Open Letter to world leaders from a Bishop in Jerusalem and a refugee

1 September, Jerusalem

Dear leaders of the world and people of good conscience,

Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land

I write to you from Jerusalem to address the very serious refugee situation affecting countries across the Middle East and now Europe. I myself am a refugee, as well as a bishop. Both my faith and my history oblige me to speak up for these women, men, and children who are washing up on beaches, are found decomposing in trucks on the highway, are crossing borders of barbed wire, and are barely surviving in makeshift camps.

The last weeks have seen not only an increase in the numbers of these refugees, but also an increase in tragic outcomes for many. This is a shameful situation, and one which the international community cannot ignore. It must be remembered that refugees are not vacationers. They did not leave their homes because they were looking for adventure. They are displaced as a result of poverty, violence, terror, and political conflict. Frustration and fear lead them to risk their lives and their life-savings in search of safe havens where they can live and raise families in peace. We must remember that these are not “waves” or “masses” or “hordes”—these are human beings who deserve dignity and respect.

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World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel: #WallWillFall

The Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum (PIEF) of the World Council of Churches invites member churches, faith-based communities, and civil society organizations around the world to join together in 2015 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. Congregations and individuals around the globe who share the hope of justice shall unite during the week to take peaceful actions, together, to create a common international public witness.

The theme of the week in 2015, to be observed during 20-26 September, is:

“God has broken down the dividing walls”(Ephesians 2:14)

06-12-14, I. Tanner. Childrens paitings on playground walls. Zbeidat, Jericho

06-12-14, Jericho,Zbeidat, I. Tanner. Childrens paitings of the separation wall, on playground walls. Photo EAPPI / I.Tanner

How to get involved

As participants in the World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel, from 20 to 26 September 2015, churches around the world shall send a clear signal to policy-makers, community groups, and their own parishes about the urgent need for a peace settlement that ends the illegal occupation and secures the legitimate rights and future of both peoples.

5_6_2015 CP300 Bethlehem Wall Prayer with icon and Clemence hoouse Photo H Jonsson EAPPI

05.06.15 Bethlehem, Checkpoint 300. EAs joins locals and internationals to pray for an peace at the weekly Wall Prayer. Photo EAPPI/ H. Jonsson

Pray, Educate, Advocate

Already, planning has begun for the World Week for Peace 2015, during which participants will organize and join in events and activities around the following three principles:

1. Praying with churches living under occupation, using a special prayer from Jerusalem and other worship resources prepared for the week.
2. Educating about actions that make for peace, and about facts on the ground that do not create peace, especially issues related to prisoners.
3. Advocating with political leaders using ecumenical policies that promote peace with justice.

06.07.00 Qalandia checkpoint, Palestinian woman held in queue at checkpoint on her way to Jerusalem. Photo EAPPI / J. Griffin

06.07.00 Qalandia checkpoint, Palestinian woman held in queue at checkpoint on her way to Jerusalem. Photo EAPPI / J. Griffin

Why?

This annual observance of a week of prayer, education, and advocacy calls participants to work for an end to the illegal occupation of Palestine, so that Palestinians and Israelis can finally live in peace. It has been 66 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 47 years since the occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza overwhelmed the peaceful vision of one land, two peoples.

Bethlehem Gilo 11, 31.10.07

31.10.07, Bethlehem, Gilo 300 terminal, Palestinains on their way to work queue at checkpoint 300 Photo EAPPI

Yet the dream of one nation cannot be fulfilled at the expense of another.

23.11.13. Tulkaram, Children living on the hill of the Ras at Tira village with settlement Alfe Menashe in the background. Photo EAPPI /Elina

23.11.13. Tulkaram, Children living on the hill of the Ras at Tira village with settlement Alfe Menashe in the background. Photo EAPPI /Elina

The action week’s message is that now:

  • 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.

Wonderful worship and educational resources are available in different languages – please make them part of your church events. In social media, please use the hashtag #WallWillFall to talk about this year’s World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel.

*Source: World Council of Churches website

Resources

World Council of Churches: World Week for Peace 2015: resources

Pax Christi: resources

EAPPI Australia: New resources for World Week For Peace and two Action Alerts

The Separation Barrier: background, statistics and case-studies  produced B’tselem

The Jerusalem Prayer

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Uprooted lives: Christians protest the construction of the wall in the Cremisan

By the Bethlehem team.

