Wednesday, March 27

MCC Palestine Update #42

MCC Palestine Update #42

Yesterday we moved the MCC office from Sheikh Jarrah, where it had been for nearly 46 years, to the Mount of Olives. During our breaks, we can wander out to the meeting area of the building where our new office is, and look out over Jerusalem's Old City: the Dome of the Rock, the al-Aqsa Mosque, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It's a beautiful sight.

Sadly, as you all know, the beauty of people created in God's image has too often been scarred in Palestine/Israel: scarred by killings and maimings, by the weak and the strong; scarred by the violence and humiliations of occupation and siege; scarred by the hatred of the occupied for the occupier and the hatred of the powerful for those whom they control and yet also fear.

This Sunday, we will gather with other Christians on the Mount of Olives (just a two-minute walk from our office) to celebrate the Easter mass as the sun rises over the Judean desert. Easter's sun will dawn on a broken land, on the broken bodies and spirits of Palestinians and Israelis. Yet, as improbable as it will seem, we will confess in the mass that through Jesus God has trampled the power of evil underfoot, has restored creation, and has reconciled all--be they Palestinian or Israeli, Canadian or American--to Him. It is this improbable belief and hope which sustains us in our work in Palestine/Israel. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Below you will find two pieces. The first is an Easter message from Bishop Munib Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jerusalem. The second, by veteran Israeli peace activist Uri
Avnery, details the conditions which creates suicide bombers.

1. Easter Message from Jerusalem 2002
Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan (ELCJ).
26 March 2002

(We are) always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.
(II Corinthians 4:10, NRSV)

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Grace and salaam to you from Jerusalem and from the Christians who are carrying in their bodies the death of Jesus, making visible the life of Jesus.

As a Palestinian Christian I have often wondered what St. Paul's words mean in my life. How do I live out the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus? I have always been taught that this happens in Baptism, and I still believe this is true, as we read in Romans 6.

I have found that many of my questions are starting to be answered in a deeper way as I live together with my church and my society in the tribulation, difficulties and crises of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. We feel hopelessness in the midst of dehumanization, seeing the blood of innocent people flowing in front of us, seeing people who are terribly burned from conventional and non-conventional bombs, visiting the families of people whose loved ones have been killed, watching funeral processions taking place every day, seeing many young people who don’t care whether they live or die, meeting those who live in trauma, watching people develop psychosomatic illnesses. All of this creates hopelessness and a sense of loneliness. We are experiencing what Jesus experienced on the cross when he cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

When I read the passion history and see the relationships and actions of Pilate, Caiaphas and Herod, and read the story of Pilate, the Roman governor, and his relationship to Jesus and to Barabbas “ it seems that I am seeing in our present world the same stories relived. The pull of world power and material interests are more important than the lives of human beings.

In all this the words in Hebrews 4:15 bring us comfort and encouragement: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been "tested" as we are, yet without sin.”

As a human being Jesus suffered. He knows that our suffering might come in unexpected ways, such as serious illnesses, broken relationships and other losses. He also knows that our human suffering is a reflection of the unjust situation in which we live. In his suffering, Jesus was not abandoned. This is a comfort to those who suffer, knowing that Jesus fully experienced and understands our sorrow and pain. There are many ways in which human beings suffer and carry the cross. There are many questions we ask, and there are many enigmas to which we have no easy answers. God does not have a heavenly pharmacy in which just the right pills are found for every suffering person. But we who suffer do know, as Thomas a Kempis has said, that if you carry the cross, the cross will carry you. This is not a theory; it is the real thing.

I understand more and more every day what it means to live the death and resurrection of Jesus in my body. It is in carrying the cross, of living in martyria. As a church in martyria we are called to be a servant to our people, not a master. In this we follow the example of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for all people. When we Palestinian Christians carry the cross and feel lonely, frustrated and abandoned, we are also carrying a message to the world, to you. The message may be strange to you, it may be painful to you, but the message belongs to all of us. It calls us to give up all hatred, all dissension, all crises and to trust in God's love and mercy.

Jesus Christ went through death to life. His resurrection on the third day gives us hope. And the more we experience the death of Jesus in our bodies the more the meaning of the resurrection will open up and become clear for us.

The resurrection of Christ assures us that, no matter what, life is stronger than death. This gives us confidence that the spiraling violence will not have the last word, nor will injustice, occupation, illness, broken relationships, or anything else which tears us down and is against God's will for all creation. Even if we are crushed, the Resurrection gives us hope that both Palestinians and Israelis can have peace, freedom, reconciliation and security which will lead to the dignity and abundant life God intends for all people. For Palestinian Christians the Resurrectionis the only hope to which we cling.

