Middle East

Funding Weapons & Expecting Peace

By J.C. Mitchell

I was mistaken for a Mexican. It was 1994, and I was living in Belfast, Northern Ireland. There was a group of college-age men I knew that were obsessed with American Westerns.  These young men had jokingly referred to those from the Free State (Ireland) as Mexicans.  It was not a derogatory term, for some I knew had close ties with the RA (The Irish Republican Army or IRA), but those brothers and sisters from “south of the borders,” were referred to in this group occasionally as “Mexicans,” because of their obsession of classic Western Films.  Because I picked up a mild brogue when I lived in Belfast, they just assumed I was from the Free State.  They were utterly confused I did not know much about Westerns, or cared. 

I was living there working on my Division III for my undergraduate degree from Hampshire College, which can be best explained as my senior thesis. I studied at Queen’s University and in the Public Houses, as most students would.  Students came from both the Loyalist and Republican enclaves, with a smattering of people from the mainland (UK) and the continent, and one American.  However, America was certainly present beyond just me—not only in the references to Westerns, but in the Chicago Style Pizzeria, (a shame they didn't get authentic Connecticut Pizza), and especially the funding of the RA by the Republican diaspora in New York and Boston throughout the decades before. 

Now the Troubles, the term used for the conflict, is very complicated.  It is both a very old conflict that goes back centuries, and during the 20th century it should be described as a civil rights conflict that happened because of colonization.  It is not unlike the conflict in the Middle East--everyone claims it is a religious conflict, but it is actually a conflict based on ethnicity, where those of privilege are supported by the state.  Actually the privileged were supported by an armed and ruthless police state, and in response, the oppressed have done the same, to fight back, making the analogy quite interesting.  Now for various reasons the peace process has progressed on the island my grandparents are from, but there seems to be no progress in Palestine/Israel.

I am not sure what the solution is, but I know one thing we can do in the USA: Stop funding weapons.  When the Irish diaspora stopped funding the IRA and began instead funding their Independent Retirement Accounts, and the United States also allowed Gerry Adams a visa and thus allowing criticism of the violence from the UK, the US finally got out of the way, and greater dialogue was encouraged. USA influence may have continued with television, movies and pizza, but it ended with the funding of weapons and lifting the censorship of the oppressed.  This helped lead to the Good Friday Accord, and the continued work of peace.  

So when I hear we are funding weapons in the Middle East, and we censor the voices of the oppressed, what are we expecting?  I am not suggesting simply being xenophobic and letting them figure it out, but if we call for peace and fund one side and essentially censor one side, what do we expect? 

We are not talking about just some money collected in bars in NYC and Boston; we are talking multi-million dollar funding of weapons.  May we not be known only as cowboys who only answer with the gun or hired gun, for we should know that violence never creates a peace that lasts.  

 


Tearing Down Walls

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By Dr. Mark Poindexter 

In the spring of 2010, due to the gracious generosity of the congregation I am part of, I was given the opportunity to spend twelve days in Israel and Jordan.  It was an amazing experience spending time in the place that I have spent much of my life learning about.  I rode in a boat on the Sea of Galilee and I floated in the Dead Sea.  I stood on top of Mt. Nebo and gazed, just as Moses did, into the land of promise.  I placed a prayer in the Western Wall of the Temple, walked the streets of Old Jerusalem and spent a day in the town of Bethlehem.  We celebrated communion on the Road to Emmaus, plunged ourselves into the Jordan River, and stood quietly next to the hill known as “The Place of a Skull.” It was a most memorable trip.

The most moving part of the experience, however, was not in visiting any of the historical places that play such a central role in my faith.  It was instead visiting the Palestinian Children’s Hospital in Jerusalem.  There Palestinian children, like the young girl pictured above, received care for chronic illnesses or were treated because of accidental injuries.  We were graciously received by the head doctor of the hospital, by the nurses and the social workers, and by the children as well.  One aspect of this hospital trip that was deeply disconcerting for me, however, was the near complete absence of the fathers of these children. Though mothers were everywhere to be seen, there was hardly a father anywhere.  I asked if this was because the fathers were at work. I was told for a very few that was the case, but for most their absence was the result of the family being from Bethlehem and it being nearly impossible for young adult males to get beyond the wall that Israel had put up in a proposed effort to stop suicide bombers.

I had seen the wall the day before when my group went to Bethlehem.  The wall is 468 miles of 25 foot high concrete slabs.  Israel calls it a security barrier. Others call it an Apartheid Wall.  What I call it is ugly.  The true extent of its ugliness became clear to me as I heard that it was keeping fathers from being with their hospitalized children.  To go to Israel is to go to a land of deep division.  Division between Palestinians and Israelis, along with division between Christian, Jew and Muslim.  Even the church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is divided up among the Roman Catholics, the Greek Orthodox and the Armenian Apostolic Church with each having a section of the church that they are responsible for. We hear a lot in the news about these divisions and the strife that results from it; along with the political, ethnic and religious reasons for it.  I know the matter is historically very complex.  But on the day that I visited the Palestinian Children’s Hospital the only division that mattered to me was that a father wasn’t allowed to be with their child.  It made me deeply sad and very angry.

You see, I have a daughter with a chronic illness.   Her illness resulted in one long stay in a children’s hospital and now she is required to go back every two months for treatment.  Along with my wife, I was with my daughter during her hospitalization and have accompanied her on many of her follow-up treatments.  The thought that I could not be with her during that time is a very difficult one to fathom.  History, religion, politics be damned . . . you keep me from my daughter then you and I have got a big problem.  One whose only correction is to let me be with my child.

I suppose the reason I tell this story is because behind the historical and political landscape through which we often hear the stories of other places are the very human stories of  children and parents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, neighbors and friends.  People who, in more ways than not, are just like us. They laugh, they cry, they play, they work, they try to provide for their families and they worry about their children.  After visiting the Palestinian Children’s Hospital, I was continually haunted by the thought of living in a place where a father would not be allowed to be present with his ill child – not because he was in jail or had done anything wrong, but simply because of who he was, a Palestinian man.

Of course, I do live in such a place for I live as a part of this world. As do all of us. Whatever our race, whatever our nation of origin, whatever our language, whatever religion we might practice, whatever political system we might be part of,  we all live together in this place. And we need to find a way to tear down the ugly walls that we too quickly and too often erect between each other.  We need to try and understand that we have much more in common with one other than we realize.  There will always be voices who say the walls, literal and figurative walls, are necessary for safety and security and to establish one’s own sense of identity. I fervently believe they are wrong.  All those walls ultimately do is continue to breed anger and hatred and, thus, perpetuate the cycle of violence. 

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For those of us who happen to be Christian, we have been given, according to the scriptures, the ministry of reconciliation . . . the ministry of tearing down the walls of hostility that exist between people (Ephesians 2:14).  It is our work.  It is the heart of the gospel.  And we need to be about our work with great diligence.  This is so for many reasons, but one I know of personally is that there are some young Palestinian children and their fathers who need the opportunity to be together.