Monday, May 23, 2016

An Open Letter to Hillary Clinton

Members and Attenders of Quaker Meetings can sign on to this letter by emailing Helen Fox Please mention the Meeting you attend. 

As Quakers, we are disappointed in your opposition to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and your unwavering support for the right wing government of the State of Israel, despite its unconscionable repression of the Palestinian people.

We understand that you think BDS stands in the way of peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

In your letter of May 9 to the Israel Action Network and the Jewish Federations of North America you explain that the movement aims to “punish” Israel by “dictating” how the two sides should resolve the core issues of the conflict. 

We respectfully disagree with this analysis. As you surely know, the balance of power has always been in Israel’s favor. 

Israel, a nuclear armed country with a modern military supported by $128 billion dollars in US aid since its founding, is pitted against smaller and smaller enclaves of Palestinians, now crowded into barely 15% of historical Palestine, harassed and dehumanized at checkpoints, deprived of work, food, water, building materials, travel, health care – everything that human beings should enjoy.

The fact that Palestinian civil society has called for a powerful, nonviolent, international response to this untenable situation should be understandable.

As you may know, Quakers have been serving since the 1880s in Palestine, where we have had the opportunity to learn from and appreciate the Palestinian people, their culture, their work ethic, and their resilience in the face of suffering.

We respectfully suggest that as someone who hopes to act as a fair negotiator, you should avail yourself of every opportunity to do the same.

You often reminisce that when you and Bill visited Israel for the first time three decades ago, you walked the ancient streets of Jerusalem’s Old City and fell in love with the country and its people.

We believe you will be a better negotiator if you allow yourself to fall in love with the Palestinian people as well.

It is not hard to do.

Spend time with families, visit people’s homes, enjoy their magnificent hospitality, listen to their stories about their daily lives, learn a bit of Arabic, appreciate the humor, the children’s games and stories, the music, the beautiful embroidery, the olive harvest, the importance Palestinians place on education.

Learn, too, about the terror so many have experienced, the physical and emotional trauma of scores of children, the displacement from their ancestral homes and villages, the erasure of their suffering from the eyes of Israelis on the other side of the “separation wall."

We know this is not how diplomacy usually works. But we believe the world is ready for a new way of addressing human disagreements that result in violence and war. If you spend significant time experiencing the lives and perspectives not just of the Israelis, but of the Palestinians as well, you will be able to move negotiations forward in ways that both sides will ultimately see as fair.

As Quakers, we yearn for an end to this terrible conflict that has spawned such hard feelings between good people. 

We ask you to act with integrity in the critical work that you do.

Dr. Helen Fox
Edward Morin
Ruth Zweifler
Anne Remley
Marilyn Churchill, MA
Karen Deslierres
Sara Koopman
James Koopman
Ruth Carey

Steve Chase
Maia Carter Hallward
Jan Wright
Elizabeth Block
Joan Sampieri
Al Connor
James Crowfoot
Stephen Zunes
Joyce Rawitscher
A.M. Fink
Deborah Fink
Dr. Linda Wotring
Alex McDonald
Jonathan Avery Wright
Donald MacGregor
Nancy E. Taylor
Rebecca Hatton, Ph.D.
Letitia W. Ufford, Ph.D.
Mary Day Kent
David Zarembka
John Steinmeyer

Kristine Stroad Moore
Ruth Havighurst Neff
Samuel Holton Neff
Kristina Kenegos
Cliff Bennett
Dorlan Bales
Rose Law Miller
Andrew Zweifler, MD
Marlena Santoyo

