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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