Reflections from Palestine

 Ed is the son of medical missionaries to Yemen and Gaza during the 50s, 60s, and 70s (I think).  He went to school in Alexandria, then back here in the USA, and finally at the American International School near Tel Aviv — I think you’ll find a familiar perspective borne of his years “over there.”  With his permission, here is a glimpse of life in Gaza and beyond that you may not find elsewhere.

—–Original Message—–
From: Ed
Sent: Tuesday, May 01, 2007 11:42 AM
Subject: Reflections from Palestine

Dear friends,

I have just returned from a great trip to Israel / Gaza.  It was fun to speak Arabic again, albeit poorly. The Gaza Baptist Church had a dinner for us on Saturday night and it was so good to experience their hospitality and to see people that we remember from our past when my parents were missionaries there.

The time in Gaza was quite thought-provoking.  The city is a jail and the residents feel it as such: Israeli walls surround Gaza and it is virtually impossible for Palestinians to get into Israel from Gaza.  Even for us, the process was long and tedious.  While we were there, the garbage collectors were on strike having not been paid for six months (consequences of the boycott of Palestine that occurred when Hamas was elected).  Garbage was collecting everywhere and the streets were filthy and smelly as a result.

Gaza felt very oppressive.  There was hardly a person that we spoke to that didn’t talk of the dire circumstances there and abuse by the Israeli’s. 

We spent one afternoon in Bethlehem.  Walls also surround that city and they are covered with graffiti such as “American Money, Israeli Apartheid” and “I am not a terrorist.  America is the terrorist”.  Bethlehem also felt quite oppressed but not as overcrowded and as miserable as Gaza.

 On the positive side, it was good to see the fervor of the church in Gaza, to hear Palestinian students sing their national anthem, and to see that Palestine is truly operating as an independent country, though limited and restricted by both Israel and the world at large.  The financial sanctions against the Palestinian people that have been imposed to punish them for electing Hamas have affected all of Palestine.  Unemployment in Gaza is around 80% and many that are employed are not being paid.  How can we be so two-faced as to push for democratic elections and then punish the Palestinians for not electing the party we wanted!

On our way out, our taxi driver drove us by the area where the sewage “lakes” had burst through their earthen dams and killed several about a month ago.  The lakes of sewage are still there and those who lost their homes are living in tents in the area.

By contrast, Israel as a whole was clean, uncrowded, had well marked and wide highways, and was beautiful with spring flowers strongly contrasting the miserable life faced by the Palestinians in Gaza, many of whom are refugees from the 1948 war when Israel occupied their lands and villages.

Despite US and Israeli military might, there can be no peace in the region until some justice is provided to the Palestinians.  One feels hopeless after seeing the misery of Gaza.  On the other hand, it was good to meet a number of peacemakers during our trip that were seeking both justice for the Palestinians and peace for the region.  It was motivational to me personally as I am working out details to pursue a graduate degree in Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University.

I was saddened to hear of the deaths of 9 Palestinians last weekend (a week ago) as a result of Israeli military action and then the response by Hamas’s military arm to cancel its ceasefire with Israel.  While this has not yet resulted in an escalation of violence, I fear that is on the horizon again, either provoked by Israel of the more radical elements of Hamas.  We may soon see an escalation of deaths on both sides and increasing misery especially for the Palestinians but also for the Israeli’s.  It does seem that Israel is intent on continuing to provoke the Palestinians with the objective of preventing any establishment of a real and independent state of Palestine.  They have isolated Gaza from the West Bank and, with the assistance of the western world (led by the US), effectively reduced the lives of the Palestinians to an impoverished and desperate existence.  This has been the lot of many of the Palestinians since 1948 but has intensified by an order of magnitude in the last year.

I wonder when we will recognize that military might cannot substitute for justice as the solution to such problems.  It is especially discouraging to see Christian groups support Israel blindly as a result of interpretation of Biblical prophecy.  This is so contradictory to Jesus’ teachings.

Justifying injustice in the name of religion has resulted in abuses throughout history and we seem to be too ready to continue that even today.

I hope that we can wake up and take seriously the deeper truth of our faith whose primary commandments can be summarized as love God and love one another.  Love must compel us to seek justice for the oppressed, hope for the hopeless, and relief for those in bondage.

Best wishes,
Ed Nicholas (Jr)

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