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.
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.
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:
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.
JERUSALEM -- Jews from Manhattan to Mozambique held prayer vigils on Monday to protest the arrest and incarceration of an Israeli feminist as she was leading 250 American Jewish women in prayer at the Western Wall.
The Oct. 16 arrest of Anat Hoffman, who co-founded Women of the Wall to enable Jewish women to pray together at the wall, has elicited outrage, especially from American Jews, the vast majority of whom do not practice Orthodox Judaism.
The wall, one of the holiest sites in Judaism, has segregated prayer sections for men and women. Israeli regulations on holy sites forbid “conducting a religious ceremony contrary to accepted practice” and “wearing unfit attire.”
Hoffman was officially arrested on charges of "disturbing public order."
Nearly two weeks ago, Israeli jets shot down a drone that had crossed into its airspace. For several days, there was speculation that it had been launched by Hezbollah, speculation that Prime Minister Netanyahu turned into an accusation.
Last Thursday, Reuters reported a confirmation
“Lebanese Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah acknowledged on Thursday sending a drone aircraft that was shot down last weekend after flying some 25 miles into Israel. Nasrallah said in a televised speech that the drone's parts were manufactured in Iran and it was assembled by members of the Shi'ite Muslim militant movement in Lebanon.”
Iran then acknowledged that the drone had been manufactured in that country and assembled in Lebanon. The purpose of the flight over Israel was seen as monitoring and gathering intelligence on Israel’s nuclear research center. McClatchy News reports
“This was a crude device, but it was a drone with all the capabilities that unmanned aerial crafts offer, and for that reason it is worrying,” an Israeli military official told McClatchy under the condition that he not be identified because he was not authorized to discuss sensitive information with a reporter. “We are studying the drone now to learn more about what it accomplished and what Hezbollah intended with it.”
Today, Haaretz reports on the continuing situation, now involving the U.N.
“United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon submitted an especially harsh report on the situation in Lebanon, including sharp criticism of Hezbollah, to the 15-member Security Council on Thursday. The report, a copy of which was attained by Haaretz, warned that the Iranian drone launched into Israel by the organization earlier this month was a “reckless provocation” which could lead to a regional conflict.”
As the rhetoric rises, the chances of a greater conflict grow.
Several of my rabbi friends have explained to me that there are three Ds that we should keep in mind when we criticize the policies of the State of Israel as we work for justice and peace for Israelis and Palestinians. I think these three Ds can be helpful and can also be applied to the way that many people – including Christians and Jews – talk about Palestinians and the future Palestinian State.
The first D is Demonization. I have been told that demonization of the State of Israel occurs when it is called “a pariah nation,” compared to the Nazis, or accused of committing genocide. I agree that these references cheapen their meaning in their original context and are not helpful in pinpointing the exact policies that the State of Israel engages in that are harmful – like using tax revenue to subsidize housing for Israeli Jews in more than 120 settlements on land the Palestinians lay claim to for their future state.
The first D also applies to the ways U.S. citizens, Christians, and Jews demonize Palestinians. And just like it is never acceptable regarding Jews, Judaism, and the State of Israel, it is never acceptable regarding Palestinians, Palestinian Christians, Palestinian Muslims, Islam, and the future State of Palestine. This is most obvious in the widespread use of “terrorist” with no admission that violent extremists are a minority and that most Palestinians are hardworking people who want the best for their families and a healthy society to live in. An example of this demonization is Sacha Baron Cohen’s movie Bruno. Ayman Abu Aita, a Palestinian Christian who works for peace, was identified in the movie with the caption “Terrorist group leader.” Cohen lied to the Palestinian Christian and then for comedy purposes named him a terrorist. Abu Aita sued Cohen for defamation and they recently settled out of court.
I finally sat down and watched the entire 11-plus minute video, Innocence of Muslims, which is at the heart of the recent outrage in Islamic countries in Yemen and north Africa. Suffice it to say, I lost a healthy share of brain cells in the process. The narrative – if you can call it that – is incoherent throughout, the sound is barely audible in places and the overall production values make the Annoying Orange series look like Scorsese.
That said, there’s plenty to anger Muslims in this clip, or anyone who values religious tolerance, plural coexistence, or even basic respect for human nature.
In the bright light of these days’ events it is helpful to be reminded of unalterable truths that transcend party conventions and oppressive governments. The political gatherings and increasing pain of the Middle East conflicts confuse the consciousness. They divert attention and trouble our slumber. Corporate callousness and individual hopelessness has set in and we have turned our faces to that which inures us from the persistent discomforting news.
Pick your own, even if momentary distraction. For me it has been Washington National’s baseball in the drive for a championship and maybe a World Series appearance. My spirit rises or falls on the team’s performances and batting averages of the Nats mini gods.
The biblical Job sought less superficial solace from his and the world’s sufferings. He responded to one of his “comforters” saying “when the land falls into the hand of the wicked He (God) blindfolds its judges” (9:24).
Hebron is known as one of the most volatile cities in the whole region of Israel/Palestine. Located in the heart of the West Bank, both Jews and Arabs have had roots here for thousands of years. Having endured years of conflict, racism, violence and separation, Hebron’s inhabitants have been covered in a narrative lacking an acknowledgment of a shared humanity.
