Women can ‘do’, women can lead

Mai Jarrar is the director of the Women’s Program at the East Jerusalem YMCA in Ramallah. MCC partners with the Women’s Program on agricultural projects in rural villages, helping women become self-sufficient, productive, and influential contributors in their communities. Through an interview with Jarrar, it is clear that the agricultural program is one of many inspiring projects that she and her team have implemented in order to realize a vision of women’s liberation, participation, and leadership in Palestine; a kind of women-powered direction that she believes can create change and bring peace.

Mai Jarrar began working as a field coordinator with the East Jerusalem YMCA in Ramallah in 1993. Three years later she moved to her current position as the director of the Women’s Program. The first projects were centered on women’s rural agricultural programs so that women would have new skills to be more productive in farming. Soon after Jarrar knew that the YMCA Women’s Program needed to expand and develop their projects. Working with only women in a traditional, patriarchal society wasn’t enough when a larger goal was also necessary: to change the perception of women’s roles and abilities in society.

Jarrar and her team decided that they needed to transform the minds of people by practice, not by theory. They asked themselves questions: How can we make people think that women can do? How can we show that women have voices and can lead? How can we prove that neglecting women and relegating them to only the role of ‘wife in the home’ will create more violence? Jarrar decided that she needed to put her energy into showing that “women can work seriously on alternative solutions and make a difference. Women can make an impact in their communities.”

Jarrar has many experiences in her own life that highlight the challenges of growing up as a girl in a patriarchal society. She saw clear divisions between boy and girl roles in her own home: boys are expected to be outside the house, girls, inside. In society, she witnessed two girls in her high school that got married at the age of 16. In her personal life, she felt a greater aptitude for school and study than many of her male contemporaries but faced comments within her family such as, “if you were a man you would do something great.” Jarrar thought, “Why do I have to be a man to do something great?” It seems that this retort has fueled her zeal for advancing the role of women in Palestine.

Some of the most powerful work that the Women’s Program has done focuses on the issue of women’s inheritance in Palestinian society. Traditionally, in both religious and cultural processes, women are at a great disadvantage when it comes to family or spousal inheritance. Inheritance for women has been seen as a gift, but for men, a right. The advocacy and educational outreach that the YMCA has done in regards to this issue has seen much success in bringing women’s inheritance to the public sphere. Shifts in language show that now inheritance for women is discussed less and less as a gift and more and more as a right. Since the start of the program, Jarrar has seen ninety-nine cases where women have fought for their right of inheritance and won. She insists that the YMCA Women’s Program is not the only organization striving for women’s rights and empowerment and that others are also responsible for advances that she sees in her society.

Not surprisingly, while the work has created allies, it has also created opposition. Push back on inheritance is common because to some men it can seem financially threatening for women to obtain their rights. It can also seem threatening to men when women begin to move into positions of power and leadership in their communities, when their voices begin to be heard. But Jarrar has seen that when women reach levels of influence- such as in the village of Raween where three women and three men now sit on a committee addressing community needs that used to be made up of only men- the entire community benefits. From her observation, Jarrar finds that when women are leaders in their communities, they advocate for children, for other women, and for the over-all needs of the community. This creates dynamics where everyone thrives, not only a select few male leaders. Communities are realizing this and beginning to make changes, but the progress is slow.

Jarrar knows that any change in attitude is a process, “Nothing changes overnight. We witness change over years.” She is confident that change has occurred, that there is now something different for women than there was twenty years ago when the program started. Jarrar believes that the YMCA’s grassroots base has much to do with the success and sustainability of their programs. She knows that if you’re far from the people, you won’t know what they need or think, or how to impact their lives. Asking the women what they want and helping them achieve their goals is also part of the process of empowerment and liberation. Confidence grows when women can dream and put those dreams into action to improve their communities.

Jarrar believes that a mentality of women’s empowerment can be a tool for the advancement of every society, in every nation around the world. Women who rise to positions of power in a man’s world find many challenges and Jarrar doesn’t often see these women doing something different. That is why she thinks that women need to come together to create ‘think tanks’ for how to move our societies from the individual, to the collective; from us-verses-them, to unity. Jarrar believes that women are capable of these great changes. She believes that when women are empowered, they can be catalysts for change and for peace. Jarrar, through the YMCA Women’s Program, will continue the hard work of shifting mindsets by do-ing, and by being an inspiration leader in Palestine.

