Friday, April 20, 2007

"From Jerusalem" - Lutheran Pastor Siler

Lutheran Pastor Russ Siler writes from Jerusalem

From Jerusalem # 37
15 April 2007

My wife Anne and I, along with two close friends, went this past Friday to the Palestinian National Theater for a performance of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” presented by a touring group from England. The work was outstanding! What was most entertaining for me was the ease with which these young performers acted and sang—even enjoyed—their roles. The same was true for the small orchestra accompanying the opera. The flow and rhythm were so smooth and natural that one was tempted to forget the incredible amount of time and energy that went into this one night. Long years of study, literally countless hours of practice, and exhausting days of draining rehearsals all combined to create the illusion brought to that small stage here, an illusion which allowed the members of the audience to forget for a few hours the oppressive circumstances in which we all live and work. It was a marvelous respite.

Yet, in the wake of that night there returned a reality which is so pervasive in this part of the world that even Mozart was veiled with the pall which seems never to lift from this holy place. On Saturday, less than twenty-four hours after the night out, I walked both to and from the Old City from our flat. On the way home my eyes were drawn to a small house just behind the gas station where we fuel our car. Remarkably, it was still standing. Just three days before that performance I had received a call from a colleague that a “house demolition” was about to be carried out. We could easily see the house under threat from our flat. When I arrived at the site, I found a relatively quiet scene. Police and/or army [It's often very hard to tell the difference.] troops were standing in disorder, as if waiting for someone to give directions. There was a group of civilian workers clad in florescent orange and green vests. [I later found that these were the people who had actually emptied out the furniture and personal belongings of the family living there.] There were photographers and videographers on an adjacent rooftop, along with reporters from several local and international news outlets. And there were the rest of us: NGO staff concerned about both the probable injustice about to commence and the welfare of the Palestinian family who lived in the house; representatives of Rabbis for Human Rights; staffers from ICAHD, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions; and others like me.

In addition to the people described above, here is what we saw. At the foot of the steps which led from the sidewalk all the family's worldly goods were piled in an ungainly heap in one corner of the small stone courtyard. A little further on perhaps fifteen officers and workers were milling around, talking either in small groups or on mobile telephones. They wandered in and out of the dwelling with absolutely no regard for the fact that it was someone's home. Oh, yes, lest I forget, those "someones" were all gathered and confined to an area in the rear of their house. If you want to see a study in confusion, fear, and near panic, look into the face of a young child who has just been told by an older sibling that his house is about to be destroyed…in front of his eyes.

This story had, not a happy ending, but a deferred ending. The waiting atmosphere I first encountered was because a judge was considering a "stay" to the demolition order. The stay was granted for four days after the family paid a bond of 30,000 Israeli Shekels [about $7,500]. When I left that place the homeowner was showing Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights a whole box of receipts and official papers. From what I could piece together from the comments of those around me who understand Hebrew, the man had been working on getting the proper permits for more than two years and had met nothing but promises and delays. Finally, based on those promises, he had built. Every day of the construction—just a baseball throw from the Old City—police or other officials had passed by the site, quite aware of what was going on. Now, the construction over and the dwelling occupied, the demolition was about to begin, because he had no permit! Now each day, as I pass the house, I hold my breath as I round the curve, praying that I will see walls, not rubble. I can't help but think that if I am that afraid, how terrified the family must be.

People often ask, "How can this be?" They are trying to comprehend such things through the focus of our American democracy. Here things are very, very different. Here we know that in the first four years of the Intifada [2000-2004] over 5000 houses in the West Bank—including Arab East Jerusalem—and Gaza were demolished. Here we know that in the nearly 40 years of illegal Israeli occupation of those areas more than 15,000 houses have been destroyed. Here we know that in those same 40 years the government of Israel has sponsored housing units in Arab East Jerusalem: for Israelis—100,000; for Palestinians—500. Here we know that it is next to impossible for a Palestinian to acquire the needed permits to build a house. Here we keep asking the question, "Why does the United States watch this destruction and support it?" We continue to fail to find a single moral or ethical justification for such complicity.

Two things stand out from this episode. The first is that, from the perspective of a parish pastor, I can't tell you how gratifying it was last week to have several members of our small congregation around the home, trying to do what they could to protect this virtually defenseless family. It was a dramatic example of God's servants carrying the proclamation of Sunday directly into the lives of ordinary people. Gathered there also were members of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, adding their support along with their witness of protest. The second is that all the statistics, like those I cited above, will never carry the true impact of the story. But if the world could look into the faces of those children silently waiting for their home to fall, things would never be the same. That is the tragic face of the occupation—children who will grow into adults without knowing a hint of freedom.

I asked one of the young soldiers there if he thought he would be able to sleep that night. He said he didn't speak English, but I have come to recognize the look in the eyes that says otherwise. I know he was already wondering, perhaps worrying, about his rest that night. The illusion may no longer work for him.

