This last week has been an active one in the headlines as it relates to what Israel might look like in the future and who will have a voice in this self-proclaimed democratic society. Based on these recent headlines, several questions come to mind. “Where will the local Christians will “fit” into the government’s desire for a uniquely Jewish state” and, “How will this uniquely Jewish state impact Christianity in general?” I ask these questions as I reflect on my last six weeks of living and experiencing life in the West Bank and specifically, Bethlehem. I have also been reflecting on my 2012 visit where I had the opportunity to travel most of the West Bank and physically see many of the holy sites that are described in the Bible.
Many opponents of the current Israeli occupation are rightfully trying to enlighten the world that the conflict is a political conflict as opposed to religious conflict. “Commentators and politicians would have us believe it’s an intractable conflict between religious extremists, but a look behind the headlines makes it clear the violence is a matter of politics not faith, of land not God, of resources not ideologies. It’s about injustice, not religion” (American Muslims for Palestine/Jewish Voice for Peace /Friends of Sabeel – North America). On many occasions I have heard a the same synopsis of the cause of the problems here in that “it’s all about the occupation!”
This last week, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government prepared a controversial bill that others in the government say “risks undermining the country’s democratic character”. His opponents, including some of his cabinet ministers, said “the new legislation defined reserved “national rights” for Jews only and not its minorities” and, rights groups condemned it as “racist”. In essence, Netanyahu has confirmed that there would be differential rights for Israeli Jews and other minorities (notably, the Arab Israelis – both Muslim and Christian). If successful, this political move would formalize segregation based on religious lines. Since its founding in 1948, “Israel’s very existence and promise – fully embraced by the United States and the world of nations – has been based on the ideal of democracy for all of its people” (New York Times, November 24, 2014).
It is clear to many that this move by the government fits into a greater plan of making Jerusalem truly a Jewish city, free of the presence of both Muslims and Christians. Still other would suggest that the government is planning for a “one state” solution to the current conflict – a state that in the strongest sense could be defined as an apartheid state with the ratification of current “anti-democratic” and “racist” bills. Some would say that this plan is under-way at present as evidenced by myself with the on-going massive demolition of Arab homes homes in East Jerusalem and religious restrictions imposed at the Al Aqsa mosque. Should Jerusalem someday become free of Christians and Muslims, the City of Bethlehem could become physically isolated from Jerusalem. This, coupled with the active and massive expansion of the Gush Etzion block of settlements to the south of Bethlehem (all on confiscated West Bank lands), could eventually see the total encircling and isolation of Bethlehem by Israel and the merging of it into the City of Jerusalem.
Is it possible these two cities might someday become “Jewish” cities or a single Jewish city? Would truly Jewish cities need historical Muslim mosques and Christian churches, or could they be removed or burned off of the landscape? If Israel totally alienates themselves from other countries that have strong Christian communities, could access to this Holy Land and the various Holy sites be a thing of the past?
This morning, I participated in a small service that celebrated the first week of advent. A participant at the service shared a reflection on the urgency to the season of lent. She shared with the group “Living in Bethlehem, I feel this urgency more deeply than ever before. Between the holy sites and the very unholy sights of continued injustice, I hear people crying out for liberation and redemption”.
So, as a Christian and someone who is living in this land of injustice I too feel a sense of urgency. This urgency is related to ending the continuing injustices experienced by people who are already live politically as second class citizens. With the new laws being proposed, this segment of the population will struggle to survive let alone maintain their identity. If their identity includes being a Christian (which I happen to share with them), I also feel a sense of urgency in saving this identity as well as the holy sites associated with it.
My hope is that Christians around the world also share this sense of urgency