[Note: My short essay appeared as part of the Advent Devotional series at my church, Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, D.C. Theme for the season is “You Are a Gift.”]
I have been blessed over the past year or two with a growing awareness of nature, especially trees but actually all other plants, animals, and elements, as well.
Part of this is due to the influence of several authors I am following, including Robin Wall Kimmerer, a scientist, professor, and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and Robert MacFarlane, a fellow of Cambridge University. Kimmerer’s book is Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, and MacFarlane’s is Underland: A Deep Time Journey.
I mention these works, because they are gifts to me, gifts that keep on giving. I do not remember how I learned of either of these books, and given how powerful each is and has been in my life, I believe books and authors are a gift from God to me, and of course to many others.
What they have helped me begin to realize is that there is so much morethat is central to this world than humans. I understand more and more that we humans are latecomers to the earth, that other living things, actually living beings, and even beings we don’t think of as living (mountains, rocks, bodies of water, e.g.) have been here far longer. And they have so much to teach us, if we can let go of our sense of human exceptionalism, as if we are the only ones with knowledge.
And I go further. I am beginning to experience all these beings as fellow citizens of the globe, each one by itself and all of them together. Now I see the world as populated by more than the estimated 7.8 billion humans. Now the population count is so many times that I cannot even calculate. Just think, scientific studies say there are 3.041 trillion trees,400 billion birds, at least 10 billion squirrels.
Talk about gifts!
This year, in Advent as we focus on the reality that each of us is a gift, that I am a gift, that you are a gift, I now see how many other trillions of gifts there are. They certainly will not fit under our Christmas tree!
But they do fit in my life, my heart, and I hope yours, too.
The gift God has given us—all creation—and keeps giving us, is the gift that keeps on giving. How blessed we are!
Jonathan and I chose this year to observe two events often overlooked in all the focus caused by what is called the holiday season in the U.S. These two events are Native American Heritage Day on November 27 (part of the month-long Native American Heritage Month), and the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People on November 29.
At first glance, they may not appear connected, but for me they reflect a remarkable intersection, a confluence of political and spiritual observances, memories, hopes, and yearnings. They both involve the reality of peoples affected by the drive of one group of people to claim and occupy land which is ancestral home to others.
Native American Heritage Day changes actual date each year because it is always observed on the day after Thanksgiving in the United States. Most people know this day as Black Friday. Clearly, the rush to shop overshadows the observance of indigenous history. Indeed, I think that in both the United States and Israel the realities of these two peoples is largely erased by the dominating power.
The international Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People is always on November 29, designated by the United Nations (although sometimes events at the UN are on adjacent days). The date was chosen by the UN in 1977 in recognition of the adoption of a resolution on November 29, 1947 calling for the creation of two states, one Jewish and one Arab, with an international status for Jerusalem. This was intended to end the British Mandate in Palestine which had been in force since World War I.
This plan did not come to fruition. The Jewish leadership reluctantly accepted the plan and its boundaries for each of the new nations but the Arab states objected saying it denied the agency of the people currently living there for self-determination. As we know, the result has been the creation of the State of Israel and the division of the Palestinians among three territories: those who remain in Israel, those living in the West Bank which I called the Occupied Territories because the real power of governance lies with Israel, and those living in Gaza, as well as Palestinians confined to refugee camps in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan.
Thus, what we have in these two events is an effort to draw attention to the suffering of two peoples at the hands of occupying powers.
The erasure of Palestinians is rooted in what Zionists and others felt was, is, the acute need to establish the world’s first truly safe haven for Jews. This drive began in the 19th Century—in response to pogroms and ongoing repression in Europe—and gained support and energy with the rise of Hitler and the genocide of six million Jews in Europe. Clearly, the creation of this new nation is a response to the devastation, a desperate attempt to create a national sanctuary designed and built by the survivors themselves.
The erasure of Native Americans begins with the arrival of Europeans, many of them subject to political and economic subjugation, seeking a better life in “the New World” (not so new for those living here for millennia). It picks up steam as these arrivals want more and more land on which to create a new society, one that gives them a sense of freedom from often negative experiences in Europe and one in which Christianity, not “heathen beliefs,” dominates.
To put it simply, both groups are struggling to overcome what has been, and is being, done to them by settler colonial societies.
Settler colonialism is a distinct type of colonialism that functions through the replacement of indigenous populations with an invasive settler society that, over time, develops a distinctive identity and sovereignty. According to Laura Hurwitz and Shawn Borque’s Settler Colonialism Primer, “This means that settler colonialism is not just a vicious thing of the past, such as the gold rush, but exists as long as settlers are living on appropriated land and thus exists today.”
