Monday, December 11

MCC Palestine Update #5

MCC Palestine Update #5

11 December 2000

Advent greetings from Palestine!

Jerusalem and Bethlehem are stripped of the usual festivity which normally accompanies this time of year: few tourists are arriving and Palestinians do not feel much like celebrating. MCC's partners, however, routinely tell us that they covet the prayerful, active support of churches in North America. We would therefore urge your congregations, if they have not already done so, to avail themselves of the prayer/advocacy/action resources for peace in Palestine/Israel posted on MCC's website, We at MCC also covet your prayerful support.

We would ask that you keep the following projects in your prayers:

--The economic situation in the occupied territories continues to deteriorate, with roadblocks and closure restricting movement of people and goods and preventing 140,000 Palestinians from going to work inside Israel. MCC is joining other international organizations is programs which seek to put unemployed Palestinians to work for the betterment of their communities. Specifically, MCC is supporting the Emergency Committee for the Southern Refugee Camps (refugee camps in the Bethlehem and Hebron areas) by donating building material for workers who will be renovating kindergartens and youth clubs in the camps.

--MCC is supporting an interfaith initiative organized by the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusaelm. Sabeel has invited Muslim and Christian clergy, along with laypeople from both communions, to attend an "iftar," or breaking of the Ramadan fast, at Sabeel's office this coming Monday. Israeli propoganda routinely seeks to drive a wedge between Palestinian Christians and Muslims. Sabeel believes, therefore, that this is a critical time to reinforce the already strong bonds which connect Palestinian Christians with their Muslim brothers and sisters. The group will gather at Sabeel before the "maghreb" prayer (ca. 4:40 pm local time), and will then break the fast together.

--Donella Clemens, former moderator of the Mennonite Church and and MCC board member, is currently in Palestine as part of a solidarity trip organized by Churches for Middle East Peace. She is joining other Protestant and Catholic leaders in a five day visit to communities and churches throughout the occupied territories.

We are including two additional pieces in this update. The first is a homily by the Rev. Naim Ateek, the director of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center. The second is an excerpt from an article by Jewish theologian Marc Ellis which appeared in a recent edition of the Christian Century. Thank you for your support and prayers. Let us await Christ's coming with an expectant urgency!

1. The Massacre of the Innocents
The Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek

According to the Gospel of Matthew, the Magi came to Jerusalem from the East in search of a royal baby whose birth they had seen foretold by the stars. They stopped to enquire from Herod, the local king, the whereabouts of this child. Herod's religious advisors gave the opinion that a royal birth would take place in the nearby village of Bethlehem.

The Magi set out on the last stage of their journey, with a request from Herod to report back to him where the birthplace was, so that he too could go and pay homage to the child. They did not realize, however, that Herod was a tyrant who felt threatened by the prospect of any rival, however tiny, to his unchallenged rule.

The Magi went to Bethlehem, found Jesus, paid him their honor, gave him their precious gifts and returned home without going back to Herod, having been warned of his ill intentions. Wishing to leave nothing to chance, Herod ordered his security forces to sweep the Bethlehem area and kill all children under the age of two.

In the Christian tradition, Herod's cold-blooded action is known as the Massacre of the Innocents, and its victims are regarded by the church as martyrs. It is a sobering reminder that the coming of the One whose life represents goodness and truth, peace and justice to the world, provoked an evil response from the ruling power. The innocents were helplessly caught between the domination of a violent man and the reign of the Prince of Peace.

The Christmas message for this year takes cognizance of the story of King Herod, the baby Jesus, and the massacre of the innocents. The events of the past two months of protest in Palestine have seen the killing of many children, youths, and even elderly people by the Israeli army. We have witnessed the destruction of many homes and businesses and a siege imposed on three million Palestinians. The state of Israel has been brutally gunning down hundreds of people and injuring thousands whose only crime is their desire for a life of freedom and the independence of their own country from the oppressive occupation. King Herod allowed himself to stoop down to the basest of all feelings. He stripped himself of all semblance of humanity when he ordered the killing of innocent children.

