Monday, June 1

More than Empty Words

It’s been four months since the Israeli offensive began on the Gaza strip; this military invasion following weeks of aerial bombing left more than a thousand dead, thousands injured, thousands of homes and offices demolished, and thousands living in tents. We at MCC Palestine kept posting entries day after day with facts, figures, personal stories and thoughts related by our partners in Gaza. Then, once the Israeli troops departed from the Gaza Strip, and Hamas rockets towards Israel decreased, it seemed that Gaza would once again return to the shadows of the media, with its infrastructure ruined and its social structure in shambles.

At the Shepherd Society at Bethlehem Bible College, though, relief to Gaza became an enormous project, which I realized would be an ongoing task for months to come if not years. We have received pledges and donations of almost $200,000 to be used in Gaza, even though our work was before the war concentrated mainly in Bethlehem and the surrounding towns. This is a miraculous accomplishment that we thank God for, and pray for guidance in distributing, but it raises additional questions, such as, how can we put to use the money in a way that leads to further development among Palestinians in Gaza? It has been impossible to buy any supplies that would be useful for fixing up homes with damage, due to the Israeli blockade on construction materials, so families still live in squalid conditions and businesses cannot be repaired or reopened.

Surprisingly to me, and contrary to my expectations, Gaza and the Palestinians in general have remained prominent in the news lately—it seems that Obama’s interest in the region has brought the whole world’s eye on the situation here. The effects of the war on Gaza, inter-Palestinian factionalism, and Israeli settlement expansion are top stories. Talking politics is now the order of the day around Bethlehem and people I rarely heard discussing such remote subjects as final status negotiations are debating whether there will be some new approach under the leadership of the current US administration which is seen as being somewhat more favorable to the Palestinians. Still, with not much to show for the international aid promised to Gaza (see ‘effects of the war’ link above), and with settlements expanding daily as discussions continue, it is easy to see how many Palestinians are just fed up with these seemingly empty words.

Israelis too, have reason to be very cynical with the supposed peace talks and negotiations. After all, it has been the same year after year as newly appointed leaders continually promise to bring their insights to this conflict which is in its 61st official year (not including pre-statehood conflict between Jewish immigrants and Palestinian Arabs). So maybe it’s the spring weather, or the fresh vigor of Barack Obama, or maybe it’s the stirring of the Spirit that has brought some vitality and hope into our conversations these days.

As the pastor of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem said on Sunday, good communication is hard to come by in leaders and in relationships, but on Pentecost, we see an example that should serve to inspire us. Suddenly people heard the Good News in every tongue and God’s Spirit arrived to advocate for truth, peace, justice, and mercy. The pastor asked: do we truly believe that such miracles can happen today, here? I do believe that with all the attention and efforts focused on us here and now, we have a chance to work for change in the Holy Land—if we can seize it. Please be praying for the leaders who are working and discussing ways to bring peace and an end to occupation here in Israel-Palestine. Pray for those who daily live in Gaza and the West Bank, struggling to survive in the meantime, that they would receive provision and strength. Pray that we all may be filled with the Spirit of all wisdom and truth to act for mercy and justice.

Wherever you live you have some power to support the work of peace in this land. Contact your representatives in government and tell them they must formulate plans that promote a just peace in the Middle East. Continue supporting the work of MCC, the Shepherd Society, and other groups that seek to be a witness in these times and who provide humanitarian relief even when it is forgotten by other agencies. At this juncture of despair and hope, where there is so much opportunity and yet so much need and lives in the balance, let us strive towards spirit-led solutions that will be more than empty words.

By Kimberly MacVaugh, SALT worker at the Bethlehem Bible College's Shepherd Society

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