Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), Executive Director
The present violence in Israel/Palestine is the predictable result of Israel’s ongoing occupation of the Palestinian territories, significant military advantage, and its willingness to tolerate relatively little damage for the sake of preserving the status quo of occupation. Until the violence escalates, as it has in recent days, the world pays little attention despite taking place in land considered sacred by the three Abrahamic traditions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
In May, Jewish settlers, who have long used Israeli domestic laws to forcibly transfer Palestinians from their neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, pushed to climax a court order to evict 58 Sheikh Jarrah residents, including 17 children, from their homes on the basis that the land under their apartments had been owned by a Jewish benevolent trust in the 19th century.
These Jewish settlers have no family connection to that trust, but Israeli law allows them to become trustees and then “re-claim” land that had been owned by Jews in East Jerusalem at any time before 1948. This and many other Israeli laws allow Jewish Israelis to displace Palestinians—or demolish their dwellings as prelude to expulsion—within Jerusalem and across Green Line Israel. The systemic dispossession of Palestinians in East Jerusalem today is carried out under major one-way Israeli domestic laws enacted as early as Absentee Property law of 1950 (long before the 1967 war) and as recently as 2017 (the “Kamenitz laws”). However, there are no Israeli laws that allow Palestinians to return to lands they were displaced from either in 1948 or since 1967. Similar “legal” transfers of Palestinians’ land are happening elsewhere in Jerusalem, notably in two areas of Silwan. Israeli settlement policies are another example of ways Israeli laws are biased against Palestinians.
As the May 1 court decision to finally implement the eviction transfer approached, there were demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah by Palestinian residents and their Israeli and international allies. Peaceful demonstrations were increasingly attacked with violence by both Israeli police and Israeli ultranationalists. Omer Cassif, Israeli Knesset member, was beaten twice by police, becoming front-page news in Israel. Israeli police and ultranationalist violence increased in Sheikh Jarrah after violence around the Temple Mount/ Haram al-Sharif. Ramadam is the holiest time of year for Muslims, making dear worship at Islam’s third holiest site. Jerusalem Day celebrates Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem in 1967, allegedly reunifying it. Ramadan and Jerusalem Day’s alignment this year were two ingredients in this recipe for disaster. Palestinians responded with increased demonstrations in East Jerusalem, in the West Bank, and across Green Line Israel. The combination of all of these factors exploded.
The recent flare up included stun grenades thrown by Israeli police into al-Aqsa mosque during prayers, Hamas threatening and then firing rockets in response to events in Sheikh Jarrah and on the Temple Mount, and Israeli ultranationalist provocations, were all proximate causes of the present explosion of fighting gripping the news. But this is only the latest round of violence that has regularly escalated every couple of years for more than a decade. The only differences this time are the increased destructiveness of Hamas missiles and Israeli airstrikes; and the advent of fighting within Green Line Israel between Jewish and Palestinian Israeli proteseters.
A shared Jerusalem has long been the stated goal of both Israeli and Palestinian leaders, whether in a Jerusalem exclusively under Israeli control, or in a Jerusalem as capital to an Israeli state and a Palestinian state. However, Israeli policy, from the various discriminatory laws aimed at displacement of Palestinians, to the military occupation of the West Bank and police occupation of East Jerusalem and Hamas’ rockets, are just some of the ways the ongoing conflict continues to threaten a shared Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is shared by three major religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but Israeli policies make it less and less shared each day by Jews, Christians and Muslims. Israel’s “legal” discrimination and displacement efforts at Jewish supremacy in Jerusalem, in the West Bank, and inside Green Line Israel instead produce religious fanaticism among Israelis and Palestinians alike, a systemic threat to the security, even the very lives, of Palestinians and Israelis alike.
To break this cycle of violence, Israel must end the occupation and its enduring legal oppression. Israel’s government has presented the occupation as temporary, but it has lasted more than 50 years. The Interim Transition in the various Oslo Accords is still interim more than 20 years later, and there has been no positive improvement over the past decade or more.