Jim Best, MA, CCC-SLP
Roger Conant
Bill Riccobono
Arlene Kelly
Max L. Carter
Jane D. Carter
Kristin Loken
William Zakee McGill
Shawn Donovan
Elizabeth Bullard Morse
Catherine Miles Grant
Phebe McCosker
Dr. William B. Telfair
Carol Perera Weingeist
Anne Ogren
Sandra Stephens
Mary Linares
Bob Schultz
Scott Rhodewalt
Bess Klassen-Landis
Susan Rhodewalt
Peggy Daub
Todd Kummer
Cassandra Dixon
Joan Raducha
Louise Lund
Laura Ward Good
Meg Skinner
Hilda Kuter
Annemarie Carr
Cendra Lynn
Lynn Drickamer
Anne Carpenter
Thomas W. Blackwell
Arthur C. Wolfe
John A. Rasumussen
Robert Boyle
Sherry Hutchison
John G. Deikis, Ph.D.
Johanna MacNee
Joann F. Elder
Joseph W. Elder
Herb Beskar
Sallyann Garner
Sarah Hernandez
Elizabeth Stokes
Kathleen Ranlett Mock, M.A.
Steve Livingston
Elizabeth Wood
Ingrid Hogle
Kenneth Southwood
Janet L. Owen
Helena Cobban
John Bach
Ruth Podolin
Jerry Taylor
Linda Lotz
Bruce E. "Pacho" Lane
Skip Schiel
David Hadley Finke
Wilmer Rutt
Jane E. Houser
Evan Welkin
Meredith George
Michael C. Batinski
Helene Pollock
Nancy Cirillo
Randolph Holladay
Brayton Gray
Nancy Mackin
Lorraine B. Claggett
Beverly England Williams
Maurine Pyle
Thomas Carlisle
Robert Brooks
Donna Schumann
Margaret J. Nelson
Dorothy Gaydosh
Sarah McElroy, M.A.
John Satzberg
Lorie Wood
David B. Fankhauser
Lois Jordan
Lorna Low
Marcy Bethelle Harman
Nahida H. Gordon
Bruce Thron-Weber
Spencer Putnam
Michael Conover
Neil Snarr
Kristin Brown
Gordon Davies
Elizabeth Sprague
John Gordon
Thomas S. Costello, Ph.D.
Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta
Julie Anne Medjanis
George Matry Masselam
Jo Scott
Mark Chalk
Margaret Katranides
Zandra Moberg Price
Cas Overton
Rhonda Ligon
Peter J. Eccles
Myra Ford
Dave Cundiff
Wayland M. Hubbart
Benjamin Hebner, Jr.
Julia B. Hebner
Katy Rugg, M.A.
Blair Seitz
Sandra Green
Peter Dale
Carolyn Stanley
Mariette Norbum
Quinn Dilkes
Joyce Balderston
Phil Balderston
Jim McQuaide
Eric J. Schiller
Mary Fran Hughes-McIntyre
Sandy Moller
Peace and Social Concerns Committee of Friends Meeting at Cambridge, Massachusetts

Free Solomon Polazzo
Donald Saunders
Dr. Margaret Barker
Wayne Lee
Christine Ashley
Geraldine Farrow
Katharine B. Johnson
Don Bender
Judy Bender
Clive Gordon
Mary Ann Mays
Richard Corl
Linda Taffs
Elizabeth Claggett-Borne
Dave Swindells
Elizabeth Lees
Martha Yager
Bill Mims
Sherry Monroe
Jim Fine
Carol Barclay
Deborah Fine
Maud Easter
Anne Liske
Gottfried Brieger
Gatewood West
George Capaccio
Shirley P. Wolfe
Marilyn Siegel
Karen L. Connor
Pat Micks
Carol Bechtel
David Easter
Deena Kinsky
Dinah Starr
Lynne Cadman
Robert Cadman
Shaun McFee
Joe Mills
Linda Mills
Samuel Madeira
Susan Madeira
Elva L. Carter
Gabi Clayton

Kirsten Ebsen
David Newlin
Carol Meyer-Niedzwiecki
Flo Friender
Karen Chadwick
Jeni Payton
Catherine A. Cammann
Jeff Cooper
Bert Skellie
Barbara K. Spring Ph.D.
Ian Harrington
Ruth Pauly
Alan Garnell
Robert Schellenberg
Jane Beck
Daryl Hoopes, Jr.
Stephanie Judson
Philip Bogdonoff
Carolyn Gregory Ph.D.
Lawrence Block
Corrie Dorrington
Lucretia Humphrey
Sandra Schultz
Jasmine Krotkov
Galina Milohov
Dorothy Starshine
Mari McLean Ph.D.

