Tag: Palestine

Prayers4Peace: Living in the Shadow of the Wall

Living in the Shadow of the Wall
by Angleena Keizer, Mission Partner to the Holy Land, Methodist Liaison Office, Jerusalem

I have lived in the holy land for the last five years. While my office is in east Jerusalem my home is in Beit Jala a suburb of Bethlehem. Along with my colleague Samar, we are involved in various projects in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza.

During my time here I have witnessed so many human rights denied to Palestinians. The taking of land for illegal Israeli settlements to be built upon, house demolitions, olive trees uprooted, arrests, and ultimately deaths. I have personally nearly been run over by an Israeli settler in a 4 x 4 while olive picking in the north of the West Bank, alongside Rabbis For Human Rights. Within five minutes the Israeli military army had arrived and the young owner of the land was informed by the army that his land was now declared Area C, under both Israeli military and civil control. He couldn’t harvest his olives due to the settlers declaring they “didn’t like internationals helping him.” We were escorted off the land by the army, the young farmer due to be married the following week was panicking and fearful that the army would arrest him for no reason.

I have witnessed a system that perpetrates fear, oppression, lack of freedom of religious worship and movement, lack of basic human rights, and total disregard for the rights of every human being, committed against both Muslims and Christians alike. Whole communities live in the shadow of an Israeli illegal separation wall, that not only separates movement in Israel but also separates Palestinian communities from one another. The only way a person is able to escape the wall is to be granted a permit from the Government of Israel (GOI), whether it’s from the world’s largest open-air prison, Gaza or the West Bank. I have lived among a people who are so welcoming with open hearts and open arms, offering hospitality, friendship, and help whenever is needed. Never once have I feared living amongst Palestinians, contrary to the large red signs erected by the GOI at every entry point into the West Bank that states for Israelis to enter is a danger to their life and forbidden. I have had the opportunity and honour to walk alongside and hear their stories and be inspired by those who seek a just peace in nonviolent ways. Whose very lives and existence in the shadow of the wall is a resistance in itself. Like anyone of us, Palestinians want peace, to live in harmony with others, have the same human rights and opportunities for themselves and their children. Tourists visit the wall leaving their artwork as a form of solidarity. When all is said and done, they return home leaving a people still living in the shadow of the wall.

Among the many projects we recently visited was the WI’AM Conflict Restoration Centre, which is based literally in the shadow of the wall. We attended the youth summer holiday camp, where the children enjoyed the activities provided. Their bright yellow cheerful T-shirts and smiles were a stark contrast to the Israeli dark grey stone wall and military watchtower hovering over them.

I sat and enjoyed their enthusiasm and joy wondering,
Lord will this wall be dismantled in their lifetime?
How many more generations will continue to face occupation and enforce restrictions upon their lives? The words of one little girl’s T-shirt ‘you are the reason’ is why so many travel and visit Bethlehem, not only to bow down at the star of Bethlehem where the Saviour of the world, the Prince of Peace was born and is a reminder, ‘Emmanuel God with us’. 

But to come and see and go and tell the reality that Palestinians face daily, living in the shadow of the wall. They come standing in solidarity speaking out against such violations and continue to pray for an end to occupation. It is both a heavy burden and a joy to live amongst Palestinians in a place of ‘occupation’, to witness their resilience, steadfastness, and desire for peace, seeking to do so in nonviolent ways, and being challenged to do likewise.

Deacon Angleena Keizer is serving at the Methodist Liaison Office in Jerusalem. Prior to this appointment, she served in Sri Lanka (2015 – July 2017) where she worked alongside the English-speaking congregation at the Kollupitiya Methodist Church. However, due to contracting Dengue Fever for the second time in a year and on medical advice, her placement finished a little early. 

The Methodist Liaison Office in Jerusalem is a partnership of the World Methodist Council, the Methodist Church of Britain, and The United Methodist Church. Its purpose is to increase international awareness and involvement of the Methodist community in the issues of Israel/Palestine. To find out more, visit their website at https://worldmethodistcouncil.org/methodist-liaison-office-in-jerusalem/.

Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).

Prayers4Peace: From Naïve Christian Zionism to Just Peace in the Holy Land

From Naïve Christian Zionism to Just Peace in the Holy Land
by Andrew Bolton, Community of Christ

Community of Christ began on the US frontier in the late 1820s with a heart for both Jews and Native Americans, two despised groups by many American Christians of European descent at that time. An early church missionary, Orson Hyde, was influenced by early ideals for the return of the Jews to Palestine swirling in both the USA and in the British Isles. In October 1841 he arrived in Jerusalem and wrote a prayer from his heart on the Mount of Olives. It includes these words:

Let [kings and the powers of the earth] know that it is
Thy good pleasure to restore the kingdom unto Israel,
raise up Jerusalem as its capital,
and constitute her people a distinct nation and government…

Historically, many members were on the path toward Christian Zionism long before Theodore Herzl and the establishment of Jewish political zionism. A friend of Orson Hyde, G. J. Adams, later led a group from Maine to Palestine in 1866 to found a colony near Jaffa to help Jews return to Palestine. The venture was a tragic failure, but the attempt reinforced our belief that Jews had to be restored to their historic homeland.  

My father-in-law, Reed M Holmes, also represented this Christian Zionism movement within Community of Christ. A gentle, loving minister, he first heard stories about G. J. Adams while working as a young missionary in Maine in the 1940s, including meeting a woman who was a child in the ill-fated Maine colony near Jaffa. He later wrote a biography about G. J. Adams, did his Ph.D. at Haifa University, and promoted these stories of helping Jews to return to the Holy Land with tours and writings. His daughter Jewell and I were engaged on one of his Holy Land tours in 1977. At that time I became thoroughly Christian Zionist, but naively, so like my loving father-in-law. 

Gradually, I became aware of the Palestinian story. To begin with, I resisted but as my awareness of their story reluctantly grew I began to alter my position. From about 2010, I began attending the annual conferences of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) in Washington DC, which were very helpful. In 2014, Jewell and I, and a French church member – Chrystal Vanel – participated in a dual narrative study tour of Palestine/Israel organized by Churches for Middle East Peace. Those eight superbly planned days enabled us to meet both Israelis and Palestinians working for a just peace. This study tour was really helpful. 

Chrystal Vanel was able to get a resolution to the 2016 World Conference for Community of Christ that evenly denounced anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and supported a just peace between Palestinians and Israelis, with support for a two-state solution. The resolution generated the longest debate of the week-long conference but in the end, comfortably passed. 

Since 2016, I have chaired the Palestine/Israel sub-team of a larger Peace and Justice team for the Community of Christ denomination. We talked with eight different people working on Israel/Palestine issues in our meetings between 2016 and 2019. We concluded that our first priority was to educate our church members and friends about the realities of the occupation, its crushing burden on Palestinians, and finding out what would make for a just peace in the Holy Land. So, we ran two sessions at the 2019 World Conference. Now in 2022, we are doing a series of three ‘Grounds for Peace’ podcasts, one released on Holocaust Remembrance Day 27 April, another on Nakba Day 15 May, and a third UN International Day of Peace released in September 2022.  

