BROTHERS AND SISTERS SUFFERING

(Full text of speech at Rally and Demonstration in St. Louis, Missouri on April 20, 2002, Calling for the End of the Occupation of Palestine)

I am happy to be able to be here speaking a word for peace in the world, particularly calling for peace in Palestine where great suffering is taking place. I am ready to state openly that the Palestinian people have been and are presently being greatly abused. I call for honesty in communicating the situation and a halt to hostilities, including suicide bombing, and the immediate cessation of the Israeli invasion of Palestinian towns.

I am happy to be a citizen of the United States of America. We have a wonderful nation which has as its base the value of every person. So we expect and call for our leaders to promote justice and security around the world.

September 11th was our wedding anniversary, so my wife and I had pleasant plans to celebrate. But the attack on the World Trade Center in New York changed that and has changed many things in all our lives. Now we are all trying to understand the nature of terrorism which attacks civilians in order to gain political or military advantage. In an angry response to the attacks here, our beloved country has declared war on what is considered the source of that attack. Our leaders have vowed to root out all terrorists, regardless of where they are in the world.

Even as the echoes of those statements are still ringing, we hear of innocent civilians killed by our American soldiers in our zeal to destroy the Al Qaida and their allies, the Taliban, in Afghanistan. Is there another side to terrorism which is state sponsored or condoned?

In his book, Vernon Can Read, the African American lawyer, Vernon Jordan, said that if people want to know about terrorism, they can learn from us (the African Americans) because we suffered terrorism. Although this meeting today is not about the injustice and suffering of slavery, let us encourage our African American brothers and sisters to put aside their historical anger from such suffering and help us as loyal Americans to understand that forgotten type of terrorism.

Some of us are so far away from terror caused by an army, or government, or a segment of society that we have lost understanding of an important aspect of human life. Many of you have recent history which can help us understand aspects of terror which we do not know. You can help us be responsible American citizens as well as responsible citizens of the world.

When I think of you who are Jews among us I know that you know the suffering caused by Nazi Germany under Hitler. That is your recent memory. You have the power to help us to know what it means to be treated as less than human. So please lay aside any remaining anger that you have against the rest of the world and help us understand that side of terror. Help us to understand so that we Americans, who make up the most powerful nation in the world, do not become oppressors and the perpetuators of terror.

Many of you are Palestinians who have been subject to humiliation and terror. We also ask you to put aside your anger and fear to help us understand a different side of terrorism. Be assured that some of us know many stories of your suffering.

My friend Hamiid Hoshi told me just what he saw a Jewish terrorist gang do to his family before the formation of the state of Israel. Apparently it was intended to be so terrible and brutal that the people in that area would flee. If that was the intent of the terrorists, they were successful, for the Palestinians fled to the safety of Lebanon. It was an ethnic cleansing before the term came into common usage. I have known his story for thirty years, but because I love my friend and felt his sorrow and because of the brutality of the event, even now I cannot easily speak of it.

Now something is new. A terrorist attack on our beloved United States caused a predictable response of anger and political posturing. So those who want war for one reason or another seem to be in control. We do see that it has the possibility of becoming a wider conflict. Could it be a political conflict? It is being described as an attack on democracy by those who want something else. Could it be a cultural conflict, with the West against the East? It already has something of an ethnic conflict. Could it be a religious conflict which pits Muslim people against everyone else. Religious conflicts turn out to be the worst of all.

I, myself, am not a political person. I am a religious person and from that aspect I think about this subject and speak to you. As an individual Christian I want to tell you what I am thinking about peace in the world. Sometimes in the past I have found myself positioning myself with people who think differently from me as a boxer places himself in front of his opponent, ready to strike out at his weak point. Then I realized that I need to have my attention on God. When I do, I find that I am standing beside the other person as together we stand before God and his truth.

I want to speak to you who are Jews as Jews and to you who are Muslims as Muslims. I am indebted to both of you but in different ways.

To you who are Jews I am happy to say that the Hebrew holy writings have been such a part of my life that I could not even think of myself apart from them. There we receive the wonderful message of righteousness which is even greater than religious observance. Listen to God’s message through the prophet Amos. “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings, I will not accept them and the peace offerings of your fatted beasts I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream. ” Amos 5:21-24

When I read this I know something about God and what he wants from us. I really believe that when I read this, the Holy Spirit of God speaks into my ear saying that wonderful international word, “Amen,” to the message. Then I have to either say, “Amen” or in rebellion I say, “No.”

