By Rachelle Friesen, MCC peace development worker. Originally from Saskatchewan, Rachelle lives and works in Bethlehem.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada recently visited the Middle East. He spent his days seeing holy sites, meeting with Israeli and Palestinian officials to sign agreements and to give aid, and viewing a bird sanctuary named in his honour for his undying support of Israel.
The Prime Minister was able to travel quite extensively in his short time here: Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Ramallah and the Galilee. Despite his travels, his speeches and statements reflect a truth contrary to what the people of MCC Palestine and their Palestinian and Israeli partners experience on the ground. Reflecting upon his schedule, it was not that he did not visit the sites of injustice, but rather, that the injustice was withheld from his view.
Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. Luke 24:31Arriving at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Harper began his Middle Eastern tour. On the road to Jerusalem he passed by the demolished Palestinian village of Imwas, the biblical site of Emmaus. Before 1967, Imwas was a thriving Palestinian village that was able to fight off the Zionist militias in 1948; its residents maintained their ability to stay on their ancestral land. However, after the war of 1967 Israeli forces invaded the village along with two others, Yalu and Beit Nuba, and ordered all of their residents to leave. Although the war was over, the residents were expelled from the villages and became refugees in Ramallah, Jordan, and near Jericho. After the expulsion, the military demolished all three villages. Following the demolition, through the assistance of Canadian donations, the Jewish National Fund planted trees on the site. Today Canada Park sits on top the three demolished villages while the previous residents remain refugees.
Saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” Then he went and washed and came back able to see. John 9:7
After arriving in Jerusalem, Prime Minister and Mrs. Harper went to the Mount of Olives in Occupied East Jerusalem over-looking the holy city. From this view they would have looked over the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan.The same waters of Siloam flow today in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan. Today in the Bhustan area of Silwan, 88 Palestinian houses have been given demolition orders by the Israeli Jerusalem Municipality. If these demolitions are enforced, over 1000 people will be displaced. Already four houses have been demolished by the Israeli Military. The municipality claims that the houses have been built or renovated without permits, therefore despite Palestinian land ownership, their houses can be demolished not only without compensation but owners are often fined for the cost of demolition.
Although some of the houses have been built without permits, the process for Palestinians to apply for permits becomes a Kafka-esque maze which often ends in denial and around $25,000 spent. Only 5 percent of Palestinians who apply for permits to build actually receive them. This is in contrast to Israeli settlers where 90 percent of applicants receive permits. Therefore many Palestinians face the challenge to build without a permit. Also important, in Silwan many of the homes were built before 1967 under Jordanian laws. One house in particular is said to be 120 years old.
Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? Mark 8:17-18The next day Prime Minister Harper arrived in Bethlehem at the Church of Nativity. Just two kilometers away from the site sits Aida Refugee Camp. Its 5000 inhabitants have been refugees since the war in 1948. For the last two weeks Aida Camp has been considered a military zone via an oral military order. Every day Israeli military personnel have been entering the camp, firing tear gas, shooting rubber-coated steel bullets and live ammunition, in addition to spraying the camp with dirty water. The day after the Prime Minister’s visit, the Activities Coordinator for Lajee Center, an MCC partner, was shot in the head by a rubber-coated steel bullet. Thankfully, he only needed stitches.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn and be healed. Isaiah 6:10b
On day three of his Middle Eastern Tour, the Prime Minister visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial. As he wandered through the memorial and looked out to forested hillside, did he know that the memorial is built on top of the Palestinian village of Deir Yassien? On April 9, 1948 Zionist militias entered the Palestinian village of Deir Yassein and killed over 100 of the inhabitants. The rest were forced to flee. Today its refugees still remain in camps, similar to the residents in Aida Camp.
If you, even, you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” Luke 19:42
Following his visit to Yad Vashem, Mr. Harper walked through the Old City of Jerusalem seeing the busy market place and the holy sites. Yet the Old City lives with daily tension. In this holy city Israeli settlers have been taking over Palestinian houses. In the Muslim Quarter, young Israeli men have occupied a Palestinian house. In total, 78 properties have been appropriated in the Old City. The settlers are accompanied by armed security, making life for the Palestinians in the neighbourhood tense at best. In some areas of the Old City the community spaces are divided so that there are segregated settler and Palestinian washrooms. Despite living in the same neighbourhood, laws are applied differently. The settlers are under Israeli civil law, while the Palestinians are subject to both Israeli civil and military law, depending on which law the Israeli authorities feel like applying.
Unfortunately after five days of traveling through the Middle East, Canada’s Prime Minister was left seemingly unaware of the injustice that persists here. However, his lack of awareness does not come from not visiting certain sites, but rather from not seeing what lies beneath those sites. His eyes have remained closed.
This serves as a thoughtful reminder to all of us. We too are not immune to blindness. What truths are being hidden from our eyes that allow us to support policymakers who uphold oppression and injustice? I wonder what truths — in our own narratives and lives — are being kept from us?
They said to him, “Lord let our eyes be opened.” Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they regained their sight and followed him. Matthew 20: 32-33