A righteous branch

Joel Miller, a Pastor at Columbus Mennonite Church gave the following sermon on November 29th, 2015 shortly after coming home from an MCC Palestine Learning Tour. To access the sermon in full (both written and audio versions), please visit the Columbus Mennonite Church webpage. For more information on participating in a Learning Tour, please see the following invitation to join an MCC East Coast Learning Tour this coming September.

We step off the bus after a short ride from the Bethlehem Star Hotel where we’d stayed our first three nights of the trip.  Off to our right is the entrance to the Aida refugee camp, one of three Palestinian refugee camps in Bethlehem.  In front of us is the Lajee Center, a community center working with Palestinian youth and families who’ve been living in Aida their whole lives.  We are met by Salah Ajarma, a guy who looks to be about my age.  He is the Director of the Lajee Center and will be our guide for the morning.  His wife is pregnant and they’re expecting their fourth child any day, so Salah begins by noting that he is keeping his cell phone turned on.

Before leading us on a walking tour through Aida and introducing us to the Center, Salah leads us off to the left.  This used to be a main business street in Bethlehem, he notes.  But now it looks awful.  Buildings are in poor repair, and nobody’s shopping or selling.  The street and sidewalk are littered with debris.  We walk slowly up the slope of the road, but we can’t go very far this direction.  Just ahead of us, about 100 yards from the Center, stands a 25-foot tall concrete wall, with a guard tower where Israeli soldiers are stationed.  Bethlehem is in Palestinian territory, but the wall snakes all around Bethlehem, isolating places like Aida and creating separation zones for the 22 Israeli settlements being built in the area.

On that dead end street in the shadow of that wall just outside Aida, Salah starts picking up items in the street and describing them to us.  This is the remains of a sound bomb, he explains, which Israeli soldiers shoot into the camp.  He shows us two kinds of rubber bullets – one softer and round, the other stiff and small, with a flat front end.  He shows us how this second kind can be deadly if it hits you the wrong way.  A 13 year old Palestinian boy was killed one month earlier right by where our bus is parked.  Salah picks up something else, an empty canister of tear gas.  There are several varieties.  He notes that these have been more frequent in the last few weeks.  Once you know what they look like, you see them all over.  On the side of the canister he is holding it says in plain English: Made in Jamestown, Pennsylvania.

When you grow up in the rural Midwest, you learn to identify flowers and trees and insects.  When you grow up in a refugee camp under military occupation, you learn to identify rubber bullets and tear gas canisters.

Salah assures us that it is our presence around him that is keeping the soldiers from firing at him right now – one of many times we’re confronted with our power and privilege as Americans in this place.

Luke 21: 20-24:  “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.* 21Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those inside the city must leave it, and those out in the country must not enter it; 22for these are days of vengeance, as a fulfillment of all that is written. 23Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress on the earth and wrath against this people; 24they will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken away as captives among all nations.”

These are the words of Jesus toward the end of his ministry.  He speaks specifically of the fall of Jerusalem to the Roman army in the year 70, a generation after his own death.  This catastrophe resulted in the temple being leveled and Jews being scattered throughout the ancient world, a painful echo of what had happened 600 years earlier, when the Babylonians had destroyed the first temple, built by Solomon, and carried the Jews away into exile.

Once you know what to look for, the trauma of exile and the experience of refugees shows up everywhere throughout Scripture.  It has its more obvious forms, like the famous Psalm 137, where the exiles sit down and weep by the rivers of Babylon and lament, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”  It serves as a backdrop to favorite stories like Daniel in the lion’s den and Queen Esther in the court of the Persian king.  It’s woven throughout the words of the prophets, either warning the people that they will soon be displaced from their land, giving instruction of how to live faithfully as refugees in a foreign land, speaking comfort and hope that soon, very soon, the trials will be over and the people will be restored to their land.  This is the hope behind the prophet Jeremiah’s words in today’s call to worship: “In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”  Justice!  Righteousness!  These beautiful words- imagined but not yet fully realized- would one day wield their power and come to define life for the people.

Salah tosses the debris aside and leads us back down the street, into the refugee camp.  Each family here used to live within the borders of what is now Israel, and were some of the 750,000 Palestinians forced out of their villages and homes during the war of 1948 which established Israel as a modern nation state.  These families come from 27 different villages and this camp started as 800 people living in a collection of tents.  Now there are 5,000 people living on the same small parcel of land.  The tents have become permanent concrete structures.

