So what do we do now? Connect and Act

(While you read, I invite you to listen to this musical prayer for peace which combines Arabic and Hebrew.
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All of the 2015 Peace Not Walls/Young Adult Tripshave returned from their trips.

So, what do we do now?

Two related ideas come to mind for me.

1. Those of us who went on a trip tell you about what we saw and heard on our trips. We also CONNECT what we learned on our trips to historically oppressed communities and liberation and justice movements in the United States. Three that come to mind immediately for me and for many of us (connections the Chicago trip already discussed on its trip, at least) are #blacklivesmatter, immigration reform and pursuit of economic and social justice for the American Indian community.

2. ACT. Continue to educate ourselves about current events regarding the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land in the West Bank, such as housing demolitions and solider-citizen interactions. Contact our government representatives and religious leaders by phone, letters, email, or social media to voice our opinions and concerns about how their votes and actions affect events in Israel and Palestine. And pray amidst these actions that peace with justice would come to all in the land so many call holy.

So. Let’s try those two out.

1. How do we CONNECT?
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On our way back from cooking class in Aida refugee camp, as we were walking along the wall, we ran into a man who had bottles of spray paint available for people walking by to use. As I stood before the wall and watched our co-leaders, UB and Janelle, paint #BlackLivesMatter and the names of American cities whose residents all also suffer the effects of segregation and discrimination, it was one of the first times where I realized the striking similarities between occupied Palestine and systemic oppression in the United States. Throughout our trip and since returning home, including in conversations at the presentation that the group gave about our trip at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, we have continued to lift up these connections:

– #blacklivesmatter and the connection to state violence
The following image of Fadi in Palestine and his message is from the following mic.com article by Zak Cheney-Rice, which opens “The connections between black people protesting state violence in the United States and Palestinians fighting occupation in Gaza and the West Bank have been well-documented.” The article goes on to feature screenshots of tweets from Palestinians advising Ferguson residents on how to deal with tear gas.

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On the night of a Chicago protest of the death of Freddie Gray in police custody this past spring, students from my seminary and others who marched from downtown to the southside of Chicago watched police officers form a line on the western border of the Hyde Park neighborhood (at 55th and Cottage Grove streets) and block protester entrance to the wealthy neighborhood where my school and the University of Chicago is located. It struck me as an example of a human wall marking an invisible wall in Chicago between lots of money and not as much money, between a wealth of diversity, abundance, resources and safety and a lack of wealth in these areas. A human, physical wall that echoed the “American Apartheid” in housing that still exists today. (For a thoroughly educational read on this topic, click on the link text to a book by that title by Nancy Denton and Douglas Massey.)

The wall in Palestine is also a wall between two groups as defined by the categories above. All of these walls must crumble for the kingdom of God to be realized, for us to truly know each other.

-Another wall we discussed was the border between the United States and Mexico, which is as difficult to cross for Mexican and Central American immigrants as the wall between Israel and occupied Palestine is to cross for many Palestinians. (The following picture is from the wikipedia article on US-Mexico relations and is a picture of the border near El Paso, TX, USA.)

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The stigma that surrounds immigrants in the United States is scarily similar to the stigma that surrounds Palestinians in Israel and Palestine. Mass business raids and deportations in the United States come to mind. Both groups are often racially profiled and treated differently, often more harshly and scrutinously, by government authorities than others would be because of their physical appearance.

-One book we read before our trip was Blood Brothers by Elias Chacour. This book, along with our visits to refugee camps in the West Bank, makes me think of the connection between American Indian communities in the United States and Palestine. As American Indians had communities decimated by Europeans 250-300 years ago and are on reservation lands today, so are many Palestinians confined to refugee camps, the land that they first lived on taken from them by Israeli forces. and their children grow up today in these camps.
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We owe it to ourselves, to our children, to all who died because of persecution, to tell the truth about the past and to work for peace with justice and an equitable future for all.

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What other connections do you see between occupied Palestine and the United States, or other parts of the world? Let me know in the comments!

PS. While it felt like a good release (at least for me) to paint on the wall, we later learned that the gentleman was selling prints of the art on the wall for double the price at the Banksy Shop just up the street. This made me sad and angry. Moral of the story – support the Banksy shop. The owner has a great collection, is very nice, and charges very reasonable prices.

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2. What are some ways we can ACT?

a. Do you have a Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr account? One way you can act is to click this link – https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/29588-pray-for-peace-in-holy-land – and support the ELCJHL Thunderclap. The Thunderclap will automatically post the following text (on the social media account of your choice):
“On the 24th of every month, we pray for peace. We ask our brothers and sisters around the world to join us.http://thndr.it/1LZchNz
The link contained in the Thunderclap text will take you to a list of worship resources to pray for peace in the Holy Land in the form of liturgy, prayers and hymns.

