Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Journey to Bethlehem in Advent, 2009

Journey to Bethlehem in Advent, Meditations on a Pilgrimage

When I have visited Israel and Palestine and heard the stories of the people there - both Israeli and Palestinian - who are working for peace and reconciliation, I have asked what I can do as an American to support their work. They always tell me, "Tell our story." One person told me that surely, if Americans knew what was really happening, our government's policies would change and there would be a more balanced approach, honoring both Israel's needs and Palestinians' needs.

So, again this year I am writing about these amazing people. Reading the texts for Advent, I remember the land I have walked on my travels to Bethlehem and the amazing people I met who have shown me what it really means to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, to bring good news to the widow and orphan, to the prisoner and those held captive. The ones imprisoned behind the 24-foot high security barrier Israel is building in the middle of the city in Bethlehem.

The meditation are some of the stories I heard on my visits to Israel and Palestine in 2008 and 2009--stories of desperation and stories of amazing gospel-good-news-hope from the Christians, Jews and Muslims living today on the holy land of Jesus' birth. Read the meditations for your Advent devotions:

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Of Walls Torn Down by the People

On yesterday’s news shows we saw images of a wall that, by the sheer strength of the will of the people, came down—a wall that seemed permanent, a wall that looked solid and impenetrable. Like the wall I’ve seen between Bethlehem and Jerusalem (actually built on Bethlehem’s own land, separating the city from the olive groves of Bethlehem’s citizens, making their work of tending their trees almost impossible).

As we went through the checkpoint at the entrance to Bethlehem two weeks ago, we saw a wall 8 meters high (that’s 24+ feet! Towering over the arid landscape). The wall at the entrance to Bethlehem has tall guard towers, like the ones we see at the prisons here in Colorado. The guard towers may (or may not) be staffed by Israeli snipers, watching everyone who comes or goes from Bethlehem. One never knows whether anyone is watching—part of the strategy of keeping Palestinians nervous and worrying about whether a gun has them in its sight.

The wall, Israelis say, protects them from gun-wielding, suicide-bomb-wearing Palestinians. But the wall I have seen in Bethlehem is not finished. I have walked around the wall where it ends in Beit Jala, in Sami’s orchard, where the wall ate up about 30 feet of his fruit trees, burying them under the rubble built up to support the wall. Sami’s orchard destroyed, his land taken for a wall that has never been finished. An unfinished wall that pretends to protect the Israeli settlement also built on his village’s lands. The photos show me standing beside the wall on the pile of rubble that buried Sami's fruit trees and the wall where it ends in Sami's orchard.

Israel's wall is approximately three times longer than the Berlin Wall, with concrete, razor wire, and a no-man's-land stretching over 400 miles.

Today I pray that people will come together in unity against Israel’s wall too. A groundswell of people protesting the injustice of a wall that gobbles up land that does not belong to it. A groundswell of people shaking the very earth where the wall stands, breaking down the barrier that isolates and imprisons.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Urgent: Bethlehem University Student Deported

Recently returned from the Holy Land (Friday), what I experienced on this trip makes me more committed than ever to advocating for changes in US policy that will free Palestinians from the endless oppression of permits and checkpoints. Unbeknownst to our group of traveling pilgrims, the incident described below occurred while we were in Bethlehem. The story of Berlanty Azzam reminds me of another young woman, Angie, whom I met while she was studying at the University of Bethlehem and who now works as the communications officer for Pastor Mitri Raheb at the International Center in Bethlehem. Angie has been unable to begin studies in America because she cannot get permits to travel, or even permits to go to Jerusalem to apply for the permit to travel.

Read last week’s CNN story about Berlanty Azzam below. You can also take action, as described following the news item:

Berlanty Azzam, a senior at Bethlehem University, was blindfolded, handcuffed, and brought in the night from Bethlehem to Gaza Wednesday, Oct 28.
She was born in Gaza City and moved to Bethlehem in 2005 to study at Bethlehem University. She is not accused of any crime or any security infractions whatsoever!

Here is a CNN article:

A petition against Berlanty's deportation has been filed in Israeli courts. The courts have ordered attorneys for the State of Israel to submit a preliminary written reply to the petition by Tuesday, 3 November 2009. Your support matters! If you can, it would be helpful if you would contact your own elected representatives and Secretary of State, Secretary Clinton. The US State Department Website is Click on this link. Scroll down to the bottom of the page .. the very bottom. In the middle, you will see "CONTACT US" Click on that link. Then click on the BLUE TAB on the top that says "EMAIL A QUESTION OR COMMENT" Fill in the form and submit it.

Here is the link that will take you directly to the form - it is a long URL. bin/state.cfg/php/enduser/ask.php?p_sid=94yLvOLj&p_accessibility=0&p_redirect=&p_sp=cF9zcmNoPSZ
Your message might say something like:

I am writing to you regarding the case of Ms. Berlanty Azzam, a fourth year student at Bethlehem University, who was detained in Bethlehem and deported to Gaza by the Israeli military on October 28, 2009. Ms. Azzam, 21 years old, is only few months away from completing her four year Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. A petition against Berlanty's deportation has been filed in Israeli courts. The courts have ordered attorneys for the State of Israel to submit a preliminary written reply to the petition by Tuesday, 3 November 2009. Your support matters! I ask that you request the government of Israel on compassionate and humanitarian grounds to allow this young woman, Ms. Berlanty Azzam, to return to Bethlehem to complete her studies. She has not been accused of being a security threat and has committed no crime. I believe permitting her to return to Bethlehem to complete her degree would also be in the spirit of the „Agreement on Movement and Access negotiated between the Palestinian Authority and Israel in 2005 and facilitated by then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.