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

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Alternative Travel Opportunities

Alternative Travel Opportunities, provided by Friends of Sabeel - North America, updated April 15, 2007

Friends of Sabeel - North America:

Alternative travel in the Holy Land provides an added benefit to pilgrimage by connecting you with the Living Stones of Palestine who live under military occupation. Visit the holy Christian sites, worship in ancient Palestinian Christian churches, walk where Jesus walked and bear witness to the realities of occupation — military checkpoints, refugee camps, Israel’s Apartheid Wall, bypass roads, illegal settlements and more.

This Alternative Travel listing is a service of Friends of Sabeel—North America. If you know of similar upcoming trips, please send details to:

The Society for Biblical Studies offers an extensive list of tours. For details go to the web site:

Holy Land Pilgrimage (departs 9 June 2007)
The Exodus Experience, departs 7 November 2007

To get updates by paper newsletter or email, call 781-641-4453 or send an email to:

Group Travel Directors:
Holy Land visits by US church groups in the first half of 2007 listed here are arranged by Group Travel Directors, Minneapolis. Meetings with indigenous Christians plus Israeli and Palestinian peace groups, as well as biblical-site visits, are included. Prices are from cities cited (other US departure points available).

For details on Group Travel tours, go to - click “Find a Tour,” enter “2007,” then “Middle East.”

May 4-26, "Places, People, and Prayers," led by Dorothy Weaver and Kevin Clark of Eastern Mennonite Seminary, $4112 from Washington Dulles.

May 24-June 6, "Biblical Adventures to Egypt, Jordan, Israel," led by Anna Coyle, medical missionary/minister, and Charles Coyle, $3255 from St. Louis.

June 5-16, "A Journey of Faith: Exploring the Land of Jesus," led by Pr. Tim Hansen of Zion Lutheran, Litchfield, Minn., and Ruth Hansen, Northfield, Minn., $2899 from Twin Cities.

Interfaith Peace- Builders
Your participation as an eyewitness to the situation will enrich your understanding of the conflict and empower your work in the United States.

Upcoming delegations: May 26 - June 9, 2007 -- Assessing the Prospects for Peace: 40 Years of Occupation, 40 Years of Nonviolent Resistance

Join Interfaith Peace-Builders (IPFB) and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) to travel to Israel/Palestine. June, 2007 marks the 40th anniversary of the 1967 war and the beginning of the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, which remains as one of the greatest obstacles to peace in the Middle East.

This delegation provides a unique opportunity to focus on the current situation in Israel/Palestine and understand the effects of the ongoing Israeli occupation. Your on-the-ground experience will enrich your understanding of the conflict as you meet courageous Israelis and Palestinians working for peace and justice, and witness the current realities of life in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. In addition, you will confront and analyze the US role in the conflict, and wrestle with ways to translate your experience to others when you return home.

July 28 - August 11, 2007 -- Israeli and Palestinian Women Working for Peace: Realities, Struggles, and Vision for the Future

November 3 - November 17, 2007 -- Olive Harvest Delegation

These delegations put you in contact with ‘ordinary’ Israelis and Palestinians, and people and organizations working for peace and justice. You will confront and analyze the US role in the conflict and wrestle with ways to translate your experience to others when you return home. You will be an eyewitness to the situation — and your understanding of the conflict will be enriched and transformed.

Interfaith Peace-Builder leaders bring a wide range of knowledge, perspectives, and expertise to our delegations. Since 2001, Interfaith Peace-Builders has led 19 delegations and almost 250 people to Israel and Palestine. Our delegates have returned to undertake speaking, writing, and organizing to educate others about their experiences. Formerly a program of Fellowship of Reconciliation, IFPB continues to work in close partnership with FOR.

The cost of $1850 includes: 15 days, hotel and home stay accommodations, breakfasts and dinners, local transportation, guides, speaker/event fees, basic tips and gratuities. The cost does not include domestic and international airfares.

For more information, contact the Interfaith Peace-Builders office directly by phone (202-244-0821) or e-mail -

Christian Peacemaker Teams 2007 delegations: May 29 - June 10, 2007 July 30 - August 11, 2007 October 16 – 28, 2007 November 19 - December 1, 2007

Contact Claire Evans, the CPT Coordinator for Delegations, at or telephone 773.277.0253

Middle East Fellowship Incarnational Pilgrimage
May 19 - June 2, 2007
For more details, contact Christy Reiners: - Tel. 925-934-1754 - website

PC(USA) and Presbyterian Peace Program Trip to Palestine and Israel
April 15 - 30, 2007

Presbyterian Church (USA) and Presbyterian Peace Program: contact co-leaders Victor Makari - or Sara Lisherness -