In 2022 Community of Christ also became a member of Churches for Middle East Peace – a very encouraging and helpful step forward. Our next World Conference will be in April 2023. We will be considering a resolution opposing Christian Zionism and are planning a further podcast specifically on Christian Zionism to help that conference debate.

So, in outline, I describe our struggling journey towards a more informed understanding of Palestine/Israel. The good news is that a denomination naively caught up by Christian Zionism may be on the road to repentance. My journey means that I now see Christian Zionists, particularly in the USA, as part of the problem, part of why the unjust occupation of Palestinians continues. Christian Zionists unhelpfully and unjustly skew USA Middle East policy, whether the administration is Republican or Democrat. I see Christian Zionism as a sinful, violent theology that leads to the oppression of Palestinians, endangers Israeli security in the long term, and greatly hinders a just peace for all.

My loving father-in-law introduced me to these words:

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
    ‘May they prosper who love you.
(Psalm 122:6 NRSV Anglicised)

Join us in prayer for the peace of Jerusalem, that it may be a city where every Jew, Christian, and Muslim can enjoy full human dignity and experience peace, shalom, and salaam. Jewell and I live in Leicester, England a city of 350,000+ people with 70+ languages, 14+ world religions, and a non-white majority. There are of course tensions at times, but the city peacefully flourishes and continues to welcome refugees and immigrants. May the peace of Jerusalem also flourish and become a beacon for human dignity for all throughout the Middle East.  

Andrew Bolton is a former British teacher of multi-faith Religious Education in Leicester, UK, a teacher trainer at Westminster College, Oxford, and a school inspector. For 18 years he worked for Community of Christ in Independence, Missouri, coordinating Peace and Justice Ministries internationally, and then was the pastoral and mission coordinator for 220 congregations in 10 countries in Asia. The views expressed here are his own and not necessarily Churches for Middle East Peace or Community of Christ. 

Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).

Prayers4Peace: Christian Zionism and the Restoration of Israel

Christian Zionism and the Restoration of Israel 
by Colin Chapman 

Colin Chapman writes about his engagement with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over many years and the background to his latest book Christian Zionism and the Restoration of Israel how should we interpret the scriptures? (Wipf & Stock, 2021) and his recent mini-series of webinars on the biblical basis of Christian Zionism.

“Aren’t you ever tempted to give up? Isn’t it pointless to engage in advocacy over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Aren’t you fighting a losing battle?” This was a question put to me on a visit to the US some years ago by an Egyptian-American friend.

Answering that same question today, I would say several things keep me going: my engagement with these issues for over sixty years, my experience of living in different countries in the Middle East for eighteen years, my determination to read history and biblical interpretation side by side, and my interaction with Christian Zionists of many kinds. 

On my first visit to the region as a tourist in 1960, I spent a month in Jordan (when it still included the West Bank) and a month in Israel. At that time I had no prejudices in favour of the Jews or the Palestinian Arabs and was blissfully unaware of the theological controversies about the fulfillment of prophecy relating to the Jewish people and the land.

When I was working in Egypt, it was through my wife Anne, a mission-partner nurse who, before our marriage in Jordan, had lived through Black September (the civil war between the Jordanian government and the Palestinians) in September 1970, that I began to understand what the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was all about. We arrived in Beirut with two young children in September 1975, just six months after the civil war started. And it wasn’t long before we realised that it was the presence of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees in the country that upset the balance between the Muslim and Christian communities and sparked the conflict which went on for fifteen years. 

During that time I read everything I could find about the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and discovered W.D Davies’ magisterial volume, The Gospel and the Land. As a result, it was in the context of the civil war in Lebanon that I wrote the book Whose Promised Land? (first published in 1983), in which I brought together a study of the history of the conflict and questions about biblical interpretation. I was trying to challenge the belief that Zionism and the creation of Israel should be seen by Christians as a fulfillment of biblical promises and prophecies and to offer a convincing alternative. 

During occasional visits to Israel during this period, I came into contact with Messianic Jews who were convinced that Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones had been fulfilled in the creation of Israel. So after the latest revised edition of Whose Promised Land? (published in 2015), I turned to a detailed study in the second half of Ezekiel, exploring the question of whether Ezekiel was predicting events in the twentieth century or primarily looking forward to the return from exile and the incarnation. This led to a similar study of Zechariah – an even more difficult book – asking whether or not his picture of a great battle around Jerusalem was a prediction of an actual battle that would be fought there in the end times. 

So to cut a long story short, my Christian Zionism and the Restoration of Israel: how should we interpret the scriptures? puts together chapters dealing with all the biblical texts that are important for Christian Zionists (Part 1), and detailed studies of Ezekiel (Part 2), and Zechariah (Part 3). 

Having engaged in dialogue with Christian Zionists over the years, I still find the biblical basis for their beliefs very weak. I’ve met dozens of Christians Zionists who have changed their minds and no longer believe that the state of Israel is the fulfillment of prophecy. What has changed their minds is either (a) studying the history of the conflict or (b) seeing for themselves what has been happening on the ground in Israeli-Palestine or (c) finding a more convincing way of interpreting the biblical story – or a combination of all three. 

I’m encouraged by the fact that more and more young people in the West are passionate about justice issues and see the conflict primarily through this lens. I’m encouraged by the number of organisations, both Christian and secular – like Sabeel-Kairos, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), Embrace the Middle East, the Balfour Project, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), and One Democratic State (ODS) – which are informing people about what is actually happening on the ground and lobbying in the corridors of power. 

I’m encouraged by organisations like Musalaha in Israel-Palestine that have been bringing Jews and Arabs together to meet face to face and hear each other’s stories and thus demonstrating what real reconciliation might look like. I’m encouraged that an Israeli Jewish historian based in Oxford, Avi Shlaim, can write in this way about the way history works: “I draw comfort from the historical knowledge that nations, like individuals, can act rationally – after they have exhausted all the other alternatives.”

But my biggest reason for not giving up hope is that if there is a holy and loving God who is the lord of history, we can be confident that he is at work in Israel-Palestine – both in judgment and redemption.

So this is how I turn items on my wish list into prayer:

Lord, please open the eyes of politicians in the West and enable them to see what’s happening on the ground in Israel-Palestine and to understand the dangerous direction in which things are moving. 

Lord, strengthen the hands of Jews and Palestinian Arabs who really believe in the possibility of working towards a peaceful and just kind of co-existence.

Lord, please bless the work of the UN and all the NGOs working to relieve acute human need in Israel-Palestine and the Middle East.

Lord, at a time when there are so many other big issues facing us in the world – climate change, the war in Ukraine, refugees, racism, rise in the cost of living – please may Christians remember the continuing conflict in Israel-Palestine and engage in serious and respectful dialogue with each other about these issues.

