May 15, 2017
Today was a day of great excitement and energy as we met with many strong individuals seeking to change the narrative of violence in Israel/Palestine. First, we met with Lucy who works at Wi’am, a conflict transformation center. Founded in 1994, this center works for harmony and agape love through resolving conflict. For example, the group uses a Palestinian tradition of sulhar (remediation) to facilitate discussion and compromise between parities. Wi’am also works with women to promote gender equality in economics and government, through fighting a culture that shames women into silence. Lucy is a star example of an empowered woman. Saturday, she was voted to be a representative of her district in the Palestinian government. Along with working with Palestinians, Wi’am seeks to connect internationals to the area. Lucy, a co-author of Karios Palestine, urges outsiders to “come and see” and to bring home stories to share.
Lucy shared her own story with us by describing the persecution she receives for being a Palestinian peace activist. For six years, Lucy was banned from traveling to Jerusalem. In fact, it was easier for her to travel to the United States and Japan, than drive fifteen minutes away. Sadly, her story is shared by many. Many Palestinians are under strict travel bands and those who work for peace often find themselves in jail. In fact, one in three Palestinian men will have spent time in jail. Children are not exempt from this statistic. Currently, there are 500+ children in jail, often held and tortured without ever being read their charges.
Leaving Lucy and Wi’am, our group traveled to Bethlehem Bible College to speak with Rev. Munther, the Academic Dean of the college and the pastor of Christmas Evangelical Lutheran. Rev. Munther shared with us a perspective on Palestinian Christians and their relationship with Christian Zionists. Palestinian Christians are a very small percentage, numbering less than 2% of the population. This is due to many Christians emigrating. The largest reason given for their emigration (32%) is a lack of freedom. Contrary to common belief, Christians are leaving the area because of political struggles of oppression, not religious conflict or extremism.
Despite being small in number, Palestinian Christians are extremely active. Christians compromise the majority of education and political activists, as well as, dominating the creation of heath care clinics and NGOs. Another activity of Palestinian Christians is providing an alternative discourse to Christian Zionism. Palestinian Christians frequently support a Palestinian Christian Theology. This theology challenges Zionism and emphasizes achieving justice through nonviolence and creative resistance.
The rise in Christian Zionism has proven to be a problem for Palestinian Christians because of international involvement. Many Christian Zionists in the United States offer support to Israel and declare their solution for peace, while ignoring the Palestinian voice. The common Zionist call is, “A people without a land, a land without a people” yet, this statement is simply not true. The land was not without people, but occupied by Palestinians who were forced off their land and are surrounded by confining walls. Instead of asking what a Christian’s duty is towards Israel (a common Zionist question), we were challenged to ask how can Christians advance peace between Israelis and Palestinians. In beginning to answer this question, Rev. Munther reminded us of the Good Samaritan, calling us to not walk away and turn a blind eye to injustice, but to dare to approach the hard questions.
We were able to continue this interesting discussion as we were invited to eat lunch with the faculty and professors at the college. While eating, we learned more about the challenges of nonviolence and the significance of today. Today is Nakba Day, Catastrophe Day. This day is the anniversary of the creation of the state of Israel and the consequential exiling of Palestinians from their land and destruction of their homes. Expressing their anger and frustration, many Palestinians take up stones, a cultural symbol, to hurl at the Separation Wall and checkpoints. In response, Israeli militant forces fire tear gas. Many of those hit include children.
Many groups are working to protect these children by providing other outlets for expression. One such group is the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). MCC works to connect Israeli and Palestinian organizations to seek peace and friendship. Through this work, MCC seeks to encourage art as a metaphorical stone throwing, a means of peaceful expression. Additionally, MCC works to address children who are imprisoned, many for throwing stones. In fact, the youngest child who entered the jails was a five-year-old, imprisoned for two days for throwing a stone. MCC’s advocacy seeks to prevent children from entering the criminal system through connecting them to education and creative resistance.
Reflecting on today, I am left wondering what my role is in all of this. How will I use nonviolence to address the suffering of my sisters and brothers? I believe this question is answered differently for all of us yet, it is a pertinent question to consider; especially for us in the United States, where the majority of our foreign aid goes to Israel. What metaphorical stones do we have? How can we stand in nonviolent solidarity? Where is God calling us to go? What is God calling us to do?
Image: Graffiti on Separation Wall
submitted by Rachel S.