Meeting the Stones & Living Stones Pilgrimage
April 15 -25, 2007
Contact Rev. Keith Hill, Douglasville, Ga. - - Tel. 770-942-0710 - or Rev. Fahed Abu-Akel, - Tel. 404-441-2702

Global Exchange, Prospects for Peace with Justice
April 21 – 30, 2007 August 12 - 22, 2007
Dec. 2 - 12, 2007
For details, see

Friends of Sabeel - Colorado
Seeking Understanding in Israel/Palestine: A Two-Week Fact-Finding Trip
May 12-26, 2007

Organized by Friends of Sabeel - Colorado, for detailed information contact Joy Lapp 303-494-2338 or Email:

Tour Leaders: Joy Lapp, Instructor of Religion and Ethics, Metro State College of Denver and the Rev. Arnie Voigt, retired Lutheran minister. Joy spent three years in the Middle East working with the Mennonite Central Committee. She chair of Friends of Sabeel - Colorado. Arnie has visited Israel and Palestine many times and has led several tour groups.Cost: $2800. Includes round-trip airfare from Denver to Tel Aviv, hotel, 2 meals per day, tour guide and entrance fees, transportation, tips. Travelers must have a passport that is valid six months beyond date of re-entry to U.S. Confirmation needed by March 1, 2007. Contact Joy Lapp 303-494-2338 or Email:

Middle East Fellowship - Palestine Summer Encounter 2007
Middle East fellowship, in partnership with Holy Land Trust announces the fourth annual Palestine Summer Encounter, a two month Arabic-training and volunteer program, starting on May 24, 2007.

• Live with a Palestinian host family
• Serve the community by volunteering with a local organization
• Study Arabic in an Arabic-speaking country
• Meet with Palestinian and Israeli peacemakers and activists

Palestine Summer Encounter is a one-to-three-month cultural immersion program in Bethlehem. Participants undertake volunteer service at Palestinian agencies, schools, churches, hospitals and humanitarian organizations. The program emphasizes dialogue between Palestinians and members of the international community. Participants will also meet with Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers and human rights activists. For details please visit

A free packet of information, including a 15-minute DVD with interviews from former participants, is available upon request. The deadline for applications is April 20th 2007.

Contact: Middle East Fellowship
P.O. Box 40040, Pasadena, CA 91114.
Phone 626 797 7904.
or Holy Land Trust Travel & Encounter
Manger Street, P.O. Box 737Bethlehem, Palestine

Pilgrims of Hope and Solidarity - Tour in the Land Where Jesus Walked
June 11-24, 2007 - Approximately $2575
The Middle East Peace Education Project (L. Michael Spath, D.Min., Ph.D., and the Rev. Robert Smith, M.Div)"We do not look for reasons to hope as much as we seek to create opportunities for hope." - Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb - Christmas Lutheran Church; International Center of Bethlehem

Arab and Palestinian Christians are an oppressed minority facing a mortal crisis in their own land. Because of violence, corrupt governments and occupation, they are emigrating in massive numbers. This is a critical time for Christians in the Holy Land. In our lifetime there may no longer remain any indigenous worshiping, and praying Christian community left in the Holy Land. We visit the important biblical sites, but most important we meet the living stones - Christians, clergy and lay, men and women, struggling for survival, and working for a just Gospel-centered peace through nonviolent conflict resolution and social transformation. We explore ways to express our solidarity with our Christian sisters and brothers in the Holy Land.

Call 260/456-8920 or e-mail for more info.

Palestine Summer Celebration 2007
June 20 - August 18th, 2007
Come and celebrate Palestine Learn Arabic
Study history
Get to know the people and their culture
Share some time with local families
Volunteer with a local community organization

The Palestinian summer celebration is a unique annual program that gives people from all over the world the chance to encounter the life and culture in Palestine while donating time to a local community organization through voluntary work and internships. Participants will also have the opportunity to listen and question high level speakers of various positions and expertise. The 2007 celebration will be in the Bethlehem area, organized by Siraj Center for Holy Land Studies - - in partnership with Bethlehem University - - and the US-based Society for Biblical Studies -

For more information:
Siraj, Center for Holy Land Studies
Beit Sahour, Palestine
Telefax: +972 2 274 8590

Middle East Fellowship
Damascus Summer Encounter
June 10 - Aug. 11, 2007
Join us for a 9-week summer service program in Damascus, Syria. Participants will live with a host family, study the Arabic language by working with native speakers, serve the local community through volunteer projects and explore the culture and history of Syria through meetings, discussions and excursions to sites of historical, political or religious significance.

For more details, contact Christy Reiners: - Tel. 925-934-1754Web page

Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD)
July 14-29
Fifth annual summer work camp to foster learning, discussion, and friendship between Palestinians, Israelis and internationals. ICHAD is looking for 25 internationals who will work to rebuild the home of a Palestinian family whose house has been demolished by the Israeli authorities. In addition to demonstrating non-violent resistance to the Occupation, participants will have the opportunity to learn about the facts on the ground through a full program of presentations from those working for a just peace in Palestine and Israel, films about aspects of the conflict, and tours to other parts of the Occupied Territories, Jerusalem and Israel.
Participants will be based at ICAHD's Beit Arabiya Peace Center in Anata, just outside of Jerusalem. Plan to arrive no later than July 14th.