Good Friday is the time for prayer, and we ask that you include the suffering people in Palestine and Israel in your prayers. We also ask that offerings may be made to help the Palestinian Lutherans continue their mission in this land, especially now in this time of great need in our society.

We also want to thank you for being partners in carrying the cross. In this way you assure us and we assure ourselves that Jesus is made visible in our bodies. For this reason we want to greet you from the Jerusalem of the Cross and say,

Al-Masih Qam “ Hakkan Qam!
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Al-Masih Qam “ Hakkan Qam!
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Al-Masih Qam “ Hakkan Qam!
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Your brother in Christ,

+ Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan
The Lutheran Bishop in Jerusalem

2. A Queue of Bombers
Uri Avnery
Gush Shalom, 23 March 2002

When a whole people is seething with rage, it becomes a dangerous enemy, because the rage does not obey orders.

When it exists in the hearts of millions of people, it cannot be cut off by pushing a button.

When this rage overflows, it creates suicide bombers – human bombs fuelled by the power of anger, against whom there is no defense. A person who has given up on life, who does not look for escape routes, is free to do whatever his disturbed mind dictates. Some of the suicide bombers are killed before they reach their goal, but when there are hundreds of them, thousands of them, no military means will restore security.

The actions of General Mofaz during the last month have brought this rage to an unprecedented pitch and instilled it into the hearts of every Palestinian, be he a university professor or a street boy, a housewife or a high-school girl, a leftist or a fundamentalist.

When tanks run amok in the center of a town, crushing cars an destroying walls, tearing up roads, shooting indiscriminately in all directions, causing panic to a whole population – it induces helpless rage.

When soldiers crush through a wall into the living room of a family, causing shock to children and adults, ransacking their belongings, destroying the fruits of a life of hard work, and then break the wall to the next apartment to wreak havoc there – it induces helpless rage.

When soldiers shoot at everything that moves – out of panic, out of lawlessness, or because Sharon told them “to cause losses” – it induces helpless rage. When officers order to shoot at ambulances, killing doctors and paramedics engaged in saving the lives of the wounded, bleeding to death – it induces helpless rage.

When these and thousand other acts like them humiliate a whole people, searing their souls – it induces helpless rage.

And then it appears that the rage is not helpless after all. The suicide bombers go forward to avenge, with a whole people blessing them and rejoicing at every Israeli killed, soldier or settler, a girl in a bus or a youngster in a discotheque.

The Israeli public is dumbfounded by this terrible phenomenon. It cannot understand it, because it does not know (and perhaps does not want to know) what has happened in the Palestinian towns and villages. Only feeble echoes of what really happened have reached it.

The obedient media suppress the information, or water it down so that the monster looks like a harmless pet. The television, which is now subject to Soviet-style censorship, does not tell its viewers what is going on. If somebody is allowed to say a few words about it, for the sake of “balance”, the words are drowned in a sea of chatter by politicians, commentators acting as unofficial spokespersons and the generals who caused the havoc.

These generals look helplessly at a struggle they do not understand and make arrogant statements divorced from reality. Pronouncements like “We have intercepted attacks”, “We have taught them a lesson”, “We have destroyed the infrastructure of terrorism” show an infantile lack of understanding of what they are doing. Far from “destroying the infrastructure of terrorism”, they
have built a hothouse for rearing suicide-bombers.

A person whose beloved brother has been killed, whose house has been destroyed in an orgy of vandalism, who has been mortally humiliated before the eyes of his children, goes to the market,
buys a rifle for 40 thousand shekels (some sell their cars for this) and sets out to seek revenge. “Give me a hatred gray like a sack,” wrote our poet, Nathan Alterman, seething with rage against the Germans. Hatred graylike a sack is now everywhere.

Bands of armed men now roam all the towns and villages of the West bank and the Gaza strip, with or without black masks (available for 10 shekels in the markets). These bands do not belong to any organization. Members of Fatah, Hamas and the Jihad team up to plan attacks, not giving a damn for the established institutions.

Anyone who believes that Arafat can push a button and stop this is living in a dream-world. Arafat is the adored leader, now more than ever, but when a people is seething with anger he cannot stop it either. At best, the pressure-cooker can cool off slowly, if the majority of the
people are persuaded that their honor has been restored and their liberation guaranteed. Then public support for the “terrorists” will diminish, they will be isolated and whither away. That was what happened in the past. During the Oslo period there were attacks too, but they were conducted by dissidents, fanatics, and the public aversion to them limited the damage they caused.

American politicians, like Israeli officers, do not understand what they are doing. When an overbearing vice-president dictates humiliating terms for a meeting with Arafat, he pours oil on the flames. A person who lacks empathy for the suffering of the occupied people, who does not understand its condition, would be well advised to shut up. Because every such humiliation kills dozens of Israelis.

After all, the suicide-bombers are standing in line.

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