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Critical Presence

A letter from Victor and Sara Makari serving in Israel/Palestine

July 2015

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Our dear family, colleagues and friends, supporters and prayer partners:

We greet you in the peace of Christ, and pray this will find you well. With gratitude for your love and prayers, you have been in our thoughts.

It is the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting for Muslims. Devout neighbors observe it with reverence and humility. Besides fasting from dawn to dusk, individuals observe the five daily prayers and those who are able to get Israeli permits go in droves to the Friday noon prayer at al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, the third holiest city for Islam after Mecca and Madinah. The State of Israel is “generous” with permits for Palestinians to go outside the siege of the Occupation during religious holidays. You can imagine, however, the number of confrontations at military checkpoints, with Israeli police, and with armed settlers in the Old City. But Israel sees a huge advantage in granting thousands of permits at this time because large crowds of Palestinians flock to the big city malls, the beaches of Tel Aviv/Jaffa (but not Eilat!), or to holiday resort hotels in the Galilee. This is good for the Israeli economy!

There is an underside to this: going through a month of fasting, in the heat of summer, without food or drink (or smoking) for 16 hours, traffic lawlessness within the walled towns and a besieged West Bank reaches extremes. Tempers rise. Frustration with confinement accruing from nearly 50 years of military occupation (with all kinds of side effects not readily visible to visitors—such as a depressed economy, high unemployment, inflation,  shortages of services, and general complexity of living and deterioration in the quality of life) begets aberrant, and abhorrent, human behavior—even some flare-ups of violence, both domestic and public. As one perceptive Palestinian Christian—a former diplomat—recently observed, “We are heading for the abyss.”

During the Ramadan Eid many young boys were dressed in their new clothes and playing in the streets with plastic toy guns, the most popular toys here. What else can be expected when much of that to which they are exposed are images of war, movies of violence, armed soldiers and civilian settlers…?

Meanwhile, the Israeli government has just approved a law that imposes a 20-year jail sentence on anyone who throws stones (at soldiers, military tanks or settlers). The “perpetrators” in this scenario would be mostly children and teenagers, which means incarcerating and depriving a generation of their young adulthood. This begs the questions: would this law apply to settlers who live in illegal colonies on the West Bank and who, indiscriminately and often without cause, throw stones at and harass Palestinian children? And if it is argued that, yes, they would apply, would they ever be enforced? Yesh Din, an Israeli organization of Volunteers for Human Rights, publishes documented reports of non-enforcement of Israeli laws upon settlers and soldiers who abuse or harm Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

That leaves us with the question of the role and the purpose of our being here. First and foremost, we are constantly reminded of our Christian vocation as peacemakers. We believe this is best expressed primarily through “critical presence.”  Our faith requires us always to listen to the genuine concerns of Palestinians and Israelis. An active faith demands that we accompany our fellow Christians in witness to the love of God of all people and to practice that love ourselves even when it is challenging to do so. And, as the Spirit gives occasion and utterance, to “speak the truth in love.”

We have just concluded an international, intergenerational Christian interdisciplinary academic conference in which some 52 Middle Eastern and international professors, scholars, researchers, strategists, media executives and postgraduate students took part.  The conference theme was “Shifting Identities: Changes in the Political, Social and Religious Structures in the Arab World.” Participants included law professors, legislators, political scientists, sociologists, theologians, and Middle East/interregional program executives of church denominations and ecumenical structures.

Why academics? In the Arab world, academics are freer to express their analyses without calculating too cautiously their negative consequences. The conference was another step forward in the progress made following Diyar Consortium’s formation of the Christian Academic Forum for Citizenship in the Arab World (CAFCAW) and the publication of its document titled “From the Nile to the Euphrates: The Call of Faith and Citizenship.” This identifies ten critical challenges that confront the Arab world today and publishes a Statement of Commitment on the part of Christians to engage in proactive efforts toward the reform and renewal of societies to assure the rule of law, the full rights of all citizens, the preservation of sanctity and dignity of life and the enhancement of its quality for all persons.  (You may download the full text of this 26-page document at http://www.academia.edu/10508349/From_the_Nile_to_the_Euphrates_The_Call_of_Faith_and_Citizenship.)

Victor’s continuing role for this conference and previous events is in the preparation, coordination, background leadership, and follow-up.  Sara also participated by editing the papers presented for a previous conference and subsequently published in a book, and she will be doing so again for this latest conference—in addition to editing various publications for the Diyar Consortium.

Alongside the formal/informal aspect of church relation building between the structures of our appointing boards and local church denominations, ecumenical agencies and non-governmental organizations, we have the privilege and the pleasure of assuming other duties in Israel/Palestine:

  • Regular participation in the life of Christmas Lutheran Church is a constant. We receive the benefit of fellowship with Palestinian Christians and reciprocally offer the presence to which our appointing board is committed. From time to time we worship with other congregations in the area to deepen our own Christian faith and to expand our vision of the catholicity of the Church.
  • Ongoing, on-site interpretation of the context in which we live to pilgrims and visiting groups is most important. We seek to help them understand some of the dynamics of life within this walled city and other aspects of the current situation that are not immediately visible to passers-through.
  • Hospitality in our home is a focused part of our calling here. This provides for in-depth conversations, relationship building and the nurturing of long-term friendships.
  • Opportunities for pastoral care, mentoring and occasional guidance counseling to volunteers who find themselves in a process of career discernment often present themselves and are hopefully useful.

Sara continues in physical therapy, under a highly skilled therapist in Bethlehem. It is anticipated that therapy will take some months yet. Victor’s blood pressure was brought down to a reasonable level after surgery in April.  We both give thanks to God for the miracles of healing, for our astute Bethlehemite physician who pinpointed the issues, and for the highly skilled surgical teams that performed the procedures.

Daily we continue to thank God for the privilege, the joy and the blessing of living and serving here, despite some enormous challenges. We are thankful for our church partners in this area who have opened their arms and hearts to us, and for all our family and friends, far and wide, who support us with your love, prayers, and continued financial support, without which we could not serve. We also pray that you may continually be blessed in every way with the riches of God’s abundant grace.

In Christ’s peace,
Victor and Sara
Your presence in the Holy Land

The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 344
Read more about Victor and Sara Makari’s ministry


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