When someone asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment of all he quoted Deuteronomy 6:4-5. “Hear, O Israel, The LORD our God is one LORD, and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” Then he said that the second was like it, quoting Leviticus 19:18 “...You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

To you who are Jews, I want to say that I know that the great suffering called The Holocaust has caused a great many of the Jews to feel that if there was a God, he was unfaithful to them. So many have turned away from faith in God. I want to say to all of you as a Christian and as a brother that your suffering can be understood in a different way. I say, and our Muslim friends would say to you, “Oh do not turn away from your faith in God.”

Perhaps a partial result of the Jewish suffering has been the great expectation for the modern state of Israel. Can it be that some Jewish devotion toward God is deflected to the political state. Let nothing turn you from faith in God.

I want to say to you who are Arab from the Middle East, both Christian and Muslim, that I have received from you more than I can describe. You have received me and my family with great openness and we have learned hospitality from you. Your emphasis on relationships have affected my very way of living. I have even picked up some fears that you have. I do not say, “I am going to travel to the state of Arkansas next week,” and leave it such a bold statement. I may change it a bit and say that I hope to do that, but always there is the understanding, “Insh’‘Allah,” (“if God wills”). I know God’s patience and concern for us, but I have a little fear not to say “Insh’‘Allah.” Do you know what I mean?

Now speaking to those of you who are Muslims, I want to tell you that I appreciate your emphasis on the one-ness of God. It is an emphasis that we Christians have, although you might not be able to see it. You may be taught that we do not have an emphasis on the one-ness of God. We Christians must be careful that we do not back away from your emphasis to start thinking that we have three Gods, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

We lived in Lebanon twenty years with the last ten in the midst of war. Sometimes our lives appeared to be in danger. The year before the war started we lived in Baalbek. We were there to encourage our friend, Fouaad, who was the pastor of a small church. We were the only Americans in the whole city. I found out later that our landlord and friend, Abu Ziki, often would go outside in the middle of the night and walk around with his gun to see that we were well protected. As the war became worse, he told me, “If anyone comes to bother you we will shoot them.” Certainly lawless people would come, and surely there would be a battle between them and Abu Ziki with his sons. So we fled to Jordan for refuge for a year.

Abu Ziki is my loyal friend. He felt obligated to protect me. In earlier times the people would have said that we had eaten salt together.

Speaking to you Muslims as a people, I think that you also have been disappointed in what the world has brought you. We know your history. We know your great belief that if you are with God and he is with you, he will give you victory. We are aware that with this great theological belief, the severe suffering of the Palestinian people becomes a great ache in the hearts of Muslims everywhere. So from Russia to Australia, from the United States to Indonesia there is somehow the feeling among Muslims that everything is out of joint. You who are afraid not to say “Insh’‘Allah” also would not accuse God of doing wrong, so I think that you may feel that something has gone wrong with your own lives. Some of you may question yourselves and your own dedication to God.

If you are normal Muslims thinking of the greatness of God and the greatness of Islam I think that you will believe that surely something can be done. The very idea of a mighty Muslim army funded with the great wealth of Arab nations makes your hearts beat faster. Is this the idea that pushed some to attack in New York? The very possibility of a great religious conflict makes our efforts for peace more urgent.

Now let me speak about Christians. Many cultural differences keep American Christians from understanding the people of the Middle East, particularly the Muslims. Christians here have a great sympathy for the country of Israel, partly because the news coverage. We need more relationship with people of the Middle East and more understanding of the situation. But for many Conservative Christians, their attitudes toward Israel is closely tied to beliefs about the end of the world.

In addition to the Muslims and Jews, Christians also have difficulty thinking about the great problems and changes in the world, even though we usually have not experienced great suffering. Some are overwhelmed with daily life and look for “signs” of the end of time. About ten days ago I met someone at a musical concert here in St. Louis. When he found out that I was a retired pastor he started speaking about his idea that the end of time was coming because of what was taking place with Israel. It was time to go to our seats, so I only had time to say to him that I thought that God had a lot of things taking place yet.

From all indications, the leaders of Israel are happy with that emphasis of Conservative Christians and draw political support from it, but they must realize the problems. It has danger for the Jews in general.

