A visit to Bethlehem: Life on the Other side of the Wall
Posted by rabbibrian on December 29, 2009
Two weeks ago, during Hannukah, I spent three days in Bethlehem, as a guest of the World Council of Churches. I was one of two Jews – my dear friend, Mark Braverman, was the other – invited to be present for the launch of the Palestine Kairos document, an extraordinary appeal written by Palestinian Christian leaders to Christians worldwide and to the entire world community. Entitled, A Moment of Truth: A word of Faith, Hope and Love from the Heart of Palestinian Suffering, the Kairos document is a painful and inspiring religious cry to people all around the world to end the Occupation.
“We, a group of Christian Palestinians, …..cry out from within the suffering in our country, under the Israeli occupation, with a cry of hope in the absence of all hope, a cry full of prayer and faith in a God ever vigilant, in God’s divine providence for all the inhabitants of this land.”
“In this historic document, we Palestinian Christians declare that the military occupation of our land is a sin against God and humanity, and that any theology that legitimizes the occupation is far from Christian teachings because true Christian theology is a theology of love and solidarity with the oppressed, a call to justice and equality among peoples.”
In addition to participating in the meetings over the three days, I was asked to offer a very brief public response to the document.
What did it mean to me?
As I read the document, I was moved and inspired by the clear articulation of the relationship between spiritual teachings of Christianity and the situation of Palestinians under Occupation. I was particularly struck by the way the document balances the religious commitment to justice, to resist the evil of the Occupation, with the commandment to love, to see all people as reflection of the Divine, not to demonize the Occupiers. In all struggles for justice this is the critical task for people of faith. The essence of our faith is to see the world and all humanity as an expression of the Divine and out of this faith to pursue justice and peace and to resist evil. It is very hard to do both and I chose to focus on this in my short response.
Here is some of what I said:
“I was struck by the balance in the Kairos document between the deep spiritual commitment to resist the injustice inflicted on the Palestinian people, along with a profound openness to the humanity of the oppressor.
Of course it struck me because I stand here today as a Jew, one who bears responsibility for the oppression. While I don’t live in Israel, Zionism and the rebirth of the Jewish/Hebrew culture in Israel in Israel is important to me. As much as I love the renewed Jewish culture in Israel, it is extremely painful to see our great spiritual tradition violated day by day by the cruelty and evil of walls, checkpoints, land confiscation, home demolition and countless other vile acts of injustice.
The injustice of the Occupation must end, God calls on all to resist the Occupation and to demand justice for the Palestinian people. Without justice for the Palestinian people, the Jewish people will never be liberated from being an oppressor, a reality that violates God’s call to the children of Abraham to pursue justice and righteousness. As a rabbi, I join with you in the resistance to Occupation both because my faith commands me to resist any injustice but also because this injustice corrupts Judaism and the Jewish people.. As it is stated so powerfully in your document:
“Primary responsibility rests on the perpetrators of injustice they must liberate themselves from the evil in them and the injustice that they have imposed on their brothers and sisters.”
It is in this spirit that I am with you today.
For me and for all Jews this path to taking responsibility for the injustice inflicted on the Palestinians is a difficult and painful one. Most people in our community know very little about Palestinian history and reality. Moreover, acknowledging that something as dear as your faith, or your religious community, is causing another people pain, is a difficult reality to acknowledge.
I invite you to read the entire Kairos document. Is it possible for us to create a similar statement one that articulates how we as Jews on the basis of our faith understand our relationship to the land and our responsibility to resist the Occupation?
For me it was the first time that I have stayed in Occupied Territories for several days. Living on the other side of the Wall was transformative. Every minute of the day, one lives with the reality of the Occupation. I went through the checkpoint a few times with Palestinians and understood in a deeper way how demeaning and humiliating it is, even for those Palestinians who have the necessary documents, to wait in a line at the checkpoint, not knowing if the young soldier on duty will allow you to leave. Most Palestinians are “imprisoned” behind the wall and can’t even visit family and friends in Jerusalem, just a five-minute drive from their homes.
At the end of the meeting when I went to visit my family and friends in West Jerusalem, I just cried. It felt like I had travelled from one planet to another. How do I hold on to the reality of Jewish life in West Jerusalem that I love and the reality of Bethlehem under Occupation?
And I felt like Joseph seeking his brothers. I was looking for my brothers and sisters, a Jewish community gathered around a theology of liberation, one that on the basis of our faith took full responsibility for our role in the oppression of the Palestinian people and took committed action to end the Occupation. Is such a community possible?
My faith in the possibility of justice and reconciliation is expressed so beautifully in the the Kairos document:
“Our land is God’s land, as is the case with all countries in the world. It is holy inasmuch as God is present in it, for God alone is holy and sanctifier. It is the duty of those of us who live here, to respect the will of God for this land. It is our duty to liberate it from the evil of injustice and war.
It is God’s land and therefore it must be a land of reconciliation, peace and love. This is indeed possible. God has put us here as two peoples, and God gives us the capacity, if we have the will, to live together and establish in it justice and peace, making it in reality God’s land: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it” (Ps. 24:1).