Settler colonialism was practiced in, and the effects remain, in several countries including Canada, South Africa and Australia, as well as the United States and Israel. Thus, these two groups, Native Americans and Palestinians, both indigenous to territory now controlled by more powerful forces are linked by the fate that has befallen them and their struggle to regain their lands and their rights to live freely.
As I learn more about the histories of these two peoples and about settler colonialism I see that once again a U.S. value has been exported to another part of the world. I am also coming to believe that the shared history of settler colonialism in both nations provides an important layer in their bonding. Yes, the U.S. wants to support the aspirations of the Jewish people for safety, but I also believe our government and many leaders recognize, if only unconsciously, our shared bond with Israel as an occupying power.
Israel is doing what we have done, and continue to do, to our own indigenous population: put them on reservations; make it difficult, if not impossible, for most of them to lead safe, economically and professionally successful lives; mistreat their children; erase their history from “our” history books; and punish those who speak up agains oppression.
That is why Jonathan and I participated in two webinars focused on the struggles of the Palestinians and Native Americans. Indeed, one of those presentations was entitled “Unite to Decriminalize Indigenous Struggles from Turtle Island to Palestine,” co-sponsored by Friends of Sabeel North America ( http://www.fosna.org ) and Christian Peacemaker Teams (http://cpt.org ) [Note: Turtle Island is a name for North America used by some US Indigenous and First Nations people and by some Indigenous rights activists. The name is based on a common North American Indigenous creation story.]
Friends and others lament these “dark times,” meaning for them one or all of these: the ugliness of Trumpism and our politics in general; and the scourges of four Pandemics— Covid-19, racism and White supremacy, economic despair and devastation for too many even before the virus struck, and a burgeoning climate crisis.
I share this lament, but not the negative value associated with the this usage of “dark.”
As one who feels at home in the dark, the phrase “dark times” troubles me. There is so much that is good about darkness—whether it be darker-pigmented people or the underland where fungi and other creatures deepen and extend life in the soil or even the overland beauty of leafless trees in winter against the night sky. Or what about the things we learn as the result of “being in the dark” and the feeling of revelation, sometimes even elation, when we see what we had missed before?
I experience darkness as almost always a gift, a break from the light pollution to which we are exposed every day. For example, there is more than enough light created by our neighbors and us in our small court of co-op homes as we leave our porch lights on at night to discourage criminals from breaking in. We alsolive across the street from city hall, the community center, and the library, which are overlaid with light each night.
When I go outside at 5:00 or 5:30 a.m. to meditate and pray, all this light, not to mention the noise of twin-interstate highways and a local parkway that meet just outside our town, reduce the number and brightness of stars visible in the sky and compete with the chorus of cicadas.
Often it feels to me life is an unending contest where light keeps trying to overcome, even erase, dark. And light wins all the time—a system of light supremacy to which our society is addicted. Why can’t we accept, and celebrate, the reality that there is life, good life, in darkness, and that we can learn from its multitude of gifts?
White racism, White Supremacy, is a good place to start. Despite the beauty, strength and resilience of darker-skinned people even in the most ugly times, Western Civilization insists on the primacy of Euro-American positive valuation of light and the negative valuation of dark.
In the United States, we connect White Supremacy with the subjugation and domination of African peoples. And yet, coupled with an Enlightenment mindset—namely the value of the rational over the mystical, the scientific over the intuitive and artistic, and the valorization of the individual (often to pursue their own interests over the well-being of community), White Supremacy supports and sustains the subjugation and domination of other groups as well.
For example, Arab learning—at one time the zenith of mathematical and scientific reasoning and knowledge in the world—was discounted to justify Christian crusades against Muslim people. That same strain of Christian imperialism and the belief that Western (northern European) ideas, culture and systems are the apex of human achievement unite in capitalism and colonialism to undergird and justify the conquest of indigenous people in the Americas as well as the importation and breeding of slaves for the profit of their owners.
A central method of the capitalist/settler colonialism drive to subdue and own land and all it contains is to label the wisdom and practices of indigenous people as primitive, without value in the modern world. Thus, today we can see not only how African Americans and Spanish-speaking peoples from Latin America continue to be oppressed, but also how the Middle East, other than Israel, is viewed as backward, and even nations and peoples further east are the victims of negativity.
Further, this intersecting series of belief systems produce the subjugation of nature, degradation and elimination of species, and denial of what is happening in the Climate Crisis. As Robin Wall Kimmerer writes in Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, non-indigenous people are trained to devalue the teaching of nature.