Salah grew up here and when he was 14 soldiers caught him playing in a neighbor’s home after curfew.  For this crime he spent three months in prison.  In traditional cultures it’s common for parents to consider baby boys more desirable, but Salah notes that expectant parents in Aida hope for a girl.  Girls have a much better chance of contributing to the family their whole lives.  Boys are more likely to be jailed or killed.  Salah and his wife have three girls, but they’re expecting a boy.

Luke 21:25 – “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.”

The signs of distress we see aren’t so much in the sun or moon as they are written on the walls around Aida.  A wall of a residence has a mural of a butterfly, with the caption “Here only butterflies and birds are free.”  The long stretch of the separation wall is covered with various messages and images providing their own set of signs.  But looking back up that hill toward the wall and guard tower we can see other signs of distress.  Israeli society lives with an existential fear for its own existence.  The Babylonian exile and defeat at the hands of the Romans was followed by 2000 years which held brilliant cultural achievements for Jews around the world, but also included periods of major persecutions, the Holocaust of the 20th century being a recent horrific example.  The massive walls and always present 18 year old soldiers with automatic weapons slung around their necks is another kind of sign.

The nation of Israel was born as a political solution to Jewish identity and Jewish oppression, and the nation continues to be defined by past traumas.  But Israel’s quest for security has led to the traumatization of a whole other population, the Palestinians, some of whom can trace their ancestry in the land all the way back to the time of Jesus.  To outsiders like us the trauma of the Israeli Jews and the Palestinian Christians and Muslims looks similar enough that it seems like the groups should be able to understand each other’s perspectives perfectly.  They are all intimately familiar with sitting down and weeping, wondering how they can sing the Lord’s praises as refugees.  Salah and his wife want the same things for their child on the way as the women and men praying for healthy children at Rachel’s tomb on the other side of that wall.  But on the streets of Aida, an embrace of a common humanity feels a long way off.  The signs of distress are everywhere.

Luke 21:27-31 – “Then they will see the Human One coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  Now when you see these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.  Then Jesus told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.  So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kin-dom of God is near.’”

This passage speaks of the coming of a Human One who brings redemption.  This Human Being, the one who brings humanity into an inhumane place, is the cause for hope.  We are not to get consumed by signs of distress, Jesus says.  Rather, we are to look for other kinds of signs.  Like looking at a fig tree at the end of winter, when it starts to sprout leaves.  Everything around us is barren, but there is an energy and power behind those leaves that is about to transform the tree into something bursting with life.  “When you see these things taking place,” Jesus says, “you know that the kin-dom of God is near.”

Looking for the kin-dom of God in a walled in refugee camp is an exercise of faith if ever there was one.  The picture on the front of the bulletin comes from one of the streets of Aida.  The residents are former farmers and this family planted a grape vine in their home, cutting a hole through the wall to allow it to grow up to the sun, using their roof as a trellis.  It is perhaps a tiny incarnation of Jeremiah’s prophecy:  “In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”  It’s not much, but the difference between something and nothing is immeasurable.

After touring the camp Salah led us into the main room of Lajee Center.  A youth dance troupe performed for us to an Arabic pop song that got even a group of Mennonite pastors tapping their feet and swaying their hips – as sure a sign as any that the kingdom of God is upon us.  We ate lunch in that room and sat down in another classroom, hearing about the different programs that happen through Lajee – rooftop gardens in Aida, creative arts and media projects, and trauma counseling for kids.  Mennonite Central Committee is one of the sponsoring organizations, so when you give to MCC this is part of where your money goes.

Christians welcome the coming of the Human One, the Christ who breaks into our world with flashes of what it means to be truly human.  Christians have always believed that this coming of the Human One is also the very coming of God among us.  Wherever the fig tree is sprouting leaves; that is where the Divine is breaking through to us.  It’s up to us to pay attention and to welcome it with open arms, like partners welcoming a newborn child.

I’d love to end with an upbeat picture of Lajee and leave it at that, but here’s the truth of it.  We had to leave Lajee ahead of schedule because the young soldiers just up the street were firing tear gas into the camp and one of the canisters landed right by our bus.  Two days after we returned home from our learning tour, we read news that the soldiers had actually come down the street and shut down Lajee, now using the roof of the community center as a post for snipers to look over the camp.  This is life in Aida refugee camp today, in Bethlehem, the same city where Jesus was born under military occupation.

Hope rests in the remarkable claim that even when the stars are falling and the heavens are shaking, the fig tree is still about to bloom.  A righteous Branch will spring up, and there will be justice and righteousness in the land.  There are 1000 ways to welcome the Human One who is coming to live among us.  The signs of the coming are all around us.  The kin-dom of God is near.