Members and Attenders of Quaker Meetings can sign on to this letter by emailing Helen Fox Please mention the Meeting you attend. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

"Let Us See What Love Can Do"

Early in 1948, just before the end of the British Mandate, Palestine was in turmoil. Jewish immigrants fleeing European persecution were pouring into the region, believing they were returning to a long-lost homeland, now devoid of civilization. Palestinian Muslims and Christians, forced out of their homes and villages, were fleeing into neighboring countries; others had taken up arms to defend their land and way of life. Palestinian Jews, who had lived in friendship with their Muslim neighbors for generations, were appalled at the idea that they must now take sides against them. The holy city of Jerusalem was on the verge of collapse, its water supply compromised, the threat of disease imminent.

Into this cauldron stepped three Quakers: Edgar Castle from Britain, James Vail, representing the American Friends Service Committee, and Kendall Kimberland, a Cairo-based Quaker with long experience in the Middle East. After prayerful consideration, they had decided to travel to the heart of the conflict to see what love could do.

AFSC recently has made public their archives from that tumultuous period: four cubic feet of notes, cables, letters, and reports that tell the story of the attempt of these three men to “discover what Friends might do in reconciliation work between Jews  and Arabs.” They were convinced that the political deadlock “would yield only to the reconciling force of reason founded in love.”

Over a period of two months, the small Quaker delegation met with high-level individuals from all sides in the conflict. They would explain, sometimes to sympathetic listeners, sometimes to hostile ones, that “the Quaker aim was always to seek peace and create brotherhood.” By appealing to the best in all three religious traditions they were able to make a surprising amount of headway: they offered emergency assistance “without discrimination except that of human need,” transmitted messages of compromise and reconciliation from one side to another, and established a basis for a truce in Jerusalem’s Old City that seemed amenable to all sides. “We had learned once again,” Castle wrote, "that barriers of suspicion will fall before confident acceptance of God's goodness in men."

But as they soon discovered, in such a volatile situation love was not enough. "I had not written three words of these notes, says Castle, "before the radio announced the news of Bernadotte's assassination, surely the consumation of evil." Count Folke Bernadotte was a Swedish diplomat who had arranged the release of 31,000 Jewish prisoners from German concentration camps in WW II, and was at the time serving as U.N. Security Council mediator for the Palestinian conflict. He was traveling in the region with a peace plan proposal but was assassinated by the Lehi, a Zionist group that opposed his plan.

Despite the failure of their attempt at a truce, the Quaker mission was not in vain. As a result of their two-month effort, AFSC was asked by the United Nations to set up humanitarian assistance for some of the 500,000 refugees "flying from another refugee people" -- the Palestinians who had been left homeless while joyful newcomers celebrated the birth of the State of Israel.

As Quakers continue the work begun by Castle, Vail, and Kimberland sixty-eight years later, we have learned that in dealing with powerful regimes, ever-more deadly weapons, and still-raw emotions, we need to do more than appeal to reason guided by love. Nonviolent pressure tactics, refined over the years in struggles for justice in South Africa, Latin America, India, and countless other places, have proved both ethical and effective.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is now leading the way. Yet the optimism and spiritual determination that guided the small AFSC delegation should never be discounted. What love can do is astounding when it informs the power of nonviolence.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Candidates on Israel/Palestine

In February, President Obama offered Israel what a US official described as “the largest single pledge of military assistance to any country in US history.”

The package would start at $3.8 billion for the first two or three years and grow incrementally until it reached a combined 10-year total of more than $40 billion.

Yet Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu was not convinced that this amount would be enough, and suggested he would wait to conclude a deal with whoever succeeds President Obama.

So what are the views of the candidates now vying to become the next president?

