Friday, December 20, 2013

The miracle of Christmas

Advent blessings of peace and grace, dear readers.

I didn't notice the outstanding Advent resource distributed by Kairos Palestine. I wish I had notified you of it earlier. But it is not too late to share Hind Khoury's introduction, which could stand alone as the most profound Christmas message from Palestine.

The miracle of Christmas makes us whole and fully human
It never ceases to amaze me how, every year, and as we get closer to Christmas, my burdened heart lightens up with joy and hope, as if through a miracle. I take heart from my fellow Bethlehemites, who over the ages, and through many a war and an occupation, have never failed to celebrate Christmas and to honor the newborn prince of peace and love.
   My heart lightens in the shadow of the Apartheid Wall, at my doorstep in Bethlehem. The wall is a dark reminder of Israel’s occupation, an occupation that strangulates our lives, devours our land, and denies us the freedom to move and visit friends and family.
   It reminds me that we simply aspire to live normal lives amidst the abnormality of colonization. We are submitted to this injustice, and to add insult to injury, our resistance is promoted as terrorism, and our victimhood as aggression.
   This transformation is incomprehensible. How can the heart lighten up when our political prisoners linger in Israeli jails many of whom without legal process? How can it be lifted when our refugees wait in their camps only to be met with more frustration, denial, and further expulsion? More still, what light is there in a region that is seeing millions of new refugees, and that is being divided by wars?
   As I renew my hopes with another upcoming Christmas, and as my heart is filled with the joy of giving and caring, I turn to my fellow human beings with a greater belief in their good will. Life looks promising and worth every bit of struggle and hard work, and I am reminded that I cannot live without Christmas.
   Through this modest birth in Bethlehem, humanity is saved. The simple message of Christmas is the secret of life, meaningful and vital to our very existence. Once the simple truth is revealed to us, we know that we are in this world to contribute so that we have life and have it abundantly.
   My prayer this Christmas is for many of us to capture this miracle of Christmas and to think of the poor, the homeless and the oppressed.
   My prayer this Christmas is for thousands of hearts to commit to work diligently for a better world where justice has some respect and where efforts are invested to relieve pain and suffering rather than banal interests and power mongering.
   My prayer this Christmas is for people to seek their true genuine calling. With so many old and new refugees in our dear Middle East, including the Palestinian refugees who simply want to and have the right to go back homes. With so many homeless, stranded parents, children and elderly, so many more dead and injured, so many homes demolished, so much hardship, so many societies torn apart, there is certainly some joy and hope to give, some peace to construct, some good will to show that we care and to prove we are truly human and deserving of life.

[Hind Khoury is a Palestinian Christian who worked for more than 20 years in the economic development of the Palestinian Occupied Territories. In 2005 she was appointed as Minister of Jerusalem Affairs for the Palestinian Authority and later the Palestinian Ambassador to France.]


Here is Sabeel's Christmas message, written by the Rev. Naim Ateek.

“In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night” (Luke2:8).

“…after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem…” (Matthew 2:1).
The fact that the Christmas story mentions only two groups of visitors to the Christ child in Bethlehem, has, I believe, a theological significance. The shepherds in first century Palestine represented one of the lowest social strata in society. Religious tradition of Jesus’ day labeled them as unclean. They were marginalized, poor, and considered as the scum of society; while the wise men represented the well to do, the educated, and the scholars of their day. The theological implication is clear: God’s love for all people was expressed in and through the coming of Jesus Christ. This love welcomed both the shepherds and the wise men. True love does not differentiate between God’s children. In Christ, the evil of discrimination and bigotry is obliterated. 

Moreover, the shepherds were presumably Jewish, while the wise men were foreigners. Since the wise men came from “the East,” a number of New Testament scholars have suggested that they came from Arabia. There is a further theological significance here. Both Jews and Arabs came to offer their homage to the Christ child. When we stand before God, not only do our social differences lose their importance, our racial differences are also eradicated. God’s love for all people was being communicated regardless of social and financial status in society and regardless of racial background. Not only do rich and poor, Jew and Gentile stand before God as equals, there are also no political boundaries. All are welcomed and accepted. In other words, when we stand before the holy, our racism and bigotry should melt away and we should become authentically human recognizing the other as a brother and a sister. 

One of our most disturbing issues during this Christmas season is the situation of the shepherds and farmers of today, namely, the Bedouins of the Negev who are citizens of Israel. The Israeli government plans to Judaize the Negev by forcibly relocating tens of thousands of Bedouins from their ancestral lands on which most of them have lived for hundreds of years, long before the state of Israel came into being. Israel wants to force them away from their lands and traditional way of life for the benefit of Israeli Jewish citizens. It is essentially a land grab.* Many local and international human rights organizations have condemned Israel’s actions and policies as discriminatory and in violation of international law.
[To read the entire message, go to this link]


I want to bring to your attention Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives.

