Israel

New & Noteworthy

The Dream at 50
This August marks the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington for civil rights for African Americans. PBS will feature special broadcast and Web programming, including the premiere of the new documentary The March onTuesday, Aug. 27 (check local listings). pbs.org/black-culture/explore

The Miracle of Meaning
Secular Days, Sacred Moments: The America Columns of Robert Coles, edited by David D. Cooper, collects 31 short essays by the respected child psychiatrist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Whatever the topic, Coles offers thoughtful insights on civic life and moral purpose. Michigan State University Press

Soul Searching
The album One True Vine, gospel-R&B legend Mavis Staples’ second collaboration with Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy, is an exploration of doubt and faith. Staples moves with understated, gravelly grace from gospel standards to covers of songs by Low and Funkadelic to originals by Tweedy. Anti- Records

Jerusalem, Jerusalem
Dale Hanson Bourke gives a helpful introduction for American Christians to an intensely controversial topic in The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Tough Questions, Direct Answers. This latest edition of the Skeptic’s Guide series covers key places, terms, and history, with helpful graphics, all in a compact, readable format. IVP

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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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Court: Law Designating ‘Israel’ as Birthplace Unconstitutional

Photo courtesy RNS/ Shutterstock.com.
United States passport. Photo courtesy RNS/ Shutterstock.com.

A federal appeals court has ruled unconstitutional a 2002 law that allows Americans born in Jerusalem to designate Israel as their birth country on their passports.

The lawsuit, brought by an American couple whose American son was born in Israel in 2002, challenged the government to uphold the law. Instead the court found it unconstitutional.

The State Department has not permitted Americans born in the city to list “Israel” as their birthplace on their passports, despite the law.

Thousands of Athletes to Compete in “Jewish Olympics”

Photo courtesy Arkady Mazor/Shutterstock.com.
An envelope and postage stamp in honor of the 4th Maccabiah Games in Israel. Photo courtesy Arkady Mazor/Shutterstock.com.

More than 1,100 American Jewish athletes will be competing in the Maccabiah Games, known as the “Jewish Olympics” and held in Israel once every four years.

This year’s event, which begins July 18, brings together more than 9,000 athletes from 77 countries to compete in 38 sporting events. The American contingent is the largest visiting delegation.

The Maccabiah attracts well-known and lesser-known athletes. This year’s participants include swimmers Garrett Weber-Gale, who won gold medals in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, and Mirjam de Koning-Peper, one of three medal winners in the London 2012 Paralympics.

VIDEOS: Just Vision

In “Stories Worth Telling,” from the August 2013 issue of Sojourners magazine, Lynne Hybels discusses the work of filmmaker Ronit Avni.

As the founder and executive director of Just Vision—an advocacy and media organization—Avni helps generate awareness and support for those in the Holy Land who pursue freedom, dignity, security, and peace without violence. Stories of Palestinians and Israelis engaged in nonviolence and peacebuilding come to life in Avni’s award-winning films.

If you want to be inspired, read Avni’s story. And be sure to watch the trailers below to preview the latest films by Just Vision.

Budrus
It takes a village to unite the most divided people on earth.

My Neighbourhood
A remarkable nonviolent struggle in the heart of the world’s most contested city.

Encounter Point
A true story about everyday leaders who refuse to sit back as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict escalates.

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Catholic Justice and Peace Commission Intervenes on the Recruitment of Christian Arabs into Israeli Army

The Catholic Church's Justice and Peace Commission of the Holy Land led by Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah has issued a statement against attempts by the Israeli Defense Force to begin conscripting Christian Muslims into the military, saying "the use of army service to divide the Arab population against itself is detrimental to the interests of the Arabs as a community." According to Agenzia Fides:
...The army is used as "an institution that promotes social cohesion" and a "principal place" of forming national consciousness and participating in the nation building project "as conceived by the authorities, i.e. promoting Israel as a Jewish national state". In this perspective, according to the Justice and Peace commisssion operating in the Holy Land, "talk about drafting of Christian Arabs rather than the Arabs in general - Muslims and Christians - is clearly an attempt to drive a wedge between Christians and Muslims in Israel". On addressing these delicate problems, the Church should keep in mind that "the army is used as a means of imposing and maintaining the occupation of Palestinian territories and thus preventing Palestinians from achieving dignity and independence". The army is primarily "an army of aggression rather than an army of defense". Therefore "the use of army service to divide the Arab population against itself is detrimental to the interests of the Arabs as a community."

Stories Worth Telling

Ronit Avni, photo courtesy of Changemakers

IN HER JEWISH school in Montreal, Ronit Avni learned the tragic history of her people. Her Canadian mother and Israeli father had met in the ’60s when her mother was living in Israel and working as a folk singer, often performing for Israeli troops. Her older sister was born in Tel Aviv, but the family settled back in Montreal in the mid-’70s before Ronit was born.

Not strictly religious but committed to the values of Judaism, Ronit couldn’t help but ask probing questions as she listened to the stories of the birth of the modern state of Israel in 1948. Am I hearing the whole story? How do Palestinian perspectives differ from what my educators and community leaders are teaching? How can we transform this situation from a zero-sum equation to one that respects the dignity and freedom of all?

Years later, having graduated with honors from Vassar College with a degree in political science after studying theater at a conservatory in Montreal, Ronit trained human rights advocates worldwide to produce videos as tools for public education and grassroots mobilizing.

By the time I met Ronit a few years ago, she had narrowed her worldwide focus to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where her heart was most deeply drawn. She is the founder and executive director of Just Vision, an organization dedicated to increasing media coverage and support for Palestinian and Israeli efforts to end the occupation and conflict without weapons of violence.

During the last several years, my engagement in the Holy Land has been significantly shaped by Ronit. Her film Encounter Point, about Israelis and Palestinians who have lost family members, land, or liberty to the conflict yet choose forgiveness and reconciliation rather than revenge, gave me hope that peace can emerge from pain.

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Privacy from Rulers: Tents of Ancient Israel, Cell Phones of Today

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’s Message for American Jews: Change or Die

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.

A Holy Land Without Christians?

LIKE MANY Palestinians forced from their homes during the 1948 war, relatives of Jordan’s Sen. Haifa Najjar carried the keys to their Palestinian homes with them as they fled. These keys, passed down through generations, are powerful symbols of Palestinian ties to the land that international law considers theirs—even as their hope for return wanes.

As a Christian appointed by King Abdullah II to Jordan’s upper house of Parliament, Najjar is active in the education, environment, cultural, and legal sectors of the government. She is also superintendent of the Anglican-run Ahliyyah School for Girls and Bishop’s School for Boys in Amman, Jordan.

Within the mix of the 500,000 Palestinians who relocated to Jordan because of the Israeli War of Independence—or Nakba, “the catastrophe,” depending on who you ask—was a vocal minority of Palestinian Christians who joined their ranks with the existing Jordanian Christian community. Prior to 1948, Christians accounted for nearly 20 percent of the population of what is now Israel/Palestine. Today that figure is less than 2 percent. Even more dramatic are declines in the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem. Christian populations are nearly extinct in these locations compared to their respective majorities of 90 and 80 percent prior to 1948.*

“They moved not as immigrants; they were initially thinking it was a temporary thing,” says Father Nabil Haddad of the Melkite Catholic Church in Amman. “It is similar to what Syrians are thinking right now when crossing the barbed wire, not the checkpoints, between south Syria and north Jordan.”

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