Walls Instead of Bridges?

Fr. Joe Muth – Archdiocese of Baltimore

We are told that three visitors from the East arrived one day in Jerusalem inquiring about the child that had been born. That was in the first century. Twenty centuries later seven visitors from the West (from Catholic Relief Services) arrived one day in the same town, wondering about the same child.

In Jesus’ time, Jerusalem was occupied by the Romans, and today many parts of the city are occupied, in violation of International Law by Israel. The State of Israel is creating a wall to make itself more secure and to extend the size of Israeli controlled Jerusalem. The Palestinians see this wall as an oppressive, insecure, illegal occupation of their land. Both sides vehemently defend their position psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, and of course, militarily. The seven Global Fellows western visitors spent their first day in Israel in the Bethlehem District seeing glimpses of the wall; also referred to as an electrified security fence or security barrier.

Walls instead of bridges? In the motherland of faith, the home of Christians, Muslims, and Jews, who can believe what we have seen?

As visitors to this nation we have been told to look for balance, to listen for balance, and to seek balance. Even if we find balance I feel like we will be accused of betraying the Palestinians or not listening to the Israelis.

Balance is what Jesus cautioned against. Balance is an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Jesus says the new law is to love you enemies and pray for your persecutors. If the occupation of this land is still going on, then so must the message of Jesus.

Our day began with Mass at the Church of the Annunciation, in Beit Jala. Despite the difficulties we had heard about, there was singing, joy, and friendship at the liturgy. Good conversation followed the liturgy. We talked about the plight of the Palestinian people and their desire to be treated humanely, with dignity and respect. They want their story to be.

Throughout the day, we heard about despair, poverty and the illegal occupation of land. We heard that Palestinians are not allowed to fly out of Tel Aviv, but must fly out of Jordan. We heard about humiliation, harassment, and long waiting times at checkpoints. In all of this, people still had a sense of hope and survival. They were also excited about family parties as they were preparing to celebrate Orthodox Christmas.

We left to return to our hotel in Jerusalem – waited about 20 minutes at a checkpoint going from Palestinian territory to Israeli territory. While waiting a young Palestinian man wearing a knapsack walked up to the checkpoint. The Israeli soldier exchanged loud words with him – lifted his rifle, pointed it at the Palestinian boy, stepped behind a barrier, and prepared to fire. We watched this unfold, stricken with fear, fell silently waiting. The young man turned around and walked away. We breathed a sigh of relief and continued our journey. I imagine this happens many times in the course of a day. Tensions are high.

We can learn lessons from the Palestinian people. They have developed a spirituality of fear, despair and frustration – it is their life!

The Magi left their gifts and returned home. I hope that by the end of the week we can discover the gifts we are supposed to leave here, too.

Fr. Joe Muth, from the Archdiocese of Baltimore, is a member of the Global Fellows: Parish Homily Program. The Global Fellows: priests, deacons and seminarians, travel to the developing world to experience the plight of the poor and marginalized overseas. Upon their return, the Global Fellows are empowered to preach in parishes across the United States about social justice and peace around the world. This entry is a personal reflection by one of the participants in this program, and does not necessarily reflect the views of Catholic Relief Services, or its partners.

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