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When Hope is Hard to Find

A Letter from Doug Dicks, serving in Israel and Palestine

March 2019

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Dear Family and Friends,

September 2018 marked 25 years since the Oslo Peace Accords were signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization or PLO. The Gaza-Jericho First Agreement was signed September 23, 1993, giving the Palestinians limited self-autonomy in that area of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Twenty-five years later, the Palestinians find themselves living in semi-autonomous areas of the West Bank, while Israeli military patrols operate at will, even inside of these areas, most often at night. The threat of home demolitions, particularly in areas of East Jerusalem, and expulsion from homes and areas of strategic interest to Israel, such as that of the Bedouin community of Khan Al Ahmar, are continuous. Palestinians lost more ground — both literally and figuratively — in the past year. With the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the two-state solution grows ever dimmer.

I arrived in Israel in mid-September 1995 to begin what I thought would be two years of mission service on behalf of Presbyterian World Mission. In just a few short weeks, on November 4, 1995, the late Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin, was assassinated by an extremist religious Israeli Jew who wanted to stop the peace process and end what had been billed as a “mutual, historic recognition of the other.”

The years from 1995 to 2002 were tumultuous years, marked by Palestinian suicide bombers who wanted to bring an end to the process called “peace” and sought to sow death rather than succumb to the slow death of the Israeli occupation.

What little optimism there was then has since vanished. What few hopes there were for a full-fledged peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians have since fizzled. And any little attempts at trying to understand and recognize the other have since died.

With the move of the United States Embassy to Jerusalem in May 2018, the Palestinian people acknowledged what they were suspicious of all along: the United States was incapable of being the “fair and even-handed broker” in the process. U.S. foreign policy has always favored Israel, and once again, that was proven with the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, leaving the Palestinians and their political aspirations in the dust.

For the record, here is a run-down of the last 14 months, vis-à-vis the Palestinians:

December 6, 2017 – U.S. President Donald Trump announces his intention to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel.

May 14, 2018 – The U.S. relocates its embassy from Tel Aviv to the Arnona neighborhood of Jerusalem and renames the existing U.S. Consulate there as the Embassy of the United States of America in Jerusalem. On that same day, 68 Palestinians are shot dead at the border fence between Israel and Gaza, and more than 2,000 are wounded.

August 31, 2018 – The United States cuts off all funding to United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), calling it an “irredeemably flawed operation.” The U.S. contributed roughly one third of the UNRWA’s 1.1 billion dollar budget in 2017. UNRWA provides aid — mostly in the form of education, health care, food security and other essentials — to some 800,000 Palestinians registered as refugees in the West Bank and 1.3 million people in the Gaza Strip, as well as to 534,000 in Syria, 464,000 in Lebanon and 2 million in Jordan. The U.S. also wants to downgrade the official number of Palestinian refugees from five million (worldwide) to several hundred thousand.

September 8, 2018 – U.S. President Donald Trump orders that $25 million earmarked for the care of Palestinians in East Jerusalem hospitals be directed elsewhere as part of a review of aid. The budget cut affected at least five hospitals in East Jerusalem, including Augusta Victoria Hospital (run by the Lutheran World Federation) near the Mt. of Olives, and St. John Eye Hospital, which is the main provider of eye treatments for Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

February 1, 2019 – The United States ends all assistance to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The deadline is also the end of approximately $60 million in U.S. aid for the Palestinian security forces, whose cooperation with Israeli forces helps to maintain relative calm in the West Bank.

Now the world waits with bated breath to see what the “deal of the century” that President Trump has promised to reveal will bring for the Palestinians, and for the overall peace and security so longed for in the Middle East by all parties concerned.

As for this new peace deal, the Israelis don’t want it, and the Palestinians are suspicious of it. Those with any moral conscience must say loudly and unequivocally that any “deal” that does not take into account the full acknowledgement of the legitimacy of the Palestinians and their basic human rights that are enshrined in International Law will fail.

Israeli elections are slated for April. Because none of the larger parties will have enough seats to form a majority in the Knesset, they pander to smaller — often right-wing — parties. These smaller parties may well play an influential role in the next government.

This is the context in which the Palestinian Arab church lives, breathes, witnesses and continues to try to instill hope in their people in a situation where there appears to be very little hope.

How, then, does one exemplify hope and optimism in the midst of such despair? How, without a political horizon, can young Palestinian Christians be convinced that tomorrow will be better than today?

Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, said that in this world we will have troubles, but to take heart! “I have overcome the world.”

So let us take heart and continue to commit ourselves to the ways that we know will work towards peace. Ephesians 2:14 reminds us that “…Christ himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…” Walls do not make better neighborhoods — they only divide and allow those living on one side to be demonized by the other.

I wish to take this opportunity to thank all of you — individuals and churches alike — who have so faithfully supported me through your prayers and financial contributions. Please continue to do so, for without your support, my presence and ministry here in Israel and Palestine would not be possible. Along with that, I ask you to please join me in celebration, as I began my 20th year of mission service with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) January 1!

Grace and Peace,

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