A prophet for peace

Published on: 1 September 2018

Bishop Graham says: “I always get Sami to speak to our pilgrimage groups since he is engaged in peacemaking between Palestinians and Israeli Settlers. Scarcely anyone else is attempting such dialogue.” Sami shares his personal view of a Christ-centered peacemaking approach.

The Calling to be a Peacemaker

Christianity’s values include compassion, peace, and love. Christians seek to pray for and take care of the needy, the poor, and the sick as Jesus did. We acknowledge that Jesus taught us to love all people as our neighbours, even our enemies. This stems from His love for us. We believe that Christ came to us through God’s love, and sacrificed His life on the cross out of his love for us (John 3.16).

If asked to recite a beatitude, Christians might well remember “Blessed are the Peacemakers.” This is at the heart of Christ’s message. His birth was even announced to the world as the birth of the Prince of Peace. From the Magi who came to honour him after he was born to those who witnessed his ascension, many saw him as the one who came to bring freedom and eternal peace to his people and the world.

As a Palestinian Christian, I grew up with these teachings of the Christian faith, like many around the world. From my youngest years, I heard my grandmother and father talk about how our faith calls us to be peacemakers, how we are called to continuously forgive those who hurt and insult us, and how we are always to turn the other cheek when we are slapped.

I admire my grandmother ‘Tata Huda’ who lost her husband in the 1948 war, after he was shot by a sniper. She, with seven children, was evicted by the Israeli forces from her home. She became a refugee with no past to go back to and no future to move towards. With all that she suffered, she taught her children and grandchildren never to seek revenge and retaliation for evil and harmful actions –– it goes against our faith.

The reality of ‘occupation’

My admiration of Tata Huda was countered by a reality that I was born and raised in –– an almost daily experience of the brutal Israeli military that controlled and suppressed every aspect of our life. It is hard to explain the deep fear and anger I grew up with, living under the Israeli military occupation.

As a child I saw armed soldiers walk the streets of Bethlehem abusing and hurting other Palestinians, some my age. I witnessed soldiers yelling at my father for no reason, and it hurt me. I stood with my parents outside Israeli military headquarters in the heat of the summer for many hours to get a piece of paper stamped, only to be told “come back tomorrow.” If you argued, you got in trouble. If you protested, you were arrested.
If you resisted, you could be killed. I grew up in a time where everything was denied for Palestinians. Even using the word “Palestinian” was a violation of Israeli military orders. It was not just occupation, it was humiliation. I grew up full of resentment.

I got it, or so I thought.

At the age of 12, my life changed when I was introduced to nonviolent resistance by my uncle Mubarak Awad. He founded the Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence. He began to teach nonviolence to the Palestinian community. He was arrested, abused, and insulted many times by Israelis for his work, even though he had many Israeli supporters. In 1988, he was deported from the land, lost all rights to live in the land where his ancestors lived and where he was born. The Israeli authorities deported him because he resisted the Occupation through nonviolence.

Through his work, I saw the possibility of achieving freedom and justice for Palestinians, as well as peace between Palestinians and Israelis. I also saw how the work of Christ, who fully committed himself to nonviolence, might teach me to be a peacemaker in my situation. I committed my life to this in order to end the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem (the 1967 occupied territories) and to establish peace, based on the framework of the two-state solution, one called Palestine and one called Israel.

In my mind, I convinced myself that this is what Jesus would be doing if he was living in my situation or any situation of violence in the world; he would stand with the oppressed against the oppressor, with the poor against the rich, with the occupied against the occupier. He would do this through nonviolence to reach a peace agreement. Through following what I thought were his teachings, I would live in freedom in a beautiful democratic state called Palestine, and Israelis would live next door in peace and security in their own state. All war would end.

However, I probably focused on the word “against” too many times for Christ’s liking.

We continue to give to Caesar, even ‘Peace’

In 1999, the peace process, known as the Oslo Peace process, which was meant to achieve a political peace agreement, collapsed. A time of incredible violence and pain followed as Palestinians clashed with the Israeli military and with settlers. The failure of the peace process was particularly painful. It took me on a deep quest to find out why we had failed to achieve peace. Why couldn’t we reach the agreement that everyone agreed to reach? On a personal level, I began to wonder if I was truly doing what Christ called me to be, if I was truly being a peacemaker.

While on my quest, I realized that there is a distinction between peacemaking as simple humans and peacemaking as Christ exemplified. We often mix the two together; we give to Caesar and think we are giving to God. The scripture which revealed this to me was Matthew 5:44: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” I never learned that when I did my Masters Degree in Conflict Resolution!

I realised we often look at peace in an earthly, political manner. This peace is not wrong, and Jesus did not deny Caesar his space in the world. Yet, he called his followers to something different, something greater. The peace of Caesar is the one that aims at reaching political agreements between nations and states, in order to maintain some sense of national stability, development, and prosperity. During the reign of Caesar, many peoples, groups and nations had peace and prosperity. This kind of peace is the dominating peace today and many of us think it is the only kind of peace to reach. This is our inhabited paradigm.

The peacemaking that Jesus teaches

While it is not wrong to seek political peace, Jesus calls us to that which transcends political and legal agreements. He calls for a peace that is embedded in the unity of the human family, a peace which is manifested in the fullness of heaven, which encompasses our earthly lives today.

He never presented a political manifesto. He never offered a political solution to the Roman-Jewish conflict in Palestine. He never engaged in shuttle diplomacy between Rome and Jerusalem, to bring conflicting views closer together. He never even held workshops of dialogue circles for people from ‘both sides’ to come and share their points of view and find common ground.

His actions on earth, nonviolent at their core, were to empower and heal the weak and to challenge and liberate the strong from their attachment to power. Now, his peace process is the journey of liberating us from the constraints that do not allow us to live our lives the way God intends.

Jesus heals in order to free us from trauma and fear. He shows us how to be motivated by love in all that we do – love is not only a means, but an end. He opens our eyes to see a vision of peace that is heavenly and beyond imagination, yet which can also be possible here on earth.

To be a peacemaker, as Christ calls us, means to sacrifice ourselves to be ready to face persecution, because it leads to peace greater than one Caesar can ever imagine. Jesus did not necessarily oppose the law but knew that we can do even greater things than the law offers.

In the context of the Holy Land, and in war situations around the world, this is the kind of peacemaker we need: peacemakers who are healed from fear and are fully motivated by love, who see everyone as created in the image of God, who are not only motivated by reaching a stable agreement, but also building the kingdom foundation that will sustain an agreement. This is love, justice, mercy, and equality for all.

Find out more about The Holy Land Trust here.  Read more of Sami’s writing at his blog site.

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