We wish that our silence meant that all was well. While Zababdeh
remains relatively quiet, our silence these past few weeks reflects
anything but tranquility. Rather, it is a product of a kind of writers'
block - a writers' paralysis, a rigor mortis rooted in numbness that has
taken hold of us. Even a year into this horrible situation, we have not
gotten used to its violence - violence of both action and rhetoric.
These past few weeks have felt the worst of all.
On Saturday, October 20, nineteen year-old Johnny Yusuf Thaljiah was
shot and killed by Israeli military gunfire. By now, reports of another
dead Palestinian is hardly news. We have grown weary hearing of the
daily casualities. A drop in the sea of more than 500 dead civilians,
Johnny's fate seems barely worth mentioning. But, surely, there is
something to mention about Johnny's death. An altar boy in the Orthodox
Church, Johnny was hit in the chest by a bullet as he played with his
four year-old nephew in Bethlehem's Manger Square. He died moments
later, in the shadow of the Church of the Nativity.
Do the circumstances of Johnny's death make it any more tragic or unjust
than the hundreds of others? No. But his death does come with a symbolic
weight his coreligionists cannot ignore. His death was the sacrilege of
violent bloodshed at the very site of Jesus' birth, the ground that
welcomed the Prince of Peace among us. It is a wake-up call to fellow
Christians, a tangible sign of horror, an example of the ends of warlike
means. Can we watch mutely as our brothers and sisters are killed at the
site of our Savior's birth? Should we rest as the "little town" of
Bethlehem - and so much of the "holy land" - is laid under siege?
Indeed no. On the following Tuesday, we went to Bethlehem. The
Patriarchs and heads of the churches of Jerusalem, including Catholic,
Orthodox, and Protestant leaders, organized a convoy to Bethlehem. We
went to share solidarity with the people there, to call for an end to
all violence, and to demand a just peace. As we entered the city, we
numbered around five thousand, mostly Christians but also including Jews
and Muslims. We saw destruction and hopelessness in Bethlehem. We saw
spent shells littering the main road from the checkpoint at the edge of
the city into Manger Square. We saw buildings riddled by bulletholes. We
saw fences, lamp posts, and cars crushed under the weight of Israeli
tank treads. And we visited grieving families, Christian and Muslim, who
lost their children and mothers as "collateral damage" in the latest
Israeli incursion - no less crushed under the wheels of military
These things could be seen not only in Bethlehem, but throughout
Palestine. The most recent invasions came in response to the
assassination of Israeli Cabinet Minister Rehavam Zeevi. Zeevi,
canonized by Israel's current military regime, had a simple solution for
the conflict with the Palestinians (whom he called "lice" and "a
cancer"): ethnic-cleansing of the Arab population. They should be
"transferred" from not only Palestine and Israel, but also from Jordan,
which was exclusively Jewish property in his eyes. He was, rightly
described, a Jewish fundamentalist. Do these things make his murder
just? No. As Christians, we cannot justify the actions of the assassins.
Zeevi was murdered in response to Israel's assassination of a
Palestinian political leader; Zeevi's killers followed the moral code of
"an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." This moral code was
rejected by Jesus, who went on to exhort us to love our enemies and pray
for them. We are called to abandon our human inclinations toward
retribution and revenge, in hopes of building a kingdom of peace.
Violence and murder do not bring peace. Rather, they bring more of the
same, loaded with pain and anger. Undoubtedly, Zeevi's family suffers
with this pain and anger, as do the families of the Palestinians killed
in his name.
Tomorrow, thousands of Palestinian Christians will head to village and
city cemeteries to remember the dead on All Souls' Day. No doubt for
many, this will open the floodgates of tears - bringing back the pain of
loved ones lost in years gone by, but this year (as last year) the pain
will be accentuated by the immense losses their nation is bearing. For
many, the hope of a political solution is long dead as well - ruthlessly
crushed, endlessly eulogized, and resignedly buried. During the past
two weeks, our hope joined theirs. Perhaps it was right to die.
Perhaps it is in these graveyards that hope resting in politics will
finally be laid to rest. And perhaps it is from these graveyards that
hope will be reborn, rising from the shadow of the cross into the light,
transformed into a new hope that hinges not on compromise, but stands
firm in grace.
The past few days brought reports of Israeli snipers firing over Manger
Square once again, this time squarely hitting the cross atop the Church
of the Nativity. Once again, the birthplace of grace has been defaced.
But to shoot a cross? It's nothing but mere folly - you can't kill the
hope of resurrection.
Salaam al-Masih (peace of Christ),
Elizabeth and Marthame
PS If you are interested in seeing more of our trip to Bethlehem,
please visit our journal: