From the category archives:

Triptykos in the Middle East

Interreligious Cooperation

by Facilitator on February 22, 2011

Christians protecting Muslims during their prayers in Tahrir. Their turn to repay the favor after Muslims turned up to protect Coptic churches on their Christmas Mass after the Alexandria bombing. In the darkness, we find the meaning of light..."

This is an image of what’s possible in Muslim-Christian relationships.  Read the article by Reza Aslan that accompanies this photo of Christians protecting Muslims during prayer.

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In Remembrance of Them

by Facilitator on February 7, 2011

by Frank Rogers

I am sitting in the Newark airport awaiting my flight to southern California, a storm of feelings and impressions swirling within me. Israel/Palestine, this land we called holy—and Jerusalem, whose name literally means, ‘the City of Peace’—seem anything but holy, anything but peaceful. It feels like a tragic region, each side bearing deep wounds and taking understandable but oftentimes destructive stabs at safety and bloody justice.

I have lived my entire life dedicated to a state of Israel; a commitment that I still hold dear. The Jewish people endured an unimaginable persecution—systematic and genocidal. The entire world turned its back upon them. Permeating the genocide, anti-Semitism has polluted Christian history, teaching, and even our sacred writings—a reality that has fueled pogroms and persecutions to which Christians must repent and seek to repair. The Jewish people need a state; they need an attachment to a homeland; they need a nation that is sovereign and safe. They have found it in Israel, and Israel is here to stay. Any talk of denying this to Jewish and Israeli people should be discontinued. And a profound compassion and understanding should be extended to them as they experience any and every attack as a threat to their very existence.

Alongside that unequivocal truth, the Palestinian people, likewise, deserve freedom, respect, and an attachment to a homeland that offers them safety, dignity, and sovereignty as a people. Currently, this is being denied to them. We heard so many stories and listened to countless statistics of human rights abuses, oppression under an occupation, and an insidiously systematic attempt to drive them from the land while Israelis consume more and more of the meager territory reluctantly allotted to Palestinians. The International Court of Justice has critiqued Israeli policies and actions; Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory have been declared illegal within the international community; and the United Nations has called for justice. Nevertheless, the injustice to the Palestinian people persists. As many Israelis insisted to us on our trip, it is possible to be in favor of Israel and critical of certain Israeli policies; indeed, a true democracy invites such critique and scrutiny.

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Tell People What You Have Seen and Heard

by Facilitator on February 5, 2011

by Andy Dreitcer

Checkpoint from the West Bank into Israel.

We’re half way through the 12-hour flight to Newark, before I catch my plane to California. It’s the middle of Continental Airline’s night (in the sense that it’s dark and most people are sleeping), and as I ponder what to write about in this (final?) travel post, two memories come to mind. The first tells a story of just how confusing and hopeless the situation in this land can be for its people. The second offers, for me, a possibility of hope.

This past afternoon Frank and I stood next to a building off the corner of the square in an ancient town in the Bethlehem area. The most important thing about that spot at that moment: it was right across the street from the tiny old shop that unfailingly had the right kind of Coke for Frank (and at 3 shekels instead of 6!) and equally inexpensive water for me. We were huddled just far enough under the eaves that we were out of the rain. As Frank drank his Diet Coke and I drank my water, a man walked hesitantly up to us, greeted us, and slowly began a conversation. He was in his late 50’s, maybe, had the ubiquitous Palestinian scarf around his neck, and looked like he worked hard. I took him to be Muslim, but only because we were in a largely Muslim area. Like most of the people we met in casual settings in the West Bank, his religious identity didn’t seem to be something that needed to be mentioned. (If we wanted to know someone’s tradition, we always had to ask. We stopped asking.) Mohammed (since we met many men with that name, I’ll use it here) teaches in a local school in the morning and drives a taxi the rest of the day. In fact, his taxi was a hundred feet away, idling with the other yellow cabs. Business is slow until tourist season starts “in 20 days.” He explained that with 7 sons and a $7200-per-year teaching salary (“after 20 years!”), he needs the extra job. His cousin, who works for the U.S. space industry, lives in California, which basically made us part of Mohammed’s family. After sharing small talk for a while, we turned the conversation to the situation in his village near Bethlehem. He told us this story:

One night I was sleeping. And then there was a knocking on the door. It was loud and kept going. I got up and went to the door and there was my son. He was very upset. He said, ‘The soldiers are coming!’ I could hear much noise in the village. I ran upstairs to look out. And I could see the soldiers knocking down doors. And women crying and begging them not to hurt their sons. And I saw that and I started laughing. Just laughing. Very hard laughing. My son looked at me. Very upset. Crying. There were tears down his face. He said, “Why are you laughing?!’ I said, ‘Because now we have THREE cages: Hamas, Fatah, and now the Israelis.’ Yes, each one makes a cage for us. Three cages. I do not see a way out.

