Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Lent 3, Romans—Since We are Justified by Faith

Since we are justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…
Romans 5.1-11

So, as Martin Luther once said (or is believed to have said), "sin boldly!"

I have used this blog to help North Americans read the Bible through a lens of the Palestinian experience. This necessarily entails examining Israel's occupation and confiscation of their lands, since this is at the heart of the Palestinian experience. This critical look at Israel's policies and treatment of Palestinians always provokes resistance, even in me, because I was raised in an America that deeply regretted the holocaust—I, like many Americans vow, "Never again."

But support for Palestinians and criticism of Israel does not equal hatred of Israel or Jews. Support for Palestinians is not anti-Semitism. In fact, while criticizing Israel is NOT anti-Semitic, labeling all Jews as supporters of Israel's policies, IS racist. It is no different than labeling all Jews as money-grubbers. It is a racial/ethnic stereotype that harms people. Jewish Voice for Peace and other Jewish peace groups are adamant about this.

Recently, campus groups of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) have been targeted on their campuses for actions they have taken, speakers they have invited, etc. This clamping down on free speech on several college campuses is an orchestrated effort to silence those who hold a critical view of Israel. Their speech is NOT anti-Semitic. (An aside: "anti-Semitic" is misleading anyway, since Palestinians are also Semitic people.)

There is an active SJP group at DU, but I have not heard of any problems they have encountered.

Christ Hedges wrote a comprehensive article in TruthDig on Monday, explaining what is happening on college campuses, "Israel's War on American Universities." I commend it for your reading today: http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/israels_war_on_american_universities_20140316

The article begins….
he banning of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at Northeastern University in Boston on March 7, along with a university threat of disciplinary measures against some of its members, replicates sanctions being imposed against numerous student Palestinian rights groups across the country. The attacks, and the disturbingly similar forms of punishment, appear to be part of a coordinated effort by the Israeli government and the Israel lobby to blacklist all student groups that challenge the official Israeli narrative.
Northeastern banned the SJP chapter after it posted on campus replicas of eviction notices that are routinely put up on Palestinian homes set for Israeli demolition. The university notice of suspension says that if the SJP petitions for reinstatement next year, “No current member of the Students for Justice in Palestine executive board may serve on the inaugural board of the new organization” and that representatives from the organization must attend university-sanctioned “trainings.”
In 2011 in California, 10 students who had disrupted a speech at UC Irvine by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren were found guilty, put on informal probation and sentenced to perform community service….continue reading

Gracious God, we are freed by your son, to act boldly in using our wealth and power to defend those who are poor and powerless. Help us see where we have this opportunity in our lives this Lent and embolden us to act. Amen.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Lent 3, Exodus - Remembering Rachel Corrie

Exodus 17.1-7

"Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink." Exodus 17.6

Today is a good day to remember Rachel Corrie. Eleven years ago, on March 16, Rachel, a US citizen, was killed by an Israeli bulldozer as she was protesting to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home in Gaza. To honor her memory and her willingness to put herself in danger for a cause she strongly believed in,  read one of her emails home shortly before her death: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2003/mar/18/usa.israel

It would be wonderful to report that things have changed in Gaza, but Gaza is worse off today than it was in 2003, with severe malnutrition, damaged infrastructure, intermittent electricity—all under Israel's blockade. Gaza's water supply has been tapped for Israeli use; in fact, Israel claims to own all the water in areas it occupies—even the rainwater.

Gracious God, we are grateful for your servants who stand against injustice. Open our eyes to the suffering around us. Touch our hearts with your mercy, compassion and generosity. Bless Prime Minister Abbas's meeting with President Obama today with your wisdom and courage. Amen.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Lent 2, John—Testifying to What We Have Seen and Heard

We speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen...
John 3.1-17

I heard it again last week—"I needed to tell everyone what is happening. I was convinced that if they knew, the situation will change."

The first time I heard these words I was at the coffee hour at Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem and it was a personal plea to me—the young man wanted to make sure I would tell the people in the US what was happening to the Palestinians in the West Bank. He earnestly said to me, "Surely if people knew what is happening here, things would change for us."

Since then I have heard this from so many Israelis and Palestinians that I have lost count—almost everyone I meet expects us to come back and tell our government. They are fully convinced that if people in the US knew what is going on, the US will stop funding Israel's occupation and their lives will change.

Then last week I heard it again—from a young Israeli, a former IDF soldier, Eran Efrati. This time he was talking about his own witness.

As a 19-year-old, he served in the IDF, stationed in Hebron, where 800 settlers have forced their way into the heart of the old city, at first occupying rooms in a hotel, then claiming property above the market. The settlers create conflict with the Palestinians, by occupying their property illegally. Then the Israeli military is called in to protect the settlers.

In Hebron, there are 800 settlers—with 500 Israeli soldiers and 300 Israeli police to protect them.

