Our Image and Their Reality: Human Take On the Israel-Palestinian Conflict ©
#1: Christians and the Holy Land: Christians, Presbyterians and Human Rights In the Conflict
1 Paul: The Israel-Palestinian conflict is often understood in terms of a myth. The myth is that the holy land is an unreal place where Jesus walked and lived. In many Christian minds the images along with this understanding are of a pastoral green wonderland. In this myth, the areas of the Holy Land are not the lands of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The reality is quite different from this mythological construction. The reality of the situation on the ground for people in the Israel-Palestinian conflict today is dominated by suffering. In particular, the situation of the neediest of those in the conflict, Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation and as refugees, is dire.
In the Israel-Palestinian conflict the stakes for people on both sides are high. Many times the conflict is reduced to images and emotional slogans that advance the cause of one side or the other. Often in communities in the US it is hard to discuss the real issues of human rights that concern the conflict. Instead, such conversations can turn into matches of contention and frustration as the chasm between groups seems to only expand.
My name is Paul Beran and I am your host for this the first installment of the Clarendon Hill Presbyterian Church’s audio series, Our Image and Their Reality: A Human Take on the Israel-Palestinian Conflict. This program is called “Christians and the Holy Land: Christians, Presbyterians and Human Rights In the Conflict. ” It discusses the significance of the area of Israel-Palestine to Christians and to the indigenous Christians of the Middle East region. These brothers and sisters in faith are often times the “forgotten faithful” to Western Christians. They call themselves the Living Stones of lands of Jesus.
2 Paul: Most Americans and indeed Presbyterians have heard about the Middle East, and the Israel-Palestinian conflict. With the US invasion of Iraq and its on-going financial, diplomatic and political support of Israel, and significantly less so the Palestinians, the US has been and continues to be the third leg of the three leg stool of the conflict.
This CD comes from the Clarendon Hill Presbyterian Church. It is a unique community of faith. It has about 50 members, and 25 regular attendees and is located in the urban area of Boston. One of its strengths is the diversity of its congregation. Members and congregants come from China, Israel-Palestine, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Ghana, Pakistan as well as many different US states. This diversity has led the community to see the Gospels and scriptures in new ways. It has greatly enhanced our sense of faith in Jesus, and work in the community.
3 Karl: Part of the work of Clarendon Hill Church is in peace and justice advocacy.
4 Paul: Karl Gustafson, Pastor of Clarendon Hill Presbyterian Church.
5 Karl: We try, as many churches do, to figure out how we can transfer our faith into actions outside the church. We have considered many ways of doing this. What has seemed most authentic to us and to our reading of the Gospels, has been to root our concerns in the people of the community, and the people in their lives and hearts. It has also meant that as a community we raise up the value of human dignity and wholeness. Simply put, we have come to see as a community that what God desires for us, the created, is to be involved with building up the ability for people to be fully human as God made them.
6 Paul: With all this in mind, the information on this CD is designed to present new ways of examining the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the Middle East from the perspective of Presbyterians. It is an unofficial companion to the good work done by the PC (USA) and their Middle East Task Force, which produced a CD of information on the topic. Their CD should be consulted for documents related to the conflict.
7 Hilary: This CD takes a decidedly focused approach on presenting a human centered view of the conflict, and one that preferences the story of the poor, oppressed and those whose voice is largely unheard.
8 Paul: Hilary Rantisi, member of Clarendon Hill, from Ramallah, Palestine, and the Director of the Middle East Initiative at Harvard University.
9 Hilary: Our hope as a church is that this CD will introduce you to new ways of thinking and feeling about the Israel-Palestinian conflict. That after it, you will have human faces to put with names and dates in history, and renewed reasons to consider what God might be asking of you as this tragedy continues.
10 Paul: We begin with the understanding that as Christians we have a living and historic connection to the Middle East and Israel-Palestine in particular. This comes in part from our reading of scripture, but is also comes from the members and folks affiliated with our church who are from that part of the world and still call it home.
