Sunday, February 3, 2008

Bethlehem and the Wall, part 4

Some last reflections from my father's time in Bethlehem. Israel-Palestine, the wall, and identity cards:

Feb. 2, 2008

We had a powerful time this morning with Salim Munayer, starting with him sharing his personal story, and leading into his experience in reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis (with Musalaha,

A couple of questions from today:

What is a Christian–Christ-centered, true to Jesus, rooted in his life, character, teachings–response to / perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

What do you do when your theology puts you with one group of people against another (e.g., plays favorites, exalts one group, and their interests, over another – e.g., Christian support of Israelis, while demonizing the Palestinians)? Can we find a theology that brings people together, brings reconciliation, rather than fosters hatred, strife, division? We need a theology that meets the needs of all people, not just one group (and will pastors dare to speak up?).

Do we believe God is a God of love, for all people? Do we believe in our calling as people of Jesus to love our neighbors, all people (even our “enemies”)? What impact should this make in the Palestinian-Israeli situation?

And then, a thought about the Wall:

For Jews, when confronting those who are different, they usually respond by separating themselves, building a “wall” around themselves and others. The physical Wall is an expression of that – dealing with others by separation (and note that American Christians are tending to do that, too). But this is very harmful, and cannot lead to reconciliation and peace.

On Identity Cards:

Another interesting (and troubling) aspect of the situation for Palestinians / Arabs is that of identity cards. It is very complex, and hard for Americans to understand. I still don’t understand it.

We met:

  • A Palestinian Christian leader who has a West Bank identity card. That allows him to travel in the West Bank, but not to Jerusalem, and not to any part of Israel. He can travel across the West Bank (King Hussein / Allenby Bridge) border crossing into Jordan, and fly out of Amman, but that’s the only way he can travel out of the West Bank. There are many people in this status who are separated from their families in Jerusalem (by identity, and by the Wall and the checkpoints which now keep them from crossing). (There are some West Bank Palestinians who are allowed to travel to Jerusalem, if they have special work permits; but those are hard to come by.)
  • The brother of the above leader, who did have the West Bank identity card, but was out studying Bible and Theology in the U.S., and had his identity revoked by Israel. When he tried to return, they refused him entry even to the West Bank (to his family, his home, his life). He was shut out for 7 years. Eventually he obtained U.S. citizenship, and now has returned to do Christian work in Bethlehem, as a U.S. citizen, a “foreigner” in his own place; and with the realization that at any time the Israeli government might revoke his (temporary) visa and cast him out permanently.
  • A couple of Palestinians who have Jerusalem identity cards. This is the “best” identity card for Palestinians, because it allows them to travel anywhere – Jerusalem, the West Bank, and even Israel. The thing is, they have to keep living in Jerusalem, or they will lose this valuable identity – e.g., if they go out for a number of months or more, to study abroad, they will be considered to have “left,” and will lose their identity and their right to go back to Jerusalem. So in a way they are “trapped,” just as the West Bank Palestinians are trapped in the West Bank.
  • A couple of Palestinians who have Israeli citizenship. They are considered “Israeli Arabs,” and not allowed (publicly, officially) to refer to themselves by their own self-identity as Palestinians, because Israel does not officially recognize the existence of “Palestinians” as a people. They can travel anywhere in Israel, including Jerusalem, and it seems to the West Bank, though we heard that Israelis (perhaps Israeli Jews) are not allowed in the West Bank, because of security issues. As I said, it is complex and hard to follow.

With an American passport (at least, if you’re not Palestinian with an American passport), it is fairly easy to travel anywhere; although, yesterday when we were being driven from Bethlehem to Jerusalem (a short drive of perhaps 10-15 minutes), at the Wall checkpoint they said we would all have to get off the bus and proceed on foot through the walking maze of points where they search your luggage and person, etc. It’s not that you can’t get through, it’s just a hassle; a hassle which any Arab going back and forth is subjected to every time s/he passes. Due to time constraints, we drove a different way to Jerusalem, where they just checked passports but didn’t make us go through a big search process (but the Arabs going that other way all were made to get off their busses and be thoroughly searched, even though their papers were all in order).

Anyone visiting the “Holy Land” needs to be sure to visit areas in the West Bank, meet Palestinians, and see what their lives are like.

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