Hope and Resistance

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Resistance entails being a strong presence in the face of those who would seek to silence or eliminate you.

It was during our orientation tele-conference that I first heard the theme. Our Palestinian host and guide invited us to come and witness their over 100-year struggle against oppression and occupation, a struggle for human dignity and freedom. “Come,” he said, “find out why we are still standing, why we are hopeful, in spite of the catastrophe. As we live with apartheid, racism, discrimination and walls, discover why we are still smiling. This is our strength.”

resistanceIt didn’t take long for me to encounter the hope he bragged about. On the very first day, I was awed by the power of resistance I encountered at every turn – individual and communal resistance, structural resistance, physical, mental and emotional resistance – and an overall refusal to accept injustice or inhumanity of any kind. Grass roots networks of resistance abounded, and in journaling my experiences that day, I reflected upon what it means for resistance to be a way of life.

Here again, I encountered a theme that wasn’t new to me – in fact, I’ve spent countless hours reading, researching, writing, teaching, and even preaching about resistance. And yet, the power of resistance took on a whole new dimension as I witnessed a palpable spirit of communal resistance among so many who shared their stories. When I encountered the popular slogan to exist is to resist, I began to understand the depth of meaning of resistance for a people who have endured the attempts of both physical and cultural genocide. I knew I had much to learn about what it means to not just engage in resistance, but to embody resistance at the core of your identity.

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As I attempted to articulate the spirit of resistance I was encountering, I journaled,

Resistance is enacting what limited freedom you have available to you. Claiming what dignity you can salvage. Living as fully as you can despite living under the thumb of the oppressor – and refusing to let the current powers that be fully control your behavior, your thoughts, your identity, your life….

Resistance is not without consequences. Many we met have served years in prison. Many have been further denied access to precious resources. Whole towns and communities have been punished for the resistance of one of their own. And yet, people resist. Individuals resist, communities resist, and networks of resistance appear and enact what they can for the sake of themselves, their people, those who they’ve lost in the struggle, those they love who are kept from them, and the young people who know only the lies they’ve been told.

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In every town, village and city we visited we encountered memorial walls honoring those martyred in the struggle for freedom, justice and equality.

The resistance we encountered was a resistance to inhumanity – a refusal to allow anyone, or anything, to lessen your identity as a human being. Our translator articulated this well when I asked her who/what she understood to be her enemy. She explained, “my enemy is anyone who doesn’t see me as equal. Anything that is unjust to me – not just people, walls. All that represents inequality. I demand a simple life with dignity.” She went on to clarify that she didn’t ask for much in the world. She didn’t need cars, or lots of material wealth. But she did demand dignity. She deserved to be treated with the basic respect any human being is entitled to. Resistance isn’t merely an act of survival, it is an act of proclaiming one’s humanity, despite anyone, or anything, that would seek to deny this.

In addition to the resistance we encountered among the Palestinians, there was great hope, and deep connection, in participating in an international delegation of people committed to the work of resistance in our own communities. Sharing stories and songs, laughter and learnings, we celebrated the power of resistance across our lands, and were deeply encouraged to know that our struggles are not isolated, and we are not alone in our efforts of resistance.

As I enter into a new year, I carry with me the lessons of hope and resistance I learned in Palestine. I resolve to do what I can to participate in resistance in the year ahead – in my community, in my country, and in the world. Even more, I resolve to be a part of an ever-expanding community of resistance. It is this larger community that I will continue to learn from and draw strength from as the need for resistance grows ever greater.

Join me in the way of resistance!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bethlehem

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Having seen the wall in Bethlehem, my understanding of the reality Jesus was born into – and the realities so many still endure – will never be the same.

O little town of Bethlehem, your existence has shaped my faith. How fitting, then, that is was visiting your streets where God came to me anew, showing me what it means to encounter incarnation in the midst of a world of pain.

Below is my journal entry (slightly edited) from the day I spent in Bethlehem. It captures glimpses of what it meant for me to visit this sacred town, and how my understanding of the Christmas story, and my faith, will be forever changed.

October 15, 2017. Today I felt the struggle deep in my soul. Maybe it was hearing our group leader talk about his experience as a political prisoner, and his witnessing of the ongoing torture of a teenage inmate. Maybe it was touring a Bethlehem refugee camp, constructed with concrete slabs generously donated (hear the sarcasm) by the United States, or seeing the graphics of U.S. missiles that killed hundreds of Palestinian children. Maybe it was seeing the Bethlehem Wall with the United States president hugging it, kissing it, and promising to build it a brother – or seeing how this imprisoning barrier had become a symbol of powerful artistic resistance, creative protests and stories of the people, peppered with the occasional capitalistic invitation to tourists. Maybe it was the knowledge that this was the last day of the tour, and not only would I be saying good bye to the land, my new comrades in the struggle, the history lessons and the visible reality of what was happening, but that I was returning to my own comfortable life built from Occupation, to a people who benefit from the system and live in ignorance of their explicit and complicit lifestyles of excess and luxury.