TRUMP: Although he has cited Israel’s “separation barrier” as an example of why the US should build a wall on the Mexican border, Donald Trump claims he will remain neutral about the Israel Palestine conflict. He is used to making deals, he says, and if he came out in favor of one side or the other, he would not be seen as a credible broker in making peace between the two groups. “I don’t want to get into it,” he told a South Carolina town hall meeting. “You understand a lot of people have gone down in flames trying to make that deal. So I don’t want to say whose fault it is. I don’t think that helps.” But Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson (net worth $28.9 billion) sees something else in Trump: 

RUBIO: Questioning Trump’s “commitment to Israel” because of his comment suggesting that Israel would need to offer “sacrifices” to win a peace deal, Senator Marco Rubio told the Republican Jewish Coalition, “There is no moral equivalence between Israel and those who seek to destroy her. Understanding that fundamental truth is essential to being the next commander in chief.” “Today, anti-Semitism hides behind the label of anti-Israel,” Rubio continued. “We need a president who will call it that. I will be that president.” The largest single backer of Rubio’s campaign is billionaire auto dealership magnate Norman Braman (net worth $1.88 billion), a past president of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation.

CRUZ: Responding to Trump’s claim of objectivity, Senator Ted Cruz said he had “no intention of being neutral” in his support for Israel. Cruz positions himself to the right of GW Bush, who at one time, called on Israelis to disband their settlements on disputed land. Instead, Cruz says, the US shouldn’t be dictating where Israelis choose to live. Confusingly, this means he isn’t averse to a two-state solution, because even though “the barrier to peace is the Palestinians,” if Israel chooses to negotiate with them the US has no right to dictate the terms. Yet Cruz also insists that there is “no moral equivalency” between “terrorists” and Israelis who are only trying to protect themselves. Cruz's biggest benefactors are Farris and Dan Wilks, Texas billionaire brothers who made their money from fracking. But Farris Wilks is also a pastor in an obscure Christian denomination called the Assemblies of Yahweh, which traces its roots to "Jewish Cristianity."

CLINTON: Palestinians “deserve to have a state of their own,” Hillary Clinton told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “That’s why I support a two-state solution.” Supporting Palestinian aspirations “is in the long-term best interests of Israel, as well as the region.” Yet at the same time, she vows to strengthen relations with Israel’s right wing government. “I have stood with Israel my entire career,” she wrote in an op-ed in The Jewish Daily Forward. “As Secretary of State, I requested more assistance for Israel every year. . . . I defended Israel from isolation and attacks at the United Nations . . . including opposing the biased Goldstone report” (which documented widespread Israeli war crimes during the 2014 assault on Gaza). Clinton's donors include "Hollywood leftists" George Soros, Steven Spielberg, and Jeffrey Katzenberg, who have given at least $1 million to Clinton's super PAC.

SANDERS: Given his heritage as the son of a Jewish immigrant from Poland whose family was murdered in the Holocaust, Sanders might be expected to have the strongest ties to Israel. Yet his website claims he does not favor Israel over the Palestinians, nor does he otherwise let his religion influence his positions regarding the 60+ year conflict, which he describes as “depressing and difficult.” He believes that the Palestinians must fulfill their responsibilities to end terror against Israel and recognize Israel’s right to exist. In return, the Israelis must end their policy of targeted killings, prevent further Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, and prevent the destruction of Palestinian homes, businesses and infrastructure.

Sanders' top contributors include members (or PACs) of the Machinists/Aerospace Workers Union ($105,000), the Teamsters Union ($93,700), the National Education Association ($89,242), and other unions.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Effluent of the Affluent

Now that the damage to the people of Flint, Michigan from their contaminated water supply has been exposed, Americans are rightly outraged. The New York Times called Governor Snyder’s attitude toward residents who complained “depraved indifference.”

Time Magazine published a photo essay on an impoverished black child, two year old Sincere Smith, who is suffering the effects of his bath water. Public health officials announced that drinking water in some areas of the city had tested at more than twice the level of toxic waste, and that all of Flint’s children should be treated as if they had been poisoned.

