What is it like to be an Armenian, Palestinian Christian living in Jerusalem in 2014?
by Lisa Hunt-Wotton
Recently I attended a function to hear a gifted communicator talk about the plight of Palestinian Christians. Unfortunately for safety reasons I am unable to name this brave and compassionate speaker. Born and raised in Jerusalem, an ‘Armenian Palestinian Christian’. Armenians have a long, continuous presence in Jerusalem from the fourth century. Armenia was the first nation in 301 CE to adopt Christianity as its official faith . Here is some of what was shared at the event.
“Palestine, the word, the map, the people, they are all fragmented. They are a people who feel dispossessed, abandoned by the world and rejected from their own physical location. Disinherited”.
“Living in Jerusalem, every single day you feel conflict, heaviness and desperation. You feel very threatened and very alone. It takes a lot of energy to live in a place of conflict and it is a daily reflective process to make sure that you don’t become bitter”.
Most people when they talk about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict rarely talk about Christianity. It takes special reflection as a Christian to try to make sense of your role and identity and mission in the middle of a conflict. There are always other narratives involved. Each person tells you a different history and a different narrative.
There are many many sides to this story. There is a word in Hebrew for ‘face’ that is plural, in Hebrew you would say “How are your faces?” This is true of this area of the world, there are many faces to this story.
What is it like for a Palestinian Christian on a daily basis?
Well daily they are subjected to military checkpoints on the way to school and to work. Reality is the separation between members of the same family, making family life impossible. Religious liberty is severely restricted with millions forbidden to visit the holy sites. In 1948 when Palestinians were dispossessed of land, they were given refugee status. Today there are 7 million Palestinians who still live with refugee status, they have been waiting for the right of return generation after generation. They have no status, no passport, no birth date even though they have been born and raised in Palestine.
The citizens of East Jerusalem do not carry an Israeli passport and the papers that they do have are not recognized by any authority.
Then there are the 1.5 million Palestinians who remained in Jerusalem and who have Israeli citizenship are called the ‘demographic threat’ because they are perceived as a threat to Jewish control. Life here is still very complicated. For example, the speaker, who was born and raised in Jerusalem, needs to apply for a visa every 2 years just to remain in her own home.
“Israel is facing a serious demographic challenge that threatens its future as both a democratic and a Jewish state. There are moral, political, and strategic dangers in preserving the territorial status quo.
Israel cannot remain a majority Jewish, democratic state, by indefinitely controlling the Palestinian territories.” Only a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict can prevent this existential danger from becoming a reality” (Israels National Security Project – Sergio DellaPergola).
“The Palestinian territories or occupied Palestinian territories (OPT or oPt) comprise the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip. The boundaries, subject to future negotiations, are generally regarded by the international community as being defined by the Green Line.
In 1980, Israel officially annexed East Jerusalem and considers the whole of Jerusalem to be its capital. The annexation was condemned internationally and declared “null and void” by the United Nations Security Council. The Palestinian National Authority, the United Nations, the international legal and humanitarian bodies and the international community” (Palestinian Territories Wikipedia).
In the West Bank, the disputed territories, 2.5 million Palestinians carry Palestinian passports. The fact that they live in the West Bank means that they cannot access the rest of the country. Israel is 10 minutes away but they are not permitted to travel there. They cannot even use the Tel Aviv airport, they have to travel to another country to catch a plane. They can see the beach from their houses but the will never be allowed to go to the beach.
This affects every aspect of someones life. Those living in Gaza, 1.6 million people, are land locked. Although they have a seacoast of their own, the continued delays in the construction of a seaport in Gaza have rendered it a de-facto land locked territory, isolated from global trade. They are not permitted to go anywhere. They cannot go to Israel or to any other country that surrounds them. All crossings into Gaza have been blocked off since 2007.
“In recent years, life in Gaza has been defined by the scarcity food, clothing, fuel and cargo. The markets are empty and there are fewer people and cars on the streets. many unemployed Gazans believe work in the tunnels is the only option available to them” Mohamed Harb.
That is why they dig tunnels. They dig tunnels to access supplies. Yes those tunnels are used to smuggle weapons and for warfare, but they are also used to smuggle lollies for their children, cows, nappies, bread, medicines, building materials and biscuits.
It is estimated that 7’000 Gazans scratch a living by working in the tunnels. There are thought to be around 1’000 tunnels running between Gaza and Egypt and Gaza and Israel, most of them dug by hand.
