Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Resurrection of our Lord, Vigil of Easter—Hebron

Tonight, at the Easter Vigil, we read the stories of our heritage—remembering where we have come from on this long spiritual journey. The Fourth Reading is from Exodus, and the story is one that Jewish faithful are also celebrating this week—their Passover, which began on Monday.

In Jewish homes across America, families sit down to the traditional Seder supper and recall how God rescued them from the Egyptians and reflect on those who are less fortunate, those who are still slaves.

In Hebron, a Palestinian city in the West Bank, however, the holiday is a call to political protest, as an estimated 7000 settlers come for “tours”, led by Israeli soldiers and border police.

On Thursday afternoon, Israeli soldiers closed the main road into Hebron to allow settlers access to the Tomb of Othniel Ben Knaz, which is located in the H1 (Palestinian) sector of Hebron. Residents of Hebron had their daily routines disrupted as settlers, guarded by Israeli troops, paraded through the Palestinian suq, harassing the shop owners and preventing any sales.

The checkpoint between the suq and the Mosque has been closed since Wednesday, preventing Muslim worshipers from entering and forcing schoolchildren to walk a long way around. Schools have closed earlier and the children are forced to walk through large groups of soldiers. Many children stayed home.

Photo shows schoolchildren in Hebron this week, passing the Israeli soldiers.

April 17 is also Prisoners’ Day for Palestinians, when they remember all the prisoners held in Israeli prisons. In Hebron families gathered outside the stadium to pray for imprisoned loved ones. The International Solidarity Movement reports, “Many brought pictures of their family members and friends, and the people of al-Khalil (Hebron), together with many organisations and political parties, were there to show their support for the prisoners.”

Israeli soldiers have fired stun grenades and rubber-coated steel bullets, and tear-gassed the crowds. Young Palestinians have been throwing stones and some have been injured. You can read the whole story on the ISM website link above.

Savior God, you hear the cries of the oppressed and you set them free. Be with all who are oppressed and in bondage today. As you brought the Israelites out of slavery, give these people courage to resist their oppression and hope for their future. And give us courage and steadfastness to loosen the chains we hold. Amen.  

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday—Stations of the Cross 10-14

Good Friday
Stations of the Cross

10Jesus is stripped
They took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. Jn19.23

This week, Israeli Defense Ministry Moshe Ya’alon sized control of 984 dunams of Bethlehem land for the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, declaring it “state land.” This piece of land surrounds private Palestinian land, which will now be inaccessible to its owners. The land includes the illegal outpost of Netiv Ha’avot.

11Jesus is nailed to the cross

Reading Ha’aretz, the Israeli newspaper today, I found the story of Fuad Shehadeh, who has been hospitalized for six weeks, following an attack by Israeli settlers. Shehadeh lives in a village near Nablus, in the West Bank. He went with his friend to prune some olive trees and they were attacked as they were leaving. They ran, but one of the settlers threw a metal rod and broke Shehadeh’s leg, which immobilized him. After being beaten further, the Israeli soldier standing watching called to the settlers, “Enough,” and they left. He has ten fractures, eight on his right leg and two in his left arm. He has bruises on his head and right arm. The police have not even interviewed him, even though he is now in a hospital in Tel Aviv, being treated for his injuries. His assault was not reported in Israeli media.
Photo: Fuad Shehadeh and his son Mohammed at Ichilov Hospital. The police haven't shown up to investigate.

12Jesus dies on the cross

Jesus died, refusing to cooperate in his trial or answer to his accusers. He also rejected violence, even healing the ear of the high priest’s slave injured by Peter. In the account in Luke, Jesus forgives the criminal hanging next to him.

In Kairos Palestine, Palestinian Christians “call on the people of Israel to be our partners in peace and not in the cycle of interminable violence. Let us resist evil together, the evil of occupation and the infernal cycle of violence.” (Kairos Palestine, 4.3)

13Jesus is taken down from the cross

…when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. (Jn19.33)

Take a moment for prayer.

