Three weeks ago I boarded an Amtrak train in Portland bound for Seattle. I was on my way to meet up with my Palestinian brother and friend, Daoud Nassar — farmer, peacemaker and owner of Tent of Nations, a 100-acre farm just south of Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Most of you know about Daoud, have heard him speak or have even been among the close to 50,000 pilgrims who have visited Tent of Nations in the past decade — 8,000 in 2013 alone. My trip to Seattle had been planned for some time, but now it had a particular urgency. The day before, in the early morning hours of Monday, May 19th, the Israeli army closed off the area around the farm to allow bulldozers to enter the fertile valley at the north end of the farm with the mission of burying over 1500 productive fruit trees under piles of rubble. Stealing away before dawn, they left behind not only the dream of the planned harvesting of this most productive area of the farm, but ten years of work of terracing and irrigation. I was saddened and outraged, but not shocked. This act of madness and cruelty was one more example of the state violence and human and environmental destruction on the part of Israel that has devastated, not only the prospect of coexistence between Palestinians and Jews, but the dream of a safe, productive and democratic society that inspired the Jewish immigrants fleeing an inhospitable Europe beginning in the last decades of the 19th century. That dream has turned into a nightmare, and the only way to redeem it is to put a stop to acts like this pre-dawn massacre of an orchard lovingly planted and tended by a Palestinian family and hundreds of international volunteers and visitors.
The story of Daoud Nassar’s heroic struggle to defend his land from Israeli confiscation is well known. The thousands of us who have known and loved Daoud and his family over the years have lived, in some measure, with the constant threat of Israel government incursion and land confiscation that has been his lot since the early 90s. Recent years have seen settler vandalism, unannounced visits from the military, and countless orders to demolish existing structures and to cease cultivation — but this is the first time that the state has actually moved on the property and done damage. Arriving in Seattle, I found Daoud shocked and saddened, but unfazed. I watched as he stood before a group of 70 people at a suburban church and told the story of his family and his dream of a thriving peace center and school for sustainable agriculture. When near the end of the talk he referred to the destruction that had just occurred, Daoud wondered out loud to the audience what the soldiers and the bulldozer operators had said to their children on returning home that day when asked, “What did you do today, Daddy?” As always, in the tradition of nonviolent resistance and in the spirit of Jesus, Daoud thought about the damage to his oppressor. We sat together later that night and he talked about plans to rebuild the terraces and replant the valley.
Expressions of support from friends across the globe began to flood in immediately and have not ceased. There will be opportunities to be part of the rebuilding, and information on that will be forthcoming. Now, it continues to be about raising our voices, in particular as U.S. citizens, to our elected officials, our Department of State, and to the Israeli government. It is my firm belief that this outrage provides an opportunity to further turn the attention of the world to the plight of Palestine and the requirement to liberate Palestinian and Israeli alike from the evil of apartheid in our time. Visit the website of Friends of Tent of Nations North America to sign a petition letter, access comments and prayers from thousands of those who have already signed, read an update of events, and obtain addresses and phone numbers for government officials and a downloadable sample letter. You will also find a summary of the history of the family’s struggle and a timeline of events leading to the current crisis. You can go directly to this page to sign the petition. If you are not already on the FOTONNA mailing list, the contact page allows you to sign up to receive regular updates and the quarterly Friends of Tent of Nations newsletter.
