Youth Director, St. Lawrence Parish, Utica, Michigan
"God intended for the land of Israel to be a blessing for all nations – all people – not just a few." – Blood Brothers, by Fr. Elias Chacour.
Today, the Christians who remain in the Holy Land (less than 2%) are truly living the Beatitudes. They hunger and thirst for justice, they mourn for the loss of lives, friends and freedom. And instead of fighting back, seeking an eye for an eye as the old Jewish Law embraced, they turn the other cheek as Christ calls them to, in mercy, seeking peace, knowing that the land they inherit may never be the return of any part of Palestine, but fueled by faith – believe it will be instead in Heaven, as Christ promised.
The Israelis are in the process of building a towering gray concrete wall the length of country, 550-miles long, slicing it from north to south with the land on eastern side of the wall (meeting with the desserts of Jordan and Syria and the Dead Sea) for the Palestinian Arabs while the land on western side (which runs nearly the full length of the blue and inviting Mediterranean) they claim for themselves. This wall is 28-feet tall and is marked frequently by imposing, foreboding guard towers with glass windows. It looks like a prison, and nothing else. Its stated purpose is to keep suicide bombers from attacking Israeli citizens. But if you have the heart of Christ, you can Google "Israeli Separation Wall" or go to www.palestinehistory.com/wall.htm website to see and learn about the real impact of this wall. The world is outraged. There are many Jews who are also outraged and greatly oppose the wall. But outrage won't be enough to change things.
Random and well-placed checkpoints monitor the comings and goings of all those who seek to pass. Arabs are treated differently from Israelis, and are often searched and re-searched, interrogated, and left in long, unmoving lines for hours. Israeli workers offered some insight to us about this process at the first checkpoint (border crossing) we passed, singling out a Chaldean amongst us – an Iraqi Catholic who is also an U.S. citizen but an Arab none-the-less – for special attention and then waved the rest of us through without even looking at our open passports.
The city of Bethlehem, the place of Christ's birth, is nearly completely encircled by the wall and once done, those inside will be prisoners. They can apply for a pass, which may or may not come and if it does come, it may be at the last minute, and it may be good for only a few hours.
For Palestinians unemployment rings in at over 60-percent. Businesses are suffering. Many of them are closed and boarded up. Hospitals lack equipment and medicines. It is said that there are more Palestinian Christians in Livonia, here in metro-Detroit, than in Ramallah, Palestine – once a Christian stronghold. It may be true – so many have left.
The wall has separated a church from its convent, a farmer from his field, and family from family. It has been put into place in such close proximity to homes that those homes will forever be in its shadow. The sun no longer shines into their windows. It blocks a once pristine view of open countryside rich with olive trees and rocky hills – vistas that can no longer be seen through kitchen windows or from backyard patios.
A generation of young people in Bethlehem has not been able to visit the holy sites in Jerusalem – which is on the Israeli side of the wall – the very places we Americans were privileged to walk. And many of those in Bethlehem are Christian Arabs. While we pilgrims sat and prayed in the shadow of Gethsemane's olive trees, they live in a Gethsemane, and pray each day, "Father if possible, let this cup be taken from us … " Instead, erection of the wall continues. In places, it's covered in graffiti and drawings. Someone painted on it the emblem found on so many trucks and cars here – a boy with unruly hair, wearing a striped t-shirt shirt, eliminating on the wall. One clever drawing a trompe-l'oeil, shows the wall peeled back exposing an opening in the cement that leads to a lush, green garden on the other side. And another, the fully black silhouette of a little girl in a dress holding a handful of helium balloons that raised her off the ground and took her to the lip of the wall, only to stop in time, just before freedom.
The human spirit cries to be free. It's Natural Law. To be able to make a living, see a doctor, visit with friends and family, make a pilgrimage to the holy sites, be educated, and seek medical treatment. If all were destined to be suicide bombers, this would have been over long ago. It's not true. People want to live.
What did our friends in Ramallah ask us to tell the people in the States?
.Tell them we are not all terrorists. We are suffering. We want to live in peace..
And Christ weeps.