Friday, March 14, 2014

Lent 2, John—Testifying to What We Have Seen and Heard

We speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen...John 3.1-17

I heard it again last week—"I needed to tell everyone what is happening. I was convinced that if they knew, the situation will change."

The first time I heard these words I was at the coffee hour at Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem and it was a personal plea to me—the young man wanted to make sure I would tell the people in the US what was happening to the Palestinians in the West Bank. He earnestly said to me, "Surely if people knew what is happening here, things would change for us."

Since then I have heard this from so many Israelis and Palestinians that I have lost count—almost everyone I meet expects us to come back and tell our government. They are fully convinced that if people in the US knew what is going on, the US will stop funding Israel's occupation and their lives will change.

Then last week I heard it again—from a young Israeli, a former IDF soldier, Eran Efrati. This time he was talking about his own witness.

As a 19-year-old, he served in the IDF, stationed in Hebron, where 800 settlers have forced their way into the heart of the old city, at first occupying rooms in a hotel, then claiming property above the market. The settlers create conflict with the Palestinians, by occupying their property illegally. Then the Israeli military is called in to protect the settlers.

In Hebron, there are 800 settlers—with 500 Israeli soldiers and 300 Israeli police to protect them.

Israel has divided Hebron into two zones, H1 and H2—one zone for Israelis and one for Palestinians. Then the soldiers moved the Palestinians out of the Israeli zone. Today the once-busy market street, Shuhada Street, is empty, stores closed and shuttered—only Israeli settlers, American tourists and the patrolling soldiers are on the street.

Eran was one of these soldiers—raiding Palestinian homes in the middle of the night, asserting Israel's authority, terrorizing adults and children. He tells about testing new Israeli weapons—on these very real live people—and being praised for combatting terrorism when his unit accidentally killed a boy.

At the beginning, Eran had been so very sure that if he told his family and friends and other Israelis about what their army is really doing in the West Bank, it would change. Like me, he learned that telling what we have seen may change some hearts, but it does not change government policy.

Eran Efrati is traveling the US with Maya Wind, telling their stories—"The Soldier and the Refusenik," telling stories about their dawning realization that Israel's military occupation of the Palestinians is rotting the core of Israeli society.

Eran and Maya's story is our story too—when, after years of assuming that Israelis and Palestinians would eventually agree to terms and there would be peace, we are confronted with a different reality, one that is not so popular in the news we follow or with our friends.

It's painful to realize that my country is supporting this violence against an indigenous people.

Gracious God, we are so grateful for the good news your son Jesus preached on the hillsides of Palestine. We know that evil does not have the last word, but it is so painful to watch—in Palestine and in so many places on our nightly news. Forgive us our complicity in the oppression we see and empower us to speak out as the victims implore us. Amen.

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