Sunday, December 2

MCC Palestine Update #32

MCC Palestine Update #32

Once more we send out an update against a backdrop of devastation and mind-numbing, body-scarring violence. "What we are all engaged in," writes Ghassan Andoni, director of the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement between Peoples in Beit Sahour, "is: today's revenge for yesterday's shed blood. It seems to be endless. On the eve of his trip to the United States, Mr. Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, referred to the Israeli 'targeted killing operations" which resulted in the death of 13 Palestinians, among them 5 school children, by saying, 'I think we found the way to deal with it [it being Palestinian violence].' Sadly enough tonight he was proven wrong. Today, whoever carried out the Ben-Yehuda Street attack in Jerusalem will say, 'We found the way to deal with it [it being the Israeli occupation},' and he will be proven wrong in the coming few days. And the cycle continues. Shame on us all. Are we happy with being turned into human killing machines?"

Below are three pieces. The first is an advent reflection written by a group of international Christian workers in the occupied territories. The second is a sermon preached by Susan Thomas of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the Old City on the first Sunday of advent. The third and final piece describes the travails of schoolchildren from Jenin trying to go home after school at the Catholic school in Zebabdeh village.

1. Advent 2001

“Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

We live in a tumultuous and restless time. The post-September 11th world has left many fearful for their security and uncertain about the future. The words ‘terrorism’ and ‘terrorist’ have become routine in people’s conversations. Suspicion and doubt about others are becoming all too common.

For those of us living and working in the Holy Land (Israel/Palestine), such fears and uncertainties about the future are not new. We live in a land plagued by injustice and where terror exists in many different forms.

The acts of Palestinian suicide bombers, whether against Israeli civilians or soldiers, are publicly and swiftly identified and condemned as terror by the world community. But, unfortunately, Israeli actions inflicted upon a predominantly unarmed civilian Palestinian population; confiscating land, shelling residential areas and refugee camps, bulldozing agricultural lands, demolishing houses, assassinating political leaders and activists, expanding settlements, torturing political detainees, killing children – are too seldom acknowledged or condemned as the acts of terror they are. For Palestinians living in the Holy Land, this silence by the Israeli and international public compounds the experience of loss and destruction, creating feelings of abandonment, resentment and despair.

To begin to rid the world of violence and terror, we must be willing to name and condemn all their manifold forms. Whether Palestinian or Israeli, American or Afghani, whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish or Buddhist, we all yearn to live in a world free of terror, suspicion, injustice, poverty, hunger, oppression and occupation. Only as we strive to lift-up the dignity of every human being and the well being of all creation can we hope to build a world of peace and security.

As we begin the season of Advent, there is no greater need than for us to create such a world. As people who are living in the midst of despair and hopelessness, we know this is no easy task. Yet, the words of Isaiah 40 quoted above provide us with courage to face the hard work ahead, reminding us that the world as we know it will one day be changed and aligned fully with God's will and purpose for all creation.

Advent is a time for Christians to reflect, prepare and anticipate, as we await the return of Christ and celebrate his birth. It is a time for us to get ‘our house in order,’ both personally and as a community. We are called to believe in and strive for God’s reign of justice, mercy and peace on earth as it is in heaven. In this first Advent of the new millennium, there may be no more important task before each of us than to wrestle with what we must do to help bring peace on earth.

In response to the uncertainty in the world following the attacks on 11 September, there appears to be an emphasis on ‘bombing’ our way to security and peace. Here in this land of Palestine/Israel, we have seen the folly of trying to obtain either through just such measures. For us, another prophet of this land calls us to a different way. Is it not through living as the Lord requires – doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with our God – that we bring hope and life to our broken world and obtain true peace and security for all God’s creation?

This Advent, many Palestinians, Internationals and Israelis will join together to end the occupation through acts of non-violent resistance. This Advent, many Christians in the US will join in Ecumenical Prayer Vigils for a just peace in this region. This Advent, many people the world over will ask their elected officials to move beyond empty rhetoric to real acts of solidarity with the outcast, the poor and the oppressed. It is these acts that will fulfill the call to do as the Lord requires. It is these acts that may begin to bring about Peace on Earth. We pray wherever you are in the world, you will find ways to join such movements of God’s spirit in order that ‘the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together….’

