Is There Shalom in the Land?
This article was originally published in the Advent 2015 issue of the Presbyterian Hunger Program’s PHP Post, available at http://www.pcusa.org/resource/phppostadvent2015/.
“They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” – Jeremiah 8:11
“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace, good will among people.’” – Luke 2:13-14
Peace. Shalom. Salam. We use the word often in our worship services, prayers, and greetings, especially this time of year, but how often do we actually stop to think about what it means? Do we actually think about what it requires of each of us to make peace a reality? I used the word as flippantly and obliviously as any other, until I visited Palestine/Israel. Over the course of my visits to Palestine in the last several years, I have come to use the word less and less frequently because of the seeming impossibility of it all. With the multiplicity of obstacles to peace, the sacredness of the word grows and my comfort with its use decreases.
Too often we are tempted to say the region is peaceful when we are not hearing of fresh outbreaks of violence, but this is not true peace. It is not peace when people’s lives and lands are being destroyed every day by the Israeli occupation of Palestine (including the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip). While many Israelis and Palestinians work for peace, the state of Israel, in its policies, perpetrates daily violence. God’s shalom does not just mean a state free of war, but that a state of wholeness, perfectness, and harmony has been achieved; that a wrong has not only been righted, but that full restoration to wholeness has been made. As things currently stand, the Israeli occupation has made this peace impossible for the land and the people. The land has been carved up, scarred, and poisoned by the occupation; perhaps as much as the people themselves have been.
Peace. Shalom. Salam. I used the word as flippantly and obliviously as any other, until I visited Palestine/Israel.
Countless acres of land have been cleared for the building of Israeli settlements, settler-only by-pass roads, and the apartheid wall; more land has been confiscated for closed military zones and military sites. These lands were not only cleared of their Palestinian residents and caretakers, but of their forests, fields, flora, fauna, and wildlife as well. In the West Bank over 70% of the total forest area has been damaged. As a result, natural migration patterns and habitats of numerous species have been permanently disrupted, and some are even facing extinction due to the destruction of their nesting and breeding sites.
The Jordan River and other ancient water ways that cut deep though the land and our history are now no more than slimy, polluted ditches in many places. The water levels of the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea are dropping by the year due to excessive use and irresponsible mineral mining practices by Israel. Raw sewage flows down the hills from the Israeli settlements, unchecked and untreated, into Palestinians’ water sources and fields, poisoning drinking water and ruining farm ground, which contributes to the desertification, hunger, and poverty of the Palestinian territories.
As if that were not enough, hazardous waste from Israel is also disposed of in the Palestinian territories, including industrial, medical, and radioactive waste. Palestinian residents are exposed to these dangerous and toxic substances though crop contamination, air pollution, and groundwater contamination. In some areas near these dumping sights, higher than average rates of cancer have been recorded in the local Palestinian populations. The Israeli occupation and the infrastructure that goes with it threaten all aspects of natural and human life alike, and all prospects at peace.
Raw sewage flows down the hills from the Israeli settlements, unchecked and untreated, into Palestinians’ water sources and fields, poisoning drinking water and ruining farm ground.
In spite of all of this, most Palestinians maintain their commitment to peace. The steadfast example of the majority of Palestinian people, especially the farmers, who get up day after day, face these challenges, and continue to believe in peace requires that I not give up on the possibility either. The Palestinian Christians that I have gotten to know have shown the Gospel to me in ways I never could have understood without them. They know that there can only be peace for the people when there is peace for the land as well. For thousands of years, generation after generation, the Palestinians have been rooted to this land like the olive trees they plant and tend. In spite of the very real threats their lands and bodies face every day, they remain hopeful and confident that peace is possible.
The hope of the people and the hope present in the season of Advent invites me to re-examine its potential once again. This is the season we prepare for the joy of Christmas, but also for the radical message of justice and peace that our Savior brings with him. In this season we are reminded that peace is not only a state of being, it is an action. Peace will be only possible when we no longer have to fight for justice. We must actively work for peace; in so doing we actively prepare ourselves for the coming of the Christ Child. Are we willing to be open to that message this year? Are we ready to prepare the way for peace? When you say, sing, and pray about peace this Advent and Christmas season, do not do so lightly or obliviously, as if it were not serious, but with full and active conviction for all God’s creation.
All research and statistics on the environmental impact of the occupation can be found in this report by the Middle East Monitor: http://bit.ly/1OL4K7S
AUTOR BIO: Marietta is a graduate of Hanover College and holds an M.Div. from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. In addition to her job as Director of Children’s and Youth Ministry at First Presbyterian Church in Columbus, IN, Marietta currently serves as Vice Moderator of the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the PC(USA) and works with various other organizations to promote peace, justice, and understanding in the Middle East. She has traveled to Palestine/Israel several times, most recently in Dec. 2014 for the Kairos Palestine Conference and celebration of the 5th anniversary of the Kairos Palestine Document.
Read more articles in this issue People, Look East!: Advent and Christmas Reflections on the Middle East.