The Tunnels of Gaza is a brilliant short film which aired on Al Jazeera on April 20,2014. It highlights the daily hardship of life in the Gaza strip and the result of the crippling siege. Here is the link. http://youtu.be/v1uatEfM7Xw
For Palestinians there is also the ongoing humiliation of going from one check point to another. Just to go to university each day involves violence and humiliation. Arrest is a constant fear and the lack of safety is something that you fear on a day-to-day basis. To be a Palestinian today does not matter any more, it is all about where you are born in a certain time in history. You are defined by your birth date and where you were born during what occupation.
It is very important to Palestinians for others around the world to be interested in Palestinians and the stories of Palestine. It is very important to feel that their is a national and international solidarity. When people talk about the conflict they talk about the politics, instead we need to look at the people and understand how it affects there movements, relationships, education and way of life. It is not just political, it is personal. Each person has the right to access education, to water, to basic services and basic human rights. It can be simplistic to just talk about peace, we need to talk about peace and justice.
Pope Francis recently extended an invitation to Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, and to Israeli President, Shimon Peres, to come to the Vatican and join him in praying to God for the gift of peace. He also said this:
“In this, the birthplace of the Prince of Peace”, said Pope Francis,” I wish to invite you, President Mahmoud Abbas, together with President Shimon Peres, to join me in heartfelt prayer to God for the gift of peace. I offer my home in the Vatican as a place for this encounter of prayer.
All of us want peace. Many people build it day by day through small gestures and acts; many of them are suffering, yet patiently persevere in their efforts to be peacemakers. All of us – especially those placed at the service of their respective people s – have the duty to become instruments and artisans of peace, especially by our prayers.
Building peace is difficult, but living without peace is a constant torment.
The men and women of these lands, and of the entire world, all of them, ask us to bring before God their fervent hopes for peace” (2014-05-26 Vatican Radio).
At the end of this event we were given a thin A4 booklet called ‘Kairos Palestine – A Moment of Truth’. This is a work of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering. It is hoped that through this book the world will see and understand and suffering that is going on in Palestine and that Christians will unite and pray for peace and Justice for all in this part of the world. This is the opening paragraph.
Patriarchs and heads of churches Jerusalem
We hear the cry of our children.
We,the Patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem, hear the cry of hope that our children have launched in these difficult times that we still experience in this Holy Land. We support them and stand by them in their faith, their hope, their love and their vision for the future.
We also support the call to all our faithful as well as to the Israel and Palestinian Leaders, to the International Community and to the World Churches, in order to accelerate the achievement of justice, peace and reconciliation in this Holy land.
We ask God to bless all our children by giving them more power in order to contribute effectively in establishing and developing their community, while making it a community of love, trust, justice and peace.
Then it is signed by all of the heads of the churches. Greek Orthodox, Latin, Armenian Orthodox, Custodian of the Holy Land, Coptic, Syrian Orthodox, Maronite, Ethiopian, Greek Catholic, Syrian Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican and Armenian Catholic. Dated Jerusalem December 15th 2009.
In this document these heads of the Church request the International community to stand by the Palestinian people who have faced ‘oppression, displacement, suffering and clear apartheid for more than six decades. The suffering continues while the international community silently looks on at the occupying State, Israel… we call out to all the Christians in the world, asking them to stand against injustice and apartheid, urging them to work for a just peace in our region”.
This conflict has been going on for generations, it is complicated and it is often difficult to comprehend. However, one thing is simple. Each person on the planet deserves to be loved and deserves peace. Each person is valuable and should be treated with justice. We should all be advocates of peace in the Holy Land so that all people have an opportunity to live with dignity and justice. So that all people have the right of movement, the right of access, the right of education.
Let me finish with a scripture from the Holy Bible, Galatians 8:28-29
“In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female.
Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. Also, since you are Christ’s family, then you are Abraham’s famous “descendant,” heirs according to the covenant promises”.
Please pray for all men women and children who suffer daily in this part of the world. They deserve peace, justice and freedom. Let us pray as Pope Francis indicated – “The men and women of these lands, and of the entire world, all of them, ask us to bring before God their fervent hopes for peace”.
Hi there my friends, I thought that I would start the first Monday’s post by outlining where I would like us to go in this new season for us all. Some of you may only touch base with me on a Monday which is perfectly fine. It will be our Monday community. I will design these Monday meditations to be: 1: a learning experience 2: a practical experience. I am also very mindful that many of you will be reading these at work so they will be designed in order for you to take the time that you need at your desk. Allow min 5 or max 10 min out of you day for this even if it’s just once a week to start with (include reading the post in this time). Like any exercise:
- You have to start somewhere
- Start small
- You need encouragement: let’s do this together.