In short, “we” have created a worldview that highlights only some parts of reality and casts the rest into the dark—not listening to BIPOC people (Black Indigenous People of Color); not paying attention to that which makes life possible for all, namely the earth and all its parts; and refusing to build a world in which all have what they need to thrive (rather than some having far more than they need and too many not having even enough to survive).
Thus, I believe we must begin the practice of Endarkenment, to value not only things that appear dark but also the wisdom we have cast into the dark. In future posts, I will discuss this concept but suffice it to say at this point that I believe if we continue to refuse to acknowledge and accept and even celebrate the equal partnership of dark and light, we, and certainly our children and grandchildren and their children, are doomed.
These are not “dark times.” They are times of pain, fear, anxiety, injustice, and crisis—and thus times of challenge and opportunity to radically change our ways to save us all.
I know that dignity for all, abundant life for all, is God’s charge to us . . . .
Today, June 5, 2017, marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Six Day War which resulted in victory for Israel over the military forces of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria–and, importantly for subsequent events, the expansion of Israeli rule over all of Jerusalem, the West Bank (often called Judea and Samaria by many Israelis) and Gaza.
Yesterday, tens of thousands marched in New York City in the 53rd annual Celebrate Israel parade, officially deemed a celebration of the creation of the State of Israel, but given its date it seems a clear declaration of support for an Israel that includes territory from the Nile to the Euphrates.
Palestinians and their allies refer to Israeli rule in the West Bank and Gaza as The Occupation. There is little doubt that it is marked by oppressive military presence, that Palestinians are under military rule in the land of their birth. Such rule is never, by definition, kind and gentle nor does it evidence much respect for the elemental human rights of those under control. With the requirement of border passes for work inside Israel, checkpoints, random searches of individuals and homes, evictions, murder and mayhem by settlers not to mention the growing presence of Israeli settlers, Palestinians feel deep bitterness. Fifty years is enough, they say.
I spent Sunday afternoon outside the White House, not to celebrate Greater Israel but to bear witness to the strength and endurance of the Palestinian people. No matter how many times their leaders have failed in negotiations with Israel (whose leaders failed just as much), no matter how much they have failed to build a vibrant society within the hated control of Israel (and how much Israel, from its position of economic and military dominance has made sure to cripple Palestinian institutions), I admire them for their fortitude and patience, for their attachment to the land of their fathers.
They deserve my respect and honor. They deserve that from all of us.
Sadly, it was a very small group at the White House, with little or not visible organization and leadership. According to the email invitation I received, it was to be a silent vigil, but mostly people just talked to each other. At one point, one of those present got some of us to sing a few protest songs, with lyrics he devised to focus on the Occupation and the need for liberation and peace. I left about 30 minutes before its scheduled conclusion, not sure it had ever begun.
I have wondered if this was an organizational fluke–the listed sponsors were four groups, Arab American Institute (AAI), Arab American Anti Discrimination Committee (ADC), United Palestinian Appeal (UPA) and American Palestinian Women’s Association (APWA)–or if it reflects deeper disorganization within the Palestinian and Palestinian-American community. I hope it was a fluke. We need a strong Palestinian voice in the Middle East and here.
There was one presence at the White House that was clearly organized and in charge: The Secret Service. When I arrived at Pennsylvania Avenue–it is blocked for through traffic between 15th and 17th Streets and has become essentially a pedestrian mall adjacent to Lafayette Park (except for official vehicles going in and out of the White House)–just before 3 pm, there were hundreds of tourists taking pictures of themselves and their companions with the White House in the background. It was a good-humored gaggle of humanity speaking several languages, doing tourist-y things. I noted uniformed Secret Service agents moving through the crowd.
I found the one lone man with a pro-Palestinian sign and we chatted. Several others joined us. Eventually, our small group moved across the street, closer to the park and in the shade (it was a hot sun), waiting for some others we were told were on their way.
Here’s what it gets informative. When we all–no more than 25, maybe 30 including quite a few teenagers/college students, regrouped on the street directly in front of the White House, many of us with signs protesting the Occupation and other Israeli policies and practices, we were approached by two Secret Service agents. One asked what our purpose was. One of the men in the group who seemed to know more than others said, “We have a permit.” The agent nodded and repeated his question. I did not hear the answer but assume it was to say we were doing what our signs said, protesting the Occupation.
The agents moved away and I, naive and trusting soul that I am, thought that was done . I was disturbed, however, by the question. The right of Americans to gather, the right of public assembly guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, is not dependent on the content raised by those gathering.