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) should condemn the underlying causes of these threats to peace: occupation, land dispossession, and more. As as an evangelical pastor and the executive director of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), I call on the UNSC, including the United States government, to take strong and decisive action to maintain peace in the Holy City of Jerusalem, and to protect all of God’s children, Israeli and Palestinian alike. The “legal” forcible transfer of Palestinians in Jerusalem, in the West Bank, and inside Green Line Israel must end.
Such UNSC action requires diving into long-term Israeli practices, not just the violence of the day. The dispossession of the families in Sheikh Jarrah at issue now, for example, is the end result sought by Israeli settlers in a lawsuit they filed in 1974 to dispossess Palestinian owners and residents from the buildings. Similar displacements, leading to Israeli settlers moving in after the forced transfers, have taken place in East Jerusalem often over the past two decades, 385 Palestinians displaced in 2020 alone.
If actions against sharing Jerusalem continue, the Holy City will continue sliding from light on the hill to a lit series of firecrackers, with the only questions being the length of time between explosions and their intensity. The Holy Land will continue experiencing an unholy maintenance of occupation by force, only limited by violent interventions. The Security Council must go beyond managing violence, to opposing root causes of violence in order to build lasting peace.
[Facilitators/Convenors: G.J. Tarazi, Leslie Withers, and Allison Tanner]
Allison Tanner is a CMEP board member on behalf of the Alliance of Baptists.
The Alliance of Baptists has a proud history of pursuing justice, affirming God’s inclusive kin-dom and equipping the church to follow in the way of Jesus. In response to Palestinian Christian siblings both within our communities and in the Holy Land, we have spent the past decade learning how we can live out these commitments in response to those longing for justice and beseeching us to work with God for their liberation. In 2013, in response to Kairos Palestine and internal organizing, the Alliance made this public commitment, “The Board of the Alliance recognizes the critical need to work for peace with justice in Palestine and Israel. The Board blesses and endorses the work of the Justice in Palestine and Israel Community.”
Our Justice in Palestine and Israel Community (JPI) has led the Alliance in the living out of this commitment through hosting educational events highlighting both the daily and multi-generational injustices Palestinians endure; equipping our membership to advocate for justice in U.S. policies and international accountability to Israel’s human right’s abuses including, but not limited to, displacement of Palestinian communities, increased settlement expansion, and ongoing military occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza; and engaging with mission partners in the work of hope and healing. Because we believe deeply in the importance of following the leadership of those directly impacted by injustice, we have focused our work on responding to the pleas of Palestinian Christians voiced in Kairos Palestine, their epistle to the international Church, follow up letters such as Cry of Hope, a Call for Decisive Action and participating in Global Kairos for Justice.
In addition to economic boycott and divestment, we acknowledge the political and cultural power of Christian Zionism in intensifying the oppression of Palestinians. As Christians, we have an obligation to challenge evils being done in the name of Jesus and disrupt theologies of death and destruction. In following Jesus’ example, we want to be clear that we believe in a God of justice, freedom, and inclusion and we must decry ways in which religious leaders co-opt religion for purposes of power and greed. A few months ago, the Alliance committed to Confront Christian Zionism in our congregations and in the halls of congress. We are grateful for our Jewish siblings who have led the way in confronting the misuse of their faith in ways that oppress others and insisting that true religion demands we disrupt all manifestations of evil, both within and beyond our religious networks.
Our partnership with Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) has been helpful in engaging in advocacy in the halls of congress and education in the church pews. As we continue to partner together, we covet your prayers in the work we are doing. We ask prayers for clarity in heeding the calls of or Palestinian siblings, courage to act according to our deepest commitments, and confidence in the face of misinformation and malicious attempts to silence the liberative work of God. Below is a prayer that we’ve been praying for the past year – we invite you to pray with us:
A Prayer for Palestine
God of Life and Love and Liberation
We pray for all who are living with death and devastation and destruction
We pray for Gaza and all the lives lost, communities destroyed, and families living in fear
We pray for East Jerusalem, for those who endure settler attacks,
home evictions and constant humiliation
We pray for people of the West Bank, ‘48, Refugee Camps and the Diaspora,
all who are longing for freedom, justice, and equality.
We pray for Israelis who are outraged by what is happening at the hands of their government.
We pray for all who are working for a just peace in the land we call holy.
May your life-giving spirit blow through war-torn lands and places of death to birth new life. Amen.
