The retirement of Bishop Younan and ordination of Bishop Azar.

Over the eighteen months that I have served here, of the church leaders in Jerusalem I have best got to know Bishop Munib Younan, the Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. During the last week he has stood down and his successor consecrated. Bishop Younan has been a strong and faithful supporter of EAPPI and it was in that connection that I first came across him at one of the handover services. Since working here I have had quite a lot to do with the Lutheran Church, and he has always greeted be as a colleague – inviting me to join in events that as a Methodist I had not been invited to. There is a sense in which he has seen some role as the Church leader with closest links to ourselves, and encouraged the fellowship.

On Wednesday there was a very grand farewell event for Bishop Younan in Bethlehem where there were very warm and extensive tributes. Clearly one of the highlights for his ministry had been the service of reconciliation that he co presided over with Pope Francis on the five hundredth aniversary of the Reformation. However there were many other accounts of the part he had played and of his willingness to speak out on subjects dear to his heart – none more so than the situation facing Palestinian Christians.

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I think it fair to say that it was a warm occasion for a much loved person.

The ordination of the new Bishop took place at the Church of the Redeemer in the Old City of Jerusalem. It was certainly a grand occasion with Lutheran Bishops from all over the world in attendence, and some of the Jerusalem Church leaders. There was also a congregation that filled the Church and spilled out into the street outside. It was a long service – starting at ten and not finishing until almost one o’clock. The new Bishop has been the minister in pastoral charge of the Redeemer Church for the last thirty years usually known as Pastor Barhum. He has a reputation as a good and faithful pastor. I don’t know him very well – I have spoken to him a few times but on the whole our paths haven’t crossed. I hope to get to know him more in this his new role.

Photos do perhaps tell the story of the service better than words. It was a happy and confident occasions – my prayers are with the new Bishop.

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In the Jerusalem District Court.

In 2014, 17 year old Nadeem Nawara was shot dead during a protest in the West Bank village of Beitunia. Over the years since there has been a protracted legal process with accusations and counter accusations. The shooting was caught on video, which at one time the authorities said was fake, then some CNN footage came to light and that has been forensically analysed and shooting angles and timings of the shots have indicated that a member of the “Border Police” (an armed Israeli security force that often works closely with the army but whose personnel are paid professionals rather than conscripts) – Ben Deri – fired the shots. If you google “the shooting of Nadeem Nawara” you will find the video analysis.

As a part of the legal resolution of the case a plea bargain has been agreed but the question of sentence is still open with the defence asking for community service but the prosecution asking for a long custodial sentence. The family appeared in court this week being given their first chance since the plea bargain to press their case for a custodial sentence- and to express their feelings. The Nawara family are Muslim but had made it known that they would appreciate the presence of International Clergy as they feel this helps them to be heard. There was a lot of press present, before mid day – the case was scheduled for 12-30. I and a clergy colleague arrived in plenty of time – and was told that if there was insufficient room we would not be allowed in as priority was for the family. This was all said perfectly pleasantly – and of course I understood that. In the event the case was moved to a larger court and there was plenty of room for all.

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The family with arriving in court.

The family arrived late. They had to come through the Qualndia checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem, and they were held there for a time. They, like most Palestinians, need permits to come to Jerusalem and even though they had them, and they were coming to an Israeli court, they were held up and so the case didn’t get going until about three quarters of an hour after it should have done.

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Siam Nawara, Nadeem’s father on the middle left.

When the case began it started with Nadeem’s father, Siam speaking to the court and explaining fully why he felt a severe sentence was needed. There was some hiatus when the Palestinians present complained that the translator was not saying correctly what the father said, and a replacement translater was brought in.

The proceedings were in Hebrew, so it was inevitably difficult to follow what was happening.  With the late start I was only able to stay for the first hour. I was glad to be there and observed a number things:

There seemed very little effort to help the family understand the process taking place. Siam had impressive poise and patience despite the emotion of the occasion and the difficulties before him.

The Judge did seem to listen to the translation and his manner towards the father was sympathetic and concerned.

This was in contrast to the twenty or so supporters of the defendant – Ben Deri. While the father was speaking to the court they were on their phones – texting not talking, – but showing their phones to each other and laughing at what they were looking at. I was horrified by their behaviour at a time when the dead adolescent’s father was speaking, it was disrespectful.