This scenario is being repeated in a different guise. Almost 40% of those killed have been less than 18 years old. Some younger teenagers died by bullets fired from further away than their stones of protest could possibly reach. These young Palestinians posed minimal threat, no real danger to their killers. Why do Israeli soldiers target protesters in the upper parts of their body, given the use of such powerful weapons?

This expresses the intent to destroy, not deter. These deaths are a crime against the value of human life. They dehumanize not only the killers, but also those who command them. At this Christmas time, when we remember the message of peace and love that came down from God to earth in the birth of Jesus Christ, our celebrations are marred by the destructive powers of the modern day "Herods" who are represented in the Israeli government.

The message of this Christmas is already overshadowed by the sound of war, violence, and state terror. Indeed, violence breeds violence, and innocent people have been killed on both sides. But the original sin is the violence of the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank including East Jerusalem.

When the Israeli leadership calls daily for the termination of the violence, for us this means, the occupation must end. It is the occupation that is evil and violent. It is apartheid in its ugliest form. Once the occupation ends, the violence will end. There is no other proper sequence. The sooner the Israeli leadership understands this, the quicker we will achieve an enduring peace.

Our faith tells us that ultimately, it is not the "Herods" of this world that contribute to the well being of society. The "Herods" will come and go. Indeed, while they are with us, they use all kinds of destructive force to kill, maim, and create havoc. Power blinds them. They are deluded in believing that they can steer history as they wish and charter its course. They are fools.

The God of history who is the God of justice and peace will not allow it. The movement of history is toward the liberation of people and against their subjugation and oppression. It is for freedom and democracy and against tyranny and apartheid. History will condemn those obstructionists who knew not the things that make for peace. They heap untold destruction and misery upon themselves and many innocent people.

History will exonerate those who strive, like Jesus Christ, for peace and goodwill among people. Our world needs leaders who work to establish justice and peace and have a true knowledge of God, the one who desires justice and who calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves.

The message for this Christmas is a call to struggle against all forms of dehumanization: domination, apartheid, racism, occupation, oppression and ethnic cleansing. We must strive for all that leads to genuine peace: justice, reconciliation, sharing, non- violence, forgiveness, neighborliness, and respect for the rights and dignity of others.

2. Excerpt from "Jews v. Jews: Dissenting on Israeli Policy"
Marc Ellis
The Christian Century, 8 November 2000

Over the past decades a reversal has taken place in Jewish history: the victims have become victors and we as a people have changed. This change is most obvious in our extended military campaign to form a state and expand it at the expense of Palestinians.

The less obvious and more insidious change has come in the unequivocal support of Israel that is demanded of all Jews. The Jewish intellectual and religious tradition has become twisted to defend policies that further the dislocation of persons and communities, deny the most basic values of human dignity and citizenship, and argue for that denial under the cloak of innocence and redemption.

Jews who argue openly for the freedom of Palestinians, over whom Israel has military and territorial power, are branded as self-haters and traitors. Such pressure to conform to an uncritically pro-Israel position spells the demise of a value-oriented and ethically concerned tradition.

Is the call for unity under these conditions a realistic option, one that comports with Jewish values and creates a future worth bequeathing to our children? What are Jews to do in this situation?

Can we still argue for a sharing of the land that would give Jews and Palestinians dignity, equality, and justice?

Does the argument for Palestinian rights, for example, intend the real sharing of all of Jerusalem, east and west, old and new, economically, politically, intellectually, and spiritually, or is this, at its heart, anti- Jewish?

The actual sharing of Jerusalem, as a broken middle of two struggling peoples, could be a catalyst for healing, justice and reconciliation. Sharing Jerusalem only in a symbolic way, the offer made by [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Barak to [Palestinian president Yasser] Arafat at the Camp David this summer, portends escalation of the conflict toward what indeed seems already to be an undeclared war.

May God give us the strength to testify to a fidelity that is inclusive of Jews and Palestinians, even and especially as the unity that is called for seeks to silence those who protest in the name of justice.

--Marc Ellis is University Professor of American and Jewish Studies at Baylor University

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