We pray for Palestine. So rich with history and culture. Food and family. Friends and strangers. Love and kindness. Strength and resilience. Steadfastness and peace. Always offering and never taking. Always welcoming and never hurried. Always true and never broken. Always persevering and never ceasing. Amen
In the summer of 2017, Palestine became my new home for a year. I was invited by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) as one of the ELCA’s YAGM (Young Adult in Global Mission) volunteers to serve at a K-12 Lutheran school and an environmental organization. During this time I lived with a Christian Palestinian family in Bethlehem. I made lots of friends and companions throughout the year who often invited me to have a meal with them as a way to welcome me and show hospitality. One of these meals happened during Ramadan.
My Ramadan experience reminded me of my own fasting during Lent. Lent is our time to grow closer to God. Lent is a time of fasting, prayer, self-examination, and reflection. Lent ends with a loud and glorious celebration on Easter Sunday.
Muslims fast during Ramadan, just as Christians fast during Lent. What is distinctive about the Ramadan fast, however, is that Muslims fast as a community. After a day of refraining from food, Muslims gather with their families each night of Ramadan, and they break their fast together. It’s a feast with always more than enough food and laughter to go around.
On several occasions, friends in Palestine invited me to break the fast with them. One night was particularly memorable. At my friend’s house, every inch of the ground was covered with plates of food stacked so high. Rice, chicken, vegetables, drinks, and beautiful Ramandan desserts were laid out so elegantly. Grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces, nephews, children, babies, and friends were there. We ate, drank, and laughed together. I accidentally ate chicken liver for the first time not knowing what it was. I will say, I liked it a lot more before they told me!
After supper, we went out to the main street, which was decorated with lights. Music was playing and families strolled together and shopped. It was a sight to see--there was so much vibrancy and community. My friend came out every night of Ramadan after breaking his fast to serve cotton candy to families in celebration. He dressed up in a clown costume and the kids absolutely went wild! One child pulled me into their house. I was seated in a room full of strangers, people I had never met before, yet I was a neighbor to this household. We did not speak the same language, but we understood each other. We shared smiles and gestures and listened to the festivities outside the window. I was privileged by their kindness, curiosity, and trust in me- a complete stranger sitting in their living room during the holiest time of the year.
This is how Ramadan should be celebrated. Sadly, the violent events that took place earlier this week at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem were anything but holy.
The Israeli government has continued to provoke the Palestinian people by proposing to evict several Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarra, a neighborhood of East Jerusalem. This situation escalated when Israelis clashed with Palestinians gathered for worship at Al Aqsa. On Monday, Israeli police stormed the mosque and injured hundreds. In retaliation, Hamas launched rocket attacks at Israel. These attacks have resulted in more violence from the Israel military, which is now amassing near Gaza and carrying out airstrikes which have killed over a hundred Palestinians, including children.
As a community of faith, the ELCA stands with its companion churches and institutions in Palestine. We must take our lead from siblings in Christ who have a more immediate connection to what is happening in the Holy Land. Bishop Sani Ibrahim Azar of the ELCJHL said in a statement this week “This provocation of the Palestinian people by the Israeli army and by settlers, especially during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, is completely unacceptable. Furthermore, the impending evictions in Sheikh Jarrah are illegal under international law.”
The staff at the Lutheran World Federation’s Augusta Victoria Hospital on the Mount of Olives have set up emergency triage to treat the injuries and casualties inflicted on Palestinians at Al-Aqsa compound. In an article quoting the Patriarch and heads of the Jerusalem churches, World Council of Churches notes: “The growing tension, backed mainly by right-wing radical groups, endangers the already fragile reality in and around Jerusalem.” The Association of Lutherans of Arab and Middle Eastern Heritage (ALAMEH) of the ELCA issued a statement which reads: “ Denying the rights of its Arab residents to live in equality in their homes will only bring suffering and injustice, but never peace. Equality and freedom – not exclusivity and domination - should be the guiding principles of both policy and practice.”
This week, please keep the peoples of the Holy Land in your prayers. If the Spirit moves you, engage with our elected officials and express your concerns about the treatment of the Palestinian people.
Please be with our neighbors in the Holy Land who are seeking peace and justice. Protect them from further violence. Lead us to engage our hearts and minds to study and understand the full situation. Help us to humanize both Palestinians and Israelis. Treat those who are injured. Be with those who mourn the death of loved ones. Empower those who fight for justice and peace. Help us to never give up until all live in safety. Amen.