Dheishe left me wondering where the church was. Here we were, in the very city where God put on flesh to make Himself tangibly known to humanity. As we made our way from Dheishe to the Church of the Nativity, I wondered if, like 2000 years ago, there was no room for Jesus here. Where was God today?
The ancient monstrosity that is the Church of the Nativity accompanied by the long train of tour buses carrying Christians to the site added significant weight to my struggle. Here was the church: we were tourists intoxicated by a desire to see where God incarnated once upon a time. The church was so fixated on the ancient narrative that we were blind to the contemporary one.
“God, incarnate again through people!” I prayed as I called my friend who lives in Bethlehem. Deciding not to enter Nativity, I chose, instead, to sip coffee with her and to meet some of her friends.
“How’s your head?” was her opening question.
Silence was my response as I watched tour guides compete for the attention of tour group after tour group.
Slowly, I began to articulate the messy, complicated couple of days that I had just lived. As I began to speak of the injustices of Dheishe, my friend’s phone rang. She answered, looked directly behind me and started laughing. I turned to see a young Palestinian man on his phone speaking emphatically to Christy. His name was Sa’id. He had been eavesdropping on our conversation and wanted to know if he could sit in our circle.
“Please!” I said, longing to develop friendships and to sort through both my internal mess and the mess of this place.
As Sa’id pulled his chair next to mine, I asked him to tell me his story. He began by pulling a green ID card from his pocket. It was the Israeli issued, Palestinian ID card.
“This,” he began, “gives me permission to feel free to stay right where I am.”
He pretended to tear it and then pretended to throw it.
“I hate this thing!” he said through gritted teeth. “I would destroy it if I could, but I cannot.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because if ever I am found without it by Israeli defenders, they will send me to prison.”
“Where was your family from?” I asked.
“Tekoa.” he said. “Once it was my family’s land. Now it is a Settlement.”
“How did that happen?”
“What do you mean, ‘How did that happen?'” he spat. “They came in with government papers and took it.”
“Was there a fight?”
Two tongue clicks communicated much: there had been no fight. What could they have done against the guns, tanks, and bulldozers of the Israelis?
Changing the subject, I asked, “Did you know that one of the prophets from my Scriptures came from Tekoa?”
“Amos!” he replied with pride.
“Do you know what God said to Israel through Amos?” I asked.
“Tell me.” He leaned in, obviously interested.
“Amos was a shepherd whom God invited to share God’s heart with Israel’s leaders.” I began. “He started by speaking of all of Israel’s enemies, identifying all that Israel’s enemies had done to them, and explaining what God would do to the enemies of Israel…Israel celebrated the words of Amos.”
Sa’id interrupted: “I do not like this man, Amos.”
“There’s more to the story.” I said, taking a sip of my Arabic coffee. “As Israel’s leaders celebrated, Amos had one more thing to say: ‘Israel, you are guilty of the same kinds of injustice against your enemies…you will reap what you sow.'”
Sa’id broke the silence: “I like this man Amos. He encourages Israel to be pro-people.”
“I like Amos too.” I said, “but I like his pro-people God even more.”
In that moment, some of my internal mess dissipated. If the church is God’s ongoing presence in the unique soil of the here and now, then our role is to be pro-people activists. Our work is to be the practitioners who make the compassion and justice of God real and who encourage others to do the same. Our work is to make the thoughts, words, and actions of Jesus real in the everyday.
In that moment, I also recognized that to be pro-Israel means that we encourage them to be pro-people. That is, we must push Israel into just practices with the Palestinian.