Tag Archives: Palestine

In Palestine: It is good to be a child caring for children

Image result for uncle bobbie's

Donovan and I shared a pleasant hour at Uncle Bobbie’s in Germantown last week. As we were winding down, he brought up how Marc Lamont Hill, the founder of the restaurant, had been fired from his commentator role at CNN for using an “anti-Semitic” phrase in a speech he gave to the United Nations. He called for equal rights for Palestinians “from the river to the Sea.”

When we were in Palestine, I met so many West Bank residents and Israelis who think such rights are crucial for the future health of both Jews and Palestinians, I thought it was a settled part of the ongoing argument about what is next. But in the polarized atmosphere of the United States, Hill’s remarks were immediately characterized as a call for the eradication of Israel! As you can hear in the Al Jazeera report on the incident, most people thought he was just talking about all Palestinians — those who live in Israel or the West Bank, achieving rights equal to Israelis. Others saw the phrase as a line straight from the Hamas playbook.

Donovan and I had wandered into the minefield of Israeli fragility and aggression in our own country, where 27 states have already enacted legislation that targets anti-Israeli boycotts designed to pressure Israel for justice, and where federal legislation against the boycotts is pending. What’s more, the Christians seem to have chosen the side of the Jews (who they identify with the state of Israel) for once. Pat Robertson summed up the radical Evangelical theology that produces super-supporters of Israel who think their support is a matter of Bible-following holiness. That’s as far as I will wander into that.

I just want to pay attention to Palestinian children

I bring up Marc Lamont Hill stepping on one of the landmines spread around the perimeter of public opinion to protect Israel because we were discussing the explosion he experienced right after I had outlined the following exhortation. I would like us to pay attention to Palestinian children and the ongoing injustice Israel perpetrates as they  protect their nation’s right to exist, violate international law, illegally settle the West Bank, operate a police state and divide up the territory they occupy with an apartheid-like system. I would be speaking hysterically if I had not briefly experienced everything on that list in person — a giant wall always in the background snaking along various borders.

I don’t think Jesus followers need to gain the world’s power in order to effect perfect justice. Jesus will bring everything to right in the end. Besides, striving to be on the top so we can help people at the bottom seems to be the exact opposite of the Lord’s strategy. Like Jesus, i think we should accompany those at the bottom, identify with them and see the world through their eyes. We work for peace and justice from that vantage point.

So that brings me to the children of Palestine. MCC distributed an infographic about their situation. Here is part of it.

They have trauma stories

Jarrah, an 18-year-old Palestinian man, was 15 when he was arrested by Israeli soldiers. He says, “I used to go out with my friends to parties, but now when I reach the end of the street I remember what happened. And I come back. There is no feeling of safety.” The children are traumatized by the occupation and the constant threat of random Israeli arrest. Many of the Palestinians live in territory under military control, which does not have the same civil law structure as other places.

Each year Israel detains and prosecutes 500-700 Palestinian youth in the West Bank. Human rights organizations have documented the systematic mistreatment and abuse of these children, including torture, blindfolding and lack of access to legal counsel. These practices run counter to basic norms and protections within juvenile justice systems. (Like the U.S. government emulates Israel’s wall, it also mistreats detained children).

Obaida Akram Jawabra was detained and is afraid he will end up in prison again. One reason he is afraid is because to get to school he needs to cross Route 60. That highway is controlled by the Israeli military. Here is his story.

Here is another story from Al Jazeera about a sixteen-year-old who’s arrest was caught on video and went viral.

It is good to be a child caring for children

On April 30, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) introduced a bill, H.R. 2407, to prohibit U.S. taxpayer funds from supporting the military detention of children in any country, including Israel. This important bill builds on similar legislation that was introduced in the last session of Congress. Do you know how to encourage your representative to sign on as a co-sponsor?

Jesus welcomed and blessed children, saying “whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me” (Matthew 18:5). We are called to care for the most vulnerable among us, including children. I would add that we are to BE the most vulnerable, just like Jesus emptied himself to become one with us in our sin and brokenness. That may always seem like a counterintuitive strategy to us. But the road to transformation is always a step toward the “least of these” as one of the poor, in fact or in spirit.

I am sick of the campaign…but still alternative.

When Gwen and I were travelling around the Poconos last weekend we came across a General Store in Lackawaxen. It had a big sign out front: “We trust in God. We trust in guns. We trust in Trump.“

We started complaining about the state of the country, but then we basically just changed the subject. We’re sick of it. I, in particular, am surprisingly sick of it. I have seen politics as a “hobby” since I was in high school – history in the making and all that, but what is going on now is so broken, I can’t even get serious on that level, anymore.

