What Makes for Peace?

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My name is Rula Shubeita and I am not a politician, I don’t understand politics, but my daily life is all full of politics, even the little children in the Holy Land talk politics and everybody breathes politics.

I am present here in front of you as a simple Palestinian Christian from the Holy Land. I was born, raised and spent all my life in the city of peace "Jerusalem."

I come here to be a witness and an ambassador to you to represent my people back in the Holy Land and to convey their voice to all of you our brothers and sisters in Christ.

It is very important for me to share with you our daily life in the Holy Land, Israel and Palestine and the conflict between these two nations that has been there for the last century. I am not going to talk about facts that you all know through the news, the media, the newspapers or magazines, but rather I would like to talk about our daily life as Palestinians, and share with you, out of our experience of occupation and oppression, persecution, violence, and lack of dignity, what will make for peace in our land – including security, justice and reconciliation.

Living in the Holy Land, I identify myself in four characters: A Palestinian, a Christian, a Tour Guide and a resident of Jerusalem. Each of these characters is a part of my identity and because of these identities; I feel a great responsibility towards my family, my people, my work and my nation.

AS A PALESTINIAN, my ancestors lived for hundreds of years in a city called Ramleh near Tel Aviv. During the Independence War of 1948 my parents were displaced. The Israeli Army forced them to leave their house completely. They took my father and my three uncles as prisoners and all the women had to leave by foot towards the West Bank. My mother, my aunt and my two grandmothers reached the city of Jerusalem after a long and a very hard journey by foot full of suffering, and they became refugees. Three months later when the men got out of prison, my father had to look for my mother as they had been married only for three days before the displacement and he had to start a new life. After losing all his properties and money in Ramleh, it was very challenging to start again. My three uncles, as they were not yet married, left the area to work in Kuwait, one of the Arab Gulf countries. As a result, all three lost their identity cards and lost their right of return to their country and homeland. My story is not unusual -- this displacement happened to at least three quarters of a million Palestinians who suffered from the founding of the State of Israel either by fleeing to the West Bank, Syria, Lebanon or Gaza and setting up residence in refugee camps or by going to the other Arab countries as refugees and thus losing completely their right to return.

AS A PALESTINIAN, my ancestors lived for hundreds of years in a city called Ramleh near Tel Aviv. During the Independence War of 1948 my parents were displaced. The Israeli Army forced them to leave their house completely. They took my father and my three uncles as prisoners and all the women had to leave by foot towards the West Bank. My mother, my aunt and my two grandmothers reached the city of Jerusalem after a long and a very hard journey by foot full of suffering, and they became refugees. Three months later when the men got out of prison, my father had to look for my mother as they had been married only for three days before the displacement and he had to start a new life. After losing all his properties and money in Ramleh, it was very challenging to start again. My three uncles, as they were not yet married, left the area to work in Kuwait, one of the Arab Gulf countries. As a result, all three lost their identity cards and lost their right of return to their country and homeland. My story is not unusual -- this displacement happened to at least three quarters of a million Palestinians who suffered from the founding of the State of Israel either by fleeing to the West Bank, Syria, Lebanon or Gaza and setting up residence in refugee camps or by going to the other Arab countries as refugees and thus losing completely their right to return.

If we look at the situation of today you can see that the Palestinians are still eager to have closure on this painful history of displacement - to be given the international rights that refugees deserve – to have some choice and say in the resolution of where they can live, to be compensated by the Israelis for the displacement and for those who want, to have their right to get back the territories of the West Bank which was occupied by Israel during the six days war of 1967, only 22% of the whole Palestine. This would make for peace.

But on the contrary we see Israel every day building new settlements on Palestinian confiscated land from 1967, expanding old ones and confiscating more land. Then they confiscate more Palestinian lands and separate villages to build bypass roads to help settlers to drive freely to their settlements without passing through or by any Palestinian cities or villages. While my people sit in refugee camps – now for 58 years – I watch Israel encouraging Jewish people to immigrate to the Land of Israel, giving them tax benefits to dwell in these settlements, finding them jobs and exempting them from paying taxes for the first three years. These are actions that tell us as Palestinians that one people are more valued than another. Israelis and Palestinians need equal rights and equal treatment for there to be real peace.