What I knew, touring Bethlehem, was that this was indeed the town where a pregnant, Palestinian teen and her betrothed were forced to travel, to register and pay taxes, and the place was so full of people enduring Occupation that there was no room for them in an inn (or so the story goes). They ended up finding shelter in a cave. Into this community, so long ago, sprang another generation of resistance, with a leader whose teachings of dignity, humanity, equality, justice and restoration are still being followed. This Palestinian Jew’s message has shaped my life, opened my eyes to the struggle for freedom and the power of resistance, hope and healing – and seeking to follow in his footsteps has allowed me to identify with this historic little town.

I took great comfort in knowing that the incarnation is alive and well among my comrades in the resistance, and even as I return home, I have new allies in the struggle and accountability partners on the journey to end Occupation everywhere.

 

 

 

Bethlehem’s wall was built to contain and confine, but resistance beckons at every turn.

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Reminiscent of Tupac Shakur’s rose growing from concrete, this grape vine refused to be contained by the concrete wall of Aida Refugee Camp.

 

Jerusalem

Jerusalem is a holy city for three major religions, and two people groups consider it their rightful capital. International law has given the city special status. No one people group or religion has the right to claim exclusive sovereignty of this sacred place.

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As I entered Old Jerusalem for the first time, I didn’t hear the voices. How could I? I didn’t know the people. I didn’t know the place. I didn’t know the history. I was overwhelmed with the newness of the experience, the cultural smells and sounds and sights that enticed my senses and held me in rapt attention. It was my new friend and traveling companion, Tita, who heard them, and shared their stories with me. “Look up,” she said, “see those windows above the stores. Those were the homes of many Palestinians who were forcibly removed from the city in 1967.”

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One week later, I returned to the city, and their voices were impossible to silence. I had time to walk the streets as a tourist, taking in the sights and sounds, time to browse the shops and get lost in the maze of narrow streets, but my eyes kept drifting up to the windows. My ears kept hearing the cries of so many who were no longer present, but whose anguish remained. Reminiscent of the land crying out to God about the murder of one brother from another (Gen. 4), I couldn’t shake the memories of a history I’d newly encountered, and it’s impact on the lives of so many. With new eyes and new ears, I couldn’t not see and hear what I was oblivious to days before.

On my first day in Jerusalem, our group met with Afro-Palestinians to learn their unique (and all too common) struggles. Our very first speaker, Ali Jiddah, spoke a refrain we would hear echoed by all we encountered, “the only demand of the Palestinian people: we want human rights like everyone else.” We went to an Afro-Palestinian Cultural Center working to give children, youth and women hope in seemingly hopeless times. Musa, the Center’s leader, gave examples of the many ways Palestinians in Old Jerusalem have known invasion, occupation, harassment, economic oppression, and corruption of thinking. We had a rich discussion about the similar struggles of giving hope to young people when the larger society deems them worthless, from Jerusalem to the Tohono O’odham reservation to African Americans in Oakland. We concluded our Jerusalem tour by learning of how religious tourism is being promoted to further displace Palestinians (see my entry Profiting Off Pain).

By the end of the day, lyrics to a song I listened to in high school kept running through my head, “Jerusalem, the prophets call your name Jerusalem, but they call out in vain ‘cause you don’t hear, how many tears must fall, Jerusalem” (Whiteheart). Jesus himself repeated the call of the Hebrew prophets (Matthew 23:37, Luke 13:34), longing for the oppressed people of this great city to be seen, heard, and given human rights like everyone else.

Palestinian protests continue in the wake of Trump’s declaration last week, claiming Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. These protests are the anguished cries of a people who have been forcibly removed from their homes, endured occupation and oppression for decades, and refuse to allow their history and their culture to be destroyed as they struggle to remain in their homeland. Can you hear their cries? Listen!

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At the Western Wall, on my final day in Jerusalem, I poured out my heart to the Judeo-Christian God for the persecuted people of Allah. I felt the power of lament amidst the complexities of religious traditions that are all too often usurped to corrupt the voice of Love, yet through whom the Divine One can still speak a message of hope, healing, justice and peace.