Fifteen or so minutes later, the agents moved in more authoritatively and begin telling everyone–tourists, our group and the few individual purveyors of amusement (including the man putting on a Donald Trump mask and getting his picture taken while in some sort of Trumpian pose, and a Christian evangelist–to move across the street. It was done quietly, but it was done efficiently. Pretty soon we were all across the street behind yellow police line tape. The street was empty but for some Secret Service agents, several of whom held automatic weapons in their hands. Earlier, I had noticed holstered hand guns but not these more lethal weapons.
A few minutes later, one white SUV emerged from the driveway from the White House and drove down the street. I’d like to think that was why agents cleared the street, but there probably were easier ways than closing three blocks containing hundreds, probably more than one thousand, people. For one thing, a few honks and orders from an agent would easily have cleared a path.
We small band of Palestine supporters were the only organized group, the only group with signs who had been in the street. I realized after about 30 minutes of being held behind the yellow tape, and the the agents’ eyes mostly aimed in our direction, that we were the focus, the cause of the herding. I felt for the tourists who just wanted their picture taken as close as possible to the White House.
Then, just as quietly as before, an agent released the tape. It seems logical to me that after the agents watched our rather ragged attempt at singing protest songs–if someone said 10 of us sang I would be surprised (even with a portable speaker we made very little noise)–and seeing that our number did not grow, they decided the President was safe from marauding Palestinian freedom fighters (or terrorists as many would say).
After re-grouping, several of us took a few pictures (I took picture on left of three of our group), and then I began the journey home. I had donned a black and white keffiyeh at the vigil and I wore it home on the Metro to Greenbelt. No one asked me why, on a hot day, I had a large scarf over my shirt, but if they had, I would have told them I was showing solidarity with, and honor to, strong, patient Palestinians who still seek the respect of the world, and most especially of Israel and my own country, the United States of America.
I’ll be back, at the White House or not, and I am sure our numbers will grow. It does not take a multitude to remind me of what is important, even as I know that many will not join until there is a multitude. So we have work to do.
And as Christian theologian, I know that dignity for all, abundant life for all, is God’s charge to us. And it does not matter whose God that is. God says it in every tradition, in every religion.
It’s been a long time since I visited this topic. The delay stems in part from too much else going on in my life, and from continuing to worry about the topic. Can I say what it seems I must say?
Based on what I have written in prior installments in this series, as well as ongoing research and reading, here is what I believe:
Palestinians deserve a true and secure homeland, and Israel must be safe
Israel can be safe and Palestine, too, if Israel, the United States and others will work with the Palestinian Authority (and even Hamas) to end the occupation of the West Bank and the isolation of Gaza
Rigid, rightist Zionists and their allies in the Netanyahu government must be stopped from their plan to obtain all the land they claim they have from God, often called Greater Israel (meaning in contemporary terms the current State of Israel plus the Palestinian territories), and at other times more expansively historical Israel (relying on biblical texts which extend the claim into other sovereign nations)
The United States should spend as much on helping the Palestinians develop their economy, government and social institutions as it does sustaining the Israeli military (Israel will be far safer with this nation-building than with more arms)
In other words, the land in the State of Israel and the Palestinian territories belongs to both people, and a way must be found for both to live there.
It seems clear to me that two forces are making this impossible. One is the ineffective leadership of the Palestinian Authority, called corrupt by many. This is not the focus of this series, but is an important element in the ongoing failure to bring peace and justice to the land. Of course, it is not simply corruption or ineptitude that bogs down the PA, it is also that in reality it exists at the sufferance of the Israeli government and the IDF (Israeli Defense Force). Despite declarations by some bodies, one can hardly call Palestine a state because its government does not have typical governmental authority over its own territory.
Indeed, the question of land management reveals how the PA lacks what would be ordinary authority for any government–to issue building permits and enforce land management regulations duly adopted by the civil authority.
Instead, what is happening in the West Bank–about 60% of which is under full Israeli control (Area C), 28% which is under joint PA/Israeli military control and PA civil control (Area B), and 11% of which is under PA control but subject to Israeli military incursions–seems to be the gradual settlement by Jewish persons in settlements designed to bring about a de facto control the land by Israel.
It is impossible for me to look at these facts and conclude that Israel is not an occupying power. Most of the rest of the world, including the United States and the United Nations, say it is so. Israel denies this. And many Jewish settlers and organizations that support existing and future settlements argue that Israel is not an occupying power but is instead the legitimate government by virtue of God’s grant of all the land of Judea and Samaria to Israel. It is, in the view of settlers, the Palestinians who are out of place, who are interlopers and invaders.