There were two court stewards to moderate the behaviour of those present. They stood amongst the Palestinians occasionally telling them to be quiet. While I was there I didn’t see them once seek to challenge the behaviour of the Isralei supporters of Ben Deri.

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After I left, the case was again postponed without sentencing having taken place.

I had mixed feelings about having been there. I felt that there was an openness on the part of the court authorities to us being there, and none of the rudeness that you so often get at checkpoints. At the same time I felt deeply for the family who having lost their son showed such dignity and patience with a process that left them always at a disadvantage. They clearly felt pleased that I was there and so that justified my presence in my opinion.

Jerusalem Clergy together.

One of the complexities of being at the Methodist Liaison Office is that we relate both to Jerusalem and to the West Bank, most directly – Bethlehem. It can also be one of the pleasures, especially at this time of year when ecumenism in Jerusalem is more evident than at other times of year. In two weeks time it will be the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Today it was the gathering of the Church Leaders and Clergy of Jerusalem for Christmas and New Year Greetings. You will of course remember that we are here in the middle of the Christmas Season, two down, the Western and the Orthodox- and the Armenian Christmas still to come! It’s a good place to be if you like Christmas!!

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It is surprising just how many clergy there are in Jerusalem! We were hosted by the Greek Orthodox Patriach. After formally being greeted by a number of Greek Orthodox Priests, none of whom I know though perhaps I should, the Patriach himself then received each of us. I made a point of saying that I came with the greetings of World Methodism – he looked none the wiser!

We then had a series of speeches from the heads of the seven churches that form the “Jerusalem Church Leaders’ Group.” It was interesting what each spoke about. There was clear affirmation of the status of Jerusalem as a city of three faiths and two people. There was some comment about the hostile reception the Greek Patriach had received in Bethlehem as a result of the strong views about the sale of property near Jaffa Gate, and some genuinely warm personal greetings. I really get the impression that the church leaders do personally get on well together. There was also greeting to Bishop Younan, the Lutheran Bishop who stands down this Friday on the ordination of a new Lutheran Bishop to lead the Lutheran Church in the Holy Land.

While these speeches were taking place around came a liqueur chocolate, with a glass of (very) alcoholic drink, which I had never tasted before. I am told that it was a Greek form of cognac called “Metaska,” I think that I liked it – I might have to try it again to make sure!!! Then a little later a cup of arabic coffee. I noticed one elderly clerical gentleman fast asleep in the speeches (perhaps after the cognac)! There was a time of conversation and then photographs, the one below and then one with everyone in!

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You might notice that they were all men in the photo above – there were some women clergy there – but not many.

It was good to be a part of.

Back to the Cremisan Valley.

For generations Bet Jala, the area of Bethlehem I live in, has related to the Cremisan Valley. The olive trees that keep the green appearance of the valley throughout the seasons are tended by people living in Bet Jala. The Cremisan Monastery has employed people from Bet Jala for well over a hundred years to tend the vines of its vineyards. Cremisan Wine is known the world over – and even confirmed Methodists such as myself enjoy a bottle from time to time!

I called at the winery to catch up on where things were with the extension of the Separation Barrier into the valley. It’s now all built, both sides of the one road into the valley – but the road itself is left open and the barrier breached as yet by the passage of the road.

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Looking from the Cremisan road to the Separation Barrier now built into the valley.

The people working in the winery still have no idea when or if the road joining them to their historic constituency will be closed to them. They arrive every morning not knowing what will confront them.

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The sign outside the winery.

For months there were weekly demonstrations against the Barrier being extended through the Cremisan Valley but the campaign was lost when the Supreme Court ruled against the protesters. Now there remains no resistence here, but it seems so sad that a hundred and thirty years of relationships between Bet Jala and the Monastry is now threatened as it is. It will affect tourism, employment and the whole feel of the area. Moves afoot to complete the Separation Barrier to the west and south of Bethlehem are already creating huge anxiety and promise to make life for Palestinians all the more difficult when the barrier is completed in this area. It is difficult to see any security value in this part of the wall. The fact that the Cremisan Road has been left open so long illustrates that, – but the “land grab” is clear for all to see, and if the signs coming out of the Knesset are accurate – we face a lot more heartache in this area over the next few months.

New Graffiti in Bethlehem!

