Saturday, June 28, 2008

Israeli views of the wall

The Israeli side of the wall: clean, sterile, and devoid of "unpleasantness."

"Peace Be With You"

The separation barrier, in Bethlehem.

Pictures from my recent trip.

The wall: six to eight meters (20-26 feet) in height

Hope, amidst violence and pain.

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." -MLK Jr.

"Say No!"
To what, exactly? Violence? Occupation? The separation barrier? Dehumanization? Fear?

"Here is a wall at which to weep"

Bethlehem, encircled

"Know Hope"

"Freedom for Everyone"

"This is for the broken confessions lost in translation."

"No Walls"

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted"

"We are all Palestinians"

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Place a Pebble

Place a pebble on a gravestone and remember
6 million individual holocausts
1 Holocaust of 6 million
For every life taken on the journey
add another
For every life given to protect the weak and innocent
add another

For the few soldiers who said
"I won't"
And died add one more

One more
For all who survive with the pain of memories
For those who cannot take a train journey or a shower
Visit a doctor
Hear a door bang
Or a 100 thousand daily mediocrities without being jolted
back to hell

For those who perpetuated the evil
and felt remorse

For those who still believe that what
they did was right

For those who could remain un-
touched by what they saw

For standers-by unwilling to speak
out when it began

For those whose love of God
grew stronger
And faith remained a strength
to those around them
For those who were the Face of
God to others
For those whose faith was
weakened or destroyed
For those who felt abandoned
For those to whom God is dead

For the pain of separation
Broken bands of selection
Terror and calmness
and acceptance

For those who starved
and thirsted yet shared
their meagre scraps with

For the Judas who sold a Jew
A gay, a communist, a Roma
A brain damaged child,
For goodwill, bread or freedom,
Place a pebble and remember.

-Rev. Maria Shepherdson
From Both Sides Now: Poems for the Journey -- Auschwitz to Palestine

Both Sides Now: Introduction

Here is the introduction from Rev. Maria Shepherdson's From Both Sides Now: Poems for the Journey -- Auschwitz to Palestine:
The peoples of the Holy Land are held very close to my heart and in prayers before God. The situation they face is complex in the extreme and all peoples, Israeli, Palestinian, Arab, Jew, Christian, and Muslim, suffer.

The poems offered in this book are those written at two significant moments of discovery. The first at Auschwitz, tracing a Belgian family lost in the Holocaust, when I discovered the true meaning of God with His people and what it means to be part of God's family in Christ. I also understood more fully the 614th commandment and determination to survive that prevails amongst Jews in Israel: a determination strengthened by anti-Semitism through the ages and the Shoah in particular.

The second was during a visit to the Holy Land, teacher training in Gaza, where I witnessed the fear and pain of the Palestinian people, their suffering and their wish to survive and thrive. A wish that echoes that of their Israeli brothers and sisters.

Most of all I understood the deep hurt caused to Christian Palestinians, forbidden the right to travel and worship at the Holy Places of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

These poems reflect one person's journey of discovery. As you read them I ask you not to take sides but to hold all the pain of all peoples in the Holy Land up to God. Hold them before Christ who weeps over Jerusalem still and pray earnestly for peace.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Both Sides Now: Auschwitz to Palestine

While at Bethlehem Bible College this past week, I picked up a booklet of poetry about the Holocaust and the Gaza strip. It's called From Both Sides Now: Poems for the Journey -- Auschwitz to Palestine, and is written by Rev. Maria Shepherdson.

The inscription on the cover reads: "Unless you see from both sides of the divide you cannot begin to travel a mile in the other person's shoes. Unless you travel that mile your prayers will always be one dimensional when they need to be all encompassing, all embracing."

When I first opened the book at random, I found myself reading the second half of a haunting poem. Haunting because it speaks of a complicated reality. A reality that I can't quite fit my mind around. A reality where there are no monsters -- no convenient orcs to demonize -- but only humans. Humans that can love and hate, kiss and kill.

I wish I could swear I would have been different, had I been there. That I would have been one of the few, risking my life to save another. Not having lived through it, we all believe it to be true: we would have been different. But what are we doing now, today, about Bethlehem? About Gaza? About the ghettos and the walls?

