Ooops, I forgot Weekend Headlines from Jordan #4

(as reported in the Jordan Times.  Paragraphs below are my summary and additional commentary on articles on the front page of the JT Friday edition)

Top Headline: ‘When we are fasting, we are all one‘  It’s hard to explain to someone living in the West how culturally significant iftar, or the meal to break the fast is here in Jordan.  Life is totally re-oriented during the month of Ramadan so that you are able to make it home to break fast with you family or friends.  We had the ironic experience of eating at TGIFriday’s last week right at iftar.  I am sure we were one of 2 non-Jordanian/Arab couples in the packed out restaurant.  Will write more on that experience later.  That being said many do not have the means to prepare special meals and so this article discussed the numerous iftar tents set up around the city to help the underprivileged.  These tents are sponsored by wealthy individuals, corporations, and also the royal family.

A variety of people take advantage of free iftar tents during Ramadan.  (Jordan Times)

A variety of people take advantage of free iftar tents during Ramadan. (Jordan Times)

In particular, HM Queen Rania has a tent which hosts a different group in need each night. (to check out the Queen’s fascinating website click here and follow the 3rd link.)  There is much concern for the poor here during Ramadan, which is the traditional time to give your zakat, or alms, each year.  But I wonder a bit about the poor the rest of the year.  If they don’t have the means to prepare an evening meal in Ramadan, what about next month?  Who helps out then?   I also wonder if Christians ever sponsor iftar tents or if that is taboo?

Three AIDS cases registered: which brings the number of cases this year to 7.  Not sure how that compares with the States – but a quyick search gave me a stat of over 30,000 cases in the US last year.  I don’t think Jordan is on that track.  The article made a point to note that the three new cases were infected abroad and also pointed out that one was a woman.  I wonder what it is like to have AIDS in this country where honor and shame are so much at stake.  Will this woman’s family have compassion on her or scorn?  Will she receive good medical treatment?  I also wonder if AIDS cases are under-reported here,  The government is definitely concerned about it – any foreigner staying in the kingdom more than 6 months has to get tested!

West Bank settlers take over more land – group: Interesting to see that an Israeli human rights group that I often quote (B’Tselem) is referenced as front page news here in Jordan.  The article reports on 1,100+ acres annexed by Israeli settlers in the West Bank.  Half of this land was private Palestinian property.  It was taken for “security” purposes by fencing it off under the watchful eyes of armed settlers and soldiers.  This same method of illegal settlement expansion was going on 10 years ago when I was in Gaza.  Soldiers and settlers would take Palestinian farmland at night by extending the fence by 10-20 feet, citing attacks from that property that never occured. It should be noted that these new security measures are being taken inside Israel’s already existing “security” barrier.

In Urban areas the barrier is a full-fledged concrete wall completely surrounding cities

In Urban areas the barrier is a full-fledged concrete wall completely surrounding cities

In rural areas the barrier is a complex series of fences and trenches

In rural areas the barrier is a complex series of fences and trenches

I’m all for protecting people from suicide bombers, but when an entire town is surrounded by a wall like this it seems like collective punishment to me.  As I’ve said before, it would be as if the rest of California decided to wall in L.A. because of all the gang violence there.  Migth help keep things safer in the short-term, but makes no sense whatsoever in the long-term.  Do the Great Wall of China, Hadrian’s Wall or the Berlin Wall mean anything to anyone?

A Priest, a Muslim, and a Rabbi Walk Into a Room (An Interpretive Good Friday Reflection)

Only here’s the joke . . .

You’re the priest. The muslim is a Palestinian terror suspect. And the rabbi – yeah, you guessed right – it’s Jesus.

(BTW you’re probably not really a priest in the Catholic sense – I’m referring to the evangelical notion of the priesthood of all believers -in other words the priest is you if you are a modern evangelical leaning Christian. If you’re something else – then I guess you’re an independent observer – sit back in the corner and watch it unfold.)

The room is spartan. There’s a table, four folding chairs, a pitcher of water, and a bright light.

No one looks very happy to be here. The Muslim looks half-way between scared and defiant, you look a little confused, and Jesus – well he’s hard-to-read no matter what. The three of you sit down in silence. The Palestinian is scowling at the table. Jesus is looking you in the eye. You find something very interesting about the white spot on your right thumbnail. A moment passes and you wonder who the fourth seat is for. Jesus nods at you knowingly. The bright light is hot. You’re incredibly thirsty. You reach for the water pitcher but realize there are no glasses. You start sweating.