Plan to raise US $1,000 towards expenses to participate:
$500 covers the cost of the work camp which includes basic sleeping and shower facilities, fabulous local Palestinian food prepared daily and the full program.

For an application form and all inquiries regarding the camp please contact ICAHD’s International Coordinator, Lucia Pizarro

Birthright Unplugged
July 20-25
August 20-25
Six-day educational trip through the West Bank to visit Palestinian cities, villages, and refugee camps, designed to put you in conversation with people and equip you to return to your community and work for change. While Birthright Unplugged is designed primarily for Jewish people, we welcome people of all backgrounds and all ages on our trips.

For more information about itinerary, costs, trip leaders, and application materials, visit

Micah Bazant, summer ’06 Unplugged participant, says:
"Through Birthright Unplugged, I met some of the most amazing, heroic and inspiring people I’ve ever met in my life. I felt my politics about Israel and Palestine were set before I went on the trip, but experiencing it first-hand made me understand the realities of occupation and resistance so much more deeply. The program gave me new perspective and renewed passion to work for justice in Palestine and at home in the U.S. It was truly a life-changing experience."

Middle East Children's Alliance (MECA)
August 1-12
Witness life under occupation and gain a greater understanding of the history and politics of Palestine and Israel. $1,800 - airfare not included.
Contact Deborah Agre: 510-548-0542 or
MECA trips generally include visits such as Ibdaa Cultural Center in the Dheisheh refugee camp; Lid, a mixed Palestinian and Jewish town near Tel Aviv; the destroyed village of Liftah; Israeli-Jewish activists and scholars; a Bedouin village in Israel and organizers who are fighting forced removal; unrecognized villages; young Israeli refusniks, who will not serve in the Israeli army; the Palestinian Counseling Center whose projects help families and communities cope with the psychological impact of the occupation; the grassroots anti-apartheid wall campaign tour of affected rural areas; Old City of Jerusalem and surrounding areas that are threatened or confiscated.

Middle East Children's Alliance (MECA)
August 1-12
Witness life under occupation and gain a greater understanding of the history and politics of Palestine and Israel. $1,800 - airfare not included.
Contact Deborah Agre: 510-548-0542 or

MECA trips generally include visits such as Ibdaa Cultural Center in the Dheishehrefugee camp; Lid, a mixed Palestinian and Jewish town near Tel Aviv; the destroyedvillage of Liftah; Israeli-Jewish activists and scholars; a Bedouin village in Israeland organizers who are fighting forced removal; unrecognized villages; young Israelirefusniks, who will not serve in the Israeli army; the Palestinian Counseling Center whose projects help families and communities cope with the psychological impact of the occupation; the grassroots anti-apartheid wall campaign tour of affected rural areas; Old City of Jerusalem and surrounding areas that are threatened or confiscated.

Middle East Children's Alliance email:

Middle East Task Force of Chicago Presbytery's Traveling Seminar
Oct. 15 - Nov. 4, 2007

This seminar will go to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel and Palestine. For details, contact Pauline Coffman at - tel. 708-524-5444.

Sabeel International Witness Trip
October 11-20, 2007
Check this website for program and registration information-

Criticizing Israel is not an act of bigotry

Criticizing Israel is not an act of bigotry
By Jason Kunin

A grassroots revolt is underway in Jewish communities throughout the world, a revolt that has panicked the elite organizations that have long functioned as official mouthpieces for the community. The latest sign of this panic is the recent publication by the American Jewish Committee of an essay by Alvin H. Rosenfeld, entitled Progressive Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism, which accuses progressive Jews of abetting a resurgent wave of anti-Semitism by publicly criticizing Israel.

This is the latest attempt to conflate anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism in order to silence or marginalize criticism of Israel. This approach is widely used in Canada. Upon becoming CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, Bernie Farber declared that one of his goals was to "educate Canadians about the links between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism."

It is misleading for groups like the CJC to pretend that the Jewish community is united in support of Israel. A growing number of Jews around he world are joining the chorus of concern about the deteriorating condition of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories as well as the inferior social and economic status of Israel's own Palestinian population.

In a world where uncritical support for Israel is becoming less and less tenable due to the expanding human rights disaster in the West Bank and Gaza, leaders of Jewish communities outside Israel have circled their wagons, heightened their pro-Israel rhetoric, and demonized Israel's critics. These leaders imply that increased concerns about Israel do not result from that state's actions, but from an increase in anti-Semitism.