- You need community: as we comment on the posts and give feedback we can encourage each other. No comment is too small or too silly. Lets be positive in the comments.
- You can do this at any time of the day or night
All of us are in a different phase and stage of life. I have friends who are walking through cancer, divorce, ill-health, some are first time parents, jobless and some are in careers that are crazy and booming. Wherever we are , we all need self-care and time to nurture our inner worlds. We will be looking at two distinct topics and putting them into practise. 1: Meditation 2: Prayer Next week I will post specifically on Meditation; what is it and why we should do it. The week after that will be a post on Prayer: how to get yourself out-of-the-way so that you can listen to your inner soul and to the Spirit of God. Following that will be posts with specific exercises for you to do around these two spiritual practices. Heads Up:
- Meditation is an ancient practise that has many documented health benefits. The main premise being that you take time to de-clutter your inner world and to make room for silence, space, peace and inner health. A well-known stress reliever.
- Prayer is the “act and presence of sending light out from the bountifulness of your love to other people to heal, free and bless them” (O’Donohue). Prayer is also friendship with God. Like any friendship, we speak and then we listen. Good friendship is more about listening and less about speaking. I find that most people treat God like Santa with endless ‘to do’ lists. Others just chat and speak and talk and talk. My hope, over the next months, is that you will begin to hear God speaking to you. He loves to talk, we just don’t often take the time to listen.
Make space in your day: Decide when you are going to read and practice Monday’s Meditations. If you are at work you may want to put on a pair of headphones when you take a break. At one time I shared an office space with four other creatives. I bought a large pair of Hot Pink headphones, when I put those on everyone knew that Lisa was in the “Don’t talk to me space”. Make sure you schedule a time in the day when you are able to have a break and would most likely not be interrupted. At home shut the door and turn your phone off. You may want to put some soft music on. If you only learn one thing this year it is that God is not ‘out there’, he is ‘right in here’. In our western dualistic thinking we have separated spirituality from our souls. Richard Rohr explains it much better than I ever could:
“I believe that God gives us our soul, our deepest identity, our True Self, our unique blueprint, at our ‘immaculate conception’. Our unique little bit of heaven is installed by the Manufacturer within the product, at the beginning! We are given a span of years to discover it, to choose it, and to live our own destiny to the full. If we do not, our True Self will never be offered again, in our own unique form….We do not make or create our souls, we grow into them….much of the job of spirituality is learning how to stay out-of-the-way of this rather natural growing and awakening”. Pg x Falling Upward by R. Rohr.
Whilst society preaches that life is all about addition. ie: what we obtain, what we get, what we can add to our lives. Spirituality is all about subtraction. The process of getting us out-of-the-way. Peeling back the layers, the hurts, the misconceptions and getting to know our ‘True Inner Selves’. We need to apply ourselves to do this. That is why spirituality is often linked with silence and solitude. Exercise: Breathing In the Hebrew culture the first word for God was YHVH, we know it today as YHWH or YAWHEY. Loosely it means “to be” or ‘to cause to exist’ or ‘to give life’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tetragrammaton). The spirit of YHVH is YHVH Himself, meaning ‘breath’ of the spirit. Religiously observant Jews are not allowed to say the name of God. When you sound out YHWH out loud it sounds like you are expelling a breath. I love that. Try it….. The word “Ruah” means, breath, mind, or wind or some invisible moving force (“spirit”). One of the most ancient practises of meditation is to learn to control your breathing.
Breaths come in pairs. Breathing in and breathing out. When you are born you take your first breath. When you die you expel your last breath. Your breath is the life force within you. The breath of God is the life force of creation. So for a few min now; sit in a comfortable position, shut out the world, close your eyes and listen and focus on your breathing. Breathe in and then breathe out – several times. Slowly. Listen to your breath. Let oxygen fill your diaphragm, energise your blood stream. Take time to expel it slowly………….. After a couple of min of getting in the rhythm of this. Add thoughts to your breath. Expel all negative thoughts or words that you have spoken in the last 24 hours. Breathe IN hope, promise, life, peace. Breathe OUT – hmmm…….. I let go of that negative thought, I let go of any unforgiveness. I Breathe IN – forgiveness, I breath in good health, I breath in good thoughts about myself. I breathe OUT anger, frustration…….disappointment. I breathe IN love, light, peace. This is a powerful exercise. It will regulate your heart rate and blood pressure. It will bring calmness and peace wherever you are. Neurologically it actually helps to rewire your brain into good ways of thinking. Practice all the time whenever you are able. Like anything, the more you practice the deeper the benefit and the quicker the calming effect.
