Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Let Justice Flow Like a River

Christians being baptised in the Jordan river
At one level the solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is simple.  As the Hebrew prophet Amos said, "Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream." (Am 5:24).  If we could see justice and righteousness like this it would bring peace to this land.  Why then hasn't this happened? Fear, defensiveness, selfish, stubborn human hearts... People on all sides of this conflict so easily get blinkers on and can't see beyond their own situation.  That's true for all of us I'm sure.
One wall which separates Israeli and Palestinian (Bethlehem, West Bank)
One of the barriers to hearing God through Scripture (which I have been looking at over my Cambridge time) is not being able to see beyond the story we have constructed for ourselves. I suspect many Jews could hear Amos 5 from their scriptures and think only of justice for them having more of the land, and not of justice for the Palestinians whose land they are occupying and confiscating in what the UN and the International Court of Justice describe as illegal settlements.

Israeli Checkpoint
On the other hand, Palestinians can easily adopt a victim mentality and blame the Israeli occupation of their land for everything.

After 6 days in the Holy Land I can't pretend to understand this whole conflict.  However, the advantage of being here with World Vision is that many doors were open to us to see things in Israel and the Palestinian Authority (West Bank) and meet people which tourists would miss, especially if they were on a tour organised by Israeli Jews.  We met with the Australian ambassador to Israel, David Sharma, who gave us helpful insights, but also acknowledged that the longer he is here the more complexities he discovers.  We have met and spoken with Israeli Jews, Israeli Messianic Jews, Israeli Arab Christians, Palestinian Christians, Palestinian Muslims, and western Christian World Vision staff.  (Phew! That list in itself takes some understanding and has several subtle but important nuances.)

So, as I try to process everything, let me tell you about some of the things I have seen and heard.
This will give insight into the different narratives or viewpoints that one hears in the Holy Land. Many Western Christians will only really be aware of the narrative presented by the State of Israel, and various Zionist supporters including Christian Zionists.  I am trying to take the advice some Palestinian Christians gave us and not be "for" or "against" either side, but to be "for justice", or as I would say, "for the God of justice and for actions that bring glory to God."

The dominant narrative from the state of Israel has been the need for security.  We visited Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem) and saw the horror of the systematic murder of 6 million Jews (as well as 5 million non-Jews such as Poles, Gypsies, communists, homosexuals and mentally and physically disabled people).  It is clear that the Jewish people are determined that this should never happen to them again.  Israelis live under threat from surrounding countries that have been at war with Israel at various times, and they can also face violence at any time within Israel and the Palestinian Territories.  Some Christians, motivated by a particular understanding of biblical prophecy and end times, regard the modern nation state of Israel as the chosen people of God who are entitled to their promised land and can do no wrong.  Unfortunately this results in Western Christian support for Jewish and Secular Israelis forcing Palestinian Christians off land they have owned for centuries.  It can even come across as "these Palestinian Christians are holding up the return of Christ by not letting Israelis occupy the promised land in fulfillment of prophecy."
A Palestinian Shepherd near Bethlehem, with an Israeli settlement in the background.
The wall stops Israelis and Palestinians meeting and talking.  It contributes to the fear each has of the other.  When a new Israeli settlement (like the one in the photo above) is established in the West Bank it exacerbates the problem because access roads cut off neighbouring Palestinian villages from each other.  They aren't allowed to use or cross the new Israeli roads.  Israeli settlements have continuous water and electricity, while  Palestinian villages have restricted water and electricity supplies.

Palestinians can mix together during the day in Jerusalem..  However, when you look at the city, East Jerusalem where Palestinians must live is clearly poorer.  We were told that Palestinian incomes are approximately one tenth of Israeli incomes.  West Jerusalem has the money, shopping malls, and modern construction.  I find it hard to see how peace negotiations can succeed when the power and wealth difference is so stark.  Palestinians have little to bring to the negotiating table.

While most Palestinians are Muslim, there is a small percentage of Palestinian Christians (about 1.5%). These Christian brothers and sisters feel largely abandoned and ignored by the world (including Western Christianity).  They told us "We are the forgotten church.  Christians in the West don't care about us." Life for Palestinian Christians is harsh. If they have the opportunity many choose to leave.  The number of Christians has fallen from 20% in 1947 to 1.5% today. Many Palestinians are determined to stay

We met with some Messianic Jewish leaders.  (These are Jews who have come to believe in Jesus as the messiah). At least one of these leaders saw the need to find reconciliation and peace with Palestinians.  He works with a Palestinian Christian leader we met in an organisation called Musalaha seeking to promote reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians as demonstrated in the life and teaching of Jesus.  He faces some criticism from some Messianic Jews for this.  We also met with a group called Rabbis for Human Rights.  They similarly face criticism from some Jews - but at least they cannot be accused of being antisemitic.  Their activities include:

  • donating 3,500 olive trees each year to Palestinian farmers whose lands are either at risk of land taker-over, or have been victims of violence by Jewish extremists.
  • organizing volunteers to harvest olives in solidarity with Palestinian farmers who face harassment.
  • assisting with the many legal cases where land owners are facing displacement.
  • assisting close to 1000 underprivileged Israelis each year with their socio-economic rights.

Again and again we were impressed with the eloquent, humble, yet determined people working for peace and justice.  It gives hope for this region!

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