The Thunderclap, and the other online actions I’ll go on to describe, may seem like a small step. But one small step at a time is a step farther ahead then we were before we took the step. Online activism does raise visibility of causes and raises hope for those whom the cause benefits.

b. Contacting our government representatives – housing demolitions and the Gaza blockade
There has been an extremely discouraging rise in Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes in the past few weeks. The village of Susiya, south of Hebron, is one village that has been targeted: http://www.turkishweekly.net/2015/08/27/news/palestine-what-if-your-school-is-demolished-tomorrow/
There are other areas of the West Bank where housing demolitions are occurring at alarmingly rapid rates as well: https://www.lutheranworld.org/news/surge-israeli-demolitions-palestinian-homes-condemned-31-international-organizations

There is also a call sponsored by the Lutheran World Federation and 34 other international aid organizations to end the blockade on Gaza: http://lwfjerusalem.org/2015/08/lwf-joins-34-organizations-to-call-for-the-end-to-the-blockade-on-gaza/
Click on the article to read about the call and sign the avaaz petition. You can also do that by clicking here: https://secure.avaaz.org/en/gaza_blockade_aida/?1440413696

We can continue to inform our representatives in Congress about our views on the situation in Israel and Palestine, and ask them if they are going to the region and who is sponsoring their trip.

d. BDS – Boycott-Divest-Sanction – and investment in Palestinian businesses
Illinois was the first state in the US to pass legislation regarding the BDS movement. In May 2015, a unanimous vote by the House and Senate and a signature by Governor Rauner made it illegal for IL’s pension fund to invest in companies that boycott Israel. This is a scary situation because it suggests a reinforcement of Israel’s actions.

There are many companies that one can boycott or ask to make a statement on its activity in Israel. Sabra and Tribe Hummus and SodaStream are two big ones that come to mind, but there are others. I’ll let y’all do your own research on that.

Another way to support those in occupied Palestine is to support Palestinian businesses online for Christmas and birthday gifts, or gifts for yourself! Here are links to a few of our/my favorites from the trip:
http://womeninhebron.com/
– gift shop for the Diyar Consortium in Bethlehem: http://www.annadwa.org/ecommerce/
– Santa Maria souvenirs in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem
– Hebron Glass and Ceramics – find their glass products at Ten Thousand Villages in store and online: http://www.tenthousandvillages.com/hebron-glass
– http://lwfjerusalem.org/projects/olive-oil/

e. Educate! We can share stories about our trip with our family members, friends, and communities (schools, churches, workplaces, etc). The more we talk about positive stories out of Israel and Palestine, the less negative imagery about the region will dominate everyone’s head space.

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I feel like I could write forever on this. But for now, I’ll end with a reflection on our visit to Yad Vashem “The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority” museum and monument, which makes me think about both connecting and acting.

I was reading the exhibits about the period in the early 1940s when European Jews were beginning to be moved into “ghettos”, smaller neighborhoods in the European cities where they lived. And it wasn’t until then, on one of the last days of the trip, that it hit me. Israel is doing the exact same thing to Palestine that was done to Israel, to Jews in Europe. It’s perfect family systems. Israel, the young nation, is scared of being treated again like it was in the mid-twentieth century…so Israel is occupying Palestine, illegally, in the same way.

At the end of the museum, you walk out and see this view. This Anna has done much more work in this area then mine and I was lucky to stumble upon her work and words. http://www.annainthemiddleeast.com/
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“Museum visitors step out from the traumatic experience to a panoramic view of Jerusalem. The symbolic message that settlement of Jerusalem and Israel is the climactic and victorious end to a history of persecution of Jews is disturbing to those who know what that means to the non-Jewish indigenous population of the land.” The land that this view overlooks was once Palestinian land.

Let’s break the system. Let’s talk about how we can talk together about growing together, co-existing together, positively. I don’t mean to be naive here – I confess to not being up-to-date on where we are with the two-state solution, for instance. But let’s continue to name and denounce oppression when we see it and call for peace and non-violence. In this way we make a choice to better and save lives.

Thanks to all who have read our reflections on our trips. Looking forward to the future.

