News Flash:Palestinians Allowed to Travel to Jerusalem for Easter

Freedom march from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, 27.03.2010The Israeli Embassy has confirmed this afternoon with Sojourners that travel restrictions preventing Palestinian Christians from entering Jerusalem for Holy Week and Easter have been lifted.

[UPDATE since this story was first posted at 5pm 3/31/2010 : According to representatives from Holy Land Trust, two staff members of which are still in prison after a nonviolent demonstration against such restrictions: By “lifting” travel restrictions from the West Bank to Jerusalem, Israeli officials are merely referring to ending a total curfew imposed a few days ago on access even to people previously granted selective permission to get into Jerusalem. This does not mean that all Palestinian Christians are now allowed entry into Jerusalem to freely celebrate Easter. This only means that Christians who applied for a permission (not all did or could) and who got one (not all did or could) can now take advantage of the permission (if they got it) that “allows” them to enter from one occupied territory into another through the long and humiliating process of going through the checkpoints. Even then, restrictions have already been put in place on access to the Old City for the Holy Fire service on Holy Saturday, which is the most important ceremony for the Greek Orthodox and the Eastern rite communities. Israeli army radio reported 10,000 permits were granted this year; not even a quarter of the Christians in the West Bank. ]

This afternoon, Rev. Michael Kinnamon, the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, received a telephone call from Dr. Michael Oren, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, stating that travel restrictions that prevented Palestinian Christians from visiting Christian sacred sites in Jerusalem were at least temporarily lifted.

“I received a call from (Oren) indicating he had been in touch with Israeli officials,” said Kinnamon in a press release, “and that they have now assured him that travel restrictions on Palestinian Christians from the West Bank have been lifted for Easter — and that we should notify him directly if there are reports from check points that these orders are not being followed.”

NCC press secretary Philip Jenks told Sojourners that Rev. Kinnamon had sent a letter to the Middle East Council of Churches notifying them of the phone call. The letter stated:

“The National Council of Churches in the USA has been deeply disturbed with reports of travel restrictions on Christians from the West Bank who may try to reach Jerusalem for Easter-related events and services. In that regard we enlisted the help of Jewish leaders in the United States, and they urged the Israeli government to rethink this policy.

On Wednesday morning I received a call from Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, indicating that he had been in touch with Israeli officials and that they have now assured him that travel restrictions on Palestinian Christians from the West Bank have been lifted for Easter — and that we should notify him directly if there are reports from check points that these new orders are not being followed.”

Joshua Silverberg, press secretary for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., confirmed that the facts of this announcement were true and consistent with what the Ambassador had conveyed. Sojourners has not yet been able to confirm with Palestinian Christians or the Ecumenical Accompaniment Teams if the checkpoints are open.–by Rose Marie Berger

Rose Marie Berger, an associate editor at Sojourners, blogs at www.rosemarieberger.com. She’s the author of the forthcoming book Who Killed Donte Manning?: The Story of an American Neighborhood (Apprentice House, April 2010).

What Palm Sunday Really Looks Like – Even the Donkey Got Arrested

After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. … As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road.  As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”–Luke 19:28

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Protesters crossed the main gate in the separation wall between Bethlehem and Jerusalem on Palm Sunday 2010. Around 200 Palestinians, Israelis, and internationals walked from the Nativity Square toward Jerusalem, against the restrictions imposed by the Israelis. These restrictions were tighter than usual and directed toward the right to worship as many Christians will not be able to go to Jerusalem to celebrate Easter.

The crowd managed to outnumber and surprise the Israeli soldiers and security forces at Bethlehem checkpoint and managed to walk through. After having walked 300 meters on the road to Jerusalem, they were stopped by Israeli soldiers. After having declared the march over and as they were walking back to Bethlehem, Israeli soldiers attacked the crowd and arrested around 15 persons, among them a Palestinian cameraman, an Israeli photographer, members of the popular committee from Al Ma’sara, and staff from Holy Trust.

Freedom march from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, 27.03.2010

Here’s one account:

“More than 100 native Palestinian Christians and Muslims and internationals including Israelis, breached the tight security separating the Palestinian cities of Bethlehem from the occupied city of Jerusalem.  Donkeys and people both were arrested!  We were initially some 150 strong and started from the Church of Nativity at 11:45 AM carrying palm leaves and banners asking for freedom of worship and movement (as demanded by international law).  The demonstration included individuals riding 2 donkeys and a horse.  Appropriate since Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey.  Like him, we knew this was not going to be an easy entry but we did believe in the goodness of humanity.  We arrived at the main gate used for tourist buses at around 12:30 p.m. and decided to just keep going. The few soldiers and police at the gate tried to close it but we managed to get in and the huge 8 meter high metal gate stopped half way, perhaps as a safety mechanisms since there were dozens of people passing and they could be crushed if it continued.

