Friday, April 06, 2007

The Palestinian Stations of the Cross:
A Meditation for Christians on Good Friday

Today is Good Friday, the day that Christians, like myself, celebrate the passion of Jesus. This year, I gathered with an ecumenical group to walk and pray through the Stations of the Cross, a liturgy based on the sufferings of Jesus as he was condemned to death, humiliated, and crucified. Through the Stations of the Cross are often reduced to fourteen reasons to feel sorry for Jesus, they contain within them revolutionary potential. Jesus was commended to death because of the way that he disrupted the religious, political, and military status quo and made the wealthy and powerful deeply uncomfortable. In this way, Jesus' suffering shows us the consequences of nonviolence. (drawing by Palestinian cartoonist Naji al Ali, creator of Handala.)

As we prayed the Stations of the Cross today, we prayed for people in our own community who are suffering: veterans and victims of the war in Iraq, people without health insurance, people who are hungry and more. I was immediately inspired to offer up a meditation on the pain of Palestinians, another group of people whose suffering and nonviolent resistance should be remember by Christians today and all people every day.

And so "The Palestinian Stations of the Cross" was born. I've used the traditional Catholic stations and scripture references from the United Confederacy of Catholic Bishops. The queries, a Quaker touch, are taken from Preaching Peace and are intended to bring the reader back from the specificity of the Palestinian situation to a broader context. I feel a unfortunate need to clarify my intention. These mediations are not intended to make the claim, "The Jews killed Jesus, now look what they are doing to the Palestinians!" Quite the opposite. That claim is hate-filled and incorrect. Instead, my intention is to invite Christians to examine our complicty in occupation of Palestine. The author of Preaching Peace writes "On the Sunday of the Passion, we [Christians] all cry out as part of the crowd, “Crucify him, crucify him!” For those of us who need the Stations, it is this cry that gives us our best entrance. To do anything less is to minimize the reality of the Passion so that we might cushion its impact on us. Alongside this impact vanishes the Passion’s power to convert." I hope that this clarifies my intention.

Enjoy! Good Friday blessings to those who are celebrating today and special blessings to all people of all faiths and those of none!

A note: this is a rough draft - I'm sure that there are plenty of typos right now. Rather than wait until its perfect, I've decided to aim from punctuality instead. Thanks for your indulgence.

The Palestinian Stations of the Cross:

Station One: Jesus is Condemned
When day came the council of elders of the people met, both chief priests and scribes, and they brought him before their Sanhedrin. They said, "If you are the Messiah, tell us," but he replied to them, "If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I question, you will not respond. But from this time on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God." They all asked, "Are you then the Son of God?" He replied to them, "You say that I am." Then they said, "What further need have we for testimony? We have heard it from his own mouth." Luke 22: 66-71
Jesus was condemned by beloved members of his own religious community. Today, Palestinian Christians find themselves abandoned by the global Christian community. Today, Bethlehem lies behind a 25ft high cement Wall, erected by the Israeli army. Christians pilgrims who used to visit Bethlehem now leave it off of their itinerary and leave their Christian family suffer. Other Christians offer political support to Israel to the exclusion of friendship with Palestine.

Queries: How many times do I have the knowledge and the power to say no, and stay silent? How many times do I participate, by my silence, in the Passion of Jesus? Who will die because I do not say no?

Station Two: Jesus Takes Up His Cross
When the chief priests and the guards saw [Jesus] they cried out, "Crucify him, crucify him!" Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves and crucify him. I find no guilt in him." ... They cried out, "Take him away, take him away! Crucify him!" Pilate said to them, "Shall I crucify your king?" The chief priests answered, "We have no king but Caesar." Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus, and carrying the cross himself he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, in Hebrew, Golgotha. John 19: 6, 15-17
For 40 years, Palestinians have born the cross of military occupation. Palestinians have lost their land, their homes, their olive trees, their cultural traditions and their lives. Throughout these 40 years, Americans of all religious faiths, but especially Christian Zionists, have offered their support to the Israeli military occupation of Palestine. Because the unconditional support our government offers the state of Israel, all Americans are complicit in the suffering of the Palestinian people.

Queries: When have I said, “Well, he certainly deserved that!” or “It’s only fair. Look at what she did!”? When have I failed to forgive as I have been forgiven? When have I laid more weight on your blessed shoulders?

Station Three: Jesus falls the first time

Palestinians bear the cross of land confiscation. 329 thousand Palestinians are separated from their land by an Israeli erected "security" wall which runs mainly inside the West Bank. This wall has been built in violation of international law and causes daily hardship to Palestinians. But in villages like Bi'ln, Marda, and at-Tuwani, Palestinians are using nonviolence to struggle for their rights.

How many times, Lord, have I sacrificed my “I” as I took satisfaction or pleasure in the fall of another? How many lynchings have I started with my laughter?

Station Four: Jesus meets his mother
Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother 11 and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son." Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his home. John 19:25-27

Palestinian mothers bear a special cross under occupation. Like Mary, they are faced with the reality that they cannot ensure their children's safety. In addition to all of the responsibility mothers all over the world bear, Palestinian mothers must worry as their children pass through dangerous areas on their way to school, as safe play areas are demolished or blocked off by the path of the Apartheid Wall, and as children cope with trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. As more and more Palestinian men lose their jobs to ever-skyrocketing unemployment, Palestinian women have also stepped in to provide of their families through alternative income generation projects. To be a mother under military occupation is a feat nothing short of miraculous.

Queries: How many times, Lord, have we watched another suffer, but from a safe distance? How many times have you looked out through the eyes of another for comfort, but were unable to find it?

