Violence and chaos in the Middle East have left many around the world hopeless and feeling helpless. As followers of Jesus, we refuse to be sidetracked by the temptation to despair.
Prayers for Peace (P4P) provides a way for Christians of diverse political and theological backgrounds to stand up for peace and unite in supplication to God with a special focus on prayers for the Holy Land. Prayers for Peace provides Jesus’ followers with the common language of prayer around which to mobilize their energy and passion for the land that gave birth to our faith. To combat the prevailing images of discord, Prayers for Peace will highlightpeace-building organizations that we may pray for them as they live out the reconciliation offered in the Prophets and Jesus’ message of peace.
Prayers for Peace is thankful for the partnership of our board member organization Evangelicals for Social Action in writing and sharing these prayers.
This is the first entry in our Advent 2019 devotional series. For the four Sundays of Advent and Christmas Day, we will be releasing Advent reflections from voices in the Holy Land.
Hope Incarnate: Advent Reflection from Bethlehem
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out
hate; only love can do that. – Martin Luther King, Jr.
As the days shorten, and the heat of late summer begins to subside, giving way to the cooler wintry sun, Bethlehem is preparing for Christmas. Lights and decorations are going up everywhere, and the Christmas Tree in Manger Square stands as a symbol of joy and hope in the town where Christ was born.
The other evening, I crossed through Checkpoint 300 (the main checkpoint which separates occupied Bethlehem from Jerusalem) and walked along the Separation Wall and into the Aida refugee camp. The Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem was set up shortly after the 1948 Nakba when families were forced to flee from their homes in what is now the State of Israel. Over the years, like many other refugee camps across the West Bank & Gaza, Aida has suffered from a lack of amenities, poor housing, and has frequently been subject to military incursions and reprisal.
Born and raised in a Muslim family in Galilee, Hanan was 23 years old when she converted to Christianity. In this episode of the Women behind the Wall podcast, listeners get an inside look into the life of a religious convert, and the conversations that happen behind closed doors among family members after this type of cultural taboo becomes known. Religion is more than a belief here, it dictates one’s social interactions, and Hanan embraces that her family name and background is Islamic. “It is not something that I can run from, or delete from my life, and I don’t want [to].”Read more
After the 1948 war, what Israel calls the war of independence and what Palestinians called the “Nakba,” or catastrophe, some Palestinians remained in their towns and villages inside the newly established State of Israel. Before the 1967 war, Israel gave this particular group of Palestinians Israeli citizenship, and the state officially refers to them as Israeli Arabs. However, many of them reject this term and refer to themselves as Palestinian-Israelis or Palestinians of ‘48, among other terms. Today, there are about two million Palestinians in Israel who hold Israeli citizenship. Some of them are Christian; the vast majority are Muslim. In episode seven of the Women behind the Wall podcast, listeners hear from Shireen, a Palestinian woman from the Galilee with Israeli citizenship who belongs to the minority community of Christians. She shares about her marriage to a West Banker, her reflections on identity, and the conflict.Read more
“Supporting Israel was actually considered a very social-justice-oriented thing. However, I did not grow up with a great knowledge of the Palestinians.” In the sixth episode of Women behind the Wall, listeners hear from Heather, an American-Israeli who now works on social justice and human rights issues with Palestinian women in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. She explains how her religious upbringing shaped her involvement today.
Heather grew up in North Carolina in a Christian family with Jewish heritage that she considered to be pro-Israel that also focused on social justice. Her first trip to the Holy Land was when she was 16 years old, at the beginning of the Second Intifada, or “uprising” which was a period of intensified Israeli and Palestinian violence. While visiting a family who lived in a settlement, she recalls seeing the building tension but recognized not knowing the context, thinking, “There is more to this that I am not understanding.”Read more
Some may refer to the wall Israel built as a security fence, but when it segregates people from each other, there is no way to describe it other than by separation; a physical barrier to families, an impediment to freedom of movement. In episode five of Women behind the Wall podcast, listeners are introduced to some of the legal status issues facing Palestinians in East Jerusalem and those in the West Bank. Sara is a Christian Jerusalemite Palestinian with an Israeli identification card and residency status. Her family house ended up 10 meters from the route of the separation wall but was excluded from its previous designation in Jerusalem. So while she has a Jerusalem ID, her children, all of whom were born in Jerusalem, were not granted the ID cards at birth.Read more
“We all have a sun inside, we all have a light.” The idea of an inner light is reflected in “Beit Ashams,” the appropriately named yoga studio and community center which translates to “House of the Sun.” In episode three, listeners meet co-owner and yoga teacher Eilda Zaghmout, a Palestinian Christian who believes that strengthening the mind-body connection is essential for developing resilience and she pours this belief into her work.