Having been away for two months I was fascinated to see some of the new graffiti, most of it on the “Wall” but some elsewhere. I thought that in this blog I would publish some of the better graffiti!

Outside the WalledOff Hotel on the 100th aniversary of the Balfour Declaration this contribution to the wall art was added.

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I have already used the following one but I think it stands a repeat as it fits so well my feelings over Christmas 2017.

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The following one is one that I am sure we could use in many different places.

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Some of the Graffiti just makes you smile!

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Some of the graffiti simply leaves you feeling good.

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Some of the Graffiti makes you want to simply say – yes I agree.

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Some is all about solidarity.

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Do we live in an age of Graffiti? It seems to me that whether you live in Bethlehem or any other major city that the best of the graffiti is so much better than it used to be….. or am I just getting old?

Christmas 2017 – Bethlehem 2.

Amidst the frequent demonstrations and even more frequent use of tear gas (such that my eyes smart almost constantly as the gas hangs about in small quantities for days after use) – the Christian Community of Bethlehem have been celebrating Christmas as they’re have for the last two thousand years in this town.

Angleena and I were asked to lead Advent prayers at Wi’am three days before Christmas. Wi’am is the Palestinian Conflict Resloution Centre, located directly in the shadow of the Wall. A “skunk gun” on the wall is a constant reminder that this is the front line of the troubles and every Wednesday and Friday there is trouble here – and not unusually on other days too. Yet we sang carols with gusto and prayed for peace in the land where the Prince of Peace was born.

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Inside the Wi’am building.
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In the shadow of the wall.
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Outside at Wi’am

I was invited to the Christmas assembly at the Hope School, where – like teenagers everywhere, there were some youngsters keener than others to sing the Christmas Carols!

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At the Christmas Lutheran Church in the centre of Bethlehem the 5pm evening carol service was a great affair- with President Mahmoud Abbas in attendance. It was a service of worship and praise expressing the wonder of the incarnation – but the sense of betrayal at the American recognition of Jerusalem, was also very evident.

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At St Andrew’s Jerusalem the midnight service was accompanied by torrential rain, but we still had a very good congregation. For years St Andrew’s has had a midnight service attended very largely by local Jews and others who only come on Christmas Eve, and so in the place of a Communion Service we do a service of lessons and carols and the message of Christmas was heard again.

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Mary and her husband Labib by the St Andrew’s Christmas Tree.
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Symbolically knocking down the Wall, in the Christmas Service.

On Christmas Day at St Andrew’s we joyously celebrated Christ’s birth but completed the Advent theam of knocking down the Wall (within the service we noted that this firstly stood for the Wall between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, but also stood for the walls we erect between ourselves).

In difficult circumstances – the Christians of the Holy Land have again wondered at the birth of their Saviour. Glory to God in the Highest!

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The crib in Manger Square.

 

CHRISTMAS 2017 – BETHLEHEM 1.

Returning to Bethlehem just before Christmas led to me prioritising a series of conversations with key people around the work of the Methodist Liaison Office with the hope of picking up the situation here. So much has changed in the two months I was away!

The first thing that I noticed in Bethlehem was the lack of people, or rather lack of internationals. U.S. citizens are advised not to enter the West Bank after President Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. That has had a knock on effect across the international community and there have been thousands of cancellations in hotels and guest houses. Some have now closed until the new year as they had so few guests it was simply uneconomic to stay open. One of the shop keepers said to me that “during the autumn, we were seeing a gradual increase in pilgrim numbers but then after Trump the numbers plummeted.” One of the Tour operators commented that he was beginning to complain about being so busy and then suddenly he had cancellation after cancellation. He is now doing some guiding work to at least get some income.

On the day before Christmas Eve I walked along Star Street. Usually at Christmas it’s thronging with people – the three of us who were together, almost had the street to ourselves.

I did rather like a piece of graffiti I saw that in some ways seems to sum up Christmas this year:

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When Christmas Eve came along there was quite a good crowd in Manger Square but they were almost all Palestinians. The decorations though were very good. I did like the Christmas tree and the crib which had this year been given by the Vatican. There were also some interesting posters in Manger Square:

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In West Jerusalem there are posts saying “God bless President Trump.” I hope to photograph one if I can (though they are on busy roads and its not always easy to do so), and will post it if I can. The division between Israelis and Palestinians seems wider than ever, but then that is what you would expect.

There is considerable concern over what 2018 might hold.