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11 Days in May

A Letter from Doug Dicks, serving in Israel and Palestine

Summer 2021

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Dear family and friends,

In May, following days of provocative Israeli measures aimed at the Palestinian population of East Jerusalem, tempers reached a boiling point. The deliberate attempt to extract Palestinian families from their homes in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, the closing of the esplanade in front of the Damascus Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem, and the planned and provocative Israeli flag march through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, as well as Israeli military and police incursions on to the Haram Al Sharif and the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, exploded into an 11 day “war.”

Hamas, the Palestinian faction which controls the Gaza Strip, fired thousands of home-made rockets at Israeli cities and towns, in response to Israel’s measures against Palestinians in East Jerusalem, and Israel bombed Gaza from land, sea and air with sophisticated missiles that brought down entire multi-storied buildings. At the end of the hostilities, 13 people in Israel had been killed, including two children. The Gaza Ministry of Health reported that more than 1,900 Palestinians were injured, and as of May 12, Israel reported at least 200 injured Israelis. As of May 19, at least 72,000 Palestinians had been displaced. Israeli airstrikes and artillery barrages on Gaza, an impoverished and densely packed area of almost two million people, killed at least 230 Palestinians, including 65 children.

On two separate occasions, Christian groups in Jerusalem issued statements commenting on the outbreak of hostilities. The Christian organization Kairos Palestine attributed the uprising to deprivations suffered and called for the recognition of the rights of everyone as the only way to break the cycle of destruction. Kairos Palestine affirms its position that Jerusalem is a sacred city to all the monotheistic religions, and that everyone must enjoy the freedom of worship. We also affirm our position regarding our Israeli neighbors: “Our future and their future are one. Either the cycle of violence that destroys both of us or peace will benefit both. We call on Israel to give up its injustice towards us, not to twist the truth of reality of the occupation by pretending that it is a battle against terrorism. The roots of ‘terrorism’ are in the human injustice committed and in the evil of the occupation.”

Likewise, a joint declaration on May 9, and signed by the Greek Orthodox, Armenian, and Catholic Patriarchs of the city, together with prominent Heads of Churches of Jerusalem – who had all earlier expressed deep concern for Israeli plans under radical settler pressure to annex unilaterally West Bank land – blamed the growing tensions ‘mainly’ on the destabilizing effects of right-wing Israeli settler groups. Their statement read: “These concerning developments, whether at the Al Aqsa Mosque or in Sheikh Jarrah, violate the sanctity of the people of Jerusalem and of Jerusalem as the City of Peace. The actions undermining the safety of worshipers and the dignity of the Palestinians who are subject to eviction are unacceptable.”

“The special character of Jerusalem, the Holy City, with the existing Status Quo, compels all parties to preserve the already sensitive situation in the Holy City of Jerusalem.”

What are called the mixed cities in Israel – cities which are home to both Palestinian Arabs who are citizens of Israel, as well as Jewish Israelis – witnessed unimaginable violence against one another, shattering the illusion that both peoples lived in relative harmony and respect for one another. What was laid bare and exposed in 11 days in May – both physically as well as psychologically – may take years to rebuild.

Nonetheless, and following the hostilities, Israel, on June 13, conferred a new prime minister, unseating Benjamin Netanyahu after almost 12 years in office. The “government of change” as it has been called will be led by Israeli nationalist Naftali Bennett. Under the coalition deal, Bennett, a 49-year-old Orthodox Jew and high-tech millionaire, will be replaced as prime minister in 2023 by centrist Yair Lapid, 57, a popular former television host.

In Tel Aviv, thousands turned out to welcome the result, after four inconclusive elections in two years.

On June 7, Isaac Herzog was sworn in as the new President of Israel and promised to be “the president of everyone” adding the “central expectation” of all Israelis “from me, from all of us, is to lower the tone, to lower the flames, to calm things down”.

“My mission, the mission of my term, is to do everything in order to rebuild hope,” he said in his inauguration speech.

I recall when a delegation from the Presbyterian Church (USA) visited with Mr. Herzog in his office back in 2008, and while he was still a member of the Israeli Knesset and serving as Minister of Welfare and Social Services. His position, largely ceremonial, will be a single seven-year term.

Highlights of this spring and summer have been attending the installation service of the new Archbishop of Jerusalem for the Episcopal Diocese Hosam Naoum, picking Sabra Cacti fruit with the Zoughbi family, attending a summer camp for 60 Palestinian children in the shadow of Israel’s Separation Barrier/Wall at Wi’am – the Palestinian Conflict Transformation Center.

As always, thanks for your continued correspondence, prayers, and financial support, all of which are most appreciated. Without you, my work and ministry in this part of the world would not be possible. Thanks to all of you for your continued support.

Peace,

Doug


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