We are in Zababdeh, safe and sound. We have been watching the television with disbelief and horror for the past several hours. During that time, many of our friends and neighbors here have expressed their concern and grief for the enormous tragedies today in the United States

Prayers from Palestine

Dear Friends,

We are in Zababdeh, safe and sound. We have been watching the television with disbelief and horror for the past several hours. During that time, many of our friends and neighbors here have expressed their concern and grief for the enormous tragedies today in the United States.  Like us, they are stunned by the unfathomable loss, and we all wait in trepidation for the final tallies and for the outpouring of anger that will surely follow.  We – and they – are also deeply saddened by the reports of Palestinians celebrating – not only because of the ugliness and wrongness of that response, but also because it runs so counter to the character of the people here whom we have come to know and love.

Despite our many differences (cultural, linguistic, religious, political…), we are held together by a common humanity that today shares a broken heart.  Please know that the thoughts and prayers of many Palestinians are with those touched by the horror of today.  As are ours.

Grace and Peace,
Marthame and Elizabeth

Two Paths
September 14, 2001

Candlelight vigils.  Prayer services of remembrance and mourning. Rallies of solidarity.  Blood drives.  Institutions closed out of respect for the untold numbers of victims and their families.  Official and individual statements of support and outrage.  All of these are happening in Palestinian communities of the West Bank and Gaza in response to the horror unleashed upon the United States three days ago. Without exception, our friends, neighbors, and acquaintances – young and old, Christian and Muslim, male and female – have expressed their condolences and shared their prayers, asking us to tell people in America that they are praying for them.  Like us, many had been frantically calling friends and family in the States to make certain they were OK. Following all of this, the violence in our area has increased, as the cities of Jenin and Tubas have been targeted.

Zababdeh, between the two, has felt this.  Many of the teachers and students at our school live in Jenin and Tubas, and we have all been very worried for their safety.  Wednesday morning, our small clinic was busy treating wounded from helicopter attacks – with Jenin sealed off, no one can get to a hospital. We even had to evacuate our school after there was shooting near a school in Tubas.  No doubt that the sense of panic was compounded by watching the aftermath of the attacks on the U.S. Tuesday night.  The fear and unrest here paled in comparison to that of our homeland, but it has added to our general exhaustion and sorrow.

It is unlikely that any of this information will erase the images of Palestinians celebrating in the streets of Jerusalem, and the reports of similar events in Nablus.  No matter how many reassurances we can offer you from friends of ours that this jubilation was sparse at best, we cannot – and will not – deny it.  Many of you have written to us with deep questions – knowing your own experience of Palestinians, or living vicariously through ours – wondering how such images could be reconciled with statements of sympathy.  It seems to us that there are now two paths before us.  We can choose to see these statements of solidarity as cynical plays for political gain, and no doubt some of you have already made that choice.  That not only assumes for us the role of naive rubes, pawns in a deadly scheme, but it lays a blanket condemnation on an entire people for the heartless emotions of a few.  This is the path we fear, and its consequences are potentially tragic.

But we are left with another path: to understand that Palestinians are no better or worse than anyone else – they share with us a common humanity, as created beings steeped in sin and surrounded in grace.  This path sees that Palestinians are a diverse people, with all of the joys and embarrassments that this brings.  One thinks of the horrors unleashed upon America by its own citizens: Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City, Eric Harris and Dylan Kleibold and in Columbine, Benjamin Nathaniel Smith from Wilmette, IL, and the terror wrought by groups like the Ku Klux Klan on their fellow Americans.  Hopefully no one would think of these perpetrators as representative of all Americans, or judging us worthy of blanket condemnation.  Rather, they are symbolic of the darkness that haunts us and of the evil of which we are all capable.  Even so, we are called to a grace which is greater and more powerful and more perfect than any evil we can render.

The second path is the path we urge, for it is lit by the light of the gospel – the good news that sees no difference in people, whether Jew or Greek, male or female, Arab or American – or Arab-American.  It understands that God shows no preference for one nation, one race, one political system, one economic theory, over another.  This is the path that leads to redemption, for it recognizes our common humanity, created in the image of God.  It is only on this path that we can touch mercy, that we can witness the defeat of death by life, and that we can truly work together as instruments of grace.

Choose this path.
Turning to Face
September 23, 2001

As we have watched the events of the past week unfold, a jumble of thoughts and emotions has been growing within us, clamoring for expression, for release. But the work of expression is hard. Fragments of ideas, scraps of notions, washes of feelings, must all be shaped and formed, ordered and molded into something recognizable. It is an agonizing birthing, a long labor. And when it is over, once the writing has been written, there is the fear that the words are sterile, stillborn. Are the words true? Will they be heard? Is it too late? In spite of these difficulties and fears, speak we must – there is an ache within us, a yearning to say something, perhaps just to groan in sorrow, to appeal and plead with the world to listen, even if the words are insufficient and the ideas are half-formed. It’s a burning that needs to be relieved, that cries out for a voice. We beg your indulgence – forgive our ramblings, our poorly-worded sentences, but we need to speak.  Woe to us if we don’t. And so we offer our thoughts, for whatever they’re worth, from where we are.

