John 1.6-8, 19-28
For Sunday, December 11
He came as a witness to testify to the light…. (Jn 1.7)
The first time I went to Israel and Palestine, I thought I would find a land preparing to be divided. After all, I had seen it on the map—Israel hugging the Mediterranean coast, the West Bank sitting atop the hills to the east, and Gaza, wedged between the sea, the desert and Egypt. Eventually these areas would be confirmed by treaty and the violence would end. There was nothing I could do to change the slow pace of peace, but it would come.
I knew there were obstacles—suicide bombers who blew up buses, and settlements that Israel had built in the West Bank and Gaza. But I thought that Israel was doing everything it could to come to a peace agreement. It’s military actions were regrettable but necessary for their safety; I thought the Jews were, as they have always been, the victims. Our $3B military assistance guaranteed they would be victims “never again.”
SO…… when I visited the West Bank, I was shocked by what I saw—a 24-foot-high concrete barrier being constructed around Bethlehem, to protect the nearby Israeli settlements from the people of Bethlehem. Because, after all, the settlements had been built on Palestinian land and the Israelis who lived on these islands surrounded by Palestinians, lived in fear of retaliation and attack.
I was shocked by 18-year-old Israeli soldiers pointing their AK-47s at shoppers in the market in Hebron, or using their guns to prod Palestinians off the bus to stand in the heat while documents were checked. I was shocked by the rubble everywhere—the remains of buildings left in the middle of town or bulldozed into the road to close it off.
Although we were on the Palestinian side of the map in my head, we were subject to whatever the Israeli soldiers wanted. There were no rules but their commander’s voice on the cell phone. Nothing to protect us except our American passports.
Like many people I have traveled with since, I sat in the back of the tour bus and exclaimed, “How can they do this?? “Who allows this to happen?” “Why doesn’t someone do something about what is going on here?” “Why didn’t I know this before?”
It makes you crazy—seeing the injustice, the lies,,,,the Israeli campaign to take as much land as they can while they stall the peace talks. The land that has been given to the Jews for a homeland was not ours to give in 1948. It belonged to Palestinian farmers who had nothing to do with the murder of six million Jews.
It’s not the coming of the messiah, but we are all called to testify to the light that is revealed to us. John is not the only one who is called to cry out in the wilderness.
God of light, in this Advent season, help us to find ways to testify to your light in the dark places where we live and work and play. Amen.