This presidential campaign is pounding us. How about you? Are you sick of it yet? The proportions of its nastiness and untruthfulness are so huge that I think people might finally wake up and realize that the world is a sin sick place. It has gotten so bad our general denial might be upended! Our leaders are helping Jesus out.  We might finally get to the place Paul hopes people will get:

Everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.  This is why it is said:
“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:13-16

I know, I know. Many people will just go into deeper sleep: pile into work, buy things, drink or drug, game until they can’t see straight and then buy an Oculus.

But I can’t help but think that many people will actually wake up and seek out alternativity. That’s where Jesus is waiting. There is an alternative: true life in Christ, a new life built together by his followers. I’ve always been serious about that, but now the country’s leaders are making me real serious.

I was singing this old song this morning that answered the longing of Jeremiah as he lamented the condition of Israel in his day — his country was a wreck. “Is there no balm in Gilead for my suffering people?” he cried. The song answers:

There is a balm in Gilead,
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead,
To heal the sin-sick soul.

Sometimes I feel discouraged,
And think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit
Revives my hope again.

Jesus the balm.

I do get discouraged. I am not sure what will be left of our safe empire in a few years. I believe I will be fine, but what of all the unsuspecting, ill-financed, debt-ridden people? The children! What about the poor of the Philadelphia region? The prospect of big changes is daunting!

When we used to sing There is a Balm, we thought it was funny to sing “there is a bomb in Gilead” in honor of Israel’s nukes and the ongoing Palestinian oppression that blows up every few years. That’s not so funny these days, since there is a bomb in New York City and New York’s country is dropping bombs on families in Syria adding to the refugee crisis that has created the most instability the world has known in decades. I get discouraged.

But then the Holy Spirit revives my hope again. Sin happens every day – and will keep happening inside us and out. We’re sick. But our work in the Lord is not in vain. My wounds are not permanent. Our sins could not keep Jesus in the grave. I still know we are the alternative, and we need to be: a circle of hope wherever God takes us.

2014 #10 — Six reasons why we can't care about Palestine

For the next few weeks, Thursday is TOP TEN of 2014 day. This is the #10 most read post. In July, I tried to sympathize with people who are having a tough time with our radical ideas about attending to the sins of the world — like the oppression, violence and apartheid in Palestine.

There are good reasons you don’t care: Here are six (focusing on Palestine)

Why can’t we care about much of anything beyond getting through this week?

I suppose a few of us feel some crushing guilt when we hear such a question. A few of us effectively screened out questions like “Why don’t you care?” a long time ago. We exempted ourselves, because we don’t want to feel guilt anymore. It crushes us.

Ideally, we think of ourselves as caring people. If we are Jesus followers there is quite a bit of pressure to care about others. I think most of us think we are doing OK at meeting the standards. We are probably more caring than other people — especially Israelis who are creating an apartheid system in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, and Palestinians like Hamas who would sacrifice their whole people for their ideology.

college gilr

You probably are more caring than they are, and I like to think I am too. But let’s face it. When it comes to the Israeli/Palestinian tragedy the vast majority of us have just barely heard about what is going on — that’s true even though our own church people have been talking about it regularly for over two years.  We didn’t read a blog post, we didn’t go to the movie, we didn’t read a newspaper or listen to a broadcast. What’s more, we did not pray about it; we did not figure out how to give money to help suffering people; we did not support others who care more than we do; we did not protest to our elected officials who fund the whole thing; we did not demand an end to weapons production and distribution, etc. If we care at all, why don’t we do something?

I think there are a lot more reasons for not caring about Palestine than we are just wicked, guilt-resistant, pseudo-Christians.

I think we may be dramatically underestimating just how powerful and demanding the powers that be really are, and way underestimating just how damaging it is to buy the philosophy of self-reliance and “freedom” capitalism keeps selling.

Here are some good reasons you don’t care, or at least don’t do much to show that you do:

1) You’ve got student loan debt that must be paid off.

It is the all-purpose excuse millions of people have for tunneling into their careers and keeping whatever job they have at all costs, working whatever hours are required to do so.

2) You either have high rent or you are stuck with a high mortgage.

Nationally, 50% all renters are now spending more than 30% of their income on housing, according to a comprehensive Harvard study, up from 38% of renters in 2000. In PA the average renter needs to bring in about $17.21 an hour to make the average rent for a two-bedroom. The stats show that the phenomenon of twentysomethings living with mom and dad is proven by more than anecdotal evidence; the few who have ventured into their own homes spend all their hours making money to make the payments.

3) You need to pay for private school for your kids.