In a recent article in the Washington Post, Yochi Damari, who heads a regional council representing Jewish settlements in the Hebron hills, claimed that those resisting demolition of the village of Susiya represent an insidious Palestinian encroachment onto lands the Jewish homesteaders believe were given to them by God.He called the residents of Susiya “invaders” and a “criminal tribe.”
This is in spite of the reality of generation upon generation of Palestinian families who have resided in that village, farmed and otherwise made their living on the land surrounding it. The effort by the government to push the inhabitants out of their village, and other villages, too, is one part of the process by which it appears that Israel seeks to displace as many Palestinians as possible–to create a modern-day, quiet but effective nakba (the Arabic term for the events of 1948, when many Palestinians were displaced from their homeland by the creation of the new state of Israel–either through military action by Israel and/or the Arab nations who invaded to stop the creation of Israel, or through flight brought about by fear after the massacre at Deir Yassin (see “Deir Yassin, Where Are you?”).
But forced removal–by governmental action or by settler intimidation and violence–is not the only way the local Palestinian population is seeing the land vanish before their eyes.
The other method, one that seems far more effective in the long run, is the establishment of Jewish settlements in various parts of the occupied West Bank territories. Another factor, not for discussion now, is the low, almost non-existent, rate of approval by Israeli authorities for Palestinian homes to be built.
I have noticed a common theme in conversations with many U.S. people who oppose BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) and groups like Jewish Voice for Peace (which supports BDS as a non-violent citizens movement centered in Palestine) and others who are critical of Israel. Most say, as they make judgments about the motives and intelligence and ethics of those who they see as anti-Israel (and some who claim anti-Semitic views as the cause), “Israel makes mistakes, of course; for example the settlements are wrong.”
But no one seems to have figured out a way to stop more of them, let alone what to do with existing ones–no one, except the settlers themselves, with the helping hand of the Netanyahu government.
The Times article traces what happens when settlers move into an area without authorization and establish homes: eventually, the government recognizes realities and gives the settlers legal permission to be in their homes. What I learned during my visit to Israel and the West Bank in October, 2014 is that once a settler or settlers have a home set up, the IDF generally provide them protection, a de facto recognition of the legitimacy of unauthorized, or illegal, settlements.
Haaretz outlines how the Netanyahu government is trying to move forward with settlement construction without incurring the wrath of the U.S. government. So far, that government is doing quite well. U. S. protests seem to carry not penalty, the language feeling more like a plea to stop doing something rather than an action to stop it.
So, whose land is it, anyway? If possession is nine-tenths of the law, as I was taught in childhood, then increasingly it appears the land belongs to Israel. The Palestinians are losing ground, day by day.
Will this bring peace? No! Of course not–it will only bring more unrest.
Many say, with some accuracy in a legal way, that there never was a nation called Palestine. They say this means that Israel’s claim is paramount (not to mention the view of biblical literalists) and must carry the day.
However, these people, whom we have come to call Palestinians, are a people of the land. This land. They did not emigrate from Eastern or Western Europe or the United States or Latin America or Africa in order to create a homeland. They had a home, they had homes here for generations. Now their homeland is occupied.
Their claim to this land is as legitimate as Israel. Some would say more. I might agree, except that we must work within the legal decisions by the League of Nations and the United Nations.
And Israel, as the occupying power, had best learn the lesson every occupying power in history (including the British whose mandate from the League of Nations to govern this land was a violent episode that drove them out)–namely that the local people will use whatever means is at hand to drive out the occupier.
It is time for settlers and others, including the government, to give up the dream of a Jewish state within the borders of the current legal territory of Israel and the occupied West Bank–to give up the idea of Greater Israel without Palestinians–and to make peace with the reality on the ground.
God’s ground, the ground belonging to several groupings of God’s people.
In October, 2014, I visited Jerusalem with my husband Jonathan.While he spent his days participating in the annual conference of the International Association for Psychoanalytic Self Psychology, I visited sites in Israel and Palestine. I went first to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum. It was appropriate to do so; it is like making confession before praying. To say it was a moving experience is to engage in gross understatement. Two elements were particularly moving to me (and I was touched everywhere I turned). First was the memorial to the children lost in the Holocaust. I could not stop weeping. Second, I went to the memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto. At first, I had a hard time seeing it. I was standing in the middle of very large space that looked like a town square. But there was nothing there. Then I realized that was the memorial . . . there was no one left. The people were wiped out. Only the town square remains. More tears.
