â€œI am Jesus and you are persecuting me.â€ (Acts 10:5) Saul, a fervent Jew, had been persecuting Christians. He had witnessed the stoning of Stephen. In his mind, Saul was a religious Jew and he was doing what he had convinced himself was right.
The drama continues today in the Holy Land and in various locations around the world. Zealous people who think they are right feel that they can and must oppress others to achieve their goals.
Jews, religious and nonreligious, have convinced themselves that they have a right to all of the Holy Land. They have convinced themselves that God has given them the land even though all of God’s promises to Abraham and after are inclusive. God will bless all peoples and bring them to the new Jerusalem. Incidentally, as Christians, we cannot really believe that God favors one people over another or is in the real estate business of doling out land. Jesus clearly said that his â€œkin-domâ€ was not of this world. Jesus clearly offers salvation to all peoples. Jesus does not favor one people or nation over others.
Many Palestinians, Christian and Muslim, are being persecuted. Some Israelis have heard the call Saul heard. They have seen the light and they are working diligently to alleviate the oppression and misery of the Palestinian people.
Other Israelis have not seen the light. They remained convinced that they are the victims of Palestinian terrorism when in fact they are also terrorizing the Palestinians. Britannica defines terrorism as â€œthe systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective.â€
The American people need to realize that the Israelis, whom we are subsidizing to the tune of $6.8 million per day, are terrorizing the Palestinians. The Israelis accuse the Palestinians of wanting to drive them out of the land. The Israelis have a right to be there under international law and no body has the right to drive them out. Likewise, the Palestinians owned the land long before the Zionists arrived and they have a right to be there. The Israelis are trying to bring about a political objectiveâ€”possession of all of Palestine. They are using violence in order to achieve their goal.
The Israelis seize land rightfully owned by Palestinians and make it into military zones or use it to build settlements and outposts. The Israelis have built 145 settlements with 530,000 settlers in the occupied territories. Israel has failed to heed two UN resolutions (Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338) to withdraw from the occupied territoriesâ€”The West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. It is also a violation of the same law for them to build settlements on occupied land. The goal is to expand the settlements so as to isolate the Palestinians into cantons much as was attempted in South Africa. Continuing to build the settlements flies in the face of the Annapolis peace initiative.
The Israelis charge large sums for building permits which are rarely granted to Palestinians. They routinely seize and/or bulldoze houses, schools and service centers with American made Caterpillar D-9 bulldozers. Parents and children watch helplessly and cry while their ancestral homes are demolished right before their eyes. The Israelis have also destroyed over 500,000 olive trees.
Palestinians live in an â€œopen prison.â€ Their travel is restricted though the use of different license plates for their cars. They are routinely harassed at numerous permanent and temporary checkpoints. People needing medical attention have died because the soldiers at the checkpoints into Jerusalem have delayed or denied entry. Palestinians may only use designated roads. Palestinian Christians were denied entry into Jerusalem during Holy Week.
Then, there is the Wall which has been declared to be a violation of human rights by the International Court of Justice. Nevertheless, the Israelis continue to build this 460 mile barrier.
Frequent reports from the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) members in Hebron document further abuses. I saw first hand the netting over the street where settlers live above the Palestinian shops. Recently, a Palestinian was struck and injured by a brick dropped by a settler while nearby soldiers did nothing about the incident or the man’s injuries. Settlers verbally harass school children, throw stones at them and â€œmoonâ€ them while they are being escorted to and from school by the members of the CPT. Settlers have roughed up international volunteers and shepherds in the grazing fields near Hebron. They have shot sheep and goats.
As Christian peacemakers, we can pray. We can pray for the conversion of the Israelis. We can pray that like their forebear, Saul, they will see the light and realize that what they are doing to the least among them they are doing to their God. The Hebrew Scriptures constantly remind believers that they are to have special care for the widows, orphans and aliens among them. They will be judged on how they are treating the Palestinians, the aliens among them.
Archbishop Elias Chacour, a Christian and Israeli citizen, experienced the seizure and destruction of his family’s land and house in a small village in 1947. He speaks not from hatred but from a heart full of love. He reminded President Bush on his visit to Jerusalem that â€œGod does not kill.â€ He is a powerful witness for the Gospel value of Christian nonviolence even in the face of persecution.
We can pray for the Palestinians that they may respond nonviolently, as many of them do every day, to oppression and exploitation. The simple act of enduring the humiliations of the checkpoints to go to and from classes at the Christian University of Bethlehem is an act of nonviolent resistance. The Palestinians are Jesus being persecuted today.
I might also suggest that you go to www.holylandartisans.net and buy a Peace Lamp. They are made by Christians in Taybeh, the only remaining Christian village in Palestine. Father Raed’s goal is to have a peace lamp in every church in the world to remind people to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
Saul finally got it right. He saw the light. He converted. He turned his life around and became Paul, a powerful witness for the nonviolent Jesus he once persecuted.
â€œSaul, Saul, why are your persecuting me?â€