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come,
your will be done, in Israel-Palestine as in heaven …

Colin Chapman has worked for 18 years in the Middle East where he taught in seminaries in Cairo, Beirut, and Bethlehem. He is ordained in the Anglican church, and in the UK has taught in Bristol and Birmingham. His book Whose Promised Land? was written in Beirut during the civil war and was first published in 1983, with the latest revision in 2015. Whose Holy City? Jerusalem and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict was published in 2004. He recently led a 4-week mini-course with CMEP and Embrace the Middle East on “How Strong is the Biblical Basis for Christian Zionism?” in June and July 2022. Colin presented material from his book Christian Zionism and the Restoration of Israel: how should we interpret the scriptures? You can watch the full series here.

Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).

Prayers4Peace: The Work of The Episcopal Church (TEC) in the Middle East

The Work of The Episcopal Church (TEC) in the Middle East
by Archdeacon A Paul Feheley

The Middle East Partnership Officer for The Episcopal Church is a fascinating position to hold in a part of the world that is fraught with what seems like unsolvable problems. Nonetheless, the people in the Middle East show and display their faith in a wide variety of ways, sometimes making those of us who are quite comfortable in North America almost embarrassed about the way we go about the work and ministry of the gospel we share.

The region I am responsible for, the Province of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East, includes the three dioceses of Jerusalem, Cyprus, the Gulf, and Iran. Previously, there were four dioceses within the province until Egypt became its own province of Alexandria in June 2020. Fourteen countries make up the province.

It has been said an expert is a person who’s read one more book on the subject than you have. I am not sure how many books you may have read, but I do not consider myself an expert but a learner. I’ve been the Middle East Partnership Officer since August 2021, and the learning curve has been steep but richly rewarding. The Middle East is a complex place. Be careful if you hear people say, as they seem to do, “I have been to the Middle East now, and I understand all the issues.” No matter how well-informed someone may be, they most likely do not. As one Archdeacon told me, “groups and individuals come for a week with their set program the drop off bibles and go home to write up wonderful notes in their parish newsletter about how successful their evangelism has been.” The Archdeacon told me that the havoc returning pilgrims could wreck over their first weeks home can take months, if not years, to overcome. 

When discussing the conflicts in the Middle East, theological, geographical, and political nuances need to be part of every conversation, and no set or pat answers will fit all circumstances. Talking about conflicts in the Middle East can feel like you are constantly walking on eggshells. The importance of appreciating the uniqueness of the province, dioceses, and each specific part of the diocese is critical to learning in this foundational place of Christianity.

The Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf

Cyprus is a country divided by what is known as the green line, with the south being predominantly Greek Orthodox and the North Turkish. The Anglican Church here is largely made up of ex-patriots with substantial numbers from the United Kingdom. There are eleven different parish churches around the island, including two in the north. The island of Cyprus has very few indigenous Christians. In more recent times, churches here have become important homes for refugees and asylum seekers. There are very dedicated clergy making the most of ministry opportunities. 

The Gulf portion of the diocese is in seven countries across the Middle East, with fourteen church compounds. St. Christopher’s Cathedral in Bahrain provides a historical focal point for Anglican worship in the region. Inclusive and diverse, their international congregations are actively involved in the community, cooperation, and growing together in faith.

All of these countries are Islamic, and the Anglican Church sits in a unique position as we are understood to be in charge of Protestant church engagement in those nations. By being in charge, we mean that all the Protestant churches come under the Anglican church. These Gulf States include a substantial number of domestic and construction workers, both male and female, who have come from a wide variety of places, especially from Africa and the Philippines. 40,000- 50,000 people might attend an Easter celebration within any one church compound. The Anglicans bear responsibility in these extensive compounds and provide space for both traditional and other less traditional worship, as the government will not register different Protestant groups separately. These dynamics also create a good deal of political difficulty because the Anglicans are responsible for ensuring that different Christian groups maintain the rules of operation within each of these countries. These rules might include, for example, no evangelization of the people, not being allowed to advertise church events, and not being allowed to distribute bibles. The Anglican Church takes responsibility for all Christian groups, but you can imagine some of our more even evangelical brothers and sisters not wanting to abide by such rules. 

None of the Christians are citizens of the country. Every one of them operates under a visa with a 3-year limit which can be withdrawn anytime for any reason, and you’re forced to leave the country. All Christians see themselves as guests of the Islamic leadership in their respective Gulf States. Christians living in the Gulf States have a fascinating challenge of trying to be faithful to scripture and our baptismal vows but also needing to follow the laws of the country of residence. The consequences of not abiding by religious restrictions can result in not being allowed to maintain a presence in those communities.

In Yemen, the Anglican church has a unique circumstance at Christ Church in Aden in the South of war-torn Yemen. Located in the area is an eye clinic run entirely by Muslims. The degree of eye disease, particularly cataracts, is extremely high, and there is little opportunity to administer treatment. The eye clinic is one of the few in the country still operating. People in the area know it’s a Christian building and that the church practices a ministry of presence there that sets it apart from other institutions. There are no worship services, but the Bishop and those involved very much believe the church’s presence is a witness of and by itself. In this case, the church building is an integral part of our overall ministry that we one day hope will be able to offer worship again

The Diocese of Iran

In the Diocese of Iran, we have four churches: St Luke, Isfahan, St Paul, Julfa (a suburb of Isfahan) St Simon the Zealot, Shiraz, and St Paul’s in Tehran. There are still a small number of Iranian Anglicans who go to Church They do so quietly while under the observation of the Iranian police. There was a time when the Anglican Church with its medical practices and schools was held in high regard. Under the present regime, former bishops have either fled in exile or left for other appointments. Ironically, one of the bishops in exile’s daughter is Guli Francis-Dehqani, the Bishop of Chelmsford in England. Our Anglican Church as beleaguered as it is is not underground but remains visible even well being under constant threat and suffering discrimination in employment, housing, and other opportunities because of their faith.

The Diocese of Jerusalem 

We have about 8,000 Anglicans in 27 parishes in the Diocese of Jerusalem. Geographically there are two in Jerusalem, one in Lebanon, one in Syria, five in Palestine, nine in Israel, and nine in Jordan. The Diocese of Jerusalem sponsors ministry institutions for pastoral care, health care, education, and hospitality, including 35 service institutions serving 6,400 children with 1,500 employees and engaging with more than 10,000 people annually.

With Christians in a substantial minority, Anglican numbers are small. Nonetheless, as we have seen in other places in the Middle East, Anglicans play a significant role with a sense of presence and living out their Christian faith as living stones. Almost all the members of the Churches in the diocese are indigenous Christians who face enormous challenges due to geopolitics, economics, and extremism. The readers of this blog would be very familiar with scores of stories of pain, frustration, and discrimination against the Palestinian people. 

The latest story of discrimination is a raid on the Anglican Church premises in Ramallah. The raid’s focus was the offices of the human-rights organisation Al-Haq (classified as a terrorist organisation by the Israeli government) that rents space in the church compound. Much damage was done to the church itself, not to mention the effects on the families who live in the compound, with the raid beginning at 3 a.m., including gunshots and stun grenades. 