Station Five: Simon helps to carry Jesus' cross
They pressed into service a passer-by, Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. Mark 15: 21
Palestinians bear the cross of home demolitions. To date, thousands Palestinian homes have been demolished. The majority of these homes were demolished only because the Palestinians who owned them were unable to obtain permits from the Israeli authorities. Thankfully, many people have stepped into bear this cross like Simon, including Rabbis for Human Rights and the Israeli Campaign Against Home Demolition. We praise God for their willingness to stand beside Palestinians through advocacy, rebuilding, and nonviolent direct action.

Queries: How many others have we called on to do our violence for us? How many soldiers pulled triggers because we could not? How many executioners pushed buttons for us?

Station Six: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

The story of Veronica wiping the face of Jesus is a story of humanity reveled. Palestinians bear the cross of denied humanity. Today, the international press castigates all Arabs, but especially Palestinians, as terrorists. An accurate reporting of Palestinian political concerns and demands is difficult to find, but images of the humanity of Palestinians - of children going to school, of parents going to work, of Christians and Muslims worshiping God - are ignored. Furthermore, the military occupation of Palestine itself denies the humanity of Palestinian by subjecting them to humiliating searches and delays at checkpoints and by making daily life impossibility difficult.

But like Veronica, many Israelis, Palestinians, and internationals are working to revel the humanity of Palestinians. Organizations like Tayuush, Checkpoint Watch, Christian Peacemaker Teams, and International Women's Peace Service witness and document human rights violations in the West Bank and intervene nonviolently. In doing so, they wipe the face of God and revel Palestinian humanity to the world.

Queries: How many times have we missed your humanity, Jesus? How many times has it been easier to deal with your suffering because we left your face marred beyond recognition? Do we have it in us to see your face?

Station Seven: Jesus falls a second time

Palestinians bear the cross of violence at the hands of Israeli settlers. In the city of Hebron and in villages like at-Tuwani, Israeli extremists harass Palestinians, sometimes shooting or shooting adults and children. These settlers do not represent mainstream Israeli opinion and illegally occupy West Bank land that once belonged to Palestinians.

Queries: How many times have we added our voices to the mob’s, kicked someone when she was down? It isn’t that it’s easier for us to attack someone who’s weakened, it isn’t easier; it is necessary. We need you to fall, so that we can see you as different, as disappointing, as worthy of our hatred.

Station Eight: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

A large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented him. Jesus turned to them and said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children, for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.' At that time, people will say to the mountains, ‘Fall upon us!' and to the hills, ‘Cover us!' for if these things are done when the wood is green what will happen when it is dry?" Luke 23: 27-31
All women living in Jerusalem bear the cross of division. Palestinian women must negotiate the realities of living in a national limbo. As Jerusalemites, they are not treated as citizens of Israel, but neither to they hold West Bank or Gaza ID cards. They must have home demolitions, substandard social services, unfair tax burdens, and harassment at the hands of Israeli police and other power holders. Israeli women living in Jerusalem must bear the burden of a national policy of violence, colonization, and injustice. Many live in fear of suicide bombing and all suffer from a national budget which priorities military power over human needs. But we can thank God that some Israelis and Palestinians are choosing to work together to end the occupation. The brave example of organizations like Women in Black shines for all of us.

Queries: How many times have we contemplated your Passion, Lord, and wanted to cry for you? How many times have we wanted to weep because of your pain, and not because we caused it? How often have we blinded ourselves to our complicity in violence by feeling sorry for the victims?

Station Nine: Jesus falls a third time

Palestinians bear the cross of movement restrictions. As they travel through the West Bank, Palestinians are blocked by more than 500 different road blocks, checkpoints, gates and other barriers. These restrictions prevent economic development and keep Palestinians from going about their normal lives.

Queries: How many times have we seen another’s weakness as an opportunity to shape them, to change them into what we want them to be? How many times do we take advantage of the fact that you are too weak to resist, Jesus, and fasten you to the Cross?

Station Ten: Jesus is stripped before the crowd
When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four shares, a share for each soldier. They also took his tunic, but the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top down. John 19:23
Palestinians bear the cross of humiliation. Like Jesus, Palestinians, especially women, are regularly subjected to strip searches and sexualized harassment as they enter or exist the Palestinian territories or at checkpoints within their homeland, as they travel from their homes to their schools or markets.

Queries: How many times have we branded someone with a scarlet letter? Drunk, convict, weakling? How many times have we labeled our brother or sister, so as to set them apart, reduced them to nothing by using shame?

Station Eleven: Jesus is hung on the cross
When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him and the criminals there, one on his right, the other on his left. [Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."] Luke 23: 33-34
Like Jesus, Palestinians also face torture. According to human rights lawyers with Addameer, Palestinians who are arrested by Israeli authorities face mistreatment ranging from beatings, to being force prisoners to sit on a tiny chair with hands and feet tied, sleep deprivations, and violent shaking, to psychological games and humiliation. As the majority of Palestinian men spend time in Israeli prisons, this torture is a national scar that touches every Palestinian community.

Queries: Mute with horror, we stumble to our homes, as though the earth were moving under our feet. The ground itself seems unsteady as we contemplate a world without violence. On what will we stand?

Station Twelve: Jesus dies on the cross
It was now about noon and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon because of an eclipse of the sun. Then the veil of the temple was torn down the middle. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit"; and when he had said this he breathed his last. Luke 23: 44-46
At least 1,021 Israelis and 4,070 Palestinians have been killed since September 29, 2000. We must morn all deaths caused by the conflict and occupation. Equally importantly, we must examine the ways in which we are complicit in these deaths and begin to work for justice and peace.

Queries: How often, O Lord, have we fled our own horror, left the care of the dead and the dying to others? How many times have we let our fear of the power of death drive us into hiding?

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