It's not the same. We say it's not the same. No one's dying. At least, not to the same degree. This isn't a holocaust. It's just a protective barrier. A war against terrorism.

How quickly words protect us from the truth.

What scares me, is that the Holocaust was not an act of creation: something out of nothing. It was a process. A slow road of dehumanization. A separation of "us" from "them". Stereotyping and demonizing. And when you build a wall, and allow your young boys to carry guns (as though there were rabid dogs roaming the street -- dangerous and savage), and implement collective punishment, and deny a race of humans their rights to lawyers and courts and laws and justice, where does the road lead? Where has it already led? Sabra, Shatila, Hebron, Bethlehem.

May God have mercy on a generation that has looked, is still looking, the other way . . .

* * *

(the last four stanzas are my favorite)

Where is God?

Christ carries His cross
And five Arimethean Joseph's lift the timbers off his lacerated back
Themselves torn apart by grief, hunger, angry pain and

The boots were stolen from one who became smoke
Consumed by flames in the giant bakery of the enemy
It did not lessen the sickening thud of impact
Nor make the bruises less waspish in intensity

The foot belonged to a fellow Jew
A human whose humanity had long ago been traded for an extra crust
A chance to survive
Through serving a whimsical master-overseer of Life and
One more day in a hell marginally less hellish than for others.

The voice that shrills a threat
Has also cooed and chortled to a child
And whispered love nothings to a wife
Spoke out the texts
And prayers
In Church

The eye that witnessed such degradation
Without being moved to pity or protest
Once wept for the death of a wounded bird.

And Which would we have been

Christ crucified
Josephs petrified
The booted dehumanised
The watcher desensitised?

-Rev. Maria Shepherdson

Palestinian-Israeli Basketball Rules (Hilarious and Sobering)

Humor, at its best, is humor that is provocative and challenging. It strips you of your defenses, and allows you to view an old issue with new eyes. The satire in this article, which paints a vivid picture of the absurd abuse taking place in Israel (absurd because it is so severe, and so overlooked), does that exceptionally well:

New Basketball Rules in the Middle East
Yasser Jordan, BNN's Sports Editor, 8 February 2006

The International Basketball Federation (FIBA) has directed its Middle East commission to implement fifteen new rule changes from March 1. Regarding the use of a smaller ball for midget basketball, the commision for midget basketball events will consider the matter in April before the Central Board takes a final decision, according to a statement from Michael Lebanon, FIBA secretary general. The statement said rule changes proposed by the Technical Commission in December 2005 were accepted by FIBA Central Board.

Following are the rule changes:

Rule 1: Israelis have the right to play on both sides of the court, whereas Palestinians can only play on their own side.

Rule 2: For security reasons Palestinians do not have the right to pass the ball between players, the ball could hit an Israeli player.

Rule 3: There will be no basket on the Israeli side.

Rule 4: Israel is allowed to shoot at any time even during time-outs.

Rule 5: Palestinians are not allowed to have supporters. Only Israelis should be supported.

Rule 6: Israel selects the sports press writers and what the they reports:

Rule 7: Israel encourages Palestinians to shoot into the Palestinian basket. Players who refuse will be nominated as terrorists and will not be allowed to play.

Rule 8: Palestinian players are allowed to leave the field, but cannot return. One exception: A Palestinian can be replaced by an Israeli.

Rule 9: Israel selects and instructs the referees, and tells them when to look away.

Rule 10: Israel selects the captain of the Palestinian team.

Rule 11: Israeli faults and Palestinian good plays will not be shown on TV.

Rule 12: Israel takes the money which sponsors pay to Palestinians clubs.

Rule 13: Only Israeli players get refreshments.

Rule 14: Palestinians are required to play, when and where designated by Israel.

Rule 15: Rules only apply to Palestinians, Israelis may change the rules during the game and are not required to advise the Palestinians of the changes.

Al-Bassaleh and BNN are satirical. Disclaimer.

Visiting the West Bank

I just returned from a trip into Israel, visiting Bethlehem and Jerusalem. There are so many things to say, so many stories to tell, that I don't know where to start. So I will begin with a letter written by a dear friend. A friend I was traveling with, and who was encountering the Middle East for the first time:
Everybody, friends, as the Arabs would call you even if they just met you,

I am sitting in the guest house of Bethlehem Bible College paying ten shekels an hour for internet (about 3 USD).