The statement from the diocese can be seen here. You can also read CMEP’s statement here. The Episcopal Church works in careful partnership with our siblings in the Middle East. Our role, as far as we are able, is to support their decisions and decision-making process. For example, money raised in our Good Friday Offering is sent to the diocese for their decisions on its use. Our Office of Government Relations also plays a vital role in stating our positions and encouraging justice on legislative matters. 

None of us know for certain how many centuries ago the words of verse 6 of Psalm 122 asking for prayers for the peace of Jerusalem were written. What we do know with certainty is that what was true then is true now- that prayers are needed to support and care for the people of the Middle East in their quest for peace, justice, and the full humanity of all people.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
May peace be within your walls,
And prosperity within your palaces.”

Archdeacon A. Paul Feheley was the Principal Secretary to the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada from September 2004 – April 2020. He has been seconded by the Anglican Communion a variety of times to serve the communication needs at the Lambeth Conference, Primates’ meetings, and Anglican Consultative Council gatherings. Paul is currently the Partnership Officer for the Middle East for The Episcopal Church (USA) and the National Director of The Anglican Fellowship of Prayer. To learn more about The Episcopal Church (USA), visit their website at https://www.episcopalchurch.org.

Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).

Prayers4Peace: Chokehold

Chokehold: Dispossession, Domination, and Systematic Disintegration of the Palestinian People
By Susan Nchubiri, Ecumenical Accompanier in Jerusalem

According to a report by B’Tselem, in 1967, Israel annexed 7,000 hectares of the West Bank land to the municipal borders of Jerusalem and applied the Israeli law there. However, the residents of the annexed area were not given Israeli citizenship but a “permanent resident permit,” legally meant for immigrants who choose to reside in another country other than their homeland. However, I must note that most of the Palestinians living in the occupied territories have no other homeland.  In addition, it is rare for citizenship to be revoked, but the government can cancel a resident permit at any time if, for instance, the permit holder fails to observe the law of the land.  

Israel’s illegal annexation and occupation of the Palestinian territories continues to grow and intensify through discriminatory land laws and the expansion of settlements, separation barriers (walls and fences), and checkpoints that restrict movement, including access to education, livelihood, worship, medical care, and freedom of association. The occupation is in contravention of the UN Security Council Resolution 242 of November 22, 1967.  

The Coalition Center for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem reports that the Israeli government has taken 88% of the land in Jerusalem, leaving only 12% to the Palestinians. Moreover, even this 12% is under threat of confiscation through the use of absentee law, restrictive building laws, the Master Plan (Jerusalem Urban Planning), development plans, and green zoning. Without any land reserves, the Palestinians are forced to live in overcrowded neighborhoods and make “illegal” adjustments to their homes to accommodate their growing families. However, on the other hand, the Israeli authorities encourage Israeli settlers to move into Palestinian neighborhoods. For instance, there are about 75 settler units in the Muslim and Christian quarters of the Old City of Jerusalem, while no Muslims or Christians are allowed to live in the Jewish quarter of this Old City. 

Here I will name a few of the violations of the Palestinians’ human rights:

  1. Absentee Property Law of 1950 is used as the basis for the forceful transfer of Palestinian property to Israelis. Absentee law and the Legal and Administrative Matters Law of 1970 grant Israelis rights to claim properties they allege were owned by Jews before 1948. However, the Palestinians do not have similar rights or claims. (Please see the UNHRC report of February 2021).
  2. Discriminatory urban planning and land confiscation through the Master Plan
  3. Restrictive, substandard, and inadequate access to education for Palestinian children in East Jerusalem   
  4. Demographic control through restrictive residency status – if a Palestinian with a Jerusalem ID lives in another city for six months, even in the West Bank, they risk losing their property and residency status.
  5. The Law of Return is discriminatory as it applies to Jews only. Therefore, Palestinian refugees cannot return. 

Let me share with you how the Israeli authorities use the Master Plan, an urban planning and land confiscation tool, to impact the Palestinians in East Jerusalem negatively. Israeli laws make it difficult for Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) to obtain construction (including renovation) permits. On the other hand, Israeli extremist organizations such as Ateret Cohanim and Amana have no problem getting these permits. Therefore, many Palestinians add to their houses to accommodate their growing families without the needed permits, which is deemed illegal. Rajabi, whose house was recently demolished, shared that another family in the neighborhood had been forced to sell their property to a settler three years ago. The family had legally tried to remove the demolition orders and get a building permit but were unsuccessful; therefore, having no alternative except to continue the very costly court battle, the family sold the house to a settler. This forceful property transfer to an Israeli settler canceled the demolition order. The Israeli settler is comfortably living there with his family. It clearly supports what the Palestinians describe as the Israelization of Jerusalem. This is a strategy through which Palestinians are forced to transfer property to Israelis. The issue at hand is not the house itself but who builds and owns the house. Israel claims Jerusalem as the capital of Israel (read about Israel’s nation-state law that states “the right to exercise national self-determination” in Israel is “unique to the Jewish people”). 

Israeli authorities use house demolitions as one way to choke the Palestinians. We visited a family in Silwan whose house was demolished on May 10, 2022. Our team had visited the family on May 8 and learned that one family member had received a phone call from the Israeli police saying the house would be demolished any day soon. In less than ten days, the house was demolished. The family had been fighting against the confiscation of their property since 2000 when they were ordered to demolish the house. The building housed five brothers and their families.  A total of 35 people lived there. They had added apartments to the building “illegally” because they had severally applied for construction permits but never received permits. For this “illegal” construction, the family had been paying a monthly fine of 4,000 Shekels(NIS). The ground floor was a source of income for the family because it was rented as a medical center. The medical center served several thousand people in the neighborhood. Therefore, the loss of the property has left the whole community without medical access and 35 people, including children, are homeless and traumatized.

Mr. Rajabi, one of the brothers, shared that during this 22-year court battle to retain their property, the family has paid over 700,000NIS and the equivalent of USD 217,000 in fines for “illegal” construction and lawyer fees. One part of the house was not under demolition order, but it was significantly damaged.  Though some of the family members are still living there, it is dangerously unstable and unsuitable for habitation. They also said the family would be issued a demolition bill between 200,000 to 250,000(NIS)/ or USD 62,000 to 77,400. If the family does not pay, they fear the Israeli authorities will use this to take the remaining piece of property.  Rajabi has five beautiful little girls that were in school when their house was demolished.  When they returned home, they were horrified. They did not understand why their home was a mound of rubble. Rajabi kept asking, “how can I teach them peace?” He also said, “the Israeli authorities and the settlers do not want to see happy Palestinians.” He was referring to the destroyed family swimming pool, which was not part of the demolition order but was knocked down in the process. The police gave the demolition alert on the first day of Eid al Fitr, which is an extraordinarily important day for Muslims where they celebrate the end of Ramadan. It is important to note that a demolition alert does not indicate a day or time when it would happen. It could take place a few hours, days, or weeks after the issuance. 

