Empire and Oppression FAITH IN THE FACE OF EMPIRE: FACE TO FACE IN THE CONTEXT OF OCCUPATION

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  Empire and Oppression FAITH IN THE FACE OF EMPIRE: FACE TO FACE IN THE CONTEXT OF OCCUPATION Lead us, father, into freedom; For the Healing of the nations From despair your world release, Lord, we pray with one accord; That, redeemed from war and hatred, for a just and equal sharing All may come and go in Peace. Of the things that earth affords. Show us how through care and goodness to a life of love in action Fear will die and hope increase Help us rise and pledge our word[1]  A Few years ago during a time of Worship, the Priest announced, ‘’Dear friends, let us sing Hymn number 402; while singing this hymn, reflect on these words and pray for the healing of the nations.’’ I was really touched by the words and the music of this hymn. As the 30 year  bloody war in Sri Lanka ended in 2009, I recollecting the horrors we went through prayed for my country Srilanka. But later, I recognized how much this hymn suits the situation in Israel and Palestine. I saw this hymn as the cry of a Palestinian Citizen (Christian) towards God. Introduction Palestine is a unique place and the land has a distinct positioning. The importance of this place derives partly from the fact that it is home to the 3 monotheistic religions- of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The beginning of 20th Century Palestine has seen complicated changes in its political circumstances. Very especially this includes the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 and 1967 after the war. As a result, the Israel occupied the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza strip. These events have created catastrophic political, economic and social  problems which have deeply affected the life of Palestinians people. When we look into the history of Palestine, occupation was a defining feature in their history. As I was preparing to write this essay I asked my teachers and my student friends who had visited Palestine to sh are their experiences. Said one “It’s a ‘holy place’which brought me great satisfaction.” As I was growing up my parents told me that they wanted to visit the Holy Land  before they die, they have a great passion and yearning to visit the Holy land. According to H.B. Michel Sabbah[2]  “the ‘Holy Land’ has its rule of God’s love; we who live here are aware that our land is holy, and that the whole world refers to it as the Holy Land. Its meaning and essence are to be God’s land and hence the land of God’s love. In reality, it is not so. We can even say it  is the opposite; it is a land dominated by a conflict- the Israel-Palestine conflict. It is a land of war, hatred and death[3].  Empire In my perspective I see empire as a monster, filled with power and dominion over all others. Empire and the Emperor don’t have a kind heart they have a heart of vengeance and destruction. These empires engage in inhuman activities to the children of God and they destroy their dignity. Christians in the 1st Century faced persecution under the emperor Nero; similarly today the Palestinians are facing persecution from the state Israel. Following the experiences of Sri Lankans during the period of colonization, The Ven. Anagarika Dharmapala accuses that “the Christian nations made Ceylon ‘a hunting ground’”;he points to the aspect of p hysical harm done during invasion.[4] Palestinians too see Israel as a nation that causes them physical and mental harm. The Palestinians are undergoing systematic, pre-planned discrimination. Empire is looked upon as a hungry lion waiting for its prey. In the world today there are many Empires which control human beings. They are Religious fundamentalism, Caste, Human trafficking, Poverty, militarization, neo-liberation, digital occupation and Occupation of innocent peoples land etc. Reality in the life of Palestinians “What do I see and hear in the Holy Land? Some people cannot move freely from one place to another. A wall separates them from their families and from their incomes. They cannot tend to their gardens at home or to their lessons at school....” -Archbishop Desmond Tutu[5] shares the truth and the reality of Palestinians under the occupation of Israelites. Let us look into theways Israel discriminates the native Palestinians, under Israeli military occupation and the impacts that it has on all Palestinians.Land and water confiscation, settlement expansion, access and movement issues, violence, residency rights and many other human rights violations are some of them.100 years of injustice and oppression have beeninflicted on the lives of the Palestinians. Palestinians commemorated the 69th anniversary of the Nakba, this year, the "day of catastrophe", in which Israel was officially declared a state following the forced removal of more than 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and the destruction of over 500 villages and towns. Occupation of the Land In all cultures the relationship between the land and the people has a special significance. Land is not only for production for there is a much deeper relationship between humanity and nature. The Earth itself is a Mother to all (Bhumatha, Bhumadevi.)in Tamil Earth is called dharani, from the root dhr- to support or uphold.[6] Dr.Mitri Raheb explains the land as the fifth Gospel.[7]  "'The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers[8] Leviticus 25:23, As there are many Bible verses about God’s ownership of the Earth, it reminds us that the Land is God’s and the gift is that we have access to it. Since 1948 the Palestinians have been and are  still being uprooted and displaced from their land .Israeli Occupation has affected, and continues to affect all Palestinians. Dr. Mitri Raheb, in his book “I am a Palestinian Christian”, expresses wonderfully the story of Naboth’s vineyard(1 Kings Ch21) t o the situation of Palestinian people. ‘’Today’s state of Israel, with its plan to dispossess Palestinians of their land and its policy of establishing settlements, is in the tradition of Jezebel, and that means that is not in the tradition of the God of I srael.” [9] Yes, indeed Israel is not following the way of God, they are walking in darkness. Archbishop Desmond Tutu compared Israel's treatment of the Palestinians to the “apartheid regime” that discriminated against blacks in his native South Africa.   Water as a tool to Oppress Since Israel took over the West Bank in 1967, It has remained in near full control over Palestinian water resources in the West Bank. “Access to safe water is a fundamental human need and therefore a basic human right.