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Teen Murders: There is a Way out…

Official statistics have revealed that over 1500 Palestinian children have been killed by Israeli occupation forces since September 2000.  It is the equivalent of one Palestinian child killed by Israel every three days for almost 13 years. The number of children injured by the Israelis since the start of 2000 has now reached 6,000. Almost half of the Palestinian population is under the age of 18. (Source: Middle East Monitor).

   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGirls on their way to school in the troubled Palestinian city of Hebron in the West Bank. They are accompanied to and from their school daily by ecumenical workers. Israeli settlers marked the steps to the school in Israeli national colours.

Moreover, hundreds of Palestinian children are detained under circumstances that violates international law. The chilling documentary “Stone Cold Justice” on ABC Australia TV suggests that Israel targets Palestinian youth (as the upcoming generation) in particular. To view click here, but please note that viewer discretion is advised.

What is the bottom line in this horrible time of atrocious teen murders in Israel and in Palestine? In his latest book, Dr Mitri Raheb, a Palestinian theologian from Bethlehem makes a courageous point:

Sometimes, when I hear some Jewish people talk, I fell as if they speak with a monopoly on victimhood. And sometimes I feel that some Palestinians feel that they must compete with the Jews over who is the greater victim….Playing the role of victim might assist those who are oppressed gain some sympathy but not necessarily respect. (2014. Faith in the Face of Empire.)

What I find amazing and inspiring, are the voices from within Palestine – those who have been oppressed in so many ways for decades without meaningful intervention by the world. From within their suffering they show us the way to respect, honor and dignity. They take the lead where world powers fail. The question is: Will we listen and more importantly, will we act?

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For such a time as this, what is required? Says Rev.Dr. Naim Ateek, founder and president of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem:

For the last three months, approximately 200 Palestinian administrative detainees have been on a hunger strike to protest their detention without charge or trial.

On May 15, 2014, on Nakba day, a few weeks before the kidnapping of the three young Israelis, the Israeli army killed two Palestinian teenagers near Ramallah in cold blood.

On Monday evening, June 30, the Israeli army found the bodies of the three missing Israeli teenagers. On Tuesday morning, July 1, the Israeli army killed a 16 year old Palestinian in Jenin and some settlers tried to snatch a 9 year old boy in Beit Hanina, but he was rescued by his mother and some passersby. Early Wednesday morning July 2, settlers kidnapped a 17 year old boy from Shufat, killed him and burned his body. In addition, over the last two weeks over 10 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli army some of them quite young and over 500 detained and hundreds injured.

We grieve with all the families – Palestinians and Israelis. We condemn the killings whether by the Israeli army, the unruly settlers, extremist Palestinians or unknown suspects. We uphold the sanctity of all human life Israeli as well as Palestinian, Jew as well as Muslim, Muslim as well as Christian.

For those who have eyes to see, all the killings that have taken place were senseless and the major culprit is the right-wing Israeli government. Its policy has been a total rejection of peace on the basis of the demands of international law. It refuses to share the land and accept a sovereign Palestinian state on only 22% of historic Palestine that is willing to live in peace next to Israel. The government of Israel believes that it can turn back the wheels of history and create an ethnic/religious state. It believes that it can impose its will on the Palestinians because it possesses the military power and the technology that is needed.

This cannot happen. It is on the wrong side of history. History itself is against it, not only the Palestinians. The future of the world is for multi-ethnic, multiracial, and multi-religious communities living together. History is for diversity and not for uniformity. Israel’s right wing government is the culprit. It is responsible; it is the offender. It is cheating the Israeli and Palestinian youths of life because it is charting an ethnic and racist course of history that is untenable.

The good people of Israel, Palestine, and the international community must put a stop to this madness. Long ago Jesus quoted the Psalmist saying, “The meek will inherit the land.” The meek are the people of the land and they are the Israelis and the Palestinians, but they are not the arrogant exclusivists of this world. The exclusivists will eventually pass away and someday new leaders will emerge, an Israeli Abraham Lincoln, or an Israeli De Klerk who will lead Israel to peace based on sharing the land where every person – man and woman, Israeli and Palestinian – will live as equal citizens with human dignity.

We call on our Palestinian sisters and brothers to continue resisting every act of injustice with nonviolent action; our religious leaders, Muslim and Christian, to raise the prophetic voice against injustice and oppression; and the Palestinian Authority to remain steadfast in its commitment to a unified government.

If the Israeli government wants peace, it must be transformed. It needs to believe in the power of peace that is based on justice and equality. For such a time as this, Israeli leaders need the courage and the will to do the following:

  1. They need to realize that violence can only beget violence and that despair can only beget desperate actions. Therefore the state must stop the cycle of violence and the cycle of vengeance.
  2. They need to address the root causes of the problems: racist laws, the military occupation, and the illegal settlements.
  3. They need to stop all collective punishments, arbitrary killings, and extra judicial executions and let the rule of law take its due course. It is unjust to punish innocent persons for the actions of a suspected few.
  4. They need to work with the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority to find the resolution of the conflict on the basis of international law that will guarantee the needs of peace and security for both Israel and Palestine.

We lament the inaction of world leaders in the face of the entrenchment of the occupation. They need to realize that ultimately the resolution of the conflict requires outside intervention. World powers helped create the conflict and world powers must help resolve it.
For such a time as this, “He told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

Israeli-soldiers-guard-Pa-007Israeli soldiers stand guard over Palestinian children arrested in the West Bank city of Hebron. Photograph: Abed Al Hashlamoun/EPA

Dr. Mitri Raheb argues that freedom is the very thing that the people in the Arab world yearn for, but what they have, are systems of fear:

There will be no true Arab Spring in the Middle East until we break out from the bondage of the security state as well as of oppressive “divine rights” to a wide open space where human lives and security are protected, where freedom is free to blossom, and where human rights become sacred.