How do we as a people respond to the horror of last Tuesday?  Our first response, of course, was one of care and comfort – rallying together to rescue and support those most affected by the attacks.  As a nation, we searched for them, we waited with them, we wept for and with them. And we will continue to do so for a long time to come.  Now, the shock is fading and the painful reality of cruel loss is sinking in. We proceed as a nation to our next response. What will it be? There is much talk of war, there is some talk of peace.  There is much talk of retaliation; there is talk of deliberation; there is talk of action; there is talk of talk.  What should be done? We do not have the audacity to claim we know the answer. However, we do have the temerity to believe we have something to say. Most immediately, we can turn to the canon of experience. Given great weight in everyday conversation, personal experiences are nevertheless purely subjective and can therefore never be authoritative. They can, however be informative. Our experiences of last Tuesday’s attack and aftermath began, as it did for people around the world, with watching New York and Washington burn and crumble on live television.  But even during the initial shock of this unthinkable attack, we were jolted back to our present reality. The sounds of tank shells in the distance and Apache attack helicopters overhead, and fears for students, teachers, and friends in Jenin and Tubas – these brought us back to the reality in Palestine and Israel, a cycle of violence that has spun out of control for far too long.

If there is anything to be gained from the insanity of this place, if there is to be any redemption out of this tragic farce, let it at least be in a lesson to the world.  Now, in particular, let it be a lesson to our nation as we respond to Tuesday’s terror.  Many parallels have been drawn between the two situations, but we would caution against equating them too closely. In spite of some similarities (bloody and unpredictable terrorist attacks on innocent civilians) and in spite of what some in America and Israel claim, Israel is not the same as the US,and Palestine and Arafat are not the same as Afghanistan and Bin Laden(or whomever is found guilty of the crime). And in spite of some similarities (intentional, devastating attacks on centers of government and national pride, scores of deaths of innocent civilians) and in spite of what some in Palestine claim, the reverse is not true either. What does seem patently true to us is that violent responses to terror have no positive effect.  It is not redemptive, it will not deliver us from the whirl of bloodletting.  Here we see a suicide bomber murder civilians and provoke draconian measures on an entire population; the draconian measures – which have their own death tolls – provoke desperate, self-destructive violence against civilians.

There is no way out.  Suicide bombings obviously deny one’s humanity as well as that of one’s victims, but suffocating collective punishment is no less dehumanizing, for it sees the other as nothing but an enemy – to be feared and removed. If there is any word of hope, any crumb from here that can feed a world hungry for answers, it is this: do not fall prey to the gods of war. They are insatiable, they reap inhumanity upon inhumanity.  It is a cycle that does not end, spurred on by a siren-like battle cry ringing in our ears.

As we try to make sense of things, we also seek guidance from the canon of our faith.  Not all of you share our Christian confession, and not all of you who share our confession share our views.  But this faith is not simply a philosophical choice.  It is integral to who we are – and whose we are.  What is the Christian response to evil?  Repentance – a turning to God, an examination of the self, of one’s society, of one’s participation in that society.  We are reminded of a story from the gospel of Luke, where Jesus discusses two local tragedies: the murder of worshipers by Pontius Pilate, mingling their blood with that of their sacrifices; and the death of eighteen under the weight of a collapsing tower.  Jesus’response is clear: “Do you think these suffered in this way because they were worse sinners?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” (Luke 13:2-3)

Don’t confuse Jesus’ answer with Brother Jerry Falwell’s explanation that what we witnessed Tuesday was God’s punishment to a faithless nation.  On the contrary, Jesus is pointing us towards a response to evil, not towards the cause of it.  However, he does warn that lives lived without repentance – without the humility and honesty of acknowledging wrongdoing – are destined for tragedy. As Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah said almost one year ago, referencing this passage, “penitence will save from bloodshed.”  His words ring prophetic about this place, but the application is every bit as real for our homeland.  No matter what happens, we must repent.

Repentance is, after all, a turning to face God.  It is a shining of light on that which is shrouded in darkness.  It is painful, but it is restorative.  Before we do anything else, we must confront the brokenness within us and within our society.  It requires turning to face the perfect love, mercy, and forgiveness of God.  And with all of our failings, every way in which we have participated in evil ourselves, we must seek forgiveness.

This work of repentance is not confined to the individual – it is also a collective responsibility, for we live in relationship with others. As we search our souls for the brokenness and hurt within, we also must search our churches, our societies, and our governments. How are we complicit – how do we participate in systems which allow evil to flourish?

There has been a lot of talk about how America’s foreign policy, particularly regarding Israel/Palestine and Iraq, may have motivated the attacks on Tuesday. Speaking from the canon of experience, we would say, yes, American policies here – as in many parts of the world, throughout our history – breed anti-Americanism. And yes, this anti-Americanism can breed terrorism.  A logical conclusion would be to take a good, hard look at the grievances that people around the world have against our country.  Speaking from the canon of faith, we would say that this good, hard look should measure deeds against the yardstick of justice and mercy.

As we embark on the hard, painful work of repentance, we also know that our God is one of grace, and true repentance is always met with ready forgiveness. It is that forgiveness that holds us in a state of grace. We forgive others not because they want to be forgiven, but because we ourselves have been forgiven.  We love our enemies not because they seek our love, but because we – the enemies of the reign of God – are loved.

Seek repentance, friends.  It seeks us.