11 Munir: Christians have lived in the Middle East since the church universal was founded in the First Century CE.
12 Paul: Munir Jirmanus, member of Clarendon Hill was born in Jerusalem and raised in Lebanon.
13 Munir: The majority of the Christians in the Middle East are Arabs who speak and worship in the Arabic language. Their number today is anywhere from 16-18 million faithful. Among the testaments to this long-tradition of Christianity is the mention of the Arabs as one of the recipients of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. While Arabs make up the majority of Christians in the Middle East region they are not the only Christians there. Among them are Christians from around the world, speaking a myriad of languages and having unique expressions of Christianity. Among some of the larger minority groups are the Armenians, Assyrians or Chaldeans and Jews. They worship among the three families of the faith in the Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant church traditions. All of these have congregations throughout the region
14 Paul: The largest church in the region is the Orthodox community. This church is considered to be the oldest form of organized Christian expression. It has diverse branches that reflect the ethnic, linguistic and historical foundations of different branches. Greek Orthodox – also called Eastern Orthodox-- is one of the most powerful churches in the region. The Coptic Orthodox church, based in Egypt, is also spread throughout the region and the world. In addition to them, Romanian, Ethiopian, Syrian and Russian Orthodox churches are also represented.
All flavors of the Catholic tradition exist in the region. Among them are the Roman, Coptic, Armenian, Melkite, Syrian, and Chalcedian rites. The Maronite church, based in Lebanon, is also vibrant as is the Anglican church (Episcopal in the US) and the Lutheran Church. Protestantism is well founded in the region. With the Anglicans and Lutherans are the Baptists, United Church of Christ, Assembly of God, Methodists other smaller Pentecostal churches as well as the Presbyterian church. This block of churches is often referred to in Arabic as the Evangelical churches, to differentiate them from the Orthodox and Catholic families of the faith.
15 Munir: The Presbyterian church has a rich history in the Middle East.
16 Paul: Again, Munir Jirmanus.
17 Munir: Its largest Synod is in Egypt, although there are active churches in Lebanon and Syria as well. Presbyterians first came to the region in the middle of the 19th Century and worked to establish American style institutions of education. Still today education is an important legacy of the church throughout Egypt, Lebanon and Turkey where Presbyterian missionaries established schools that still exist today. The church congregations of Presbyterians are not large in the region, except for Egypt. In Lebanon and Syria the congregations while small take a leadership role among the Evangelical churches in society.
Members of the Clarendon Hill Presbyterian Church are part of the Presbyterian church that emerged from the Middle East. I am a native of Lebanon and was raised in a Presbyterian home in the hills above Beirut. My wife Naila was raised Eastern Orthodox but worships in both communities. Both Naila and I have been elders and deacons in the church for over 20 years.
18 Paul: Hilary Rantisi, another church member, is from Ramallah, West Bank. Her father, Audeh, was a Palestinian refugee from Al-Lydd in what is now Israel. After being made refugee, along with nearly ¾ of a million Palestinians in 1948, he was educated and mentored by a Presbyterian missionary in Ramallah. Today the Presbyterian Church has a missionary in Israel-Palestine. Douglas Dicks is a mission co-worker and has been living in Bethlehem and working throughout the region for the last 12 years.
19 Hilary: Perhaps in no place in the world has such diversity of faith expression in Jesus Christ in Jerusalem.
20 Paul: Hilary Rantisi.
21 Hilary: It is not surprising that the location of Jesus’ final days, betrayal, crucifixion and resurrection would be an important place for the world’s Christians. Often misunderstood by Christians from other parts of the world are the indigenous Christians of Israel-Palestine. From living where Jesus lived and had his ministry, to enduring the conflict of the last 60 years since the creation of the state of Israel, the Christian community gives voice to the scriptures in unique and fresh ways.
22 Karl: The Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center is one voice of Christians in Israel-Palestine today.
