Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Journey to Bethlehem in Advent

Advent 3 - Week of Dec 14, 1 Thessalonians 5.16-24

…Hold fast to what is good…

Augusta Victoria Hospital sits like its namesake queen, crowning the Mount of Olives, the highest hill in Jerusalem. The magnificent building was built as a hospice and rest home by Kaiser Wilhelm in 1910, and named it for his wife. In the 1920s-40s it served as R&R for British soldiers. In 1948, after the British left, as 750,000 Palestinians were turned out of their homes, these refugees fled to East Jerusalem and Jordan (East Jerusalem was part of Jordan at that time). They had no medical care, so the facility was taken over by the Red Cross to serve as a hospital for them. In 1950 the hospital came under the administration of the Lutheran World Federation and today still serves primarily refugees and other Palestinians who otherwise do not have access to adequate medical care. Augusta Victoria is the only option for Palestinians needing certain kinds of care, like kidney dialysis and cancer treatment. The hospital exists to assure the right to health care for Palestinians. Because of the security wall, many Palestinians have difficulty getting to the hospital, even though it is in Palestinian East Jerusalem. The staff works to get travel permits for patients and their families, as well as for employees. Their buses pick up patients from Ramallah, Hebron and Bethany.

Standing in the trees at the top of the hill behind the hospital, we looked out over the valley to the east of Jerusalem. This Arab area is dotted with Israeli settlements, construction cranes visible on the horizon. 85% of the land these settlements are built on was obtained illegally from Palestinians, including the settlement of Maale Addumim, home to 40,000 Israelis and growing.

Housing is a huge problem for Palestinians. They cannot build, even on their own land, until they have a permit. But permits are routinely denied Palestinians, so they build illegally and hope the bulldozers will not come to destroy their homes. Just over the edge of the hill behind the hospital we saw one such demolished home. Two weeks earlier, soldiers had arrived at breakfast time, about 8 am, and told the family their home would be destroyed. They had two hours to gather up what they could, and at 10 am the bulldozers came and leveled the home. On November 5, four more Palestinian homes and a banquet hall were demolished in East Jerusalem. Thousands of homes are slated for demolition, the families living in uncertainty, not knowing when the soldiers will knock on their door.

Some of these families live in very crowded conditions, causing many Palestinian Christian families to emigrate. Seven members of the Hadawar family, members of the Lutheran church in Jerusalem, live in a tiny apartment in the Old City. Three generations share a bedroom, while around the corner from their cramped home, plans have been approved for an Israeli settlement that will be built in the Muslim Quarter.

In the search for peace between Palestinians and Israelis, and between Jews, Christians and Muslims, it is important to strengthen the Christian presence in the Holy Land and to maintain Jerusalem as a city of shared faiths and a model of peace, understanding, tolerance and reconciliation. Christians, providing schools and social service agencies and encouraging dialogue among religious groups, are a bridge between fundamentalist movements within Islam and Judaism, fostering mutual understanding and contributing to peacemaking efforts.

In cooperation with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land, the Lutheran World Federation is building housing on their land for Palestinian Christian families—the Mount of Olives Housing Project—which will add 84 units of housing for Palestinians in East Jerusalem. This work is being done with the help of your offerings, which support the Lutheran World Federation.

O Lord our God, your church struggles to bring the good news of freedom and liberty to those imprisoned. Through our generous gifts strengthen your church for your work of liberation. In the name of your Son, the babe of Bethlehem, Amen.

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