And I have something very important to tell you, something that must be shared.

I have received nothing but kindness and welcome from Arabs (mostly Palestinians in Jordan and here in Bethlehem). Complete strangers have had us in for tea and stories. Young women whom I have never met come to the Magnusons' home to visit Karith and me, and they leave telling us to call them anytime we want help around the city. A woman selling plums in Bethlehem would not let us leave her little square of sidewalk (she just sat on the stone) without plums from her trees free of charge. Friends of our guide just randomly gave us peaches as we walked down the street. The silversmith engraved my bracelet (I asked him to inscribe "SALAM") out of kindness, then visited and offered us tea and juice. A family in the refugee camp gave us tea and a place to sit in the home they have rebuilt and beautified (I have never seen stonework done by hand like this) with their bare hands -- three times. Our guide introduced us to two women and translated on his own time, and he too offered his help just a phone call away.

After six hours of being hassled at the Israeli border because we told them we were planning to visit Bethlehem (we got just a taste of what the Palestinians go through day to day), I was standing by the bus to Jerusalem, and a woman in hijab walked up to me. "Where are you going?" she asked. "To Jerusalem," I replied, a bit unsure why she was asking. "We are also going to Jerusalem. You can sit with us on the bus, if you would like. You can ride with us."

And what have all these people told me they want? Peace. Salam.

What do they have? Some could say nothing. But they tell me, "Amel," hope.

Thank you, everybody for listening to my rant.

Ma Salaama (with peace/Arabic "good-bye")

Saturday, June 21, 2008

regarding nonviolence . . .

First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.
-Mahatma Gandhi

Sunday, June 8, 2008

It is not a game, it was never a game.

It was a girl's arm, the right one
that held a pencil.
She liked her arm.

It was a small stone house
with an iron terrace,
a flower pot beside the

People passing,
loaves of bread,
little plans
the size of a thought,
dropping off something you borrowed,
buying a small sack of zaater,
it was a hand with fingers
dipping the scoop into the barrel.

I will not live this way,
said a woman with a baby on her hip
but she was where she was.

These men do not represent me,
said the teacher with her students
in pressed blue smocks.

The had sharpened their pencils.
Desks lined in a simple room.
It was school,
numbers on a page.
a radiant sky with clouds.
In the old days you felt happy to see it.
No one wanted anything
to drop out of it
except rain. Where was rain?

It was not a game, it was
unbelievable sorrow
and fear.

A hand that a mother held.
A pocket. A glass.
It was not war.
It was people.

We had gone nowhere
in a million years.

-Naomi Shihab Nye
from You and Yours

Death Bullets Kill

I am a pacifist. What my father might describe as an "aggressive" pacifist. I do not believe in using something as ugly, terrible, and destructive as war. Ever. Not even for the "greater good."

That kind of oxymoron, I think, is akin to blaspheme.

I believe there is always a better option. A more creative option. An option that may demand more of us -- may require sacrifice and humility and love -- but will ultimately create life, rather than death. And will therefore reflect the nature of God, and what it truly means to be human.

For Mohammed Zeid of Gaza, Age 15

There is no stray bullet, sirs.
No bullet like a worried cat
crouching under a bush,
no half-hairless puppy bullet
dodging midnight streets.
The bullet could not be a pecan
plunking the tin roof,
not hardly, no fluff of pollen
on October's breath,
no humble pebble at our feet.

So don't gentle it, please.

We live among stray thoughts,
tasks abandoned midstream.
Our fickle hearts are fat
with stray devotions, we feel at home
among bits and pieces,
all the wandering ways of words.

But this bullet had no innocence, did not
wish anyone well, you can't tell us otherwise
by naming it mildly, this bullet was never the friend
of life, should not be granted immunity
by soft saying -- friendly fire, straying death-eye,
why have we given the wrong weight to what we do?

Mohammed, Mohammed, deserves the truth.
This bullet had no secret happy hopes,
it was not singing to itself with eyes closed
under the bridge.

-Naomi Shihab Nye

Go here to hear the author read her own poem.