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.”
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?
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."
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Earlier this month, I boarded a train with my brother-in-law and headed to Chicago to protest the 2012 NATO Summit. If you are asking "why protest?" you can find a substantial list here.
Security had been ramped up and no food or liquids were allowed on the train. We met some fellow protesters during the trip and when we arrived at Union Station we hustled to make it to Grant Park on time. In transit to the park the sun was already warming our necks and I found myself reaching for the small tube of sunblock that I had stashed in my pocket.
We arrived in plenty of time to catch the pre-march rally at Petrillo Bandshell. Many stories were shared by fellow activists from around the world. The air was humid, yet vibrating with the passion of thousands as we prepared to march together for peace.
Amidst a swirl of percussion the crowd was chanting: "We are unstoppable! Another world is possible!"
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.
The problem with peaceful protests is that they lack all the headline-grabbing horror of wars and terrorist attacks. They lack the “power of attention” as filmmaker Julia Bacha likes to say, and that is part of what compelled her and others to produce the documentary, “My Neighborhood,” premiering this week at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Bacha and her team from Just Vision are best known for their award-winning film “Budrus,” the story of a peaceful protest by Palestinians against the Israeli “security wall” that was planned to bi-sect their village. The film, shown in theatres, churches and on campuses, has helped create a dialogue not only about peaceful Palestinian protests, but also about the Israeli activists who have allied with them.
Two weeks ago, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, claimed in an article in The Wall Street Journal that the exodus of Palestinian Christians from the West Bank and Gaza is the fault of Palestinian Muslims. The article was full of inaccuracies and even lies, and Palestinian Christians responded with anger and disgust. The Wall Street Journal then featured some of these responses.
This is a serious issue for Palestinian Christians. We are not saying that radical Islam is not a threat. We are not denying that there are some struggles that we face as a minority. We are not denying that there are some incidences in which Christians were attacked by radical Muslims, like in the death of Rami Ayyad in Gaza.
What we are saying, is that for us, the real issue and the core of our struggles is the Israeli occupation.
In a speech to the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, President Obama urged Israeli leaders to refrain from "loose talk of war" related to escalating tensions with Iran. Quoting his predecessor President Theodore Roosevelt, Obama said when it comes to the Iran situation, both the United States and Israel would do well to, "Speak softly... and carry a big stick."
Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu today at the White House. Netanyahu, who is scheduled to speak to the AIPAC conference this evening, issued a short statement repsonding to Obama's speech Sunday, saying in part, "I appreciated the fact that he said that Israel must be able to defend itself, by itself, against any threat."