20 Years of Pilgrimage–“Come and See”
Twenty years ago a handful of American Christian pilgrims, scandalized by the injustice they had witnessed in the Holy Land, and learning of the role of the U.S. in supporting Israel’s ongoing illegal military occupation of Palestinian land, were inspired to take up the Palestinian cause back home, to educate their fellow Christians and church leaders, and build a movement with the ambitious goal of changing U.S. policy in the Middle East. It was 1996, a year of Likud incitements on Haram al-Sharif, bus bombings in Jerusalem, and a Sabeel international conference with hundreds of participants, including many Americans, that concluded with the World Council of Churches International Advocacy Week.
But back home in the U.S. our Sabeel Friends were discouraged by the apathy and ignorance they found in their faith communities. Palestine was a remote reality, a place read about in history books, a name that invoked TV news of terrorists set on destroying the little country of Israel. Most American Christians did not know that Palestinian Christians even existed. It would not be an easy task to break through the fog of misinformation fed by the media and swallowed by God’s people in the pews.
“The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water,
and breeds reptiles of the mind.” ~William Blake
But how to break through America’s illusions of inviolability and triumphalism? Hats off to those first faithful, undaunted Friends of Sabeel who began planting seeds to win hearts and minds. They were like the first Christians set out to build the Kingdom of God in the midst of an unfriendly Roman Empire. Voices in the wilderness (sound familiar?). Through grassroots education in churches from 1996 to 2000, early FOSNA made great strides in bringing more awareness to the U.S. role in Israel’s military occupation.
In 20 years that tiny mustard seed planted in the fertile soil of steadfast faithfulness to the demands of Gospel justice has grown into a tree where the doves of peace have perched.
“a million birds on the branches of my heart,
are singing fighting songs.”
Twenty years is but a blip on the screen of history, but these years raised new consciousness among American Christians, thanks to hundreds of volunteers and thousands of financial supporters. Indeed, that mustard seed has gone wild, its roots going deep into the heart of things, its branches reaching up toward heaven and out to embrace the world. It is a symbol of faith and, as its name implies, it burns with a passion for justice.
“I came to set the earth on fire,
and how I wish it were already kindled!” Luke 12:49
FOSNA is now well-positioned to coordinate major national campaigns such as No Child Behind Bars/Drop G4S. G4S (Group 4 Securior), the world’s largest private security company, is complicit in violations of international law. G4S profits from the detainment and abuse of Palestinian children. This is in direct contravention to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The systematic attack on children and their parents, in Gaza and the West Bank, traumatizes an entire generation in an attempt to limit Palestinian self-determination.
FOSNA is leading the No Child Behind Bars/Drop G4S campaign to identify and expose G4S. Our Municipal Divestment Organizing Guide helps local groups identify contract renewal dates, map local power structures, form coalitions, and win. The momentum is building on this campaign, and we are excited to see local “Drop G4S” campaigns sprouting up all over the United States. Learn more on our website: http://fosna.org/howtostopg4s.
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you,
then they fight you, then you win.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi
We are confident in our foundation, our anchor, our rock, who is Christ the Liberator. We will carry on with this work of Sabeel, undaunted by a world spinning increasing toward violence. We believe the Kingdom of God is at hand, ours to discover, to nurture and release into the world. In prayer and in solidarity with our Palestinian friends, with the Peace of Christ, the Salaam of Christ, we will be called back to life.
Sister Elaine Kelley