Tag Archives: Palestine

Living on the Wrong Side of the Wall

by Maria C. Khoury

The other side of a 27-foot wall is not a place I imagined I would be when I started my middle class family in Boston. In those days, we were going to hockey games to make sure we were keeping up with the Americans and Greek School to keep up with the Greeks – all the politically correct activities to fit into a society never meant for me. Having been married to a Palestinian Orthodox Christian, fate had a different life awaiting me.

When, in 1993, the Oslo Peace Agreement brought hope to Israelis and Palestinians, we were one of the first families living in the US to arrive, invest and live in Palestine. We wanted to help boost the economy.

After seven years of severe and awful conditions and the total failure of the Oslo Peace Agreement to deliver a just peace for all people, we were one of the few families willing and able to survive the harsh conditions that had developed. We refused to leave.

Even what we had considered “normal life” under the military occupation of the Palestinian Territories stopped September 28, 2000. Normal life ceased to exist.

September 28 was the day Ariel Sharon, accompanied by a small army of soldiers, visited the area surrounding the Dome of the Rock, the principal Islamic holy site in Jerusalem. Sharon’s message was “Jerusalem is Jewish.”

In fact, Jerusalem is a city holy to the people of three great religions – not only to Jews, but to Muslims and Christians.

Muslims comprise 98 percent of the Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza. Many of them responded to Sharon’s provocative action with protest. Young Palestinians were willing to protest at checkpoints and risk injury or even death in order to bear witness to their faith, to defend its holy sites, and to uphold the idea that Jerusalem is sacred to three religions, not just one.

In the terrible conflict which began with the creation of Israel in 1948, so many have perished. For those displaced by the event, the establishment of the State of Israel meant the Catastrophe of Palestine, with over five hundred Palestinians villages and towns destroyed and over four million Palestinians made refugees, pushed into a stateless limbo where they remain to this day. Just in the past seven years, more than 30,000 people have been injured and 6,800 have lost their lives – 5,600 Palestinians and 1,200 Israelis. Christ, have mercy!

Those of us who believe in nonviolent methods of struggle were stunned when Palestinians began to blow themselves and others up in the middle of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other places. The “Apartheid Wall” was the Israeli response to such extreme actions. The Wall not only isolates Palestinians and Israelis from each other, but it also makes life on the Palestinian side even harder than it was.

Among the many problems with the Wall (paid for by American taxpayers) was that it did not follow any recognized, internationally accepted border or even the 1967 Green Line referred to in UN Security Council Resolution 242; rather, it enlarged Israeli territory still farther and suffocated an entire population in retaliation for the violent actions of a small minority. Truly, it is making us lose our minds.

The Wall, erected entirely at the discretion of Israel, was a prison wall for the Palestinian people. Impeding or altogether stopping everything that makes life normal, it cut them off from their schools, work, hospitals, and grandparents. Even contacts with relatives in another town became difficult or impossible.

Some may joke that being cut off from your mother-in-law might not be such a bad idea, but in reality such intra-family barriers are a tragedy.

The simple things made possible by freedom of movement – the easy access that other people take for granted – are things that Palestinians now need military permits to accomplish. To go to Jerusalem, to the airport, to a seaport – all such simple, ordinary tasks require hard-to-obtain permits.

The actions of the Israeli army seem to be designed to clear the land of any remaining Palestinians and, in the process, to prevent the ever-shrinking Christian community from existing in the land where Christianity began 2,000 years ago.

Since the building of the Wall, life on the ground is pure misery. The conditions of our enclosure are dreadful and devastating. We find ourselves captives within an open prison.

Over the past fourteen years of living in the Holy Land, I have often felt I was psychologically and emotionally incarcerated; but in the last few years, the Israeli army has created an actual physical prison, complete with its towering concrete wall. The Wall is 450 miles (720 kilometers) long.

The result is psychological torture.

Hoping someone might want to boost the Palestinian economy by buying some of my books, I traveled to an Israeli post office to send four boxes in time for Christmas delivery. (Palestinian mail delivery takes three months.) After dropping them off at the post office, I tried to enter Ramallah for a World Vision gathering only to discover the gate I had used in the past has now been locked.