On August 17 Israeli soldiers and security personnel supervised the the bulldozing of land and the uprooting of over 100 ancient olive trees in the Bir Ouma. Many of the trees that were uprooted were as old as 1500 years old. The land is being cleared to facilitate the routing of the separation wall through the Cremisan Valley. The planned route for the wall is three kilometers inside the 1949 Armistice ‘green line’ and is set to be built on privately owned Palestinian land in Beit Jala.The clearing of the land is taking place despite a previous court ruling and without any warning being given to the local landowners. Local Christians have been gathering daily at the site of the bulldozing to protest the illegal confiscation of their land and to pray for the protection of the Cremisan Valley.

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Statement of Bishop Munib A. Younan concerning the arson in Tabgha

Statement of Bishop Munib A. Younan, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land concerning the arson in Tabgha.

Tiberias, July 14, 2015

Bishop Munib A. Younan

Bishop Munib A. Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land

Dear Fathers,
We have come from Jerusalem to stand in solidarity with the brother monks of this monastery after the arson and burning of this historic Church. The atrocity is not only against you and this particular church vicinity, but against every Christian and believer in the One True God, and must be denounced vehemently. This Church was built on the real story of the blessing of the loaves and fish, and despite the atrocity against it, it will survive the hatred and will remain a spiritual haven and blessing to all who enter its doors.

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The Road to Emmaus

A reflection on Luke 24:13-35 as a model of Accompaniment from EAPPI’s 2014 Annual Meeting.

by Steve Weaver

The ancient city of Emmaus is where the West Bank Palestinian village of ‘Imwas used to be. Its buildings were leveled, its residents expelled, in 1967. Today it is Canada Park, a popular Israeli leisure spot. It is operated by the Jewish National Fund, established with $15 million of support from Canadians. A series of signs in the park describe the historical significance of the landscape, and a handful of ancient buildings, in terms of their Biblical, Roman, Hellenic, and Ottoman pasts. But no mention is made of its recent Palestinian past.

The biblical story of Emmaus is in a place that has become a contemporary story of dispossession, of injustice. And so here we are – the global church, most of us foreigners, outsiders, responding to the local church, to our Palestinian brothers and sisters to accompany them, to walk together, as we work to end dispossession and injustice.

What does this passage of the road to Emmaus tell us about accompaniment? What can we learn from it as we begin these days together to discuss our work?

Many commentators on this passage highlight that it is only at the end, at the table, in the breaking of bread that the two men finally see and understand who is before them. At first they didn’t recognize Jesus, he is a stranger to them. They think he is a foreigner, from another place, and doesn’t know of the terrible things that have happened, the sorrow they are feeling. But then he takes the bread, blesses it and breaks it, and gives it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.

I’m struck when I read EA accounts how often they make reference to drinking tea with people or being invited to dinner in someone’s home It is in these intimate spaces that ‘otherness’, ‘foreignness’, ‘strangeness’ are often overcome. “Say yes to tea” an EA emailed me when I told her I was coming to this annual meeting.

As one commentator on this passage has written:

“In Luke’s gospel, we hear about the encounter of two travelers on their way to Emmaus with the risen Christ. This story seems to indicate that we best bear and recognize the imago [God’s image] we know intimately in Christ, not when we teach, or preach, or even when we proclaim the prophets, but when we break bread and extend the hospitality we have been taught by Christ.”

But I am not a theologian. I am not a biblical scholar. Rather than expound further on my reading of the passage, I will turn to the refection of a church leader, a Palestinian, whom we know well.

Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan, ELCJHL, has written on this. It is found in EAPPI’s publication Theological Reflection on Accompaniment. Here are some of his thoughts:

“Accompaniment in the Middle East is not a new notion. It goes back to the Old Testament. When the Hebrews left Egypt to Sinai, God accompanied them by cloud by day and by a fire that lit up the night (Exodus 14). It is this accompaniment as solidarity with the other that the Bible teaches us. Accompaniment took root in the flesh in God’s incarnation, when God became one of us. In Jesus Christ, God engaged with our brokenness and sin. He accompanied groaning humanity in order that it might regain the image of God through the salvation of the cross. So this accompaniment that God calls us to do as companions with the global Church is an accompaniment with groaning humanity that seeks forgiveness and the justice of God in order that all may be brokers of justice, instruments of peace, ministers of reconciliation, and defenders of human rights.