AS A CHRISTIAN PALESTINIAN, I belong to the first Christians who believed in our Lord Jesus Christ. My ancestors were here for two thousand years, since the first church was born during Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles while they were in the upper room. I belong, like any other Christian Palestinian to the Mother Church of Jerusalem.

AS A CHRISTIAN PALESTINIAN, I belong to the first Christians who believed in our Lord Jesus Christ. My ancestors were here for two thousand years, since the first church was born during Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles while they were in the upper room. I belong, like any other Christian Palestinian to the Mother Church of Jerusalem.

After the birth of the church, Christianity was spread all over the world by different missions of the Apostles. The church was born in the East and was spread to the West.

The Christians of the Holy Land were the majority before 1948. After the occupation and its consequences, things started to change. Christians found themselves in a difficult political reality and they started to leave to look for a better living in the West.

Today Christians have become only 2% of the whole population of Israel and Palestine among the Jews and the Moslems. The Israeli occupation and our status as a shrinking minority have seriously affected Christian life here.

The separation wall that Israel is building to separate the Palestinians from the Israelis is one more blow to Christian life. Christians of Jerusalem and of Israel are not able to get to Bethlehem to visit the birth place of our Lord Jesus or any other holy site located in the West Bank. Also Christians of the West Bank are not able to cross to Jerusalem to visit Calvary where our Lord Jesus was crucified and his Holy Tomb where he was buried and resurrected on the third day.

The separation wall affects all of us as Palestinians – preventing us from visiting our brothers, sisters, relatives and friends because some of us will be beyond and the others will be behind the separation wall. When our community is divided and isolated, we can not build the state that we dream of – Palestinians need to have the freedom that everyone deserves – of movement and religion for there to be real peace.

AS A CHRISTIAN TOUR GUIDE, I can see it is obvious that Israel and Palestine combined together are part of the Holy Land. As Christians we believe that we have four gospels, the Holy Land is the fifth Gospel. You cannot separate them from each other. To understand the four Gospels as a faithful you have to visit the Holy Land to trace all the holy sites where Jesus was. You could see where he was born, was baptized, was tempted by the satin, where he lived as a child, where he did his public ministry for three years, where he performed miracles, where he celebrated the last supper with his disciples, where he was betrayed, condemned to death crucified, died, buried, resurrected and ascended to heaven and where the first church started.

AS A CHRISTIAN TOUR GUIDE, I can see it is obvious that Israel and Palestine combined together are part of the Holy Land. As Christians we believe that we have four gospels, the Holy Land is the fifth Gospel. You cannot separate them from each other. To understand the four Gospels as a faithful you have to visit the Holy Land to trace all the holy sites where Jesus was. You could see where he was born, was baptized, was tempted by the satin, where he lived as a child, where he did his public ministry for three years, where he performed miracles, where he celebrated the last supper with his disciples, where he was betrayed, condemned to death crucified, died, buried, resurrected and ascended to heaven and where the first church started.

Yet the occupation takes that away from all of us. Because of the continuous Israeli Palestinian conflict and the Intifada (the uprising) started in September 2000, people were afraid to travel to the Holy Land saying "it is not safe to travel there." This caused a great loss in tourism which is considered as one of the first industry for Israel and Palestine alike, leaving hundreds of people without jobs. I would urge every single person to travel to the Holy Land to do your pilgrimage and to walk in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus as it is safe to travel to the Holy Land, not only to visit sites but also to see the people of the Holy Land, support those who are working for peace and to bring a message of Christian love and care for both nations of the Holy Land. This would help to make for peace.

AS A JERUSALEMITE, I was born, raised and lived all my life in the city of Jerusalem. I feel very much attached to the city of Jerusalem. My love to Jerusalem is like my love to my mother, I feel that Jerusalem is my mother, my sister, and my daughter. I don’t find myself living far away of my city, Jerusalem is part of me and I am a part of It.

