Monday, December 15, 2008

Journey to Bethlehem in Advent

Advent 3 - Week of Dec 14, Isaiah 61.1-4, 8-11

….the Lord has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners….

Everywhere we went in the Holy Land, as we met with Israeli and Palestinian peace groups and with Lutherans working to create a better life for Palestinians, we were welcomed and greeted with smiles as our hosts told us how much our visit meant to them. They wanted to tell us their stories and they urged us to tell these stories when we at home. The presence of U.S. citizens who care about their suffering is the gospel. It is good news to Muslims, Jews and Christians. Our visit gave them hope.

One thing we don’t understand in the United States is how much America influences events on the other side of the world. When Palestinian homes are bulldozed, American-made Caterpillars do the work. When Israeli settlements are built illegally on occupied Palestinian land, donations from American and European philanthropists finance the building, making these settlements affordable and attractive for young families. When Israeli soldiers fire tear gas or rubber bullets at schoolchildren protesting the occupation, they often use American-made weapons. Our attention to injustice can make the world a safer place.

As our bus wended its way to Jayyous, through valleys and up hills and down, it seemed like the road would never end. What could have been a 15-minute drive took us 45 minutes as we drove around the security wall, slithering like a snake across the rocky hills, protecting the Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land along the western edge of the West Bank.

When we finally got to Jayyous, our host, Abdul Latif, who works as a hydrologist, welcomed us and took us up to the roof of the community center, where he showed us the wall. Here in Jayyous, the wall is actually a road, flanked by rolls of barbed wire and a dirt strip on each side. When this wall/road was built, it separated the villagers from their farmlands. So, every day the farmers leave the village at the top of the hill and go through an Israeli checkpoint to get to their olive groves.

Our bus took us to the checkpoint and we got out. As we watched, a group of farmers returning to the village approached the checkpoint and waited for the soldiers to examine their papers. The soldiers ignored them for a few minutes and then looked at their papers and waved them through. When the farmers on their tractor got to where we were standing, they cheered and smiled and shouted to our guide. He said they were telling us to come back every day—this was the fastest they had ever gotten through the checkpoint! Our American passports……making it easier for them to tend their own olive trees, halfway around the world? How can that be?

At lunch Dr. Latif’s wife told us the story of her brother, a professor teaching law at En-Najah University in Nablus, who is in prison. Of the 300 residents of Jayyous, 40 are in prison. The first time he was arrested they hired a lawyer and he was released after 64 days. He was home for 9 days and arrested again. This time it was "administrative detention." This means that they do not have to produce any case against him. They can hold him without cause as long as they like. He has been held for eleven months now. They have organized a letter-writing campaign, and Israeli peace activists are writing on his behalf. His name is Ghassan Khalid. We also learned that the day before, Israeli soldiers had killed two students in Nablus, shot them in their beds at En-Najah University. Soldiers, like the ones we saw at the checkpoint.

—Could you write a letter on behalf of a prisoner like Ghassan? Read his story online:

O Lord our God, your son Jesus read these words the first time he preached in the synagogue in Nazareth, his home town. Help us to tell this same good news in our home towns, freeing captives and prisoners, binding up the brokenhearted— victims of the fear, hatred and greed of the world. In the name of your Son, the babe of Bethlehem, Amen.

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