A Pentecost Reflection
The season of Easter and Pentecost is about momentous events that set in motion events even more history-changing. I’ve linked below to a sermon I was honored to deliver on Easter week. It turned out to be a challenging assignment. I began the preaching in this way: “As much as I respond powerfully to the ministry of Jesus and to the heart of the gospel message, I have been confused by Easter. But as I read the texts I realize that this confusion is an important, even essential part of the Easter experience.” I talked about how although Easter is celebrated as a time full of hope and promise, the gospels tell a different story – one of loss, shock, and confusion. Perhaps this is why there is a gap of 50 days between Easter and Pentecost — are we being told that for events this big we need time to absorb, reflect, and prepare for what is to come? The Jewish calendar parallels the Christian one with a similar gap in time. The 7 weeks separating Passover, which commemorates the exodus from Egypt, and Pentecost (in Hebrew Shavuot, “weeks”), traditionally linked to receiving the law at Sinai. Recall that in the Old Testament account, the road from liberation to revelation was a rocky one indeed, literally a wilderness time — the people confused, complaining, backsliding. History-changing events challenge us to respond, especially when they bring pain, loss, confusion, the temptation to despair. We are called to dig deep. The Nassar family knows about this – they know how, faced with adversity and setbacks, to do what needs to be done, keeping their eyes on the vision: being faithful to the land and its promise, to the commitment to peace and coexistence.
As we contemplate the destruction at Tent of Nations and are reminded of our responsibility to pursue collective action, we also realize that this is bigger than Palestine. The Palestinians will achieve their liberation. They know who they are, are steadfast in their nonviolent resistance, the support of the world is growing — justice will inevitably come. What is on the line now, as the Palestine solidarity movement grows and the forces to silence it increase in intensity, challenging not only the facts but even the theology of nonviolent resistance emerging from Palestine, is the witness of the church as the spiritual heart of this movement. It’s an old story: the attempt to silence the cry of joy emanating from Jesus’ followers entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday; the suppression and murder of church and other civil society leaders during the Civil Rights movement in the US; the persecution of Catholic priests, brothers and nuns working for social justice in Central and South America; the accusations of heresy and anti-Semitism directed at the non-violent Word of Faith, Hope and Love issuing from the Palestinian church today. So on this week of Pentecost let us remember the birth of the church, the day that the charge to discipleship was issued: to go out from Jerusalem, leaving behind forever the idea of God living in a house and granting land to one family, one people or one nation, the charge to go out to the ends of the earth, speaking all the languages of the world, with the message of universal love and compassion.
Following are excerpts from my Easter sermon. Click here for the entire sermon, “God Breaking In.”
“Jesus himself appeared and stood among the eleven and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?
Jesus, as always, was patient with his loving but clueless followers. He showed them the simple, down to earth truth:
Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.
Here Jesus, as concretely as possible, was trying to clear up the confusion. He was demonstrating, not his divinity but his humanness. Look at my body, look at my wounds, consider my physical pain. Hear that I need to eat, that I am hungry. Don’t you understand that I suffer as our people suffer from being beaten, persecuted, starved? Are you looking for God? Do you want to know the Father? Look here, right here, at my body — look at my wounds, feed my hunger. My ministry, this whole story you have been part of since the beginning is about that suffering and about the mind and the heart of God who feels that pain and experiences that hunger. Look at my wounds, know my pain, feed my hunger! And then go and do this for the least of these, meaning those under the wheel, suffering under the boot of oppression. This is what God wants, this is Torah.
These are strong words. This is not easy. And this is the story of Easter and what followed from this huge event. It is humanity’s struggle to come to terms with the radical truth of Jesus’ ministry….
There is much more at stake here than one people’s struggle for liberation. More at stake than whether the church will claim its mission and stand with the oppressed Palestinians …more at stake than whether the Western church, consumed with horror and guilt about its legacy of anti-Jewish doctrine and action, can withstand the accusations by the Jewish establishment that Christians are betraying hard-won Christian-Jewish trust and reconciliation by standing up for Palestinians…As Jesus challenged the religious establishment of his time, as Martin Luther King Jr. called upon the church to be faithful to its foundational principles, as the South African churchwomen and churchmen called their own church to account, so the church is challenged today to recognize its own sin, confess, and turn again to its foundational mission….”
(Note: a propos of this point, the Presbyterian Church is gathering in General Assembly in Detroit later this week to vote, once again, on divesting from companies profiting from and abetting the illegal occupation of and attempted destruction of Palestine. I’ll be there and will be blogging. Stay tuned.)