Born Under Occupation

“Jesus was born under occupation, lived under occupation, and was killed by occupying forces,” said Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek, Director of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem. Sabeel services the Christian churches and Muslims in Palestine. Palestinian Christians represent 1-2% of the Palestinian population and suffer under the same occupation as Palestinian Muslims. It’s racism. More than one representative we met with calls it apartheid. This became clear when we walked through a checkpoint, something Palestinians in the occupied territories must do daily to get to work or school or a doctor. We walked through long, narrow metal grates, had to pass two by two through a turnstile, put our bags, belts and watches on a belt to be scanned, walk through a scanner ourselves, show our passports, wait, and finally, we were able to proceed. Taxis wait on each side of the checkpoint because the drivers don’t have the right license plates, so they can only go as far as the checkpoint and then they leave their passenger, who must walk through and find another taxi on the other side. Some Palestinians begin lining up at checkpoints at midnight so that they can be first in line at 5 a.m. in order to make it to work on time in Jerusalem. If they are late they can lose their jobs.

Yesterday we visited a refugee camp with Dr. Mira Rizek, General Secretary of the YWCA-Palestine. We walked through streets filled with dusty rubble. Some Palestinians have known no other life than life in these camps. The YWCA serves women and children of the community and tries to meet their needs on many levels: education, health, vocation. Some women produce crafts in their homes that are sold through the YWCA. Several Palestinian women were taking a class while we were meeting with Mira. After our meeting, we began to speak with them. They were eager to talk, warm, and friendly. One of them showed us how she ties her head scarf. Soon we were laughing together.

That is a scene you won’t find on the evening news in the U.S., not on Fox news or probably any other major news network. You won’t know that Christian and Muslim Palestinians live and work together peacefully in these territories. That doesn’t serve the narrative that Palestinians are terrorists and that they hate people of other religions, narratives that are used to continue this apartheid. Nor will you hear in many American churches that Jesus was born under occupation in this land, and that this narrative is closer to what the Palestinians are living through than what the churches are teaching.



Ramallah area

Today we had the honor to tour the Jalazoune refugee camp and to meet with Jean Zaru, clerk of the Friends’ Meeting in Ramallah.

Many Palestinians are internal refugees — 44% of West Bank and Gaza residents are refugees. There are 19 UN-recognized refugee camps (of which Jalazoune is one) and five additional unregistered ones. People in this camp come from 36 demolished villages. We talked with a man who had lived in refugee camps since shortly after 1948, when his family and the other residents of their village were forcibly displaced to build an airport. Think of it — more than 60 years as a refugee in his own coun try.

Conditions in the camp are appalling. We saw evidence of serious health and safety concerns — including crumbling walks and steps on the steep hills and a lack of sewage treatment — and heard about severe cuts in funding from governmental and international sources for infrastructure development and maintenance and for basic operations. We saw indications of a dismal economy, such as many closed shops, and heard about unemployment rates in the camp approaching 40% or more. The camp is near a military installation, and we were told that the camp has been under curfew — and that people have been shot for curfew violations.

We visited with people from the Ramallah YWCA, which operates a variety of services for women and children at Jalazoune camp. Despite the dire conditions in the camp, they are doing wonderful things to support the lives and lift the spirits of the residents. Programs include kindergarten and other educational programs for children, and vocational training and health education for adults. Despite the injustices residents experience in their daily lives, the children and women we visited with were delightful and a source of hope for the future.

Our meeting with Jean Zaru helped to put what we had seen at Jalazoune into theological perspective. Zaru herself is an icon — A Palestinian Christian, an Arab Quaker, a distinguished theologian, and the only woman in the Middle East who is head of a church. I can’t adequately summarize all the wise and inspiring thoughts she shared with us; fortunately, she has written books and papers to do that — which are recommended reading.

Wounded Wounder or Mending Healer?

Wounded Wounding, Mending Healing

Our group had the opportunity to visit Yad Vashem (Jewish Holocaust Museum).  This was not my first visit to a Jewish Holocaust Museum. I had the chance to visit the Jewish Holocaust Museum in Washington DC some seventeen years ago.  This time, with a more critical hermeneutic lens, I saw or recognize something I was not fully prepared to see then. I saw a sentence that reads:  “A citizen of the Reich is a Subject of the State who has a German blood” (source:  Citizenship Law. September 15, 1935).

