Thursday, March 1, 2007

Lutheran Pastor Russ Siler writes from Jerusalem

From Jerusalem # 35
17 February 2007

For Pastor's Siler's previous letters and more about the ministry in Jerusalem, go to

Friends, the government of Israel is afraid…very afraid. No, the administration does not fear for its existence, its security, or even the loss of its annual gift of $3.1 Billion, no strings attached, from the United States. Rather, its anxiety is growing that it may actually have to negotiate its borders, the continuation of its illegal settlements on Palestinian land, its total control over Gaza, its stranglehold on Jerusalem, before it has eaten all the land, water, and roadways it can digest politically. Israel’s creeping occupation of the land still remaining to the Arab inhabitants of historic Palestine before 1967—just 22 percent of that area, by the way—is based on its ability to keep its tactics just below the level of international sensitivity and outrage.

Thus, it is always to its advantage when Palestinians are seen by the rest of the world as causing a violent crisis or confrontation. So, just what is happening now? In January 2006, Palestinians elected its legislators. To just about everyone's surprise the Hamas party gained a clear majority. While a bewildered Hamas—which never believed it would be forced to govern at the present—wandered through the first weeks, and a dazed, defeated Fatah pondered its future, Israel and the United States leaped into action.

First Israel announced that it would impound $55 million per month in funds that belong absolutely to the Palestinian government, thus making it impossible for the new Hamas government to pay its workers. Then the United States proclaimed that it would not deal with Hamas in the smallest transaction, imposing draconian restrictions on any entity who worked with Palestinians using U.S. funds. Israel followed these initial steps by refusing to allow Palestinian legislators even to meet in a body. Then they arrested 38 Palestinian legislators and imprisoned them. Those men remain in Israeli prisons to this very day, and they have never been charged with a crime. Then came the harshest step of all: Israel reduced the flow of food and medical supplies into Gaza to a trickle, just large enough to stave off starvation and epidemic.

Previous to these actions they had announced to a "grateful" world that Israel had ended its occupation of Gaza, neglecting the tiny detail that its armed forces maintained absolute control over air, land, sea, commerce, and borders of Gaza. It was a more brutal occupation than existed before the so-called "disengagement" of 2005. One Israeli "journalist" had the gall to write in a local newspaper that Palestine had been given a Sovereign State. Some even believed her. Everybody seemed to ignore the injustice inherent in these acts, because the all-powerful mantra of "Security" was chanted every time a question was raised.

My question at this point is a simple, rhetorical one: Is there any doubt that Israel and the United States were consciously pushing the Palestinian people toward civil conflict? They were eminently successful…for a while. For a time there was open warfare. Innocent and guilty people alike suffered mightily. Far too many died. But now that is ending. Fatah and Hamas have agreed on a way to move forward together.

Predictably, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has already voiced her skepticism. Both Israel and its great ally the United States are nervous. The cessation of hostilities means that the specter of internecine violence will no longer provide a ready excuse to avoid substantive negotiations. They are afraid that, as I mentioned above, their tactics may well exceed the world's level of tolerance. People might learn that Hamas is not the only party or entity to claim the whole of historic Palestine for its religion. Nearly a dozen years earlier the Likud Party declared that all of that same land belonged to Israel and the Jewish people. Or people may support the demand that Hamas "recognize" Israel's right to exist, but they may also make a reciprocal demand that Israel and the United States "recognize" a Hamas-led government as the legitimate, elected representative of the Palestinian people. If there are no scenes of bloody violence the world may seize this moment to demand that negotiations begin in earnest for lasting peace with real justice for all.

All of us can understand when people are afraid. We, as God's people, will stand solidly with them, but we must not, we dare not stand with any who would use the tools of the oppressor to drive away our hopes for peace. Now is the time for all people who see worth in all others to join together in the direction which will result in two states, two peoples, with security and justice and freedom for both.

And yet one thing more: the issues I spoke of above are the kinds of questions that will only be resolved when all sides agree to respect the others and to work together for answers acceptable to all. If I remember my history correctly, that's the way we have always acted when we truly desired peace with justice.

Russell O. Siler, Pastor
English-speaking Congregation
Lutheran Church of the Redeemer
Jerusalem, Old City

No comments: