What’s Behind the Uproar in Jerusalem? By Rev. Dr. Jack Sara
As Israel and Palestine are once again in the global headlines, many have asked me to comment on recent events from the perspective of a Palestinian Christian.
Let me first begin with an image. Recently, I was on a tour of old Nazareth. As we strolled through the streets of the city, our guide showed us a painting on a wall. For me, the image was explosive: a picture of a map of historic Palestine around which was painted a common Palestinian image of a house key. What made the painting unique was the additional images of a huge olive branch and a dove, both which stood out very clearly.
Let me explain what these images mean to a Palestinian. When Palestinians were evicted from their homes in 1948, around five hundred villages were evacuated and many of them razed. People were also evicted from their houses in major cities like Jerusalem, Jaffa, Haifa, Ashkelon and many more. Many of the evicted families escaped with only the keys to their homes, expecting to return after the war ended. We all know that this never happened–neither their return home, nor the end of the war, which has dragged on in various forms for decades. The 780,000 refugees who fled their homes have remained refugees in their own country or in a neighboring country. We refer to this event as the Nakba: the catastrophe.
How can one be a refugee in one’s own land? They are refugees because they have not been allowed to return to their original villages, sometimes just miles away. They are refugees outside their country, because they have not been allowed to come back to live anywhere in the land. Many have never even been allowed to visit.
For me, the image of the map, the key, the dove and the olive branch tell a clear story of the recent history and aspirations of the Palestinian people. We have stretched out our hands for peace, even conceding our claim to most of our historic homeland and have been willing to build a relationship with Israel. Our only condition was that we would have the chance to live in dignity – to have freedom of movement and be able to decide our own future with self-determination within the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, including East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.
In recent months, a militant group of Israeli settlers have been pushing hard toward the eviction of several Palestinian families who have lived in a block of houses in a Palestinian neighborhood (called Sheikh Jarrah) in Jerusalem for decades. Many of them were refugees who first lost their homes in 1948. As a settlement with the United Nations and Jordan, a small piece of land was given to them in 1956 upon which they were allowed to build houses. However, after the Israeli Occupation began in 1967 (which we call the Naksa, or setback) they were not able to get proper papers proving their ownership. Shortly thereafter, in 1972, Jewish settlers (backed by the Israeli government) began to pressure the families to leave their houses. The first cases of evacuation occurred in 2008-9, when three families were forced–without any compensation–to leave their homes. Now the court is dealing with another eviction of several families. In the next few months, it is expected that twenty-five more families will be forcibly evicted so that Jewish settlers can move into their homes in Jerusalem.
These events have certainly enraged the Palestinian people. They are a reminder that our Nakba is still ongoing. As a result, many Palestinian and Israeli activists began demonstrating peacefully in front of the houses which are going to be seized from their owners. In response, the Israeli army began forcibly dispersing the crowds. This ended in violence, as vigilante settler movements joined the clashes, and new protests spread to the Dome of the Rock and then even spread outside of Jerusalem to many Arab towns in Israel. Cities like Nazareth, Um Il Fahem, Jaffa, and Lod have all had demonstrations, and many of them also were dispersed violently by the authorities. The struggle even spread to Gaza, where Palestinian groups began shooting missiles towards Israeli targets. Now, it appears that we are in another micro-war. Violent events are breaking out all across the country, between Jerusalem and Gaza; and from Jaffa to the Galilee.
Without justifying any of the violence that is happening on either side, this situation should concern Christians all over the world, particularly in two areas:
First, the global Church should always be concerned about justice and peace, not only here in the Holy Land, but also across the earth. “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
If seeking justice is a biblical mandate, we are likewise called to stand against injustice. I was recently reminded of the biblical story of the evil king Ahab and his wife Jezebel. Together, they plotted against a simple man who had a little piece of land close to the king’s palace. Through deception, they found a “legal” way to steal his land, merely because they wanted it and had the power to do so.
The “land grab” is certainly the motive of such people like the settlers. They usually target the land and houses of Palestinian families who for some reason cannot defend their cause. Today, the Palestinians are calling for the “Elijahs” of the world to confront “Ahab” for his crimes. If so, maybe he will repent and return what he has stolen (1 Kings 21:1-27). If not, he will no doubt continue along a path that will only lead to more destruction. How many more years must these things continue?
Secondly, besides being a prophetic voice, Christians need to pray for the situation. Are these sort of actions the demonstration of Our Lord Jesus’s will or His kingdom? No! He declared in John 10:10, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” Certainly, death and injuries and violence are never from the Lord. It is the evil one who causes these things. Our Lord desires life for all the people of the Holy Land.
It is my plea that we, as the global body of Christ, will commit to pray against the spirit of evil and death, and pray for the people to have life–and life in abundance. May the true prophetic spirit, armed with grace and truth, find its home in us. For the sake of justice and peace, may Elijah arise.