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While the US threatens Iraq, Israelis and Palestinians continue to suffer

By S Ross Jones - posted Friday, 14 March 2003

Lent has now begun (at least for Western Christians) and never has it been more dramatic. Christianity gives us a vision of life as it can be, as God wants it to be. Last Sunday our Gospel lesson reinforced that vision with the Transfiguration, and this Sunday Jesus went into the desert for trials and temptations. We are now in that same desert in more ways than one.

The city of Jerusalem is extremely quiet. Security is very tight for no obvious local reason. Expatriates are leaving in droves, most of them ordered to do so by headquarters against their own wishes. The reason of course is the possible war in Baghdad. The quietness here, however, does not mean quietness in Gaza or the West Bank. Prime Minister Sharon was overwhelmingly re-elected, but was forced to form a government blatantly far right-wing and blatantly opposed to the existence of a Palestinian state. The results are obvious: Support for "transfer" (removal of all Palestinians to Jordan or somewhere else) has grown; Sharon has abandoned even verbal support for the Quartet's Road Map to peace and an eventual Palestinian state; 100 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli Defense Forces in the last two months, a great many of them civilians. Two were targeted assassinations by the IDF, including one political leader of Hamas; Portions of Gaza have again been occupied, a move earlier reversed by the USA, but the USA is now preoccupied. The Palestinian response has been with sniper attacks. Last week a Rabbi and his wife were killed in their apartment. A suicide bomber in Haifa also last week killed 16 Israelis, the first suicide bomber since early January. There have been sniper attacks on IDF soldiers, with several of them killed as well.

We condemn the useless loss of life on both sides, but we also need to condemn the provocation. A World Bank report this week put Palestinian unemployment at over 50 per cent with resulting malnutrition and falling educational statistics. Over 50 per cent of the five million Palestinians are living with an annual income of under US $2000 a year. Responsibility was laid directly on Israel's policy of keeping millions of Palestinians under house arrest, or "curfew". The only reason Palestine was able to hold a meeting this week to confirm the selection of Abu Mazen as Prime Minister is that Israel wanted it to happen badly enough that they agreed to the travel of the Members of Parliament. Meanwhile the United States announces it will not push for peace until after a war in Iraq, a war that virtually no one except President Bush and Israel seems to want but no one can stop.


Is there any wonder that the desert into which Palestinians have entered this Lent is the desert of despair? These people are once again caught in worldwide forces they cannot control. Those forces decreed that a portion of their homeland for centuries would be taken from them, no matter what they thought. That portion of their homeland has now risen to 78 per cent and there is a strong movement to "transfer" them from the remaining 22per cent. They no longer have the ability to resist, to feed their families, to work, or even to leave their homes without permission. They are totally at the mercy of international forces that overwhelmingly back Israel. The Christians in this land are particularly in despair. They are often pictured here as "Western", but a huge amount of Christian money flows to support the Israeli settlements that occupy their homeland. The Christians feel no one cares about them and that is one reason their percentage of the population here is now down to 1.5 per cent (from 23 per cent in 1968).

Perhaps this year we are all in the same desert of despair but even that desert can blossom with the grace of God. We simply need to work our hearts out that ALL people will resist the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and that ALL people will be treated with respect and dignity. God will work through us all, but we all need to work together. Is that too much for God to ask?

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This was first published as Dean Jones's e-newsletter, UPDATE on 11 March 2003.

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About the Author

The Very Reverend S Ross Jones is Dean of St. George's College Jerusalem.

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