Rajabi said he was not allowed to speak in the Supreme Court, which determined his case. He further said, “the judge who heard my case is a settler living in the Efrat settlement in Bethlehem. So, how could he rule favorably for a Palestinian?”

Rajabi works at an Israeli shop and says he does not have any animosity toward the Jewish Israeli people, but he opposes the cruel policies of Israel. “Israel is against my children.” It labels Palestinians as terrorists. “We are not terrorists,” he continued, “They destroy our humanity.” He compared how the international community has responded to the Ukrainian plight and how it has responded to the Palestinians’ pleas over the years. Unfortunately, he said, “the only thing Israel gets for the oppression and cruelty to the Palestinians is a rebuke or a United Nations Security Council Resolution. Israel does not respect resolutions. The international community’s words are hollow. The world must stop the talk and start to work.”  

As of 2013, the State of Israel had been condemned 45 times in resolutions by the United Nations Security Council. List of United Nations resolutions concerning Israel. This shows that Israel will not listen to any rebukes and will continue to violate international human rights law in treating the Palestinian population. The world must stop the talk and start the work. 

When Rajabi’s house was being demolished, Silwan felt under siege. For several hours the Israeli police blocked off all access to the area and escorted three bulldozers to Rajabi’s home. When asked how many police were there, he said there were far too many to count. In addition, the people doing the demolition acted cruelly toward the family. The police guarded them as they smashed items the family could have salvaged. What was the reason for this?  

Rajabi has lived for many years with policies and daily routines that show Israeli authorities treating his family and other Palestinians as second-class people and unwanted neighbors. “They want us to go,” Fares said, “we don’t.” So he and his family stay on their land. “We ask to be left alone, to retain our property, to be given permits to renovate when necessary, and to be left free to go to work without harassment and detentions.” 

Rajabi asked us to use his name when telling his family’s story. He wants their story told. He wants to tell the story himself. He wants to present his case to the International Criminal Court (ICC) because the courts in Israel have failed him and the Palestinian people.  But if going to the ICC is impossible, then the task is ours. I join Rajabi in urging the international civil community and their governments to “…stop the talk and start the work.” Issuing statements of condemnation needs to be accompanied by actions that will pressure the Israeli government to amend the chokingly oppressive and discriminatory policies.

The Rajabi family is one of the thousands of Palestinian families subjected to this inhumane and unjust practice. They have property ownership documents, but the courts will not honor them. “All the Israeli government wants is for us to go out of Jerusalem. But where must we go?” Rajabi asks. For instance, in Silwan, where Rajabi and his relatives live, there are 87 demolition orders affecting about 1500 people in extended families. Where will these families go?  Where is justice for these families? The following statistics from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs(UNOCHA) demolitions demonstrate how widespread the demolitions and evictions are for the Palestinians in the occupied territories.

Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territories, its cruel and discriminatory treatment of the Palestinians, and denial of human rights must end. Israel must stop using “security” as an excuse to oppress people. This is the work you and I must start to do. 

Dear God, there is a great displacement of people caused by unjust and inhumane systems.

We pray for the refugees, the internally displaced persons,
and those who are illegally being dispossessed
of their land and property.

Strengthen their resilience and their hope so that they do not despair.

We ask this through Christ our brother.


Susan Nchubiri is a Maryknoll Sister and a Master of Global Affairs student at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, specializing in International Peace Studies. She is currently serving as an Ecumenical Accompanier with the World Council of Churches’ EAPPI program. She previously worked as a community organizer in Haiti where she founded 2 self-help women’s groups, a micro-credit co-operative, a community garden and goat-raising project for a youth group. Before that she has worked as a campus minister and pastoral care giver to students, migrant workers and prisoners in Hong Kong. Susan had also worked in campus ministry in Chicago and volunteered weekly at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center.  She was program director at Euphrasia Women Refuge Center and at Maria House Imani Projects in Nairobi Kenya where she worked hand in hand with the social workers and instructors to support vulnerable women and children.

If you would like to learn more about the EAPPI program, please visit their website.

Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).

Prayers4Peace: A Brief History of the Work of the American Baptist Churches in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (oPt)

By Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley, General Secretary Emeritus, American Baptist Churches

American Baptist work in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (oPt) began with the appointment of Dr. Wes Brown in 1973 to serve as the director of the Center for the Study of Religions which was situated in Jerusalem. From 1978-1984, Dr. Brown served on the staff of the Ecumenical Institute for Theological Research in Tantur, led the Jerusalem Rainbow Group which was an interfaith group encompassing Jews, Muslims and Christians and provided leadership to the Ecumenical Theological Fraternity. Dr. Brown later became the American Baptist representative to Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).

During these years American Baptists became sensitized to the issues related to the occupation of the Palestinian Territory by the State of Israel and the ongoing conflict between the two. Two specific policy actions were taken by the denomination during this time:

  • Policy Statement on Human Rights – 1976, which included “The right of citizenship in a nation, to participate in the political process, to form political parties, to have a voice in decisions made in the political arenas, to be secure from fear of deportation or expulsion, to emigrate and to have political asylum.”
  • Resolution on the Middle East and Arab-Israeli Issues – 1980, which affirmed “the right of Israel to exist within secure and internationally recognized borders” and “the right of self-determination of the Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank (called Judea and Samaria by others) and the Gaza Strip.”

In 1984, American Baptists were founding members of Churches for Middle East Peace and have vigorously supported a two-state solution and decried the continuing encroachment on Palestinian territory as provocative and destructive of a two-state solution, while also condemning attacks upon Israelis. This coalition has been the primary vehicle for American Baptists’ work for peace with justice in the Middle East.

From 2002-2015, American Baptists co-led Peace Pilgrimages to Israel and Palestine with the Church of the Brethren to further educate our constituencies about the issues. These pilgrimages intentionally engaged with Israelis and Palestinians in an effort to understand the issues, to redress Evangelical Zionism, and to inform our prayers and our advocacy for peace.

In the same timeframe, American Baptists launched an effort in interfaith understanding between Baptist Christians and Muslims. Three North American dialogues were created and held with the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). American Baptists also cofounded Shoulder to Shoulder, an effort by Christians, Muslims and Jews to address Islamophobia in the US post-9/11. ABC was represented in the conference that led to the Marrakesh Declaration and subsequent interfaith efforts by the Peace Forum of Abu Dhabi. These efforts were rooted in ABC’s concern for peace in the Middle East.

In addition, American Baptists have been a supporting organization of the Bethlehem Bible College (BBC) and its efforts in education among the Palestinian people, and have participated in humanitarian relief efforts and the resettlement of refugees in the US through Church World Service.

Lord God, thank you for the historic and present day
engagement of ABC and their efforts toward
supporting and encouraging peace and justice
in the Middle East.

Go before them and CMEP in their continued efforts
as they work alongside other Christians, Jews, Muslims,
and people of all faith traditions to promote a
resolution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict
and an end to the occupation of the Palestinian people.

