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March 27, 2006

Dear Friends,

It has been a long time since we have written, and much has happened. Not only have Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, and much of Lent come to pass, but so have many changes in our lives and those of people in Israel and Palestine.

Marthame at the Separation Barrier in Abu Dis, East Jerusalem.

Marthame, as many of you know, returned to Israel and Palestine for a month this fall. The first week-and-a-half was with a delegation led by Fellowship of Reconciliation, an interfaith peace organization. Amid non-stop visits with Jewish, Muslim, and Christian leaders, Marthame still managed to post daily reflections (on  Here is an excerpt from November 8th:

Paz and Keren are studying political science at Hebrew University. Keren’s time in the army overlapped with my time in Zababdeh – in fact, Zababdeh was in the region her battalion patrolled. Our experiences of those two intersecting years diverge wildly – her description of the battle in Jenin Refugee Camp centers on the killing of thirteen soldiers, mine with the leveling of homes and the staggering civilian death toll. She despairs over the poverty in which Palestinians live, but lives in fear from suicide attacks which have targeted her town. I decry those same bombings, but believe that the best prevention is to improve Palestinian life. She is afraid to go into East Jerusalem at night, I get nervous at the sight of an Israeli military jeep. I still end today more in despair than hope. And yet, I am transformed by this final meeting. I have invited Keren to get together while I am in Jerusalem after the delegation disperses, and she accepts. I expect to write more about that meeting if/when it happens. What am I hoping for? I’m not really sure to be honest, but something about it seems right. Perhaps we would compare notes and stories from our time in the Jenin region. Maybe we can challenge and test each other’s assumptions about the conflict as a whole. Then again, perhaps there’s nothing to be gained from this at all. But if there’s no risk, despair wins.

The next part of Marthame’s visit was facilitating economic research mandated by the 2004 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Our denomination determined to explore “an intentional and systematic effort of development and compassionate action in Palestine.” And finally Marthame was able to spend a few wonderful (and full!) days in Zababdeh, re-connecting with the school, churches, and people among whom we served in 2000-2003.

In Zababdeh, our littlest friends have grown much bigger.

Marthame returned in time for Thanksgiving, which was not only a time to offer great thanks for his trip, but was also a point of transition for him. His service as missionary-in-residence at the national offices came to a close and his new role as pastor at Oglethorpe Presbyterian Church in Atlanta began. Meanwhile, Elizabeth has continued as missionary-in-residence, telecommuting from our new home in Atlanta. Her work has focused on our denomination’s witness in Israel and Palestine, especially our process of corporate engagement with companies whose practices contribute to violence and occupation (more at At the end of March, however, Elizabeth will go on family leave through the end of her missionary appointment. As you can guess, the biggest and most joyful transition we face is the arrival of our first child at the end of April.

These many changes do not mean that we have left behind our passion for the Church in the land of its birth. On the contrary, our hearts have been marked and our spirits transformed by experiences there. Zababdeh and the whole region, as well as our denomination’s commitment to a just peace, will remain in our prayers and shape our actions. We will continue to promote our film/study series and the ministries that non-profit can support. Through education, conversation, and visits, we expect to keep building connections with this important part of the Body of Christ.

The transitions in our lives feel rather small, however, when we consider the rapid changes faced by people in Israel and Palestine. Garnering the most concern has been the success of Hamas in legislative elections. The implications for the Palestinian Authority, the strategies of Hamas itself, and the role of the international community remain uncertain. However, responses from Palestinian Christian leaders emphasize God’s steadfastness as they share a common call: “Do not be afraid.” (Links to four responses from Christian leaders, as well as ones from Presbyterian church leadership, are listed below).

The future seems quite uncertain, and demands our courage, prayer, and attention. As we prepare to celebrate the astounding miracle of the resurrection, let us also pray for a transformation of life out of death and hope out of despair for all the people of Israel and Palestine.

Blessings to you and yours,
Elizabeth and Marthame


Reflections on recent elections:
Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem
Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem, includes Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox
Fr. Iyad Twal, Roman Catholic Church of the Visitation in Zababdeh (where Marthame and I served)
Fr. Fadi Diab, St. Matthew’s Anglican Church in Zababdeh (where Marthame and I served)
Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick and Rick Ufford-Chase, Stated Clerk and Moderator of Presbyterian Church (USA)


Letter to Marthame from Father Fadi Diab, St. Matthew’s Anglican Church in Zababdeh

Dear Marthame,

Greetings and peace to you in the name of our Lord and Savior; I pray that this finds you and your family well. We are all fine; Ruba and Phillip send their greetings to you and to Elizabeth. Ruba is still having the same problem for her visa. She still has 3 months to stay and we are not sure what will happen after that specially after all the complication with the Hamas winning the elections. [Fr. Fadi’s wife Ruba has Jordanian citizenship and has not been able to get permissions from Israeli authorities to live with him in the West Bank; she is with him when she is able to get tourist visas.]

As for the Elections, I have read an article by the Bishops and leaders of the Christian communities in Jerusalem saying that they are ready to deal with any government elected by the Palestinian people even if that will be hamas. They insisted that any government should depend on its agenda in the` nonviolence.  That was interesting.

As a Palestinian Priest for a Palestinian Christian Community I still have no clear vision for the future of any situation where hamas would be in power. As Christians in this Land we have not experience justice and peace for our Communities even when Fateh was in Power. The whole situation was chaotic. The unjust that was going on in the streets touched the Christian lives as well. The corruption and the unwillingness to implement the law justice in the Palestinian society were present since the creation of the PNA. This was the main cause of the results of the last elections. However, and to be honest, despite their Islamic basic standards, hamas had less corruption and they do their best to obey the laws and not go against them. I am not praising Hamas, but to give it a credit here.
They were better when dealing with the daily issues of the Palestinian lives. They only answer for the future is: there is no clear vision to the future of the Palestinian people until now. We hope that this vision will be clearer within some months.

I cannot say that the Palestinians have experiences persecution under the Palestinian Authority. When Arafat was in office the Christians had their best time. However, the Palestinians experience daily persecutions for the Israeli, and some difficulties from the Islamic society and that invole person and communities but not a whole society. I believe nothing will church for the Christian community if hamas is in power.

I read the article by Dr. Metri Raheb. It is what realy happened and I agree that fateh has lost not only the election but the people's respect. What I cannot see clearly is what is the Christians life would be when hamas run the government. I believe, hamas did not expect to get what it got in the election. I belive hamas also has a problem now. It cannot be in government with its agendas constitution. Second the whole world will not accept
Hamas if hamas did not change. So we are facing a dead end for the peace process.

Either the world would accept Hamas and I do not think this will happen especially the US, or Hamas would change to meet the World's requirements from a Palestinian Authority, this might happen.

Marthame, We need to wait and see. Things are not clear not only for the Christian Communities but for all the Middle East Future. Meanwhile, I think the threat for the Christian Community is not a government by Hamas, it is the ongoing exodus of the Christian people from the West Bank. Before 2000 there were about 50,000 Christians in the West bank including East Jerusalem. The last Consensus says that there are about 38,000 Christians. Which means that the theory that in 2025 there will be less than 10,000 Christians in the Whole Palestinians territories including East Jerusalem. That this real Threat.