From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
FEATURE: Israel-Palestine - Beacons of Light against All Odds
"Frank Imhoff" <FRANKI@elca.org>
Fri, 21 Feb 2003 12:27:31 -0600
"Nothing Had Prepared Me for What I'd Experienced"
EAST JERUSALEM/GENEVA, 21 February 2003 (LWI) - It is my last day
in the Holy Land and I'm standing in one of the Old City's narrow
streets watching four armed young Israeli soldiers search and
interrogate three young Palestinians.
One of the soldiers turns and glares at me. "Yes?" he barks, his
tone hostile, his body language menacing. I tell him I'm just
standing, watching. "Well, can I help you?" he asks curtly.
No, I tell him, I'm just standing, watching. "Well, move," he
says. Anger smothers fear and I stand my ground. For a few tense
moments our eyes lock before he turns away. The Palestinians are
released and I move on.
For the past seven days I had traveled through parts of East
Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, occupied by Israel since
1967, on a Lutheran World Federation (LWF) - sponsored field trip.
I had read reports of human rights abuses, of collective
punishments aimed at crushing a people's spirit; of the relentless
spread of illegal Jewish settlements over Palestinian land,
destroying citrus and olive groves tenderly nourished over
centuries, demolishing homes and displacing people; of the daily
harassment and intimidation of the occupied by the occupiers, but
nothing had prepared me for what I'd been told, what I'd seen, and
what I'd experienced.
Our small group passed through military checkpoints and roadblocks
into areas off limits to all but those with the proper paperwork.
We walked through the eerie silence of cities under curfew,
Palestinian families penned inside their homes, their streets
patrolled by heavily-armed Israeli soldiers. We saw Israel's
"Berlin Wall" now under construction to fence off the West Bank
and further isolate the Palestinians.
And yet, there are beacons of light and hope in this brutalized
land where humanitarian and international government agencies,
church organizations and individual Christians, Muslims and Jews,
work against mounting odds for a just peace and an end to
The loss of a Christian presence in the Holy Land would result in
a loss of humanitarian support, employment and programs that help
build a strong civil society, says Craig Kippels, the LWF -
Department for World Service (DWS) representative in Jerusalem.
"The churches are probably the best hope there is in finding a
just peace to the conflict. They have the ability to view the
situation from a human rights and justice perspective and to tell
the story to the rest of the world. The telling of the story is
The year 2001 was characterized by increased violence and poverty,
and a decreased hope for a near-term solution, Kippels said in his
annual report. The number of injured and killed rose almost daily
with both sides seemingly more solidified in their resolve not to
give in to the other.
Kippels' 2002 report is unlikely to be less bleak as the cycle of
violence continues putting further stress on LWF programs already
stretched almost to breaking point. Kippels notes that the Augusta
Victoria Hospital on the Mount of Olives would not have had the
ability to respond to the ongoing and extraordinary needs of
patients without the emergency help received from friends,
partners, and related agencies.
The LWF's Vocational Training Center is feeling the strain after
increasing the number of trainees from 102 in 2000 to 160 male and
female trainees in 2001. Besides the training programs the center
provides a safe environment for students as it struggles to help
build a Palestinian civil society through the training of its
LWF-sponsored village health clinics, a workshop for the blind,
and scholarship programs are among other humanitarian projects
threatened by the present uncertain situation.
The energetic Bishop Munib A. Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran
Church in Jordan that serves Israel, Jordan and Palestine, plans
to be in Winnipeg for the July 2003 LWF Tenth Assembly. I asked
him if the Palestinian issue would be raised at the gathering. "Of
course," he said. "The theme of the assembly is 'For the Healing
of the World.'"
(A team of journalists participated in a Lutheran World Federation
exposure visit to the Holy Land in December 2002. Michael McAteer,
a former Toronto Star religion editor together with a German and
two South African journalists journeyed through the occupied
territories. Attempts to arrange meetings with Israeli government
officials during the visit were unsuccessful. This is the first
feature article in a three-part series that McAteer wrote for
Lutheran World Information (LWI).
(The LWF is a global communion of Christian churches in the
Lutheran tradition. Founded in 1947 in Lund (Sweden), the LWF now
has 136 member churches in 76 countries representing over 61.7
million of the 65.4 million Lutherans worldwide. The LWF acts on
behalf of its member churches in areas of common interest such as
ecumenical relations, theology, humanitarian assistance, human
rights, communication, and the various aspects of mission and
development work. Its secretariat is located in Geneva,
[Lutheran World Information (LWI) is LWF's information service.
Unless specifically noted, material presented does not represent
positions or opinions of the LWF or of its various units. Where
the dateline of an article contains the notation (LWI), the
material may be freely reproduced with acknowledgment.]
* * *
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