a time for peace

– standing against occupation

christian economics…

An important aspect of the current situation in Palestine is the declining economic life, especially for the Christians. Until the middle of the 20th Century, Bethlehem was about 90 percent Christian, inhabited by one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. Yet, in recent years the size of the community has shrunk due to emigration. In 1998, the religious makeup of the city was 67% Sunni Muslims and 33% Christian, mostly of the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic denominations. In 2005, the total Christian population had decreased to about 20%.

Economically Christians are suffering more than others because it is mostly the Christians who own the hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops, so the Occupation and protest Intifadas have had a huge affect them. The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) reports that Bethlehem has the highest unemployment in the West Bank. There is 65 per cent unemployment rate largely due to the 2,000 bedrooms in hotels that are empty each night. 

“As Christians, we have no economic future here,” one business man says. “We are melting away. Next summer I will leave this country to go to the States. How can I continue?  I would rather have a beautiful dream in my head about what my home is like, not the nightmare of the reality.”

The Christian population is the well-educated, middle class of this area.  As they leave for better prospects in Europe and America, they are creating an even larger gap between the wealthy and poor, and Palestine is losing some of her best resources for the leadership that is needed so badly. 

And even more importantly, the “living stones” of Christianity, who give enduring witness to the Christian faith by their presence here, are losing their voice and influence.  Many are worried that soon, very soon, there will no longer be Christians living in this land we regard as holy. The descendants of Jesus will be completely scattered abroad.  While Christians don’t hold as closely to a “theology of place” as the Jewish and Muslim people, the events that happened here and the prayers of millions of people over the centuries have saturated this Holy Land with a sacredness that can’t be denied, and which continues to enrich the faith experience of every pilgrim.  

The Palestinian-Christians here need the support of their brothers and sisters around the world. They need them to come and visit this land, to buy goods produced here, to pray and work for the end of the Occupation by the Israeli’s, to act as advocates in their struggle for freedom. They are the guardians of the physicalness of our faith – The Church of the Immaculate Conception (above) and the Synagogue site where Jesus offered his first sermon (right) in Nazareth, among many others.  Our support will help them stand strong as living links for us, as they remain in the place Jesus called home.

peace/salaam – Pastor Pat

‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
      are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
   for a ruler will come from you
      who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”  Matthew 2:5-7

October 24, 2008 Posted by | Christians, ELCA, Occupation, Palestine, peace | Leave a comment

schools under siege…

Tuesday we were called to the village of Al Khader, whose four schools are located near the international soccer field I mentioned earlier – two elementary schools (boys and girls) and two secondary schools (girls and boys).  It seems that Israeli soldiers have been harassing the teachers and students for the last week – putting in a flying checkpoint some mornings that delays the start of school one to two hours, announcing (untruthfully) that the schools have been closed, surrounding the schools and delaying the students leaving by an hour or more. Please understand that school starts at 7:20 am and does not serve lunch, so by 1:00 pm dismissal, the kids are exhausted and hungry – and now being traumatized by scary men with huge weapons.

Each principal has tried to stop the soldiers from being near the schools, but the commanders harshly push their way past, pointing high-powered weapons at him/her, claiming they can go anywhere and can do anything they want. A few months ago, they shot tear gas into the boys secondary school to make sure all the students had come into the courtyard! Even worse, in the past couple of years, they have “detained” 24 boys from the secondary school for six months and longer without any charges. Right now, they continue to hold eighteen boys and two girls, who were roused from their beds and taken away from their families with no explanation, and held in prison without any charges or trials. 

This time, they say they saw a student throw a rock onto the apartheid “settler road” that runs past below the back of the school compounds. When we went to the scene it was obvious that no one could have thrown a stone that could have hit the road. Due to a slanted roof over the road at this point, it is a physical impossibility! But the harassment continues, because it can.  Sadly, the powerful can always find reasons and ways to abuse the oppressed.

As the time for school dismissal approached, we could feel the tension build up, from both teachers and students. One little girl who feels especially traumatized by the soldiers presence, comes into the headmistresses office everyday now about a half hour before the end of school, just for reassurance. While she agreed to smile for a picture, I saw her heart wasn’t in it. Gratefully, the soldiers didn’t come the day we were there.  The teachers tell us it is because the Israeli long-range cameras are placed so they can see into the schools, and when internationals are there they stay away.

Imagine for a moment, any of this happening in American schools. I believe the outcry would be deafening – from parents, the public, the officials, from everyone! Yet here, in the Land of Occupation, the cries cannot be heard. Harassment like this is so common, it is considered almost normal.  Individual families who protest are punished. Teachers and counselors are ignored.  Even the local officials have no power to fight the Occupiers.  The Israeli government continues to claim it is all in the name of “security.” And they are backed by the money, the resources and the power of the USA – which includes me… and you.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, when facing the apartheid and abuse in South Africa, said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”  For Americans, it’s something to think about as we send our kids off each morning confident of their safety, at least from those who serve in our security forces. Maybe it’s time to tell our political leaders, we expect the same for children everywhere!  

peace/salaam – Pastor Pat

October 24, 2008 Posted by | children, Occupation, Palestine, peace | Leave a comment