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Pictures of Hope

by Facilitator on February 3, 2011

February 3, 2011 by Frank Rogers

Rawdat El Zuhur school founded in1952.

After a day and a half exploring the breathtaking Galilean seaside where Jesus taught and healed, we followed his lead and returned to Jerusalem, with its current political crisis. Within the despairingly complicated quagmire of issues, we encountered several pictures of hope. Sabeel is a center in East Jerusalem promoting Palestinian liberation theology rooted in nonviolence and an empowered justice for the people. One of its founding directors, Cedar Duaybis, shared her story with us. A feisty and impassioned woman, who in another time would be enjoying grandchildren in retirement, Cedar explained the passion that keeps her mobilizing young people in Palestinian neighborhoods and travelling to any place that will listen to the cry of her people.

Cedar was born in the seaside town of Haifa, raised Episcopalian, and schooled by British missionaries. Her mother, though Palestinian, was as British as the queen. She only prayed in English, only sang hymns from the Book of Common Prayer, and knew every birthday in the royal family. In 1948, the British were driven from the land and the empire vacated. Cedar, with only her mother and father from her family, fled to Nazareth where they lived in a refugee camp under military rule for over 15 years. She is still unable to visit the house and church her parents and grandparents helped build. They lost their possessions, Cedar shared, but more they lost their faith. British religious education insisted that Israel was their ancestor and spiritual ally living under the promise of freedom from slavery. Suddenly, Jewish Zionists invaded their land refusing to mingle with the people living there and building a life together. Israel became their Pharaoh—enacting racist laws, confiscating their land, and harassing them to pressure an involuntary exodus from the region. Now huge barriers are obstacles for a peaceful resolution—the status of the 4 million refugees still living in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt; Jewish settlements that dig intractable roots in land apportioned to the Palestinians; how to share Jerusalem between Muslims, Jews, and Christians all of whom find the city sacred; where to draw the borders when various treaties have drawn them differently throughout the conflict; and the difficulty of finding Palestinian unity when the people are fragmented throughout Israel, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and surrounding Arab countries. Cedar reads the Bible through Palestinian eyes now—not through the eyes of imperialism be it British or otherwise. These eyes see hope in Palestinian communities fighting for a ‘minimal measure of justice and a willingness to forgive the rest.

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Walls

by Facilitator on February 1, 2011

February 1, 2011 by Andy Dreitcer

From what we hear from outside sources, things are a bit exciting in the region around us. Up to 1 million people are marching against Mubarak in Egypt right now, Jordan’s King Abdullah II has fired his government, Syria protests are growing, and Yemen’s unrest is continuing. I say we hear this from “outside sources” because here, on the ground in Israel and Palestine, things are calm; there’s no hint of disruption, even though (as I just learned) the Palestinian Authority has called for immediate elections, with no word of a buy-in from Hamas. Since all of those things have been developing within a couple of hours from us in 3 directions, friends and family who are thinking of us might be interested to know that we are feeling safe. Nothing seems to have changed here, as far as we can tell. We’ll definitely let you know if it does. Though I imagine you may hear of it before we do.

In the midst of all of that, our “alternative tour” continues – and sometimes through walls. Over the past two days the walls came in 3 forms.

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Silent Screams

by Facilitator on January 31, 2011

January 30, 2011 by Frank Rogers

As the wind ripped the landscape and the sleet pelted our bodies, this afternoon we visited Yad Vashem, the National Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. The path of the exhibit descends at an escalating pitch giving the impression of plodding ever deeper into the bowels of the earth. Along the way are pictures, film clips, testimonies, and artifacts depicting the slide into the terrors of Nazism—the anti-Semitic propaganda, the book burnings and obscene cartoons, the strangulation of Jewish businesses, the harassments and yellow star humiliations, the confiscation of buildings and property, random arrests, ghettoization, deportation, enslavement, and ultimately extermination. At the pit in the museum’s center, like a hollowed-out grave, an abyss digs deep into the rocky cavern underneath the hall. Emerging from its depths in scores lined journals are the known names of four million Jews slaughtered by either bullet or gas. Still hidden in the murky depths below are the names of two million more whose identities have yet to be determined. Remembering the massacre at but one field that harbored genocide, Yevgany Yevtushenlo’s poem bears witness:

The wild grasses rustle over Babi Yar.

The trees look ominous,

Like judges.

Here all things scream silently.

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