Rev. Alex & Brenda Awad
East Jerusalem Baptist Church (GBGM-UMC)

Douglas Dicks
Presbyterian Church (USA)
Partnership Liaison - Jerusalem

Nancy J. Dinsmor
Development Officer
Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem

Dean & Mrs. Ross Jones
St. George's College Jerusalem

Robert May
GBGM – United Methodist Church Worker

Kathi McDonald
Warden, St. George's College Jerusalem

Catherine Nichols,

Edward B. Nyce
Mennonite Central Committee

Rev. Sandra Olewine
United Methodist Liaison – Jerusalem
General Board of Global Ministries

Rev. Michael Thomas & Rev. Susan Thomas
Pastors, English-speaking congregation
Lutheran Church of the Redeemer

Alain and Sonia Epp Weaver
Country Representatives
Mennonite Central Committee

2. Advent 1 2001
Susan Thomas
Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Jerusalem, 2 December 2001

Isaiah 2:1-5
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 25:1-7

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him. Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps...”

Rejoice, rejoice, believers, and let your lights appear;
The evening is advancing, and darker night is near.
The bridegroom is arising and soon is drawing nigh.
Up, pray and watch and wrestle; at midnight comes the cry.

The watchers on the mountain proclaim the bridegroom near.
Go forth as he approaches with alleluias clear.
The marriage feast is waiting; the gates wide open stand.
Arise, O heirs of glory; the bridegroom is at hand.

Matthew 15:8-13

“..The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

The saints, who here in patience their cross and suffrings bore,
Shall live and reign forever when sorrow is no more.
Around the throne of glory the Lamb they shall behold;
In triumph cast before him their diadems of gold.

Our hope and expectation, O Jesus, now appear;
Arise, O Sun so longed for, O¹er this benighted sphere.
With hearts and hands uplifted, we plead, O Lord, to see
The day of earth¹s redemption that sets your people free!

(Laurentius Laurentii 1660-1722)

Gracious and merciful Lord Jesus, you call us to be ready to greet you, not to slide into inattention so that we fail to notice that the oil in our lamps is running low:

Dear Lord, we want you to know that we never again want to be wakened near midnight by the sound of explosions in the midst of the people here. We never again want to join our prayers of lamentation with the wailing of sirens nor wonder whose beloved child is lying wounded or dead on the street once we have checked to see if our own are safely at home.

Dear Lord Jesus, we are tired. Not just sleepy. Tired. We are tired of trying to stay alert. Especially to danger. We are tired of thinking about what is safe, about suspicious backpacks and letters, about suspicious people, about suspicious plans for peace and security. We want to stay alert and pray with you, but we are tired of waiting for you to get here so that we can. We¹re sure that if you came now, back to the gardens of this city, we would welcome you with joy and stay awake and be your steady disciples. If you were here, maybe we could do that. As it is, we grow weary with this waiting and we aren¹t sure we¹ll have enough oil in our lamps to last the night.

Because the evening is advancing, and darker night is near. We just sang about that, in the midst of the exhortation to rejoice. It’s getting late. It’s getting darker and darker here--the evening is surely advancing--and pretty soon no one is going to be able to see a way through.

What is it we are supposed to do? Go into that night singing? How are we to rejoice? How are we to believe? Are you even talking to us when you say, ³Rejoice, rejoice believers?² Is it we who are being addressed? For we don¹t know if we can see well enough in this gathering darkness even to read the words of this song, much less sing them! And our eyes and voices are clogged with weary waiting for something to happen--a cry that you are coming, that dawn is breaking, that swords are being beaten into plowshares, even that Sharon and Arafat are talking to each other and not handing the power over to anyone with a tank, a rifle, or a homemade bomb.

Dear Lord Jesus, don¹t you know what this is like? Don’t you know what it is like to be foolish rather than wise? We surely do! Those ten bridesmaids weren’t so different from one another--the wise and foolish waited together, together they slept, together they were awakened. The parable doesn¹t say that the foolish wasted the oil that they had; they simply hadn’t expected to wait quite so long. And now, even with word that the bridegroom was definitely on his way, they weren’t sure they could trust the message. If they lit their lamps now, the lights might go out by the time he arrived. And they knew they had no store of oil in reserve to replenish their lamps.

They were foolish. Foolish not to trust the word, foolish not to have reserves, foolish even to follow the advice of the wise ones and to leave their watch to buy more oil at that moment.

Dear Lord Jesus, have mercy on us, the foolish. We come before you now wanting desperately to be lights in the darkness. We come before you now unprepared for the long wait, the longer night. We come before you now confessing our foolishness, our trusting in lesser things like last-minute shopping rather than casting ourselves upon your mercy and staying put to meet you--even with sputtering or extinguished lamps.

That was their real mistake, wasn’t it? That they left and missed the bridegroom’s arrival. That their lack of preparation and reserves--and the lack of faith in the bridegroom’s merciful
generosity on the night of his wedding--brought them to this most foolish decision with its disastrous consequences of their being shut out of the feast.

We want to be ready. We want to have plenty of reserves of faith with us. We want you to fill us up with the oil of your mercy, your forgiveness, your hope and expectation, your joy. We want you to give us companions who have extra reserves to share when our light is in danger of going out. We want to be wise as we wait, and most importantly, to be wise finally in trusting in your mercy rather than in our own “getting it right”.

