Thursday, December 18, 2008

Journey to Bethlehem in Advent

Advent 3 - Week of Dec 14, John 1.6-8, 19-28

He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.

Here we are with that Wild Man John again, as he travels through the dry, barren wilderness, dressed in animal skins, shouting to anyone who would listen, pointing to the Messiah, testifying to the light. The elders of the synagogue asked him, “Who are you?” And he replied, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord.” ……John, the announcer, pointing to the Messiah of God, proclaiming God’s good news to the people.

The land where John lived and preached, east of Jerusalem, between the city and the Jordan River, doesn’t look like much—no water to be seen, only rock and dirt and a few tiny, scruffy, dried-out plants. Except for the oasis of Jericho, it’s pretty much only Bedouin who live here, eking out a hard living with their goats and perhaps selling their weaving in the markets. Hard to imagine anyone would fight for this bleak, unfruitful land.

This desolate land, however, is much prized. On the color-coded map drawn up for the Oslo Accords in 1993, the Arab villages and farmlands are tan; the Jewish settlements are blue. Since 1948 when the State of Israel was established, this land has become more blue each year. As the blue areas become larger and larger, the brown areas shrink. In spite of United Nations resolutions, the Fourth Geneva Convention’s laws governing military occupation of lands, and pressure on Israel to cease building settlements in Palestinian areas, new settlements are being built today. Even as Palestinian homes are being demolished.

When we met Angela at our hotel, she looked like she could be channeling John the Baptist. Dressed in a long black tunic and pants, short hair with a long “rat tale” braid (as my junior high son prized it in the 80s), broad-brimmed straw hat and gestures much larger than her 5’3” frame, she attracted attention and mesmerized us as she told us about the struggle for the land and showed us demolished Arab houses and new construction expanding Israeli settlements. Angela is a tour guide with ICAHD, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. She stood in the front of our bus as she took us on a tour of East Jerusalem—she showed us what the tan and blue areas of the Oslo map look like from the ground. In the past year, since the November, 2007, Annapolis peace conference, 10,000 new housing units have been built on Palestinian lands. Over the past 40 years, 10,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished. The demolished house in the picture is in Abu Dis, near East Jerusalem.

She took us to Silwan, the East Jerusalem Arab neighborhood, so close to the Old City that it is now prized real estate for Jews who want to live nearby. A new development, Nof Zion, is being promoted, mainly to American Jews, who may not have seen the site and are less likely to realize that it is right in the middle of an Arab neighborhood, perched on the hillside above the town. The “Swiss cheese” pattern of the settlements, makes for a Bantustan-type of political map, the West Bank divided into so many small areas—Israeli and Palestinian—that there is little left to create a state of Palestine. The two-state solution is seems more and more impossible.

Angela is a testimony of hope—evidence that there are Israelis who are appalled by their government’s treatment of the Palestinians. These volunteers take visitors on tours; they rebuild bulldozed homes; and they document and publicize Israeli takeover of Palestinian lands. Israeli peace groups like ICAHD testify to the light—giving hope to Palestinians helplessly watching their country being carved up.
O Lord our God, your people are being made homeless, while the world watches or averts their eyes. Protect those who stand up in protest and who work to rebuild destroyed communities. Help us to find ways to join in this healing work. In the name of your Son, the babe of Bethlehem, Amen.

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