 

Demanding Justice, Provoking Love

This year MCC has invited its staff to, “consider how to provoke one another to love and good deed” (Hebrews 10). Many people in the United States and around the world have spent the last few weeks celebrating a man who did just that. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. provoked us to love one another such that we would be moved to action that nonviolently resists oppressive systems of power and privilege.

It is clear that Dr. King’s words and calls to action were not only meant to break down racial injustice in the United States. They had and continue to have a universality that unites solidarity movements for justice and peace throughout the world. He not only said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” but he also spoke against the Vietnam War and called for an end to economic injustice and extreme materialism.

Solidarity movements with people from across the globe who resist injustice and oppression have long been important in Palestine and Israel. Current connections between the Israeli occupation of Palestine with the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States are powerful examples of the need to work with and learn from others who experience systems of oppression and violence, and actively resist them.

As we move into Black History Month in February in the U.S., we remember the necessity of Dr. King’s words and dreams of justice, equality and freedom. They are especially important to remember while Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem continue to be demolished at alarming rates, while Gaza remains under an almost 9-year blockade, while Israeli settlements – illegal under international law – continue to expand throughout the occupied West Bank, and further hopelessness breeds desperate violent attacks. Pain and suffering are no stranger in Palestine and Israel.

Dr. King’s words are inspiring and hopeful. They are also challenging. They demand a love that is universal and actions that are often courageous; actions that necessitate a “long-view” and tireless persistence towards just peace. He believed, “At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love,” while also knowing that, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

We at MCC Palestine are blessed to be walking alongside our partners who are engaged in the long, wearying, determined and audacious demand for freedom from occupation and oppression. We stand in awe of the courage of their non-violent teaching, organizing, healing, planting, advocating and augmenting of voices. It is our partners, from a different culture and continent, who are actively living out the words and vision of Dr. King right here in Palestine and Israel.

Advent Reflections- Joy

This Advent, join MCC Palestine and Israel in reflecting upon the hope, peace, love, and joy that the season brings, even to this Holy Land that is today filled with injustice, occupation, and violence. Using pieces from the National YWCA of Palestine’s “Breaking Down the Wall” resource, we join the many voices that call for dismantling all barriers of justice and peace in our own hearts, in Palestine and Israel, and around the world.

Joy

Ilo on rawhan tytar.
Joy is the daughter of peace.
– A Finnish proverb
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“Once a Human Rights Teacher was Born in Bethlehem”

Joy is the daughter of peace. What a beautiful proverb. What a challenging proverb too, especially for our partners, friends, and even ourselves here in Palestine and Israel who are not living in a time of peace. How can we celebrate the joy of the Christmas season while our Palestinian partners live under occupation? How can we find joy when Israeli peace activists are dangerously and hatefully targeted to discredit the road to a just peace? Where is joy in a time of great violence and hopelessness?

St. Francis of Assisi once said, “Joy is the greatest cleanser, and it is the greatest testimony to our faith.” Once again, we look to our Palestinian and Israeli partners who are living lives as peace-builders. They are the great testaments to the joy of the Gospel, the joy that Jesus’ birth brings. They teach us how to celebrate and be joyful in small ways, such as in the warm hospitality of a cup of coffee and a visit, and in large ways, by sharing their stories of both hardship and success. They show us the ways in which we can be hopeful and joyful through lived example. We at MCC Palestine and Israel are blessed to be witnesses to these lives of testimony to joy, of testimony to peace.

Into this world,
this demented inn,
in which there is no room
for him at all,
Christ has come uninvited.
But because he cannot be at home in it,
because he is
out of place in it…
His place is with those
who do not belong,
who are rejected
by power because
they are regarded as weak,
those who are discredited,
who are denied the status of persons,
tortured and exterminated.
With those for whom
there is no room
Christ is present in this world.
He is mysteriously present
in those for whom there seems to be nothing
but the world at its worst.
– Thomas Merton

Advent Reflections- Love

This Advent, join MCC Palestine and Israel in reflecting upon the hope, peace, love, and joy that the season brings, even to this Holy Land that is today filled with injustice, occupation, and violence. Using pieces from the National YWCA of Palestine’s “Breaking Down the Wall” resource, we join the many voices that call for dismantling all barriers of justice and peace in our own hearts, in Palestine and Israel, and around the world.