This is mainly because people do not want to pay taxes or sensibly elevate standards for public education. The average private school tuition in the U.S. for a non-sectarian elementary school is $15,945 a year, and $27,302 a year for secondary school. Catholic elementary school will run you on average $4,944 for elementary school and $7,826 for secondary school; other religious schools average $6,576 for elementary and $10,493 for secondary. Everywhere we turn, some giant institution is costing a lot!

4) You have to master the insurance system and might need to pay exorbitant rates.

This is mainly because people do not want to share in each other’s well-being. In PA the average monthly health insurance cost for a single person is $271 but could be as high as $1200. If you actually go to the doctor, be prepared to take the day off as the system tries to frustrate any use of it.

motherboard

5) You have to master technology that is too complex to master.

That is just in order to participate in the society. Plus, you have to pay a fee to do so at every step: internet, phone, TV, security systems. And those are just the systems we can see. Behind every institution from law to transit, the complexity is increasing exponentially. Many of us would love to respond to injustice if we could get our computer to work.

6) You have to master consumer capitalism.

We did a kitchen in our home a few years back. We already replaced the dishwasher. Last week we paid $350 to fix the fridge. Our beloved repairman told us there were no better machines available. They all have the same problems and they are all junk because people have learned to expect them to fail and to change them like they are fashion, not utilities. Such obsolescence is a business strategy. To stay on the treadmill takes economic staying power. Which means a lot of time on the treadmill, which does not leave a lot of time for Palestinians.

I still ask for outrage

I sometimes ask my favorite twentysomethings why they are not more rebellious. A lot of them gave it a whirl with the Occupy movement — and some are still engaged in the aftermath of that. Some are implementing beautiful responses to the traps the culture has set for them. But most of them are just too busy and tired to do anything. I feel their plight. It is hard to be an agent of transformation when the powers that be are so damnably well-outfitted. For instance, whatever one might try to do just might be filmed and analyzed by some faceless authority  That alone could make you want to hunker down with a good video game. If anyone is choked by the cares of the world, the transformers are. If they complain, they get, “You’re free. Make any changes they want. Just DIY. You’re special and your country is exceptional,” shoved down their throat.

I hope my honesty about what it is like for many people also sounds like sympathy. We want to care about Palestine and much more. But a lot of us are pretty busy just trying to get through this week. Even saying “Jesus will give you strength,” just sounds like there will be another duty to perform if he does! But Jesus is the master of overcoming gigantic powers. If you are doomed to some kind of slavery, He’s your savior.

Lesson from Palestine: Existence Is Resistance

My new favorite phrase.

I don’t want to use the phrase “existence is resistance” as if I just invented it. I learned it from Palestinians, like those from Stop the Wall, and from the Christian Peacemaker Teams in At-Tuwani, south of Hebron.

From top left clockwise: the village, surveying settlement takeovers, the villager tells his story, lunch with CPT

At-Tuwani

In At-Tuwani our MCC Learning Tour delegation met a woman from Switzerland who had been living in the village for six years as part of CPT’s work of support. She was about ready to return to Europe. The villagers are now organized enough to do without the protection of witnesses from the U.S. or Europe.

At-Tuwani is in “area C” of the apartheid system Israel is perfecting in its occupied territories. That means the village is under direct military control. Living in area C means that almost anything can happen to a Palestinian for “security” reasons. It means that one’s rights are adjudicated by military justice. Practically, it means that one’s land is subject to seizure and that the housing developments being planted on your grazing and farm land can supplant your long-held practices – and will be protected by the military (which, by the way, is protected by the United States). The village is something of a showcase for people devoted to nonviolent resistance. They have been dedicated to the proposition that existence is resistance.

We listened to one of the village’s activists talk about the awakening that caused him to be a leader in direct nonviolent action. When the nearby Israeli settlement was built nearby, it disrupted all the village’s ways. The “settlers” commandeered farmland and claimed grazing areas for their use. One day they beat the man’s mother when she dared to graze sheep in land they were trying to control. As we looked over the village (see the pic) he described how he had participated in securing its ongoing existence against the constant pressure and harassment of the Israeli settlers, military and bureaucracy. Their existence is resistance.

Shalom House

That phrase made a lot of sense to me yesterday when we were meeting as the Shalom House Guidance Team. We have had a notable lack of success this year in keeping the house full. The Guidance Team, Listening Tour Team and House have done remarkable things, anyway. But we have a dream of nurturing a vibrant intentional community that makes peace and gives peacemaking a solid footing in Circle of Hope and the east coast megalopolis. We’re having trouble getting people to move across town to be a part of it. Much more do we have trouble getting people to move across the country! We think it is going to work out, but it has been discouraging. As we sat around the table yesterday, I could not help thinking that having such a community in the world is our version, in the United States, of “existence is resistance.” Someone needs to care about ending the reliance on military oppression to guarantee what passes for the “freedom” of United States citizens! I don’t think that someone is a big charity or some aberrant charitable corporation; that someone is me (and maybe you!).