14Jesus is laid in the tomb

Now there was a Garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. (Jn 19.41)

This entire narrative of Jesus’ passion takes place within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In the early years of the fourth century, the Emperor Constantine sent his mother Helena to find the holy sites and build churches. She investigated the places where pilgrims had been coming since the first century and chose the site for the Holy Sepulchre. Constantine built a church there to celebrate the resurrection. Geographically, it’s a very small space for such a large narrative. Visiting pilgrimage groups usually spend 30 minutes or so visiting the five stations that are located inside the church. 

Good Friday—Stations of the Cross, 5-9

Good Friday
Stations of the Cross

5—Simon helps carry the cross
Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases… Is 53.4

Who are the people today who help suffering people bear their burdens?

6—Veronica offers her veil to Jesus

Who are the bearers of the image of Jesus today?
I think of a Muslim—Farhan, elected mayor of Beit Ummar in 2006, in the first elections under the Palestinian Authority. Upon election he was immediately arrested by Israeli soldiers and imprisoned for being affiliated with Hamas. Sitting in his mother’s home, with his youngest son, Salah Ad-Din, on his lap, he told us, “Every good action, even if very small, gives me more hope—a hole for the light to pass through.” This Hamas leader told us, “I teach my sons and daughters to love, not hate; I give them the courage of love, not to hate. Love needs courage; hate does not.” But, he says, “love is stronger than hate.” He tells us this is what the prophet Mohammad taught: “Hate is very dangerous for the human being. War is easy; peace is hard.”

Photo: Farhan and Salah Ad-Din

7—Jesus falls the second time
He learned obedience through what he suffered Heb 5.8

Almost every young Palestinian man I have met has been arrested and served time in prison. Usually it is for throwing stones in a demonstration against the Israeli soldiers and tanks in their villages. They tell about the network of Palestinian elders in prison who taught them about non-violent resistance. In prison they have studied Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., so that when they are released, they are equipped to continue the resistance.
8—Jesus meets the weeping women

I think of Eran Efrati, the former Israeli soldier who was in Denver in February. He told the story of his gradual awakening to what Israel was really doing in the West Bank. One pivotal moment was in Hebron, when he heard a mother’s cry as she mourned her son’s death. The night before, in the confusion and darkness, her son had been killed by some19-year-old soldiers. When he heard her cry, he realized it was the cry of his grandmother, waking in the night with nightmares about her time in Auschwitz.

Photo of women weeping at the death of Arafat Jaradat, killed in Israeli custody, February, 2013.

9—Jesus falls the third time
All we like sheep have gone astray
We have all turned to our own way…
(Is 53.6)

By Station nine, I am despairing. Will Jesus’ suffering never end? Will the Palestinians’ suffering never end? The US supports Israel’s human rights violations with our tax dollars. As a country, we have lost our way. All we like sheep… It’s not like the swelling choruses of the Christmas oratorio. It is like carrying the cross and falling under its weight.

Good Friday—Stations of the Cross, 1-4

The Stations of the Cross offer a way for Christians to contemplate Jesus’ life, passion and death. The stations help us meditate on our own lives. What paths have we taken? How do our lives reflect Jesus’ teachings?

In writing these meditations, I am coming from a particular perspective on Jesus’ life. Jesus took a path of non-violent resistance to oppression and tyranny—the tyranny of the Roman Empire and the enforcement of Roman law by the Judean political and religious leaders. Jesus’ life was a message of hope for the Judeans living under Roman military rule and he died because he spoke up for those who were suffering and challenged the system of oppression.

Many Palestinians are living their lives on this same path Jesus took, and the Stations of the Cross reflect their suffering too. The texts are taken from the lessons for Good Friday—Isaiah 52.13-53.12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 4.14-16, 5.7-9 and10.26-25; John 18.1-19.42.

1—Jesus is condemned

“We have no king but the emperor” (Jn 19. 16)

Today there are 183 children in the Israeli Prison System, according to their own statistics, as recorded on B’Tselem’s website. Children are usually arrested for throwing stones. They are in the military court system; their parents are not allowed to see them; they do not have a lawyer. When they are being questioned, they are often told they can see their mothers when they give names of people in their village who are conspiring against Israel. This is a horrible choice for children to have to make.

