Good Friday in Bethlehem: Waiting for Resurrection

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By EAs’ Thor, Elaine and Katherine,

Friday 25 March 2016 was a particularly holy day in the Holy Land. Purim, celebrating the events in the book of Esther, was just finishing. Christians were commemorating Good Friday in the place where Jesus was crucified. Muslims were preparing to pray at the third holiest place in Sunni Islam. EAs’ Thor, Elaine and Katherine write from Bethlehem:

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Accessing worship: This year’s Ramadan part I

by the Yanoun team,

On the 18th of June Muslims all over the world, including in Palestine and Israel, started the holy month of Ramadan. During this month Muslims fast during the light hours of the day in solidarity with the suffering of the poor, and they dedicate themselves to prayers. As Jerusalem is the third holiest city for Muslims, many Palestinians wish to visit the Holy City to pray.

19.06.15. Bethlehem. Checkpoint 300  Muslims on their way to Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque during the first Friday of Ramadan. Photo EAPPI / I. Tanner

19.06.15. Bethlehem Checkpoint 300, Muslims on their way to Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque during the first Friday of Ramadan. Photo EAPPI / I. Tanner

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As tensions rise, when will the international community say enough is enough?

In recent weeks, tensions have risen in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Six Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces. Palestinians mourned the deaths. Violence between Gaza and southern Israel renewed. At the same time, tension increased at Al-Aqsa mosque as Israeli forces closed access for worshippers.

by Jerusalem team

Worshippers pray outside an Israeli military flying checkpoint in the Old City streets when not allowed access to pray at Al Aqsa mosque. Photo EAPPI/K. Ranta.

Worshippers pray outside an Israeli military flying checkpoint in the Old City streets when not allowed access to pray at Al Aqsa mosque. Photo EAPPI/K. Ranta.

In recent months Israeli settlers have continuously harrassed the Al-Aqsa mosque, the third most holy site for Muslims. In one instance, Israeli settlers entered into the mosque area with the support of Israeli forces and tried to take an Israeli flag inside the mosque, which then turned into clashes with Palestinians.

As EAPPI monitors we have witnessed heavy military and police presence in the Old City of Jerusalem especially during Friday prayers; a presence that contributes to an atmosphere of tension.

On Friday February 28 Israeli military closed access to pray in the Al-Aqsa mosque for thousands of men under 50 years old. In a peaceful response, worshippers lined the streets of the Old City to pray, despite heavy military presence.

Israeli forces closed access to Al Aqsa mosque for men under the age of 50. 28 February 2014. Photo EAPPI/K. Ranta.

Israeli forces closed access to Al Aqsa mosque for men under the age of 50. 28 February 2014. Photo EAPPI/K. Ranta.

Again, on Friday March 14 men under 40 were blocked from entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque for Friday prayers. Israeli forces set up flying checkpoints within and outside of the Old City of Jerusalem. The Israeli military inspected the IDs of Palestinians and turned many away, forcing them to pray in the streets.

Israeli soldiers set up a flying checkpoint in the Old City of Jerusalem on Friday. They check the IDs of Palestinians before granting access to pray at Al Aqsa mosque. Photo EAPPI/K. Ranta.

Israeli soldiers set up a flying checkpoint in the Old City of Jerusalem on Friday. They check the IDs of Palestinians before granting access to pray at Al Aqsa mosque. Photo EAPPI/K. Ranta.

In the past week, Palestinians mourned after six people were killed in the West Bank and three in Gaza. Many of the demonstrations turned into clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces. On Tuesday March 11, EAPPI monitors witnessed a peaceful protest in front of the Damascus Gate in memory of the killed Palestinians and for the right to pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque.

Israel’s Military Order 101, dating back to 1967, prohibits all gatherings of 10 or more persons “for a political purpose” unless they have received authorization in advance under a permit issued by the Israeli military commander in the area. Without this, there is a threat of imprisonment for up to 10 years and/or a grave fine, according to a recent Amnesty report.

Soldiers position outside Damascus gate during a demonstration against the killing of Palestinians and for the right for access to pray in Al Aqsa mosque. Photo EAPPI/K. Ranta.

Soldiers position outside Damascus gate during a demonstration against the killing of Palestinians and for the right for access to pray in Al Aqsa mosque. Photo EAPPI/K. Ranta.

Tuesday’s events reflected this military order. After 10 minutes of the demonstration minutes, Israeli riot police started to shoot sound grenades into the middle of the crowd. Israeli riot police also injured several people with rubber bullets and batons by Israeli forces. EAs eyewitnessed brutal maltreatment of two arrested young men in the middle of the street. We wondered, if this is what happens when we are here to witness, what is happening to Palestinians when hidden from the public eye?

On 27th of February Amnesty International published a new report Trigger-happy: Israel’s use of excessive force in the West Bank about human rights abuses in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. According to the report there were 27 Palestinians killed in 2013, 8 in 2012, and 10 in 2011. So far in 2014, 5 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces.

We thought of the Palestinians killed. We thought of the renewed violence in Gaza and southern Israel.  We wondered, how many will have to die this year?And when will the international community say enough is enough?

Occupation, Olive Branches, and Discomforting Challenge

An EA reflects on the World Week for Peace in Palestine and Israel

by Chris, Bethlehem

An EA walks near the separation wall in Bethlehem. Photo EAPPI/G. Galmen.

An EA walks near the separation wall in Bethlehem. Photo EAPPI/G. Galmen.

This year for the World Week for Peace in Palestine and Israel, many of the EAs joined in a service with the Benedictine Sisters at the separation wall in Bethlehem.

Bethlehem – where Jesus was born in a country the Romans occupied at that time.

Bethlehem –  still under occupation today, but now where  freedom to travel is more restricted than it was for Mary and Joseph 2000 years ago.

At the service, each of us was issued with a “permit”  which allowed us past the “barrier” into the monastery where we could worship.  This action was a sobering reminder of the continuing difficulty Palestinians, both Christians and Muslims, who have restricted access – their Holy Sites, face. 

To pray you need a permit!!! Photo EAPPI/G. Galmen

To pray you need a permit!!! Photo EAPPI/G. Galmen

Worship began with a reading of a letter church leaders wrote last Easter concerning this reaction. Then, several local ministers from various Christian traditions, led the packed congregation. We exchanged the peace along with olive branches, traditionally a symbol of peace. For me, olive branches have an even deeper resonance with the very life blood of this land, particularly as olive harvest approaches.

For that reason, this passage from the service resonated with me:

The destruction and uprooting of olive trees by the Israeli occupation is not only an expression of ecological disrespect and vandalism, but also an insult to God’s creation and people who, despite their oppression and suffering, can still extend their hands with an olive branch to soldiers and oppressors.

It was, however, the benediction at the very end of our worship which I found particularly challenging and which has remained with me.  It was based on the Franciscan prayer of discomfort:

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of peoples, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

And the blessing of the One who Creates, Redeems and Sanctifies, be upon you and all you love and pray for this day and forever more.  Amen