In the midst of the holiday season in the U.S., we are bombarded with messages of peace. Candles are lit in homes across the country, by both the religious and non-religious alike, as we long for peace on earth. But peace does not come without justice, and the work of justice begins with hearing the cries of the oppressed. As people of conscience from all walks of life long for peace – especially in a season in which we are invited to pray for peace and sing of peace – may we also (re)commit ourselves to working for peace. May we hear the cries of the oppressed (both in distant lands and in our own communities), may we find ways to partner with those who are working for justice, may we remove our complicity in systems and structures of injustice, and may we become – ever more fully – a people of peace.

 

Solidarity and Seeking Solutions

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President Trump has made clear his love for Israel this week, affirming it’s government sanctioned  practices of apartheid, colonization, and ethnic cleansing. International leaders have responded with disapproval and the Palestinian people continue to protest in the streets, with their bodies and their lives (more than a thousand Palestinians have been injured in this week’s protests). Want to show your solidarity with their struggle? Then heed the call from the Palestinian community to engage in boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).

BDS is an international call for action from Palestinian civil society. Loose networks and grassroots groups representing an absolute majority stand together to demand freedom (from occupation and colonization), justice (for the diaspora through their right to return) and equality (for all who live in Israel). To promote international participation in these goals, BDS identifies companies that profit off the Occupation and calls for the international community to withdraw their support from these companies until they no longer benefit from the Occupation. Supporting these campaigns allows people to withdraw their complicity, exercise their purchasing power, and add their voices to the resistance.

I encourage you to boycott Hewlett Packard products, in light of the multiple ways in which their technology is used to violate Palestinian human rights: through Israel’s military and policing practices, prison and detention systems, and Israel’s racist population registry. HP is at the heart of Israel’s use of mass incarceration, which  includes imprisoning roughly 700 children under age 18 annually. Click here to learn more about HP’s participation in the Occupation: https://www.fosna.org/free-your-church-hp. Other campaigns BDS promotes include boycotting Sabra Hummus, SodaStream, Israeli fruits and vegetables, Caterpillar and Ahava Active Dead Sea Minerals. To learn more about these campaigns, check out https://bdsmovement.net/get-involved/what-to-boycott.

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quote written on the Bethlehem Wall

The invitation to participate in BDS is not just to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people – although that is a worthy cause. It also recognizes the intersections of oppression and invites the international community to band together in resistance to the globalization of injustice perpetuated by governments and businesses, many of whom are already in collusion. In addition, BDS provides an opportunity to protest the ways in which U.S. tax dollars are being used to fund Israel – $10,000 a day. Finally, it allows us to challenge ways in which Israel is exporting it’s structural tools of oppression to the United States through our use their surveillance and “security” technologies, their role in training (and militarizing) our police systems, and their participation in our own border militarization and wall construction. While I do not have the power to end my country’s support of Israel’s government and military, I do have a moral responsibility to minimize my complicity and add my voice to the movement for freedom, justice and equality not just in Palestine, but in my home, in Oakland, and in the United States.

 

IMG_1300A candle of hope burns brightly in my home. It’s light honors the Christian season of Advent – a time of waiting – longing – for God’s presence in the midst of struggle. Advent hope is not simply a prayer, it is an invitation of anticipation, an affirmation that love abides and that peace will come – even in the darkest of times. Advent hope is an invitation to participate in acts of peace and joyous resistance to the harshness of human selfishness, greed and violence. As the candle of hope burns brightly in my home, may it also burn brightly within us.

 

Profiting Off Pain

“Live simply so that others may simply live.”

Suffering is a significant piece of the human experience – loss, pain and struggle are part of the journey. It is when suffering is intentionally caused – created for the pleasure or pursuits of one group at the explicit expense of another – that it becomes evil. Suffering that stems from greed, corruption, exploitation, theft, and the desire to control or possess, this is the kind of suffering I encountered in Palestine – gratuitous and unjust suffering due to inhumane (and illegal) practices.

The way in which the state of Israel profits off oppression, occupation and colonization is atrocious. Take, for example, the precious resource of water. Below are photos of an aqueduct in the Jordan Valley used by Bedouin for generations. It has dried up due to the recent digging of a deep Israeli well 30 feet away. The captured water goes to growing Israeli dates for export, at the expense of those who need water for their livelihood and survival. Not only is this stolen water vastly cheaper to purchase for Israelis than Palestinians (who now have to purchase that which has been a part of their lives for millennia, but they no longer have access to), Israelis use four-to-six times the amount of water compared to Palestinians. And if that weren’t bad enough, there are advertisements for a water park in the area – allowing those with access to water to indulge in its excesses, all the while those without access continue to suffer.