[10] ” Palestinian natural resources such as fertile land, water and minerals have been extensively and unlawfully appropriated to sustain the Israeli settlements. Obstruction in travel and movement \When I think of obstruction to travel, what comes to my mind is checkpoints. Which reminded me of the war in Sri Lanka that ended in 2009, I got an opportunity to study in the Northern Province where the War was at its peak. It takes 12 hours of travel from my home to reach Jaffna (the main town in the Northern Province). I needed to get down at two places for checkups at odd times. Everyone in the bus had to get down and face the body and baggage checkups. I hated these checkups because it was around midnight I was sleepy and it was difficult to carry the bags and pull out all the things.According to my knowledge, the Palestinian people are undergoing such struggles every day. In September 2011, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that there were 522 roadblocks and checkpoints obstructing Palestinian movement in the West Bank. Occupation in SriLanka  Nearly eight years after the end of the war, the SriLankan military is still occupying more than 96% of the land belonging to the Tamil people who were driven off their own lands, in the  pretext of “National Security”.Field data obtained by British Tamils Forum (BTF), indicate that as of 1st March 2016, the military is occupying 67,427 acres of land belonging to the Tamil  people.[11]  During the last month the highlighting news in the Tamil newspaper was “SriLanka ends 27 -year Occupation of Tamil port’’. The Srilankan military ended its occupation of a majo r fishing harbor Mayliddy in the Jaffna peninsula. Accordingly 187 families are able to return to their srcinal lands and resume their fishing livelihood after an absence of nearly 30 years. A Few  months ago people who belonged to the village ‘’Keppapilavu’ ’in the Northern Province, started a protest to get their own lands from military occupation. This protest entered its 150th day on 26th July 2017. Discrimination and oppression of the “MINORITY” by the “Majority” In SriLanka   When I think of my ancestors, they migrated from India (Tamil -Nadu) to Sri Lanka, during the British colonization. They were brought to Sri Lanka (Ceylon) with promises of proper food, shelter and jobs. They believed inthose promises and naively came to Sri Lanka only to be exploited as laborers on tea estates. This situation has been continuing for almost 200 years. Their rights and opportunities were systematically taken away by the government. As we marked the 34th anniversary of Black July  –   the 1983 pogrom against the Tamil people which was supposedly directed, by the Sri Lankan government, as part of a continuing Genocide, lasting 10 days, leaving more than 3000 Tamils killed.My parents shared their terrifying experience, hiding in the grave yard with their friends in the fear of attacks and killings. They empathized with sorrow when they saw fellow Tamils burnt alive in tires.In the book ‘The Broken Palmyra‘, [12]chapter 4 describes the pain and suffering endured by the Tamil people during this July holocaust. Comparatively the Majority Israelites are persecuting the Minority Palestinians using their power and force. Faith of the People As people face daily dehumanization, their minds and hearts get affected. Their relationships with God will be questioned? “Where are you, God? Wenak ya Allah?”   “Where are you, God?” Is a 3000 year old lament that the inhabitants of Palestine have passed from one generation to another. It is not only the question of the Palestinians, but of the whole world.[13] Elie Wiesel the Nobel Prize winner state, clearly that God issuffering with us today. I n his book “Night”, he explains this deep truth; where a young boy was hanged by the Army, “the third rope was still moving: the child, too light, was still breathing…, and so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death. Behind me, I heard the same man asking: ‘For God’s sake, where is God?’ and I echoed his cry I heard a voice answer: im hanging with you…” [14]Palestinians believe that God is with them in the checkpoints, in the marketplaces, in the trials and tribulations. Through the Kairos document we can clearly see the faith and hope they have in God. They also believe that God who is suffering with them. He is the “Ebed Yah weh.”   Conclusion As people are suffering in one part of the world others elsewhere like us our keeping silent. The  book of Genesis tells us that human beings are made in the image of God -,the imago Dei (Genesis 1.26-27)., We can use this powerful idea to understand that all human beings come into  being in the same way under God and that God values, desires and loves each person equally. According to Dr. Martin Luther King “we shall have to repent in this generation, no so much for the evil deeds of the wic ked people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.” Im not saying we are good people, but our silence kills others. As a united Church and as united humanity we should raise our voice for the people who are voiceless, and where their voices are  not heard. As they are sail through the troubled waters we should be there to help. David Bosch, talks about the shift from the ‘mission of the church’ (missio ecclesia) to the ‘mission of God’ (missio Dei)[15], therefore, the church is considered an instrument in the hands of God to  participate and fulfill God’s own purpose for humanity and the world. The Church should move into the lives of people and they should engage in their prophetic role. According to the open letter of Palestinians Christians which was released the World Council of Churches, they call for the unity of all churches to be with them and to raise the voices for the Peace against this empire. As Children of God, we should move forward to wipe out the tears of our brothers and sisters. The poet expresses his emotions and thoughts to envision future peace in Palestine. I thought then it would be the manger- but shockingly, It was the huge concrete wall of separation welcoming, A wall of division. A wall of segregation, a wall of occupation, A wall of humiliation , A wall of discrimination. Making the birth of Jesus’ place invisible.  O Jesus comes now to be born again here To break theses walls of demonization. To break open the cruel hearts of oppression To restore liberation and peace on this earth [16] (Pilgrim Quest for hope) Bibliography
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