Looking for the next entrance to get to the other side, I began driving along the Wall. How frustrating a search it was to drive mile after mile and get lost in a maze of small zigzag roads! I felt I was in a labyrinth without an exit.

It’s a day-to-day torment just to move around for the most simple, everyday things. Each day I am faced by every panel of the Wall with its seeming message: “Wouldn’t you be happier in some other part of the world? Why stay here? We Jews will make good use of your land, your homes, your olive trees. The sooner you leave, the better.”

In a time and age where we should be building bridges of greater understanding and celebrating and appreciating our diversity, the Israeli government has succeeded in locking us up and imposing still greater suffering on all of us who live on the “other side” of the Wall; in destroying what is left of our fragile existence and reducing us to abject despair.

Even so, we Christians in Palestine continue to place our hope in Christ our Savior. We try to continue our witness.

We continue to hope and pray for walls to fall and bridges to appear.

May the light of Christ shine through us in a land of so much darkness.

“I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

May Christians, Jews and Muslims together share in the work of reconnection and healing.

Maria Khoury is Greek American married to a Palestinian Orthodox Christian who now serves as mayor of the town where they live, Taybeh, near Ramallah, in the West Bank. She is the author of Witness in the Holy Land and eight children’s books, including Christina Goes to the Holy Land and Coloring with Christina, a new coloring book about the holy sites in Palestine.

Note: Steve Leicester has produced a timely video on the Wall, especially the section that encloses Bethlehem. Here is a YouTube link www.youtube.com/profile?user=SteveLeicesterUK. A link can also be found on Steve’s website: www.amostrust.org.

From the Winter 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 48

The Barrier Wall

by Alexander Patico

Defensive Wall
Defensive Wall

One of the sources of Arab discontentment has been the erection of the “Defensive Wall,” as Israelis call it, separating parts of the West Bank from other parts, and creating hardships for those, both Christian and Muslim, who reside and work in the areas thus fractured. For example, the 170,000 residents of Bethlehem, birthplace of Jesus, cannot move freely in and out of their own town.

The International Court of Justice (an institution little known in the United States) ruled in 2004 that, under international law, the wall is illegal. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem and others have called for removal of much of the structure.

The man who actually designed the Wall, Jewish settler Dan Tirza, has been quoted as saying, “There is a problem with hatred…The main problem now with this separation is that they don’t know us any more.”

Azmi Bishara, until recently a member of the Israeli Knesset, wrote: “Most of our children attend schools that are separate but unequal. According to recent polls, two-thirds of Israeli Jews would refuse to live next to an Arab and nearly half would not allow a Palestinian into their home.”

“A shrinking number of Israelis and Palestinians are studying each other’s language,” reported Scott Wilson in The Washington Post of April 1.

A teacher in a Palestinian cultural center in Hebron told the reporter that there used to be hundreds enrolled in his Hebrew courses. “Now, you can count them on one hand.”

The founder of a department of Arabic at Tel Aviv University was quoted as saying, “The attitude on both sides toward the other language, and by extension those who speak it, is very disappointing. Both sides are just very afraid of each other.”

In the Jerusalem area, thousands of Christians, including those whose families have been Christian since Jesus himself spread the Gospel there, are cut off from the churches, convents and monasteries that serve them.

The difficulties for Muslim Arabs are even worse. In May, at a Unitarian Church in Maryland, a local peace activist described her recent visit among the Palestinian people in a dozen communities. She described one Palestinian mother whose house happened to be adjacent to a dividing line. They had their front door (which now suddenly faced on “Israeli” territory of the West Bank) welded shut by soldiers. It was reopened after several months, but she then had to obtain a special permit (renewable after three months) to use the door of her own home; her mother was required to have her own permit as well.

Some 193 miles of roads on the West Bank are closed to cars with Palestinian license plates.