Despite this effort to absolve Israel of responsibility for its treatment of Palestinians, Jewish opposition is growing and becoming more organized. On Feb. 5, a group in Britain calling itself Jewish Independent Voices published an open letter in The Guardian newspaper in which they distanced themselves from "Those who claim to speak on behalf of Jews in Britain and other countries (and who) consistently put support for the policies of an occupying power above the human rights of the occupied people." Among the signatories of the letter were Nobel-prize winning playwright Harold Pinter, filmmaker Mike Leigh, writer John Berger, and many others.

This development follows the emergence of similar groups in Sweden (Jews for Israeli-Palestinian Peace), France (Union Juive Francaise pour la paix, Rencontre Progressiste Juive), Italy (Ebrei contro l'occupazione), Germany (Jüdische Stimme für gerechten Frieden in Nahost), Belgium (Union des Progressistes Juifs de Belgique), the United States (Jewish Voice for Peace, Brit Tzedek, Tikkun, the Bronfman-Soros initiative), South Africa, and others, including the umbrella organization European Jews for a Just Peace and the numerous groups within Israel itself. In Canada, the Alliance of Concerned Jewish Canadians (ACJC) has been founded as an umbrella organization bringing together Jewish individuals and groups from across the country who oppose Israel's continued domination of the West Bank and Gaza.

Criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic, nor does it "bleed into anti-Semitism," a formulation that says essentially the same thing. Some genuine anti-Semites do use Israel as a cover for maligning the Jewish people as a whole, but it is fallacious to argue that anyone who criticizes Israel is anti-Semitic because anti-Semites attack Israel. There are some anti-Semites who support Israel because they are Christian fundamentalists who see the return of Jews to Jerusalem as a precondition for the return of Christ and the conversion of Jews to Christianity, or because they are xenophobes who want to get rid of Jews in their midst. Anti-Semites take positions in support of and in opposition to Israel.

It is wrong to criticize all Jews for Israel's wrongdoings, yet Israel's leadership and its supporters in the Diaspora consistently encourage this view by insisting that Israel acts on behalf of the entire Jewish people. This shifts blame for Israel's crimes onto the shoulders of all Jews. But Jewish critics of Israel demonstrate through their words and deeds that the Jewish community is not monolithic in its support of Israel.

Defenders of Israel often argue that Israel is forced to do what it does --to destroy people's homes, to keep them under the boot of occupation, toseal them into walled ghettos, to brutalize them daily with military incursions and random checkpoints -- to protect its citizens from Palestinian violence. Palestinian violence, however, is rooted in the theft of their land, the diversion of their water, the violence of the occupation,and the indignity of having one's own very existence posed as a "demographic threat."

To justify Israel's continued occupation and theft of Palestinian land, the state and its defenders attempt to deny Palestinian suffering, arguing instead that Palestinian resentment is rooted not in Israeli violence, but rather in Islam, or the "Arab mentality," or a mystical anti-Semitism inherent in Arab or Muslim culture. Consequently, pro-Israel advocacy depends upon on the active dissemination of Islamophobia. Not surprisingly, engendering hatred in this manner inflames anti-Jewish sentiment among Arabs and Muslims. None of this is a recipe for making Jews safe.

Jewish people can help avert the catastrophic effects of Israeli behaviour, but only by taking a stand in opposition to it.

[Jason Kunin of Toronto is a member of the administration council of the Alliance of Concerned Jewish Canadians. This article, which originally appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press, was written with help from other council members, including Cy Gonick and Dr. Mark Etkin, both of Winnipeg, Andy Lehrer of Toronto, Sid Shniad of Vancouver and Abraham Weizfeld of Montreal.]

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Resurrection: The Truth Revealed

The Evangelical Lutheran Church
in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL)

Resurrection: The Truth Revealed
Easter Message from Jerusalem 2007

Bishop Dr. Munib Younan

Salaam and grace to you from Jerusalem, City of Peace!

It is busy this year in Jerusalem, and the crowds make it hard to make your way through the narrow alleys of the Old City. This year, both the Eastern and the Western Christian calendars coincide, which means that both Christian families celebrate Holy Week and Easter on the same days, unlike most years. It is to us a foretaste of the feast of unity that Christ brings for us. We also celebrate during this same week the Jewish feast of Passover. With these feasts here, the air is thick with a sense of pilgrimage and search for truth. I am reminded of Pilate's question: "What is truth?"

Humanity has always had a deep craving for truth about the larger questions of life: Who are we? Why are we here? How then shall we live?

We are here because we struggle with these questions as the disciples must have as they watched the life, ministry and death of Jesus. When you look at the life of Jesus, especially this past week of betrayal, suffering, torture and death, Pilate's question echoes eerily throughout it all: what is truth? Where does one find truth? What leader, or king, as Pilate called him, would choose this path as "truth?" What truth can possibly be found in the life of a man who willingly walks into suffering and the death of a criminal?

