How was your Thanksgiving?
I spent mine at beautiful Tantur, a theological institute just outside Bethlehem, enjoying the lovely olive groves and trying not to look too far into the distance, where I could not avoid looking at the illegal settlements and Checkpoint 300. At 12:45, I went down to join other worshippers in the chapel. I left my phone in my room because it kept sending me notification of demolitions of homes in progress in the West Bank. It was my day off, after all. I don’t get so many opportunities to worship in a chapel right now because we live in a Muslim area, so I had been looking forward to this service for some time.
As I walked into the chapel, a pastor I know, who gets the same messages on his cell phone, received a notification. He looked at the phone and turned to me.
“It’s Susiya,” he said quietly. There was no further information. I know many people in Susiya very well. They are quiet people who just want to live on their land and herd their sheep. Who was it? Which of my friends was losing their shelter?
We went into the chapel and sang a hymn. Then we prayed a prayer asking God to bless our homes, our roofs and walls, our families safe inside. It was a lovely prayer, but it was very hard for me to pray it.
Meanwhile, in Susiya, a man we had met just a few weeks before was having his simple tent home and the shelter for his sheep removed by a bulldozer. And in the chapel, tears were filling my eyes.
We finished our prayer and went into the dining room. Just as we sat down, my pastor friend’s phone went off again. “A mosque,” he said. “In Um Fagara. Is that near you? The message says some homes and a mosque were bulldozed.”
My mind raced. We had just visited Um Fagara the week before to condole with them after the military removed the electric poles that were being installed to bring electricity to the village. We had been so warmly greeted. We had played with the children. We had enjoyed being shown around. “Come see where I live, “ the people had told us as they showed us their tents and cave homes. And they had showed us the mosque, a small concrete block dwelling with a loudspeaker on the top, probably not more than 5 square meters of floor space, but the pride of the village.
What was happening? My mind and my eyes were swimming.
“It will be on the news,” my pastor suggested. But I doubted it. Many human rights abuses in the South Hebron Hills are not on the news.
Not on the news that the simplest possible house of worship was demolished while I worshiped in the beautiful chapel at Tantur.
Not on the news that 43 people were made homeless as I relaxed in a safe and warm place enjoying my friends.
Not on the news that two young women, trying to take personal items out of their tents in the face of the bulldozers, were arrested and taken to prison on trumped-up charges.
There was an Israeli group on the scene, working for human rights, called Taayush. This is their video of some portion of this event, by Taayush member Guy Batavia.
Just now, our EA team lit one advent candle. I’m asking you to pray. Pray for Israel, captive to its policies displacing people in this region. Pray for the two girls held captive for no reason at all. Pray for those made homeless by the cruelty of others.
And then pray the prayer of St. Thomas More: God grant us the grace also to work for the things for which we pray. Amen.