Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) partners with MEJDI tours to offer custom group travel to Israel, Palestine, and other destinations in the Middle East. Trips to the region offer pilgrimages and advocacy-oriented travel. While traveling in the Holy Land, trips provide the chance to hear multi-narrative perspectives through the use of two local guides, one Israeli and one Palestinian. They offer various perspectives on the history and current realities of the land. The following post is from Aziz Abu Sarah, cofounder of Mejdi Tours.
Experts say that travel will never be the same again after COVID-19. While I believe that COVID-19 will inspire some people to rethink their travel habits, we need more than just talking about adjusting our habits when we can travel again.
If we just theorize about “the day after,” no changes are likely to happen. Instead, we need to talk about how to start changing the travel industry right now. This transformation needs a change of heart and mind. For many of us, It feels like our world has shrunk as we are confined in our homes. So, before we talk about how to travel as a peacemaker physically, we should consider how are we traveling now from home.
As a Historic Peace Church, one would rightly expect the Church of the Brethren to highlight the coming of one hailed as the “Prince of Peace.” That the angels proclaim, “Peace on Earth” and not long after, violence would be used by those in power attempting to stifle this coming child. The political and social context then and now make a robust focus on peace a clear need.
We also assert that all theology is practical—what some would call ethics—and as such, that the coming child embodies the fullness of God’s shalom is of immediate relevance for how we live as Christians and the church in the world. In another context I have defined peace as:
Peace is the presence of wholeness in relationships that are characterized by justice, mutuality, and wellbeing. Peace is not a universal or homogenous experience but is experienced in the appreciation and celebration of diversity and between individuals, communities, nations, and with the environment (non-human world).
We’ve been waiting a long time for Jesus to return. I’m starting to feel like we’ve been stood up. What would it mean to give up on the notion that Jesus shall return to make it all okay?
Some time ago, I rejected the terrible vision of Jesus’ return as laid out in the book of Revelation. I recognize that the gospels occasionally present Jesus as endorsing violence against those who are opponents of the kingdom of God. I can even imagine that some kind of “crushing of the enemies of the kingdom” was a part of Jesus’ worldview. But I don’t think it is Jesus’ best material, and I see the cross and resurrection as a rejection of this way of thinking. At the moment where we might imagine God intervening to vanquish the enemies of God’s kingdom, God is absent. In Matthew and Mark, Jesus declares that he has been forsaken by God. At the meal that celebrates God’s violent intervention to save the Jewish people, Jesus asks his followers to remember the moment when God did not choose to intervene violently. Jesus’s death is not necessary; it is tragic. Jesus dies in solidarity with all victims of violence, especially the victims of state and religious violence. We should be horrified at Jesus’s death and should vow to stop the senseless scapegoating of other humans. In this way, the resurrection can be understood as God’s rejection of the cross as a means of keeping the peace.
The idiom “the other side of the tracks” usually refers to a line of demarcation and separation, often actually railroad tracks, between the more affluent part of a town from a more impoverished area. The separation is often both economic and racial/ethnic. Depending on which side you are on, you either have an acute awareness of the other side—its influence and control on your life—or you have some vague stereotypical ideas of a place you rarely go.
Palestinians know and understand the idiom well, simply by changing one word, “tracks” to “wall,” referring to the separation barrier/wall that Israel began to build in 2002. The separation is also psychological between Israelis and Palestinians. Between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, the barrier is a 30-foot high concrete wall.
God enters time and history through the divine incarnation. The Almighty God invites Himself into our lives in a state of absolute weakness and vulnerability. The newborn lying in a manger holds in His hands the secret of the universe, the secret of the entire creation and absolute love. In the cold night of Bethlehem, the one who carries within her the treasure of the world, the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, the Mother of God, travels across the city in search of a place to give birth to the one who will change the course of the history of mankind. Today, we still count the years from this glorious moment when time and space were sanctified, merging in a divine kairos, an instant of the Kingdom in which still echoes the alleluia of the angels. As we contemplate this glorious miracle, we experience a sense of mingled wonder and awe that church expresses in the Orthodox hymns for the feast: “Heaven called the Magi by a star, and thus it brought the first-fruits of the Gentiles to You, the infant lying in the manger. And they were amazed, not by scepters and thrones, but by utter poverty. For what is more shabby than a cave? And what is more humble than swaddling clothes? But it was through these that the riches of your divinity shone forth. Lord, glory to You!” (Hypakoe of the Nativity)
As a child growing up in the Roman Catholic tradition, I was always excited to see my parents bring out the Advent wreath and place it in the center of our dinner table. With its arrival, I knew that Christmas was coming soon. Set with four candles, three purple and one pink, to be lit in a particular order, one for each Sunday leading up to Christmas, I understood that the Advent Season is a special time of waiting and preparing for the coming birth of Jesus in Bethlehem on Christmas Day.