My late friend, Dr. Robert Lindsay, was the pastor of an international church in Jerusalem for many years. He lived there in 1948 when Israel was recognized as a country, so he was given Israeli citizenship. He made a study of the persecution of the Jews over the centuries. He said that time and time again Christians have had great hopes of the coming end of time with the Jews prominent in their hopes, but such expectations did not come to pass . So the hopes which were placed on the Jews changed to disappointment and then to anger because the Jews were just as human as anyone else. Then a shameful round of hatred and persecution would erupt on the Jews. Bob said, “Do not call the Jews ‘God’s Clock.’ Simply say, ‘God loves them and I do too’.”

But we may be able to see something symbolic in the actions of Israel. We have none other than the Prime Minister of Israel proclaiming this. He says that what he is doing to the Palestinians is the same as what the United States is doing in rooting out terrorists. I am afraid that he may be right. If so, then this great United States of America is setting out on a course of destruction around the world. Can you smell the stench of human bodies rotting in the ruins of Jennine in Palestine? Is this a portent of what we will be doing in the world? Let us mourn for brothers and sisters who died in Jenin and renew our efforts for peace.

Now what shall we do? Let us all start with an emphasis on God. This means that we will not give up on the idea that God is a God of miracles who breaks into life with his goodness. We look around and see miracles. We must not live with despondency or with the self centered idea that everything has to be only according to our strength.

An emphasis that Jesus made was that God is our Father. So I say that we must recognize the reality of brotherhood and sisterhood of the people in this world. A normal pattern in war is to consider the enemy as less than human, so it does not mean much if you kill him. We must reject that idea and hold to the idea that all people are brothers and sisters.

Let us work for the good of more than just our group. Justice and peace has to go across all lines, so let us call clearly for justice and security.

Let us have a new understanding of suffering. Suffering is not necessarily a shameful defeat. Suffering may not be noble either, but suffering can be creative and redemptive.

Let have a good grasp of who we are so that our identity is not determined by those who consider us an enemy. I speak as if I were a Palestinian. Do you know how Palestinians were considered 50 years ago in the Middle East? The Palestinians were considered the most intelligent, the best educated, and the most capable people of the Middle East. Now people consider Palestinians to be terrorists. Who caused this?

Be aware of the corrosive effect of war. Especially let us be careful what we teach our children and grandchildren. In 1975, George Bebawi, the head of the Christian Association of Theological Institutes in the Middle East spent a couple of days visiting in our home. He is a Coptic Christian. He was recovering from a poisoning attempt by the secret police of an Arab country. For what reason, who knows? Just do not think that any country or organization is perfect. He was in Beirut at the request of Palestinians for help with a serious problem. Their children were killing each other. They were being raised in an attitude of hate. The children had excessive anger even in their play. They were often taking up available weapons and actually killing each other.

Let us keep the record straight with truth. For example the false statement sometimes surfaces that the Jews and Arabs have been fighting for thousands of years so we can never expect peace. That is not true. Just to the west of the city of Tangier in Morocco is a river named “The River of the Jews.” Everyone knows that it got its name because boatloads of Jews landed there when they were escaping persecution in Spain in the 1400s. They found refuge in Morocco. We have met other Jews whose families fled to Turkey at that time. They were welcomed and given refuge. Many other examples exist.

Let us ask God for a spirit of compassion. We look again to the Hebrew scriptures for a wonderful message about compassion. And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of compassion and supplication, so that, when they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for and only child and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a first-born. (Zechariah 12:10)

Do you know what this means? When a young Israeli soldier is sent into such places as Jennine, and he comes face to face with a Palestinian man who feels responsible to protect his home, his family, they may try to kill each other. Probably one will kill the other, but what happens then? The spirit of compassion described is that the victor looks at the body of his enemy and e will weep. He will mourn deeply and honestly for the one that he has killed.

Let us ask God to give us peace and justice in Palestine. I close with the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi.

“O Lord, make me an instrument of Thy Peace!

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is discord, harmony;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light, and

Where there is sorrow, joy.

Oh Divine Master, grant that I may not

so much seek to be consoled as to console;

to be understood as to understand; to be loved

as to love; for it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.”

To this I say “Amen.”

The Rev. Dr. Emmett Barnes is a retired Southern Baptist Minister. He is former pastor of churches in Missouri, Indiana, and Morocco. He is a theological educator and the former president of the Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut, Lebanon. He lived in the Middle East for 31 years (1967-1998), in Lebanon, Jordan, Cyprus, and Morocco.)


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