This reflection was shared in an online Service with Kairos Ireland on December 5th, 2021, also available on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jSJ737gxZis
Back in the day, I travelled to Dublin to study at Trinity College Dublin. It was my first experience of studying abroad. My overall experiences there were very positive, aside from the weather. It was the first time for me to be in an environment that had positive views of Palestinians. This unconditional love empowered my identify formation as a Palestinian. Irish people have a genuine compassion for justice, for Palestinians and many other nations.
Dublin was the place I met my Palestinian friend from Gaza. I had joined a talk about Palestine, and during Q&A, usually many Palestinians ask questions, as did Shireen. Immediately after the talk, I approached her and since then, we became friends. That year, around this time, operation Cast Lead took place – Israel and Hamas engaged in a violent war. Shireen was in utter shambles, anxious and in distress. The numerous attempts to get a hold of her parents and the constant worry for them is a feeling many Palestinians go through. For her, just to come to Dublin to study, the ambassador of Ireland had to personally accompany her from the Israeli border with Gaza and drive her to the Israeli border to Jordan. Going back to Gaza was not as simple as booking a ticket. The dilemma of whether she should go back to Gaza with the knowledge that there is no return, or stay and wrestle with the uncertainty about the safety of her family and the guilt of being in a safe place.
I encountered similar feelings in the last cycle of violence this May. Almost every Palestinian, regardless of their geographical location experienced fear, anxiety, insecurity.
For Palestinians in East Jerusalem, where residents of Sheikh Jarrah refuse to accept their forced displacement and continue to do so. For Palestinians in Gaza, who experienced another devastation to an already semi-uninhabited open prison. For Palestinian in the West Bank, the ongoing confrontations with the Israeli army which resulted in more loss of Palestinian lives. In addition, the ongoing Israeli attempts to shrink the humanitarian space where 6 prominent human rights organizations were described as “terror organization” as a way to delegitimize and criminalize Palestinian pursuit of justice. For Palestinians in Israel, like myself, primarily in mixed cities, portrayed as models of Arab and Jewish coexistence, became new battlefields. Haifa, where my brother lived, was one of those places.The anxiety and fear in your own dwelling. Fear to be in the wrong place and the wrong time.
And of course, let us not forget the affect that we are all experiencing as a result of the pandemic. The uncertainty and the lingering between variants exasperates inequalities and widens the gaps of injustice locally, and globally. While high-income countries have fully vaccinated more than 60% their population, low income countries are below 10%. I am being generous with the numbers here. Unfortunately, self-interest and greed take precedence over human life and well-being.
Sometimes I feel that we are stuck in an endless cycle of violence and injustice, and I feel discouraged. The reality of destruction overpowers my hope for restoration.
The birth of Jesus had its own times of darkness. Roman occupation, corruption, war on the horizon, violence, poverty and fear. All the gospels, albeit at different times, were written after the devastation of the Great Jewish revolt. In fact, a surprisingly large percentage of the biblical texts, both Old and New Testament, were written in the context, or the aftermath, of large-scale disasters. The writings are witness accounts of the story of God within these events. As we have here in the gospel of John where the author tells us that he came “as a witness to testify” about the “light to all mankind, so that all might believe.” (John 1: 7)
The nativity account is about a baby born in a manger. His birth was not among royalty and fame as the world understands it, but rather among the mundane and people on the margins. The incarnation of our Lord came in an unexpected place at an unexpected time. In Luke’s nativity account, Shepherds from Beit Sahour became witnesses of the birth of the. Already at his birth, Jesus’ kingdom welcomed by the poor, the strangers and even creation. This is foreshadowing the new world.
In this season of advent, I ask myself how does this story give me hope in my Palestinian context? I chose to talk about hope, even though I have a sort of love and hate relationship with it. This has placed me in a liminal space for a while now. The hardest question you could ask me was “What is your hope?”. Publically, I would say that Palestinians are oppressed, how can we give hope? While this is true, I was avoiding an internal struggle: my hope for peace in Israel and Palestine was waning. Not because I don’t believe in the possibility of peace, but because I was losing faith in people. Add to that the shame of admitting weakness where the Church sometimes leaves little room for.
What was helpful for my struggle was being honest, and sitting with the discomfort. Slowly and unexpectedly, this question got easier to answer. Hope is existential for me, as for many activists and peacemakers, because it drives response and action to context.
