By: John Darlington
In your despair, you would want to know, why? Why did the government send bulldozers to raze our house to the ground?
Eventually, an official will respond that your house was “illegal” and had been constructed without the proper government permit.
Your next two questions would be delivered with both despair and anger: “Why are our people subject to such requirements in the first place? Is this not the very property that my family has owned and lived on for centuries? Why are we told that we do not hold an official permit when we can produce a copy, and therefore proof?”
And so, after mountains of expensive red tape,and with the help of sympathetic neighbors, you build again. And again and again and again.
At what point will you give up on the land of your sacred ancestors?
Since 1967, over 26,000 Palestinian homesteads have been destroyed by Israeli bulldozers, including Beit Arabiya (“Peace House”) in Palestinian territory near East Jerusalem. Many Minnesota United Methodists have made pilgrimages, paid vigil and volunteered there. We helped to rebuild it through gifts received through our 2003 Love Offering for Missions.
Salim and Arabiya Shawamreh, who have lived in Beit Arabiya, visited Minnesota in 2004 (through the assistance of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries). Arabiya and Salim are Christian Arabs, among the few thousand who remain in Israeli-occupied Palestine. Beit Arabiya is their residence and their passion as they join with volunteers to teach the principles of non-violent resistance spelled out by Mohandas Gandhi and the Rev. Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. and lived out so resplendently by Jesus of Nazareth. What can be more practical than a house of peace that embraces Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and demonstrates how not to fight with each other or avoid one another, but to actually live together and pay homage to the land together (as Arabs and Jews did for so many centuries)?
When occupying forces destroyed Beit Arabiya again and again and again, we on the Minnesota Conference Palestine-Israel Justice Project Team have pondered with Salim and Arabiya that perhaps this last time was the last straw; that the time had come to seek a safer place.
But then we rejoiced to hear the miracle that the rebuilding was happening again.
True, not all United Methodists have wholeheartedly supported Peace House. “Why waste our precious dollars on such a doomed undertaking?” some have inquired. “Are there not more practical ways to address the needs of Palestinians without continually angering our staunch ally, Israel? Don’t the Israelis have a rightful claim to the Holy Land, and especially in and around Jerusalem?”
To clarify: Peace House sits on the West Bank, partitioned to Palestinians by the United Nations in 1948 and then illegally occupied by Israel following the Six-Day War in 1967. Our gifts to and advocacy for Peace House is an investment in what we hope will become a two-state solution defined by universal, just, and lasting peace. We hope that is a goal that we all can agree on.
At an annual conference session 2012, Minnesotans responded to the most recent demolition of Peace House (in January 2012), by calling on members of Congress to become informed about history of Beit Arabiya in particular and the 26,000 bulldozed residences in general. In a letter recently signed by Bishop Bruce Ough, we expressed growing concern for the displacement of children and parents and extended family members who have been victims of repeated home demolition. In our statement to legislators we pointed out that every single house that is destroyed results in a heartbreak that is unique to each individual family. Finally, we pledged to help construct Beit Arabiya a sixth time and invited our elected officials to help us do so.
The home of Salim, Arabiya, and their children was rebuilt for a sixth time in July 2012 (just two months following conference session). Jubilation reigned in East Jerusalem. Then, in late October of the same year, the terrible but all too familiar sound of military vehicles and bulldozers was heard again. For the second time in just ten months, and for a total of six times, the Shawamreh family stood by helplessly as their Beit Arabiya, “Peace House,” was razed to the ground.
In closing, we revisit the very practical question, why? For what possible reason do we continue to build and rebuild Peace House? Why on earth not find a more logical location?
The most beautiful answer there can be is that Peace House is no longer merely our house. Through all our prayers, suffering and rejoicing with our sister and brother, Arabiya and Salim, Peace House has now become our home. We are happy to share it, but we will never leave it.
John Darlington is a member of the Minnesota Annual Conference Palestine-Israel Justice Project Team.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church