Empires come and go. That’s what history teaches us. It also teaches us that those empires that focus on their longevity as their primary goal eventually implode. This is why the repeated and resounding message of the Old Testament is that the people who call themselves ‘God’s people’ must focus on justice, mercy and faithfulness – longevity might or might not be the result, but that is not important.
Empires that make their own security their primary goal will usually compromise justice, mercy and faithfulness and the empire will find its days numbered – however strong and powerful it looks to be at the moment. Hubris carries within its womb the seed of its own destruction.
This is one of the conversations running today as our group of visitors to Israel-Palestine continues to explore the land of Abraham, Moses, David, Jeremiah, Amos and Jesus. But there are also encouragements to be found in sometimes surprising places and for sometimes surprising reasons.
The Princess Basma Hospital sits on top of the Mount of Olives in territory that is indisputably Palestinian. The hospital (which also comprises a school) does brilliant work with disabled children and their families. Children are admitted with their mother for anything between two weeks to two months. The mothers are taught to reject the shame of bearing a ‘not-perfect’ child, while also being given programmes and routines for the caring and nurturing of their child once back at home. They do particularly good work with hearing-impaired children, but they also have a workshop for making artificial limbs.
The hospital is now suffering from diminished interest from Christians and the restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and the difficulty of movement. It costs $120 per day per child, but only some of the money comes from the Palestinian Authority and insurance.
The encouragement comes from the fact that the Israelis and the Palestinians have to cooperate to some extent for the sake of these children. The children can’t be schooled in Israeli schools (where Hebrew is the main language), so the Israelis assist with medical procedures and enable the Palestinians to provide the schooling.
Another case of the children (the most vulnerable) forcing the adults to work together?
Today was a day of contrasts. The relative peace of Gethsemane – and the place where Jesus looked over to Jerusalem and wept at its blindness to its vocation and its fate – to the messy disordered order of the Church of the Resurrection (known in the Western churches as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – do a theological deconstruction of that and the implications of the choice of emphasis…).
Yet, everywhere you go the paths are worn and the steps polished by the feet of people trying to connect somehow with the God who in Jesus entered the mess of it all, walking and weeping in these places. As long as this earth continues, people will still come here, treading the dust, feeling rocks and living with the mystery of the Incarnation in a place of occupation and ambiguous justice.
Our conversations are, however, haunted by the injustice of Israeli ‘creep’ in land that they know is not theirs. The Jewish graves are taking land up the side of the Mount of Olives – land that will not readily be ceded in any future ‘peace’ process: you don’t surrender the places where your dead are buried (unless, like the Palestinians, you have no choice). Secondly, Israeli settlements are being established in places that are clearly not Israeli – a claim to place that will be hard to dislodge, whatever is agreed on high.
The settlement below is just a bit further down the road from Princess Basma Hospital – firmly in Palestinian territory. Its flag can be seen from everywhere in Jerusalem.
The weeping over Jerusalem is set to continue where justice and mercy and faithfulness are made subservient to the craving for longevity.