Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Craig's Sermon

On Fri, Jun 25, 2010 at 10:47 AM, Craig Hunter <craig@mail.trinitypresdenton.org> wrote:
Hi folks,

I am including my sermon in the text in this email, for those who were not able to open it. I am also attaching the two letters that concerning the PCUSA's Middle East Study Committee's report. If you know some ordained Presbyterian clergy who would be willing to sign the MESC defense letter, please let me know.

Our schedule for Saturday will be as follows: Start at 10 am with introductions (quickly), then move to a brief historical overview of the conflict. At about 11:15, I hope to show the movie "The Iron Wall." Then eat lunch. At about 1, invite the members of the trip to share their experiences with the peacemaking committee, and open it up for discussion, then strategize about what we want to do.


Here is the sermon:

Friends don't let friends drive drunk. I'm sure you've heard that expression before. If you are a friend to someone, you do what you can to prevent destructive behavior on their part. At the very least, you refrain from enabling them in their behavior -- you don't give them the keys.

Friends don't let friends drive drunk. The members of the recent trip to Israel/Palestine heard those exact words from two different individuals about a week apart. One was a Palestinian Christian pastor in Bethlehem, the other was an Israeli Jewish lawyer in Jerusalem. That same statement, spoken with conviction by two very different individuals in such a short time, made quite an impact.

I don't know if the two of them have ever met, but even if they have, I can virtually guarantee that they rarely see each other. For one thing, as a Palestinian resident of Bethlehem, Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb is separated from Jerusalem by what is known as the separation barrier. It surrounds Bethlehem, taking the form of a concrete wall 25 feet high. The wall takes a meandering path, separating farmers from their fields, enclosing Palestinian homes, including one we visited surrounded on three sides, and violating international law as it confiscates land all along its route. Although Jerusalem is on the other side of the wall, Rev. Raheb cannot cross without a special permit, which is rarely given. Indeed, it is easier for him to travel dozens of miles away and cross an international border to go to Jordan than to go to Jerusalem only a few miles away. Angie, a young Palestinian woman we met, was barred from entering Israel for five years because of her political persuasion. Imagine if residents of Denton were prevented from going south to Lewisville, Dallas, or Fort Worth, and had to travel to Oklahoma to get to the nearest airport. Not exactly the same thing, to be sure, but you get the idea.

Danny Seideman, the Israeli Jewish lawyer, on the other hand, has much greater freedom of movement. He can travel freely around Israel and even freely to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Jewish only communities built on land illegally confiscated from Palestinians. As he does so, he encounters no signs that say that he is entering occupied territory. Indeed, the borders of the occupied territories have been erased not only on Israeli maps but in the consciousness of most Israelis. They can travel on Jewish roads to Jewish towns without seeing a Palestinian or without knowing that they are on Palestinian land. The Israeli government has largely succeeded in rendering the occupation invisible in the minds of many Jews. Despite this greater freedom of movement, however, it is illegal for Danny to go to Bethlehem, and he can be arrested by Israel for doing so. By preventing Israeli citizens from visiting Bethlehem and other densely populated Palestinian towns, the Israeli government separates the two populations. This segregation makes it easier for one population to hate and fear the other, because after all, it is easier to hate and fear someone when you don't know them. That is the effect, and likely the intent, as well.

So although Danny and Mitri are only a few miles apart, in some ways they live in very different worlds. Yet when they both said, "Friends don't let friends drive drunk," they meant the same thing. They meant, first of all, that Israel is driving drunk. Israel as a nation is engaging in reckless, destructive behavior, flouting international law and endangering both its own people and others in the process. This is evident, first of all, in the West Bank. In violation of the Geneva Conventions, for decades now Israel has been confiscating Palestinian land to build Jewish-only settlements. They now number about half a million. As I mentioned before, they can go to their settlements on roads and are built especially for them. The water of the West Bank is also controlled by the Israelis and made available to Jews at both greater volume and cheaper rates than to the Palestinians who own the land. Israel's marriage laws discriminates against Palestinians.

And while on the one hand you have a Palestinian denied permission to expand his home above two stories, next door you have a recently built Jewish settlement eight stories tall. Because of these practices, and others, every group or individual working for peace or justice that we met, whether Israeli or Palestinian or international, Muslim or Jewish or Christian, thought apartheid was an appropriate term to describe Israeli governmental policy. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said that same thing, and I don't know about you, but I happen to think he knows something about apartheid.

