A Letter from Doug Dicks, serving in Israel and Palestine
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Dear family and friends,
Happy belated Easter greetings from the land of the Holy One! Christ is Risen! He is Risen, Indeed!
I hope you are enjoying some Spring-like weather in your part of the world! Here in Israel and in Palestine, the temperatures have already soared well into the 90’s Fahrenheit! The beauty of Springtime – which was quite remarkable this year – has all but gone, as most of the green grass and delicate wildflowers have been scorched and dried out by the oppressive heat. At this time of year, I am always reminded of the verse from Isaiah 40:8, which reads, “the grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God will stand forever.”
March was a particularly heavy month, as we witnessed many illnesses and deaths of friends, their families, and acquaintances. The Bethlehem region was particularly hard hit, and hospital beds were in short supply for those that required intensive care. The people of Bethlehem, and the neighboring cities of Beit Jala and Beit Sahour (The Shepherd’s Fields) said goodbye to friends and loved ones alike as the dreaded COVID-19 virus continued to take its toll. May God have mercy on their souls, and may they rest from their earthly labors and rise in glory to eternal life.
Good Friday in Jerusalem was quieter than usual once again this year, and absent were the throngs of tourists and pilgrims that would normally come to Jerusalem for Holy Week and Easter. I walked with the Protestant denominations of Jerusalem (Anglican, Lutheran, Scottish Presbyterian) on the annual Good Friday walk along the Via Dolorosa and the Stations of the Cross in the Old City of Jerusalem just after dawn. Except for a heavy military presence by the Israeli army and police, the streets were largely absent of foreign visitors. However, many of the local Palestinian Arab Christians turned out in large numbers to walk the Via Dolorosa and to shoulder a wooden cross all the way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the place where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, died, buried and resurrected. The Reverend John McCulloch, the pastor of St. Andrew’s Jerusalem, provided a Good Friday service at St. Andrew’s Church, the first time the church had been opened for worship in well over fifteen months.
On April 18, Israel relaxed its mandatory mask mandate and stated that masks did not have to be worn outside. Likewise, people would not have to worry about the steep fine of 500 New Israeli Shekels, or about $150.00, should one be caught without wearing a face covering. However, and inside or entering a building or indoor public space, masks were still required. Only those holding the green “vaccination certificate” are currently allowed to dine inside cafes and restaurants.
Some of the Palestinian population are now getting vaccinated at checkpoints by Israeli medical teams. A concerted effort to provide vaccines to anyone wishing to be vaccinated in the Palestinian cities has only begun this month.
The relative calm during the holy month of Ramadan was shattered when violent clashes erupted at the Damascus Gate on the evening of April 22. Israeli Jews, who had gathered in West Jerusalem marched to East Jerusalem and the Old City of Jerusalem chanting, “Death to Arabs” and Palestinians.” At least 105 Palestinians were injured, and Israeli police employed riot dispersal means, including stun grenades, tear gas, and water cannons, to break up the protests.
The following evening, I was in Jerusalem for the service of Thanksgiving for the outgoing Archbishop of St. George’s Cathedral, Suheil Dawani. A reception followed the service in the garden, yet the atmosphere remained tense, as fears that more violence might break out at any moment not far from Damascus Gate, of the Old City of Jerusalem. Thankfully, none did, and the night passed in quiet and calm.
Still, it must be acknowledged that the daily humiliation, abuse, and planned and calculated systems that continue to oppress the Palestinian populations of the West Bank and Gaza Strip cannot be ignored.
On April 27, Human Rights Watch issued a report entitled “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution.” You can read the entire 213-page report here, at: https://www.hrw.org/report/2021/04/27/threshold-crossed/israeli-authorities-and-crimes-apartheid-and-persecution.
A highlight of this Spring was our Webinar, also on April 27, hosted by the Office for the Middle East and Europe, entitled “A Cry for Hope Amidst Despair in Palestine” with a fuller than anticipated ZOOM audience.
Thank you all, as always, for your thoughts, prayers, emails, and financial support, all of which are most appreciated and needed to carry on my work here in the Holy Land.
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Tags: Angleena Keizer, Archbishop Suheil Dawani, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, bethlehem, Bishop Co-Adjutor Hosam Naoum, COVID-19, Damascus Gate, deaths, Easter Sunday, Good Friday, Holy Land, Human Rights abuses, Human Rights Watch, Jerusalem, John McCulloch, muslims, Old City of Jerusalem, Palestinian Christians, ramadan, Sea of Galilee, St. Andrew’s Church of Scotland, the Stations of the Cross, Tiberias, tomb, vaccinations, Via Dolorosa
Tags: Doug Dicks
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