It’s in the middle of such realities that our Learning Community (part of our organization, The Global Immersion Project) feels called to listen, learn, and be radically present. Through the art of friendship making, shared tables and storytelling, we desire to promote the just heart of God by being a people of reconciliation in the way of Jesus.
It was this posture that landed us in the underground home of a local Muslim Palestinian family who is close friends with the Jewish Rabbi who was hosting us in the old city of Hebron (he is both a host and dear friend). Having prepared a beautiful and expansive Palestinian meal, they warmly invited each one of us into their home and said, “Today, this is your home.”
Due to a temporary relaxation in Israeli policy, many Palestinians traveled to Jerusalem through checkpoints during Ramadan this year. But now that Ramadan is over, it’s back to business as usual.
Every day, thousands of Palestinians circumvent the Israeli separation wall by crossing into Jerusalem without permission from Israeli authorities. Israeli journalist Haggai Matar recently described this major flaw in the wall’s security rationale, even quoting a pro-barrier activist who admits:
“'There’s no problem crossing the gaps in the fence and tens of thousands of illegal workers cross it back and forth every day, and there should be no problem getting suicide bombers through with them,” stresses Ilan Tsi’on, co-founder of 'A Fence for Life.' 'So why don’t they? Because that’s the Palestinians’ choice.'”
The same logic applies to the checkpoints controlling movement within territory under Israeli occupation since 1967 — including East Jerusalem, which contains the Old City, the Haram Al-Sharif (or Temple Mount), and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Though Israel unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem, no other nation recognizes the legitimacy of the action and international consensus still regards it as occupied Palestinian territory. That so many Palestinians routinely risk arrest and prison by circumventing these checkpoints — without incident — shows that their security rationale is absurd. While at the same time, the vast majority of Palestinians who try to play by the rules of occupation remain restricted under Israel’s matrix of control.
More than 20 lawmakers and Capitol Hill aides, including one nude congressman, took a booze-fueled late-night swim in Israel’s Sea of Galilee last summer, Politico reported on Monday. Which leaves at least one question: Is skinny-dipping at the biblical site sacrilegious?
Not really, Christian leaders and Holy Land experts said.
“Conservative Christians, obviously, aren't for getting naked in public or drunk anywhere,” said Russell D. Moore, dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
“The location of the Sea of Galilee, however, doesn't make the story any more offensive to Christians than it is to the general public,” he said.
I have so often pondered what might have happened if the media had covered more honestly the stifling of protest that Nakba Day in 1999 and as a result the local officials and the world community had heard the cry? Could the disaster have passed and peace with justice been advanced.
Today the media is much more candid. One wonders if we have received a rare gift of unaltered reality in this period of deepening crisis in the Holy Land and overheated atmosphere in the American presidential campaign. For this week it is being reported clearly that we have a presidential candidate, and probably millions of likeminded uninformed voters, who are apparently oblivious or uncaring about the explosive oppression of Palestinians.
WASHINGTON — Neither Mitt Romney’s trip to Israel Saturday nor President Obama’s Middle East policies will have much effect on Jewish voters this fall, according to a new report that says Jewish voting patterns are predictable and unchanging.
The report, “Making Sense of the Jewish Vote,” predicts Jewish Americans will follow historical precedent and largely vote Democrat this fall. Moreover, Jewish voters will have a negligible effect on the presidential election’s outcome, even in swing states, said Jim Gerstein, a pollster with polling firm GBA Strategies who compiled the report.
Still, the Republican Jewish Coalition recently announced a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign targeting Jewish voters in swing states Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio. “My Buyer’s Remorse” features testimonials decrying Obama’s posture toward Israel and economic policies.
JERUSALEM — Rabbi Yosef Elyashiv, considered by many the foremost rabbinic authority in the Jewish world, died in Jerusalem on Wednesday. He was 102.
Born in Lithuania, Elyashiv moved to Jerusalem with his family at the age of 14, where he was recognized as a budding Torah scholar.
Throughout his life Elyashiv wielded a huge influence not only among his fellow ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi Jews but with many Sephardi Jews as well.
His rulings on every matter related to Jewish life, usually seen as extremely conservative, have shaped the way hundreds of thousands of haredim (as ultra-Orthodox Jews are often called) conduct their lives and run their communities.
United Methodists twice rejected measures on Wednesday (May 2) that called for the denomination to divest from companies accused of contributing to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.
Neither vote was particularly close, with about two-thirds of the 1,000 delegates gathered in Tampa, Fla., through May 4 rejecting the calls for divestment.
The UMC rejected similar measures at its last General Conference in 2008.
I was asked recently, is there really any hope for Israel? The answer is yes, there is.
First, the state of Israel has lived its entire existence in the foxhole of the war paradigm. It is time to come out of the foxhole. It is time for Israel to exercise profound concern, not only for its own security and its own peace, but also for the security and peace of its neighbors—the Palestinians.
Second, It is time for Palestinians to recognize Israel’s right to be secure. Israeli mothers should never have to worry if their daughters and sons will return from a walk to the market. Every Israeli should not have to live in extreme fear and the ever present threat of war.