My parents made sure I also understood that Christian families around the world were gathering in their homes, just like my family, to light candles on their Advent wreaths and read the same Scripture passages about hope, peace, joy, and love. The spirit of unity and solidarity made a deep impression on my heart.
Noor Society is a group of mothers of children with developmental disabilities advocating for each other and their children in Aida Camp, a refugee camp of over 5,000 people started in 1948 after the Nakba. To raise money for the care of their children, the women of Noor offer tourists homestays, teach cooking classes, and have a small gift shop. Noor is just nine years old, but its founders and volunteers have seen a dramatic increase of children with developmental disabilities over the past 15 years, from 15 or 20 in the mid-2000s to over 300 children now.
Multiple mothers at Noor told me that when pregnant women are exposed to tear gas, their children are significantly more likely to have disabilities. I have yet to find a scientific study that shows this, but it has been noted that little to no research on tear gas considers its long term effects. A recent study by UC-Berkeley interviewed over 200 hundred residents of Aida Camp and found that 100% of them were exposed to tear gas in the past year. In fact, Aida Camp has been declared the “tear gas capital of the world,” so it isn’t surprising that some of its residents would be noticing the long term effects of tear gas.
Dear CMEP friends and family,
“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” Romans 14:19
Last night, like many of you and millions of people in the US and around the world, I watched as results streamed-in for the 2020 US Presidential Election. As we await the final official results, the question that is certain to emerge is: Where do we go from here? Will the nation be able to come together despite such deep partisan divides? While many questions remain, we at Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) want to make clear that regardless of who is in the White House or Congress, we are committed to working for peace and justice for all in the Middle East.
While uncertainty and divisions remain in the country, we pray for leaders from both sides of the aisle to work together to ensure there is a peaceful outcome–whether that be a transfer of power or a second term for the President. Our hope, whomever is in the highest office in our nation, is that the U.S. government and the Administration will play a constructive role in the Middle East. Our prayer? That U.S. Middle East foreign policy would be based on principles of equality, liberty, and human rights for all people.
“Can we take a moment to realize where we are and appreciate how we got here?”
At the end of my question the eight of us quietly split, each finding a spot to reflect. Peering through the dark, I notice a place at the base of a nearby dune and amble over to it, feeling my feet displace the sand beneath them with each step. Here, at the base of the dune, I remind myself of where I am– on top of a phenomenally massive mound of sand, at night, in the middle of Oman. As I stand, I hear grains of sand blow along the surface of the dune, carried by the cool nighttime breeze, and I wonder if ripples are forming around my feet. Am I becoming part of the desert? Read more
My recent vacation travels took me to northern England, where a friend and I walked a substantial portion of the route of Hadrian’s Wall, and then on to Berlin, where the Berlin Wall lives on – in spite of having been torn down 30 years ago. Both experiences awakened memories of the time I spent in Palestine, looking at the “Separation Barrier” from a number of different perspectives, passing through its numerous checkpoints and monitoring those same checkpoints as a human rights observer.
The Roman Emperor Hadrian ordered his soldiers to build a wall, intended to keep the “marauding barbarians” from the north from invading Roman-occupied Britain in the south. Construction on the Wall was begun in 122 AD, and it was completed some seven years later. It stretches just over 70 miles (we walked about 50 of those miles on our week’s visit!), and was a masterpiece of engineering. Parts of the Wall were as high as 20 feet (including ramparts) and the route also included lookout towers (every 1/3 mile), mile castles (every mile!) and Roman forts (about every five miles). Read more