I like to believe that we learn from history, but sadly we often don’t. The State of Israel’s desire to form a Jewish state in the heart of Palestine mirrors the acts of its former oppressor (Third Reich). This time the victims of the once victimized are the Palestinians. Recalling Henri Nouwen’s work, Wounded Healer, it does not necessarily and always follow that the wounded is healer. Without the experience of healing, the wounded is more likely to wound others. As one puts it, “a pain that is not healed is transferred.” 




Foul Water

Foul Water


“…The river does what words would love,

Keeping its appearance

By insisting on disappearance;

Its only life surrendered

To the event of pilgrimage,

Carrying the origin to the end,

…Water: voice of grief,

Cry of love,

…Water: vehicle and idiom

Of all the inner voyaging

That keeps us alive.

Blessed be water,

Our first mother.

(John O’Donohue,  To Bless the Space Between Us)

Per person, Palestinians are allocated 36 liters of water daily while Jersusalemites receive 360 liters. The UN sets the daily minimum at 110 liters per day. To attempt to make up the gap, Palestinian keep black storage tanks on top of their houses to siphon off the main water supply. This activity is restricted to  the nighttime of hours of 11:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. Volume and pressure quickly plummet as neighbors compete for limited availability. Only 20% of Palestinian dwellings are connected to sewage systems. Primitive in construction, they often break down, interrupting  treatment function. The remaining Palestinian population directly dumps their waste in cesspits.  Remember that the ancients used cisterns for the same purpose. For these non-contiguous  communities it becomes cost prohibitive to hire tankers to pump out wastewater (B’Tselem, “Foul Play”, 2009, 19). Untreated wastewater thus flows freely through streams and valleys throughout the West Bank introducing major health problems for the Palestinian people as well as livestock and contaminating the food supply.

After the second Intifada in 2000, the road outside Jalazoune Refugee Camp closed for eight years because of a nearby Israeli military base.  At the corner of the roadway sits a boys’ elementary school. One day a youngster, about 6 or 7 years old, accidently threw a stone that hit a soldier’s Jeep. They militia beat the boy senseless, bound his ankles and tied his hands to the back of the vehicle. They dragged his little body through the streets of the camp as a warning to other children. As they dumped his body on the ground the soldiers held his mother and siblings at gunpoint, preventing them from cradling and comforting him. Only after he died were they allowed to touch him.

At the passport control in Ramallah, more than 60 women have given birth near the turnstile because the Israeli soldiers refuse to allow the mothers through fast enough to reach a hospital. Many of the newborns are stillborn.

This horrific situation seemingly is unique, but has been repeated throughout history. There were the Native American Apartheid, American Slavery, Russian Genocide, the  Jewish Holocaust, the Armenian oppression, South African Apartheid, the Killing Fields of Vietnam, the Rawandan Massacre, to name but a few. It is the Palestinians who are suffering now, in this land.

 Fortunately there are people, some of whom we have met on our trip, who are transcendent in their views. One of them is Jean Zaru, Clerk of the Friends Meeting in Ramallah, whom we met yesterday. She believes that neither the oppressor nor the oppressed are free and never will be until the structures of domination and power begin to shift. For the Palestinian refugees, the situation is corrosive to the very core of their dignity as human beings. The degree of separation and violence is greater than in South Africa, said Dr. Mira Rizek, General Secretary of the YWCA-Palestine.

If the Old Testament prophets visited Jerusalem and Ramallah would they recognize the harsh and unremitting political circumstances, ostensibly grounded in Biblical tradition? I think not. There is a good chance they would probably be imprisoned. 


Our Class with Dr. Naim Ateek of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center

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Today (Thursday, June 28, 2012) we visited the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem. We were fortunate to meet with Dr. Naim Ateek, the founder of the organization as well as the author of Uustice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation. I was thrilled to walk in and meet Sarah Thompson who is also a Spelman College graduate.

On Thursdays, the Center  holds a communion service and lunch in which we participated. It was wonderful to participate in a service with a Methodist woman from Oklahoma, a Jewish convert to Christianity, a Mennonite from Indiana, Palestinian Christians, someone from North Carolina, two female Episcopal priests, etc… It was truly a unique experience to hear the first reading in Arabic and other parts of the service in multiple languages. After the readings, Dr. Ateek gave a short meditation and then we all were asked to contextualize the scripture from last Sunday’s lectionary and apply it to the situation of Palestinians under oppression. The result was an amazing communal sermon.

