Monday, December 29, 2008

Commemoration of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs

This morning I search the photos from Gaza and read the news stories, wondering how the people I met this summer and fall are doing now, as the violence escalates. One photo was taken at the Qalandia checkpoint, where we got off our tour bus and walked through on foot in June. It's the checkpoint everyone goes through to get from Jerusalem to Ramallah, the capitol of the Palestinian Authority (PA). The checkpoint is staffed by Israeli soldiers, who monitor everyone going and coming. The PA also has soldiers at the checkpoint, but it is clear that the Israeli soldiers are the ones in control. Apparently this checkpoint has become a hotspot for protests against Israel's attacks on Gaza. The photo appears on the New York Times web site, along with many others. It was taken by Muhammed Muheisen/Associated Press, and is captioned: Palestinian women flee during clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians, at the Kalandia checkpoint between the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem. The Israeli military warned that "This operation will be continued, expanded and intensified as much as will be required."

These women are running, covering their ears as the gunfire surrounds them, through the area where we walked in June. Even then it was a somber, scary place. One of our group accidently left his passport on the bus and we had a few moments of panic as we retraced our steps to get the passport. The blue American book, however, worked its magic - no one wants to cause an international incident and endanger their relationship with the U.S - and his passport was retrieved and he passed throught the checkpoint without much hassle at all.

While we played out the drama of the lost American passport, our Palestinian tour guide waited in the long line to go through the checkpoint - when, in spite of all our bumbling, we finally got through, he was still the line reserved for the Palestinians (who pass through this checkpoint regularly).

I checked the web site of Mohammad Omer - a young man who, since he was a hight school student in 2001, has documented daily life in Gaza ( There are no new photos on the site, but looking once again at his work, I'm reminded that while we are shocked by what is happening in Gaza this weekend, this violence is not new for the residents of Gaza. They have been enduring bulldozing of their houses, shootings of their fathers and children and the less remarkable but daily violence - a lack of medical supplies, shortages of chlorine to make the water safe to drink, few schoolbooks for the children and imprisonment in their community - only rarely and in extreme circumstances are Gaza residents permitted to leave the area. So, they are trapped in their city without life's necessities, like oil for heating and cooking and electricity to light their homes. There is a shortage of food, and even the U.N. relief agency in Gaza is currently unable to provide emergency food for the community. While we take note of the violence this weekend, they have been experiencing this violence for sixty years, going about their daily lives, teaching their children, cooking whatever food they can find when fuel is available, waiting for a resolution to the conflict. This photo, too, is from the NYTimes web site, taken by Majed Hamdan/Associated Press, captioned: Palestinian rescue workers carried a wounded prisoner amidst the rubble of the main security compound and prison in Gaza City known as the Saraya. Israeli aircraft pounded Gaza for a second day on Sunday, increasing the death toll to nearly 300.
See more photos:

Yesterday, December 28, was the commemoration of the Holy Innocents, the first martyrs, the babies slaughtered by Herod as he tried to save himself from his fears of a usurper-king. Today, please hold in your prayers the people of the Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, their pastor Mitri Raheb and his family, wife Najwa, and daughters Dana and Tala; Bishop Mounib Younan and the other congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land - in Ramallah, Beit Sahour, Beit Jala, Jerusalem and Amman, Jordan; along with all the Palestinians who are suffering under the occupation of Israeli soldiers, especially those enduring the attacks in Gaza.

On Christmas Eve we heard, "In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus..." Today, decrees from the world's powerful are still causing suffering and death. Let us ponder our role in this suffering and pray for the courage to raise our voices in protest. Let OUR voices be "heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more." (Matt. 2.18).

There will be a vigil on the steps of the State Capitol in Denver tomorrow night, December 30, 5:00 pm, to express our solidarity with the people of Gaza; join in the vigil or make your own prayers for the Holy Innocents who are still being killed even today.

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