Fantastic if you suffer from anxiety.
Breath OUT all fear and anxiety.
Breathe IN love, safety, peace.
Focus on your breath, feel it move over your lips, listen to the sound of your breath. REPEAT.
If you suffer from anxiety you may just need to do just this bit for several minutes. If you practice this regularly then when you begin to have an anxiety attack you will be prepared to take control of you breathing and moderate the effects.
Let me know how you go. I’m busting to hear how you feel after doing this and if you continue to practise it through the week.
“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”
Numbers 6:24-26 Bible
Bless you. May you find peace and rest this week. Love Lisa.
Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdomby John O’Donohue I am absolutely besotted with this book. In Anam Cara, Gaelic for “soul friend,” the ancient teachings, stories, and blessings of Celtic wisdom provide such profound insights on the universal themes of friendship, solitude, love, and death as:
- Light is generous
- The human heart is never completely born
- Love as ancient recognition
Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Lifeby Richard Rohr
- A must for every book shelf
- Explains why the second half of life can and should be full of spiritual richness
- Offers a new view of how spiritual growth happens?loss is gain
Welcome to Sunday Everyday.
This is my first official post ahhhhhh…… faint. I hope you enjoy navigating the site. Have a look around and make yourself at home. By doing so you will understand a little more of how this is going to work. Its been a nail-biting 5 months for me personally for many reasons. One of them has been about me being brave enough to step out into the unknown and put this particular dream into action.
For the last 8 years the footnote of all of my emails has read:
“To live a creative life you must lose your fear of being wrong”
by Joseph Chilton Pearce
Which is quite hilarious really because the first email that I sent with this quote on it was actually spelled wrong. My dear friend and colleague Llewellyn Watterson, in his gracious and quiet manner, walked into my office and pointed out that I had spelt ‘LOOSE’ instead of ‘lose’. So I was wrong immediately. Story of my life. I guess what I’m trying to say is that being creative is risky, putting dreams into action takes courage. We all struggle with fear but it doesn’t have to rule us. I say this to myself as I launch this blog and hold my breath.
My story is complex and bumpy, hilarious and heart breaking. Those of you who don’t know me will catch glimpses of my journey in my writing. However, the primary reason for this blog is that it be a platform for conversation. It is also designed to be a platform for other writers. I’ve grown some wings and a voice in the last 15 years and there are some things that I want to say. There are some conversations that need to begin. I feel deeply and passionately that we need to hear other voices, other opinions, other ideas and visions. I’m an artist, a creative, a prophet. My primary obligation to this planet is to make people feel stretched, to make them think, to make them look. To move them out of their Comfort Zone.
Please don’t lock down your brains, or dig in your trenches. Please join the conversation.
There is a lovely story of the wolf-spider; it never builds its web between two hard objects like two stones. If it did this, it would be rent by the wind. Instinctively, it builds its web between two blades of grass. When the wind comes it is flexible, it moves and springs back up. I’m reminded of a verse in the bible that was given to me and my husband at my first marriage. Psalm 92:12
The Godly will flourish like a palm tree, they will be like the Cedars in Lebanon.
What this is saying is that these two trees have two distinct characteristics. You only have to observe a tropical storm to see that the palm tree is flexible, it bows low in the wind and then springs up again. The Cedar is very slow-growing and has an extensive root system, but once it is established at maturity it is immobile. I think that we need to be like this. Until we are in our old age, we should be flexible and pliable. Only as we reach the end of our lives and we are established in wisdom should we be more confident in our ways and thoughts.
‘We put terrible pressure on our minds when we tighten them or when we harden our views or beliefs; we lose all the softness and flexibility which makes for real shelter, belonging and protection’.
Creativity demands that we remain flexible, spontaneous. Like a Violin, if the strings are too tight they snap. We also need to be bridges. Being a bridge means we understand the people on each side of that bridge and that we hold the tension perfectly so that both sides feel loved, both feel understood and that we become the bridge that hearts and souls can cross to meet and to unite and to solve the issues of this grief filled planet. That is the definition of peace I believe.
So I encourage you to come on this journey with me. Lets start some conversations, lets hear from some bigger minds and deeper hearts. Lets gain some perspective as we hear the stories of our brothers and sisters. I couldn’t say this any better than Richard Rohr.
Get ready for some new freedom. Some dangerous permission, some hope from nowhere, some unexpected happiness, some stumbling stones, some radical grace, and some new and pressing responsibility for yourself and our suffering world.
With much love. Lisa.