Astute commentators are calling what happened in Flint environmental racism, pointing out that the poorest and most vulnerable communities, almost always of color, are the ones that serve as dumping grounds for the waste of the affluent. Whether it’s polluted water, pesticides, toxic smoke from incinerators, pig farm refuse, or factory toxins, environmental pollutants are more likely to be located in poor communities of color where complaints are ridiculed, disparaged, and ignored as they were in Flint, where forty percent of the population live below the poverty line and more than half are African American.

Despite assurances from Governor Snyder that his failure to respond to the water crisis in a timely manner had “nothing to do with race,” many Michigan Quakers are not convinced. We are quite sure of what would happen if Ann Arbor residents turned up at City Council meetings with jugs of foul-smelling tap water rife with floating bits of “organic matter.” Indeed, Ann Arbor Mayor Chris Taylor pointed out that the water crisis in Flint was not simply the result of a few poor official decisions, but can be traced to “decades of state neglect . . . decades of broken promises, decades of disinvestment in our communities." That’s another component of environmental racism: a political culture of ignoring poor people’s problems.

Six thousand miles away, in Gaza and the West Bank, Palestinians are facing a similar crisis – for similar reasons. As journalist Ben Lorber writes: Israel has historically used Palestinian land as a dumping ground, covertly transporting waste products into the occupied west Bank, polluting the Palestinian earth and water supply, while Israeli settlers deliberately poison the water, land, and livestock of nearby Palestinian villages. Solid wastes from Israeli settlements and military camps throughout the West Bank are dumped without restriction on Palestinian land, fields, and side roads, and industry regularly moves from Israel to the West Bank, where labor is cheaper, environmental regularions are lenient and wast products can flow freely down to Palestinian villages in surrounding valleys. 

Today, says Lorber, as Israel portrays itself as a "green democracy," an eco-friendly pioneer in agricultural techniques such as drip irrigation, dairy farming, desert ecology, water management and solar energy, Israeli factories 
drain toxic waste and industrial pollutants down from occupied West Bank hilltops into Palestinian villages, and over-pumping of groundwater aquifers denies Palestinians access to vital water scources in a context of increasing water scarcity and pollution. 

Environmental racism is not just an American problem, It is a problem of "depraved indifference" of those who see themselves as dominant, entitled, and superior to others, wherever they may live. As people of conscience, our response to institutionalized racism and injustice should be worldwide, as well.

Friday, January 22, 2016

What if Vermont were Conquired, Occupied, and Colonized by Israel?

It's hard to get accurate information: Seven Days has been shut down; two editors have been replaced at the Burlingon Free Press; Kevin Kelley has suffered a questionable bicycle accident trying to cover the situation at the checkpoints. Power has been shut off from Sovernet,, and Burlington Telecom.

Movement is severely restricted. Passports are required at the Main Street, Riverside Avenue, Route 7, and I89 checkpoints, and there are mile-long backups on all routes. Within city limits, all major east-west streets are restricted to permitted drivers and vehicles, and many businesses have been severely affected. To control movement in and out of a particularly troublesome area, razor-wire now surrounds the Old North End. 
What If Israel Occupied Vermont?
Life is hard in occupied Burlington. More than 400 homes have been bulldozed or claimed via eminent domain to be used for other purposes, leaving many homeless. All public schools are closed for use as detention centers. There have been sporadic reports of torture in these facilities, but no contact is allowed with families, so details are scarce. Burlingtonians out-of-city will not be allowed to return to their homes, as these dwellings are needed for a selected out-of-state population. Though schools are closed, no day care is available; many have lost jobs taking time off to care for their families. Running water and electric power are limited to 3 hours/day and all telephone service has been suspended. Police stand by as the more affluent attempt to appropriate by force goods and services from their less well-off neighbors. Those with extensive bank holdings have watched money and valuables taken from vaults by armed officials to support the expenses of the occupation and the construction of the South End hotel and government theme park complex.

Not surprisingly, public health has precipitously declined. All community and backyard gardens have been poisoned by occupiers and the Intervale shut down; a food emergency is fast approaching as City Market and Rite Aid have closed, and the Food Shelf sees no more donations. Burlington water is being diverted to Shelburne and Williston.