2—Christ receives his cross

Carrying his cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. (Jn19.17)

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is built over the site where Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection are believed to have taken place. The location is considered likely because Christians have venerated this site since 66 AD. Golgotha is a large rock that lies under the church and is visible in several places inside. Long lines of pilgrims wait to touch the rock in one of the chapels. As you can imagine, the crowds in the holy places are immense during Holy Week and Easter—pilgrims come from all over the world, but Christians who live in Bethlehem, a distance of about six miles, are unable to get permits to visit and Israeli soldiers block many of the entrances to the Old City, so it is difficult for anyone to be there on this holy day.

3—Jesus falls for the first time

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears… (Heb 5.7)

In Palestine news media, stories like this one happen every day…

Ramallah, April 10, 2014—A four-month-old baby was injured when an Israeli air strike hit meters away from his home in central Gaza.

Photo: Mohammad al-Tatar, with his father Tamer. The four-month-old baby received a head wound When an Israeli airstrike hit nearby.

Mohammad al-Tater from Al-Meghraqa was left “bleeding profusely” after the force of the explosion smashed windows in the house and scattered shrapnel throughout the bedrooms.

The attack came at 1:45 am on April 4 and struck a piece of farmland approximately 100 meters (328 feet) from the house. Full story…

4—Jesus meets his mother

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Jn 19.26-27

When children are arrested by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank, the soldiers ride into the village in armored jeeps around 2 am, pile out of the vehicle and bang on the door of the home. I have heard and read this same story many times. They sometimes break down the door. They order the whole family outside, including even the babies. They beat the child right there, in front of his younger siblings and his father and his mother. Then they put him in one of the vehicles, often in his sleepwear, no jacket or shoes. And they take him to a nearby police station, which is usually in an Israeli settlement. And his mother cannot see him. She spends long hours, sometimes days, finding out where they have taken him.
Photo: Fourteen-year-old Ibrahim's parents, Mohammad and Sulha (right and center), tells us the story of his arrest when we visited Beit Ummar in 2010.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Maundy Thursday, John—With Love as Its Logic

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,
If you have love for one another.” Jn13.35

I think that if I endured the daily oppression that is part of every Palestinian’s life, I would be bitter and angry, depressed and hopeless. But the Palestinians I have met have instead chosen to be resourceful (like the firemen in yesterday’s post), creative and non-judgmental. They are resigned to things as they are, but also hopeful, knowing for certain that the occupation of their land and lives will not go on forever.

Whether Christian or Muslim, their faith in God’s promise of abundant life sustains them, gives them courage and hope. When I first went to Palestine and saw the harsh reality of the wall and the way Israel is continuing to take everything from them, I thought they would hate me for supporting Israel with my taxes.

But I have never experienced any hatred—only love. This looks like discipleship to me.

In 2009, Palestinian Christians wrote a letter to the world, telling of their situation, their suffering and the injustice still being done to them. They called it “Kairos Palestine: A Moment of Truth.” They stated their situation boldly and honestly and asked the world to take notice and change the situation, especially the US, which supports Israel with $3B per year.

They expose the occupation—the theft of land, the arrests without charges, the brutal treatment of prisoners, the violence against peaceful protesters, the permit system that does not allow them to leave their towns—and they call this an evil and a sin. They say Christians are called to resist these evils—a resistance “with love as its logic.”

They also speak to Muslims and Jews—with love. Their message to the Muslims is “a message of love and living together and a call to reject fanaticism and extremism.” Their message to Jews is, “Even though we have fought one another in the recent past and still struggle today, we are able to love and live together. We can organize our political life, with all its complexity, according to the logic of this love and its power.”

Then they add a caveat: “…after ending the occupation and establishing justice.”

This week, as we remember Jesus’ last days and hear the stories, showing all the reasons why he was killed, I think of these Palestinians, struggling to end their oppression, resisting the evil they are enduring. Bringing love to their situation is truly a sign of God’s presence and the work of the Holy Spirit.

They call on us to, “stand alongside the oppressed and preserve the word of God as good news for all rather than to turn it into a weapon with which to slay the oppressed.”

Not everyone can travel to Palestine or become totally immersed in the Palestinian narrative as I have, but we can all look around us and see the injustice in our own towns, in our own country, and do what they ask, “stand alongside the oppressed and preserve the word of God as good news for all.”

God of love, in these days we have come to know you through your son Jesus. As we wash one another's feet tonight and remember his ministry of love and his sacrifice, help us to be his disciples. Amen.