by returned EA John.
“God has broken the dividing walls (Ephesians 2:14)”
The reading from Ephesians 2:11-22 is concerned with building a new community where Jews and Gentiles are united in peace. There are no longer insiders and outsiders, rather God’s grace extends to all. Christ is the cornerstone of a new temple (or community) marked by unity and reconciliation.
Paul probably had in mind the Jerusalem temple, refurbished by Herod the Great. A wall separated the court of the Gentiles from the court of Israel. Large stones inscribed in Greek and Latin have been discovered from this barrier. They carry the stark warning that the penalty for a Gentile who crosses the barrier is death. Even a Roman citizen could be executed for this offence. Paul, however, states that Christ is our peace, who has broken down the dividing wall and overcome the hostility between Jew and Greek.
Sadly, barriers are still being built in today’s Holy Land. The landscape around Bethlehem and East Jerusalem is disfigured by an eight meter high concrete wall or ‘separation barrier’, which the Government of Israel says is necessary for security reasons. The prayer by the Ecumenical Accompanier Jan Sutch Pickard, who served in the West Bank village of Jayyous, outlines some of the effects of the barrier for Palestinians; restrictions on travel, health care, work, worship, family connections and celebrations. In rural areas the barrier is typically an electronically monitored wire fence with associated roads and ditches. This frequently separates farmers from their land. At the ‘agricultural gates’ farmers can be turned away on the whim of a soldier, who supposes that a man is too well dressed to be a farmer.
‘Check Point 300’ in the Bethlehem wall controls Palestinians passing through into Israel. At 4 or 5 am it is a cold, dark, noisy, intimidating place with men packed three abreast along a hundred meter tunnel-like ramp leading to the gates where work permits are checked. A wall topped with heavy metal bars down the centre of the passage separates off the humanitarian line, where women, the sick and elderly have a less crowded route. Heavily armed guards direct the human traffic. It seems a cruel mockery that people who have gone through this undignified process are then confronted with Israeli tourist posters inviting them to sample the sights of Israel.
Qalandia is the main check point for Palestinians entering Jerusalem from the northern West Bank. Here the barrier is a grim complex of walls, watch towers, concrete blocks and razor wire. People pass single-file through narrow metal cage to remotely controlled turn styles. There is minimal human interaction with the soldiers who manage the system.
Despite an Israeli High Court ruling, construction of the wall is going ahead in the Cremisan Valley, cutting off Bethlehem from its historic lands. In the West Bank much of the separation barrier is routed on land occupied by Israel in 1967 rather than along the pre-1967 green-line. For this reason the International Court of Justice has declared the separation wall to be illegal.
In the letter to the Ephesians Paul fervently longs for the removal of physical, religious and psychological barriers that separate people and for an end to historic hostility. Rather than building barriers he hoped for unity in a new community of respect. Passing through the checkpoints of Bethlehem or Qalandia is to experience a tragic human failure. Though under intense pressure from the Israeli authorities, Israeli and Palestinian Human Rights organisations and international initiatives such as the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel continue to work for a just peace without barriers.
You are invited to join us in our work to breakdown the walls that divide and segregate us; to dismantle all the barriers that keep us from achieving a just peace.
This week the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum (PIEF) of the World Council of Churches invites member churches, faith-based communities, and civil society organisations around the world to join together for a week of advocacy and action in support of an end to the illegal occupation of Palestine and a just peace for all in Palestine and Israel. It has been 68 years since the creation of the State of Israel. This has not led to the creation of an independent Palestinian state but has only deepened the tragedy of the Palestinian people. It is now 49 years since the occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza overwhelmed the peaceful vision of one land, two peoples. Yet the dream of one nation cannot be fulfilled at the expense of another.
- It’s time for Palestinians and Israelis to share a just peace.
- It’s time for freedom from occupation.
- It’s time for equal rights.
- It’s time for the healing of wounded souls.
Worship and educational resources are available in different languages here – please make them part of your weeks events as you pray, educate and advocate for peace in Palestine Israel. On social media, please use the hashtag #DismantlingBarriers to talk about this year’s World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel.