Friday, March 29, 2013

Easter brings rejoicing amid struggle

Bishop Munib Younan's Easter message is in circulation. He serves the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. An excerpt is below; click here to read the full text of the message.

Bishop Younan writes, "Do we give in to despair? Do we give up? Do we emigrate to lands abroad? The narrative of Easter, the power of the cross and resurrection is the only source of our hope. On the Via Dolorosa, Jesus encountered all the dark forces that we experience in the Middle East today. He sacrificed himself so that we might hope and we can trust his power. We will not allow extremism, oppression, violence, bloodshed, hatred, walls or confiscated lands to diminish our hope, to make us give in to despair. The hope of living with dignity, justice, and reconciliation will triumph over the dark forces we face. This is the power of the cross today. This is the hope of Christians in Jerusalem and the whole Holy Land. This is the task of the Church universal, to work with love and tenderness to protect life and the human rights of every nation. As long as the church of Christ in every land, especially in the Holy Land, claims this responsibility within the spirit of Easter, I will be filled with hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Click here to learn more about the ELCJHL.

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Churches for Middle East Peace has provided a series of Lenten devotions. Now with Easter at hand, they sent a summary of Holy Week in Jerusalem.

"Thousands of Christians from around the world are gathering in Jerusalem to celebrate Holy Week, joining many Palestinian Christians, the “living stones” of the Holy Land. On Palm Sunday they climbed the Mount of Olives to re-enact Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem, a powerful scene punctuated with activism as many Palestinian worshipers took the opportunity to raise awareness of the approximately 50,000 Christian Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza."

CMEP's Good Friday bulletin features a photo from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land.

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Pastor Mitri Raheb's Holy Week greeting is in the Bright Stars of Bethlehem news.

"I bring you greetings during this sacred Holy Week. We are all reminded of the gift of forgiveness and newness in Christ as we together journey to the cross.

"While there are dark days ahead, I look forward with anticipation to the hope of Easter morning. For many of my fellow Palestinians, we live in this Easter hope daily. We are able to do that, in part, because of shared ministry through Bright Stars of Bethlehem."

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Looking back at President Obama's visit, I was impressed with Sandy Tolan's analysis in Obama is missing the real Israel. Readers may know Sandy Tolan from his book, The Lemon Tree.

Here's an excerpt: "Occupation and freedom: These concepts are just as legitimate for consideration and action as is any Israeli’s right to feel secure. For a just and comprehensive peace, these ideas need to share equal status. Yet the notion of occupation is increasingly ignored by the American press as some quaint remnant of a revolutionary past. More important, the corrosive nature of the occupation, and the struggle of a people to free itself from it, has been essentially dropped as policy issues by successive American administrations eager to speak, as President Obama did Wednesday, of the “eternal” American bond with Israel. The irony is that by refusing to publicly confront the occupation, and meaningfully back the Palestinian quest for freedom – instead of blocking it at the United Nations – the Obama administration is undermining the Israeli security goal at the center of its policy. Permanent occupation in reservation-style enclaves is not a long term answer for Israel and Palestine, and in the end it will not make Israelis feel secure."

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

News and notes around President Obama's visit

There will be lots of news out of President Obama's trip to Israel and Palestine. Here are a few articles published just before and during the visit.

This link takes you to President Obama's speech in Ramallah, from Maan News.

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Here is a link to the text of the president's speech in Jerusalem from the Wall Street Journal.

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From the Washington Post, In West Bank, faint hopes for Obama's visit.
"Previous American presidents have come and gone, people say, and nothing has changed. Israel’s occupation of the West Bank has deepened, its settlements have expanded, and there is no sign on the horizon of a political solution that will bring Palestinians independence."

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In The Daily Beast, Mr. President, Don't Forget the Nakba
"At Yad Vashem, President Obama will be told to “never forget” while conveniently ignoring the ghost of the Nakba just outside. A peaceful solution can never be achieved while ignoring the rights of Palestinians prevented from living in their homeland by the state of Israel. If President Obama wants to be honest with Israelis, he should tell them that explicitly and take a moment to recognize the victims of Deir Yassin while he is there."

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In the New York Times Magazine, a fine, lengthy piece, Is This Where the Next Intifada will Start?
“`This is the worst time for us,' Bassem confided to me last summer. He meant not just that the villagers have less to show for their sacrifices each week, but that things felt grim outside the village too. Everyone I spoke with who was old enough to remember agreed that conditions for Palestinians are far worse now than they were before the first intifada. The checkpoints, the raids, the permit system, add up to more daily humiliation than Palestinians have ever faced. The number of Israeli settlers living in the West Bank has more than tripled since the Oslo Accords. Assaults on Palestinians by settlers are so common that they rarely made the news. The resistance, though, remained limited to a few scattered villages like Nabi Saleh and a small urban youth movement."

