Where are the Christians?

Fear often rules in Israel-Palestine, and everyone is needed to help create peace

December 14, 2011 | Young Voices
Kelsey Hutton | Special to Young Voices

Fear will control our lives if we let it. And fear is the name of the game in Israel-Palestine.

In November I joined a team of people from North America and Europe on a Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) delegation. I honestly didn’t realize how much my perceptions of the Israel-Palestine conflict would change after my trip. But independent of the issue of whether Israel has the right to do what it does, what we witnessed was an occupation by a government that was systemically oppressing the Palestinian population.

The 12 of us arrived in Jerusalem and spent the first few days meeting with the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions; Sabeel, an ecumenical liberation theology centre; and Bedouins struggling against the Israeli government to keep their land in the Negev Desert.

I laughed a lot in the next few days, but swallowed back a lot of frustration as well. So much of what we witnessed had to do with fear or, for the strongest, the decision to reject living by fear. We met with a former Israeli soldier who works for Breaking the Silence, an organization that collects testimonies from Israeli veterans about the reality of the abuse they inflicted on Palestinians, which was justified for “security” reasons.

There are moments when fear overcomes, and others when fear is swallowed and digested, turning it into fuel for change. These troughs and valleys shape everyday life in Israel-Palestine.

Walid made the choice to create change and take his home city of Hebron out of the shadow of the Israeli army. Despite being 98 percent Palestinian, Israel refuses to give up control of the city. Between 400 and 600 Israeli settlers have taken over Palestinian apartments and hospitals, and between 1,200 and 1,500 Israeli soldiers are stationed in Hebron to protect them. But no one is responsible for curbing settler violence and harassment of Palestinians.

Walid works for an organization called the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee, which restores historic buildings, local shops and businesses, to keep both the economy and the spirit of the city alive. Walid and the committee are choosing to thrive despite the constant threat of blockades, arrests, shop closures, home demolitions and machine guns.

But it can be a deadly balancing act, especially for people like Layla who, on our first night in Hebron, fed us a feast of flavoured chicken and rice, a special dish usually saved for weddings.

Layla’s teenage son was arbitrarily arrested last year. When the 15-year-old refused to sign confession documents that were written in Hebrew because he insisted he’d done nothing wrong, they locked him up. After two months, including three weeks in solitary confinement, he broke down and signed the papers. His “trial” lasted less than two minutes, and on top of the large fine he was placed on probation for five years.

A friend of mine who went to Palestine for the first time was asked, “Where is God in this?” Her thought was not where is God, but where are the Christians?

Jesus credits us, the people of God, with a hunger and thirst for righteousness, but here in Canada that seems limited to writing letters to our MPs while in the Middle East young, nonviolent Palestinian leaders regularly run the risk of exile, arrest, beatings, torture or death.

We met so many people whose courage broke through the muffling layer of fear draped over Israel-Palestine. They are Israeli activists who openly admit their own peers consider them “traitors,” and Palestinians—both Muslim and Christian—who have been resisting the occupation for 63 years.

Using the love and grace of God, incredibly brave people are changing the fabric of Israel-Palestine. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” They shouldn’t have to do this work alone.

For more photos from the delegation visit our photo gallery. http://youngvoices.canadianmennonite.org/photos/wherearechristians

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