In Jesus’ name.

Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley is one of the longest serving General Secretaries (2002-2015) of American Baptist Churches USA (ABCUSA),  having retired January 4, 2016, as the pastoral and administrative leader of the 1.3-million-member denomination. To learn more about the American Baptist Churches, USA, visit their website: https://www.abc-usa.org/

Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).

Prayers4Peace: Blue Wolf – A Sinister Surveillance

Blue Wolf: A Sinister Surveillance
By Susan Nchubiri, Ecumenical Accompanier in Jerusalem

In November 2021, Breaking the Silence, an Israeli organization of army veterans against the occupation, gave testimonies about a very sinister method of surveillance. They call it  Blue Wolf. Blue Wolf is a facial recognition app used to surveil, monitor, and control Palestinians in the oPt. See Israel Surveils.  To give you an example, one morning, as we were doing a school run (walking around the Old City monitoring if the Israeli soldiers were denying children to go to school or if they were searching and harassing school children), we saw a young Palestinian man aged around 17 or 18 years old, detained and surrounded by several Israeli border police. The officers constantly talked on the phone while one officer body-searched the young man. Six other Israeli officers arrived at the scene a few minutes later, including one who had stopped us earlier and checked our documents.  The youth was clearly in distress. I invite you to take a moment and see yourself surrounded by more than a dozen heavily armed police officers talking to you in a language you do not understand. After a while, the young man was escorted by three Israeli police officers to stand facing the surveillance cameras at the corner of the street. They asked him to speak loudly on the phone, with one of the officers listening in. Although we did not understand what he was saying or hear anyone speaking back to him, we gathered that they were trying to verify his identity.  

Another example is the story of Brahim (not his real name), a 14-year-old Palestinian boy from Sheikh Jarrah who has been arrested and brutally beaten four times in one year. His troubles began when the state authorities evicted Brahim’s Palestinian neighbors, and an Israeli settler family moved into that house. The Israeli settlers installed several cameras, including one that faces Brahim’s house door. The first time he was arrested, he had been playing with friends on the street near his home. The family was not told why he was arrested. The second time he was arrested, he was walking home. The third and fourth times, the police raided his home at 3 am and took him away. Each time the family is not given a reason for their child’s arrest. The family believes it is a way of intimidating and increasing pressure on them so that they move out of the house to have another settler move in. Brahim’s family home has an eviction order, but they took the case to court.  The trauma from beatings and arrests has left Brahim with high anxiety, which he relieves by chain-smoking. He has developed sight and hearing issues, and his parents report that he wakes up several times a night screaming for help.

One might think that the Israeli authorities will have accurate identification with this high-tech surveillance app (Blue Wolf). However, last week (May 27, 2022), we visited a family in the Old City of Jerusalem and met Nadhim (not his real name), an 18-year-old Palestinian young man. He shared that six months ago, while walking with his friends in the Old City, he was brutally assaulted by a group of more than a dozen Israeli border police who descended on him with blows and kicks even when he was on the ground. The assault resulted in 3 broken ribs, head hematoma, chest contusion, and numerous bruises.  He said, “I thought I was going to die that day, and I did not know why they were trying to kill me.”  The next day the Israeli soldiers told the family that it was a mistaken identity.  But was that kind of brutality warranted even if they had caught the person they were looking for? Why does the Israeli police force use such power?

Nadhim and his family have faced unprecedented hostility from the Israeli police and harassment from the settlers who moved next door to them. Like many other Palestinian families who are unfortunate to have a settler neighbor, they live in fear. This young man was first arrested when he was 15 and on his way to school. He was in Israeli police custody for one week and two weeks under house arrest. While in custody, he was beaten badly by the police. He has since been arrested nine more times, and the reasons are never given. His three brothers have also been arrested multiple times. He dropped out of school at 15 because he could not concentrate in classes after the first assault and arrest. He got depressed and did not want to leave his house. His mother, who is from Gaza, has applied for a resident permit for 25 years and has not received one to date. As a result, she cannot leave the Old City of Jerusalem to visit relatives in the West Bank. Family separation or disintegration is one more tool the Israeli occupation authorities use to control the Palestinians in the oPt.

A flying checkpoint. A daily occurrence in the Old City of Jerusalem (photo by Werner – EA- 04/17/2022)

If this sort of injustice happened in other democratic countries, it and all other incidents would have warranted an investigation and probably a prosecution, but every Palestinian in oPt that we have talked with about filing a complaint has said something along the lines of, “we will be wasting our time to report to the Israeli authorities because nothing will be done. Even when we are being attacked by settlers and call for help, the police come and just watch over us as the perpetrators beat us, vandalize, and destroy our property.  If we dare protect ourselves, we get beaten and arrested by those who should be protecting us. It is only in this country where a thief comes to your home, and when you call the police for help, the police come to beat you up and arrest you while the perpetrator walks off happy.” To whom do these people turn for help? How on earth can this type of inhumanity happen and continue to occur in myriad ways?

Recently, a former Israeli soldier told us that their orders in the oPt are to protect the Israeli settlers even when Israelis have started the clashes. What would you call this kind of discrimination? Why criminalize one person and vindicate another just because of their race? 

I teared up the other day when we went to Sheikh Jarrah, and the Palestinian young men there said it is normal for the police to attack and arrest them when they call for help. Two young Palestinian men who were not involved in the Jerusalem Day clashes were arrested. Fadhil (not his real name) started running home when he saw the Israeli settlers descend into his neighborhood. He wanted to be with his family, but the Israeli police stopped him and arrested him. The Israeli officers then walked to Fadhil’s parent’s house and asked his young brother Nashir (not his real name) to come outside with them for questioning. When they got to the street, Nashir was handcuffed too and taken to the Israeli police station. We went the following day to check on the family. The parents were not home; they had gone to the police station to seek release for their sons. Their younger son (19 years) has been in jail for four months and hasn’t been brought to court yet.  

We spoke to Rahima (not her real name), who told us that when the Israeli police saw her crying as they beat a young boy, they asked her, “why are you crying? Beating terrorists is normal.” She told us the boy the Israeli police officer was assaulting was only ten years old. She told the officer that it was not normal for an adult to hit a child and that the child was not a terrorist. The little boy had not committed any crime except stepping into the street to see what the commotion was all about. Rahima also told us that her parents, especially her dad, have taught them never to hate anyone, including the people who continue to harass them in Sheikh Jarrah. She said, “we have learned that hate destroys you, not the person you hate.”

Every day, when I walk in the Old City of Jerusalem or stand at the Checkpoints and witness how young Palestinian boys and young men are roughly handled by the Israeli police officers, I can’t but conclude that Palestinian youth is criminalized. When a Palestinian man attacks an Israeli, the reports on media are usually “a terrorist attack.” Still, when the Israeli settlers raid homes, attack Palestinians and vandalize Palestinian places of worship, nobody reports these incidents as terror attacks. Is terrorism racialized? Only one kind of people can be terrorists and not the other? What would happen if the media reports were balanced and honest? 

