December 6, 2016
Paul writes to his brothers and sisters in Rome. Paul is disturbed that his Jewish brothers are misdirected. So much so that he tells them that his deepest desire is for them to be saved. Now that is a stunning statement to those who believe that they need no saving because they were chosen by God. Paul gives three reasons for their blindness to salvation, 1.) One that their zeal is based on a lack of knowledge; 2) that they don’t know the righteousness of God and 3) they set out to make their own righteousness. And finally, their blindness causes them not to submit to the righteousness of God.
The word “righteousness” means justice. Righteousness is “the character or quality of being right or just” according to Vine’s Expository Dictionary. So when you read the text with the better understanding you discover fresh meaning. Reading and hearing these words in the context of Palestine I have come into a central discovery through my experiences this week.
Before I came here I had a very different understanding of Israel. I thought they were “the Chosen” and that they had a right to the land that was promised them in the Bible by God. But this week I can testify that my understanding had flaws. This week I can bear witness of some of the worst treatment of humanity I have ever seen. It is with sadness I have to report what I have seen.
On day 1 we were greeted by two very beautiful Palestinian women at the airport who welcomed us to their country. I was immediately thrown back. At first I thought they were Israelis because they said “welcome to our Country.” I thought I was in Israel. I was, but these women identified themselves as the original people of the land and they did it with unassuming confidence. At that point I knew I was about to experience something different than what I had expected. They took us to Bethlehem where I thought I would see Jews. But again the keepers of Bethlehem were not Jews but rather Palestinians. On the top of the roofs of every house were water tanks. They are used to capture water because the Israelis control the amount per day each Palestinians gets. One Palestinian told me that they relied on God for water. However, I still did not fully understand the plight of these people until the next day.
Day 2, I began to witness the cruelty of the wall and settlers in the land of Jesus. We first visited the Shepherd’s Field. The Shepherd’s Field is the place where the shepherds first saw the North Star telling them that something grand had happened. I discovered that the land was full of caves, hills and mountains. I also discovered that this field was not far from Bethlehem.
We then went to the Kairos Palestine Center where we met Dr. Rifant Qassis who discussed the Kairos Document. It is there we heard about a most unusual theology called the Theology of Hope. It literary blew my mind. It is a theology born out of the Palestinian experience of living in a land occupied by a foreign government that is hostile to their existence and yet called upon to love their neighbors. Loving their neighbors is uncompromising. But how do you live with someone who antagonizes you to hate them? The answer is through faith, hope, and love. But his idea of Hope intrigued me. It is hope that leads one to co-exist with the expectation that things will change. However, this expectation is not passive. It requires one to engage in non-violent resistance. The idea here is that hope comes with action. And no love or faith is vibrant or valuable without action.
Later we went to The Separation Wall and refugee camp called Aida where we dedicated a monument to young boys unjustly killed by authorities in their reactive countries, Palestine and the United States. The walls were most intimidating. They stood there as a living testament of racism and paranoia at its highest level. The walls are testimonies of guilt and cruelty projected on the vulnerable and frustrated. The walls are used to remind the Palestinians of their non-existence as a person. I was ashamed to be called a human being when I saw those walls and understood how they have disrupted the lives of people.
We met the Bedouins and heard their story. I was totally amazed at seeing across the fence from the Bedouin village where settlers were living in nice warm heated and air conditioned homes. The Bedouins however did not have heat or water to support their basic needs. They were living on rocks and in tents. And, they were afraid the Israelis were going to take their land. When I asked why is the ground full of rocks they replied, “This is the way Palestine is. It is full of rocks, hills, and caves.”
Day three, we went to Hebron and were astonished at the living conditions of human beings. We met the Mayor of Hebron and heard the same story we had been hearing throughout the week; that they were an oppressed people longing to be free and to control their own destiny.
Later we observed a Christmas tree lighting and show. It was amazing. We then met with the Mayor of Bethlehem and ate a banquet dinner as guest of the Prime Minister. The Mayor was passionate about her freedom and discussed openly her hope that one day she can live in true freedom.
Day four, we went to Jericho and visited two museums, the Hisham Palace and the Monastery of the Temptation in Mountain as well the site where Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River. It is here I realized that the people were consistent in their story. No matter whom we met whether they were dignitaries or ordinary people the message was the same; we are frustrated but not discouraged because we believe in a God of justice.
Day five, we went to Ramallah and met with the Prime Minister of Palestine and Muslim and Christian clergy. The Prime Minister as well as the Ambassador to the United Stated was gracious in meeting with us. They again expressed their plight and hopes. The Prime Minister, Dr. Riyad Al Malik, was passionate about telling us about the degradation of his people and their existence. He explained to us that Palestine is the only occupied land in the 21st century today. He drove the indignity of not be able to travel in your land without permission. He emphasized the insanity of a sixteen year old Israeli soldier with a machine gun having power over a grown man in Palestine. He explained to us that war is not viable. His primary way of dealing with the issues was to go directly to the people of the USA. He called upon us to help with the peace effort. I acknowledged that we understood his plight. We as African-Americans can spot racism when we see it and know discrimination when we feel it. We appreciated the Prime Minister’s call for non-violent resistance to bring peace to the region. And we explained to him that we understand his position because we have been there.
This led me to ask a final question: Which side are we going to take? Are we going to stand with those who do not know the justice of God and seek to establish their own flawed justice, or do we stand with God’s Justice? Do we stand for what is right or do we sit on the sidelines and watch people suffer? We do not wish for any harm to come to the Israelis. And yet we see injustice running astray. We call upon our brothers and sisters to save themselves and the humanity of others. We call upon our brothers and sisters to act justly and not let fear and paranoia lead them to cruelty and distrust. I know these are decade’s long problems but they can be solved.
I have been thoroughly convinced this week that something has to change and can change. I discovered that helping the oppressed is more honorable than helping the oppressor. I also discovered that by helping the oppressed I am helping the oppressor. I help the oppressor to become more lovable and trustworthy. I help him to understand how his policies are hurting him more than his opponent because it costs a lot of money, time, and effort to be mean. Salvation comes in not only freeing one from sin, but also it comes in freeing one from injustice. As Paul heart desire is for Israel so is mine. I desire upon Israel to be saved, but I also I pray and desire for Palestine to be made whole.