Pilate was worried about whether Jesus thought himself a King who would threaten the Roman rulers. Indeed, many followers wanted Jesus to be that king who would liberate them from occupation and oppression. But Jesus wasn't as interested in the temporal power of earthly kingdoms as he was about deeper truths. Neither Pilate, Jesus' disciples, nor his enemies could foresee that the path to truth and new life would first go through a dark tomb. His followers must have been shattered on that Friday. Mary Magdalene must have been devastated and confused, and she didn't recognize the truth when Jesus came to her face to face on that early Easter morn.

For me, the truth is the empty tomb. The truth is resurrection.
"He is not here, for He is Risen!"

The truth is the unexpected which comes out of nothing, the hope that comes out of nowhere when all light has gone out. The truth is what gives life, hope, joy and purpose. The truth is the love that God poured out into the world in Christ to bring light to all the dark corners where pain, hatred, suffering, injustice and death dwell.

In our globalized world, Pilate's question echoes for us, too: "What is truth?" We have all kinds of experts telling us their truths. More and more, media giants seem to create waves of "truths" that sometimes actually obscure what is actually happening. The political pundits face off in the media writing or arguing their perspectives. How do we judge which is right? If we speak out against popular views, we are labeled as trouble-makers or worse. Yet it is these popular views, the "common wisdom," that has brought us again and again to violence and conflict and to the brink of nuclear war. Who has any truth to give us, now that so many leaders are under investigation for corruption and scandals or indicted for crimes. Our young people cry out, "Who can we trust?"

In the last weeks, the Discovery channel presented a documentary film claiming to have found the tomb of Jesus, with family members, possibly even a wife and children, based on names inscribed on the ossuaries. This has created a stir among some believers who wonder whether this could possibly be true. For me, these kinds of excavations do not shake my faith or create doubts because the truth was announced and witnessed on that first Easter morning: "He is not here. He is Risen!"

We Christians have built our lives and faith on the truth of the empty tomb. No one can find his DNA, for He is Risen!

Here is the only truth that gives Palestinian and Arab Christians life, joy and hope in the midst of political and economic turmoil. The Risen Lord continues to assure us that new life and light come out of darkness and death.

When the mainline evangelical churches in the Middle East recently met, we talked about the increasing numbers of Christians who are leaving here because of the political situation that is causing insecurity and extremism. We are telling our believers to stand fast in the truth and be witnesses to it. The Risen Lord calls the Arab church not to falter or weaken in the midst of turmoil, but to assume its role as a healing force for reconciliation, justice and peace. We ask for your prayers for our ministries here.

The ways of truth are not for the faint of heart. Sometimes I think the reason we have so much trouble finding truth is that we are afraid of it and the difficult choices that are required on this path of truth. If we really see God's truth in the broken streets of this world – the suffering, the injustice, the poverty – then we must assume our responsibility as Christ's body in the world. We want an easier path.

Ann Weems describes this dilemma in her poem called
A GATE CALLED TRUTH in her book of poems, Kneeling in Jerusalem:

"Just outside Jerusalem
We came to a gate called Truth.
We called to the gatekeeper
To let us in.
"The latch is not on," he replied.
"Anyone who will can enter."
We went closer,
But seeing how great
And how heavy was the gate,
We looked for a way around.
There must be another way around."

Our mortal selves always seek in vain for an easier way than the gate of truth or the path of the cross, yet it is only there that we find real life and transforming love. Speaking truth to power puts you at the cutting edge, where you might get cut. This is a truth that Jesus knew all too well, yet that was his chosen path, one who testifies to the truth and advocates for all those who live in spirit and truth. And still he tells us: "You shall know the truth and the truth will make you free!"

In the midst of conflict all around us, this question echoes loudly: what is truth? It seems to us that the world doesn't notice that for us so often in the Middle East injustice prevails, human rights are trodden upon and freedom is only a dream. In the name of security and democracy, world leaders use militarization, war and coercion. It is easier to keep turning money into walls and weapons and placating the powerful than it is to confront the reality. How many more walls will have to be built, lives lost or governments toppled before we realize the truth that only by seeking a justice in which all people are treated with dignity, love and compassion will the healing of the nations begin?

Thank God that recently some are beginning to realize and acknowledge that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the linchpin to Middle East peace, and it could be the beginning of bridging the now-widening gap between the Western and Muslim worlds. We ask leaders to assume greater responsibility in seeking truth here in our Holy Land and taking on the difficult tasks which that demands of us, just as we call our own leaders to have the faith and courage to face their hard choices.

