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Palestinian preacher ministers to PC(USA) national staff on Palestinian Nakba Remembrance Day

Sabeel’s executive director, Omar Haramy, has a powerful and personal message to share

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Omar Haramy (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — On Wednesday, Palestinian Nakba Remembrance Day, national staff of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) were privileged to hear a sermon during the online Chapel Service from Omar Haramy, executive director of Sabeel, a PC(USA) partner that works to challenge religious extremism.

Haramy has a combination of identities. He’s an Arab, a Palestinian, a Jerusalemite, a Greek Orthodox and a Christian. Since 2017 he’s served as executive director of Sabeel, the center of Palestinian liberation theology. Mark 16:1-8, Mark’s account of Jesus’ resurrection, served as Haramy’s scriptural passage.

Haramy’s family traces its history in Jerusalem back almost to the time of Jesus. “Our roots are very deep in Jerusalem,” he said. These days, “Our main task as a family is reminding pilgrims” and others “that the grave is empty. Jesus has risen.”

Like so many other Palestinians, Haramy’s family was displaced with the 1948 creation of the state of Israel. He recalled his paternal grandmother, “one of the most wonderful Christians I ever met in my life,” often telling stories about “a charismatic rabbi who came to Jerusalem, challenged the authorities, healed the sick, liberated the oppressed and preached the good news. We have followed him as a family not just because he preached the good news, but also because he walked the walk.”

In 1948, Haramy’s grandmother was pregnant with Haramy’s father, to whom she gave birth in December of that year. “My father,” he said, “is as old as the Nakba,” defined as a day of lifting up prayers for peace and giving solidarity for those suffering under occupation.

In 1948, she and her husband fled to Nablus, the city where Jesus met the Samaritan woman. The couple had contact with the Anglican church and found their way to hospital in Nablus that’s still managed by the Anglican church today. While in labor, Haramy’s grandmother listened to radio reports, “trying to figure out what was happening in the country.” Some of her siblings had fled to neighboring countries. Others perished.

As she was “feeling the pain of being a refugee with no home,” accompanied by a husband dealing with serious depression, “she listened on the radio to churches celebrating and rejoicing that the state of Israel was established,” Haramy said. “Many saw the establishment of Israel as a sign of the coming of Jesus. They did not see us as Palestinians, as refugees and as victims of the colonial project that intentionally displaced us and replaced us.”

“Our ancestors, the people who have been living in this country for thousands of years, are ignored because someone interpreted the Bible in a very simplistic way,” he said. He called what’s currently going on in Gaza and the West Bank “another Nakba, another catastrophe.”

On Oct. 7, 2023, “the day thousands of Palestinian fighters broke in through that fence … many innocent people died, many Israelis, when Palestinians broke into their homes, killed women and children, and took hostages. War crimes were committed on Oct. 7,” Haramy said.

A few hours after the attack, Israel declared war on Hamas. Now “hundreds of thousands of people are suffering, people who had no part in making this decision to invade and did not commit war crimes,” Haramy said. “People continue to lecture us, condemn us and judge us for the way we Palestinians act under occupation rather than putting their foot down to say, ‘Occupation … oppression and dispossession is not the way to treat people.’”

“We are all tired. We are all heartbroken,” he said. “We all need your help, both Palestinians and Israelis, to seek true liberation, a liberation that will liberate Palestinians and Israelis together, where we no longer have to justify oppression, nor do we have to justify fighting oppression, where we are both people who are liberated, fighting for human rights, fighting for the human dignity of Palestinians and fighting for the human rights of Israelis.”

“This day [Nakba] is not a day that we wish for,” Haramy said. “Palestinians and Israelis committed to human rights and justice are working together.”

He invited listeners to his prerecorded sermon to “join our reality of working together and defending human rights by being engaged in defending human rights in both Palestine and Isarel, but also back home in the U.S. and anyplace else in the world. This is the world we live in. This is the creation of God, and as a church, it is our responsibility to safeguard and protect it.”

Whether we’re currently celebrating Easter and resurrection “as we are, or you are in the season of Ascension, we are all one body of Christ, and we have to hold witness for our Lord and Savior,” he said. “May God bless you and thank you for this opportunity to share with you a message from a land filled with violence but also filled with peace activists.”

“May God bless you, and thank you,” Haramy said.

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