Saturday, July 31, 2010

why don't they listen?

On a side note, I so wish that Christian groups visiting the Holy Land would meet with organizations like Rabbis for Human Rights.  Organizations that share their heart for loving God and loving Israel, and could maybe open their eyes to the fact that continuing to allow consistent human rights violations is not the way to love either.

Rabbis for Human Rights: the voice of a God who loves

Rabbis for Human Rights is a humanitarian organization that seeks to restore true righteousness to the State of Israel.

Meeting with Rabbi Michael Schwartz, around a wide oval table in their headquarters in Jerusalem, we were told that their organization is driven by the Old Testament command to take care of the fatherless, the widow, and the stranger in the land.  That, said Rabbi Schwartz, is what true religion looks like.  

The work of the rabbis is multi-faceted, centering on Social and Economic Justice (the protection of the poor), Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and Human Rights Education. 

Much of their work in the Occupied Territories revolves around helping Palestinians maintain physical access to the land they own.  According to the law, if Palestinians can be kept off their land (even by such unjust means as barbed wire fences, armed soldiers, or violent settlers) then the land attains the status of "no-man's land" and is legally seizable by the Israeli government.  This is one of the main techniques that has gained settlers the control of 42% of the West Bank.  

(Look at that percentage again.  Did you really see it?  42% of the WEST BANK is controlled by settlements considered illegal under international law.)

Some of their most unique work, however, is under the heading of Human Rights Education.  RHR rabbis work with religious youth preparing to serve their country in the IDF (Israeli Defense Force).  Together they look at Israel's Declaration of Independence (in the absence of a constitution, which Israel does not yet have), in combination with relevant scripture, and wrestle with questions of ethics and morality.  How does a soldier, loyal to his country and obedient to God, make decisions within the impossible situations that young Israelis are likely to find themselves in?  How do they maintain the innocence, humanity, and dignity of both themselves and their Palestinian brothers and sisters (or enemies, depending on how you want to categorize)?  

One of the reasons that this work is so vitally significant is that the IDF has their own rabbis (and here there was a trace of anger -- or was it pain? -- in Rabbi Schwartz's voice).  Rabbis who hand out pamphlets to young soldiers declaring that Palestinians are less than human; declaring that annihilating such sub-humans is the act of a holy war; declaring that killing them is not murder, but righteous victory.  

For all our sakes, Rabbi Schwartz seemed to plead, we must teach them another way.

But perhaps most important of all their work, they seek to generate hope.  There are Israeli and American Jews who have come to them, Schwartz told us, and said that the only reason they can continue to wear the kippah, or call themselves religious Jews, is because of the work of RHR and those like them.  

My favorite story illustrating this work of hope-building was the one Rabbi Schwartz left us with (a story that is briefly referenced in the New York Times op-ed article about RHR, In Israel, the Noble vs. the Ugly):
His coworker (Rabbi Asherman) once got a call about settler violence against Palestinians.  When he got there, the Palestinians, extremely agitated, began throwing stones at the settlers and the soldiers protecting them.  Unable to condone violence, he left.  Only to get called minutes later to be told that Israeli soldiers were using a Palestinian child as a human shield.  He returned to the site to find a 13-year-old boy tied to the front of a tank.  Going up to the soldiers, he asked them if they knew that such acts were in violation of the Geneva convention, and could constitute war crimes.  In response, he was head-butted, and tied to the front of the tank with the child.  When the traumatized child was later interviewed by Al Gazira, he told them that, yes, he was having nightmares, and, yes, he was terrified of the soldiers.  But he also said that a tall Jew, with a red beard and a kippah on his head, came to his rescue. 
And that, right there, is the testimony of hope.   

But although it was Rabbi Schwartz who told us that bitterness is the result of inaction, still there are elements of the situation that even he will admit are very bleak indeed.  

For instance (and this was a sentiment repeated by almost every human rights group we met with), one of the strongest movements in Israel today is the movement to de-legitimize human rights groups, and exhaust the strength of those opposing injustice.

May the day never come when they succeed.    

Travel Writing: a child born in Bethlehem

I scribbled this in my notebook while staying with a host family in Beit Sahour (next door to Bethlehem).  The family has bullet holes in their home -- a remnant from the 2nd Intifada, when standing on your balcony could be considered a crime.

Babies, I think, may be the international language of love.

All that is needed is one glance at the large, bright eyes, the guarded smiles, the small, pudgy fingers, the wild squeals, and it would take a hard heart to not surrender entirely.

Our host grandmother kisses the fat rolls of the baby's thighs, laughing at the child's delight, cooing at his noises.  Her voice, pitched high, speaks nonsense in his ear.

We watched as the grandfather, a man of few words and severe dignity (who would barely speak in our direction), became a child himself, playing games with his grandson in his arms.  Chuckling in his satisfaction and pride.

And I wish that all the mothers of Palestine could hold all of the babies of Israel, and vice versa.  Maybe then we would not be so quick to kill.