If the Blue Wolf was meant for security purposes and not surveilling Palestinians, why are we having medical reports of people attacked by settlers in Sheikh Jarrah indicating that unknown assailants assaulted them?  Furthermore, there were video clips on social media and the neighbors of the settlers who carried out the incursions and the assaults. Again, Israel is misusing the term security as a cover to surveil, intimidate, harass, and continue the occupation of Palestinian territories.  No country has the right to hide oppression under the guise of security. 

Dear God of love and compassion,
we humbly come to you crying from the depths of our hearts.

God, may you be attentive to the voice of our supplication.

We pray that you transform us, especially those who
inflict pain and injustice on others.

We pray for the restoration of dignity for all.

Susan Nchubiri is a Maryknoll Sister and a Master of Global Affairs student at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, specializing in International Peace Studies. She is currently serving as an Ecumenical Accompanier with the World Council of Churches’ EAPPI program. She previously worked as a community organizer in Haiti where she founded 2 self-help women’s groups, a micro-credit co-operative, a community garden, and a goat-raising project for a youth group. Before that, she worked as a campus minister and pastoral caregiver to students, migrant workers, and prisoners in Hong Kong. Susan had also worked in campus ministry in Chicago and volunteered weekly at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center.  She was program director at Euphrasia Women Refuge Center and at Maria House Imani Projects in Nairobi Kenya where she worked hand in hand with the social workers and instructors to support vulnerable women and children.

If you would like to learn more about the EAPPI program, please visit their website.

Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).

Prayers4Peace: Transformation

by Rev. Su McClellan, Senior Church Engagement Manager at Embrace the Middle East

The day I first set eyes on the separation barrier is one that I will never forget. Back in 2004, the village of Abu Dis near Jerusalem had been sliced in half by 30 feet of vertical concrete, stretching as far as the eye could see. The local grocery store had been cut off from the houses it served. Families and neighbours had been forced apart and looking at its wounding presence broke my heart.

My next stop was the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was such an appropriate place to reflect on what I’d just experienced. In that garden, Jesus faced the consequences of human sin, but it was also the place where he chose to go to the cross and transform it. Jesus took the worst possible human violence and transformed it into a bridge, reconnecting humanity with God. Sitting in the church reminded me that walls, rockets, bullets, and checkpoints are not paragraphs in the final chapter. The resurrection tells the story of healing, forgiveness, new life, and therefore new possibilities and we are all invited to write ourselves into its narrative.

Embrace the Middle East has been part of the story since 1854. Originally founded as The Turkish Missions Aid Society in 1854, an evangelical charity supporting missionary work among Armenian Christians in Turkey, the name was eventually changed to Embrace the Middle East in 2012. Its vision is to tackle poverty and injustice in the Middle East through education, community, and healthcare. It forms partnerships with churches and Christian organisations that offer their services to all in need in their communities, regardless of their national identity or beliefs. Their work changes lives. 

The challenges faced by Embrace’s partners, in what is known to many as the Holy Land, are many and complex. Yet, despite these challenges, they continue to show and tell the story of God’s love. Since Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967 over a million olive trees have been destroyed as a result of settlement expansion, military zoning, and settler violence. Embrace’s partners have responded to this destruction by planting thousands of replacement trees, supporting Palestinian farmers, and standing up for human and equal rights. Something violent and brutal has been transformed into something beautiful and fruitful.

We have supported partners in Gaza, who when faced with the destruction of last year’s war, responded by providing counseling and therapy, often through the medium of the arts, for children and young adults. In Jericho, our partners are providing leadership training for young people. The programme includes taking them on trips to discover and understand their rich Palestinian heritage – giving them reasons to stay and work for peace with justice. Hopelessness and despondency are transformed into tenacity and the courage to dream.

For many children, growing up in the shadow of the occupation leaves terrible scars both physical and emotional. Embrace’s partner Musalaha reflects the reconciling love of God by training both Palestinian and Israeli young women in the Stages of Reconciliation, Conflict Transformation, and Listening. The project won’t change government policy, but it does offer the possibility of the transformation of relationships at a grassroots level.

After his resurrection, Jesus’ body still carried the scars
of the violence inflicted upon him.

Transformation does not hide from what has been and
the Holy Land and all those who call it home

will carry the scars of its history into the future,
just as Christ carried his into eternity.

But scar tissue is also a sign of healing,
and it is for healing and hope that our partners work so diligently.

Of course, we pray for the day when justice will flow like rivers through Israel and Palestine. But until that day comes, please pray for the partners and friends of Embrace the Middle East who, in following Christ, make transformation possible.

Rev. Su McClellan, Senior Church Engagement Manager, has been at Embrace the Middle East for 15 years and works in the Church Engagement Team. She regularly leads Encounter Tours to Israel and Palestine, giving Christians the opportunity to see for themselves the impact of the ongoing conflict on the people who call the land home. Su is also curate at Coventry Cathedral, home to the Community of the Cross of Nails, an international network of peacebuilders.

Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).

Prayers4Peace: Revisited – Being Children of God

Prayers4Peace: Revisited

At Churches for Middle East Peace, we understand that the work of holistic peacebuilding and advocacy is ongoing, and sometimes, the issues we faced in the past are still present with us today in a variety of ways.

With Prayers4Peace: Revisited we would like to occasionally share some of our previous Prayers4Peace blogs with you that we believe are still important messages to us today. We hope that you are encouraged as you continue supporting in prayer those working towards a just peace in Israel, Palestine, and the broader Middle East.

Being Children of God

by Sarah Withrow King, Former Deputy Director of Christians for Social Action
Originally posted November 19, 2013

Lord Jesus,

We are mothers and fathers;
we are sisters and brothers;
we are a family connected by your love.

God, we acknowledge that we are all your children. Each of us created in your holy image. Each of us created to love you and to love one another.

God, we praise you as the creator and caretaker of all children. You see all of your children. You love all of your children. You want every child to flourish in communities of care and concern. We praise you, Holy One.

God, we confess that we have failed to love well. We confess that we see your children with eyes clouded by past hurts and prejudice, by fear and uncertainty. We see one another not as recipients of your precious love, but as enemies and strangers. We see one another, not as children see other children, with curiosity, joy, and excitement, but as  enemies view enemies, with animosity, anxiety, and mistrust.

God, we mourn for your children.
We mourn especially for children who nurse at their mother’s breast while rockets scream through the sky;
For children confused by prejudice,  unaware of the history written on their forehead.
For children who cannot go to school; for children who hunger and thirst; and for children who are sick but cannot access medical care.

God, we mourn for your children who live soaked in fear, instead of your love.

Lord Jesus, help us to love well.
Help us to see the old and the young;
the Christian, the Muslim, and the Jew;
the Syrian, the Israeli, the Iranian, the Pakistani,
the Japanese, the American…
every body as part of your body.

We love you, Jesus.

