Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Lent 3, John—A woman came to draw water...

John 4.5-42

In the first lesson and the gospel for this coming Sunday, we follow a theme of water, and even in the text from Romans, we hear that God’s love is “poured” into our hearts. It’s not surprising that water appears often in the Bible. When you walk on the land and gaze out over the hills, you can see that finding water to drink and bathe is a daily challenge, even in the best of times. It’s a lot like Colorado.

For the Samaritan community in Sychar, the well is the center of daily life. While the well is a necessity, it is also a venue with strict protocols—who may come to the well when and who may meet, speak or touch at the well. Jesus violates all the protocols. He speaks to a woman; he speaks to a Samaritan, an outcast; and he challenges the theology of the leaders in Jerusalem, who insist that the only true worship takes place in the temple in Jerusalem.

The site of Jacob’s well today is near the Balata refugee camp in Nablus. It is a holy shrine where pilgrims come to visit.

And water is still at the center of politics in Israel and the West Bank.

In October I visited an permaculture project in Beit Sahour, in the West Bank, next to Bethlehem. The young people from all over the world who come to work on the farm, Bustan Quaraaqua, are developing farming techniques and living arrangements for this harsh environment, where water is scarce, six inches per year.

What they told us, however, is that finding water is not simply a matter of collection and conservation, as it is in Colorado. Even though this is in the heart of the West Bank, Israel controls all the water—groundwater, aquifers, cisterns, even the rainwater.

And because Israel has claimed ALL the water in the lands it occupies, including the West Bank, it is illegal for Palestinians to collect the rainwater.

The farmers told us that six inches of water is enough for growing food. In the winter when it rains, the land is replenished and you can collect the water that runs off in pools and cisterns. But pools and cisterns are illegal. Israel’s army routinely destroys Palestinian cisterns—using explosives and bombs.

Israel gets 70% of its water from Syrian land it still occupies in the Golan Heights and 30% from aquifers, many of them under Palestinian land in the West Bank.

Because Israel “owns” all the water, they sell it back to the Palestinians—at higher rates than they charge the settlers living nearby (on Palestinian land).

Water is a real crisis in Gaza, where Israeli towns north of Gaza have drained the aquifer and Gaza’s water table is now so low that saltwater from the sea has contaminated their water supply. Israel also destroyed Gaza’s sewage treatment system, so now its sewage flows into the Mediterranean. Israel also dumps sewage in the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea.

Gracious God, you provided water to the Israelites in the desert and you send the rains to quench our thirst. Forgive our wastefulness and our inattention to your good and abundant creation. Help us to share our resources with your same generosity. Amen.

More information:
  • Amnesty International's report on the water situation in Palestine, “Troubled Waters.”
  •’s 5 min video report on the water situation in Israel and Palestine
  • Amnesty International’s video report of Nabi Saleh villagers protesting the theft of their spring by a nearby Israeli settlement (below)

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