Health care has not been able to keep up. At least 40 people have died at checkpoints in the last month, unable to reach Fletcher Allen. Both BFD and St. Mike’s ambulances have been fired upon, and two EMTs have been killed insisting on getting their patients through checkpoints. Hospital supplies are running low, and the destruction of its water tower by F16s has severely affected operations. Medicine is increasingly unavailable, and its importation into the city restricted.

There is little hope for political relief. All Independent and Progressive city councilors have been arrested, and Council meetings are being held without them. Mayor Weinberger has been targeted for assassination if necessary. All city paychecks are on hold until further notice. The Peace & Justice Center has been shut down, its staff arrested, and demonstrations have been met with violent responses from the authorities, using of illegal gases and live ammunition. The curfew has been extended, and people on the street or at their windows have been shot. Landmines surround the lake to prevent escape by water. All calls from other state, national and foreign governments have been rebuffed, as authorities assert that this is not the time to discuss key issues. It is promised that some of these restrictions will be lifted, pending correct results of the next election.

An unimaginable dystopian fantasy for Vermonters, but a compendium of real daily experience for Palestinians, with all mechanics and ammunition funded by US tax dollars. Is this really how we want to spend our money and our moral and political capital?  

With thanks to: Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine Israel

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Writing Letters to the Media

Mainstream media in the United States often slants its coverage in favor of Israel. Even media that are progressive on other issues tend to allow right wing Israeli politicians to go unchallenged, omit a Palestinian point of view, and ignore the historical context of emotionally charged events. 

PIAG has begun a letter writing campaign, using facts, examples, recommendations, and questions to counter biased reporting. Please join us!  Email is quickest, but don't forget the power of a hand-written note. 

Here are some sample letters PIAG members have sent recently, followed by the contact information for several media outlets:

The "headlines" today include a biased statement about Israel-Palestine.  It is biased because seriously incomplete.  The announcer tells that the EU has adopted a new rule, insisting that many West Bank exports NOT be labeled as from "Israel."  Then comes the bias: the announcer only states Israel's protest: that this West Bank label on exports will hurt Israel and will block peace with Palestine.  BUT there is NO statement about WHY the EU is taking this step, which is that under international law, the West Bank is NOT part of Israel; it is militarily occupied territory.  This information is crucial in helping listeners understand the actual status of Palestine and the growing worldwide protest of Israel's occupation and repression of Palestinians.


To CNN:  The interview with Mark Regev re: violence in Israel-West Bank was hugely biased and incomplete.  The Palestinian toll of wounded and dead was totally omitted, as was the reason for Palestinians' attacks--Israel's repressive colonial military occupation.  Palestinians have no rights; their children are jailed brutally; their trees and cattle are destroyed by "settlers" who are taking over their land acre by acre.  PLEASE give the Palestinians' reality to the uninformed US population. Furthermore, Ambassador Regev's description of the verbal response of Palestinian leadership was false. Surely you can couple such false claims with a response from Palestinians and their leaders. Thank you!


To NPR: Emily Harris's description of why Palestinian Muslims see Jewish visitors to the mosque as provocative omits a key factor.  She focuses on "covert praying" by Jews who stand near the mosque.  She omits the fact that these Jewish visitors often shout cruel, racist, and disrespectful epithets at the Muslims who are there to pray at the mosque.  Please do a story on the "racism" problem.  Many Israeli Jews are ever more vocal in angry racist actions toward Palestinians. "Arabs to the ovens" is printed on a wall.  "Death to Arabs" is shouted in mass demonstrations. Some American and Israeli Jews are speaking with great concern about the runaway racism that afflicts the Israeli government, its soldiers, and many citizens.  It's dangerous.  Please cover it.

Media Contact info:
National Public Radio
Diane Rehm Show
4401 Connecticut Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20008  (Use this page to obtain transcripts of current news programs so you can cite chapter and verse)


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Holiday Message from Jean Zaru in Ramallah

Ramallah Friends Meeting 
Advent Meditation 2015 

How Can I Keep from Singing?

Advent is upon us, my Friends.