“Such accompaniment can be seen in the story of the walk to Emmaus in St. Luke 24:13-43. Two frustrated men who had experienced the horrible week of suffering and the cross, returned back to their village, Emmaus. Their hopes were shattered. In their depressing situation, Jesus accompanied them. He heard their stories and contributed to their understanding of the Scriptures. He accompanied them, giving them encouragement. So accompaniment is walking together with Jesus Christ in companionship and in service to God’s mission. In walking together on the road to Emmaus, as the Lord revealed himself to his two companions, their three stories became intertwined. As their stories came together, God’s plan in Jesus’ resurrection became clearer. A new community, the Church, began to emerge in Jerusalem. In sharing a meal and breaking the bread the companions recognized the presence of Jesus with them. Accompaniment is valued for its own sake as well as for its results. It is open-ended with no foregone conclusions. The companions learn together through the journey the peace, justice and hope that God intends for humanity. Accompaniment binds companions more closely to their Lord and one another as they seek to live out this mission. (p. 23-24)

“Your accompaniment is similar to the road of Emmaus. We walk together as equals in humanity, and as equals in salvation. We walk together bowed in head, seeking the truth, comforting the Church of God. We accompany each other, trusting that in our wonder and uncertainty, God will inform us of our mission and our witness in a broken Holy Land. For this reason, accompaniment is an instrument and tool of the Holy Communion through which we are commissioned to be God’s witnesses for justice, peace, and reconciliation. It makes both companions witnesses of hope in a hopeless situation, witnesses of love in a world of hatred and retaliation, witnesses of faith in a world that ignores God, witnesses of truth in a world of propaganda and lies.

“We thank you who dare to be our accompaniers on the road.” (p. 35)

Bishop Younan”

Our God – Be with today as we reflect, share, break bread and continue to learn the meaning of accompaniment. – Amen

Steve Weaver is the Middle East Regional Coordinator for Church World Service, and the EAPPI National Coordinator in the USA.

A trip down memory lane

Anna was an EA from Sweden in 2004.  Even 10 years later, the stories and encounters she witnessed here have stuck with her. Our EAPPI staff had the opportunity to sit down with her and hear some of these stories and here her wise advice for those who want to join EAPPI today.

A trip down memory laneWhat was it like to be an EA?

I remember feeling like work was a double challenge.  On the one hand, the situation in 2004 was extremely intense.  It was during the Second Intifada.  We lived in Ramallah, but witnessed the separation wall being built in Qalandiya. There were many incursions at night by the Israeli army into the towns that we worked in. Yet, at the same time, our work was very slow.  Some days were intense, but many we visited with people, heard their stories, drank tea. It was a challenge to have a slow job in an extremely tense situation.

Tell me about some of the people that you met

One of the best parts of our job was meeting people.  We had a lot of fun talking to neighbors in the evening and living closely with the community.  I remember one man we met.  He was a pharmacist.  He was always very afraid of germs. He washed his hands many times a day and was always tell us to be careful of germs.  One day he told us about his experience with an Israeli military incursion.  Right after telling us the story, he went right back to washing his hands and talking about germs.  He epitomized to me the fact that living under occupation became normal, as normal as talking about germs. I also felt that his fear of germs may have been a diversion. He chose to fear germs, something he could control, rather than the Israeli military.

As part of our work, we frequently visited the women and children’s center Amari Refugee camp near Ramallah.  This was the most rewarding experience.  We felt really appreciated. Even though we had a hard time talking because of our Arabic skills and we simply drank tea and played with the kids, we felt that the women appreciated us, because we had took the time to come see and share in their lives.

Amari Refugee camp was also a tough place. It was really hard to see life there. I had previously traveled to Eastern Africa and seen people who suffered from extreme poverty. But life in Amari camp was hard to see, because the people there were not only vulnerable economically, but also politically. It was tough to see this doubly vulnerability.

Even 10 years later, I remember the people, not the activities I did.  I was struck by their constant enthusiasm to change their reality, despite its difficulty.

What memory sticks out most for you from your time as an EA?

