Rowena Worthington of Embrace the Middle East is our guest speaker at our services on Sunday 6 September.
Embrace the Middle East partners with Middle East Christians in Egypt, Israel and Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria who are working to transform the lives of the most marginalised and vulnerable in their communities. Our work is inspired by the invitation of Christ to care for those most in need and a commitment to support the continued social witness of Middle East Christians. Together with our partners we seek to respond to this calling by enabling our partners to provide a long-term response to the needs around them.
From speaking with Sue, David and Barbara we know that you already have many connections with Christians living in the Middle East including in the Holy Land and in Lebanon. We have the privilege of partnering with some incredibly compassionate people in Lebanon who work across medical care, community care for those living with disabilities and teaching life skills to teenage refugees from Iraq and Syria. In the Holy Land we work with a number of Christian led initiatives including a ministry in Tel Aviv working in rehabilitative care for those living with addictions, and trauma counselling in parts of the West Bank by the East Jerusalem YMCA.
You will no doubt have followed the news over recent weeks about plans by the Government of Israel to annex parts of the West Bank. Governments have expressed concern that annexation is illegal under international law, and runs counter to the rules based system by which the international community functions. Church leaders from the Holy Land and further afield have shared their concerns as have a number of prominent members of the Jewish community in Britain and further afield.
It is difficult to know exactly what any plan to annex land will look like. What might annexation mean for Christians seeking to visit the Holy Land? What will it mean for our Jewish friends? What will it mean for people living in the Arabic neighbourhood of Beir Ona? What will it mean for people living in the Israeli Settlement of Gilo?
We will always remember the day the roads of East Jerusalem were divided into two single-file roads as construction of the separation wall began. If people lived on the ‘right side of the wall’, they would be relatively okay. If they lived on the ‘wrong side of the wall’, they would not be so fortunate. They would lose their legal status as permanent residents of Israel, which means the rights they enjoyed would change. They would lose their benefits and entitlements in Israel, their medical insurance, their health insurance, their national insurance – all that they’d contributed whilst living and working in Israel. They would now need to apply for an entry permit to get to their office in West Jerusalem. Wanting to keep life as normal, some families that lived on the ‘wrong side of the wall’ left their homes, taking with them their most precious belongings. Some Christians were fortunate to have family to welcome them and to offer them refuge on the ‘right side of the wall’. However not everyone had that privilege.
Seeing the Separation Wall shakes us all. Walls are built to protect the security of Israeli Settlements at the expense of others. Some fear that if any planned annexation does happen, people living in Arab neighbourhoods like Beir Ona may be forced to lose their homes. Beir Ona is an Arab neighbourhood in the city of Beit Jala in the North West of Bethlehem, in the West Bank. Home to both Muslims and Christians, some describe Beir Ona as a built-up town in an oasis of farmland. Nearby are the Gilo settlements. Under local legislation, Beir Ona is classified as an Arab Neighbourhood and residents are under the protection of Israel. If annexation plans include the Gilo Settlements, what will the legal status of people living in Beir Ona be?
On the foot of Beir Ona is the Cremisan Valley which runs with numerous constituencies between Israel and Palestine. Cremisan is home to a vineyard that has been under the protection of the Catholic Church for the last 137 years, a Salesian Convent and a Monastery. The Israeli Government plans to extend the Separation Wall through the Cremisan Valley, to link the settlements of Gilo and Har Gilo. The extension of the wall would result in a unified settlement, and separate the Vineyard Monastery from the Convent. The Salesian Nuns have taken this matter to the High Court of Justice in an effort to protect their land; to ensure it remains undivided and enable them to access their agricultural lands. Should annexation happen, what would it mean for the future of the Convent, the Monastery and the vineyard that has been on undivided land since 1885? Friends within the Palestinian community are anxious that a third uprising may occur should annexation move forward. If this happens, many fear a deepening of the occupation rather than greater peace.
Our friends in the Holy Land, Christians, Jews and Muslims, often have to live their lives planning day-by-day, uncertain about what they are able to do. Here in the UK, we may be getting a little taste of what it means to live with uncertainty and restrictions on movement and work as a result of Covid-19.
We, together with our partners and the church in the Holy Land, long to see a just peace for all people in the Holy Land. Plans for annexation of large parts of the West Bank currently being discussed by the government of Israel, with the potential to be realised from 1st July, will damage those hopes, perhaps irrevocably. Which is why Embrace, along with church leaders in the UK and the Holy Land, have insisted that annexation must not happen.
Please join us in prayer that the worst will not happen and that sincere efforts to bring a just peace will resume.