Jesus picks up a remote control that you hadn’t seen on the table and turns on a TV mounted to the wall behind him. It’s big. It’s bright. It’s plasma. You wonder if Jesus watches Sports Center but he clicks to a news channel. Report after depressing report stream across the screen as newsreaders drone on about this or that disaster, conflict, or economic woe. Reports from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Gaza fill the stifling room with tension.

Jesus glances at the door a moment before it opens. It’s an Israeli. He bustles in apologizing under his breath for being late and sits down between you and Jesus. He doesn’t look any happier than you or the terror suspect to be here.

“You’re probably wondering why I’ve called you here today.” You always wondered what Jesus’ voice would sound like. It wasn’t what you expected.

You’re all looking at him now. And he nods his head at the plasma TV without looking at it, “I think you know. It’s time we did something about this mess. I’ve prepared an agenda.”

You’re startled by a crisp white sheet of paper that you hadn’t noticed in front of you before. It’s smallish and looks rather like a prescription form. Across the top in bold red letters you read “WWJD.”

“I know people have been wondering for a long time what I would do about the global threat of terror and the endless string of conflicts that are tearing apart my homeland and the surrounding region. So, I just wanted to call all of you in to make it clear. You can just write down what I tell you today on those sheets of paper, I’ll sign off on it and everything will be ok.” Jesus isn’t smiling. You’re pretty sure he’s not joking and you’ve got this nasty knot in the pit of your stomach.

He turns to the Muslim and says, “Look, I’m the second most respected prophet in Islam, right?”

The Palestinian nods his head.

“So here’s what I want you to do. Go back to your country and stir up a rebellion. Use whatever means necessary to throw off your oppressors. My hometown of Bethlehem is surrounded by this hideous wall – knock it down. Shoot rockets at any town you can, blow yourself and other people up until you break free from the yoke of oppression.”

You and the Jewish guy are getting pretty upset at this point, but Jesus holds up his hand, “I know, I know – this contradicts my command to love your neighbor as yourself, but these are extreme circumstances and I am for freedom and against oppression. Besides that command never made it into the Qur’an and this guy never read the New Testament so how can I expect him to love his Israeli neighbors?”

Jesus scrawls his signature across the bottom of the Muslim’s slip of paper. The Palestinian quickly gets up and leaves the room. You catch yourself wondering what Jesus’ signature looks like.

Then Jesus turns to the Israeli. “Your people are my people and I’m deeply pained at all you’ve gone through in the past 100 years. You know what it says in the Torah – an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. You’ve got to do what it takes to stop that guy. I’d suggest airstrikes. Strike swiftly and powerfully. Even if you have to kill some kids in the process – that’s ok – do you think they would care about killing your kids? Of course not.”

You are speechless. Dumbfounded. You begin to protest, but Jesus holds up his hand, “I know, I know – this contradicts my command to love your enemies, and seems to run counter to what I said about letting the children come to me. But this guy is Jewish. He’s never read the New Testament so how could I expect him to do any differently?”

Jesus signs the Israeli’s slip of paper and the man quickly gets up and leaves the room. You catch yourself wondering how much Jesus’ signature would fetch on E-bay.

Then Jesus turns to you. He hands you a gun, a rough piece of cloth, and a briefcase. You look confused. “Look, those two guys are going to mess this whole thing up. You’ve got to act and act fast. There is a ton of money in the briefcase. As much as you need. You’re going to have to start throwing a lot of money at this thing if you are ever going to resolve it. The gun? Oh there’s a lot more where that came from – and you’ll need every single one of them. By the way, you’ll probably need to share them with both sides, just to be fair. But make sure you give a few more to the Israelis – they are my people after all. ”

You hold up the cloth with a quizzical look.

“Oh right – that.” He pushes the pitcher of water towards you. “That goes with this. If you ever catch that first guy you can use those to waterboard him for important information.”

You open you’re mouth to reply but no sound comes out.

“Oh, right. You don’t know how to waterboard. That’s ok, I’ll show you how before you go. Any other questions?”

“But . . .”

