Thursday, April 3, 2014

Lent 5, John—Peacemaking is Dangerous Work

The disciples said to him, 
“Rabbi, the Judeans were just now trying to stone you,
And are you going there again?” John 11.8

The more time I spend in Palestine, or listening to Israelis and Palestinians who are working bring peace to the land, the more I hear familiar bible stories in a new way. We hear these same texts every three years, but today, the words that struck me were words I’d never paid attention to before.

People who work to bring peace always put themselves in great danger, because the powerful do not want peace. They want power/money/land. Jesus, the peacemaker, was crucified because he was a greater threat to the Roman Empire and their Judean collaborators than armed terrorists like Barabbas.

Every Friday in the West Bank village of Bil’in, after noontime prayers, the residents—fathers, mothers, children, babies, young men and women, old men and women—take to the streets to protest the Israeli wall that is still being built around their homes, a wall built on their farmland.

They carry Palestinian flags and chant, “Free, free, Palestine!” and other rallying cries. They wear keffiyehs, as a sign of solidarity with all the Palestinians who have lost their lands. They also wear the keffiyeh to protect themselves from the tear gas. 

Children protesting the wall, Bi'lin, 2014

Tree-planting on Land Day, 2014, Bi'lin
The Israeli soldiers are always patrolling the wall—day and night, every day. But on Fridays, the soldiers drive into the village in their armored jeeps, AK-47s in hand. They set off percussion bombs, which make a powerful, ear-splitting noise, designed to disperse crowds. They throw tear gas canisters, or shoot them from launchers/guns. They fire live ammunition, killing and wounding protesters.

Almost five years ago, on April 17, 2009, Bassem Abu Rahma was killed by a tear gas canister projectile, which hit him in the chest. The tear gas canister was manufactured in Pennsylvania.

Bassem, age 30 when he died, was a kind and gentle man, beloved by his friends and family. He knew the danger of joining in the demonstrations every week, but he was not deterred. He flew kites and participated in theater that showed the absurdity of the wall. He marched in the weekly protests, knowing that the soldiers would try to injure or maybe arrest and torture him. But he went anyway.

Gracious God, your son taught us the way of peace, a path fraught with danger. Give us courage to be your peacemakers wherever we find ourselves today. Amen.

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