The Israeli security forces tried to close other fences but we kept going.  As word reached their offices, the Israeli army was mobilizing its forces and soon several army jeeps arrived and blocked the road half way between the gate and Deir Mar Elias (the monastery at the edge of the city). They blocked our way.

Ibrahim Salah riding his donkey was speaking to them in Hebrew and saying why can’t we go to Jerusalem.  It is our right to travel.   He was the first to be violently knocked down off his donkey and arrested.  The next was an American girl, then some Palestinians. All were violently wrestled to the ground when even many were just peacefully walking back to the gates.  It seemed like a calculated move to punish some of us so that others get the message not to try this again.

Some 60 of us ended up being rounded up in between a wall, a hill, a gate, and a cordon of police officers.  We all expected to be arrested.  The occupation soldiers instead plucked random people that they thought were the key people.

We had significant local and national and international media coverage.  The people are willing to pay the price.  Israeli forces released 4 Israelis and the one American student.  They kept 11 Palestinians that they kidnapped and are charging them with “incitement”, “participating in an unauthorized demonstration” “entering ‘Israel’ without a permit “, and “interfering in police business”.

Oh and yes, a donkey and a horse belonging to Ibrahim were also arrested by the mighty army of apartheid Israel for they too need permits from the Israeli military to get in.

Video: Salvadoran Archbishop Romero Last Sunday Sermon (The Appeal to Soldier to Lay Down Their Guns)

Here’s a very moving 3-minute video of images (some graphic) from El Salvador’s war and the voice over of Archbishop Romero’s last Sunday sermon on March 23, 1980,  in which he appeals to the members of the Army to put down their weapons. Romero was shot and killed while celebrating Mass the following day.

The 30th anniversary of Romero’s assassination will be in March 24, 2010. I’ll be interviewed on NPR’s Latino USA by Maria Hinojosa with Salvadoran theologian Ernesto Valiente who teaches at Boston College. The English translation of an excerpt of Romero’s sermon is below the video.

Archbishop Romero:
“We want to greet the entities of YSAX, which for so long have awaited this moment which, thanks to God, has arrived. We know the risk that is run by our poor station for being the instrument and vehicle of truth and justice, but we recognize that the risk has to be taken, for behind that risk is an entire people that upholds this word of truth and justice….

We give thanks to God that a message that doesn’t mean to be more than a modest reflection of the spoken Word finds marvelous channels of outreach and tells many people that, in the context of Lent, all of this is preparation for our Easter, and Easter is a shout of victory. No one can extinguish that life which Christ revived. Not even death and hatred against him and against his Church will be able to overcome it. He is the victor!

As he will flourish in an Easter of unending resurrection, it is necessary to also accompany him in Lent, in a Holy Week that is cross, sacrifice, martyrdom; as he would say, “Happy are those who do not become offended by their cross!” Lent is then a call to celebrate our redemption in that difficult complex of cross and victory. Our people are very qualified, all their surroundings preach to us of cross; but all who have Christian faith and hope know that behind this Calvary of El Salvador is our Easter, our resurrection, and that is the hope of the Christian people….

Today, as diverse historical projects emerge for our people, we can be sure that victory will be had by the one that best reflects the plan of God. And this is the mission of the Church. That is why, in the light of the divine Word that reveals the designs of God for the happiness of the peoples, we have the duty, dear brothers and sisters, to also point out the facts, to see how the plan of God is being reflected or disdained in our midst. Let no one take badly the fact that we illuminate the social, political, and economic truths by the light of the divine words that are read at our Mass, because not to do so would, for us, be un-Christian….

Continue reading “Video: Salvadoran Archbishop Romero Last Sunday Sermon (The Appeal to Soldier to Lay Down Their Guns)”

Christian Disestablishmentarianism

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As we move toward Easter, I find it helpful to recall the cosmic anarchy that the resurrection represents. Jesus was blowing apart all systems of domination that deform the basic dignity of the human being — including the threat of death.

When Christians are threatened with death, they understand it as being “threatened with resurrection,” as poet Julia Esquivel put it.

Here’s an excerpt from U.K.-based Jonathan Bartley’s commentary on Easter and Anarchy from Ekklesia:

Easter means freedom rather than control. At least that was the way that it started out.

Some early Christians seem to have celebrated it twice. There was the Passover that took on new meaning for the new Jewish sect following Jesus’ celebration of it with his friends just before his crucifixion. There was also Pascha a commemoration more in tune with the Easter we celebrate today.

