“Let us work together to replace despair with HOPE, fear with human SECURITY and humiliation with DIGNITY”

Awaiting the resurrection In Christianity’s birthplace, Christians cling to hope

“If Israel doesn’t implement United Nations resolution 242 (calling for its withdrawal from the occupied territories) … five to six years from now there will be no hope,” says Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal, whose St. George’s (Anglican) Cathedral practically straddles the Green Line that divides the Holy City into a Palestinian East and a Jewish West.

East Jerusalem – Seventy-year-old Cedar Duaybis is trying to decide where she will worship on Easter morning. She’s just getting over a bout with pneumonia, and she’s weary.

Will it be Jerusalem, the city of innumerable cathedrals? Or Ramallah, in her onetime church home?
If Jerusalem, she will have to pass through the checkpoint at Al-Ram, where traffic jams are routine. If Ramallah, she will be stopped at the Kalandia checkpoint, where Israeli soldiers guard roads that lead to Jerusalem from Nablus and Jenin in the northern part of the West Bank.

Either way, she could be in for a long wait. Or not.

Will the soldier glance at her papers and wave her on through? Will he stand chatting with a colleague, pointedly ignoring her as she waits in the early morning cold?

Will he detain a young man ahead of her in line, thus delaying her as well?

Although she has a permit for her journey, she can be turned back on a soldier’s whim.

Either route will expose her to the insult of the wall, the 25-foot concrete barrier under construction about 100 yards from her kitchen window. The government is building it to keep Israelis and Palestinians apart, for security reasons. But here it also divides Palestinians from each other.

When the construction is finished, Duaybis won’t be able to cross the street to the grocery or the butcher’s shop, and this is disheartening.

But it will be even worse for the butcher and grocer, she thinks, for it will block their view of the sunset.

“I cannot get used to this wall; my spirit rejects its ugliness,” she says. “Get used to it? I never will. But I know in my heart it will go down one day.”

In East Jerusalem, when one stone is rolled away, another drops snugly into its place. Despair is a common temptation.

Jerusalem’s Christians await the resurrection, but feel stuck in Good Friday.

Although the newspapers say democracy and a bona fide Palestinian state are around the corner, Christians here are careful not to expect too much.

“If Israel doesn’t implement United Nations resolution 242 (calling for its withdrawal from the occupied territories) … five to six years from now there will be no hope,” says Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal, whose St. George’s (Anglican) Cathedral practically straddles the Green Line that divides the Holy City into a Palestinian East and a Jewish West.

As usual, movement between the two is mostly one-way. Well-heeled Israeli settlers buy up more and more property in the East, but Palestinians hunker down where they are, some resisting big-money buyout offers.

The Israeli advance is hard to miss. Israeli flags hang from many

windows in the Muslim and Christian Quarters of the Old City. Yeshiva students congregate on the sidewalks. Beefy guards with automatic weapons escort Jewish groups through narrow passageways.
The wall is relentlessly coiling toward Jerusalem, cutting off ancient routes between the city and Arab towns like Al-Azzariyeh and Abu-Dis, whose residents have for centuries looked to Jerusalem for work and worship. When that economic lifeline was cut four years ago, these towns went into a spiral of decline.

“The Israelis continue to build settlements. They continue to expand settlements. They continue to build roads. And they continue to build walls,” says Bishop Abu El-Assal. “This will never guarantee quiet and security. … If you build a wall, someone will find a way to overcome it. It is better to build bridges.”

The Palestinians are looking for tangible progress toward peace, and they say they have not seen it so far. What they see coming is another walk down the Via Dolorosa- a reference to the path Jesus took on the way to his crucifixion.

Longtime Quaker peace activist Jean Zaru, 65, says, “It is easy to get discouraged and want to die.” Despite reports of recent progress, she says, “The occupation is ongoing. … and it has been dropped from the discourse.”

Israel has promised to dismantle the Gaza settlements, but the human rights group B’Tselem counts 152 such settlements in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank. A Jerusalem research institute says 134 new outposts have been established in the West Bank since March 2001, and 15,000 units of housing have been added to existing settlements.

Another stone drops into place.

Zaru says her sons have begged her to quit peace work and join them in the United States, where life is easier and she can grow old among her grandchildren. But she says she won’t do it.

“To give up means giving in to the forces of death and destruction,” she says. “Who would want to do that?”

Nevertheless, everyone here is tempted at some point to give up.

Statistician Bernard Sabella, a professor at Bethlehem University, says the birthplace of Christianity has lost one-tenth of its Christian residents since the second Intifada began in September 2000.
When the uprising began, Israel blocked off and besieged Bethlehem, choking the life out of the tourism industry that once employed nearly one-fifth of its breadwinners.

“There’s a huge economic deterrent to staying,” Sabella says. “Add to that the political situation. It is definitely pushing people out – Christians, middle-class Muslims, ordinary people.”

A United Nations agency says about 360 families have moved out in the past three years. “They have economic problems, so they leave,” Sabella says.

In his opinion, spirituality must be part of any solution. He looks for an “opening up” like the apostles’ Easter morning discovery of the empty tomb.

Duaybis, the would-be Easter pilgrim, says it’s her spirituality that enables her to survive.

She says she almost gave up in March 2002, when soldiers occupied her home in Ramallah, wrecking it and signing their handiwork in soot from a heater. That was during the 34-day siege of Yasser Arafat’s nearby compound.

“I nearly lost the will to live,” she says, adding that she has forgiven the soldiers – “although it still hurts to remember.”

“There is no reason to be optimistic, but we have hope,” she says.  “When we have nothing left …by the grace of God we have hope that never dies. Yes, yes, there is death all around. But the flame is still flickering” after 38 years of occupation.

Zaru says she believes as a Christian that there is “something stronger than death and suffering and crucifixion and pain,” and that the gospel affirms life “in spite of it all.”

The Israeli Civil Administration issued only 4,000 permits to West Bank Christians to attend Palm Sunday observances. That means about 36,000 others were without them.

One more stone.      
Munib Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land, notes that the disciples on the road to Emmaus were so depressed that they didn’t recognize Jesus walking alongside them.

“They thought everything was dead, that suffering, violence and oppression had taken over. … And it is the same with our people,” he says. “Yes, we are depressed. Everybody. Palestinians and Israelis. … People feel crucified and victimized.”

But the Christian community is gathering to await the promised resurrection.

Duaybis says she will be among them – although she hasn’t decided which checkpoint she will hazard Sunday. Like other Christians here, she says, she draws strength from the sensuality of worship in Jerusalem: Smelling the incense. Touching the ancient stones. Gathering in the dark to wait for the Easter sunrise. Hearing the bells toll from steeples near and far. “We have to be in these places,” she says. “We can’ t do without worship. We need all our resources to cope.”

And the wall outside her window? “It may be there a long time, but it will come down in the end.”

2016-10-24T07:30:47+00:00 April 1st, 2005|Categories: News|