Wherever we find ourselves and regardless of our circumstance, this season beckons us to pause, to prepare our hearts, and to appreciate the Giver’s gifts ever more deeply.  But how?  How to pause and open our hearts when life is so hard and death so close?

Today, the violent policies of a nearly half-century military occupation seem more closely coupled with overt racism and identity-based discrimination than ever before. These past few months have been very distressing for those of us living in Palestine.  So, too, is direct and indiscriminate violence being felt in an increasing number of countries around our world. Each day is like the ice of the hardest winter and we wonder how much longer we can go on.

Yet, is it not, at precisely such times as these, that we must heed the Advent call?

In such times as these we are invited to tap ever deeper into the wellspring of our common humanity. We are called to root ourselves ever-more firmly in a posture of gratitude.  Surely, when we do so our faith is refreshed and our Spirit renewed –no matter the state of our bodies and our surroundings.  And wide open are our lives to the expectant wonder of Advent and the coming of the Blessed Community where all are cherished without exception.

Although it is December, there are still a few olives left on the tree in my back courtyard.  For those of you who have visited my home, you may remember this beautiful olive tree.  What a joy it is to wake up to the sound of birds singing, as they sit perched in the tree. They seem to call other birds to share their food. It is as if their music invites the whole community of birds to gather together in celebration. Their joy is infectious and I bask in their sweet notes, appreciating both their beauty and the bounty of the season’s olive harvest. The birds and their seemingly unceasing optimism, remind me of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Mary certainly lived under the harsh realities of empire.  And many years later, in the same land I, too, live under the harsh realities of empire.  I feel that Mary, who I call Our Lady of Palestine, stands by me.  She witnesses day in and day out to the harshness of our experience, to the reality of life under a brutal and prolonged occupation.  She sees the rich oppressing the poor, the powerful lording their authority over society’s most vulnerable.

Mary witnesses to the seen and unseen walls of exclusion, to livelihoods stolen, homes demolished, lands confiscated, water rights violated, freedom of movement restricted, access to holy sites forbidden, human spirits being bent to the breaking point and lives extinguished. The disregard of human rights has become routine, as years roll into decades, and decades into generations. She watches and she knows.

Yes, Mary, Our Lady of Palestine, shares our lived reality even today.  She understands and she stands with us as we experience the heavy hand of empire.

Likewise, in her time, in the shadow of the Roman Empire, Mary bore witness. She sang to God, the Truth and the Light. She sang with full-throated confidence in God’s deliverance of the captives and release for those living under lawless oppression. She proclaimed through song that God will turn the world upside down --lower mountains, and raise valleys. God will bring down empire and raise a new human community of all God’s people. God will restore balance, equality, and well-being to humankind.

And yet I ask myself how, after 67 years of dispossession and 48 years of occupation and denial of all basic rights, can I continue to witness and sing joyfully, as did Mary?
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. (Luke 1: 46-49)

In Luke’s account, the unwed Mary seeks support from another woman: Elizabeth. Together, the two women rejoice in God’s liberating action of new life; they are filled with the Holy Spirit which will later work through their sons. John will, in his own ministry, call for an upturning of societal norms as he instructs people to share their abundance, to be fair in their dealings, and to uphold justice in their daily lives. Ultimately, he asks the people to repent from the evils and vanities of society.

John’s call is just as valid and hard-hitting today. We have plenty of reasons to repent: militarism, fanaticism, disregard for pluralism, and a lack of attention to refugees and other vulnerable children of God. John calls the crowd to prepare themselves for the One who will baptize them in the Holy Spirit. As he does so, he renews the prospect of hope for a new order where justice is abundant and the well-being of all life is assured.

The future that God promises of well-being for people of all faiths, races and identities without exception is not to be awaited passively. It is born in us today, from our flesh and blood, from our commitments and struggles for justice. It becomes the hope for those who do not have hope. A hope that abounds in Mary’s humble song.

How then, my Friends, can we keep from singing?

May this Christmas season be a time of renewal of our commitment to one another and hope in Christ!

Jean head shot

Jean Zaru
Clerk, Ramallah Friends Meeting