Jerusalem: A city that made the Lord cry

by Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb

There is a church on the Mount of Olives called “Dominus Flevit,” a Latin word meaning “the Lord cries.” Jesus was expecting the destruction of Jerusalem brought by the Roman Empire, and this made him cry. The Lord still cries over Jerusalem because the leaders of the present empire are not able to realize “what makes for peace.”

The move of the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem earlier this year; the announcement by Israel to build 17,000 new housing units in Israeli colonies around Jerusalem within the West Bank, and the new Jewish state law that was passed by the Knesset on July 19th 2018 seem to indicate that our region will not have peace any time soon.

The creation of Metropolitan Jerusalem that would include the Israeli colonies of the Gosh Ezion Block north of Hebron, Maale Adumim, East of the Holy City and several colonies to the North of Jerusalem will leave Bethlehem and Palestinian neighborhood in Jerusalem like holes in the Swiss cheese. The new laws passed by the Knesset will constitutionally enshrine a Jewish supremacy, discriminate against the Arab Palestinian population in Israel, and exclude them by law from having equal rights as citizens. This is a recipe for a system of exclusion.

Jerusalem is key to peace. Jerusalem was highjacked by the Jewish and Christian “right.”  The move of the U.S. embassy by President Trump seems to have been orchestrated by an Israel lobby represented by three Jewish American people close to the president, supportive of the colonization of the West Bank, (Ambassador Friedman, special envoy Greenblatt, and the President’s son in law Kushner). But this moves caters to the evangelical base of President Trump. The two evangelical pastors who prayed at the opening ceremony of the American Embassy focused on the importance of Jerusalem in the Old Testament, but didn’t even mention that it is the city of the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus and home to the oldest Christian community in the world. While the importance of the city for Jews is understood, its importance for Christians and Muslims in general and Palestinian Christians in particular is ignored. This is not only a disappointment to over one billion Muslim people for whom Jerusalem is also holy, but also a blow to an even larger Christian community who maintain a vision for an inclusive Jerusalem shared by two peoples and three religions. Palestinian Christians feel abandoned and betrayed.

The Lord still cries over Jerusalem because the leaders of the present empire are not able to realize “what makes for peace.” Jerusalem and its inhabitants are still in dire need for a real peace that will put an end to its occupation, fragmentation, and to the discrimination against its Palestinian inhabitants. Only this will bring peace to this city called holy. Jerusalem is not and should not become Babel, where one nation builds towers and walls, enshrines one exclusive language, and sees themselves as God who reigns the world. Jerusalem should be the city where people come together, where diversity reflects the kingdom of heaven, and where justice kisses peace.

What is a stake these days is not the life of the Palestinian people. We will survive. We have survived numerous empires. None of them were able to prevail for good. What is really at stake is this vision of an inclusive Jerusalem: A city where Jews, Christian and Muslims can live together on equal footing. What is at stake is nothing less than the identity and spirituality of the city. It is therefore high time to speak up. It is high time to defend this unique inclusive nature of the Holy city. It is urgent for Christian, Muslims, and Jews of good will to act. For this reason we are putting a major conference on the theme of: “Jerusalem: What makes for peace?”

The conference will focus on the realities that exist in Jerusalem today. Participants will have the opportunity to hear latest analyses and authentic insights into the situation of Palestinian Christians in and around Jerusalem. The conference will bring together faith leaders and justice advocates from around the country to Houston who will discuss the prospects for peace in Palestine/Israel in the aftermath of the movement of the American embassy to Jerusalem and the new Jewish-Nation-state law.  

The conference will take place in Texas, the heart of the Bible Belt, to create space for an alternative and authentic American Christian voice that stands for an inclusive Jerusalem: a city for two peoples and three faiths.

This one day national conference to take place in Houston on Thursday, October 11th, will feature panels of notable peacemakers and justice advocates from around the world. It will outline actions for US churches to end the occupation in Palestine and will cast a vision for a shared Jerusalem based on equality, plurality, and diversity.

The day will culminate in an evening of Palestinian Arts and Culture at St. Paul United Methodist Church featuring music, art, culinary arts and performances by our Dance/Theater Troupe from Bethlehem, Palestine.

The conference presents a unique opportunity for people who are passionate about justice in Israel/Palestine and refuse to surrender their the vision for peace in the Holy Land or to submit to the forces of exclusion or supremacy. The conference provides these individuals with an opportunity to connect with similarly committed individuals and organizations to add their their voice and energy to a collective action before it is too late.

The conference is a follow-up to the Atlanta Summit, held in April 2016 at the Carter Center, that brought together the heads of churches in Jerusalem, American religious leaders representing 26 different denominations as well as executives of major church related organizations working in Israel/Palestine. I would like to invite community and religious leaders to join us in Houston and to defend the biblical vision of a shared and inclusive Jerusalem. Learn more and register here. If you can’t join us in person, tune in to the live stream of the event, and keep us in your thoughts and prayers. And help us spread the word about this historic event. Together, lets press into the vision of Jerusalem as a source of joy and a symbol of justice and peace.

Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb