Archives for posts with tag: Occupied Palestinian Territories

Last Sunday night I had the wonderful privilege of listening to a group of Christians in Nablus.  It was a profound conversation about what it is like to be a Christian in and under the Israeli Occupation of Palestine.  

The situation is pretty bleak.  The group I spoke with are pretty discouraged.  They feel abandoned by the wider world and the wider Christian community. 

They asked me to share their experiences, because they feel that “no one is telling our story.”

I was told they see no future for the Christian community beyond about 15 to 20 years. 

“The future is black…” they said.

It isn’t that they were all having a bad day.  They told me that they feel as if they are “the forgotten ones in the Occupation,” and that they are “paying the price for what some Europeans did in the Holocaust.”  (That the creation of the State of Israel was a response to the Holocaust.  It initially displaced Palestinians — Christians included — and it has further led to the Occupation of the Palestinian Territories with the wider world largely silent about the Occupation.)

Nablus is in the heart of the large northern lobe of the West Bank.  In the Biblical narrative, we know it as Shechem and Sychar — the very heart of Samaria. 

We are meeting in what was the cradle of Christianity.

Earlier in the evening, I had experienced worship with them in their Greek Catholic Melkite Church.  The sanctuary was comfortably filled.  It is a very, very beautiful and modest church.  The liturgy was in Arabic, with some lovely chanting and choral responses. 

After worship I sat with these 16 congregation members.  There was a variety of ages and occupations — male and female.  They are part of a larger Christian community in Nablus, which has shrunk from around 3,300 to just 600.  (They told me a similar decrease has happened in Gaza.)

I had initiated the conversation some weeks ago, as I was finding coffee after worship rather superficial, especially when we had little language in common.  Their priest, Father Yousef Sa’adah was very helpful in arranging the meeting for me.  He has become a very good colleague for me.

But with a good translator for me, the conversation was anything but superficial!  They were quite candid.  To say the least, they are disheartened on many levels.  It’s hard to find good jobs in the pre-dominantly Muslim city.  Many in the Christian community are unemployed or under-employed.  It is a small community in which young people have trouble looking for prospective husbands or wives who are Christian.

Their children are part of the Christian minority.  One family said their daughter is one of 16 Christians in a school of 500 students.  The Christian-run schools are too expensive given peoples income levels.

There were many threads of conversation as they shared the reali.ty of their lives:

They do not see the “Arab Spring” as having been good for Christians in the countries where it has resulted in a change of government.  They are perplexed that the United States — a so-called Christian nation — has backed these changes.

They fear that Palestine could become an Islamic state with disregard for Christians.  However, they are grateful that Yasser Arafat, enshrined in the school curruculum the study of Christianity for Christian students while the Muslim students study Islam.

It is further perplexing that Conservative Christians — largely in America — appear to back the Occupation and the Zionist expansion of Israel into the West Bank.

They are tired of being without basic human rights, having their dignity eroded, and being treated like animals in the military-security check-points.

They resent not being free to travel to Jerusalem to see the holy sites of the Christian faith.

They affirm that they are nurtured by their faith in Christ — and their faith in God. 

Their churches have nominal members who do not worship regularly, just as we do in North America. 

They asked me about life in the church in Canada.  We identified some similar challenges.

Afterwards, a dozen of us shared a mean together.  I am grateful that I had an opportunity to listen and to bless and encourage them.

They will continue to be on my mind and in my heart.  Especially when I celebrate World Wide Communion Sunday on October 7th.

Grace and peace,

Jim

I have been sent by the United Church of Canada to participate in the World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).  Should you wish to re-post  or publicize any of this content, I welcome your direct request via the comments section in this blog.  Thank you! 

 

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Last week I drank from Jacob’s Well in Nablus.

I had been looking forward to this, given that the community where I am living for three months is only a few kilometres from Nablus.

In the Christian tradition, we know Jacob’s Well as the well of Sychar, where Jesus had the lengthy conversation with the Samaritan woman.  (John 4:4-42.)

It was wonderful to taste the water, and live into the story, and the promise and the gift of “living water” in Christ.

