Israel, Palestine, and an Infant in a Manger
This powerful message from Naim Ateek, Director of Sabeel, deserves wide readership this Advent season.
A Child in a Manger: Liberation through Nonviolence Sabeel Christmas Message 2012 “This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:12 “For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior [liberator] of all people, especially of those who believe.” 1Tim. 4:10 This is not the first time that Christmas comes and our area of the Middle East is entangled in severe political and military turmoil. Sabeel’s Christmas letter, therefore, starts with our prayers and thoughts focused on the plight of our brothers and sisters in Palestine-Israel, especially the Gaza Strip, as well as in Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and throughout our region. Recently in Palestine-Israel, we have been trapped yet again in a war where the brunt of the violence is borne by the common people, especially the women and children. Indeed, since the creation of the state of Israel almost 65 years ago, peace has eluded us and our area has enjoyed only a modicum of stability and security. By and large, political leaders seem to believe that war is the great resolver of conflicts, yet our many wars have only exacerbated the conflict and brought us greater misery. In reflecting on the Christmas story, what stands out to me this year are the words of the angel to the shepherds, “This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” The people of first century Palestine were looking for salvation and liberation from the oppressive yoke of the Roman Empire. They were looking for a military leader to overthrow their oppressors and lead them to victory. The angel, however, declared that their savior had come in the form of a helpless child. Today’s Palestinians are looking for salvation and liberation from the oppressive yoke of Israel. Tragically, and too often, it is through the clamor of the instruments of war and violence that we seek our liberation. Yet true and lasting liberation can only come through the power of nonviolence. Ironically, Israel prefers to keep entrenching its occupation, expanding its illegal settlements, and devouring Palestinian land, rather than pursue a genuine peace with the Palestinians on the basis of UN Resolutions and International Law. Those of us who live in the present hopeless morass know that the government of Israel is not ready for such a peace. In fact, for those who have eyes to see, the recent UN bid clarifies the situation well. The overwhelming number of countries that voted yes for Palestine as an observer non-member state could no longer tolerate the intransigence of the government of Israel (138 voted for; 41 abstained; 9 voted against). This is unprecedented in the history of the Palestinian struggle. This may be a sign of the advent of peace for all the people of our region – peace that is not based on the arrogance of military power but on the power of justice through nonviolence. Sadly, Israel is intoxicated by its military prowess, causing it to live in a state of denial concerning the movement of history. It is important to read the signs of the times. Martin Luther King once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” The light of truth is beginning to shine, and it will dispel the darkness that has spread regarding Palestine. In light of this, Sabeel will not lose hope but will renew its commitment to champion the achievement of a just peace through nonviolence. With the writer of the letter to Timothy, Sabeel says, “For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior [liberator] of all people, especially of those who believe.” At this crucial time, let us – Palestinians, Israelis, and friends around the globe who believe in the power of justice and nonviolence – work together to end all violence and acts of war. Let us call for an empowered UN that can assume its historic responsibility, address the root causes of the conflict over Palestine, end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, and implement UN resolutions, thus guaranteeing the human and political rights of the Palestinians. Only then will all the peoples of the land enjoy a shared life of peace and security in Palestine and Israel. The world must remember that the Palestinians, at this juncture in their history, yearn to fulfill their most fundamental human needs of justice, dignity, and liberty. This is a pursuit so basic that the hope and struggle for it will never die. The angel said, “This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” Through nonviolence and solidarity among Palestinians, Israeli Jews, and friends around the world, and with the help of God, peace and security based on justice will be achieved. May the hope and peace of Christmas remain with us throughout the coming New Year!