I remember the absurdity of life in Ramallah. There’s one night in particular that I remember.  In our apartment in Ramallah we had a clear view of the Israeli settlement on the other hill.  Usually at night we would watch TV, mostly The King’s News from Jordan. One night, my colleague made popcorn.  We sat down at the TV, but then thought that popcorn doesn’t really go with The King’s News.  So we went outside on the balcony. We immediately noticed that something was happening near the settlement across the valley.  The Israeli army was shoot flare grenades to give themselves light and a better view of what was happening. We didn’t know what was going on, but I just remember the absurdity of daily life in such a crazy political situation. We were eating popcorn on the balcony as we watched the Israeli army shoot flare grenades. This always comes back to me, the double life of occupation and eating popcorn.

Why did you specifically choose to join EAPPI as opposed to another group working in Israel and Palestine?

For me it was the church aspect of the program.  I had come to Israel and Palestine and 2000.  Growing up in the church, I was very interested in Palestinian Christians and wanted to come back with a program that had this aspect.

What’s the biggest change you think EAPPI has made?

Since I’m Swedish, most of the change I have seen has been in Sweden.  There, I can see that EAPPI has had a big impact in raising awareness about the situation in Israel and Palestine.  It has become a very well-known program and has sent many EAs.  These EAs have given lectures in schools, churches, and other organizations. Since I came in 2004, I’ve seen how over the years, EAPPI has had a slow, but steady impact in keeping Israel and Palestine in the minds of those in Sweden.

Why do you think it is important that internationals come to Israel and Palestine?

When things are far away from us, it’s easy to say that the situation is not bad. It’s easy to rationalize that things are not actually as bad as we hear. But when you’ve been here, in Israel and Palestine, you can’t keep things away.  You can’t ignore or forget.  We must go so that we don’t become complacent to situations of injustice.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about becoming an EA?

Do it. Absolutely do it! You won’t regret it.  But don’t do it if you expect to change the world, but if you expect to change yourself.  The solution to the Israel and Palestine won’t come from just you, but you will have the chance to be part of something, contributing to a small bit of change. Everyone who even thinks about it should just do it.

Palestinian Christians find hope in Pope Francis’ visit

C. Holtan Pope Francis by the Wall in Bethlehem 250514

Pope Francis waves as he makes his way past the separation wall and to Manger Square in Bethlehem. Photo EAPPI/C. Holtan.

by EAPPI team

From 24 to 26 May, Pope Francis made a 3-day tour to the Holy Land, making stops in Jordan, Palestine, and Israel.  In Jerusalem, the Pope’s visit was clouded when Israeli security forces used violence against Palestinian Christians marching toward the passage road of the Pope to welcome him.  Yet, a peaceful and celebratory visit to Bethlehem and Pope Francis’ acknowledgement of the difficult reality of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict left many Palestinian Christians with a feeling of hope.

Bethlehem: Pope Francis makes iconic stop at separation wall and calls for peace based on justice

In Bethlehem, Pope Francis made an unexpected stop, stepping down from his vehicle where he rested his forehead against the separation wall, which cuts off Bethlehem from Jerusalem, and said a silent prayer. On the wall in the background, someone had sprayed a graffiti message: “Pope we need someone to speak about justice.” Photos from this stop have now become iconic across the media. Bishop Munib Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land, commended the Pope for being willing to acknowledge the reality of the situation in Palestine.

The Pope steps down from his vehicle to say a prayer at the separation wall in Bethlehem. Photo EAPPI/E. Mutschler.

The Pope steps down from his vehicle to say a prayer at the separation wall in Bethlehem. Photo EAPPI/E. Mutschler.

“I think that leaders like Pope Francis, when they visit, should not just meet officials, but should see the reality. The reality is that there is a wall that separates Palestinians and Israelis, Palestinians and Palestinians, and Palestinians from their land. Pope Francis, I believe, prayed that this wall would no longer exist and I say this prayer with him!” Bishop Younan commented in an interview.

From his stop at the separation wall, Pope Francis made his way to attend a mass in Manger Square outside the Nativity Church. In his address the over 8,000 Christians gathered, he commented:

“I want to emphasize my sincere conviction that the time has come to put an end to this situation that is becoming increasingly unacceptable.”

He affirmed that everyone will benefit from “the need to intensify efforts and measures to facilitate a stable peace based on justice, recognition of the rights of each individual and mutual confidence.” Interestingly, the nativity mural behind the Pope’s seat depicted baby Jesus lying under a keffiyeh style cloth.

