I was connected with Sami El-Yousef in a pretty amazing way—as many of my connections have been throughout this project—so I will take a moment to share it with you all. Sami is a Palestinian Christian living just inside New Gate, one entrance to the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. His brother-in-law attends the Presbyterian church in Claremont, CA, where I went to preschool. When I moved back to Claremont last August, just before I embarked on my trip to the Holy Land last fall, I happened to attend worship at the church because I heard they were inviting congregants to sign letters during the service for Presbyterian pastors in Lebanon and Syria (some of whom I had met while visiting the region in 2014). Following the service, I was introduced to a couple, the El-Yousef’s, by the pastor (who knew of my work in the Middle East) who were originally from Lebanon and Palestine! The husband informed me his brother and sister-in-law were coming into town from Jerusalem and invited me to join them for dinner one night to meet them. Long story short, it worked out for me to stay with the El-Yousef’s in Jerusalem when I traveled to the Holy Land that September.
I arrived to find a large, 100-year old compound built by their grandfather—a two-story, white stucco, four-house complex with a large communal garden in the back (very rare in the Old City). My first evening there, members from the extended family gathered in the garden and there I met Sami. Sami works for the Pontifical Mission, an organization started by the Catholic Church in response to the Palestinian refugee crisis, which reached its first pique following the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 when many Palestinians were driven out or forced to flee the Holy Land. Intended to be a temporary agency they have had to continue their temporary work for 70 lengthy years now. They still hope one day there will no longer be a need for their presence and they can close up shop. For now, they persist in their arduous and invaluable work. I met Sami at their headquarters to learn more—a short walk down the stairs of their homestead to the main floor, out the front door to the door just beside it.
After settling into his office and requesting tea, we began our conversation.
Everyone in the region has experienced significant changes over the last 70-100 years, four different occupying powers have shifted the dynamics of Palestinian life especially. One's birth certificate may in fact imply quite a bit about what a Palestinian living in what is now the State of Israel has witnessed, the internal and external challenges they have faced, and even their outlook on the current situation.
Despite continuous upheaval in many areas of their lives, Palestinian Christians find constancy within the church and their faith.
The many shifts in leadership as well as significant demographic changes take their toll nonetheless and have affected Palestinian Christians in some unique ways.
So what do Palestinian Christians make of all of this and how does it affect them?
In the midst of such struggle and challenge, who to respond more attentively and compassionately to these needs than the church, believes Sami.
We shifted gears and I asked him about his thoughts on the two-state solution.
As for settlements and their effect on arriving at a solution to the conflict...
As settlements continue to flourish and spread a solution to the conflict that involves creating two states according to borders originally drawn in 1967 becomes increasingly bleak—impossible really. The evacuation of a few thousand settlers from Gaza continues to be an ordeal, what of hundreds of thousands?
For Sami, the increase in settlements puts into question the intentions of Israel of a two-state solution.
Israel is thriving in many ways and has great potential, but attempting to progress forward while in tandem constricting the flourishing of its Palestinian citizens and neighbors through military occupation and discriminatory laws it is both hindering its advancement and marring its global reputation.
Speaking with Sami his deep love for his homeland and hopes for Israel were evident. Yet, with such great affection comes greater heartache at the appearance of its trajectory.
Divine Love, may this be the year the occupation ends. It has continued 70 years too long. May this be the day we seek to know one another better. May this be the moment we are motivated to pursue a good that serves all and not only ourselves. May we work for the justice, equity, and peace of all our neighbors and all of creation that we might know the joy of harmonious living. That we might experience the fullness of life that comes from Love.
Sign A Petition of solidarity with Palestinian political prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails in order to bring an end to their inhumane and illegal treatment.
Washington Post Article: An excellent article in the Washington Post concerning how to best support Palestinian Christians and Israel as an American Christian. "...It could be as simple as holding a church fundraiser for NGOs in Palestine working for gender equality or organizations that support local jobs to ease the region’s high unemployment. It could mean starting book clubs to read nuanced works such as “The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East” that compassionately weave together the stories of Israelis and Palestinians who both love the same land. It could mean not giving up on the peace process, or even lobbying U.S. representatives to work towards a two-state solution, which many (though not all) Israelis also support."
B'Tselem* article and video: While the State of Israel refuses to cease illegal settlement building and remove settlements from the West Bank and East Jerusalem they continue to unroot Palestinians from East Jerusalem and create new neighborhoods for Jewish people only, a recent B'Tselem article and video on the neighborhood of Batan al-Hawa explain. (*B’Tselem is The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. There you can also find interactive maps of the occupied territories.)