Israel's drunk-driving is perhaps even more apparent in its treatment of Gaza. It imposed a blockade on the people of the Gaza Strip, tightening it considerably after Hamas was elected in a free and fair democratic election. Israel's violation of a ceasefire to assassinate Hamas leaders in November of 2008 soon led to a brief war, which I expect most of you remember. In the aftermath of that war, Israel refused all cooperation with a UN commission of inquiry, led by South African Jew Richard Goldstone. Goldstone accused both Hamas and Israel of war crimes, claiming that a culture of impunity has existed for too long in the Middle East. As Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied territories, noted regarding the report, "The sense emerges from the testimony of these Israeli soldiers, who were in no sense critical of Israel or even of the Gaza war as such, that Israeli policy emerged out of a combination of efforts to 'teach the people of Gaza a lesson for their support of Hamas' and to keep Israeli military casualties as close to zero as possible even if [this] meant massive death and destruction for innocent Palestinians." Perhaps that goes some way in explaining why the Goldstone report concluded that Israel deliberately destroyed wells, sewage treatment plants, and over 300 factories in actions that had no military value whatsoever.

Nowadays, isolated and cut off from the world by the blockade imposed by Israel and abetted by Egypt, Gaza has descended more deeply into the hell it was already in. While the Defense Minister of Israel Ehud Barak claims, "There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza," you have a situation in which 50 percent of the children there suffer from anemia and malnutrition, where 80 percent of the people live below the poverty line, where 65 percent of the adults are unemployed, where medical supplies have run out, where the sole power station has lost 60 percent of its capacity, where 90 percent of the potable water available is unfit for human consumption. The United Nations reports that the meager supplies Israel allows in is only a quarter of what is needed. Israel won't even allow paper in for textbooks. As Tom Neu, the director of the Carter Center in Israel/Palestine reported to us, nobody really works in Gaza -- the few jobs that are available are either political jobs or charity jobs. He referred to the situation there as "the warehousing of 1.5 million people" in what is essentially the world's largest prison. Last, but certainly not least, 56 percent of the inhabitants of Gaza are children. Remember that when you think about Gaza. To put it in other terms, one out of every four Gaza residents is a malnourished Palestinian child.

Finally, Israel's drunk-driving is most immediately apparent in its raid on the Free Gaza flotilla, which occurred a few days after we arrived. The people aboard the flotilla were not just any ragtag bunch of individuals -- they included past and present members of European governments, best-selling authors, and a Nobel Peace prize winner. Israel attacked the ships in international waters, killing nine Turks, including one Turkish-American, in the process. While Israel has released images of its soldiers under assault by Turks with clubs, it has not released images of its soldiers killing Turks, it has not explained why it was not prepared with crowd-control measures, and it hasn't explained why those killed were shot at close range. Israel claims the activists are terrorists, but it has produced no evidence to that effect. In any case, the attack on the ships in international waters is a clear violation of international law.

Of course, if Israel is driving drunk, its behavior is being enabled by friends who allow it to do so. And when I say friends, I mean us, the United States of America. For decades, Israel has violated international law while the United States vetoes any Security Council resolutions that would censure it. Our government funds the construction of the separation wall that wreaks environmental destruction while confiscating land for Jews only. As a nation, we provide more aid to Israel than we do to the entire continent of Africa. When President Obama tries to apply pressure to stop settlement expansion in the West Bank, the Israeli response is to announce the planned construction of more settlements just as Vice President Biden arrives for a visit. It was a slap in the face, and was intended as such. In the aftermath of the Gaza flotilla raid, the United States watered down stronger condemnations of Israel, saying simply that it "deeply regrets the loss of life resulting from the use of force during the Israeli military operations."

That makes it sound like it was an accident, not a crime. Some, such as our own Texas Senator John Cornyn have gone to even greater lengths to express support for Israel. He introduced a resolution to the Senate which blames the activists for the attack and expresses strong support for Israel's security needs and its blockade of Gaza. In Cornyn's world, it would seem, victims are aggressors, international law is subject to the whims of the powerful, and the systemic malnourishment of over a quarter million Palestinian children somehow enhances Israel's security.

Friends don't let friends drive drunk. These words, spoken separately by Danny Seideman and Mitri Raheb, go to the heart of the conflict. They provide a kind of handy analogy for understanding what is happening. Of course, the Palestinians have their own role to play, a role that has never been entirely blameless or powerless, but it has long been clear that Israel has a preponderance of power, and thus of responsibility.
Unfortunately, it doesn't look like Israel's drunk driving is likely to stop anytime soon, nor is our country's enabling behavior. I hope I am wrong.

