Monday, January 3, 2011

Do not be Afraid!

The morning is beautiful here. I haven’t be up for the sunrise in a long time. The air smells fresh and the sound of the morning birds cooing was beautiful. Taking a shower this morning was cleansing -- a baptism of sorts into the work of this adventure.

We met with two groups today: two programs of the World Council of Churches in the morning and Rabbis for Human Rights in the afternoon. By the time we finished at 3:00pm, all of us were ready for bed. Jet lag of this caliber is really kicking my butt!

The meeting this morning with Nader Hanna of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) and with Yusef Dahar, the executive director of the Jerusalem Inter-Church Center was very informative. It was nice to start off our visits with a group with which we were somewhat familiar. The American Friends Service Committee Office used to reside with these two WCC programs, but had just moved.

Yusef Dahar gave us an overview of the work of the Inter-Church Center. The Center works as a platform to faciliate dialogue among the 13 different churches and 4 communit
ies of indigenous Israeli/Palestinian Christians. It also facilitates writing projects such as the Karios Palestine Document and different advocacy work. EAPPI works to document human rights violations and dissuade violence through means of non-violent activism. EAPPI also networks world wide with its participants to educate the world on the issues faced by Israel and Palestine.

In general we had great conversations about the work and effect of these two groups. We exchanged some different contacts and networked together. They challenged me personally to live into a witness of advocacy and call the organizations I'm involved in to see their connections to the violence happening here in the Middle East. We also talked about the escalating violence towards Christians in Egypt and Iraq and Yusef and Nader reminded us that if a two state solution would set a precedent for an Islamic and a Jewish state, where would there be room for the Christians?

With those questions and comments jumbling around in our minds, we went for some lunch... good old falafal at a small Arab store and went to the Mount of Olives to see the city from up high. The view was beautiful! and... I did get a picture with myself actually featured! Though, while the local souvenir sellers were trying to get us to buy their wares by showing us where the famous site were... I asked our driver to show me the wall; the partisan wall that separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem. From the far west part of the Mount, we were able to find the wall sticking out of the earth like something out of a science fiction novel. My first glance at what will become a common scene along this journey.

From there we made our way to the offices of Rabbis for Human Rights. It was a very different reception, but once we started talking with the director, the conversation became lively and animated. He talked about the work of RHR as being three fold: education of youth and military on human rights (in general), economic justice for Israelis, and protecting the human rights of the Palestinian people. He argued that if the rights of the Palestinian people are respected, than Israel will be a safer place for everyone. However, there are grand misconceptions in play that make such work difficult.

RHR does some exceptional work fighting legal battles to get land back to the Palestinian people. They engage in non-violent action including placing themselves as human shields between settlers and Palestinians. RHR has helped with other issues regarding human rights and they consist of rabbis from all the different rabbinic traditions. They uphold the work of Abraham Joshua Heschel as a model for the work that they do.

In the end, the director spoke of two things that the Palestinian and Israeli people had in common: 1) they both feel deeply that they are victims and are outraged at being labeled perpetrators 2) both sides say that they want peace but the other side does not. These commonalities are exacerbated by experiences of violence, humiliation and injustice. We left with a lot to chew on...

Yet in leaving, the director of RHR told us a story. He had been called to a check point to help a escalating situation. A young Palestinian boy had been strapped to the windshield of a military vehicle while his parents had been strapped to another vehicle next to it. When the director of RHR arrived at the scene and tried to deescalate the situation, he ended up strapped to another car. The four people were used as human shields protecting the Israeli military from a group of Palestinians who were throwing rocks. Eventually the situation subsided and no one was seriously hurt, but the young boy was severally traumatized.

For many in similar situations, the experience of trauma solidifies an "us vs. them" ideology that usually perpetrates violence. Yet in this unique situation, when the Palestinian boy was interview about the incident at a much later date he said that "A tall Jewish Man in a kippa came to his rescue and told him to not be afraid." For this single child a stereotype was challenged and the situation made more complex. As I walked out of the office door I was haunted by another time the phrase "Do not be afraid" is used in religious context... in a hope for peace and unity... "Do not be Afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people..." (Luke 2:10)

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