Israel has divided Hebron into two zones, H1 and H2—one zone for Israelis and one for Palestinians. Then the soldiers moved the Palestinians out of the Israeli zone. Today the once-busy market street, Shuhada Street, is empty, stores closed and shuttered—only Israeli settlers, American tourists and the patrolling soldiers are on the street.

Eran was one of these soldiers—raiding Palestinian homes in the middle of the night, asserting Israel's authority, terrorizing adults and children. He tells about testing new Israeli weapons—on these very real live people—and being praised for combatting terrorism when his unit accidentally killed a boy.

At the beginning, Eran had been so very sure that if he told his family and friends and other Israelis about what their army is really doing in the West Bank, it would change. Like me, he learned that telling what we have seen may change some hearts, but it does not change government policy.

Eran Efrati is traveling the US with Maya Wind, telling their stories—"The Soldier and the Refusenik," telling stories about their dawning realization that Israel's military occupation of the Palestinians is rotting the core of Israeli society.

Eran and Maya's story is our story too—when, after years of assuming that Israelis and Palestinians would eventually agree to terms and there would be peace, we are confronted with a different reality, one that is not so popular in the news we follow or with our friends.

It's painful to realize that my country is supporting this violence against an indigenous people.

Gracious God, we are so grateful for the good news your son Jesus preached on the hillsides of Palestine. We know that evil does not have the last word, but it is so painful to watch—in Palestine and in so many places on our nightly news. Forgive us our complicity in the oppression we see and empower us to speak out as the victims implore us. Amen.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Lent 2, Romans—Wandering Children of Abraham

For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.
Romans 4.1-5, 13-17

A Tale of Two Peoples and Two Realities

Jeff Halper is the founder and director of the Israeli non-profit, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). Salim Shawamreh is a Palestinian whose home has been destroyed more than five times and rebuilt by Jeff Halper and ICAHD volunteers. Dalia Landau is an Israeli who opened the door of her home one afternoon and met the Palestinians who had been forced from the home in 1948.

Click on the "Steadfast Hope" study guide below and listen to these Israelis and Palestinians, children of Abraham, talk about living together in a land shared by two peoples.

Watch a video about the rebuilding of Salim's house last summer, July 2013.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Lent 2, Genesis— …so that you will be a Blessing

Genesis 12.1-4a

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” Gen 12.1-2

God’s blessing to Abram is difficult to imagine today, as we listen to the news from the land where Abram journeyed. Abram and Sarai traveled from Ur near the Euphrates, north along the river through present-day Iraq, into Syria and then south. His journey took him near places whose names are now familiar to us: An Najaf, Karbala, Fallujah, Ramadi, Aleppo, Homs, Damascus, Amman, Jerusalem, and Hebron, where he received a gift of land from Ephron the Hittite for a burial place for Sarah. Because Abraham was a sojourner in the land. He did not own any land; he was a nomad, a guest.

Does God’s blessing endure? Is God’s blessing being shared by the descendants of Abraham, the people of the land today? How are they reflecting God’s desire for the land?

I think of Eran Efrati, who was in Colorado last week, telling us the story of his own journey—a Jewish Israeli who served in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), and is now speaking out about the harm being done to Israeli society by the practices of Israel’s military. Like Abraham, Eran’s family also journeyed to the land that is now Israel. They came from Iran, from Iraq, from Hungary. Eran, who is in his late 20s, is a seventh generation Jerusalemite.

Eran began his story by telling us about his grandmother, a holocaust survivor who lived with his family. When she was a small child, her father had been taken away by Nazi soldiers, and she was eventually imprisoned at Auschwitz. He tells how she would awaken in the middle of the night, screaming. From a young age, Eran had a strong desire to make sure the horrors of the holocaust would never happen again and he vowed to guard against such violence.

After high school, like all Israeli teenagers, he served his term in the IDF. His unit patrolled the West Bank city of Hebron—if you’ve been there, you have seen how the city is literally a military zone—500 Israeli soldiers and 300 Israeli police protecting 800 ideological settlers intent on claiming the Palestinian city for Israel. 

Hebron is where Abraham received the gift of the land from the Hittites. He buried his wife Sarah here. The Ibrahimi mosque also houses the tombs of Abraham, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah.

Eran tells that during a night raid on the home of a Palestinian family, soldiers in his unit overreact and shoot a small boy. In the confusion, the boy’s father is arrested because he is screaming at the soldiers. Eran hears the boy’s grandmother screaming her grief, and it is the scream of his own grandmother in the night.

Her scream was a turning point for the uneasy soldier, who sought out people who were opposing Israel’s occupation and soon found himself on the other end of the IDF weapons in a protest against Israel’s wall.

Eran joined a group called Breaking the Silence, which records testimony of Israeli soldiers who question what they were ordered to do in enforcing the occupation. He is now touring the US, with his wife Maya (“TheSoldier and the Refusenik”) telling their stories.

See Eran and Maya tell about their journeys in their own words: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8fR8_Kn9tQ0 
Gracious God, we have not lived up to your promises for us. Strengthen us in our desires to be a blessing to those we live among. Amen.