a time for peace

– standing against occupation

a palestinian…

If asked a year ago for the first word that came to mind when I heard the word Palestinian… I might have said “terrorist.”  Today I would answer something quite different.  As I prepare to leave Bethlehem tomorrow, I want to introduce you to some of the Palestinians I have come to know, who have been part of my life just about everyday. Palestinians, I now call “friends.”

The first Palestinian I met was Majdi, the shop owner at our corner. Our first majdiday here, Niina and I were walking down the street in search of a bread shop and he came running out of his shop, insisted we get into his car, and he drove us to the best bakery shop in town! Since then I’ve learned Majdi adopts the EAs and always has a cup of coffee or tea ready to refresh us on our journeys past his corner shop.

clemenceThen there’s Clemence, whose home is directly next to the wall near the car gate. She was a teacher in the Beit Sahour Lutheran School and she did her best to teach me Arabic, poor woman! But more than that, she taught me about the culture and the ways of the people here, so I would not look foolish even if I couldn’t hold a conversation.  She took care of me like a good mom!

elias eliElias was our main taxi driver, and our relationship became one of the nicest surprises of all.  Driving us home one night he invited Dirk and me to come with him to have a beer and meet his friends. His friends became our friends as we had many dinners together –eli.jeanette at their homes, and out for pizza. They shared their lives, their hopes and dreams, and their struggles with us – teaching us much about the lives or ordinary Palestinians.  Since that night, Eli has not only taken us all around the area, he’s taken me many places that he, as a Palestinian, was nervous about going.

Cafe Sima is our favorite coffee shop – Sima was trained at the Cordon sima and momBleu in Paris as a pastry chef and her cafe is filled with delicious treats, as well as wonderful salads, soups, crepes, and quiche – and all kinds of coffees. What a blessing this little get-away has been!  Plus Sima’s mother, who works in the shop is a highly educated business woman who is a delightful lunch companion!

Finally, I must include the man who runs the small grocery shop just Abu Amil. sondownthe block, Abu Amil.  Although we didn’t shop there all that often, (in these shops there are no fresh foods, just staples) every time we walked past – sometimes three or four times/day – he or his son or wife, would wave and call out to us, so we would stop and check in to let them know what was happening. Day or night I felt safer, knowing they were watching for me as I walked their street.

Everyone of these folks (and many more I don’t have time to introduce you to) knew I would only be here for three months. And they knew I was an American, which means I was somewhat of a culprit in the on-going Occupation. Yet they opened their hearts with warm hospitality and genuine friendship to this stranger in their midst.  They watched over me, listened to me, laughed and cried with me.  They shared their struggles and they taught me what I needed to understand.  They were gentle and kind as they expressed their impatience with American/Israeli policies.

They became a part of my life as they helped me do my job, encouragingme on the wall bigme to take risks,listening to the stories of my adventures, welcoming me home from scary places, and then they shed tears as we said our goodbyes. As I leave tomorrow, I do so with sorrow that I am leaving some good friends to deal with the difficulties here without me – and I am grateful we had a chance to introduce them to Team 29 who will continue to join the struggle with them.  And I pray that God’s Holy Spirit bind them together in the same love we now share.
peace/salaam – Pastor Pat

November 16, 2008 Posted by | Christians, Occupation, Palestine, peace | 5 Comments

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