-18-2013
 Photo by Tom Getman

View across the Okavango River from Namibia into still minefield-strewn Angola. Photo by Tom Getman

For those who are students of Africa, the Caprivi Strip of Northern Namibia brings memories of the awful border wars and independence struggles of the 1970s and 80s. Perhaps the lessons apply to Israel and Palestine.

Ironically, one of the last and longest, most peaceful and unpolluted rivers in the world is the Okavango. It is the border between Namibia and Angola where still today a long stretch of the north bank Angolan farmland is mine infested. Large breem and tiger fish jump, and magnificent fish eagles take flight from trees on the Namibian bank and wing to large dead trees in Angola where hippo provide background music with loud braying. The behemoths make their way back and forth and often spend the early evening hours lounging on the beach in front of the main buildings of the River Dance Lodge near Divindu on the southern shore.

This gently lapping, wide, drinkable stream — that creates in nearby Botswana the amazing Okavango Delta — is bordered by Angola, Namibia, and Botswana. The crystal clear ribbon of nearly 500 miles of uninterrupted resource runs just a few yards under my feet a quarter of a mile across from where the Angolan fields and forests were the hiding place for Jonas Savembi before he was killed in 2002. His South African- and American-supported troops were routed by Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, the socialist leader of UNITA and president since 1979. We can see homes there that have been vacant since the war because local farmers fled the fighting. Kavanaga tribal tradition requires people to not dwell in places where violent deaths have occurred. Ethnic tribal relations are still tense between the Portuguese-speaking Angolans and the English/German-speaking Namibians, even though they are from the same ethnic group. The horrific memories of vicious cross-river raids and shelling persist.

Dale Hanson Bourke 1-14-2013
AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images

Palestinian activists set up on January 11, 2013 an 'outpost' named Bab al-Shams. AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images

Last week, while most of Israel was focused on increasingly extreme rhetoric surrounding the upcoming elections and most Americans were listening to angry debates about guns and fiscal responsibility, a remarkable thing happened. A few dozen Palestinians captured the world’s attention quietly and peacefully.

Their methods were simple and witty. Following the example of Israeli settlers, they established “facts on the ground.” The group of Palestinians quietly hiked up a barren hillside in cold, wet weather and pitched tents, declaring themselves part of the new village of Bab al-Shams, or Gate of the Sun, a name taken from the novel by Lebanese writer Elias Khoury. 

Their village was established on private, Palestinian land and the landowner (who publicly displayed his Ottoman era deed) gave them permission to camp there. But that particular piece of land is also known on an Israeli development plan map as “E-1” and came to the attention of the world recently when Prime Minister Netanyahu announced plans to annex the land for Israeli settlements. Many believe that move, which would essentially bifurcate the West Bank, would be the deathblow to the “Two State Solution.”

Lynne Hybels 1-07-2013

Wherever I go in the world, I want to be quick to listen to differing perspectives and slow to pick sides.

Elisabeth Teater 12-20-2012
Nativity scene, © oldm / Shutterstock.com

Nativity scene, © oldm / Shutterstock.com

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure I have sung “O Little Town of Bethlehem” every year on Christmas Eve for my entire life. But I believe this carol’s lyrics, specifically the words of the first verse, invite a little more thought than we normally give them. 

O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep 
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in Thee tonight

For now let’s ignore the historical inaccuracies of the song, and focus on what the words mean, especially the last four lines. How beautiful is it that through the dark world a light came to bind together the hopes and fears of all the years (I choose to see it as past and future) in Jesus? 

Adam Ericksen 12-10-2012
Photo: David and Goliath image, © Malgorzata Kistryn / Shutterstock.com

Photo: David and Goliath image, © Malgorzata Kistryn / Shutterstock.com

Israel reported last week that it successfully tested its latest missile defense system. Known as “David’s Sling,” it is designed to shoot down midrange missiles from Hezbollah rockets originating from Lebanon.

I don’t want to get bogged down in a discussion about Israel’s right to defend itself. What I want to do is explore the biblical reference to “David’s Sling” and what it might mean for us. The name is an obvious allusion to the story of David’s victory over Goliath. It’s a favorite biblical story for many Sunday school teachers, but a conundrum for those teachers who take mimetic theory seriously. Mimetic theory claims that violence belongs to humans, not to God. It also states that the Bible progressively reveals this message about violence to us. And yet, the connection between God and violence permeates the Bible, with God apparently sanctioning violence against God’s enemies. 

So we rightly ask, “What about all the violence in the Bible?”

 WASHINGTON — As a coalition of mostly Christian groups gathered here Thursday to support church leaders who have publicly questioned U.S. aid to Israel, those same church leaders signaled that they want to reconcile with the Jewish groups who were upset by their action.

An Oct. 5 letter asking Congress to investigate U.S. aid to Israel led Jewish groups to cancel a long-planned meeting later that month of the Christian-Jewish Roundtable, a eight-year-old group dedicated to improving relations between the two faiths.

