Monday, December 22, 2008

Journey to Bethlehem in Advent

Advent 4 - Week of Dec 21, 2 Samuel 7.1-11, 16

And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more…

Jewish Zionists cite passages like this one to support their claim to the land of Israel. The most extreme want to see all Palestinians removed, so that the Jews, God’s chosen people, have exclusive possession of the land.

Everyone needs a homeland—a place where they feel safe, where they can protect their homes and raise their children in safety. This has been the stated aim of Israel as they set about building the security wall; they have said they want to protect their settlements from terrorists and to keep the suicide bombers out. In a post-holocaust world, this has seemed understandable to Europeans and Americans, supported by us because of our guilt over they way we stood by while 6 million Jews were herded into ghettos, loaded onto trains, transported to camps and slaughtered. So what is wrong with wanting to protect your family?

Hannah, a hite-haired Jewish grandmother and a volunteer with Machsom Watch, told us that the occupation of Palestinian lands, the security wall and the inhumane treatment of Palestinians at the checkpoints is eating away at the core values of the Jewish people. It is creating a generation of young people numbed to human suffering by their service in the Israeli Army, and it is destroying the fabric of Jewish society. The occupation corrupts and if she does not speak up, her grandchildren will pay the price. Hannah and the other Israeli 500 women who volunteer for Machsom Watch believe that the wall and the checkpoints are not making Israelis safer. Instead it is transforming them into a people who regard the Palestinians as less than human. They are being trained to hate the Palestinians and they are becoming hardened, accepting injustice as the price to be paid for their safety.
The photo shows resistance to the occupation: Graffiti on the Israeli security wall at Abu Dis.

So Hannah spends her days monitoring the checkpoints and writing reports of what she has seen; the women monitor forty checkpoints in Jerusalem and the West Bank. There is nothing in writing—no rules—about how the checkpoints are run. It is up to the individual soldier under the orders of the commander. The soldier may ask for any sort of documentation. Because of international pressure, soldiers no longer beat people at the checkpoints, but they make travel so difficult that many Palestinians simply give up, quit their jobs and leave the country.

Hannah worked with a young Palestinian family whose son needed treatment for cancer in his eye. His parents and his grandmother had not been able to get permits to travel with him for the medical treatment. When they got permission, it was for only for one day, not enough time for the treatment. When they finally got a four-day permit the letter was in Hebrew, which they do not speak. The faxed permit was not good enough for the soldier, who required an original, so Hannah called the commanders of each of the checkpoints they needed to pass and the commanders called ahead to facilitate their passage. She told us this happens every day.

Another time she helped a milkman who had permits for himself and his truck, but he was stopped because, “The milk does not have a permit.” Another man was traveling back from the hospital where he had had his leg amputated. He wanted to bring the leg with him so that it could be buried with him according to Muslim tradition. He spent ten hours at the checkpoint before he was permitted to leave with the leg.

When I asked how she happened to become involved in her work, Hannah told us that she could not do this work until she became a widow. Her husband would not have approved and her children do not support her in this work. But for her, living in peace requires justice for Palestinians.
O Lord our God, you desire peace and safety for all of us—your people. Like Israel, may we, too, be a blessing to all the nations of the world. In the name of your Son, the babe of Bethlehem, Amen.

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