We have been in Palestine-Israel for over a week and I have no qualms in characterizing this as a racial state. A 720km, 20 foot wall separates Israeli Palestinians from Israeli Jews, a wall that does not even follow the borders.  Palestinians who live in the West Bank must get permits to travel to other Palestinian cities in the West Bank and/or to travel to Jerusalem. Since 1967, 24,145 Palestinian homes have been demolished. While there are nice highways connecting the illegal Israeli Jewish settlements to each other, Palestinian mobility is restricted by numerous checkpoints and arbitrary road closures. The result is that Palestinians are essentially prisoners and refugees in their own country, second class citizens not unlike South African blacks under Apartheid and African Americans in the United States under Jim Crow. Consequently, as an African American womanist, such theologizing seemed very familiar.

In my worship class at UTS, I learned from Dr. Jann Cather Weaver that liturgy is the work of the people. In this communion service, I felt we truly embodied this concept—-from the communal sermon to the multilingual readings, to the individual receiving of communion in the faith tradition of our neighbor on the left to the serving of communion in our own faith tradition to our neighbor on the right. I thought about the after communion response of how Jesus and his disciples went out into the Mount of Olives. That phrase now has new meaning for me. Not only  have I been to the actual Mount of Olives but I have also communed with Palestinians, the descendants of Jesus. Indeed, I had witnessed for the second time a Palestinian Christian who had broken the bread and blessed the cup. I could not help but think of Jesus, a 1st century Palestinian Jew under Roman occupation and here I was with a 21st century Palestinian Christian under Israeli occupation. No wonder Dr. Ateek’s book is titled Justice and Only Justice.

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? ”   Micah 6:8

Pamela Y. Cook

Speaking Up

Tuesday was a busy day beginning with our visit to the Holocaust Museum. There we saw horrific pictures reflecting the inhumanity that was perpetrated on European Jews by Nazi Germany.    While of such event is unconscionable, inhumanity continues; this time it is the Palestinians who suffer at the hands of the Israeli Government.   The parallels of oppression are strikingly similar to that which innocent Jews suffered under the Nazi oppression.  As I reflect upon the current tragedy, I am mindful that the seeds of inhumanity exist within the heart of each one of us.  The irony of oppression is that those who were oppressed can become the oppressors. So it is with the inhumane policies of the Israeli Government over the Palestinian people.  Palestinian people are forced to undergo humiliation, death and destruction as Israeli policies make their lives insufferable. Tragically they have become refugees in their own land. Israeli settlements are illegally encroaching onto Palestinian lands without regard for the people of Palestine.  Many have lost their homes to Israeli settlers and the Palestinian people are not allowed to build homes on their own land.  Our group met a Palestinian family who had their home destroyed five times and are in the process of rebuilding it for the sixth time. His previous homes were surrounded by soldiers and bulldozed in the middle of the night.  His family was traumatized and his wife and one of their children are now suffering from PTSD.  Later our group learned of the humiliation of the many checkpoints that Palestinians have to pass through and the fact that people have to wait for many hours to make sure they get to work on time. Children are humiliated at these checkpoints as well as they attempt to go to school.  And even more tragically, children who have thrown stones at Israeli soldiers or tanks are placed in prison with adults and tortured until they admit to crimes they never committed. The oppression of the Palestinian people by the Israeli Government is tragic.  It is in effect a holocaust.  The Israeli government’s strategically designed matrix of control restricts Palestinians right to travel to other areas within their region and as a result many families have been divided with little hope of reunification. Their land is slowly being stolen and their human rights are being denied.  We must never forget what inhumanity is capable of.  We must speak up for the rights of the Palestinians and their desire to live in peace alongside the Israelis.  

Jan Murphy

Garden of Gethsemane

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While we have no way of knowing whether this is actually the Garden of Gethsemane, the evidence is fairly strong to support it. The olive trees here are over 1,000 years old. Gethsemane means olive presses and such presses were found on this site. It gave me chills to stand there and consider the fact that I was standing on the same site where Jesus stood.


Jubilee 2000: Israeli Government Style


“They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, ‘Peace, peace’,
when there is no peace.”  Jeremiah 6:14

For the year 2000, many churches around the world wanted to contribute something to Bethlehem in celebration of the Jubilee year of Jesus” birth. Several projects were funded including development of badly needed roads. After over $50 million had been invested in the home of Christ’s nativity, Israeli government forces promptly came in and destroyed it all. The bullet and rocket holes featured here are from Bethlehem University, Christmas Lutheran Church, and the Beit Sahour YMCA. Despite the destruction of their investment, there was no outcry from the global community about this travesty. Such actions will continue as long as the United States government collaborates with Israel as Israel repeatedly violates international law and the human rights of Palestinians. In the birthplace of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, there is no peace.


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