A few days later, I traveled to Kfar Shaul, a mental hospital a little ways further out from Jerusalem than Yad Vashem. A participant in Jonathan’s conference told me he had walked from Yad Vashem to Kfar Shaul in well less than an hour.
Why did I go to the site of a mental hospital? I went, as I went to Yad Vashem, to honor the dead and missing, this time those killed on April 9, 1948 and those who fled the killing from what was then a small Palestinian village, Deir Yassin. The attack on the village by Zionist paramilitary groups, the Irgun and Lehi, was part of the fierce fighting that was going on between local Arabs and Jews for control of land that was to become the State of Israel.
Reports of the killing of villagers in Deir Yassin spread quickly among many villages and the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians began.
Today, instead of a marker for the lost village, or any other sign of what happened here 68 years ago today, now the village buildings comprise an Israeli mental hospital called Kfar Shaul. Of course, that facility is behind locked gates, and there is no public entry. There is here an echo of the memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto–nobody remains.
I have written the poem below–and I continue to work on it, because it feels incomplete yet–to commemorate my visit in 2014, and to keep erasure of Deir Yassin before us. I will not forget. I ask that you not forget either.
Deir Yassin, Where Are You?
The distance between Yad Vashem and Kfar Shaul more than a stone can throw less than a good morning walk but the canyon between each gapes wide and deep like yes and no a wound buried in enough denial to be ignored
Deir Yassin, where are you?
I. Yad Vashem records the horrors of Holocaust the truth of inhumanity shining the deepness of honesty on brutality recounting the names and faces of victims recalling the perpetrators of butchery recording the names of the righteous among the nations who refused to lie in bed with evil
Tears flow hearts ache minds recoil as we repeat Never Again Never Again knowing in the lurking memory of time it is a promise we may not keep
Deir Yassin, where are you?
II. Kfar Shaul tells a different story speaking in code known to those who want to forget a moment of silence lasting lifetimes a center for mental health mental health resting on the remains of a village living in denial recording nothing of the souls buried beneath its glassy façade locking patients and remembrances of things past lives gone behind security cameras and guard posts
Deir Yassin, where are you?
III. It was a day in what should have been another lifetime but feels like only yesterday the wounds buried just deep enough in denial to be ignored continuing the mournful fugue of historical futility A day April 9 1948 righteous men believing in a vision to reclaim their ancient home struck out at villagers in homes these in the wrong place at the wrong time on the wrong side at least the losing side
Deir Yassin, where are you?
100 or 250 gone of 600 or 750 inhabitants depending on the history we read, one-sixth to one-third gone whatever your source reports of rape men paraded through Jerusalem to the cheers of other men and then shot others dispute all the horror blaming it on Arab soldiers whose single-fire guns sought to stave off automatic weapons and mortars
Deir Yassin,where are you?
IV. The exodus of villagers not just Deir Yassin 250,000 refugees in camps symbol of the new order creating fear among people without an army even a government some said they did not even exist living in a land without a people
Deir Yassin, where are you?
The conquerors terrorized in other lands hated and feared and maligned survivors of the slaughtered came a people without a land to call home filling the homes of those who fled becoming a people and a land as one prosperous and strong proud and feared hated too
Deir Yassin, where are you?
V. Are you under the wound scabbed over now by a place for mental health a place of screams and dreams of loves and lives lost remembered repeating in flashing fits of confession and accusation rambling humbled haunted tales of fear and illusion even bouts of sometimes reality? Yad Vashem. Kfar Shaul.
Deir Yassin, where are you?
No word about what lies buried under
Deir Yassin, where are you?
No names on homes still standing as offices and cottages for the new village inmates even as their walls and doors and windows and roofs hold the secrets of yesterday’s disappeared
VI. A visitor stands on the sidewalk tearfully remembering the histories he has read and Holocaust stories he can almost recite word for word from memory and the endless arguments about who killed how many in ‘48 and ‘67 and ‘73 and ‘14 and all the other years too and why it had to be so persist like a bad dream growing more weird frightening ugly
Yad Vashem. Kfar Shaul.
Deir Yassin, where are you?
His mind reciting repeating mumbling stumbling Never Again Never. Again. Knowing knowing knowing it is a promise we have yet to keep
Today, March 30, is Palestinian Land Day, a day set aside to mark a horrific moment on this date in 1976 in relations between Israeli citizens (both Jewish and Arab) and Palestinians.
