Reflections from Ramallah, Taybeh, and Beit Sahour

Friday night we were the guests of a synagogue in West Jerusalem. It was beautiful to see the room full of Jewish families honoring God in song, reading, silence, and prayer. It was clear they intended nobody any harm; they just wanted to raise their families in the faith and traditions of their ancestors. It was a reminder that the struggle here is not about people. It’s not about Jews versus Palestinians or vice versa. It’s not about choosing who the good guys and bad guys are, as our media so often portrays it (and sadly, as our religious leaders so often do as well). The struggle here is about people being held in various forms bondage – both occupiers and the occupied each in their own ways, and everyone needs liberation.
This is a theme we keep hearing from both Christian and Muslim Palestinians, and I’m sure we’ll hear it from many Israelis in the coming days as well – “We don’t want you to take sides, us versus them. That will just expand the conflict. We we want you to stand for justice and peace, and work with God and with others to help us achieve justice and peace here.”
People aren’t the enemy. Rather, it’s harmful ideologies and world views and narratives that rule and exert power in and through people’s lives. Paul called these forces “principalities and powers,” and they really do possess people and cause them to do terrible things they would never do in their right minds. When hateful and dehumanizing ideologies take control, both victimizers and victims are dehumanized.
In contrast, when people are liberated, when they refuse to conform to this world and instead are transformed by the renewing of their minds, when they surrender to the Spirit of God, when they seek first God’s dream and God’s justice, beautiful things happen. Today we saw many of those beautiful things alongside the razor wire and segregation walls.
Next to the ugliness of occupation, we’ve seen the beauty of God’s Spirit at work … shining in a Quaker Palestinian woman activist, glowing in a Franciscan Catholic priest, warm in an Eastern Orthodox family, radiant in a Muslim volunteer at a refugee center, sparkling in two professors – one Muslim and one Christian, who team teach college students about religion. In the land where Jesus walked and worked, there are many Christ-like people still walking and working … in conditions not unlike those of the first century in many ways.
We’re also experiencing God’s Spirit working in and among our little group of pilgrims. At times, we’ve all felt anger. At other times, depression and cynicism, and a good bit of exhaustion and overwhelmed-ness too. But tonight, we’re all staying in the homes of Palestinian families, and I imagine our friends are feeling what Grace and I are feeling: the love and presence of God fueling hope, like olive oil fueling a lit wick in a lamp. It’s not an instant hope of quick fixes, like fake coffee in a styrofoam cup. It’s a fresh-ground, slow-brewed hope that can be translated into action. Just being here is part of that action – listening, learning, thinking, observing, reflecting.