Lord Jesus, your idea of “getting it right” is often different than ours, isn’t it? Your idea is like the prophet Isaiah’s that it is by the light of God that we are to walk, not our own light. Your idea is like the apostle Paul’s, that we are to live always as if in the day rather than the night, with our deeds exposed for all to see. Your idea is not that of saying the right words or performing the expected actions or claiming a non-existent prior close association with the Lord, but of being where God wants you to be.

I wonder, Jesus, if that was what was happening that night in Gethsemane, when you asked your closest disciples to wait and watch with you. In Matthew’s gospel, you told this story about the waiting bridesmaids shortly before your betrayal and arrest. Those bridesmaid disciples you chose for companions that night also slept. Not once, not twice, but three times, even with your urging for them to keep awake and to keep watch.

But unlike the foolish bridesmaids, they didn’t leave you. At least not then. Maybe in their drowsy dreaming, they remembered your warning parable. They stayed, frail human flesh that they were, and received your gentle, resigned words of merciful judgement upon their failing of the task: “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”

And even when they did flee, for fear, later on--you didn’t finally abandon them, but came to them, their risen Lord, and filled them once again with your oil of mercy, forgiveness, peace and expectation.

Dear Lord Jesus, we are tired.

Not just sleepy. Tired. We are tired of trying to stay alert. Especially to danger. We are tired of thinking about what is safe, about suspicious backpacks and letters, about suspicious people, about suspicious plans for peace and security. We want to stay alert and pray with you, but we are tired of waiting for you to get here so that we can. We’re sure that if you came now, back to the gardens of this city, we would welcome you with joy and stay awake and be your steady disciples. If you were here, maybe we could do that. Or maybe we couldn’t, but we would trust you more than our own lamps. As it is, we grow weary with this waiting and we aren’t sure we’ll have enough oil in our lamps to last the night.

So come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly!

Rejoice, then, you sad-hearted, who sit in deepest gloom,
Who mourn your joys departed and tremble at your doom.
Despair not; he is near you, there, standing at the door,
Who best can help and cheer you and bids you weep no more.

He comes to judge the nations, a terror to his foes,
A light of consolation and blessed hope to those
Who love the Lord¹s appearing, O glorious Sun, now come,
Send forth your beams so cheering and guide us safely home.

(Paul Gerhardt 1606-1676)

3. Letter from Fr. Raed Abu Sahliah of the Latin Patriarchate, Jerusalem

Let me begin, by telling you what happened today with my colleague Fr. Aktham Hijazin, the parish priest of my village Zababdeh, which is 100 kms far from Jerusalem and 10 kms far from the nearest town of Jenin: Fr. Aktham is the director of our Latin Patriarchate school in the village in which study around 800 students who come mainly from the village but also there are 200 who come from the nearby villages even from Jenin. This morning two buses brought the boys and girls from Jenin, at the end of the school day, Jenin was invaded for the 4th time by the Israeli army and tanks and almost completely closed, people from the surrounding villages who work normally in Jenin couldn’t return back home and even the 80 of our school boys and girls were not allowed to return back home to Jenin. After coordination with the Red Cross, Fr. Aktham and some teachers accompanied the two buses full of students (who are between 6 years old to 18) and when they reached nearby by Jenin the Israeli tanks stopped them and didn’t allow them to go in and even when the priest tried to go down and negotiate with the soldiers, they began to shoot on the air for three times and didn’t want even to speak with him and ordered them to go back.

If you were at his place, what would you have done with 80 scared students who would like to go home and join their families who are under military siege? Fr. Aktham decided to return back to Zababdeh with all the kids, when they arrived, they were received by a crowd of people from the village who offered them to eat because it was almost dark and was the time to take the Ramadan breakfast because some of them were Moslems and were fasting the whole day. Then the priest distributed the students to stay over night in the houses of our parishioners instead of leaving them alone at school. Every family was happy and proud to take one kid home and let him call this family in Jenin to tell them that he is safe and sane.

Tomorrow, Fr. Aktham will have another busy day after his Sunday mass, and maybe another adventure, because he has to send the students to Jenin which is still under heavy siege, otherwise they will have to stay in Zababdeh. Of course, they are most welcome among our kids and families, but do you think that their families will not be worried until they will be back home?!

This is a very simple story from many others our people are living each day that our kids should experience at this very young age, they are lucky that they are now safe in our village, because almost 110 of their colleagues lost their lives during the last 14 months, five boys were killed last week by a bomb explosion while they were going to their school, one was killed today in Jenin while he was returning home from school, he was 10 years old.

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