I had not intended to write today in this series (see previous entries on March 3, February 8, and February 4), but when I learned of the significance of this date, I felt it right to acknowledge history. I make no claim to expertise on this event or its celebration, but given the fact that few news outlets in the United States report much news about nonviolent events among Palestinians, and because I did see some shocking disparities in land and water allocation (with Palestinians at considerable disadvantage) during my visit in 2014, I decided to share this information.
Here is an excerpt from a post of two years ago in the +972 blog…..
On that dreadful day 38 years ago, in response to Israel’s announcement of a plan to expropriate thousands of acres of Palestinian land for “security and settlement purposes,” a general strike and marches were organized in Palestinian towns within Israel, from the Galilee to the Negev. The night before, in a last-ditch attempt to block the planned protests, the government imposed a curfew on the Palestinian villages of Sakhnin, Arraba, Deir Hanna, Tur’an, Tamra and Kabul, in the Western Galilee. The curfew failed; citizens took to the streets. Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as those in the refugee communities across the Middle East, joined in solidarity demonstrations.
In the ensuing confrontations with the Israeli army and police, six Palestinian citizens of Israel were killed, about 100 wounded and hundreds arrested. The day lives on, fresh in the Palestinian memory, since today, as in 1976, the conflict is not limited to Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip but is ever-present in the country’s treatment of its own Palestinian Arab citizens.
As I continue to learn more about the land, its history, and the current situation, I will offer other information.
What remains clear is that contest between these two portions of humanity is far from over. And my prayer remains, on this day and every day, that there be no more martyrs of any type for any reason. There is already enough blood to go around.
My focus in this series, Whose Land Is It, Anyway, is Israel and Palestine. However, I do not come to this concern as a blank slate. I have history, we all have history, some of which does not directly involve this holy and sacred land in the Middle East.
For me, there is other holy land, too–as a citizen of the United States, there is the land comprising the 50 states. For people in other nations, they may well consider the land of their nation holy.
In fact, all land is holy, part of the divine Creation of which each of us is a part. Without the land of the earth to stand on we would not be.
The native people European explorers and settlers encountered in the Americas knew this truth in a deep and powerful way; it was a core belief on which they all lived. In fact, they rejected the idea than anyone could own land to the exclusion of others. The land belongs to all.
“What is this you call property? It cannot be the earth, for the land is our mother, nourishing all her children, beasts, birds, fish and all men. The woods, the streams, everything on it belongs to everybody and is for the use of all. How can one man say it belongs only to him?” -Massasoit (leader of the Wampanoag in what is now Rhode Island; despite this quotation, he did sell land to the settlers of Massachusetts Bay Colony to keep the peace)
Against this vision of common wealth, resources shared for the good of all, immigrants from other places arrived, many of them wanting to create a new life very different from their former ones, including the real possibility that they could finally own land on which to live and even work. No longer would only a few rich, often titled, persons own land, but everyone, or at least many, could own land, too.
There were inevitable clashes, the newcomers wanting what the natives already had, namely land, and the natives sensing a threat to their ability to continue to live in traditional ways. And as the numbers of immigrants swelled, so did the demand for the land.
What began on the east seaboard became inevitably a push all the way to the west coast, from Atlantic to Pacific. In between were many battles, even real wars, between the increasingly dominant power of the U.S. Government and a land-voracious society on the one side and increasingly desperate native tribes and leaders on the other.
Manifest Destiny, the belief that not only could the United States conquer the entirety of land between the coasts but also was called to do so by divine Providence, became the rallying cry. This nation was understood to be ordained to take possession of all it could see between the Atlantic and the Pacific.
Land became the commodity and the native people who sat on it became the victims of an overwhelming power, forced to retreat on to reservations where they were told they could keep their native customs (of course, it is not easy to be a hunting and gathering people without large expanses of land). Most of the time, the promises made to the natives were not kept, certainly when those promises got in the way of settlers claiming the land they wanted.
Today, Native Americans struggle to retain their identity, some still living on reservations and others integrating more into the wider society.
And the land? It is still here, more polluted in many cases, and much of it far more densely populated (as well as much still open space) and all of it is “owned” by someone–according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture Report in 2007, about 60 percent of the land in the United States is privately owned. The Federal Government owns 29 percent of the land base, mostly in the West. State and local governments own nearly 9 percent, and Indian trust land accounts for about 2 percent.
The natives never claimed to own it, but they did claim to live on it and from it. Many no longer live on reservations and are part of the majority society (even as many of them retain identities as native peoples). But the part on which they can live in community more as their ancient teachings guide them is very small.