Shalom, ssalaam, peace.
Anna

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PS. This is a document which I have yet to read but will very soon, which is a call from Palestinian Christian leaders for us to recognize the situation of the people in Palestine and take action. It was written in 2009 and there was a five year commemoration of it’s writing last year. “Kairos” means, basically, God’s time. I know this document will be a motivating force for me as I continue to think about how I can support peace with justice in Israel and Palestine.
http://www.kairospalestine.ps/content/kairos-document

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Ramallah and Hope

Ramallah is, without a doubt, one of the craziest, busiest cities I have ever been to. And I’ve hung out in Times Square a bunch of times. There are people EVERYWHERE. In the streets, in the sidewalks, in the stores. At least on that Friday when we visited, that was the case. It was an hour and a half taxi ride through some VERY up and down hills from Bethlehem.

The traffic was also incredibly backed up – we noticed that more on the way out. There is a checkpoint that you have to go through to get out of Ramallah. Janelle pointed out that the 45 minutes or so we spent in traffic was indicative of the time that many residents of Ramallah have to spend on a regular basis to get in and out of their city.

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Our main destination in Ramallah was Hope Lutheran Church and conversation/Bible Study with Pastor Imad. He is incredibly brilliant and his words caused lightning sparks of connection and knowledge to flash in my head, and so I will just let some of his words that I journaled speak for themselves.  Photos by UB, again.
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-“We are not ‘perfect’ but we are called in, with and for society. The minute we close our doors from society is the minute you can call us dead.”
-“We choose” [to exist] “a choice out of faith.” (This made me think about the church’s narrative of decline in the US. We can choose to think abundantly instead!!!)
-It would be “more dangerous if we live the occupation in our hearts.”
-“We need the church to be with the people wherever the people is.” That’s why Hope’s community center, where we were gathered in the above picture, is open every day from 4 – 11. People can come and watch soccer there, get snacks, hang out.
-“Love is not always emotion. Love can be anger.”
-“It is a community journey to live God’s image.
-“I say hello to people with guns. They are human beings.”
-“Whatever actions religious leaders take or words they say affects people in the Holy Land.”
-“There is no theology without context.”
-talking about vine and branches: “Sometimes we need to be cut so we can grow. Ministry and mission…you cut, you give power, you grow more, and you spread…If you cut a good branch, it will grow and give fruit. This is what a church is. A vine.”

Pastor Imad is also a brilliant drum player. We were blown away.
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Bulletproof Glass – Hebron

Hi, Anna here from the Metro Chicago trip, back for three more posts. (Told ya I wasn’t finished!) Here’s the first.

When we went to Hebron, I was just a little nervous, as I knew it was one of the cities in the West Bank that is under lots and lots of tension. I wasn’t really nervous for our safety, though. Just more nervous about what we might see.

We parked the van and walked with our tour guide from Alternative Tour Group (ATG) down to the market street on the way to the Ibrahimi Mosque and Temple. We were going to see the tombs of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca – people who are significant for Jewish, Christian and Muslim religions.

On the way there, we heard the story about how an extremely far-right American Jewish settler had shot and killed 29 worshippers and wounded 125. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cave_of_the_Patriarchs_massacre) We went into the mosque – all of the women had to wear these grey poncho things to cover up. Photos by Ulysses Burley, who did not have to wear a grey poncho thing.

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I walked over to the tomb of Abraham, and saw it, and the bulletproof glass that separates it from the temple.
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Then we walked over to the temple side. Palestinians are not permitted access to this side anymore, and Israelis are not permitted access to the mosque.

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I think what strikes me about the bulletproof glass is that it is such an incredibly vivid marker of separation. Like the wall, of course. The word alone makes me sad in this context. The glass is up so that nobody shoots at each other. Because people want to kill each other because of who they are.

And at Abraham’s tomb. Abraham who, the stories say, God told would be the patriarch of many great generations, a chosen people.

Your chosen people really are not so great sometimes, God. I’m praying for us. We need you.

Tekoa – “None of this is right, y’all.”

In Biblical history, Tekoa is the area of the Holy Land where the prophet Amos lived and did much of his prophesying. Amos is one of the shortest books of the 12 minor prophets, but this prophet is known for this well-known verse, 5:24 –

“But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Tekoa today is the site of an Israeli settlement. As my group paused from a drive through the West Bank to look out over Tekoa, we saw the red roofs of the settlement contrasted with the black water tanks of the Palestinian village nearby. And I thought to myself, “This is what segregation looks like. There it is. Resources and water to the settlement, and the Palestinians have to store water on their roofs.”

(I can’t find a great picture at the moment, but hopefully I’ll find one later.)

This is what we saw. And then I thought about a south side Chicago march in solidarity with Baltimore residents protesting the death of Freddie Gray. How the neighborhood of Hyde Park was visibly red-lined with police officers who would not let protestors walk past them from Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive. The wealthy institutions and neighborhoods were protected. There wasn’t a similar concern for the other neighborhoods surrounding Hyde Park.

