Thursday was a full day. In addition to visiting the Temple Mount first thing in the morning and meeting with the Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, , we also visited Yad Vashem and heard from two notable Christian and Muslim leaders, Rev. Mitri Raheb and Professor Mustafa Abu Sway.
At midday we met with Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, pastor of Christmas Evangelical Lutheran Church and President of Diyar Consortium and of Dar al-Kalima University College in Bethlehem. He provided us with an overview of the ongoing occupation, describing first the reality of the declining Christian presence in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. He highlighted the important role that Christians play in West Bank health centers, NGOs and politics. He pointed out for us that the occupation of Palestine is actually a combination of three historic oppression models: apartheid in South Africa, reservations used by the United States with Native Americans and the separation wall used in Eastern Germany and now along the U.S./Mexico border. The construction of illegal settlements throughout Palestinian territory, he suggested, was a strategy that had been employed in South Africa’s apartheid regime – physically dividing oppressed populations from one another to limit their ability to organize for resistance. He called the occupation a human-made, internationally-funded disaster, saying that we are now in a time somewhere between a 2-state and 1-state solution.
Our visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, filled our afternoon. The memorial consists of a complex containing the Holocaust History Museum, vast gardens with a variety of memorials, monuments and sculptures, a Hall of Remembrance, and a deeply moving Children’s Memorial.
In the evening Professor Mustafa Abu Sway, Dean of the College of Da’wah and Usul Al-Din, and College of the Qur’an and Islamic Studies in Jerusalem, presented a Muslim perspective on Israel and Palestine. He spoke of a “nation” as a “construct” and of our common humanity (and parentage) as that which holds us together. While inclined to use these “constructs” to categorize and understand one another and ourselves, he said that they actually divide us in ways not intended by God. He challenged us to see history as one shared human history and to find connections instead of divisions. He countered the notion that Muslims are violent, citing Islam’s prohibitions to provoke violence or engage in war. The violence that is happening, he said, is not in our text. I read the same text. If it were in the text, I would be doing it too. Its not there. He concluded by sharing with us that, as an infant, his mother and a neighboring Christian woman nursed their own and each other’s children. That’s just the way they did it, he said, effectively creating familial ties between Muslim and Christian children, their lives nourished and nurtured by two mothers. This powerful image was later reflected in our evening liturgy: ”You dared to take the widow’s mite, the child’s loaves, the babe at the breast, and in these simple things to point out the path to your Kingdom.” Today our group began our encounter with each of these faiths that share a land and a lineage – a parentage. Children of Abraham, all of them, nourished and sustained by the same source.