Eye on the Middle East Jul/Aug 2001
At the height of the recent Al-Aqsa Intifada, Palestinians and Israelis bemoaned the suffering it caused. Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, determined to widen the war and force international intervention on his behalf, has kept the green light on for a cadre of terrorists and paramilitary forces wreaking havoc and shedding innocent blood. He did this despite the fact that the violence prevented thousands of Palestinians from going to their jobs in Israel because of closures imposed by the Israelis. Israel instituted these closures as a direct result of the unrelenting and indiscriminate Palestinian attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians via suicide bombers, mortar rounds, sniper fire, and a wide assortment of deadly devices imported from Palestinian-controlled areas.
Included in the list of murdered Israelis is a 10-month-old baby who was shot to death in April by a Palestinian sniper who deliberately framed her in his telescopic sight, then killed her.
A correlative casualty of the conflict has been tourism, which has slowed to a trickle because of the fighting. Consequently, both Israelis and Palestinians, many of whom work in Israel’s hotels, restaurants, and other segments of the massive tourist industry, have been denied gainful employment.
Ironically, even religious commemorations were hit by the storm of controversy as people tried to blame the conflict on one side or the other. The 2001 Easter celebration was badly marred. A “message for Easter,” released by a local Jerusalem group of Christian clergymen, was more a political position paper than a bearer of the good news of the resurrection. As reported in The Jerusalem Post (April 13, 2001), the statement castigated Israel by calling for, among other things, “the immediate end of all collective punishments, especially for the lifting of the closures of Palestinian towns and villages.” It demanded that Israel shape up and obey international and UN resolutions.
The clergyman who preached the annual Easter sermon at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where hundreds of locals and pilgrims from abroad gathered, delivered more of the same. In a verbal tirade that sounded more like a message you would hear in a mosque than a church, the speaker lashed out at Israel: “The force, which can impose itself through sieges, bombardments or killings,” he said, “are [sic] means which destroy houses, kill human persons, but cannot kill the soul of a people.”
These egregious demonstrations of political partisanship prompt two observations. First, the world in general has failed to relate honestly to the situation in its entirety. Why does Israel enact these closures? Because of the violence perpetrated by Palestinian leaders bent on destroying the Jewish state. When the violence and terror end, so will the closures. Israeli businesses need Palestinian workers as much as Palestinians need their jobs in Israel. Of necessity, however, Israel has always instituted closures in times of unrest.
Second, these various clergymen forfeited their spiritual obligation to communicate the central message of the season. Millions of Christians aspire to visit the Holy Land someday. Just as Jewish people each Passover recite the words “next year in Jerusalem,” Christians express the same desire. At Easter, Jerusalem becomes the center of the spiritual universe for many Christian believers. It was there, from a garden tomb, that the resurrection of Jesus took place. He had been crucified, laid in the tomb for three days, and then triumphantly arose from the dead. It was in Jerusalem, on the first Easter morning, that the three central elements of the gospel came together. Therefore, for Christians, the single, greatest event in time and eternity was accomplished.
To talk politics and vent partisan prejudices to individuals who assembled to hear and somehow personally share the wonder of what transpired 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem was more than an irritation. It was a desecration of the sacred message of the season and an abdication of the responsibility to convey that message to those whose hearts were longing to hear again of the miracle associated with the words, “He is not here; for he is risen, as he said” (Mt. 28:6).
The world would have been much better served by reports of that “message for Easter” from Jerusalem, rather than condemnatory and divisive political rhetoric. After all, embodied in the words “He is risen” is the life transforming message of real peace and true reconciliation.