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What is Happening in Israel and Palestine?

Over the Easter weekend, the news media was once again flooded with violent images coming out of Israel and Palestine. We saw groups of masked Palestinians stoke fires made of tires while thick smoke rose into the grey-blue Gazan sky. On the other side of the barrier fence we saw Israeli artillery vehicles shoot teargas to disperse the crowds, and a hundred snipers shoot live ammunition as the people ran for cover. What is going on over there? Will the violence ever end?

This year, tens of thousands of Palestinians peacefully marched to the barrier fence separating Gaza from Israel.

For Palestinians, March 30th is “Land Day,” the day in 1976 when Israel crushed a peaceful strike and mass protests by thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel protesting land confiscation. Six Palestinians were killed that day.

This year, tens of thousands of Palestinians peacefully marched to the barrier fence separating Gaza from Israel to demonstrate and call attention to their plight. The Israeli response was unequivocal. Israeli snipers (one hundred strong) were given explicit “shoot-to-kill” orders. And shoot they did. According to Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, 15 protestors were killed, almost 1,500 others were injured—including 750 hit by live ammunition—and at least 20 are in critical condition.

While Christians everywhere remembered the death of Jesus for the sins of the world, the world witnessed the sins of the State raining down on unarmed protestors seeking a better future.

The fact that tens of thousands of Gazans would willingly walk toward the fence behind which stood a heavily armed line of Israeli soldiers with fingers on their triggers should prompt in us an important question: Why would the people of Gaza risk their lives like this? This is precisely the question Palestinians want us on the other side of the world to ask. Why would they risk so much? What are they trying to draw the world’s attention to?

Why would the people of Gaza risk their lives like this?

Part of the answer, according to Robert Cohen—a Jewish journalist from the UK—is that the West Bank and Gaza have been colonized and occupied by Israel for over 50 years. This is not to say the Palestinians are without fault. This is to say there is a profound power imbalance in the region. Some results of this imbalance of power are: severe restrictions on the Palestinian economy and freedom of movement, no control over their own utilities such as water, Palestinians being forced to suffer daily indignities at both permanent and roaming checkpoints throughout the West Bank, and two legal systems operative in the West Bank—one for Israeli citizens living illegally in settlements, and martial law for native Palestinian residents.

And the situation in Gaza is worse. The infrastructure has been decimated through several Israeli military operations over the last few years. Unemployment is almost 44%. Electricity is only available 2–4 hrs/day, even for schools and hospitals. Hopelessness reigns as Israel often prevents aid trucks from getting much needed supplies to hospitals, schools, and kitchens due to the perceived security risks.

The West Bank and Gaza have been colonized and occupied by Israel for over 50 years.

What might it look like to take a posture of solidarity with the people of Palestine? What does the world look like from their perspective? I have met many Palestinian people. I have shared food and drink (very strong coffee!) in their homes. I have listened to their stories. I have laughed with them and cried with them. But I realize that not everyone has the ability to travel to Israel/Palestine. (As a side note, if you are able to travel to the region, make sure to go on a tour that introduces you to Israel and Palestine, Israelis and Palestinians).

This is why I am part of Kairos West Michigan (KWM), a local movement dedicated to seeking understanding as to the sources of the hostilities between the Israeli and Palestinian people. A few times a year we bring speakers who are experts in various aspects of the situation to help us understand the dynamics of the struggle for peace with justice in Israel and Palestine. 

If you are interested in learning how Palestinians—both Christian and Muslim—and Israelis—Jewish, secular, and Messianic—are struggling to find either sustainable security or freedom with dignity in Israel and Palestine, I'd encourage you to look for a similar movement in your area that will help you learn, pray, and support those who are struggling to live out their faith around the world.


Editor's note: The Middle East Study Trip report concluded that the major contribution the CRC can make as agencies, institutions, and individuals is to raise awareness of the plight of Palestinians -- particularly our sisters and brothers in Christ -- among our members and friends. Its recommendations were accepted by the Board of Trustees (now the Council of Delegates) on behalf of Synod, and were subsequently implemented.

[Image: Flickr user Rusty Stewart, under Creative Commons license]

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