Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Another post from our good friend Michael Ramos

Rev. Joshua Liljenstolpe, Michael Ramos, and Rev. Sandy Brown outside the Council's bus during the Israel-Palestine trip

“A small stone can carry a big rock.”
--Bishop Munib Younan

Bishop Munib Younan (Lutheran) insists that the right of return for refugees is much more than a matter of compensation. “The city of Beer-sheba (where we met Bedouin communities on Sunday) no longer has any Christians.” Twenty years after my family was displaced from there, “in 1968 my father came back to see his house. He had hoped to see his room, but he was told when he arrived only to ‘go away’.” Heartbroken, “he couldn’t eat or sleep for 2-3 days.” It is hard to imagine what it is like “to lose your house you have built.”

“Confirming the right of return would be an acknowledgement of my ‘nakba’ (or ‘catastrophe’, the loss of a way of life, including land),” Bishop Younan concluded. “Because we are broken doesn’t mean we have lost everything. We will continue to work for peace and justice. The cross is my dignity.”

The theater/dance performance of “The Last Supper in Palestine” began with the six Palestinian performers balancing a small stone over a large one on their heads. Stones were a prominent symbol later in the performance as the actors passed an Israeli checkpoint, presumably in the West Bank. Some had them in their pockets; all were flushed out. Were they planning – as goes the stereotype – to throw these at the military police? Yet, they were allowed to keep the stones. A ritual cleansing began, each washing his or her body with the stones.

Suddenly, one of them lay stricken, killed it appeared, no stone ever tossed. His companions lay stones on top of him, anointing him and sealing his resting place at the same time. Is his fate final? What is the fate of the others? Will they dance together again?

These stones give power. They suggest the building blocks of life and life in abundance. Placed one on top of the other, even a small stone can carry a large one, bearing many times its size and weight. In the spirit of Bishop Younan, the small stones of the actions of education, training and advocacy can carry the big rocks of humility, love and justice. “The cross is my dignity,” says the bishop. In bearing it, the Christian community in Palestine collectively carries the large rock of nonviolent transformation.


Our journey has come to an end. It is with a great deal of gratitude that I head home. My prayer as we left Seattle to begin the trip was “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice” (Psalm 130). Our prayers have been heard. The trip was safe and everyone returns healthy. I am full.

My devotion on the trip was built upon the Sh’ma (Deuteronomy 6:9), “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is One,” and the prayer of Archbishop Romero about the Reign of God. These both still sit with me as we depart the Holy Land. Somehow, the intimacy with which all the people, Israeli and Palestinian, embrace the land, is reflective of a shared understanding of God as being One, our Ground in whom we live and move (breathe) and have our being. This is the reality that they are living into, two peoples sharing one land (even as two states), learning to live together in dignity and justice.

The horizon toward which we look from the land is the Reign of God, the reality that is our hope beyond hope, yet emerging in the Person of Jesus Christ. We feel small and insignificant in the face of the conflict on the ground, the pain and suffering of the people and the years of political failure to achieve peace. Yet, despite the dwindling number of Christians there, the seeds of peace are being sown, the resilience of people who know the cross leaves them undeterred, and stones are being used to lay a non-violent path for a future beyond our imagination.

Queen Rafia of Jordan said in an interview with CNN that leaders need the “political willpower and sincerity of spirit” to craft a solution that offers a measure of peace with justice in Israel/Palestine. Her prophetic words came in the context of commenting on the humanitarian disaster in Gaza while attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Countries of the world were discussing the spreading of wealth, while people like Bono and Bill Gates were suggesting global, market-based strategies to address malaria and poverty. Such collective, world-class thinking ought to be applied, with similar tenacity and creativity, to fostering peace. This is especially the case in the place – more than any other in the world – where the religious convictions of the three Abrahamic faiths converge. The Old City of Jerusalem is that melting pot, where people criss-cross each other in pilgrimage and tolerance begets hospitality begets conversation over strong Arabic coffee.

In the heart of Jerusalem, on the last day of our trip, I got lost in the heart of the Old City. Up and down one set of market stalls on narrow cobble-stone streets, then another, I could not find my way to the church where we were having a meeting with a bishop. I had learned to put my self-reliant bravado aside and ask for directions. Eventually, I found my way and my destination. For decades, efforts for peace have proven just as vexing as trying to make your way through the Old City. Still, Israelis and Palestinians, as evidenced by those whom we encountered, have the wisdom to “make a way out of no way.”

Clarity and courage were two hallmarks of the people whom we met. There was agreement, even among people coming from very distinct perspectives and world-views, about the basic framework of a peace initiative. Genuine movement toward forging a two-state solution, addressing the rights and needs of the displaced, preserving the sacredness and centrality politically of Jerusalem, enhancing the integrity of the borders of the Occupied Territories to that of 1967 in forming a new state, tackling the obstacles of settlements and the security wall, while leaving all people more secure, are understood (with some differences in detail) as necessary, urgent overlapping issues. Physical security for all is needed, while recognizing that it is linked to political, social and economic security for all. The best and really only option for genuine “security” is the accomplishment of a secure peace that bears the honoring of two peoples on one land as two nations emerge.