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Mohammed El Kurd, 14, hero of the vibrant documentary, My Neighbourhood, addressed Obama in the article, ‘Mr President, I’m sure you know everything’ — a Palestinian boy expelled from half his home urges US action, published by Mondoweiss.  Click this link for the article.

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For general information, the Center for American Progress has issued recent findings from discussions in the Middle East.  Read the full report here.
"President Obama will arrive in the region at a time when many voices are questioning the ability and willingness of the United States to lead. Budget battles in Washington combined with the rebalance to Asia and the complexity of the challenges in the Middle East cause many in the region to doubt the United States. President Obama’s visit offers an important opportunity for the United States to assume a leadership role in dealing with security threats such as Iran and Syria, political challenges such as the historic changes sweeping many countries in the Middle East, and diplomatic challenges like the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"The window for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is closing. Many Israelis and Palestinians told us that if no progress toward a two-state solution is made during President Obama’s second term in office, it may never happen. The Palestinian Authority is facing a severe political and financial crisis, and its collapse would create even more problems in a region of turmoil."

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Friday, March 15, 2013

President Obama to Palestine and Israel

I'm sorry I've been away... tending to matters here and there, my responsibilities on the Board of Friends of Sabeel-North America and preparation for an exciting conference in Dallas on racial disparity in the criminal justice system.  Back to work!

ELCA Peace Not Walls encourages us to lean on the president's itinerary and provides good action steps. Ask President Obama to meet with religious leaders when he visits the Middle East next month; call for a halt to settlement activity; ask his delegation to visit Augusta Victoria Hospital. See the full action alert which provides links for writing to President Obama, Secretary Kerry and your Members of Congress.

Some highlights from the bulletin:
The president has often sought out the views of U.S. religious leaders through his White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and other meetings. It will be important for the President to hear the voices of faith leaders during his visit to the region as well. The Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land consists of leaders of the three Abrahamic faiths, including Bishop Munib Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land.

Please contact the White House and ask President Obama to meet with the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land during his visit.

As noted in a report issued late last year by the United Nations (U.N.) on the humanitarian impact of the Israeli settlement policy on Palestinians, since 1967, Israel has established about 150 settlements (residential and others) in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem; in addition to some 100 “outposts” erected by settlers without official authorization. Three new settlements were approved in 2012 by retroactively ‘authorizing’ such outposts. More than 500,000 people live in these settlements, which are against international law. Additionally, in 2012, one Palestinian was killed and approximately 1,300 injured by Israeli settlers or security forces in incidents directly or indirectly related to settlements, including demonstrations.
Please contact the White House and ask President Obama to urge him to demand, during his visit, a halt to all settlement activity.

The Lutheran World Federation has operated the Augusta Victoria Hospital for the benefit of Palestinian refugees since 1950. The ELCA and other churches around the world have been strong supporters of this effort to meet human need and be a sign of hope over the years. 
Please contact the White House and ask President Obama to have one or more members of his delegation visit the Augusta Victoria Hospital.

Click these to contact President Obama, Secretary Kerry and your Members of Congress.
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This comes from Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).
Encourage President Obama's Nativity Church Visit
As the president works toward fostering a real and hopeful peace agreement between the Israeli and Palestinian governments, we need to encourage his visit to the Church of the Nativity. Your message will provide President Obama more moral and political support to do the hard work of facilitating an actual peace.
CMEP has been encouraging the president to visit the church since his trip to the region was announced.Click here to send an email of encouragement and hope to the president today.

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Jim Wall writes about the president's itinerary in his Wall Writings blog:
"Unlike 2008, on next week’s trip Obama will not travel to Ramallah. Would the West Bank be too “dangerous”, as Israeli tour guides like to tell tourists or pilgrims? Or could it be that by avoiding Ramallah, Obama would not have to visit the Ramallah burial site of the late Palestinian leader, Yasir Arafat.

"Not to visit Arafat’s Ramallah burial site would be especially egregious since next week’s itinerary already includes Obama visits to several symbolic Israeli sites:

 `In addition to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial that is an obligatory stop for every visiting head of state, the president will lay a wreath at the grave of Theodor Herzl, the writer who is considered the father of modern Zionism.'

"Instead of traveling to Ramallah, President Obama will go to Bethlehem, where he will be received by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"By going to Bethlehem, Obama will see, up close and personal, the wall that surrounds the birthplace of the Christ child.

"With all the excitement over the elevation of Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope, this is a good time to recall that when the now-retired Benedict XVI made a 2009 papal visit to Bethlehem, he was photographed standing in front of a wall with graffiti behind him, illustrating how locals feel about the the occupation wall."

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