50 Years of Occupation (Part 2): A Reflection on Hope and Jerusalem Day

50 Years of Occupation (Part 2): A Reflection on Hope and Jerusalem Day

In my last post I reflected on Jerusalem Day, and as expected, it was a sight of aggression and provocation as young boys flooded the streets of the Old City with their yearly March of the Flags that always includes blatant racism and incitement that seem to be an intrinsic part of their celebration.  They worshipped nationalism enrobed in religious sentiments, throwing in chants of “Death to Arabs” as they made their march of “ownership” through the “unified” city, protected with dozens and dozens of border police and extra security.  They walked the alleys of the Old City banging on the doors of Arab shops, waving their Israeli flags.  

For others,  it was a time of emotional uplift as many throughout the city celebrated, and the day holds special meaning for many Jews who remember in less bombastic ways than the boys in their parade.  For some activists, Jerusalem Day was a day of resistance and solidarity with Palestinians, a time to put their bodies between the marchers and the Muslim quarter of the Old City.  And yet for other activists and people involved in peacebuilding, Jerusalem Day often ushers in a sense of despair.

So many of the colors that pierced the night sky just a few days ago in the Jerusalem Day celebration -- the blues, greens, and oranges from the Old City walls -- gather in this photo into an illuminated art form of a different type.  The artwork of the young woman featured above (or here for those of you having trouble seeing it) is entitled “Hope,” an oil painting by George Frederic Watts from 1886.  A woman sits upon a globe, yet it is not power she projects as one sitting on top of the world, but pain as she sits crumpled, blindfolded and broken, clutching her harp that is missing all but one string.  [1] The background is nearly empty, but a single star flickers in the distance, and light falls upon her from above, as if someone sees, knows, affirms her presence and experience.  

On days of triumphalism, it is easy to fall into despair.  Those celebrating on the streets commemorated liberation, unification, security, freedom of access to ancient holy places and ancestral lands, but Coretta Scott King’s words ring true here, Freedom and justice cannot be parceled out in pieces to suit political convenience. I don’t believe you can stand for freedom for one group of people and deny it to others.”  It seems things are precisely this way, and festivities surrounding the June 1967 War and Jerusalem Day mark how freedom and justice are carved in a politically convenient way so that it clearly benefits some and starkly denies others.  

At the same time, there is no time for hopelessness.  [2]  Those of you -- who look upon the words we write, who partner with us in your own means of activism, who view our picture of “Hope” constructed with words instead of brush strokes -- cast light upon our actions, frail as our position may be at this moment.  Even if we had another grand success to boast of, a truer liberation of people from oppression than the one the state boasts of on Jerusalem Day, it is helpful to again recall the words of Coretta Scott King that “Freedom is never really won. You earn it and win it in every generation.”  

For those of you who don’t know what action to take but to pray, then pray, and pray subversively. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods. The liturgical movement must become a revolutionary movement, seeking to overthrow the forces that continue to destroy the promise, the hope, the vision.” And then, find ways to turn your prayers into practice, moving them from your lips to your legs, as Heschel did as he walked alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., saying “When I marched in Selma, I felt my feet were praying.” 

As you labor in your own activism, in whatever form it may take, [3] know you are not alone.  As I sit and think and feel and act and write, I know that some of you look upon us, casting the warm light of your support and encouragement on our activism.  I know that some of you walk alongside us in local activism in your contexts.  I know that some of you hear the faint music as we pluck our last string and you respond with your own.  And I know I can keep going because I am not alone.  [4]


Notes:

[1] Jeremiah Wright gave a beautiful sermon on this entitled “Audacity to Hope” in 1990.

[2] In an earlier joint blog post, Bee and I discussed developing a sense of time constancy in order to effectively participate in change that seems beyond the horizon.

[3] For a short overview of four essential activist roles in social movements, see my earlier post “4 Activists and 4 Questions: A Passover Challenge for Social Change,” which briefly discusses the important contributions of the helper, advocate, organizer and rebel.

[4] For more posts highlighting injustices in Jerusalem and Jerusalem Day, see a few from some of my fellow bloggers: a joint blog post entitled “8 Perspectives: Hope for Jerusalem,” a post from a Palestinian Christian from East Jerusalem entitled “A New Jerusalem Day” and a post from a third perspectiver on the contrasts in Jerusalem entitled “Crawling and Dancing: A Portrait of Two Jerusalems.

 
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