Salaam and grace from the unpeaceful city of Jerusalem. We are calling upon the world community for prayer and for action on behalf of the Palestinian people who continue to be victimized by the Israeli military occupation, and on behalf of the Israeli people who are also oppressed and victimized by their own role of occupier.
Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan (ELCJ),
working in Jerusalem, Palestine, Jordan and Israel
Salaam and grace from the unpeaceful city of Jerusalem.
We are calling upon the world community for prayer and for action on behalf of the Palestinian people who continue to be victimized by the Israeli military occupation, and on behalf of the Israeli people who are also oppressed and victimized by their own role of occupier.
In this brief message we will lift up to you several incidents that have directly affected the Lutheran church, its members, pastors and families. These stories can be multiplied many times over, stories told by every person, every family. To close, we will describe the services for World Day of Prayer which were held on March 1 and 3, involving many Christian Palestinian women, and suggest three ways in which to help.
The continuous cycle of attack and counterattack, revenge and more revenge is in full swing but it is escalating at an alarming rate. Nearly hour by hour new violence erupts.
Bombing and shelling continue in Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour and Ramallah.
These cities under the Palestinian Authority (PA) have once again sustained much damage and fear from Israeli military bombing night and day.
In Beit Jala, the windows were shattered in the home of Rev. Jadallah and Hannelore Shehadeh as a result of the F-16 shelling Fortunately the pastor and his family were staying temporarily at the Evangelical Lutheran Home (ELH) at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation in Beit Jala. They had gone there to be with the boys and to be in a safer place themselves. Their own home is very near Palestinian government buildings which have sustained extensive shelling. In fact, the police, intelligence and security forces buildings that were damaged in previous attacks are now flattened to the ground.
Throughout the area of the three cities, Beit Jala, Bethlehem, and Beit Sahour, children were crying throughout the night; no one could sleep. Rev. Mitri Raheb described how frightened his own children were by the shelling, and this trauma is multiplied by thousands of families and children. The Lutheran schools are also affected, with teachers and children severely traumatized.
People in Ramallah are also traumatized by the severe bombing experienced there, and mourn the loss of a mother and her three children in an apparent Israeli assassination attempt on their politically active husband and father who was not in the car at the time. The mother was bringing her children home from school. In addition, Ramallah continues to be completely sealed off for any travel. “We live in a prison,” one Lutheran woman commented. “And our prison is being bombed.”
Bomb blast Tuesday morning at a Palestinian boys’ school in a village primary school inside the Jerusalem school district, namely, Zur Baher.
A Jewish Israeli extremist group has claimed responsibility for planting several bombs in the school play yards. Alert children and the headmaster of the school saw a big red bag as well as other packages which resembled tins of candy in various places in the play yards when they arrived at the school. Usually the bell is rung at 8:00 am, calling the boys to line up and file into school. But on this Tuesday morning the headmaster had called the police about 7:30 am and then brought the boys into school at 7:45 am. No sooner had the children gotten into the school then the bomb in the red bag exploded at 7:55 am, causing a huge fire and an earthquake-like shaking of the building.
Mrs. Nah’la Azar, the wife of Rev. Ibrahim Azar of the ELCJ Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the Old City of Jerusalem, is an English teacher at the Zur Baher school. She was preparing her papers for her classes when she saw the boys coming into the school earlier than usual and then heard and felt the bomb blast. “We all fell to the floor and were so frightened. The children screamed and ran from the building. The teachers were trying to care for them but the boys ran away. It is a Day of Death for me. I am never going to feel safe again in the school or in my home or anywhere,” Nah’la said.
Several boys and a teacher were hurt and taken to the hospital, but the headmaster’s quick thinking prevented a much greater tragedy. The 1500 boys in Zur Baher primary school would normally have been playing in the school yards at 7:55 am. At 8:30 am the police finally arrived, followed by ambulances. Two more bombs were exploded without harm by the police.
Explosions in the streets of Jerusalem
On Tuesday afternoon two employees of the Bishop’s Office at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer were running an errand on Jaffa Street at the Israeli Office of Income Tax. As Adeeb and Yacoub crossed a street returning to the Old City they heard a big explosion but could not see the source. People were running out of stores; a city bus was letting its passengers out and those people, too, were running away as soon as they could. Adeeb and Yacoub were shocked by the explosion and wanted to run also, but they had the presence of mind to walk. They knew that two Palestinian men running from the scene of an explosion would be in grave danger. Many Israeli citizens carry guns and the two running Palestinian men could easily be shot. Yacoub and Adeeb arrived back at the Lutheran church shaken but unhurt.