“I know, I know – this all seems to contradict what I commanded about loving your neighbor as yourself, loving your enemies, putting others before yourself, and pretty much most of the New Testament – even the stuff that Paul wrote. But these are extenuating circumstances. And those nice things you read in the Bible don’t really apply to government activity or military action, you know – separation of church and state and all. Besides haven’t you read the Old Testament? There’s a lot of war in that one. And Revelation? When I come back it’s with a sword dude. Chip-chop. Off with you now – you’ve got a lot of guns and money to throw at that mess in the Middle East. I expect some progress before our next meeting.”

Jesus signs off on your slip of paper. His signature doesn’t look anything like what you expected. You wonder if anyone on E-bay would even believe it’s his.

**********

Doesn’t exactly sound like the Jesus you know? Yeah, me neither.

Try the following scene as an alternative.

**********

The room is spartan. There’s a table, four folding chairs, a pitcher of water, and a bright light.

You’re sitting there between a Palestinian and an Israeli. Neither looks like they want to be there. Jesus is sitting across from you and a big plasma screen TV is behind him blaring news of conflict in the Middle East.

“You’re probably wondering why I called you here today.” You always wondered what Jesus’ voice would sound like. It wasn’t what you expected.

You’re all looking at him now. And he nods his head at the plasma TV without looking at it, “I think you know. It’s time we did something about this mess. I’ve prepared an agenda.”

Immediately the Israeli and Palestinian start arguing with each other. They’re debating who’s to blame for the latest wave of violence. They both start pointing to you and reluctantly you jump into the fray, arguing for America’s support of Israel, military presence in the Middle East, and stance against terror. For an hour the three of you argue and bicker about whose version of history and interpretation of current events is correct. Your blood is about to boil over and you’re about to call for a timeout when you realize that Jesus has been strangely quiet. He’s the one who called the meeting. What does he have to say? Didn’t he have some sort of agenda put together?

You look over at him and your breath catches in your throat. His head is sagging to his chest and his hands are limp on the table. He’s bruised and covered in blood.

The Israeli jumps up and feels his wrist, “No pulse, and he’s not breathing!”

The Palestinian points out a note clenched in Jesus’ right hand. It’s crumpled and bloodstained.

Shaking, you open it up and read it aloud, “I died so you and your peoples don’t have to. Get with the program. See you in three days.”

**********

For those of us who call ourselves Christians on this Good Friday, we should remember the following from the book of 1st Corinthians:

We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. (in context here)

Has Jesus called us to be agents of death or agents of life? WWJD in the today’s Middle East? No easy answers to that one – but I wonder if we’re asking the right questions. Or if we are recreating Jesus in our own convenient image?

B’Tselem: My Go-to Source for Human Rights Info in Palestine

Some of you may have noticed the casualty statistics that I have posted recently. For the most part those come from B’Tselem (The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights). Where possible I try to cross-check, but I trust this organization and the information they put out. Formed by concerned Israeli citizens (including attorneys, professors, and Knesset members) back in 1989, this organization investigates and reports upon human rights violations in the Occupied Territories. This includes human rights violations perpetrated by either side of the conflict.

You might be interested in knowing that the name “B’Tselem” is from the Hebrew for “in the image of” and their website reports that the inspiration for this name comes from Genesis 1:27 that says that God created humanity in his image.

This group of concerned Israeli citizens provides vital behind-the-scenes info that is not often heard above the clamor of the major news headlines. I find that their collection of short videos is particularly helpful in getting a quick snapshot of various human rights issues that do not get covered by the major networks. Here is a 3-minute video about the forced eviction/destruction of a village near Hebron that was located between the official border between with Israel and the “Separation Barrier” that is being built well inside Palestinian territory.

Here are excerpts of two of their latest human rights reports:

B’Tselem expressed its grave concern following the renewed fighting in Gaza. During the first 2 months of 2008, Israeli security forces killed 146 Palestinians. At least 42 did not participate in the fighting when killed, and 11 were minors. Palestinians killed 2 Israeli civilians, and one member of the Israeli security forces.
On 14 February 2008, Fawaziyeh a-Dark suffered a heart attack. Soldiers at a flying checkpoint prevented the passage of the ambulance summoned for her. When her husband tried to take her by taxi, soldiers at another checkpoint blocked their passage. He was forced to take her home, by which time she died.

Please check their website from time to time.