Bulldozing Magdala: Feast of Mary Magdalene Amid the War in Gaza and Displaced Palestinians

We often think of Mary Magdalene in terms of resurrection.

After all, she is called the Apostle to the Apostles, was the first to witness the resurrection, and was the first to proclaim that Good News to others. As a result, Christians — particularly progressives — see her as a patron for women who claim their rightful places in pulpits, at altars, and in positions of church leadership.

But today, on her feast day, I want to remember something else about Mary Magdalene.

Not that she witnessed the resurrection and was the first to preach it, but that she witnessed the crucifixion, as well, when hardly anyone else would.

When the other disciples fled, Mary Magdalene remained at the cross.

Though helpless to do anything about it, she did not turn away from the unjust execution of Jesus by the Roman Empire (not the Jewish people) in all its violence, horror and cruelty. She did not hide from the evil humanity could do. She faced it instead.

This is why we need to remember her today, particularly in the context of the violent and excessive ground invasion of Gaza by the Israeli military and the Israeli government’s decades of unjust, illegal, and inhumane policies of apartheid and expulsion toward native Palestinians.

Today, on her feast day, as Israel revives punitive house demolition in Gaza, let us remember that Mary Magdalene — the Apostle to the Apostles — has been made a refugee in this crisis, too.

Today, on her feast day, she is homeless.

Today, on her feast day, she continues to bear witness to injustice and violence in her homeland and among her people.

In the wake of the Arab-Israeli War in the late 1940s, Israeli forces destroyed her hometown, al Majdal, or Magdala, leaving little more than rubble in its wake as its Palestinian citizens fled. In doing so, Mary Magdalene herself became one of the 700,000 Palestinians who were forcibly expelled or fled in the wake of that war.

And so she stands with those who have been evicted and whose homes have been bulldozed in the decades-long Israeli occupation of Palestine. She stands with and bears witness as well to the destruction of Palestinian homes in Gaza, by both bulldozers and bombs.

Like thousands of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, she has been displaced from her home by war and occupation. Like thousands of Palestinians, she was made homeless by the illegal bulldozing of the homes in her town. Like the thousands of Palestinians, she is in exile from her country, her land, and her home of Magdala.

She has witnessed the cycle of violence all over again among her people. She has witnessed the rise of a movement of Zealots who chose violence over peace and fought back. And she has watched a superior military crush them, implement punitive policies of apartheid, and develop aggressive land theft through settlements.

Today, on her feast day, she is witnessing the systematic slaughter of Gazans.

And make no mistake, it began not with the invasion last week, but with long-standing policies of inhumane economic suppression, unethical restriction of movement of residents through the ghettoization of Gaza and the segregation of Palestinians. This war is a culmination, and likely, not the last until all Palestinians and Arabs have been expelled from that tiny strip of land.

But, as in the past, Mary Magdalene refuses to look away from suffering and violence.

And she refuses to lose hope.

She returns to the tombs of the dead, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, awaiting the resurrection.

She waits for Good News to proclaim.

Good News of justice for the oppressed. Liberation for the people held captive by separation walls. Peace for people blown apart by war. Hope for the refugees with nowhere to flee. New life for those deadened by the seduction of violence.

To be clear, this is not about Judaism or Jewish people. This is not a condemnation of this beautiful and rich faith and its faithful. This is about a secular government that is perpetrating crimes against humanity and has been supporting policies of settlements in direct violation of international law. And, on both sides, we must be careful not to conflate Judaism with the Israeli government and its policies. They are not synonymous, just as Palestinian is not synonymous with “terrorist” or even with “Muslim.”  

So on this day, her feast day, let us join her in her prayers, remembering that she, too, is a Palestinian refugee.

Not just with our lips but with our lives. Let us join her at the foot of the cross. Let us refuse to shut our eyes and ears to the violence. Let us join her at the tombs. Let us, like Mary Magdalene, not sit idly by but act in hopes of being bearers of Good News in hopeless situations.

Good News that says we will no longer stand for our own government providing the weapons of execution and war. Good News that says we will no longer be quiet when we hear the heinous ideology of Christian Zionism. Good News that says we will stand up for humanity, for peace, and for liberation.

*****

Bishop Dawani in the chapel at Al Ahil Arab Hospital in Gaza. (Source: Episcopal Library)

One way to help: The Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem runs a hospital in Gaza, a massive ministry by a dwindling number of Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land. Their work is nothing short of miraculous thanks to the courage, dedication, and sacrifices of the doctors, nurses, and staff there. But the relentless bombing of Gaza has damaged this sanctuary that cares for the sick and injured. Please give. Anglican Bishop Suheil Dawani has issued an emergency appeal for funds to keep the hospital operational in the midst. If you are outraged, don’t scream into the void. Partner with those who are on the ground and helping. If you are in mourning at the injustice, don’t weep alone. Join hands with those who are drying the tears, stitching the wounds, and tending the dying in the midst of war. Read Bishop Suheil Dawani’s letter on the crisis for more information on how to contribute.

 

About David R. Henson

David Henson received his Master of Arts from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, after receiving a Lilly Grant for religious education for journalists. He ordained in the Episcopal Church as a priest. He is a father of two young sons and the husband of a medical school student.


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