Caring for Palestine: Christmas Tree Lighting in Manger Square

We just had the Christmas tree lighting in the Manger Square, Bethlehem and
it was beautiful. It was appropriate to reflect on challenges and
opportunities in the ongoing struggle. If we believe that Jesus brought the
message of peace, the tumult in his era seems remarkably similar to this
era of occupation, repression, religious zealotry, corrupt leaders etc.
Yet, 2014 could be summed up as the year in which the parameters of the
struggle were made much clearer. It is a struggle between the elite rich
who have increasingly pushed for more police and military to protect their
gains and suppress the 99.9% of the world that is suffering.  From Ferguson
to Gaza to Kobani, the struggle continues.

In this year, we need to remember the tragedy that is Gaza, the tragedy
that is Jerusalem, the tragedy that is Palestine but, we also reflect on
that hope that like the story of resurrection seems to capture hearts
and minds of millions of people. Yes, we did suffer the incalculable loss
of thousands of Palestinians butchered this summer in Gaza. We remember
that despite the promises given by politicians, Gaza even became more
isolated and the noose tightened on the lives of 1.6 million human beings.
Egyptian and Israeli governments seems hell-bent on strangling any
remaining potential for normal life. The situation is dire and getting
worse daily. Thousands of common people did help and we sent some money
and some supplies but the situation demands more.

The same is also true for Jerusalem where Judaization efforts are accelerating
(which includes ethnic cleansing of native Palestinians and removing/threatening
our religious, cultural and historical infrastructure). Trigger happy soldiers and
settlers still kill Palestinians almost every other day with impunity.

But let me talk of the positive things. Hundreds of Christians from around
the world attended the conference marking the fifth anniversary of the
launch of the Kairos Palestine document (see kairospalestine.ps/ ). The
conference was appropriately themed around living with dignity. In my
lecture, I spoke of a long history of struggle to live with dignity,
resistance and hope. Life also goes on for our little extended family (and
I mean by that students and volunteers who work with us). This year we
marked a new milestone as we launched the Palestine Museum of Natural
History in the summer. We worked very hard to make sure the first public
activity at the museum was a success: a large science festival where
hundreds of children from 14 schools (one kindergraden) came to the Museum
and did some very important experiments (touch, feel, do) from 20-29
November. The feedback from students and teachers was amazing. We also
built a pool and started to do planting and permaculture work on site which
will become a beautiful natural botanical garden in the middle of
Bethlehem. Much more work is needed. We are always looking for volunteers
(for all sorts of tasks from gardening to computers to scientific research)
and we are beginning to explore and ask for potential funding. To help us,
please visit
http://www.palestinenature.org/support-us/volunteer/ (volunteering)
http://www.palestinenature.org/support-us/ (donations)

Also Donate to Shepherds’ Night Festival in Beit Sahour
https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/shepherds-nights-festival

Boycott Coca-Cola (BTW it is also healthier for you 🙂
http://uspcn.org/2014/12/04/uspcn-launches-coca-cola-boycott/

Virtual 3D tour of Church of Nativity
http://www.virtualtourcustodia.org/betlemme/virtual_eng.html

I am on the advisory committee of a project by Ads Against Apartheid, which
is trying to promote Palestinian Human rights through a national
advertising campaign. They ran advertisements already in the Boston subway
system this summer. I feel they can really move people on this issue. Here
is the link to their Indiegogo campaign, which explains their project in
more detail:
http://bit.ly/1uKownm

Come visit us and keep the hope alive

Mazin Qumsiyeh
Professor and Director
Palestine Museum of Natural History
Bethlehem University
http://qumsiyeh.org

Meditations of the Heart (Thurman) Section 2 Day 12

Today Rev. Thurman’s meditation brings my mind to the racial tension in our country, especially brought to a hard rolling boil with the separate shootings in Ferguson, a strangling death in New York, the remembrance of the gross misjudgement of a community watch volunteer in Florida in 2012.  It also brings to mind, as I’ve recently watched on news talk shows, police training and judicial disciplinary actions (or non action).

As Thurman says, a person has a few options on how to respond to any problem: (p. 77-78)
1) withdrawal, which is to say that the world’s “stuff” is too much to handle and; “the contradictions of experience are in themselves final and binding.”  The response would be to retreat and ignore the world’s “stuff”.

2) to reduce ALL evil (I’d describe that in terms of contributing factors, perspectives and, responses to problems) to a single entity.  Such as to say that the tension we are experiencing in our country is a racial problem.  “A radical oversimplification.”

3) to recognize that all the world is made up of raw materials immediately available “for the realization of the kingdom, the rule of God.”  In other words, all things can be used for “the achievement of the high and holy end.” This, Thurman suggests, is the position of a religious person who “is never afraid of life, nor shrinks from vicissitudes.”

I recently wrote for a seminary paper that I hoped we would not be revisiting the violence that characterized the civil rights demonstrations that peaked in Selma in 1963. “I sit at my kitchen table holding my breath and praying to God that a miracle will happen and protests will not turn violent and ugly as they did in 1963 at the height of the civil rights era. ” To which my professor commented:  “Yes…therefore, violence is a natural response of the people. Seeking peace without justice only delays addressing the real issues”. I was sobered by an overarching comment that while I prayed violence did not break out; my professor prayed that injustice did not break out.

It demonstrates how complex our world is, that while I wanted a simple (and naive) resolution, I hadn’t considered the value of violence. If you look up the word ‘violence’ you see there is a spectrum of definitions for violence that, speaking for myself at least, I hadn’t considered. The first definition I read was: Violence can be a swift and intense force.  I discovered that I need to learn the depth and breadth of expressions of violence and use them appropriately, but; I will not go to the extreme of injurious physical force.  It will be a necessary challenge (for us all) to explore something I have characterized as harmful (allow this to be an interpretation of Thurman’s word “evil”) and, as Thurman says, “alter its character thoroughly” to be an expression that serves.