Bethlehem Diary 4: East Jerusalem in the divided City

Day 3 part 2: Seeing the Palestinian story

I grew up with PLO painted on the bridge below my house along with IRA and IRSP. I associated it with terrorism and I had forgotten about it until yesterday. We were on a bus on our way to East Jerusalem. Our journey had been delayed by a riot in the street, a response to killings on the Gaza Strip. I had sat in the bus watching children break breeze blocks for ammunition and it was familiar, too familiar. Palestinians are not using violence as they did in the past but their painful history and present reality remains a challenge to us all.

Our guide was Israeli and had angles into the Palestinian story that were both refreshing and enlightening. I had heard stories about inadequate water supplies, land grabbing and the dividing wall in Jerusalem. It is one thing to hear stories, it is another to see the reality. Palestinian areas in Jerusalem are not zoned for redevelopment so when houses become overcrowded, and we’re talking 40 people in a 3 bedroomed house, there is no chance of a place to go. If an extension is added it will have to be demolished because there is no permission for it. Palestinians can’t leave the area for more than three years or they lose their standing and can’t return. That impacts on education, already impacted by the inadequate number of school places. Because of the development issues there is inadequate provision of water supply and sewage arrangements. Bins are not emptied often enough and the area is full of rubbish. As we drove from the Israeli part into the Palestinian part the footpaths disappeared. The walls, constructed as part of an international agreement, were built in such a way as to creep into Palestinian land. Some of them cut through communities, some cut off homes from the land around them, some mean it is almost impossible to cross the city to work and so unemployment levels are high. Citizenship is at issue for some Palestinians too so they have no passport for travel. I could go on but suffice to say there is something not right with all of this.

This experience is, for me, read back against one of the questions that has been raised a number of times at the Christ at the Checkpoint conference – can Christianity survive in Palestine? There is a concern for the future of the Palestinian church. I do not live here and do not understand all the ins and outs of this question. It seems to me, though, that the survival of the church is a matter for God. What is a matter for us is whether or not we are living faithfully and well as the people of God, with justice and peace and mercy and forgiveness in our hearts. It seems to me that these are the important things with which Christian people should concern themselves, not survival.

That does not mean that the Palestinian experience should be discounted, Quite the contrary. When we see injustice, dehumanising activity, inadequate provision for basic human needs and human rights impinged on or denied then we, as the church, have a responsibility to act without delay. The action is not because we fear for our future but because it is the right thing to do. Action is about justice flowing down like rivers from the mountains, about putting relationships right and upholding the dignity of the whole human family. There will always be politics involved. We just have to face that because doing the right thing is more important than causing political ripples.

I look forward to the visit to Hebron.

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