The truth is that Palestinians and Israelis continue to live in fear that prevents us from seeing and making the hard choices that must be made. The truth is that we are tired, weary, both Palestinians and Israelis, and we both need justice. Occupation is an unbearable burden for both Palestinians and Israelis, and it is grievously wounding both peoples. The truth is that many in the Middle East vehemently reject the harsh extremism and violence that have become such a daily part of life here, yet it sometimes seems that they are the only ones who recognize the injustice of what is happening. The truth is that extremism is growing because of the failure of the world powers to take seriously the realities of injustice, oppression and occupation in our world, and until that changes, extremism and division will continue to grow.

The difficult road ahead to a better tomorrow of hope and healing demands leaders with faith and courage who will roll away the stones of injustice, violence and oppression. We need honest, charismatic leaders who are ready to resurrect justice and peace and we need religious leaders who dare to speak out against any violence or hatred, especially that justified by religion. It's time that religious leaders become the driving force for justice and reconciliation that the Risen Lord calls them to be. Only through a resurrection of mutual love, justice, forgiveness and grace will the darkness of fear, violence and hatred be overcome.

It is hard to live Easter hope in a Good Friday world. It is hard to believe that the paths of truth and righteousness will one day be recognized by those who are called to lead. We are, in the end, like Mary in the garden, blinded by fear and burdened with grief, yet brought to see, in the dawning light, the face of truth in the Risen One. May the tears of pain, of oppression and fear be wiped from our eyes by the mighty acts of our just and righteous God. May the Risen One bring light to your darkness, hope to your fears and new life where you have grown weary. Amen.

Al Masih Qam! Haqan Qam!
Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Easter Greeting from the Heads of Jerusalem Churches

Easter Message 2007
The Patriarch and Heads of Local Churches in Jerusalem

"All I want is to know Christ and the power of His Resurrection and to share His sufferings" (Philippians ch. 3 v.10).

Sisters and Brothers here and in all the world,

We greet you in the name of our Risen Lord and ask God to fill you with the joy and the strength of the Resurrection.

Having opposed early Christians and, indeed, sought to bring many of them to trial for their faith, St. Paul I suddenly challenged by our Blessed Lord as he journeyed to Damascus. Within a short time he became a powerful messenger for Jesus. Reading his various Epistles we see he has much to say on many aspects of the Christian Faith. The statement he sets before the Philippians is regarded by many people as the most powerful: "All I want is to know Christ & the power of His Resurrection & to share His sufferings". In this short sentence he links the Cross and the Resurrection. The sufferings he has to face for his faith lead him to become conscious of the power of the Resurrection given to those who truly believe, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Yet again, recent months have shown us much of the hardships and sufferings people have to endure, not least in this Land. Much of this burden has arisen from man's inhumanity to man together with his deprivation of basic human dignity and rights, as it happens to us because of the siege imposed upon us.

Our Blessed Lord challenges all of us that if we would be His disciples we must take up our Cross and follow Him. In the midst of sufferings we reach the power of the Resurrection and the power of the Spirit that enables us to take away the oppressions that are imposed upon us.

So, as we celebrate the joy of Easter we must examine carefully where we stand in relation to God. Many of us need to abandon the selfish instinct within us. If we would truly seek the power of the Resurrection in our lives then we must disregard any idea we might have of self-sufficiency or worldly hopes that hide from our eyes the things of heaven and of the Spirit. If we believe in the Resurrection, we must affirm that our security is with God and in the power of the Resurrection. Again St. Paul reminds us when writing to the Corinthians: "We have this treasure. It is in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent Power belong to God and not to us" (2 Corinthians ch.4 v.1).

Despite our weakness and despite the unjust circumstances imposed upon us, the power of God can free us if we come to understand the logic of the Spirit in us and if we accept to behave accordingly.

On the first Good Friday the disciples of Jesus doubtless felt shattered. However, gradually their faith was restored as they became conscious of their Risen Lord. Their own personal darkness of fear and uncertainty was suddenly illuminated by the light of Jesus' Resurrection.

So as we celebrate the Resurrection we must be more diligent in searching for the light and in using it to build a better tomorrow for all of us, Palestinians or Israelis, Moslems, Jews, Christians and Druzes. We search for the light that comes from God, illuminates all Creation, guides every true believer in his search, and helping him to find God's freedom for all His people together with His peace and justice.

As we greet our sisters and brothers across the world we wish them the joy of Easter and the power of the Risen Lord in their daily lives. Whilst conscious of the care and concern shown by many of you we again would ask for your particular prayers for this Land that God will guide all its governors and show them the path of justice and equality between all. Pray for the newly formed Unity Government of the Palestinians together with the Israeli Government and the Arab Initiative, to work for taking away fear and hence all oppression, the walls, the barriers and the prisons, so that hearts become full of trust and all can enjoy the same freedom and the same dignity. Then we would ask that you make a particular effort to encourage your particular nation to stop the embargo imposed upon us and to restore its aid to the Palestinians. Many vital areas of community are in a desperate plight as a result of the withholding of this aid- not least justice, economy, medical and educational etc….