Continued harassment at checkpoints
Mr. George Awad, the general secretary of the ELCJ, lives in Beit Sahour and makes the trip each day through the checkpoints to his work in the Bishop’s Office at the Lutheran church in the Old City of Jerusalem. George states that an ordinary trip from his house in Beit Sahour to the Old City’s Jaffa Gate would take about fifteen minutes; it is an eleven kilometer drive. But now, with a major checkpoint and roadblock just to the north of Bethlehem and occasional checkpoints created by wandering patrols of Israeli soldiers, the trip usually takes about one and one-half hours. Most of this time is spent waiting in long lines of cars and people, queuing up to be allowed to pass. Each person’s identity card is checked; sometimes the cards are taken away and kept for various periods of time without any reason.
George states there are daily events of humiliation that people have to endure or must watch while crossing the checkpoint. Just recently George saw the Israeli checkpoint soldiers playing a game with a group of Palestinian workers who did not have permits to enter Israel. Ten men were lined up facing a wall with their hands high on the wall and their legs spread out. The soldier said, “I’ll give you your ID cards back if you all can get in the car by the count of six.” So he started counting to six and the men ran to the car, trying to get in. Back to the wall with all ten; another count of six. According to George, by this time all the soldiers at the checkpoint were laughing uproariously and paying attention to the game, not really checking cars and ID cards at all. Finally the soldiers tired of their game and gave the ID cards back to the men, but would not allow them to pass the checkpoint. They had to return home after having been humiliated, made sport of, and once again totally frustrated by their inability to pass the checkpoint and go to work.
However, humor has not been quenched among the Palestinians. George reports that today he saw these two bumper stickers on cars waiting to pass the checkpoint:
“Discover the excitement of the open road.”
“Be the first to explore new roads.”
People worship at World Day of Prayer services; the role of mothers emphasized in helping to stop the violence and bring reconciliation.
Christian women in Jerusalem, Ramallah and the three towns of Bethlehem, Beit Sahour and Beit Jala observed the World Day of Prayer on March 1 and 3, despite the roadblocks and the shelling.
Mrs. Suad Younan spoke at the Jerusalem World Day of Prayer service, using the year’s theme “Challenged to Reconcile.” In her message, Suad challenged Palestinian mothers to take a strong role in peacemaking and reconciliation.
“It is, unmistakably and unequivocally, the role of mothers at these times to awaken the conscience of leaders and politicians, to admonish and show them where and how they have failed. Suffering Palestinian mothers and suffering Israeli mothers join league to work for justice, peace and reconciliation for the sake of our children.”
Suad’s remarks are a call to all mothers, everywhere in the world, to assume the role of peacemaking and reconciliation, and particularly the mothers in any situation of conflict and war, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Once again Bishop Younan and the ELCJ appeal to people living outside this situation to do the following:
1. To speak in various ways to put pressure on their own governments, asking them to put pressure on the Israeli government to stop the military occupation and that Israelis and Palestinians resume the negotiations for a just peace based on an international legitimacy. It is this sinful occupation, now almost thirty-five years in existence, which is the root cause of the bloodshed and violence.
2. To continue to pray for the victims of injustice and violence on both sides of this conflict. Pray for the Palestinian people who are living under occupation and are seeking liberation, justice and peace. Pray for the Israeli people, that they may recognize that the ending of the occupation is the only way to realize the peace and security they desire. Please pray for the Christian churches and for the ELCJ in these highly stressful and difficult times, remembering the children and the schools, the teachers, the families, and everyone who is suffering from the actual bombing and shelling, and all the aftereffects of the fighting.
Please, intensify your own prayers and the vigil prayers; pray for the end of the spiraling violence that is causing spiraling hatred.
3. To continue to assist the ELCJ financially with the relief work it is doing to help children and families without money, food and even homes; to assist in keeping the Lutheran schools open by helping to pay teachers’ salaries and support children and families with tuition payments; to help the ELCJ in keeping the churches open and the pastors’ salaries paid. All of these are ways in which the ELCJ can be assisted in proclaiming and living out the gospel message of God’s love for all people.
Thank you for your love, prayers, support and compassion.
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