As we are nearing the end of the 2013, we would like to officially announce our change of name from the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information to Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives.
There was a time after Oslo, when many NGOs including IPCRI found it effective to meet, think, write policy papers, and produce immense amounts of research. Today twenty years after Oslo the shelves are filled with numerous files on how to solve the various issues in the conflict, including Jerusalem, refugees, borders, and security. Yet, we still do not yet have peace. The only research project that we are engaged in right now is one that investigates an innovative model of the two state solution that is based on one space. This model abandons the separation paradigm of “us here”, “them there”, and takes into account the true needs of the inhabitants of Israel and Palestine.

IPCRI’s central objective today is to create “sustainable peace building” through projects that translate directly into positive changes in people’s lives. Instead of sitting behind closed doors and talking about how to solve the conflict, we are out there, creating more jobs in Palestine, and bringing down the psychological barriers that separate the two peoples. True peace building means acknowledging people’s rights to live in prosperity and dignity, and to where proper education, job opportunities, and freedom of movement are guaranteed. It also means that negative perceptions about the other group are transformed. Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives celebrates its 2014 objective to use innovation and creativity to challenge the status quo, and to implement projects that don't just "think", but "do". 


A lot of good information in this blog by Jim Wall, Netanyahu's Flawed Vatican Charm Offensive.  Wall gives well-deserved attention to an important new book by Scott Anderson, Lawrence In Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East.  Anderson details an important historic episode, a successful propaganda campaign orchestrated by, among others, Aaron Aaronsohn, described by reviewer Alex Von Tunzelmann as “a Zionist agronomist of Romanian origin, who had settled in Palestine.” I won't repeat all of Wall's excellent points here, but I urge you to read the whole piece.

ON THE SIDE OF THE ROAD is an important new film.  Watch for it or check the website for distribution information.
   Filmmaker Lia Tarachansky grew up in a settlement. When the second Intifadah broke out in 2000 her family moved to Canada. There, for the first time she met Palestinians and "discovered" their history and learned why they were fighting Israel in the first place.
   When she became a journalist, she returned to Israel to become the local correspondent for The Real News network. Returning for the first time to her settlement, she "discovers" the Palestinians next door as she travels the West Bank covering the Israeli military occupation.
   In this film she meets with those who played a personal role in the events of 1948 and like her, "discovered" that which they had not only erased from their consciousness, but erased from the map. For years she tries to convince veterans of the 1948 that set off the conflict as we know it today to face the most difficult questions and dig deep into their memories. This is a film about the questions Israelis cannot ask, about memories that cannot be uncovered, and the history that's fighting to come to light.
   It was then, in 1948, three years after the holocaust that the nascent Jewish state was created in a bloody war that led to two-thirds of the Palestinian people becoming refugees. Those who fled or were expelled to this day remain in camps throughout the Arab world, the West Bank and Gaza. In 2009 the Israeli government proposed a law that forbade mourning this history. A law that attempted to criminalize history itself.
   You can view the trailer and meet some of the principle characters at the website for ON THE SIDE OF THE ROAD.  

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Samia Khoury’s book is `Reflections from Palestine’

Samia Khoury’s book, `Reflections from Palestine’
is launched at Sabeel anniversary

Jerusalem - The twenty-fifth anniversary of Palestinian liberation theology was the setting for the launch of Reflections from Palestine – A Journey of Hope, a memoir by Samia Nasir Khoury. The celebration in Jericho was part of the Sabeel International Conference.

About 350 people from Jerusalem and the West Bank, Nazareth and the Galilee area of Israel, and 15 other countries took part in the celebration. Khoury was a founding member of Sabeel, the ecumenical liberation theology center in Jerusalem.

Reflections from Palestine tells the story of life under Israeli occupation. It is a story that Khoury¸ who celebrated her 80th birthday on the day of the book launch, has told for many years. The book opens at the outset of 1967 “Six-Day” war” and describes the relentless series of “temporary measures” that became the binding, suffocating reality of occupation leading up to and following the Oslo Accords.

Khoury explains the wide-ranging social and political problems facing Palestinians under occupation through the sweet and sorrowful experiences of family and community life.

The Rev. Naim Ateek, founder of Sabeel, said Khoury “makes her reader live with her the anxiety of a mother and grandmother, yet she never sounds bitter and never loses hope because she strongly believes in the justice of the cause of her people, the Palestinians.”

Khoury is a founding member of the Board of Trustees of Birzeit University in the West Bank. She was for many years a leader in the East Jerusalem YWCA. Khoury wrote for more than five years for The Witness magazine, a publication of the Episcopal Church Publishing Company.
Reflections from Palestine – A Journey of Hope is published by Rimal Publications.

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For more reports from the Sabeel Conference, "The Bible and the Palestine/Israel Conflict," go to the website of Friends of Sabeel-North America.

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