Salaam and Grace in the name of our Crucified and Risen Lord, Jesus Christ.
As I write this message of Easter, I really do not know where to start, lest somebody will ask me: "What is the truth?"
It seems that the truth lies beyond the thoughts of our hearts and beyond the mass media. When Jesus was indicted on Maundy Thursday, the truth lay in that he was the Messiah, the Lamb of God, who came to carry the sin of the world.
Here many incidents take place everyday. It is in every minute that things change. The situation is very unpredictable. The other day, I visited Hebron with Peter Prove (of the Lutheran World Federation), Kent Johnson (of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), and Gustaf Odquist (of the Lutheran Church in Sweden). We were generously hosted by one of the Moslem Sheiks, a close friend of mine. We were shocked to see the real picture of the truth. An Israeli settler woman was throwing stones on Palestinian shopkeepers while the Israeli army was leniently asking her not to do so. At the same time, other soldiers nearby were shooting live ammunition on Palestinian youth. I ask: What is the truth? Is this justice? Where is at least the Christian conscience?
The situation continues to deteriorate day by day. The Israeli siege on the Palestinian territories is tightening. You need only to pass in the morning near my house in Tantur and watch the police and soldiers running after Palestinian laborers, who search for their daily bread, and witness the realities behind the UN statistics stating that the present unemployment rate in the Palestinian areas is now around 38% of the working force.
We hear a language of war that vacillates between self-restraint to no restraint at all, but for us Palestinians, in Bethlehem, Gaza, Ramallah, or Beit Sahour, the use of the language does not change the realities of what we are experiencing. We see massive damage being done to buildings, hotels, and banks, and many homes demolished. All this destruction is creating more hatred, more fear, more revenge, more traumas and more death.
If you ask yourself, why should all this be? I have no answer, except the details of the stories of the Holy week of suffering. Some thought, that they could kill the truth by coercive power. Others thought, that the imposition of a distorted public opinion could change the absolute truth. Some thought by walking with the Truth, whatever the costs may be, you would be liberated by the Truth.
This is our Palestinian story; only truth and justice will liberate both Palestinians and Israelis to see the real truth. The truth may oblige us to carry the cross and be crucified on Golgotha, but the crucifixion and humiliation and the power of live ammunition can never kill the truth of justice or reconciliation that gets its glory in the Risen Lord.
It is true that the Palestinian Church is now a church that carries the cross. Or better, we are the church of real martyria. For this reason, our witness is a witness for love, for the just peace, for the non-violent struggle for the truth, and for equitable just co-existence between Palestinians and Israelis.
The Church of the martyria is the Church that seriously carries the cross whatever the price might be, because it is the follower of its crucified Lord and master.
As I angrily watched the television, after having been humiliated at Ben Gurion airport for three consecutive times in a month (even to the extent that my humanity was being denied by a young female Israeli security person), I saw the Israeli army demolishing a Palestinian home in Jerusalem. I was then very impressed to learn that one of our dialogue partners, Rabbi Arik Ashermann, of Rabbis for Human Rights, slept in front of the Israeli machines to stop them from demolishing the house. He was then handcuffed and detained by the police. I spoke with him the next day congratulating him for his brave action.
I mention this because we know that there are many Israelis of good will, who know that the future does not lie in hatred and suppressing the Palestinians but in defending equal human, civil, religious and political rights for all.
It is sad to note that the voices of these Israelis are hardly heard at all in the present time of crisis. Now is the time for the destructive voices of the extremists of both sides. Their language of violence and death is what people hear, and hatred and fear is on the increase.
Let me mention one prominent example of this. Yesterday we heard Rabbi Obadia Yosef, the Sephardic Chief Rabbi in Israel, say in a sermon broadcast via satellite to tens of thousands of households: "Those evil Arabs...don't pity them. They should be destroyed with missiles, with a free hand." Surely, such statements in favor of genocide are an indication of the depth of the crisis in which we live.
For this reason, from our Golgotha, we urge all people of good will, not only to write statements, but also to activate their governments and leaders to implement United Nation Resolutions 242, 338, and 194. There is no longer time for anyone to remain only a spectator. All voices must be raised, and all appropriate action taken to have these resolutions implemented, and thereby secure the welfare of all people in the Holy Land. The movement towards an Apartheid state must be stopped.
In this time of crisis, we very much appreciate all signs of support and concern that we receive from our partners and friends around the world. We are grateful for receiving delegations who come to express their solidarity with us. We would be pleased to welcome more such visitors. It is also a joy for us to receive short-time voluntary workers, whose presence among us is a sign of solidarity and support. At present, we are pleased to have The Rev. Kent Johnson and Ms. Stephanie Saenger from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America here with us.
It is of great importance for us to know that our partner churches, as well as individual Christians in many places, are keeping us in their constant prayers. We are encouraged by the fact that Prayer Vigil Services for just and lasting peace in the Middle East are being held daily in congregations and churches in U.S.A., Sweden, Norway, Germany, and Congo. Please continue to pray for us, for Palestinians and Israelis, and for just peace and reconciliation in the land of Resurrection.
May the Risen Lord renew our Hope, and fill your Easter with Life and Joy.
Christ is Risen - Truly He is Risen!
Your brother in Christ,
Munib A. Younan
Lutheran Bishop in Jerusalem