23 Paul: Karl Gustafson, pastor of the Clarendon Hill.
24 Karl: Sabeel is an organization rooted in the congregations of Christians that are from the cities, towns and villages of Israel-Palestine. From their struggles as refugees dispossessed from lands and homes in and around 1948, to living under Israel’s military occupation, Christians from Israel-Palestine have a unique lesson to teach those of us who have not grown up in such dire situations. The Presbyterian church supports the work of Sabeel through financial contributions, moral support and by placing mission volunteers with them. The Clarendon Hill Presbyterian Church also has a relationship with Sabeel. Members of its community have worked for Sabeel in Jerusalem, and served in leadership positions with Sabeel support offices in the Boston area, called Friends of Sabeel North America.
25 Paul: The church in Israel-Palestine has a lot to teach the West about reading the bible and carrying Jesus’ message into the world. The role of members of the congregation of Clarendon Hill has helped us all to re-examine Jesus’ words and teachings in a new light. For them the experiences of Jesus are not as remote as they may be for those who did not grow up in that land or live in those places. For many Christians in Israel-Palestine, when the parables and stories were told by Jesus, and indeed when his life is described in the Gospels, the modern realities of daily living there are all too real. The military occupation of Israel over the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem since 1967 is compared to the Roman occupation of Jews nearly 2000 years ago. The Israeli separation Wall that cuts off Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem is factored into the Nativity story. How would Joseph and Mary get to Bethlehem with the now 25 foot high Separation Wall in their way?
26 Naila: Perhaps on no subject is the influence of the Middle East and its Christians more impactful than on human rights.
27 Paul: Naila Jirmanus is a member of Clarendon Hill, was born and raised in Lebanon and is active in peace and justice work in the community.
28 Naila: As a community of faith, Clarendon Hill has learned through the events of the Middle East and their impact on its members. When bombings happen there, it is felt in the churches’ pews. When human needs are voiced it is from a personal experience. This sensitivity to suffering, born out of the suffering of that part of the world, has helped to bring out the human centered reality of Jesus’ teaching.
29 Karl: For the Clarendon Hill Presbyterian church the core message of the Jesus’ message is salvation that unites people with God in a new and everlasting way.
30 Paul: Again, Karl Gustafson.
31 Karl: But salvation is not just about the end of ones life. Instead, it is also the pursuit of human wholeness and being. God created human kind in God’s image Genesis chapter one says. And because of that we are all made in God’s image. Each of us is, in some way, the theotokos, or God bearer that the Orthodox church outlines in its liturgy of prayer.
32 Munir: Behind the words of Jesus is this reality, that God loved people to the extent that God would give up Jesus to redeem us.
33 Paul: Munir Jirmanus.
34 Munir: Uniting that with the image of God, reality makes for the necessity of seeing situations of conflict in new ways. Clarendon Hill is involved with the Israel-Palestine conflict and the wider Middle East because we believe that Jesus has called all of us to be involved with working to advance human wholeness in people. It believes that this means calling attention to the situation of human beings who are oppressed, beaten and neglected by a large part of the world.
35 Paul: By any measurement, economic, political and social the neglected party in the Israel-Palestinian conflict are the Palestinians living under Israel’s military occupation. Under this occupation they are caged behind the separation Wall, segregated by identity cards that give them only limited human rights, and routinely killed. Children are not safe from the violence. They grow up in a situation of dire stress and fear. One of the most dedicated and thorough chroniclers of this is the Israeli human rights group B’tselem.
36 Karl: As a community the church realizes that not every issue can be addressed by everyone.
37 Paul: Karl Gustafson.
38 Karl: Often Clarendon Hill is criticized by those who say that the situation of Palestinians is not the direst situation of repression in the world today. Certainly the cases of the Congo, Sri Lanka and Iraq, to name only a few are important and worthy situations to advocate for human wholeness. In addition there are a host of important concerns facing human wholeness in the United States. While the church recognizes this, doing so does not mean giving up a commitment to human wholeness in Israel-Palestine.
39 Paul: Thanks for listening and watching this presentation. We look forward to hearing from you to share your feedback and ideas.
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