Circle of Hope

The phrase applies to Circle of Hope, in general, as well. To be the vibrant, growing network we are in the Northeast megalopolis, existence is resistance. We live in a place that is famously the “most godless” part of the United States. We won the tag from the northwest a few years ago. Traditional Christians are lamenting the loss of market share. Pundits are noting the end of Christian America. To be honest, I don’t think I will miss whatever “Christian America’ was. But it is worth noting that it can be hard to be a Christian these days around here. People don’t mind bashing you; they feel the tide moving away from Christian dominance. Mere existence is resistance to the new domination of nothingness.

The hopeful thing about existence being resistance is that everyone can do it. Live in your village. If you are just that much of a thorn in the Israeli military’s flesh, that is noble. Be a part of Shalom House. Even if you don’t accomplish as much as you think needs to be done, the fact that you exist with the convictions you carry makes a difference. Be a living part of your living church. Even if your social circles think that is odd, at least they know a Christian who is not in a museum.

I think At-Tuwani, Shalom House and Circle of Hope are doing a lot more than existing —  they are creating! But I find it encouraging to think that if I just hang on and don’t cease to exist before my time, that is a good thing.

U.S. Duty to Report on Israel

After being in Israel and Palestine for ten days, I am a bit shocked. I don’t think it is just jet-lag. The situation there is much worse than I imagined.

I’ve decided that the relationship between the United States and Israel is much like the relationship Penn State had with one of its popular coaches before he was accused of being a child molester. This particular coach has been in the news for the past few days. Word is: He adopted foster children, set up a foster care home that became a chain of homes around the state, used Penn State facilities for activities, and then it was discovered that he had a decade or more of illicit sexual relationships with some of the boys in his homes for “at-risk” children. School officials apparently knew about the behavior and covered it up. Joe Paterno himself may have known all about it and did not inform the police. It looks like they really love the guy and can’t bear to admit he’s a blackguard.

I’ve never thought of Paterno and Obama as similar, but maybe so. The United States knows all about Israel’s abuse of the Palestinians who live in the occupied territory that Israel does not admit is occupied. It knows that the security barrier is ruining the lives of Palestinians. It knows that the wall is grabbing land and depriving farms and whole towns of water. It  knows that the settlements which the sixteen-foot-high “security fence” encompass violate international law. It knows (at least Jimmy Carter knows) that Israel is creating another apartheid system. Even Moshe Dayan’s widow was lamenting the sorry state of affairs this week in Newsweek – it must know about her! It looks like the government really loves Israel and can’t bear to admit it is a perp.

As a Christian, I don’t have much faith in governments beyond what they are ordained to do under God’s direction. Since I don’t think most of them are much interested in God’s direction, I leave them to God. I don’t think I can sort out what to do about the United States cutting UNESCO funding because Palestine became a member. Why in the world would the U.S. government protect the manifestly weird and cruel policies of Israel? It is mind-boggling.

But as a Christian, and as a Christian who now has some first-hand knowledge of the “facts on the ground” in Israel/Palestine I have some responsibilities. Here are a few things I am doing.

1)    I keep talking and so should you. We should tell the truth as far as we can presently see it and engage in the dialogue so we can find out more. For instance, military aid to Israel is budgeted already at 3.09 billion per year from 2012 to 2018 – talk amongst yourselves.

2)    I keep recruiting people for Shalom House. We’ve created enough stir
lately that I think gifted and available people are about ready to take the leap to join the community and make a difference. I am collecting a list of people who can recruit further members on our behalf, too, since I know  peacemakers are out there, we just have to connect with them.

3)    I keep doing my part to build the Lord’s antidote. I am enthused to, I am aching to, be a part of creating an alternative community called Circle of Hope, in which we can speak the truth in love and not cover up things we find unlovely. Last night at BW we were alive with people talking about what Jesus is doing in their lives. At the Cell Leader training Saturday I was thrilled to hear how quickly people could testify to how God had met them on retreat. At the BW Men’s 9PM I was amazed at how we could talk about our sexuality with compassion and honesty. We have a great opportunity to invest our spiritual wealth to buy back people who have been kidnapped by the world with its constant talk of economics and security.

I know I have very meager-looking weapons. The Penn State Football program is to Circle of Hope as Israel is to Palestine as the United States is to Israel. But as 2 Corinthians 12:9 was teaching us again last night, our weakness may be our biggest advantage in the cause of truth and love.