December 7, 2016
For the sixth day we have heard the heartbreak of the Palestinian people. We see the litany of restrictions, imposition of near total control on all aspects of daily life. The astonishing differences in neighborhoods as soon as we pass through the dividing wall. The two West Bank Palestinian guides from our trip who do not have permits to enter East Jerusalem, and so must stay behind. The difficulty in coordination of access which keeps us from a planned visit to the Al Aqsa Mosque. The pending Knesset legislation which would retroactively legalize hundreds of colonizing homes, in violation of international law and Israeli Supreme Court rulings. Even an outrageous proposed law to ban the most sacred community call to prayer for Muslims as a noise violation!
The brave Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb reminds us tonight that Jesus also faced Empire, one which dictated life and death as well. Dr. Raheb’s theological work on the Bible through Palestinian eyes, development of an arts and culture university, and the cultivation of young Palestinian leaders, is all inspiration. We are invited to further develop interfaith and cultural ties, nascent relationships for urgently needed organizing.
The challenge will be great. There is ubiquitous anxiety about the next U.S. administration and no illusions about where support will lie. A particular time is upon us, both in Palestine and the United States, when stakes are high and any proposed neutrality is to side with the oppressor. A stark violation of dignity is clear to see in Palestine: The miles and miles of ugly concrete partition walls. Widespread withholding of basic right to water. Constant violent apprehension of young boys and men. Bold occupation of Palestinian personal homes and private land. The countless restrictions on travel, commerce, family life and religion.
Now that we have heard, and understood, our highest human and religious values compel us to respond. There is an unmistakable parallel to solidarity with movements in the U.S.: Black Lives Matter; Standing Rock resistance; against increasingly anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim rhetoric and action. I know to be Euro-American white is to benefit from multiple systems of white supremacy, at plain work in Israel, and on the rise in our own nation. Therefore to work against this dominant culture is to stand firmly against injustice, wherever I witness it, and certainly so when directly told anguished stories of decades of suffering.
We have heard the heartbreak of the Palestinian people, yes, and witnessed so much more. Experienced the warm hospitality of many meals, as even the most impoverished offered coffee, tea, and bread to us as honored guests. Heard the rich tradition of religious tolerance and inclusion expressed by all with whom we met. Seen a stunningly beautiful museum created to honor the memory of great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Marveled at a new state-of-the-art Istishari Arab Hospital with dedicated staff creating a culture of excellence. Had our hearts moved by the energy and talent of young people confined to refugee housing for their entire lives, and their parents’ lifetimes as well.
The poetic theology of the Palestinian Kairos Document, powerful voice of many Christian peoples, is calling us to listen, pray, and act. In addition, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said words in 1965 in Alabama that challenge us greatly today: “We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience.”
In Israel and Palestine today, there cannot be peace without a fundamental reordering of life towards justice. The current untenable situation here degrades Israelis and creates vast suffering for Palestinian people. And in the United States, there cannot be true peace until systems cease which consistently value black and brown bodies less than white ones. The current untenable situation there stunts the moral understanding of white people, and inflicts widespread pain on people of color.
Neither society, and none of us, can live with clear conscience unless we are doing all we can do to bring change, in the urgency of these times. And just as we pledge to “stay woke” in our home communities, we must stay awake to the increasing oppression of the Palestinian people. Justice demands this vigilance. Most importantly, so does our calling as clergy who would be faithful, followers of Jesus who challenged Empire long ago in this very land.
As we continue to share the information we have come to understand we also realize that there are a host of organizations doing powerful and positive things in Palestine. One of those groups are Playgrounds for Palestine. It is a group that is worthy of your support.
Playgrounds for Palestine