My perspective is that all is interconnected and therefore we have the task of dissolving systems of fear within and around us. Along with this spiritual task, we have the responsibility to amplify voices of reason, and to lobby our religious leaders, politicians and the business world to stop the injustices.

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Start acting by appealing to the BBC to highlight the more than 1,500 Palestinian children killed by the Israeli ‘Defence’ Force since 2000, and to appeal for restraint and peacemaking rather than condoning ‘Inevitable’ Collective Death Sentence!” on Change.org: click here.

 

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Dr Mitri Raheb: Losing the Sting of Empire

What can unlock victimhood? What can break the cycle of oppression? A visit by a Palestinian theologian to South Africa’s wintery Western Cape gave me some insights.

Dr. Raheb comes from Bethlehem in the West Bank of Palestine – a city under a harsh military rule. Israel’s occupation has a daily effect on the lives of its citizens as minute by minute Israel violates countless human rights laws as opposed to administering the land on behalf, and to the benefit of, the Palestinians as specified by international law. “Occupied” in Bethlehem, as in all of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem means “oppressed”. But this is not what I want to talk about.

Did we listen to Raheb because he is the most widely published Palestinian theologian to date? Or because he has received many international awards for his work? We listened to him, almost spellbound, but for different reasons. He was invited by the Centre of Christian Spirituality and Kairos Southern Africa to conduct the third Steve de Gruchy memorial lecture in Cape Town, and also held talks at Stellenbosch University and at  the University of the Western Cape. He visited the construction site of the Palestinian Museum – a first for the world, preached to an Anglican congregation in Athlone and shared a meal with members of Cape Town’s Jewish Board of Deputies and some members of the Muslim and Christian communities.

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328Raheb (left) in conversation with Dr Anwah Naggia (right) at the building site of the world’s first Palestine Museum. The panels in this representation of the Israeli Wall are precise replicas of the originals in the Israeli Wall. They were erected on Saturday, 7 June 2014 in Cape Town.

Why be spell-bound if he sketched a situation where all seems lost? Almost everything is taken by Israel whilst the world powers keep silent. Hope seems almost gone. Israelis and Palestinians have failed to achieve the state project on which they worked so hard to achieve. That is, if they are frank with themselves. The Israeli apartheid system, the Palestinian mini-state in Gaza and the ‘Palestinians ‘holes in the cheese’ of the West Bank are not the dream for which people fought. It is necessary to admit this hard and painful truth and to start looking for new models of co-existence. (Raheb 2014:84). Many of us are already familiar with this depressing story.

And yet….

The art of survival and starting anew is a highly developed from of expression in Palestine, and one I see daily. People’s lives, businesses, and education are interrupted by wars and the aftermath of wars over and over again, and yet I witness people refusing to give up, taking a deep breath, and beginning again. Logically, it is foolish, and yet there is deep wisdom in such a course of action. I’m often asked by visitors how I can keep going…..The answer to that is not psychological but theological: There is no way to understand and face the status quo but at the logic of God. (Raheb 2014:89)

To have a political solution that entails full and equal citizenship for Palestinians in a state where their rights and dignity are protected and valued, is a long overdue and a practical necessity he argues. But the question “When will we have a state?” is by far not the only one. More important is to envisage what will bring peace and dignity that outlasts any empire or any state. This answer he finds in his interpretation of the Bible. Although Raheb explains his perspective in Christian terms, I would like to think that the principles may also apply to those from other faith traditions who aspire to human dignity.

Through his interpretation of the Bible, Raheb transcends victimhood. By not defining defeat by the empire as the ultimate defeat, the sting is gone and a new beginning is possible. To Raheb Jesus’ mission was to restore a sense of community and to empower people to become ambassadors of his much wider kingdom. This is the territory we should aspire to! Such healing of the self, on a very deep level of existential belonging, is the very thing that creates space within oneself and for others. If we have enough space to both receive and give grace, we can stop the vicious cycle of oppression.

324This statue at the University of the Western Cape depicts the joy and pride of a mother (a domestic worker) at the graduation of her son. It is symbol of defeating systemic oppression (apartheid).

It is almost impossible to convey all that he said in a few words here. If you decide to order his latest book Faith in the Face of Empire, you will not be disappointed. It is available on Amazon and on Kalahari (for South Africans).

More about Dr Raheb:

I first met him in April 2011 when he formed part of the Kairos Palestine delegation that launched the Afrikaans version of their statement: A Moment of Truth and in December 2012 I listened to his address at the Kairos for Global Justice conference. His publications include 16 books of which the latest Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible through Palestinian Eyes (2014, Maryknoll: Orbis Books) is a challenging view of how the reality of empire shapes the context of the biblical story and the ongoing experience of Middle East conflict.

Dr. Raheb’s work has received wide media attention from major international media including CNN, ABC, CBS, 60 Minutes, BBC, ARD, ZDF, DW, BR, Premiere, Raiuno, Stern, The Economist, Newsweek, and Vanity Fair. He has also received several awards for his work. For his interfaith work towards peace in Israel-Palestine he received the “International Mohammad Nafi Tschelebi Peace Award” of the Central Islam Archive in Germany (2006); for his ‘distinguished service to church and society’ the Wittenberg Award from the Luther Centre (2003); and for his ‘outstanding contribution to Christian education through research and publication’ an honorary doctorate from Concordia University in Chicago (2003).

Dr. Raheb is the President of Diyar Consortium and of Dar al-Kalima University College in Bethlehem, as well as the president of the Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land in addition to being the Senior Pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, Palestine.