But it was anarchic in the political sense too. The Passover called to mind the subversion by the Children of Israel, who defied Pharaoh’s authority and went their own way. Down the centuries Christians have developed various theological motifs to explain what they believe happened when Jesus died. But for the early Christians, the emphasis seems to have been squarely on the Resurrection. This was the moment of liberation at which God demonstrated victory over all evil and oppression – including the empire that put Jesus to death. It was the proof that even the greatest of powers could be overcome.

Easter was also the time when baptisms would happen – that Christians too were ‘raised with Christ’. It was the clearest symbol that the allegiance of early Christians did not lie with the state. This was the point at which a new citizenship of God’s Kingdom was embraced, one which challenged all other forms of citizenship, and most notably that of Rome. It committed them to a set of values and behaviours, and a way of living which was often at odds with the social and political norms of the Empire. Christians called it ‘the Way.’

But in the Fourth century, this presented a problem for the emperor Constantine who was intent on marrying Christianity with the power that had often been its persecutor. The death of Christ was a bit embarrassing. And it wasn’t just that the emperor was running the empire which had put the founder of the faith to death. The way of Christ – loving enemies, forgiving and turning the other check – was particularly ill suited to the business of Government. Baptism threatened allegiance to a state that needed to wage war, imprison and torture.

Bartley, Ekklesia co-director,  is author of Faith and Politics After Christendom: The church as a movement for anarchy (Paternoster, 2006) and The Subversive Manifesto: Lifting the lid on God’s political agenda (BRF, 2005). Read the whole piece here.

How would you write your baptismal vows if you knew they threatened allegiance to the State?

Midnight at the Lincoln Memorial

The only word that comes to mind is “magical.” After watching the early election returns with friends and observing a hushed moment of unbelieving silence at 10 p.m. when ABC called the election for Barack Obama, I did what has been in the back of my mind to do since Obama got the nomination. I drove through town to the Lincoln Memorial, parked my car illegally, and walked through the quiet grove to the great wide marble steps of that monument.

There were three or four other people there and a few security guards. It was misting. The steps were wet and slick. The guards were chatting among themselves and listening on their walkie-talkies to their compatriots guarding the White House where the “real action” was. (Apparently, about 2000 people gathered in Lafayette Park.)

I walked up to the foot of that massive statue of Abraham Lincoln. The words of the Gettysburg Address are carved along the walls. In his speech Lincoln reminds those standing in that muddy Pennsylvania field where so many died that “we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.”

Dr. King preached from here to a crowd of 300,000 marching on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Marian Anderson sang from here when the the Daughters of the American Revolution denied her entrance to Constitution Hall on Easter Sunday 1939.

By 11:45 p.m. there were about 50 people beginning to gather together on the steps. There was a quiet peace broken by occasional fire works from across the city and celebratory horns honking on streets below. Barack Obama was slated to give his acceptance speech at midnight. Everyone was fiddling with Iphones and other gadgets tracking the news and trying to figure out how to get a radio signal. Finally, a guy from London pulled a real radio out of his coat pocket and set it down on the steps. As Obama made his way into Grant Park in Chicago, our radio savior pumped up the volume.

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

I have to say that the small gathering broke into tears.

When Obama quoted Lincoln, there was a nod of recognition. “We are not enemies, but friends…though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.” And then in a rhetorical sweep that seemed to heal 40 years of painful history, he echoed Dr. King.

The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America – I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you – we as a people will get there.

The increasingly damp crowd shared a good laugh when Obama said:

And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world – our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand.

As Obama’s victory speech came to an end, our tiny community clapped and hollered and whooped and did a little dance there on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Strangers hugged each other, held each other, cried on each others shoulders. The Europeans in the crowd said how proud they were to be there and share this moment with America.

It was a magical moment.

I drove back through the streets of D.C. People were everywhere. Horns were honking in celebration. People were dancing on streetcorners and waving Obama signs. Dupont Circle was mobbed with revelers cheering and laughing. In front of the Ethiopian restaurant on 18th street, there was a crowd of men singing the “Ole Ole Ole” soccer song and waving signs. At the corner of 18th and Columbia, a guy was playing a guitar and dancing.

Before leaving the Lincoln Memorial, I walked to the steps where Dr. King preached on August 28, 1963, when I was two and a half months old. There’s a small engraving in the marble to mark the spot. One hundred years after Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address, King said:

This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. … But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

At about 1 a.m. I parked the car in the alley behind my house. The city was still ariot with joy. I figured it was time to dry off and get a good night’s sleep. … but my face was hurting from all the smiling.

Welcome world, to America’s “invigorating autumn.”.