One of my recent attempts to express my reconstruction of hope is using the term “decolonizing hope”. Let me give you a premise of why I am using this term. See, I was raised evangelical. My experience in that evangelical is that Christians tend to steer away from confronting our human limitations, weaknesses and downfalls. We know they exist, but we don’t know what to do with them, so we brush over them. Some of our theologies confine hope to a blanket of positivity. For example, our Christology and understanding of God as conqueror leaves little room for lament – for crying out, vocalizing our experience of suffering and pain to God. Think about the emphasis on Easter Sunday and the emphasis on Christ’s suffering on the cross. The Stations of the Cross – the Via Dolorosa is not a practice in my faith denomination.
I believe hope is more powerful that positivity and it can help me hold the tensions between human weaknesses and God’s promise, especially during times of darkness.
One of the books that I am reading currently is titled Following Jesus in Invaded Space: Doing Theology on Aboriginal Land. The author is a white Australian male, member of the dominant culture, who is trying to do contextual theology with a particular reference to Indigenous people and the invasion of their country. He says that “hope and the capacity to set ourselves and others free begins when illusion ends.” (Budden, 2014, 171) For him, illusion ended when he faced the real history and participation in structures of power and abuse. This comforts me because my dis-illusionment is the beginning of my hope.
Hope is critical especially in times of darkness. While reality gives us a sense of what is happening. Hope gives us a sense of potentiality – what could be. Jürgen Moltmann, in his famous book Ethics of Hope, says that “hope is when we want what is now impossible - that we arrive to the limits of our possibilities” (Moltmann, 2012, 15). When we are cannot see is possible, when peace seems impossible, God’s hope – this potentiality - opens our eyes to his kingdom. When there is brokenness, hope enables us to imagine restoration. The incarnation of the Messiah – our Savior - as a baby born of a virgin is impossible for many to believe, but for people of faith this is the beginning of our renewed hope.
When we hope, we are also waiting, anticipating for what is to come. This awakening of hope carries the promised future of peace and justice into life. The promise of God’s coming unfolds a transforming power of the present (Moltmann, 19). While we hope, while we actively expect, we are prepared for God’s future and that future gains power in our present. “Thy will be done on earth as it in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10) When we pray the Lord’s prayer, we awaken this promise.
In others words, this waiting means not conforming to the conditions of this world of injustice and violence (Moltmann, 20). People who expect God’s justice and righteousness no longer accept “facts on the grounds” because they know that a better world is possible where changes in the present are necessary. We do not give up – not before the structures of powers of this world and not before one’s own helplessness, but living with head held high. This reminds me of the Palestinian word we use - Sumud – translated as perseverance.
As Palestinian Christians, we are engaging in peace because we know a better world is possible because being agents of change if part of our faith duty to get there. We are engaged in different forms, be it advocacy, civic participation and nonviolent protest, because of our ability to imagine “Peace on earth” (Luke 2:14).
The events this past May ushered a new language to describe our situation. This is not new for us, but the timing seemed fertile to publically call things for what they are - an Apartheid. Palestinians in the West Bank are under military occupation, Gaza is under siege, Palestinian Israelis are second class citizens and East Jerusalemites are caught between a rock and a hard place, they have no status. This new language is crucial because it exposes the truth of what is happening. This is part of a long journey that many of us have committed their lives and efforts to face the real history and participation of the structures of power and abuse.
In addition, there is a renewed sense of solidarity. Palestinians and justice advocates from all places, including the diaspora, engaged in non-violent demonstrations where attendance was significantly noticeable. Some news outlets are breaking away from the dominant narrative. These are flashes of hope in the midst of darkness. They bring us closer to what could be.
God’s hope moves us to bring justice and peace into this world based on what God has revealed to us. Because when we achieve some justice to those who are suffering violence, then God’s future shines into their world. When we take up the cause of the marginalized, strangers and creation, a fragment of life comes into our own life.
So, perceiving possibilities, actively waiting and anticipating, not conforming to the conditions of this world, and not giving up means resisting the structures of powers of this world and dreaming boldly as God’s children where peace is possible. This is part of our story of restoration. Let us be reminded in this season that “in the midst of darkness, the light shines, and that darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)