Love

For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time: hatred ceases by love. This is an unalterable law.
-The Dhammapada
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“Love Wins”

This third week of Advent we at MCC Palestine and Israel reflect on love. Love as the antidote to fear and hatred; love as the answer to the many daunting and disheartening challenges that our partners, our region, and our world face.

We can look to Mary as an example of great, radical love. A woman who said ‘yes’ to love and who birthed the Beloved into this world. The following is a piece of Singing Yes, by Rev. Loren McGrail, who reflects on Mary’s Magnificat, her song of praise and love:

“Mary invites us all to find our song and sing it so we can prepare the way for the birth of love and justice. Mary says we should expect that this birth will turn our lives upside down and inside out. She also asks us to pray for a world without war or conflict or violence. She asks us to hold our leaders accountable for their actions and inactions—their thoughts and their deeds, their votes of support and their votes against dignity and freedom. She asks us to feed the hungry by lifting their sieges, shaking off their occupation…

She asks us to dream about the way the world would look if things were reversed, if the Beloved Community could be made manifest. She asks us to dream it in the past tense as if it were already taking place. Finally, Mary, the mother of Jesus, asks us to affirm God being born not only in her real womb but in the womb of human suffering. She asks us to imagine, to sing, and work to make it so.”

“Whoever fulfills the duty of love fulfills the whole law,”
says St. Paul.
“You shall not steal,
you shall not kill,
you shall do no wrong to another-
all this is contained in one phrase:
You shall love your neighbor.”
If there were love of neighbor
There would be no terrorism,
no repression,
no selfishness,
none of the cruel inequalities in society,
no abductions,
no crimes.
Love sums up the law.
Not only that, it gives Christian meaning
to all human relations.
Even those who call themselves atheists,
when they are humane,
fulfill the essence of the relationship
that God wants among human beings:
Love.
Love gives plentitude to all human duties,
and without love justice is only the sword.
With love, justice becomes a brother’s embrace.
Without love, laws are arduous, repressive, cruel,
mere policemen.
But where there is love-
security forces would be superfluous;
there would be no jails or tortures,
no will to beat anyone.
  • Oscar Romero, The Violence of Love

Advent Reflections- Peace

This Advent, join MCC Palestine and Israel in reflecting upon the hope, peace, love, and joy that the season brings, even to this Holy Land that is today filled with injustice, occupation, and violence. Using pieces from the National YWCA of Palestine’s “Breaking Down the Wall” resource, we join the many voices that call for dismantling all barriers of justice and peace in our own hearts, in Palestine and Israel, and around the world.

Peace

Once they saw a star that pointed to a promised land, to a land of peace. Peacemakers set out to follow that star. It is both a joyful and arduous journey. Sometimes the star shines brightly, the promise seems certain, and, the pilgrims can sing, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring God’s peace.’ Often the star disappears, clouded over, hidden from view, and the pilgrims grope blindly, grow discouraged, get weary, give thought to settling down, to forgetting the promise of peace. One thing is certain: all pilgrims need nourishment to sustain the journey. An occasional oasis for the spirit is essential, a time to feast on the refreshing waters, the rich food of the spirit in order to get strength to continue the pilgrimage through darkness, star-shine or not.
-Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB

The season of Advent is a powerful time of expectation, anticipation, longing, and hope for the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Here at MCC Palestine and Israel we also believe that Advent can be a time for reflection on the ways in which we are and are not being living instruments of God’s peace. In this Holy Land, an expectation and anticipation for peace is ever present. However, it often feels unattainable, far away from the realities of injustice and violence on the ground.

During Advent, a time of waiting and preparation, we believe that we must ask ourselves if we are seeking a truly just, lasting, and sustainable peace in this place. Peace requires an end to systems of oppression, an end to military occupation, a dismantling of the wall, and conversions of heart and soul to treat one another as each of us would like to be treated.

This is the message of so many of our modern prophets of peace, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatmas Gandhi, Thich Nhat Hahn, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, and many more. Achieving peace often means non-violently resisting systems of oppression, saying ‘no’ to injustice wherever and whenever it exists.

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“To Exist is to Resist”

Our Palestinian and Israeli partners resist occupation and oppression, often through living their daily lives. “To exist is to resist,” is a slogan that Palestinians use to say, “we have a right to exist, to live on our land, to lead lives of dignity, to have our human rights respected.”

We at MCC Palestine and Israel get the chance to walk alongside such people who live non-violent resistance by their choices to stay on their land and in their homes despite forced displacement and transfer, daily oppression and restriction of movement, unjust legal systems, and many other forms of human rights violations.