The Rev. Gradye Parsons, the top official of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the first signatory on the letter, did not attend Thursday's Washington press conference that was convened to support its message. But Parsons said he stands by the letter, and acknowledged that it heightened tensions between Jews and Christians on the roundtable.

“We regret any distancing it put between us and our Jewish partners," he said, "and we hope we can close that gap."

Munther Isaac 11-28-2012
Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler

Protesters supporting Palestinian statehood confront Israeli soldiers in the West Bank village of Al-Walaja on Sept. 16.

On Nov. 29, Palestinians will bid to become a “non-member observer state” in the United Nations. If approved, this would be a major step toward full statehood for Palestinians. Israel, and perhaps more important, the United States, are against this move, not least for fear of possible war-crime investigations against Israel. Israel’s rationale has always been that a final resolution cannot be achieved unilaterally, but only through direct negotiations. Ironically, Israel achieved its own independence unilaterally and through the United Nations.

Palestinian Christians leaders have sent a strong message of support for this step. A statement signed by 100 community leader says:

We believe the Palestine Liberation Organization’s initiative to enhance Palestine’s status in the United Nations to an Observer State is a positive, collective, and moral step that will get us closer to freedom. This is a step in the right direction for the cause of a just peace in the region. We fully endorse this bid, just as we supported Palestine’s application for full membership of the United Nations a year ago.

WASHINGTON — It’s an idea that feels particularly poignant this Thanksgiving: American Jews and Muslims banding together to help the homeless and other needy people.

The interfaith collaboration has been going on for five years, but the recent exchange of rockets between Gaza and Israel is weighing especially hard on both communities this week. That's why a joint session of sandwich making or a group visit to a nursing home has taken on added significance.

“In this time of warfare it was a beautiful experience to see the two come together,” said Haider Dost, a Muslim student at Virginia’s George Mason University who worked with Jewish students to feed the homeless Sunday in Franklin Park, just blocks from the White House.

James Colten 11-15-2012
AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images

Israeli forces arrest a Palestinian youth during clashes in Arab Jerusalem Issawiya.AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images

All this talk about the three Israelis killed by Gaza rockets …

What about the fifteen Palestinians killed by Israeli bombs?

If I were inclined to give mathematical value to people based on the media coverage I watched on “Fox & Friends” this morning, I would come to this conclusion:

3 Israelis > 15 Palestinians

I don’t think God sees it that way.  To God, all human life is equally precious.

I saw a photo showing an Israeli holding a blood-covered, critically injured 8-month-old baby. 

There’s another photo of a man, Jihad Masharawi, clutching his 11-month-old son on today’s Washington Post front page. Jihad is a Palestinian and a BBC Correspondent. He lives in Gaza. I presume he has a wife, with whom he had his son, Omar. 

Omar was killed.

It is one of the great tragedies of war that the innocents on both sides suffer.

Jon Huckins 11-08-2012
Photo by Jon Huckins

Photo by Jon Huckins

Over the past four years I have had the opportunity to spend a significant amount time in the Middle East. I no longer approach the time as a tourist, but instead seek out relationships and experiences as a listener who has much to learn about the way God is at work in contexts much different than my own. In that posture, it has been remarkable how much I have learned and begun to integrate into the way I live, love and lead back in my neighborhood. Theologian Paul Knitter describes it well when he refers to ones inherited worldview as a telescope. 

"No matter how objective we may think we are or desire to be, we all see the world through a specific telescope/worldview. When we choose to look through the telescope of people who are “different” than us, we begin to get a more comprehensive picture of the world and the way God is at work within it."

Leading our first Learning Community to the Middle East apart of The Global Immersion Project I recently co-founded, I was invited to take a look through the lens of friends’ telescopes who live amid conflict in Israel and Palestine. Here are some of my key learnings:  

Christian Piatt 10-31-2012
John Calvin image, Georgios Kollidas/ Shutterstock.com

John Calvin image, Georgios Kollidas/ Shutterstock.com

I’ve had a number of interesting discussions with various people lately about the notions of hell, salvation and who goes where. It’s a rhetorical exercise for the most part, since no one really knows. But there are plenty of real-life implications, particularly in the sphere of religion. For some, the understanding of what happens to us after we die is the prime mover in their day-to-day faith.

I know that the times when I resonate with more hard-line evangelical theology are few and far between, but in this case, I tend to resonate more closely with them than with my brothers and sisters of the Calvinist (also called Reformed Church) movement. For some not familiar with the differences, common Evangelical belief would suggest that God’s saving grace is available to all who seek it, and that the only thing standing between us and eternal salvation is us and our unwillingness to accept God’s perfect gift. In the Reformed Church, however (represented most prominently today by pastors like Mark Driscoll and John Piper), salvation is reserved for an elect few. The rest of creation will suffer the eternal wrath of God, period.

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