Advocates need to step forward from wherever they call home and create conditions for this political will to be unleashed. Otherwise, the cycle of suffering, unrest and repression will continue as the predominant facts on the ground. Candidates for office and elected officials in all the relevant countries need to be challenged to bring these issues to the forefront rather than consign them to the back pages.

From a faith perspective, I find myself returning to the phrase “sincerity of spirit.”. It connotes for me the “pureness of heart” that Jesus calls us to in the Sermon on the Mount, with the promise that we shall “see God.” Sincerity of spirit also suggests the Beatitude, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). These combine the single-mindedness of conviction with the humility to explore truth before God and neighbor regardless of the consequences. Pursuing this truth steadfastly (“samat” or “sumut” in Arabic and Hebrew respectively), is the grace we Christians in the United States are invited to seek, while affirming and upholding these gifts in the brothers and sisters we met.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Holy Land Extremists

Dick with "the Rev" in Bethlehem's "Tent" restaurant, overlooking Shepherd's Field

The following is a reflection on our Israel-Palestine trip by Rev. Dick Gibson

I recently traveled to the Holy Land with the Seattle Council of Churches group to listen to religious and civic leaders and see the situation between Palestinians and Israeli’s for myself. We spent time talking about extremists. The following is my
summary of what I heard and saw:

Religious extremism has a fundamentalist base and a doctrinaire belief system. People hold strong beliefs in God and hold literally to some written word, and they want everyone else to agree. Once held, they will not deviate, adjust, modernize or change.

Muslims extremists appear to be held by the mystic of past ages, locked into cultures of previous centuries with regard to women, education, movies/TV/books, culture. They tend to choose violence to enforce their beliefs and preserve their perceived cultures.

The Orthodox Religious appear to be different from the Extremists. The Orthodox hold onto deep religious beliefs in many literal ways. The Extremists seem to focus on the Land of Israel. They hold a deep belief that God gave them the land –they read it in the Bible - and no one else should be there. They draw a map of their land and are unwilling to compromise. “Move the Palestinians to the desert or other countries. This is OUR land.” They erect Walls to block out distasteful views of other people or villages. They beat/kill children and adults who walk/farm/graze on their land. Many of these Extremists have moved into Settlement Blocks on Palestinian Land in the West Bank, throwing things down on passers- by from apartments overlooking the shopping streets of Hebron. Christian Peacemaker Teams are there to escort children to school, men and women to market and work. Others have poisoned wells and livestock in an attempt to drive out Palestinians who have lived on the land for centuries. These extremists also tend toward violence to make their point. It should be noted that land deals written in a religious book 3,000 years ago are not valid in modern nation states. Also these extremists miss the caveat that God will give the land as long as the people are faithful and keep the Covenant. (Gen 17:8,9, Num 14 etc)

Right wing Christians (Zionists) read their Bibles and believe many mixed up things about the Middle East. They hold that
if a new Temple is built in Jerusalem, Jesus will return and take them up to heaven where they will have a front row seat, peering over the clouds, to watch non-believers writhe in torment here on earth. They want a war to end all wars, the Jews to convert and Armageddon to arrive. Thus they want the Middle East to remain in turmoil. They do not advocate any kind of peaceful solutions, and keep stirring the pot to keep it bubbling. They support Settlement Building as a way of increasing tensions and producing the end violence for which they wait. Many of these Zionists are Americans with deep financial pockets
who give generously to causes which support the state of Israel and its military might. They are also involved in politics and keep the pressure on legislators to support Israel with no questions asked.

You may meet Zionists in your family, at work or school, in church or in your neighborhood. It is difficult to reason with them or explain other points of view and yet it is vital that we try, for their convoluted beliefs could stir up enough confusion to start a war! You probably will never meet Jewish Extremists unless you travel to Israel. You will hear about Muslim Extremists because they have become the new enemy for our day, and every Arab or strange looking person is quickly labeled a terrorist, isolated and dismissed. Then “we” do violence without thinking or investigating –they wear a turban, dress in unusual garb, read the Koran, etc.

People of Good Will tend to be MODERATES, willing to explore a variety of views, willing to compromise and change their opinions, even beliefs, when presented with new information.. This brief page is designed to help us think and talk about extremists and begin to recognize the trouble in the Mid East is not RELIGIOUS but political. It will take political insight and leadership to solve the conflicts and religion: love, forgiveness and care for each one as a child of God, will help us get there! Rev. Dick Gibson 2/1/08