Fearless prophet Jeremiah led me to Anathoth, three miles northeast of Old City Jerusalem, where he once purchased a field (Jeremiah 32). The very act of buying property reflected Jeremiah’s conviction that God wanted his people settled and secure in the land of Israel. But along with other Hebrew prophets, Jeremiah knew that possessing land requires those with privilege and power to act fairly and keep covenant.
Hot words burned in my ears as I surveyed the landscape at Anathoth. “Scoundrels are found among my people,” Jeremiah declared in the name of the Lord. “They take over the goods of others” and “do not defend the rights of the needy” (5:26). If Jeremiah was so strident in seventh century BC Israel, what would he say today to people who occupy and confiscate land belonging to Palestinians?
The above photo of the Anathoth region shows urban development immediately northeast of Old City Jerusalem. The entire area is in the West Bank, part of the land designated for Palestinians by 1947 United Nations agreement. On the far side of the Wall at upper right is Shufat Refugee Camp. Palestinians live there, people displaced from their ancestral homes in 1948 as Israel became a nation. At that time more than 750,000 Palestinians fled to the West Bank and surrounding countries, their villages taken over or destroyed by an advancing army. Many eventually ended up in refugee camps such as Shufat.
Today ruins of biblical Anathoth lie within Shufat Refugee Camp. The ancient home of Jeremiah is surrounded by Palestinians dispossessed of their homes and with few political rights. Compounding injustice is the Jewish settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev (left side of this picture), built beyond the Shufat Refugee Camp, further into the West Bank. It is one of 600 Jewish settlements on what most of the world deems Palestinian land. Nearly encircled by the Wall, Palestinians at the refugee camp are caught between the realities of an Israeli-controlled Jerusalem and an Israeli-sanctioned Jewish settlement.
Who am I, resident of American land taken from native peoples, to point out the injustice of others? My people have our own sins to acknowledge, and I can wear no cloak of self-righteousness. But I grieve what is happening in the West Bank because I want Israel to be strong and safe and just. I honor the Jewish people, cherish the Hebrew scriptures, admire the Jewish faith, and pray to the God of Abraham. People who endured pogroms and Holocaust horrors need a place to live that affirms their peoplehood and history, that guards their security and dignity. But I also want Palestinians, some of whom are Christians of ancient lineage, to live in safety in their ancestral land.
So I support “Seeking Peace in Israel and Palestine,” a resolution that is coming before delegates of Mennonite Church USA in July, 2017 (see http://mennoniteusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/IP-Resolution.pdf). This richly-textured document reflects consultation with Palestinian, Jewish, and Christian stakeholders. It calls on American Mennonites to pray without ceasing for peace, to build relationships with both Jews and Palestinians, and to avoid investing in companies that profit from Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
Rejecting antisemitism, the resolution challenges political leaders to seek solutions that honor the aspirations of all peoples who call Israel/Palestine home. Jeremiah would affirm this call for justice.
© 2017 J. Nelson Kraybill ****************************************
Come with my wife Ellen and me on a Peace Pilgrim walk in Galilee and Jerusalem—an active tour accessible even to non-athletes like myself. Dates are May 14-25, 2018. We will walk parts of the Jesus Trail from Nazareth to Capernaum. Details are still pending but we likely also will hike at Caesarea Philippi where Jesus took the disciples on retreat in the foothills of Mt Hermon. At Jerusalem we will walk the city walls, trace the triumphal entry route, and more. Interested? See https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/holy-land-peace-pilgrim-walk-jesus/