An Israeli poet, Alharon Shabti, wrote about the newly-erected barrier, calling it “a wall of fear, of hate, of incomprehensibility.” The wall is being built, said Shabti, “within the people themselves.” As it is a “barrier” for some, a “protection” for others, an “insult” to still others, Shabti says; the use of words in today’s Israel “ruins the fabric of the language itself.”

His critique is the same that George Orwell was known for – one that points to the signals and symbols that reflect inner attitudes and telegraph changes in values.

Katherine Von Schubert, author of Checkpoints and Chances: Eyewitness Accounts from an Observer in Israel-Palestine, wrote in an Easter 2006 e-mail:

A few hundred Palestinian Christians made their way yesterday – Good Friday – along the Via Dolorosa in the Old City of Jerusalem to walk as Jesus did, carrying his cross on route to his death. Many Palestinians from Ramallah and Bethlehem can no longer join the annual procession in their holy city because they are prevented from traveling by checkpoints and a pernicious permit system. The checkpoint around the corner from where I lived in East Jerusalem, for example, has permanently closed the road into Jerusalem for tens of thousands of Palestinians from the North who have had their ‘Jerusalem ID’ card taken away. The enormous concrete Wall has now shut off access to the Old City for many other Palestinians living in East Jerusalem dividing the heart of the city into many fragmented enclaves. Jerusalem has long been dying. So have Bethlehem and many other Palestinian towns….That the Wall’s route was declared illegal by the International Court of Justice has fallen on deaf ears. We have stood by and done nothing… Thousands of Palestinians are on the brink of survival. This is not a foundation for peace.

Alex Patico is the new coordinator of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship in North America and guest editor of this issue of In Communion. He is a member of the U. Committee for the World Council of Churches Decade to Overcome Violence. His text is excerpted from Reining in the Red Horse, a forthcoming book.

From the Winter 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 48

Has God Rejected His People?

Reflections on the People of Israel

by Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia

Making my way home at Oxford in the evening, I used to pass a hot-dog seller who always greeted me in a cheerful and friendly tone with the words, “Good night, rabbi.” Surely, I thought, it is an honor to be so addressed, for “rabbi,” “teacher,” is exactly what Jesus was called by His disciples during His earthly life. The title “rabbi,” little though we may deserve it, brings us close to Christ Himself. In Cyprus, incidentally, it is still the custom to address the priest as “daskale,” which is short for didaskale, “teacher,” the Greek equivalent to “rabbi”; for in the past, before there were regular village schools, the parish priest used to gather the children in church and teach them to read, using as his textbook the Psalter.

On other occasions also, because of my beard and black clothing, people have mistaken me for a Jew and called me “rabbi”; they have spoken, however, not in the friendly tone of the hot-dog seller, but with obvious contempt and hostility. This has led me to reflect with some disquiet on the persistent presence in Britain, fifty years after the Holocaust, of a widespread anti-Jewish prejudice lurking just beneath the surface. And not in Britain only. All too often in the lands that are traditionally Orthodox — whether Greek, Slav, or of other nationalities — there exists a virulent anti-Semitism, far worse than anything normally encountered in this country.

How great is our need here as Orthodox for repentance, metanoia, change of mind!

In thinking about the people of Israel, let us take St. Paul as our model. How did he, as a Jewish Christian, feel about his fellow Jews who had not accepted Christ? We find the answer in today’s Epistle (Romans 9:1-5). Reflecting on the rejection of Christ by most of his nation, Paul’s reaction is not anger, not bitterness or resentment, but overwhelming grief: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” (9:2). Although his fellow Jews do not acknowledge Christ as Messiah and Son of God, Paul remains acutely conscious of his continuing solidarity with them. He does not cease to look on them as his “kinsfolk,” his sisters and brothers, and he says that he would rather be “accursed and cut off from Christ” than saved without them (9:3). (Doubtless he has the example of Moses in mind: see Exodus 32:32.)

