Made in the USA
October 16, 2000
Our hearts are heavy with sorrow from the past two tragic weeks. We thank God that we have been physically isolated from all of this. But it is impossible to remain emotionally and spiritually safe for very long in this place. So many dead, a third of them children. Some victims beaten and mutilated, their very humanity denied by their brothers and sisters, fellow Semites. The violent inhumanity of it all and the deep hatreds unleashed is terrifying and heartbreaking.
Last night, after church, we spoke with a woman who told us that she felt abandoned and betrayed by America. “We are not asking for money or help from America,” she said. “We just want them to speak the truth.” She was only one of many people in the village who have expressed anger and disbelief at the words and actions of the US. How, they ask, can Madeline Albright assert that the Palestinians are “laying siege to Israel”, when Israel has held the West Bank and Gaza in military occupation for decades? Why, they ask, does the US block enforcement of UN resolutions demanding Israel to withdraw? Why is the USA silent about the millions of Palestinian refugees, yet it goes to war in Kosovo and Iraq for other refugees? They want to know why American news' programs (widely seen via satellite here) portray Palestinians as violent instigators, as wild-eyed Islamic fundamentalists, or terrorists. Where are the thousands of wounded, the mourning mothers and fathers, the families living in fear of vigilante settler violence? Why do Americans show one side and not the other? They ask why does the US continue to give so much money and arms to a country with such a well-documented bad human rights' record - or, Why do the bullets and bombs wounding and killing our people say “Made in the USA?” Why does America overflow with grief and indignation for two murdered Israeli soldiers, and yet little more than shrug when another dozen or so young Palestinians are killed?
We do not have answers, and we ask ourselves many of the same questions.
As we sat Thursday night at church with a group of university students, we read James’ words that “faith without works is dead.” We realized that our hearts were breaking, torn apart by the tragedy and injustice, the feeling of betrayal and helplessness. And we realized that ours is a faith in God’s love, justice, and reconciliation in Christ. Keeping our pain inside is unfaithful. We want the whole world to know how we ache. Our pain must move us to act.
We have told folks in the village that American Christians have sent us here as an act of mutual support and encouragement for the Church in the Holy Land. These days they ask us to tell people in America their stories. And so what follows are some anecdotes, perspectives, and conversations that people have shared with us.
A friend of ours watched the recent US presidential debates, and asked how both candidates could claim to be an impartial Middle East peacemaker and yet repeat complete alliance with Israel. (We are dismayed by this ourselves.)
The people we have talked to have universally agreed that the bludgeoning murder of the two Israeli solders in Ramallah was gruesome and wrong. But they are also angered by what they see as lies, used to manipulate the tragedy for political purposes. Israeli sources have said that these were two reservists, not active soldiers, two family men, who got lost on their way to do clerical work. Nobody here believes that two men serving one of the best trained military forces in the world could have accidentally passed two checkpoints (one Israeli and one Palestinian) and blundered into the heart of a city in the midst of conflict. Folks here think that they were members of Israeli special forces, going undercover to spy illegally in the Palestinian Authority. They are frustrated that this (which seems obvious to them) is not taken seriously internationally. (As you know, Israel responded to the brutal murder of two of their soldiers by bombing buildings in Ramallah, Gaza, Hebron, and Nablus. The police station where the two soldiers were killed sits next to the Friends’ School in Ramallah, where Marthame’s interest in the region first grew in 1993. He was there when the building housed the Israeli military. What hopeful irony that this symbol of war, destroyed by American military technology, now sits desolate next to an institution built by Americans as a symbol for peace.)
Our friend near Ramallah told us that Ramallah’s Catholic priest was stopped on the road by an angry group of Israeli settlers. They demanded to know his identity (he was clearly a priest, in liturgical garb) and told him to get out of the car. They then attacked his car, seriously damaging it before letting him go. He was unharmed, but very frightened.
Our friends in East Jerusalem have told us that in their neighborhood, settlers have been breaking windows and threatening families. (Similar violence is happening in cities on both sides of the green line, and has been called by one Israeli peace activist a “Russian-style pogrom.” Restaurants, churches, and mosques have been burned by angry Jewish civilians. We cannot help but think about our own country at age 52 – as Israel is now – in 1828, and the actions of our own “frontier” settlers. As then, cruel and violent acts are committed by all parties, but the sides are far from equal. The thought is chilling, considering the long and hard battle Native Americans continue to fight for justice and the due observation of treaties.)
Tonight we shared coffee with a Muslim friend in Zababdeh. He (as our friend at church and many others) expressed great frustration with America. He also expressed a great desire for peace. His family is from Haifa, and fled the war in 1948. They were not allowed to return to their home, and so they became refugees, finally using what they could muster (mostly family jewelry) to buy land in Zababdeh in 1960. “I want peace,” he said. “I have given up my family lands in Haifa - I accept this price. But there must be something for me, too.” Another friend in Jenin said, “This is our land. We are willing to let the Israelis keep more than half of it, which they took in 1948. But the rest must be for us.” (These are the voices of calm and compromise. But these voices seem to be largely unheard. We are concerned that the Western media’s focus on militant voices, especially extreme Islamic groups, only serves to strengthen Western fears and stereotypes about Muslims. We want to tell you that we have been welcomed warmly and genuinely by Muslims here. We have been invited into their homes, eaten at table with them, shared coffee with them; we teach their children and work with them at the school.)
Many of you have asked us what you can do. We ask you, if your heart is breaking, too, to bring that faith into action. First, we encourage prayer. As you can, pray for the vicious cycle of violence to end.
Second, we suggest you learn as much as possible about the situation, digging a little deeper than the headlines. We have added a new web page that has links to alternative news sources, human rights' groups, and Arab Christian organizations.
Then, we ask you to spread the word of grace, peace, and justice. Tell your friends and families. Tell your local newspaper. Tell your government.
We had little intention that our work would become political here. But our politics comes from our faith, and it is our faith that brought us here. We ask you, with us, to “let your hearts be broken by the things that break the heart of God.”
We greet you in Salaam-Shalom-Peace,
Marthame and Elizabeth