As all Christians across the world celebrate Easter together we wish everyone, at home and abroad, that joy which our Blessed Lord's Resurrection brings. We ask God to bestow upon all the joy and the power of the resurrection so that the words of Jesus become real as He said: "I have come so that they may have life and have it to he full". (St .John ch.10 v.10).

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!

May you experience a Happy and Holy Easter!

Jerusalem, April 2007

Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem
Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem
Patriarch Michel Sabbah, R.C. Latin
Patriarch Torkom I Manooghian, Armenian Orthodox
Fr. Pierbattista Pizziballa, ofm, Custos of the Holy Land
Archbishop Anba Abraham, Coptic Orthodox
Archbishop Swerios Malki Murad, Syrian – Orthodox
Archbishop Abouna Mattias, Ethiopian Orthodox
Archbishop Paul Sayyah, Maronite
Bishop Suheil Dawani, Anglican
Bishop Munib Younan, Lutheran
Bishop Pierre Malki, Syrian- Catholic
Bishop George Baker, Greek Catholic
Fr. Rafael Minassian, Armenian Catholic

More at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land:

Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel

March and April 2007 Newsletter
Num. 19

The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel would like to wish you a happy and blessed Easter.

Palm Sunday and Easter Access
Palestinians and internationals marked Palm Sunday by processing from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem’s old city on Sunday April 1st. Many internationals travelling from abroad participated, yet Palestinians from Bethlehem and surrounding areas required special permits to enter Jerusalem.

In a statement ahead of Easter, Palestinian Christian NGOs reminded readers that in the last few years the Occupation authorities have impeded Easter celebrations, especially on the Saturday of the Holy Fire celebrations, by preventing local worshipers from reaching the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. They called for the right to worship freely in this church.

View the full statement at:

Shepherd Killed Near Yanoun
On Sunday March 25, a shepherd Muhammed Hamdaan beni Jaaber, a 54 year old father of 6 from Aqraba, was beaten and stabbed to death on a hillside near Yanoun. Ecumenical Accompaniers maintain a permanent protective presence in this village. On Sunday night, his sheep returned home without him, alerting villagers that something was wrong. They found his body early the following morning.

To view a full report, please go to: and click on ‘News & Updates’

Land day
Palestinians in Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories held demonstrations and marches on Friday March 30 to mark Land Day. On this day in 1976, Israeli authorities killed six Palestinians during peaceful demonstrations in the Galilee, after the Government of Israel confiscated land from Palestinian villages and towns inside Israel. EAs (ecumenical accompaniers) attended non-violent demonstrations and tree planting events in Um Salamone, Qaffin near Tulkarem, Azba Tbib near Qalqilya and Beit Furik near Nablus.

International Women’s Day
On International Women’s Day, EAs (ecumenical accompaniers) from the Jerusalem team joined Palestinian and Israeli women marching together for an end to the occupation. About 100 women were present at the march. However, soldiers stopped the Palestinian women from marching from the south to Jerusalem at Qalandia checkpoint. The soldiers closed the gates and fired sound bombs towards the women. The women remained at the checkpoint, shouting, “End the occupation now!”

Nu’aman Village
Nu’aman village near Bethlehem has reached a crucial point in its non-violent resistance to the occupation. In 1967, when Israel annexed East Jerusalem and surrounding areas, the village of Nu’aman was included. The residents were not given Jerusalem ID cards however, and are considered to be living in their village illegally. An appeal to Israel’s High Court regarding the status of Nu’aman will be heard in May 2007. Now is an important time to learn more about what concerned individuals can do to support the village.

For further information, please go to: and click on ‘News & Updates’ or see the Al Haq report here:

International Church Action for Peace in Palestine and Israel (ICAPPI)
June 3-9
The World Council of Churches through its ICAPPI initiative will commemorate 40 years of the 1967 Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territories. The WCC asks for member churches, related organisations, and church peace movements to consider joining ICAPPI initiatives held during June 3-9, 2007.

For more information go to:

EAPPI Publications
The latest edition of the EAPPI magazine, ChainReaction, entitled: How Long O’ Lord focuses on international resolutions. To obtain copies, please contact EAPPI at

Swedish EAPPI SEAPPI published a booklet “Med var egna ogon” ("With our own eyes") on EAs experiences in Palestine and Israel. To obtain a copy, please contact SEAPPI at:


For more information please contact: Roslyn Harper, Communication & Advocacy Officer +972 (0)2 628-9402 (, Rifat Kassis, International Programme Coordinator +41 22 791-6314 (

The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) supports Palestinians and Israelis working for peace by monitoring and reporting violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, offering protection by accompanying local communities in daily activities, and by advocating with churches for a peaceful end to the Occupation. The programme, which began in 2002, is coordinated by the World Council of Churches (WCC). The WCC is a fellowship of 347 churches, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. Its office is in Geneva, Switzerland.

For more information on the WCC: