On May 14th 1948 at midnight the British mandate of Palestine ended, and the State of Israel was proclaimed.
During this period, over 700,000 Arabs either fled or were expelled from their homes.
To mark this period of time in the history of the Palestinian people, May 15th became a annual reminder of this forced expulsion, and was named Nakba Day. (Nakba means catastrophe)
My Bible readings today included a passage from Paul’s letter to the first century Christian community in Ephesus where he wrote:
11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth … were excluded from citizenship in Israel … But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near … 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility …
The context is this – the early church was made up of Jewish and Gentile groups who had accepted Jesus as the Messiah.
The Jewish followers of Jesus initially could not agree that the Gentile believers should be accepted on the same basis as the Jewish believers. Hence the phrase above … were excluded from citizenship in Israel. Paul was talking about both groups being fully a part of the emerging first century church, and idea which met with strong resistance from Jewish believers. I’m taking the Christian principle of inclusion described by St Paul, and applying it to the situation in Israel/Palestine by calling for Palestinians to have the same rights of citizenship as Israelis.
But what we actually have is a situation of apartheid, where one ethnic group – the Palestinian people – is treated differently.
Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (2002) defines the Crime of apartheid as: “inhumane acts…committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”
This week we have seen the conflict flare up again with violence on both sides. Violence is never justified as a way of solving problems, but when injustice goes on and on and on, it’s understandable why people resort to violence.
This conflict will continue as long as Israel refuses to give justice to the Palestinian people.
Walter Brueggemann writes:
“Dominant culture is always tempted to exclude … naming those who have privilege and entitlement, and those who do not qualify for inclusion.”
The whole ideology of exclusiveness is countered by both St Paul and Jesus. Paul describes how Jesus has ‘broken down the dividing wall of hostility’ by giving equal access to both the ‘insider’ (Jew) and the ‘outsider’ (Gentile). In the same way, Jesus’ actions in the Gospel reading below violates all the norms of the day, cleansing the leper and making him acceptable. The outsider is welcomed. The heart of the passage is the moment when Jesus reaches out his hand and touches the man – an outrageous, shocking thing to do.
Matthew chapter 8:
1 When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. 2 A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” 3 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. 4 Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
Today, we mourn with the Palestinian people on Nakba Day.
We pray for the Palestinian people, and for peace in the Land of the Holy One.
We pray for those on both sides who work to break down barriers of hostility.
We pray for those who will engage in peaceful but outrageous acts of protest.
Read more about Nakba day 2021 in the joint statement issued by this group of charities
Amnesty International UK
Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU)
Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel – UK and Ireland (EAPPI)
Embrace the Middle East
Friends of Birzeit University (FOBZU)
Friends of Nablus and the Surrounding Areas FONSA)
Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights (LPHR)
Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP)
Quakers in Britain
War On Want
I tried to write a song about this a few months ago. It’s here – Catastrophe
One thought on “Breaking Down Walls Of Hostility”
Thank you Jonathan, a very moving piece of writing. It brings to mind a song from one of the world council of churches meetings, ‘Break down the walls that separate us’. Please God, come down and do just that.