AS A JERUSALEMITE, I was born, raised and lived all my life in the city of Jerusalem. I feel very much attached to the city of Jerusalem. My love to Jerusalem is like my love to my mother, I feel that Jerusalem is my mother, my sister, and my daughter. I don't find myself living far away of my city, Jerusalem is part of me and I am a part of It.

Jerusalem is the holiest city in the World and is the centre of the three Monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The holy sites for the three religions are located very close to each other in the city of Jerusalem. Everyone has the right and freedom to pray and practice his religion in the city of Jerusalem and no one has the right to prevent anyone of doing so.

All of us - Christians and Muslims and Jews – must demand that Jerusalem should be open for Israelis and Palestinians and it should be a city for two states –the Israeli State and the Palestinian State. An open and international Jerusalem is essential for peace in the Holy Land.

The question remains: WHAT MAKES FOR PEACE?

As a Christian the Bible teaches us to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves from all our heart, from all our mind and with all our strength and even to love our enemy.

We believe today that we are two nations that were imposed on each other and we have to share the same land and to be good neighbors to each other.

If it was fair and just to recognize the Israeli State in 1948 because the world did not pay attention to the Holocaust, it is fair and just that today, a Palestinian State be recognized because the world ignored our 58 years of occupation. The Holocaust of the Jews was horrible event that should never happen again – but the lesson that we take from it is even more important - such a catastrophe should not happen again - and that this is a universal message not to oppress other people but to see all people as human beings created in the image of God and pursue peace and love.

The political answer to what makes for peace is known: Israel has to implement the UN resolutions.

To withdraw to the 1967 borders.
To give the refugees their rights and to compensate them.
To remove all settlements from the West Bank and Jerusalem.
To tear down the separation wall.
To maintain Jerusalem as a city shared by three religions and two nations.
If these conditions will be implemented, there will be political peace, security and justice.
For us to have real peace, we must also have real reconciliation that comes with our faith and love – to truly express our respect for each other.
There should be reconciliation between the two nations of both sides know how to educate their young to love not to hate, to forgive not to condemn, to dialogue not to monologue, to respect and equalize not to discriminate.

THIS ISSUE IS NOT SIMPLE AND THE JOURNEY IS LONG

Therefore, I urge all of you our brothers and sisters in Christ to act and intervene. You can help in different ways:

I encourage all of you to travel to this region on fact finding mission or on pilgrimage to understand the political situation more and the people of the region specially the Christians who are the Living Stones who are still preserving and maintaining the holy sites and keeping the churches active. If the Living Stones continue to leave there will be no one left to protect these holy sites and then churches will be like museums that will be used as a history site rather than a place of worship. Be sure that it is very safe to travel to the Holy Land.

We need support financially to keep the community strong.

Financially: you can buy well known Palestinian Products such as the Olive Wood Carving, the Mother of Pearl, the Palestinian embroidery which are done by Palestinian women from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Original Olive Oil pressed and manufactured in the Holy Land. Also you can sponsor a child out of many Palestinian Children who do not have the chance to join the school because of poverty through the Global Ministries program. Or you can help to create a housing project in the Holy Land to help young couples to live in a decent house rather than leaving or to help other people who had their house demolished by the Israeli Government, or to help to find jobs creation for the Palestinians as the unemployment is very high because the Israeli Government does not allow Palestinians to work in Israel. Or to contribute for university scholarships to have a well educated generation to know how to defend their land and to seek peace and justice.

You can support with one of the mentioned ways by contacting one of the Palestinian Institutions such as Sunbula based in Jerusalem or Dar Al Nadwa based in Bethlehem or Hcef: The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation based in Washington DC. You can get resources and their Website addresses at Global Ministry booth.

You might want to participate in Sabeel’s International Conference "The Forgotten Faithful" in November 2006.

And finally pray for us. We need your spiritual support. The faithful of the Western Church should help the faithful of the Eastern Church because we are one body in Christ, if one part of the body is sick the other parts will be sick too. We ask you to include us always in your prayers until peace will prevail on the region.


Thank you very much!!!

 


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