The Justice in Palestine and Israel Community seeks to follow the model of the First Century Jesus by “speaking truth to power” in 21st Century Palestine and Israel. The pursuit of justice is based on building meaningful relationships between and among all people, using the definition given to us by Martin Luther King, Jr., “Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” This community works for justice in Palestine and Israel by raising awareness about the current situation there, sponsoring trips/pilgrimages to the Holy Land, networking with other like-minded faith-based groups, and advocating the pursuit of justice with elected policymakers. We believe that if justice exists, peace will be found.
A star, a star, dancing in the night… with a tail as big as a kite.
Stars are symbolic of many things. For some, they are a spiritual or sacred symbol. For example, an eight-pointed star is a Native American symbol of hope and guidance. For others, stars are a symbol of magic, humanity, divinity, direction (as the Northern Star), excellence, or even fame. Some may say “reach for the stars” as a means to motivate. The star of Bethlehem is one of guidance, the star of David representing hope in the coming Messiah.
In the Christmas story, we read in Matthew 2 that the Magi (wise men, magicians, astronomers) see a star rise to their west and travel great distances to worship the one who has been born, Jesus, the king of the Jews. This star is the beacon of their long-awaited hope, now realized. Imagine yourself in their shoes. For generations the Jews have been awaiting the coming of the Messiah, literally looking to the skies. Can you imagine the heart palpitations, the thoughts that raced through their minds “do you think it could be?” The compelling sense to see the star, to not miss the joyous occasion, the motivation to go and see – with the thought “we must see this miraculous occasion for ourselves.”
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
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We recognize that all prayers for peace echo through the generations- worship and praise, petition and intercession, supplication, thanksgiving, and lament are the prayers of the faithful.
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).
Jesus came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. Luke 22:39-44
Today marks the point in Holy Week when we enter more deeply into the Passion narrative, the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. As we continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, these devotions will turn our attention more directly to the Passion story, focusing on events as they are recounted in the Gospels, and how they are remembered and celebrated in Jerusalem today. Read more
And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. Then Solomon said, “The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness. I have built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever.”
1 Kings 8:10-13
For the first three Sundays of Lent we will be focusing on Jerusalem as a city shared by three faiths, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. This week we look closer at the deep meaning Jerusalem holds for the Jewish people. In 1 Kings 8:10-13, we catch a glimpse of the dedication of the First Temple, built by King Solomon. Although the temple has since been destroyed, rebuilt, and destroyed again, this passage captures the significance of Jerusalem as the dwelling place of God. It is for this reason that the Western Wall has become the holiest site in Judaism today, as it is the closest Jews are able to get to the Temple Mount, particularly the Holy of Holies where the Presence of God dwelt. It is generally believed that praying at the Western Wall, either from the Jewish prayer book or by placing prayers in the cracks of the wall, is especially efficacious because of its proximity to the site of the Holy of Holies.Read more
The Advent season is the time when we celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace, Christ Jesus. Isaiah 9:6 says:
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Yet when we look at the Middle East today, peace seems to be absent, if not impossible to achieve. The brutal civil war in Syria, the destructive actions of ISIS, and the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians are just a few reasons why peace seems so far away. This past week, President Trump’s decision to declare Jerusalem the Capital of Israel without regard for final status negotiations or the aspirations of the Palestinians, contributes to this chaos.Read more
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
The Christmas season is full of light – sparkling lights on the Christmas tree; houses in the neighborhood decorated with lights for the coming holiday; candles flickering on the mantle; a fire in the fireplace representing warmth, comfort, and hope. These are the images of light we will hold onto this Advent season.
And we hold these images as hope not only for our own lives; but for the lives of those suffering in Palestine, Israel, the Middle East, and around the world. We remember in our prayers this week:
The men, women, and children who are living in Gaza; often with only a few hours of electricity per day.
The 60,000 internally displaced persons in Gaza still waiting for a durable housing solution since the destruction of their homes during the 2014 Gaza War.
The families affected by the 155 demolitions or confiscations of Palestinian owned structures in East Jerusalem and the West Bank during September and October 2016.
Those affected by the terrible fires throughout Israel and the West Bank that destroyed hundreds of homes, displacing tens of thousands.