Land theft presents another area of profitable injustice. From Israel conquering over 78% of Palestinian land with it’s establishment in 1948 to its occupying the rest of the land in 1967 to building a wall that concretely separates Palestinians from their land to establishing illegal settlements in the areas the wall doesn’t reach, Palestinians are confined to ever diminishing spaces in their own homeland.

It was the fears of Daoud, activist and resident of Silwan, that brought home to me the ever-present fears of losing what little remains within Palestinian communities. In the picture below, the Mount of Olives is on the right, and Silwan, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem and home to 55,000 Palestinians, is on the left. Daoud shared that more than 700 demolition orders have been issued for Silwan, with the goal of removing Palestinians from this area and using the land to create gardens for tourists. These “development programs” are strategic attempts at further population removal and to transform this ancient Palestinian community into a type of Disneyland park for Holy Land tourism. Contrary to Israeli propaganda, residents of Silwan are not poor or unorganized, they are simply not free to determine the future of their own community and forced to live within an unjust legal system that promotes Israeli self-interest at their expense. (To learn more about Silwan’s demolitions, check out this Al Jazeera report: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/09/silwan-demolitions-destroying-jerusalem-170920080554388.html)

Land and water theft are only two examples of the pernicious ways in which Israel seeks to prosper at the expense of Palestinians. Exporting structural control of peoples is the larger project, profiting from their security and military expertise and their ability to export mechanisms of control (surveillance, military training, wall construction, etc.) to other countries. The United States is a huge supporter of Israel precisely because our government seeks out this expertise for economic gain.

Outraged yet? Good. Fear not, for there are hopeful and effective ways to participate in resistance!

To challenge these atrocities, the Palestinian community has created the powerful resistance movement Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), specifically targeting some of the major Israeli companies that benefit economically off occupation and oppression of their people. Activists throughout our tour repeatedly encouraged us – if you want to help our cause, if you want to stand with us in solidarity, please participate in our BDS campaigns. Next week’s blog will highlight these amazing efforts, and how you can be part of the solution. Stay tuned!

 

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Colonies and Colonization

 

Settler colonial occupation. These words have been added to my everyday vocabulary, and my framework for understanding the world, since my visit to Palestine. It’s not that I hadn’t heard them before, or that I don’t know the history of my own country – but I’ve been trained to ignore such history, to silence the disturbing questions this history raises, and to think of such atrocities as happening centuries ago in the United States, before our country was “civilized.” The benefits I have as a Euro-American are so normalized that I’m often an unquestioning benefactor of the ill-gotten gains of land theft, resource theft, ethnic cleansing and targeted killing that continue to shape my country and its vast assets that are enjoyed by some at the expense of others.

Palestine has suffered from Israel’s colonial settler project for 100 years. Since the catastrophe of 1947, more than 550 villages have been destroyed, over 7 million refugees live in diaspora and another 720,000 live as refugees in their own land. All the while, their homeland has been filled with more than 600,000 Israeli settlers and the establishment of more than 240 illegal settlements/outposts (https://uscpr.org/learn/togetherwerise/not-that-complicated/#1497288348678-2211f8d9-4819). Current practices of home demolitions, targeting of villages, occupation, military control, and mass incarceration, as well as land and resource theft, continue at aggressive rates. All the while, Israeli propaganda is hard at work actively spinning webs of lies to confuse people, distort reality and rewrite history.

 

Recently destroyed homes in Qalandiya, just outside of Jerusalem

Two members of our delegation, Amy Juan and Nellie David, Native Americans of the Tohono O’odham Nation on the U.S./Mexico border, helped me make sense of the current realities in Palestine and their intricate connections with the centuries of colonizing practices in the United States.

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Amy and Nellie with Bedouin shepherd Abu Saqr

The ways in which their experiences have paralleled those of the Palestinian people is revealing: similar experiences of being relegated to a confined piece of land and separated from their larger community due to outsider created and imposed borders, of being a desert people whose access to water has been stolen, and of seeing their land filled checkpoints and surveillance towers to control their movements and limit their freedom. The ways in which both indigenous peoples had European governments give away their land, colonists come and try to wipe out their existence, and when that failed, sought to re-write history to “civilize,” assimilate and eradicate their ancient cultures also matches. Both groups live with the reality that their very existence negates the false history of settlers that the land they settled in was unoccupied, free for the taking. Their very presence compromises the propaganda of “benevolent benefactors.” Even the rhetoric with which their oppressors sought/seek to dehumanize the indigenous communities was/is similar: poor, uneducated, unorganized, criminal. The maps below provide a visual of the parallel realities of land loss both indigenous groups have endured – and continue to fight: (https://uscpr.org/learn/togetherwerise/freedom-bound/)

 

In witnessing the Palestinian experience of aggressive and blatant attempts at colonization, I couldn’t help but think of the history of the United States. Conversations with Amy and Nellie helped me connect dots not only with U.S. history, but also to the ongoing realities of living in our colonial context. Many of the parallels listed above are from their current – 21st century – struggles for freedom, justice and self-determination, especially as the U.S. continues to militarize the border with Mexico, 75 miles of which are on Tohono O’odham land.