The Pope spoke at the Mass in Bethlehem in front of a mural of the baby Jesus under a cloth styled like a Keffiyeh, a traditional Middle Eastern headscarf. Photo EAPPI/L. Hilton.

The Pope spoke at the Mass in Bethlehem in front of a mural of the baby Jesus under a cloth styled like a Keffiyeh, a traditional Middle Eastern headscarf. Photo EAPPI/L. Hilton.

Bishop Younan reflected on the feeling of hope Palestinians felt after the Pope visited Bethlehem:

“The Mass gave the Palestinian people – both Christians and Muslims – a feeling of hope. To see that the President, the Prime Minister, the Ministers, Heads of Churches, all of these people attending, with locals, with people from Galilee, with people from all over the world – over 10,000 people in Manger Square – raised the moral of the Palestinian people. While the Palestinian people are under occupation, we need a leader to show that the world is listening and hearing us and I believe that Pope Francis showed this to our people. There is a leader who is listening to us and meeting with us.”

Jerusalem: Palestinian Christians arrested an faced excessive force when welcoming the Pope

In Jerusalem, the experience of Palestinian Christians was not a peaceful celebration as it was for those in Bethlehem. At least 3 Palestinian Christians who joined a procession to welcome Pope Francis during his visit to Jerusalem were arrested for a brief period by Israeli security forces when the Pope arrived on Sunday. Others were injured due to use of physical force by Israeli police.

A young woman holds a woman who was injured by Israeli security forces. Photos EAPPI/A. Macarimbang.

A young woman holds a woman who was injured by Israeli security forces. Photos EAPPI/A. Macarimbang.

Israeli security forces ordered several changes to the planned route, resulting in confusion, overcrowding, and tension.  EAPPI human rights monitors reported that Israeli police began to use metal barriers to push the crowd back. Two men who became upset were beaten and arrested by Israeli police.  Another girl was injured when she was crushed in the pushing back of the crowd.

“The pre-planned route allowed us to process from New Gate to Jaffa Gate,” explained Yusef Daher, Executive Director of the Jerusalem Inter-Church Centre. “During the time before the Pope arrived at 6 pm, Israeli authorities rerouted the procession to Mamilla Mall. Then back to the traffic lights near Jaffa Gate. This continued. As soon as we arrived at one destination, they rerouted us back to another. Eventually, the procession was cornered in the streets.”

When the procession arrived to Jaffa gate after the first rerouting, Israeli police did not allow any Palestinian Christians to enter Jaffa gate.  They formed a chain to block the people from entering, which caused stress and anger among those waiting to greet the Pope.

“Even when the situation calmed down, many Christians were disappointed that they were not able to welcome the Pope,” described EAPPI human rights monitors.

Many Jerusalem Christians expressed their wish to welcome the Pope with the same freedom as Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem:

“They are not treating us like humans,” expressed one woman who was a part of the Jerusalem procession. “You can see we are peaceful people. We are holding our prayers in our hearts. We want to pray and welcome the pope that’s all!”

EAPPI’s Local Programme Coordinator commented: “I noticed a stark contrast between police actions toward the Christians at Jaffa Gate and police action two days later when thousands of Israelis gathered in Sheikh Jarrah for Jerusalem Day.  Even though the latter group was much larger and they were loudly singing and celebrating, Israeli security forces did not attempt to hold back the crowd. On the contrary, they seemed to protect the marchers as several police vehicles followed the procession around the Palestinian neighbourhood at 3 o’clock in the night.”

Pope Francis offers hope and challenges all to move beyond their entrenched positions

Jerusalem Christians immediately wrote an open letter to the Pope describing their situation. The Pope received the message before he left the country and during a service at the Garden of Gethsemane responded with the addition of these lines to his original text:

“I wish to extend my heartfelt greetings to all Christians in Jerusalem: I would like to assure them that I remember them affectionately and that I pray for them, being well aware of the difficulties they experience in this city. I urge them to be courageous witnesses of the passion of the Lord but also of his resurrection, with joy and hope.”

EAPPI’s Local Programme  Coordinator reiterated this message of hope: “I am amazed by the way the Pope identified with each faith community and political counterpart on its own terms but also gently challenged all beyond entrenched positions. His meditation at Yad Vashem was a case in point. Without taking anything away from the horror and atrocity of the Holocaust, his “Adam, where are you?” both embraced and went beyond the victims of that particular tragedy to include all who suffer atrocities, and all who commit them today.”