Paul goes on to speak of the special blessings that God has given to the people of Israel. “To them belongs the sonship” (9:4): God has adopted them in a particular and specific way. Paul is probably thinking of such texts in the Old Testament as Exodus 4:22, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Israel is my first-born son'”; or Hosea 11:1, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I have called my son.” What God said to Israel, St. Paul believes, remains as true as ever: Israel is still God’s “son.” To the Israelites belongs likewise the doxa or “glory” (Romans 9: 4), the shekinah, the uncreated splendor of God’s manifest presence that overshadowed the Jewish people in the desert (Exodus 16:10; 24:16), prefiguring the glory of Christ’s Transfiguration on Mount Tabor.

Among the gifts bestowed on Israel, Paul mentions next the “covenants” (Romans 9:4), speaking in the plural; for there is not just one covenant but a whole series of constantly renewed covenants in the course of the Old Testament – with Noah (Genesis 6: 16; 9:9), with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 17:2, 7, 9; Exodus 2:24), and then with Moses and the Jewish people at Sinai (Exodus 19:5; 34:27). Equally the Israelites have been entrusted by God with “the law,” with “the worship” of the Tabernacle and the Temple, and with “the promises” of the coming Messiah. Most important of all, it is from the people of Israel that Christ our God took His humanity (Romans 9:4-5). Jesus was a Jew — and so also, we may add, was His Mother.

Does Paul think that all these blessings have been revoked, all these privileges canceled, because the great majority of the Jewish people have rejected Christ? Not at all. Let us see what follows today’s Epistle reading, for chapters 9-11 in Romans form a close-knit unity. Later in chapter 9, Paul insists that, even though no more than a small “remnant” of Israel has so far accepted Christ, the divine plan has not been defeated; for in place of the Jews, God has called the Gentiles. Next, in chapter 10, the apostle refuses to regard this act of rejection on the Jewish side as something final. With far-ranging, unquenchable hope he looks beyond the present situation to the time when, so he is convinced, the whole of Israel will finally turn to Christ. “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (10:1) — not just a “remnant” among them but every one. And Paul is confident that his prayer will be answered, for he affirms, not as a possibility but as a fact, “All Israel will be saved” (11:26).

This means that, in Paul’s eyes, the Israelites are still most emphatically the Chosen People. “I ask, then, has God rejected His people? By no means!… God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew” (11:1-2). In God’s all-embracing plan, the people of Israel have still a unique and distinctive vocation. They are still specially “beloved” by God (11: 29), “for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (11:29). What is more, when the Jewish people eventually turn to Christ, this will prove an enrichment to the total Church which lies far beyond our present imagining. “If their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!” (11:12). To the Christian community as a whole their conversion will be nothing less than “life from the dead” (11:15).

Let us all inscribe these words of St. Paul upon our hearts indelibly in letters of fire. Never for one moment let us forget the incalculable loss which Christianity has suffered through the early separation between the Church and the Synagogue. Let us long, as Paul does, for the ending of that separation, and let us keep steadfastly in view his confident expectation that, willingly and by their own free choice, the Jewish people as a whole will eventually accept Christ as God and Savior. And, until that happens, let us never by deed or word show the slightest disrespect or hatred for the people of Israel. They are still God’s Chosen People.

I beg you, then, to make your own St Paul’s “great sorrow and unceasing anguish,” and I ask you also to hold fast to his ultimate hope that “all Israel will be saved.”

The author is assistant bishop of the Diocese of Thyateira and Great Britain as well as Spalding Lecturer of Eastern Orthodox Studies at the University of Oxford and Fellow of Pembroke College. Among his many books, he is perhaps best known for The Orthodox Church (published under his lay name Timothy Ware); a third revised edition was issued by Penguin in 1993. A new edition of a companion book, The Orthodox Way, has been published last year by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press. An autobiographical essay is included in Toward the Authentic Church (ed. Thomas Doulis; Light & Life Books, Minneapolis, 1996). Bishop Kallistos is a member of the Advisory Board of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. His sermon was preached July 13, 1996, in the church of Saint Laurence, Bradford-on-Avon, England.

reprinted from In Communion (issue 6, October 1996)