We know, however, that standing with our Palestinian and Israeli partners for peace is the first part of our task to help create a just peace. We must go further to ask ourselves difficult questions, such as, are the policies that the US and the international community enact towards Palestine and Israel fair and just? Are we perpetuating systems of oppression and injustice? Are we complicit in violating human rights and international law?

These are hard questions, and the answers to these questions are often harder to hear. The international community, and most importantly, the United States government and civil society must acknowledge that we have played and continue to play active roles in the occupation, including ongoing settlement construction despite every US administration’s opposition to them in the last 48 years.

We must decide to educate ourselves and act. We must pray for reconciliation and healing. We must contact our representatives and lawmakers to advocate for a just peace in Palestine and Israel.

A just and lasting peace must use creative, loving, and persistent forms of non-violent resistance in the face of oppression and occupation. This Advent, let us reflect on the ways in which we want to join our Palestinian and Israeli brothers and sisters in creating a just peace in this Holy Land.

Reconciling God, you call us to resist everything that draws us from you.

You call us to resist the powers and principalities that attempt to occupy our lives and our world.

We pray for the Palestinian people who resist the wall, a symbol of death, with lives of courage, creativity, and compassion.

Lord, open our eyes to what we, the international community, can do to resist and challenge the scandal of the wall. Lord, make us instruments of your peace.

We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

-Salam Qumsiyeh

Advent Reflections- Hope

This Advent, join MCC Palestine and Israel in reflecting upon the hope, peace, love, and joy that the season brings, even to this Holy Land that is today filled with injustice, occupation, and violence. Using pieces from the National YWCA of Palestine’s “Breaking Down the Wall” resource, we join the many voices that call for dismantling all barriers of justice and peace in our own hearts, in Palestine and Israel, and around the world.

Hope

God of justice and compassion
while history and high walls, prejudice and fear,
barbed wire and locked doors,
divide those who live in the land
that we call Holy,
we pray that we may not divide them in our hearts
for we are all your children. Amen.
-Jan Pitchard

 

Wall- Hope

“Your wall can be broken, our spirit cannot.” 

“The wall” in Palestine and Israel has many names, including separation barrier, apartheid wall, or security fence. Names are important because they show how each group of people- Palestinian or Israeli- is influenced by the consequences of the wall.  In 2004, the International Court of Justice gave an advisory opinion stating that, “The construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, and its associated régime, are contrary to international law.” In the realm of international law, the wall and its consequences are a grave violation of human rights for the Palestinian community.

We see the consequences of the wall in the lives of our partners and friends, as well in our own daily routines. It serves as a way to further divide people, not allowing for critical interaction and communication that can breed understanding and connection, as well as significantly disadvantaging and oppressing one people, Palestinians, over another, Israelis.

When witnessing injustices such as this, the question of finding hope is a challenging one: how can we find hope in the midst of a Wall that stretches nearly 760 km, that is meant to divide and separate, and that perpetuates oppression and continues occupation?

We at MCC Palestine and Israel find strength and energy to celebrate the Advent and Christmas spirit amidst the on-going suffering through the example of our partners, neighbors, and friends. They embolden us with their resilience and their determination to live with dignity amidst great injustice and oppression.

  • We find hope in Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, an MCC partner organization. They send out a Wave of Prayer each week to help us mourn, reflect, and find healing in one another as a community praying and working for a just peace in Palestine and Israel.
  • We find hope in another partner, the Palestinian Center for Peace and Democracy, who gathered youth in their programs to hold a tent outside of the UN office in Ramallah for two weeks in November, non-violently demanding protection from the international community to the recent upswing in violence.
  • We find hope in the hospitality of our partners in Gaza who generously invite us into their homes and lives, while they live through blockades, wars, complete restriction of movement, and intense poverty.
“We ask you to cleanse our hearts from bitterness and hatred, and from frustration and fear. Make us all turn to you with repentance and fill us with trust and confidence in you, who is our salvation. We pray that all our suffering will bring us closer to you, and make us grow in faith and trust in you, and in love towards all our neighbours.

Send your Holy Spirit to comfort the bereaved families, to bring recovery to the injured and disabled, and to change the hearts of all of us to make us see that your will in the Holy Land is that Palestinians and Israelis live justly and equally together. Change the minds of the politicians so that they may turn the swords into ploughshares.

Bless your Church to be your instrument for peace, bringing comfort to the afflicted, promoting justice for the weak and dispossessed, and witnessing your love to all people.

In Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.”

–  Bishop Munib Younan, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and Palestine