None of this is right, y’all.

Michael Brown, #blacklivesmatter, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a church built over Golgotha (the rock where Jesus was crucified) and the tomb of resurrection. It is located in the heart of the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.

11667474_679271893023_4999414050365571962_nThe Metro Chicago trip group outside of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Sunday morning, May 31. Photo on Erin Wesley’s camera by another nice visitor.

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Entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Photo by author.

Upon entering this church, I noticed the smells of incense and old-ness, the sound of orthodox priests singing at the tomb (which I drew closer to later), the candle-lights everywhere. I climbed the stairs up to Golgotha and waited my turn in line to touch the rock upon which Jesus was crucified. I wandered around the main sanctuary, noticing the tourists, the fellow Christians, the security staff.

I kept being drawn back to the slab, the Stone of the Anointing, that is the first thing you see when you enter the entrance pictured above. I noticed the people around it, laying their rosaries on it, reverencing it by kissing it or touching it.

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Photo by author.

I kept noticing this stone. And all I could think about was the body of Michael Brown, lying in the streets of Ferguson for hours. Michael Brown. A young “thug,” he’s been called. A young criminal who’s crime was stealing from a convenience store. (Raise your hand if you’ve ever stolen or know someone who’s stolen something from a convenience store. Mine’s raised.) A young man with potential. Crucified by a sinful, systemic racism and socio-economic divide that prevents us from seeing the face of God in one another.

I felt pretty devastated in that moment. And I wanted to hang on to the suffering. To make sure I understood as best as I could. To not let it go unnoticed, unfelt. It has to make a difference in my life, I thought. I looked at the crowds reverencing the stone and felt angry. Where was the reverence for Michael Brown’s body in the hours it lay on the street? Where is the reverence for the bodies of black men and women today? I wanted to scream.

And then, this might sound weird, but I also heard a voice inside of me. Turn toward resurrection, it whispered. Remember Easter. 20150531_111142

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Photos by author.

And the suffering and the resurrection was there at the same time. That didn’t mean that the suffering went away. It just meant that the resurrection was there, too. And I remembered my call, why I want to do justice work. Because I know that new life is possible.

 

Reflection on Talitha Kumi/Environmental Education Center of the ELCJHL

An excerpt from a sermon preached on Sunday, June 28, 2015 at Saint Luke Lutheran Church in Silver Spring, MD. Gospel: Mark 5:21-38

“One day during our trip to Israel and Palestine, my group visited a Lutheran school for children of all ages in the village of Beit Jala, which is near Bethlehem, in the West Bank. We visited this school to tour the Environmental Education Center of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (or the ELCJHL). We toured the garden containing both plants and trees that are native to the land, as well as foreign plants and trees that are not. We walked on fun, kid-friendly boardwalks and even got to climb into a kind of treehouse.

We saw the water treatment system, which filters and renews waste-water from the school to water the garden. This water treatment system represents good stewardship of God’s creation. It is also useful because Palestinian communities frequently experience water shortages.

The name of the school is from the Aramaic language, the same Aramaic we hear in the gospel reading for this morning. The name of the school is Talitha Kumi. ‘Little girl, get up.’

The Palestinian children of Talitha Kumi are confined to a limited geographical area due to policies of the Israeli government. They or their family members may have had firsthand exposure to violence due to tensions at military checkpoints and some cities in the West Bank.

At their school, at the Environmental Education Center, the children can, and do, get up.

As they learn about conservation and care for God’s creation at the Environmental Education center, their understanding of the world grows. The children are not powerless victims. They are empowered children of God. The education and care that they receive at school strengthens their minds and their ability to live in a world where they may not always feel welcome. In a world where a tall concrete wall that runs between the olive groves, between Jerusalem and Bethlehem usually prevents them and Israeli children from getting to know one another. The empowerment that they receive through programs such as the Environmental Education center reminds them that a way of more peaceful living is possible.”

Anna Ernst
aernst@lstc.edu

Better late than never – further reflections from Metro Chicago

Dear followers of the 2015 PNW-Young Adult Holy Land Trips (and fellow pilgrimage-goers),

For those who were at home, we hope you have enjoyed following our pilgrimages this summer. I’ve been back for as long as I was away now, but still have at least five reflections in me that really need to be written, so this is a quick post to hold myself accountable to that. The first is an excerpt from a sermon I preached this past Sunday and will follow this post immediately. Thank you for reading, learning, being, and acting into the future with us.

Anna Ernst
aernst@lstc.edu