On this episode, Eilda discusses the shadow of the occupation and how that affects a person. “When you live under constant trauma, you are disconnected from your body, from your emotions, and also your thoughts.”Read more
On March 29, 2002, the Israeli military rolled into northern Bethlehem on a mission inside the occupied West Bank city. Two days prior, a suicide bomber killed 30 Israelis and injured 160 during a Passover Seder dinner nearly 100 kilometers away in the northern Israeli town of Netanya [Times of Israel]. Men fleeing the military invasion took refuge in the Church of the Nativity, joining 46 clergymen and 200 civilians sheltering in the church at the time. Amira, a Christian Palestinian from Bethlehem was in sixth grade when the scenes unfolded during the 40-day siege.
In episode three of Women behind the Wall podcast, Amira, now age 26, recalls how the violence and occupation impacted her daily life. The army incursions were not limited to the church or directed solely at armed militants but reached into her neighborhood and even her own house. At one point, soldiers came in the middle of the night going door-to-door and ordered all of the males, including the young boys, out of their homes, where they were to stay all night outside. Movement restrictions were imposed so strictly that she and other children were unable to go to school regularly during that period. Her mother worked as a nurse and would stay at the hospital for days at a time because, otherwise, she would not be able to get to work. “It wasn’t like a normal life,” Amira remembers.Read more
Layali is an eleven-year-old girl who in many ways, sounds like a typical sixth-grader anywhere in the world. She likes painting, drawing, and swimming. However, as a Palestinian child from the West Bank, she has experienced life beyond her years and has grown up knowing she had limited rights compared to others. She expresses sadness about not being able to jump in the car and go to the ocean to swim as easily as Israelis or other common activities due to the occupation. “I can’t go to the zoo, and to the ocean, and to my aunt’s house.”
Layali’s experience, along with her mother’s, Hind, is featured on the first, full-length podcast episode of Women behind the Wall. Listeners are introduced to the mother and daughter who live in Bethlehem, and as a Christian Palestinian family, long for the situation on the ground to change. This episode introduces listeners to movement restrictions created by the system of checkpoints, walls, and permits for those in the West Bank and how that interrupts everyday life.Read more
Research suggests that standard peace and security processes routinely overlook the inclusion of women, even though a growing body of analysis shows that higher levels of gender equality are associated with a lower propensity for conflict, both between and within states [Council on Foreign Relations, 10/2016]. With that in mind, the Women behind the Wall podcast not only highlights female voices from the Holy Land but is hosted and produced solely by women who live and work in Jerusalem. The podcast seeks to amplify minority voices and perspectives, especially women’s experiences in the private sphere as it is affected by the public sphere. Read more
One of the most stunning things to me about living here is that despite the injustice, oppression, and hardship the people face, there is still so much life. Life goes on, in spite of the occupation. There is joy, and love, and laughter, and dance, and music, and celebration. And make no mistake about it: Palestinians know how to have a good time.
Last weekend, I was invited to come along with my host family to one of these celebrations: the baptism of the youngest member of the family, Zain. I have to admit, part of the reason I was so excited about this invitation was that many Greek Orthodox families still practice full immersion baptism of infants, something we Lutherans don’t do much of. My spirits were cowed only the slightest bit when I learned “just his hair” would be dipped.
I asked where this baptism would take place – in the Greek Orthodox Church in Beit Sahour, near where my host family lives? My host mom looked at me like I was a little crazy. “No,” she responded, “in the Church of the Nativity.” Her tone indicated that this was an obvious and totally unremarkable fact. In my head I thought, oh of course, just going to go baptize cousin Zain at the church that stands on the location of Jesus’ birth, no biggie. Read more