As the United States celebrates Thanksgiving, a holiday steeped in apocryphal myths of colonial and indigenous relationships, it is important to remember our country’s larger history of colonization: occupation, land and resource theft, and ongoing mistreatment of the first peoples of the land. As people gather around tables of abundance and offer gratitude for what they have, it is important to also acknowledge the ways in which what many in the United States have belonged to people long before the U.S. existed, and in many cases was violently taken from them. In this season of gratitude, I encourage you to keep in mind the ways in which the relationship between those who have and those who do not is intricately connected. In claiming this truth, may we continue working toward a day when our country truly provides freedom and justice for all.

Safety and (in)Security

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Jamal Juma’ – Palestinian activist, freedom fighter and our group leader

I’ve been struck by the number of people who’ve expressed concern for my safety while I was away. From close friends to congregants to the kind man who cooks me kabobs every Saturday. Again and again, with genuine concern in their voices, people let me know that they have worried about me. Setting aside the illusoriness of “safety” in the first place, I simply respond, “Yes, I’m home safe, but I now carry with me the names and faces of many for whom safety is an unaffordable luxury.”

I’ve also been asked countless times how safe I felt when traveling. At first, the question is surprising – while in Palestine I was surrounded by welcome and warmth everywhere I went. In fact, it was for the purpose of bringing safety that we spent a day with olive pickers (harvest time can be quite dangerous for Palestinians without an international presence providing witness to potential violence). Far from fear, I felt a deep connection with the people I visited – a sense of unity, friendship, and joy.

But then, I remember the guns – massive guns in the arms of Israeli soldiers throughout the area. I remember the checkpoints, the people I witnessed being harassed by soldiers, and the times we were sternly warned about our behavior lest we attracted attention. I remember my own fear while traveling of Israeli airport security who had the power to deny me entry or detain me for questioning. I remember the fear in a young woman’s eyes as she was forcibly removed from our bus in Qalandiya.

Questions of safety can be tricky. Who determines safety, what constitutes security, and how does fear get manipulated in the argument? When appeals for safety are made, it is important to ask: safety for whom and at what cost? Too often it is in the name of “security” that governments enact unjust practices, ensuring long term insecurity.

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Arguments for safety typically use fear as a weapon to control people, behavior and thinking – a frequent tactic of both Israeli and U.S. governments. Throughout the West Bank we passed giant red signs warning us of the dangers of entry into Palestinian villages. These signs were symbolic of the many invisible walls that separate Palestinians from Israelis, lest fraternization lead to friendship. These signs reminded me of my own beloved Oakland, and its notorious national reputation that is anything but an accurate depiction of the people who call it home.

Fear is powerful, working on multiple levels to alienate people from one another, from our humanity, and from our ability to think and act ethically. At the mercy of fear, we allow ourselves to be divided into subgroups that separate us into “good” and “safe” people versus “questionable,” “bad,” or “dangerous” people. At the mercy of fear, we forgo our shared humanity, allowing false dichotomies to distort reality. At the mercy of fear, we allow ourselves to transition to survival ethics, thinking only of personal or in group safety. Ironically, it is fear itself, with its ability to separate, alienate and dehumanize, that carries with it the self-fulfilling prophecy of creating situations for violence to erupt.

Appealing to the rhetoric of fear, the U.S. government has been able to increase military spending on activities that threaten our long-term safety, the Department of Homeland Security has promoted racial profiling and intrusive surveillance, incarceration rates of people of color and mass deportation have skyrocketed (becoming a modern U.S. form of ethnic cleansing), and a few powerful people have made obnoxious amounts of money in the process.

It’s not that we don’t have things to be truly afraid of, but there is a very real danger of selling our collective souls to the devil of safety, destroying our ability to care, to connect, to befriend and love. Creating “safety” for one group at the expense of another never leads to peace. As fear levels continue to rise in the United States – going to a concert or movie theater no longer feels safe, walking the streets of an urban center or running a marathon no longer feels safe, attending school or a place of worship no longer feels safe – let’s be cautious of the ways in which these emboldened fears will be used against us to create further walls that separate us from one another, our humanity, and our ability to know, understand and work for real peace.

May our faith in connection, kindness, justice and mercy be greater than our fears for safety.