Built over and around the well is Jacob’s Well Orthodox Church.  Next door is Jacob’s Well Orthodox Monastery.  Actually, the church is dedicated to St. Photina the Samaritan. 

(Photina is the name traditionally given to the woman at the well. )  For centuries there has been a church of some kind on the site.

Jacob’s Well church is extraordinarily beautiful.  It is rare for services to be held there, as the Orthodox community also has a very beautiful church in Rafidia, the Christian sector of Nablus.  Last Sunday we worshipped at Jacob’s Well with a couple of bus loads of Greek pilgrims.

(Two weeks ago in the Rafidia church, I enjoyed one of the most beautiful inter-generational services, I have ever experienced in my life.  There was outstanding antiphonal choral work — all in Arabic  — by mostly men singing in the two transepts.  The half domes of the transcepts above them, caused the music to fill the sanctuary magnificently!) 

As near as I can tell from available reports, there has not been a worship service at Jacob’s Well for a couple of years — in part, I understand, because of a tragedy that occurred there in 1979.  This is what makes a visit so bitter sweet.

One of the priests, Father Archimandrite Philoumenis, the abbott of the monastery, was brutally murdered in the church by an axe-wielding  Zionist.   Apparently a “cross” was cut in his face, his eyes plucked out, and the four fingers and thumb or his right hand cut off.   The church was also desecrated. 

All this came a week after a Zionist group had claimed the church as a holy site and demanded the removal of the crosses and icons. No one has been arrested or charged with the muder.

Now there is an icon in the church, commemorating the martyrdom of the priest. And Father Philoumenis is buried just outside the entrance to the church.  His grave is hard to miss on the way inside. 

The resident Orthodox priest told me about his continued harassment from Israeli settlers around Nablus.  They would like to drive him away.

While it seems like an extreme story, it is not an isolated story, with settler violence unleaseashed against Palestinians, occasionally with a view to reclaiming major and minor holy sites.  Sometimes a holy site is the excuse to take a piece of land for a new settlement.

Our team is in regular conversation with a family which is under daily harrassment or attack from Israeli settlers — from the Eli, Shilo and Ma’ale Levona settlements — on their land near the village of Al Luban as Sharqiya.  The 85-year-old grandfather has “tabo” — which is undisputed legal title from the days of the Ottoman Empire. 

The settlers want his land, the water spring on the land, and an old building, used as a jail by the Jordanian police when Palestine was part of Jordan. 

Why reference this situation? Because the settlers latest excuse for continued harassment and wanting to take-over the site, is: “Moses swam in the spring here!” 

When I heard this, I burst out laughing; as did a Nablus priest, I shared this information with.  We laughed, because scripture and tradition has it that Moses did not reach the Promised Land.  (As well, there are many Jews and Christians who understand Moses as a mythological figure.)

Jesus words to the Samaritan woman, over which mountain was the true place to worship God (Mt. Gerizim, or Jerusalem), is somehow quite prophetic in this situation:

“Believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem… God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

It isn’t about mountains — which one is more sacred — or about buildings — or even holy sites!  (As helpful as they may be to our worship, and the illumination of the sacred stories.)  God is Spirit — above and beyond — who can be worshipped anywhere — anytime —- and will not be contained or limited by, or in, our holy sites!

Ironically, Orthodox tradition has it that St. Photina was a martyr who was tortured and died by being thrown down a well by Emperor Nero.

I keep returning in my mind and heart, to the testimony of Palestinian Christians who remember a day before 1947 when Jews,  Palestinian Muslims and Palestinains Christians lived side by side peacefully.  They knew each others traditions and were cooperative neighbours who worked together for the commonwealth of their communities.

I fear that memory is fading as an older generation dies off.   We need that memory and vision kept alive!  It is strangely closer to the vision Jesus gave at the well that day. 

“A time is coming…” says Jesus. 

May it keep coming!  May we discover it anew!

“Phontina” means “the enlightened one.” 

Then, let there be Light, that we may be enlightened! 

Grace and peace,

Jim

I have been sent by the United Church of Canada to participate in the World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).  Should you wish to re-postr or publicize any of this content, I welcome your direct request, via the comments section in this blog.  Thank you!