Friday, July 30, 2010

peace quote of the day

"Social justice is the sum of millions of acts of relational justice." - Marvin Olasky

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

peace quote of the day

I'm not sure this qualifies as a peace quote.  Maybe a justice quote?  Or maybe it's just a self-interested attempt to separate myself from Christian Zionism.  It just continues to baffle me how anyone reading the bible could believe that God is somehow disinterested in Palestinian pain.  Could believe that prophetic fulfillment is somehow more important than mercy, justice, or compassion.  Could believe that speaking out against murder, theft, and lawlessness is somehow to be anti-Israeli.  

Was it not the prophets -- those who condemned Israel the most strongly -- who wept for her the most passionately? "Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn, and horror grips me. . . . Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears!  I would weep day and night for the slain of my people." (Jer. 8:21-9:1)

But perhaps it is only those who can do both who have the right to speak  We talk of the "prophetic voice," but until I can weep over Israel's pain, do I really have the right to say anything at all?

Jeremiah 7:3-11:
This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place.  Do not trust in deceptive words and say, "This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!"  If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever.  But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.

Will you steal and murder . . . and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, "We are safe" -- safe to do all these detestable things?  Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you?  But I have been watching! declares the LORD.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Freedom Bridge: a "notgame" for Korea by Jordan Magnuson

I've mentioned my brother before, a game designer and critic who believes that computer games have the potential to be profoundly powerful.  He's an artist who's fascinated by the ways in which the interactivity of the gaming medium can help us reconsider, and recapture, our humanity.

I don't know if you're someone who likes computer games, or someone who finds them completely superfluous. Regardless, I challenge you, as a human being interested in conflict and resolution, and the human condition of struggle, hope, and despair, to go ahead and spend two minutes "playing" Freedom Bridge.  The game gets its name from the bridge connecting North and South Korea over the Imjin River.  It loads in your browser, and all you have to do is click on the screen and use your keyboard to move.

Believe me, it's worth it.

If you want to read more about it, there's an article in Resolution Magazine.

And here is some of the response it is getting:
One of the most intense interactive experiences I’ve ever had. I went on and watched some short documentaries about Korea afterwards in order to process the tension it had left me with (mitsche, FlashPunk Forums).
One of the best video games I’ve played all year (Fraser McMillan, Resolution Magazine).
An excellent demonstration of how you can use the medium to really have an impact (Brooks Harrel, college student with a ‘starving artist’ passion for game design).
Short, to the point, and beautiful (benedict, FlashPunk Blog).
Very much worth the quick playthrough! (GameSetWatch).
I often take issue with games this short and message-centric, but it was very effective (Bryan Suchenski).
Here, despite being the barest representation possible, is something far more deeply affecting than the biggest budget “emotional experience” being crafted today (Eolirin, Raph Koster’s Blog). 
Best flash game ever? (multiple posts on Twitter).
I'd say that's a pretty effective piece of art.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Trip Reflections by the President's Wife

I've mentioned (I think) that my most recent trip into Israel and the Occupied Territories was taken with a group from the university where my father teaches (Bethel University in Minnesota).  Here is a concise, but beautiful, reflection on that trip by Barb Barnes, the wife of Bethel's current president (Jay Barnes).  Barb has a heart that is filled with both joy and compassion, and I was incredibly blessed by her presence on the trip

Reflections On Our Trip to Israel
Publication date: Jun 28, 2010 9:34 p.m.
Guest contributor Barb Barnes 
Wall between Israel and Palestine

Five others from Bethel joined Jay and me for seven days in Israel and Palestine. While we were able to see some of the biblical sites, the purpose of the trip was to learn about the current situation there and to explore the possibility of a study abroad program for our students. I am grateful for the safety and good health for everyone while we were there and for an experience of profound learning.

While in Bethlehem (in the West Bank) we stayed with Christian families. It was good to see a faithful Christian presence remaining in spite of the hardships and the exodus of Palestinian Christians to other parts of the world because of the difficult conditions that limit employment and personal freedoms.

Here are a few initial reflections on the week, with more to follow later in a post from Jay.

Incredible conflict exists in the land of Jesus’ birth.

I believe God mourns.

The wall (pictured above) is a constant reminder of many lost freedoms.

I believe God mourns.

For more than 60 years people have lived in poverty in refugee camps.

I believe God mourns.

Apartheid has become a way of life.

I believe God mourns.

Extreme disproportional distribution of resources, such as water, exists.

I believe God mourns.

Hundreds of villages have been demolished to make room for settlements.

I believe God mourns.

Human rights violations occur daily.

I believe God mourns.

The Christian population is declining as many are leaving to avoid persecution.

I believe God mourns.

People on all sides of this conflict have inflicted great harm.

I believe God mourns.

Beth, a recent Bethel grad is working in a Palestinian village, bringing hope and God’s love to the people there.

I believe God rejoices!

I realize there are other perspectives and political realities that go beyond my statements, but our hearts were broken and our minds were stretched by what we saw. We have a different sense of what it means to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” We are thankful that Bethel’s reconciliation studies major prepares students like Beth to change the world.