Whose land is it, then?
The answer seems simple: those who control access to the land own the land.
And yet rarely, if ever, was a full and fair price paid to the natives. They may not have wanted to sell, but perhaps we could claim some moral high ground if we finally paid what we said it was worth.
I leave this very simple version of the story at this point, inviting the reader to reflect on the value of land and people, and how we are called to live in peace with all.
How can we find peace standing on holy, yet so often bloodied, ground?
As readers of this space may know from prior postings, I am deeply concerned about the plight of Israel/Palestine, a territory divided by politics, history, and violence. Coupled with that is my fear that voices in this country, like voices there, are shouting across a cavernous divide rather than finding ways to speak more carefully and softly in hopes of shrinking the chasm between two injured, and injuring, people.
Sadly, it is difficult to speak softly, gently for very long, even if your intentions to do so are clear and well grounded–largely because someone will take issue with you and point to a fact that they believe utterly disproves, or undercuts morally, what you are saying. It is easy to point with alarm and view with fear in every moment, because there is enough history of pain and suffering and violence on all sides to sustain endless argumentation.
Yes, on all sides.
I want to be clear about one key point. I love Israel; I have felt that way for a long, long time. I am just two years older than that nation and I do not remember a time when in my home we did not support the right, the need, of Jews for a recognized safe homeland in that ancient land.
My love for Palestine is no less, although it has a shorter history. For a long time, I never thought about Palestine or Palestinians. There were just the people, a small group I thought, who seemed to get in the way of Israel. More recently, as the result of considerable reading as well as a visit to Israel/Palestine in 2014 and long discussions with people whose wisdom I trust, I have come to see the Palestinians as a people who deserve, who need, a home, a safe home for themselves.
For some time, I more or less thought that somehow these two peoples would, with the help of my country, work things out.
But that is not happening. The chasm grows instead of shrinking.
I am quite sure that whatever I say will make very little difference in the effort to change direction away from confrontation and violence and repression toward real conversation, deep truth telling and confession, and reconciliation. But I must break through my own fears and speak as authentically as I know how. If I do not, who will speak for me?
I am going to have to write many posts about this, because there is much to say. Today, I start with some perspective about me.
I consider myself a liberation theologian within Christianity, meaning that I view the world from the underside of history, that I see through the eyes of faith a God who stands, and calls us to stand, with “the least of these,” that I read the Bible as a record of how, in many different contexts and eras, God calls people to care for the stranger, the widow, the orphan, the poor, the power-less.
In that worldview, I am formed by a tradition that first goes way back to Hebrew prophets (my parish priest for 20 years was a lover of the Hebrew Bible and all things Jewish and he showed me the power and beauty of Judaism), as well as Jesus (himself a Hebrew prophet in many ways). and more recently with people and theologians and religious leaders in Latin America, Asia and Africa who have done and are doing theological exploration in what are sometimes called “base communities” (created by the poor themselves as well as those policed and kept in check by the privileged authorities) as well as groups in more affluent places, including Black and Latino people in our own nation, feminists, LGBT and Queer, Native American, and differently-abled communities of interest and struggle.
The reader may begin to understand that, given this orientation which developed long before I had any awareness of the depth of the pain in Israel/Palestine, I have some real sympathy toward the Palestinians–definitely the less powerful of the two peoples. In a liberative world view, power and power analysis is central to understanding where we discern God calls us to stand.
But of course, it is not so simple. I have real sympathy for the Israelis, too, for Jews generally, because anti-Jewish attitudes and behaviors–what is often called anti-Semitism (a misleading term in this context because Palestinians are Semitic peoples, too)–is still a major force of intolerance and violence in the world. Jews have been underdogs for far too long, and much of it due to people in my religion (I admit to being utterly baffled by why people who profess to love and follow Jesus hate his people so much).
I started out today to write about some current events–Jewish efforts to get state legislatures to adopt bills against the BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) movement, as well as new information about tourism in Jewish settlements in the West Bank (settlements considered illegal by the United Nations and others, and illegitimate by our own government).
But I realized along the way I need to address a deeper theological issue first: whose land is it? Or to put it another way, what can we learn about this dysfunctional situation by looking at history, both in that part of the world, and even in our own, when people contest with each other over territory?
I am not going to start that today, but I will be exploring that question in future blogs.
In the meantime, I invite you to sit quietly if you can, and contemplate peace, think peaceful thoughts, send out peaceful feelings any way you can–especially peace among Palestinians and Israelis. Perhaps you can even use one of the pictures on this blog post as a point of meditation for peace.