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We were sitting in the cold before a 35 foot wall, candle in one hand, olive twig in the other, taking part in a service in six different languages. But this was no ordinary wall. This was the Israeli Separation Barrier.
We were there as part of an international group brought together by Palestinian Christians convinced that now is the time to end the great wrong the wall symbolises. They have expressed this eloquently in the Kairos Palestine document (2009). This speaks of God’s love for all people, emphasises the shared humanity of all who live in Israel/Palestine, confronts the Israelis with the great wrong they are doing to the Palestinians while challenging the Palestinians to love their enemies.
As His Beatitude Patriarch Michel Sabbah (one of the authors of the Kairos document) said at the opening session: ‘This is our reality. Many Jewish people do not want us to exist, but as people of the Bible we have to deal with others as people made in the image of God, and talk with the goodness in them. This means we have to love our enemies, even though our enemies don’t believe it. But loving our enemies doesn’t mean we give in.’ It means we want them to recognise our rights. The reality of which he speaks was brought home to us earlier in the day when we visited Hebron, a 45 minute drive south of Bethlehem. There we saw the great injustice being done to the Palestinians – 101 checkpoints and 1500 soldiers guarding 400 settlers in five settlements inside the old city of Hebron. Streets are blocked, markets are closed, many houses are empty or inaccessible: the Palestinian people feel they are prisoners in their own city. Yet they have not given up hope. The Hebron Rehabilitation Committee (www.hebronrc.org) are rebuilding ancient houses and squares. Palestinians who had left are returning. As our guide put it: ‘They have failed. We are still here.’
It was this hope that we celebrated in our worship at the wall.