The original story was written by Sarah Withrow King, Deputy Director of the Sider Centre at Eastern University, and an associate fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics.

Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).

Prayers4Peace: Revisited – Running for Human Rights

Introducing Prayers4Peace: Revisited

At Churches for Middle East Peace, we understand that the work of holistic peacebuilding and advocacy is ongoing, and sometimes, the issues we faced in the past are still present with us today in a variety of ways.

With Prayers4Peace: Revisited we would like to occasionally share some of our previous Prayers4Peace blogs with you that we believe are still important messages to us today. We hope that you are encouraged as you continue supporting in prayer those working towards a just peace in Israel, Palestine, and the broader Middle East.

Running for Human Rights

Sara Burback, a former volunteer at Churches for Middle East Peace.
Originally posted May 15, 2018

On March 23, I had the opportunity to join over 7,000 runners of all ages gathered in Bethlehem’s Manger Square, awaiting the signal to cross the starting line to begin the 6th annual Palestine Marathon. Established in support of Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that, “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State,” the route of the Palestine Marathon begins in front of the Church of the Nativity and runs through two refugee camps. In order to demonstrate the restrictions to freedom of movement within the West Bank for Palestinians in their daily lives, runners journey alongside the eight-meter-high separation barrier and around the guard towers posted in various parts of the wall’s route.

The Palestine Marathon is a unique official race, in that most participants carry a personal motive for running, tied to their view of human rights and their fundamental right to movement within their homeland. “I’m running for the freedom of my people, the Palestinians,” says Jack Sara, the President of Bethlehem Bible College. “As I’m walking, I’m praying that the Lord will give mercies upon this land.” For Palestinians, the land of Palestine represents their history and collective identity as a people, and the race is an opportunity to physically express this intimate connection to the land and their right within this space to live out their narratives and freedom of movement. It is a collective voice expressing the need for change within a system that does not recognize their basic rights.

As a runner who has had the opportunity to participate in this race for the past three years, the general motivation comes from the view that the race is an opportunity to demonstrate the inherent need for change within the system of forced separation between Israelis and Palestinians. This is most clearly seen in their lack of freedom of movement, which is encountered on a daily basis by Palestinians in the West Bank. Whether traveling by foot or commuting from Bethlehem in the West Bank to Jerusalem, Palestinians face the separation barrier, pop-up checkpoints and sporadic road closures, checkpoints to cross from the West Bank into Israel proper, and settler-only roads across the West Bank, which Palestinians are forbidden from driving on.

“I’m running for freedom of movement,” said a runner from the city of Tubas in the northern West Bank. “…We need to breathe, we need to fly, we need to swim…[these] barriers are no longer accepted. The international community should pay attention.” One family pushing two strollers on the race course said they were running for freedom and their children. Many runners viewed the race itself as a physical form of expression of their need for free movement and their basic human rights, and the race was a way for participants to collectively demonstrate this by running, walking, or in some cases, dancing their way through the course.

The message of the race has annually drawn a number of international participants as well, who have traveled from throughout Europe and the United States to run in solidarity alongside the local community in a unified act of civil resistance. Participants carried flags from Finland, Ukraine, Denmark, Ireland, the UK, and other countries as a message of international recognition of the Palestinian struggle for equality. One runner from Norway was participating in his third Palestine Marathon, saying that he brings a group every year to experience the beauty of Palestine and to meet the people.

As an American Christian, this race holds significance for me as a way to encounter the city of Jesus’ birth in a way that lives out his work of redemption for the land and its people. When I reflect on his words from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 and the justice that Jesus calls his disciples to yearn for through showing mercy and seeking to be peacemakers, I find the simple act of running as a way of connecting with his message of reconciliation and sending a resounding “NO” to the injustice in the land. It is a way of being part of a larger story of peacemaking, which we can all find our role within, both as individuals and as part of organizations.

A number of international NGO workers based in the West Bank and Jerusalem also participated, including a team from UNICEF. “We’re here today with our own children to run for children in the State of Palestine,” said Genevieve Boutin, the Special Representative to the State of Palestine from UNICEF. “For children and young people still developing, the physical and mental benefits of sport and play set the foundation for healthy development and lifelong learning. It also gives them an opportunity to express themselves in a positive setting.”

Canon David Longe, the Chaplain to the Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem, said he was running to raise funds for cancer treatment in Gaza, where the Anglican church runs the Al Ahli Arab Hospital, but lacks the resources to treat cancer patients there. Despite obstacles of cost and the blockade on Gaza, their goal is to build a cancer unit in the hospital to ensure patients in need of life-saving treatment have proper access.

American runner Celia Riley has participated in the race every year since it began in 2013. She runs in solidarity with the local community in Bethlehem and describes the race as a journey for her: “Combining my heart for justice and running, hours side-by-side with people from all over the world, experiencing the Palestinian community around us, we become witnesses to their hospitality but we also see the humanity that’s restricted by the walls and checkpoints.”

Being present in the story of this race is a contribution to a much larger narrative. It is a narrative of the collective right to movement, the firm belief that peace can prevail in the Holy Land, and that God is in the midst of this place and continuing the work of redemption here. This redemption took place as each runner ran alongside the immense separation wall and crossed the finish line, and as they retold the story of overcoming adversity to run a challenging course on a very hot day to be part of a collective story of community. Being part of this shared story recognizes the shared belief that we are contributing not only to changing the present conditions, but working towards a future in which the huge physical wall we faced together will one day come down and that future generations will be part of a shared narrative of redemption and reconciliation that was written for them, beginning with crossing the finish line of this race.

Returning for the past three years to participate in this shared journey is an honor and story I will keep telling. It is a reminder that each of us has a role in dismantling the physical, emotional, and political walls we face in our own lives and collective narratives, and that it is our sacred duty to recognize these walls within ourselves and stand in solidarity alongside those who face these walls and help tear them down.

Jesus, I thank you for showing us your heart for justice through your everyday pursuit of peacemaking.

I thank you that your Spirit continues to live among your people in the Holy Land through the work of engaging in dialogue and participating in acts of creative civil resistance.

May your message of reconciliation continue to be heard, and may it spread among the Israelis and Palestinians there, so each person recognizes their role within a shared narrative of redemption of the land.

And may we all support this peacemaking through our own everyday acts of peacemaking.


In the spring of 2022, CMEP’s own Manager of Middle East Relationships, Kevin Vollrath, also ran this race.

Kevin says, “I initially decided to participate in this race to help pace someone doing one of their first half-marathons. I got to know him through an organization called Right to Movement, where I’ve made many Palestinian friends committed to fitness and advocacy for Palestinian rights, especially the right to travel. Running all over Bethlehem, starting and finishing at the Nativity Church, and passing the separation barrier, refugee camps, and social hubs was a way to celebrate the life and culture of Bethlehem as well as acknowledge the many injustices surrounding it.”

The original story was written by Sara Burback, a former volunteer at Churches for Middle East Peace.

To find out how you can volunteer with CMEP, please visit our website.

Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).

1 2 3 4 5