But to tell the story of the political forces and policies is not to tell the whole story. It is to leave out the spiritual dimension, which as a pastor and as a Christian, I believe is absolutely critical. Thus far, what I have said is as suitable for an editorial as it is for a sermon. But I believe that in the midst of the political dimension, God is at work, and that God's work cannot be clearly seen without understanding the context.

I know the members of our trip saw God at work in different ways. I did too, but what sticks with me the most, what haunts me really, is the face of Maya, a young 22 year old Israeli Jewish girl. I can't seem to get her out of my mind, I've thought of her every day since she led our group on a three-hour tour through the settlements of Jerusalem. She works for the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, a Jewish group that seeks both to reframe the discourse on the conflict as well as to prevent the approximately 100 Palestinian homes Israel demolishes every year. During our tour, she showed us where Jewish settlements sat right next to Palestinian homes -- you could see where the Jews living in the settlements had nice sidewalks, garbage collection, bus service, while the Palestinians living next door were denied those same services. She pointed out that according to the figures of the Israeli government itself, 36 percent of Jerusalem residents are Palestinians, yet they receive only slightly more than 7 percent of budgetary spending. She took us to Ma'ale Adummim, a Jewish settlement adorned with swimming pools and manicured lawns with the water that is denied to Palestinians.

But what impacted me the most isn't what she showed us or told us, but her own story and the power that emanated from her. She grew up on a Jewish settlement herself, only she didn't know it because as I have mentioned before, there are no signs to that effect. Then, when she was a teenager, something happened. She calls it a cliche, but I think she sells herself short. Along with a number of other Israeli Jewish children, she met with a group of Palestinian children, and as she heard the stories of one of her new Palestinian acquaintances, the stories of what the occupation meant to Palestinians, the seeds of doubt were planted within her. She began to question -- here a question, there a question -- until she began to realize that much of what she had been told was a lie.

When it came time for her to join the army, as all but ultraorthodox are required to do in Israel, she refused. She didn't want to have any part of a brutal occupation. She became only the 13th woman in Israeli history to refuse military service. She was sent to prison. She lost many of her friends. Her refusal initially alienated her even from her parents, who had served in the army back their day. Finally, after four months in prison, she was declared mentally ill and released. Since then, she has been back in prison several times as a result of her participation in non-violent protests. When she gets a call about an imminent demolition of a Palestinian home, she rushes to the scene and sits in front of the tractor.

This young Israeli girl, 22 years old, she is crazy for doing this. She has lost job opportunities, scholarship opportunities. According to what Paul would call the 'wisdom of the world, she is throwing her life away'. According to many of her Israeli peers, she is aiding and abetting terrorists.
I called her a young Israeli girl, but she is not a girl, not at all, she is a woman. Indeed, she is more mature than I am, more mature than most people I've known who are two or three times her age.

Perhaps what haunts me most about her is her courage. She is not afraid of what other people think, she is not afraid of what the state will do to her. She is not willing to hurt others, but is willing to suffer on behalf of her convictions. And why? All because of a face, all because she looked into the face of her Palestinian counterpart and saw a fellow human being, all because she opened herself up to the pain of her enemy. I swear to God, I believe this 22 year old woman knows more than the Presidents and their cabinets, she knows more than the army commanders, she sees the political situation clearly, but more than that, she knows a power, a spiritual power, a holy power. "Mentally ill" indeed.

Every time I think of her, I think of our Biblical text from 1st Corinthians. "For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.' Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength."

You see, like Maya, we too have seen a face, and that has changed everything. In the crucified Christ, we see the face of God. Because of that, God invites us to become fools for Christ's sake, to open ourselves up to the pain and humanity of our enemies, to risk the opinions of friends and family and opportunities for career advancement because we share a dream that is often foreign to the world, a dream of peace and justice. God invites us, in other words, to join people like Maya in the ranks of what the powers that be consider to be the 'mentally ill.' Would that there were more people who were 'mentally ill' like her! Imagine what the world would look like, what Israel/Palestine would look like, what our church would look like, if there were more such 'mentally ill' people in it. To imagine that, to live into it, is to get a glimpse into the kingdom of God, it is to participate in its coming. And there is no higher calling than that.

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