‘We Refuse to be Enemies’ #3: Peacemakers in Palestine

'We refuse to be enemies': A minister visits Palestine and Israel. Image copyright Chris Chamberlain | Sacraparental.com

A very warm welcome to guest poster Chris Chamberlain.

Chris grew up in Timaru and West Auckland.  He has been in Baptist church pastoral leadership roles for over 20 years in exciting places like the South Island’s West Coast and central Christchurch.  Experiencing the destructive forces of the 2010-2011 Canterbury earthquakes has introduced him to new layers of care, community response, and recovery red tape. He currently owns four old Fiats, some of which are drivable, and secretly wishes he was in Dave Dobbyn’s band as the fiddle player.  He is learning to share the Fiats with Julie and their three children.

This is the third part of a guest series on his recent visit to Palestine and Israel with World Vision. You can catch up on Part 1 here or Part 2 here.

Peacemakers in Palestine

Christian Peacemaker Teams Palestine is a group of observers who are located in Hebron. They record, report and write up their observations as they follow the soldiers on their beats. Many are from the Mennonite tradition, including the young man who introduced us to their work. He seemed so much older and wiser than his 22 years. Hope.

The young Israeli woman who spent an evening with us spoke of her concern for peace. A ‘refusenik’, she had been locked up repeatedly for refusing to participate in compulsory military service. Her critique of the Israeli methodology for security was disturbing. But her motivation for protest and for change was inspirational.

'We refuse to be enemies.' Photograph by Chris Chamberlain. | Sacraparental.com

West Bank vineyard. Photograph by Chris Chamberlain.

 

The farmer who generously hosted us on her family farm: four generations of ownership, complete with certificates of title held in an office in Istanbul (a link back to the Ottoman Empire), and yet, for the last 21 years, in court defending their right to be on their land. Gradually surrounded by illegal settlements on stolen land, and now under severe pressure to leave.

Hope was laced throughout her disposition and speech. “We refuse to be enemies” carved into a stone at the gate, along with a quote from the Old Testament Psalms pointing out the need for justice and unity. Gracious in the face of provocation. Determined, in a way that must be an indication of the power of God at work in her life. One false move would result in jail, or land confiscation.

'We refuse to be enemies.' Stone on a Palestinian Christian farm. Photograph by Chris Chamberlain. | Sacraparental.com

‘We refuse to be enemies.’ Stone on a Palestinian farm. Photograph by Chris Chamberlain.

 

 

Bulldozers showed up in the middle of the night and ripped out ancient olives. Responding to such violence with care and forgiveness is evidence of hope. An illegal settler’s opening statement of ignorance was “you can’t be living here- no-one lives here at all”, gesturing to the farmland directly outside the walls of the settlement. Her response has been to invite, to host, to gently educate, and now to befriend this highly educated Israeli who was simply ignorant. The Israeli was warned against visiting the farm because “the Palestinians might kill you!”… Hope.

The Ancient Sites and the Kingdom Manifesto

It was striking to see so many tourists trooping through significant ancient places. Some were deeply moved by what they were seeing. I heard a lot of (I think) Russian voices, usually chanting, singing, or praying. These groups were often led by what appeared to be a priest.

The crowds in some of these sites, and the church traditions being expressed by many people were often not helpful to me. I loved their singing, and I loved the architecture and icons, but sometimes it felt a bit like worship of the past, rather than joy seated in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

However, it was special for me to walk the Via Dolorosa and to imagine the walk of Jesus with the cross, to climb down into Hezekiah’s Pool, to stand in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and to imagine what had happened, maybe just right there.

'We refuse to be enemies.' Via Dolorosa reflections. Photograph by Chris Chamberlain. | Sacraparental.com

The two most moving moments for me were not in the old city of Jerusalem. They were at King David’s tomb at Mt Zion just outside the Zion Gate, and the Synagogue in Nazareth, the reputed site where Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah and announced his mission, as recorded in Luke 4.

I say reputed, because I doubt a single site we visited was totally ‘accurate’ in that sense, and this question was not that important to me. However the Luke 4 Synagogue site was laden in meaning for me, partly because it was quiet, being slightly off the beaten track. Our group was able to pause, read Luke 4, and spend some time in prayer and reflection.

14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’

22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. ‘Isn’t this Joseph’s son?’ they asked.

23 Jesus said to them, ‘Surely you will quote this proverb to me: “Physician, heal yourself!” And you will tell me, “Do here in your home town what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.”’

24 ‘Truly I tell you,’ he continued, ‘no prophet is accepted in his home town. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed – only Naaman the Syrian.’

28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

I had an overwhelming sense of ‘this is where it all began’ or words to that effect. I also prayed, in a ‘reviewing of my own life’ kind of way:

God, how can I be best used by you in the next period?

God, use me for your kingdom purposes.

Jesus, thank you for your mission, your commitment, your vision of new life for all, and the reconciliation of all things, I rededicate myself to participating in your project.

I also sat with the tension all around, and within me, when thinking of His ministry of Word, Sign and Deed. A Kingdom Manifesto that is already and not yet… but is inspirational and which we must abandon our small and petty dreams for and throw ourselves into, headlong.

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'We refuse to be enemies': A minister visits Palestine and Israel. Image copyright Chris Chamberlain | Sacraparental.com

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