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Israel Cuts Off Water Supply to 45,000 Palestinians
Israeli Jews and Palestinians are caught in a frightening, often violent scenario that given a choice, I believe could be solved by the people themselves with love. Sadly, decades ago, both groups became pawns in the hands of those powerful elites who wanted only to control that part of the world.
American Christians and Jews have been taught the Old Testament story of the Promised Land. To believe this story literally is one more example of how skewed our concept of God is. God’s children demonstrate much more love than the God of religion we are taught. The true story below took place in the early 1990s, but remains heartbreakingly relevant in 2014.
In January 1993, our seminary tour group arrived in Jerusalem. We spent one week in a Jewish hotel, one week in a Palestinian hotel. We listened to the stories of each side. When we returned to the U.S., I attempted to share our experiences with Christians. I found the situation such a hot potato that I dropped it. However, I have never forgotten my promise to Mrs. Habiby, a Palestinian Christian, that I would do whatever I could to shed light on this complicated situation.
Every time the news reveals mistreatment as the above article does, I remember my promise. When one human being is deprived, we all are because–in truth–WE ARE ONE. Those of you who knit know that not one stitch can be dropped without the entire garment eventually unraveling. Likewise, not one Part of the Whole Family of God can be mistreated without the Whole Family being impacted. We cannot have World Peace while one planetary inhabitant is being violated.
Sunday morning worship service at St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem
One of the most memorable experiences of our visit among Christian Palestinians was a Sunday morning worship service at St. George’s Cathedral. Canon Ateek preached his sermon twice—once in Arabic and once in English. We were astounded that Palestinian Christians sat through both sermons … we wondered what Americans would have done had Palestinians been visiting us in the states. The most inspiring moment was when we prayed the Lord’s Prayer in unison—some speaking English, most speaking Arabic. For those few moments, all barriers fell away … we were One.
Canon Naim Stifan Ateek
Canon Ateek is the author of several books, the most recent one being A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation. Others are: Justice, And Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation, Holy Land, Hollow Jubilee: God, Justice, & the Palestinians, and Faith & the Intifada: Palestinian Christian Voices.
Following the worship service, we met with Canon Ateek in the educational building to be assigned in small groups to visit the homes of Palestinian Christians. That afternoon we visited our assigned homes and listened to the individual stories of Palestinian Christians. They told of seized homes, bank accounts, and lands. They shared their stories in the hopes that we would return to the states and give Palestinians a voice in the political and religious arenas.
As we listened to their stories, we were struck by their honesty and their sincere desire to have us not react with anger at the Palestinian plight, but to respond with positive efforts to bring about a peaceful solution.
My 1993 seminary group visiting in the Jerusalem home of Mrs. Habiby.
This 4 volume pictorial series on the Middle East is dedicated to
To quote from Canon Ateek’s book Justice & Only Justice: “For most Palestinian Christians, as for many other Arab Christians, their view of the Bible, especially the Hebrew Scriptures, or the Old Testament, has been adversely affected by the creation of the State of Israel. Many previously hidden problems suddenly surfaced. The God of the Bible, hitherto the God who saves and liberates, has come to be viewed by Palestinians as partial and discriminating. Before the creation of the State, the Old Testament was considered to be an essential part of Christian Scripture, pointing and witnessing to Jesus. Since the creation of the State, some Jewish and Christian interpreters have read the Old Testament largely as a Zionist text to such an extent that it has become almost repugnant to Palestinian Christians. As a result, the Old Testament has generally fallen into disuse among both clergy and laity, and the Church has been unable to come to terms with its ambiguities, questions, and paradoxes—especially with its direct application of the twentieth-century events in Palestine. The fundamental question of many Christians … is: ‘How can the Old Testament be the Word of God in light of the Palestinian Christian’s experience with its use to support Zionism? …. What has been seriously questioned is the nature and character of God. What is God really like? What is God’s relation to the new State of Israel? Is God partial only to the Jews? Is this a God of justice and peace? …. The focus of these questions is the very person of God. God’s character is at stake. God’s integrity has been questioned.” (pages 77-78)
An American Jewish friend wrote several years ago: “It is the tribalism in the Bible that convinces me that the text is the work of humanity. I don’t believe that God would have written a story that justifies such cruelty, arrogance, and xenophobia. That said, I sense much of the same divinity in the Bible as I sense in Great Expectations and The Life of Pi, and the poetry of T.S. Eliot, and the paintings of Casper David Friedrich. I just think the Bible is no more authoritative or divine than other great works that call us to compassion and courage.
It is this very fact—the fact that the divinity of the human striving for God is so evident in the Bible despite the text’s wildly contradictory world views—that convinces me of the existence of a loving and compassionate God. It’s just like the ordinary world which sparkles with a sacredness everywhere you turn, just begging us to join in the sparkling and let the darkness die away.
But that doesn’t make religion bad. When religion is used to speak coherently to a group that has chosen to cling to each other because of their common mode of understanding or common history, that’s not necessarily bad. Not everyone can get the message the same way. God made us all different. However, when religion is used to gather power and resources for one group at the expense of another, that is the danger: anyone can be tempted to believe the thing that gives them and those they love an advantage regardless of the cost to anyone else. It’s too hard to resist.
Regarding religion, too, it’s hard to talk about the inherent value of religion without regarding the way that different religions see themselves. For Jews, religion and national identity are woven together like a sturdy fabric. Is there another modern religion—I’m sure there is, but I can’t think of one—that says to its converts ‘when you choose to practice our faith, you choose to throw your fortunes in with the fortunes of our people even though you have been protected from those fortunes until now? I wasn’t raised this way. I was raised in the Reform Jewish Movement which tried desperately and futilely to shake off its attachment to a national identity until it found that it was too hard for most people to ‘be Jewish’ without one. My father fought with this paradox all the years I knew him. I think he craved a stake in the comfort that God might offer, but hated the idea that he might not be able to have that without a national identity that denied him a plain vanilla North American identity.”
These questions are questions all of us need to ask. How can God be partial to a particular race or ethnic group? How can God sanction the seizure of property, the destruction of cities, and the killing of every man, woman, and child—as is depicted in the Old Testament and as an example that humankind follows to this day?
The unequivocal answer is: GOD IS NOT PARTIAL. The only reason we could even ask the question is that we do not know the Truth—WE ARE ALL ONE WITH GOD. There dwells within each human being a divine spark—the I AM PRESENCE.
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