Tuesday, May 13, 2008

How Palestinian children really learn

How Palestinian Children Really Learn
by Carol Scheller via Electronic Intifada

On 22 March, The Miami Herald published an article entitled "Dreaming of a peaceful Mideast." The initial reaction to such a headline is naturally one of pleased interest. Reporter Frida Ghitis praises the Israel/Palestine Centre for Research and Information for "working to create" a "culture of peace" in order to "put a stop to incitement and hatred." However, Ghitis goes on to state: "It is absolutely imperative to recast the poisonous message drilled into Palestinian children. In Gaza, in particular, even the youngest children are taught that killing Jews is a duty of Muslims ...

"This is the stuff of much sensationalist, biased journalism which does its best to neutralize all genuine attempts to foster trust and cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis. Having visited and lived in Gaza four times since a month before the beginning of the second intifada and known many families and children there, I was deeply dismayed.

It is a common mistake to hold religion as the core issue in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. This is incorrect and harmful. The issue is territorial: two peoples lay claim to the same land, land which they are going to have to somehow share, someday, no matter what form of religion they happen to profess, if they indeed practice a religion. Ghitis's statement is empty of everything except the very things she criticizes: "incitement and hatred."

The main influence on children in Gaza is the fear of arbitrary injury or death from the air and the surrounding land inflicted by all the different arms available to the Israeli army. Gaza children can identify all sorts of munitions they scavenge after attacks. They know the names of all the different kinds of Israeli aircraft and can identify them by their sound. Thousands of children have lost their homes to demolition by the Israeli army. Some children have had the terrifying experience of seeing their homes occupied and used by Israeli soldiers who crowd the family into one room preventing them even from using the bathroom.

Some children can tell you about the sonic booms caused by Israeli warplanes for the sole cruel purpose of frightening and disorienting civilians: their force has even knocked children out of their beds and broken their bones. The children can tell you about the massacre of an entire family in Beit Hanoun in November 2006 and of course about the recent horrific events all over Gaza last month.

Just going to school is a major act of courage and in school, children lack the basic necessities: books and paper, to start with, because (and this the children can tell you), the Israeli authorities will not permit their importation. Worse, many children can no longer go to school at all, as their families cannot afford to pay for their transport, uniforms or even pencils. Despite this, the main message in school in Gaza, as in many schools the world over, is that if you want to succeed, you need to get good grades. The children know that their big brothers and sisters can no longer hope to travel abroad to complete their education because Israel will not permit them to leave. A young man I know who graduated brilliantly from secondary school in June has shelved his dreams of studying medicine abroad, like some of his aunts and uncles. He is now studying to be a pharmacist, well aware that at the moment, thanks to the Israeli blockade, most of the products he might someday want to offer to clients are unavailable.

Ever so many children in Gaza know that their fathers no longer have jobs because the border is closed, and they cannot go to Israel to earn a living. A lot of joy has gone out of family life. Children know that there is no gas for cars or trucks or ambulances and that they must often go without electricity (no television, no clean clothes) because Israel has decided this. Many of the things children like to eat have also disappeared.

All the children in Gaza can tell you how their elders are worried, terribly worried, especially about them and their future. The children hate this situation. They do not understand it. They think it is unfair. They ask why. Children in Gaza indeed dream of "a peaceful Mideast." It is their deepest wish, as it is the deepest desire of Israeli children and their parents, especially those now suffering from Qassam rockets.

The Muslim and Christian families and the families who go to neither mosque nor church who I know in Gaza teach their children to live correctly, respecting themselves and others. They do not need to say anything about Israel: the actions of its army and authorities dominate every single aspect of life in Gaza.

Parents in Gaza tell their children that they hope things will get better. They tell them to work hard in school and to be patient.

But what does the Israeli army teach the children?

Children listen to adults, then they observe and form their own opinions on the world.

Ghitis's article is a prime example of intentionally slanted reporting which needs to be criticized and corrected. Her references to "peace" cannot mask the fact that she is appealing to basic fears and prejudices that only reinforce negative, false stereotypes guaranteed to stalemate any progress in dialogue between Israelis (many of whom, we should remind Ghitis, are not Jewish) and Palestinians.

[Carol Scheller, a retired public school teacher, lives in Geneva, Switzerland. She and Walid Shomali translated the guidebook Palestine and the Palestinians from French to English in 2004, when Scheller worked briefly for its publisher, the Alternative Tourism Group, in Beit Sahour. Scheller has been writing a blog for the Tribune de Geneve called "Au jour le jour, Gaza" during and since a stay in Gaza from April to June 2007 (http://carol.blog.tdg.ch).]

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Barbara Rossing's reflection: 'A man ran up to Jesus ...'

`A man ran up to Jesus..."
Was he the first to suffer from affluenza — the sickness that puts us and our planet in peril?

Read this web exclusive by Barbara Rossing at The Lutheran magazine's May 2008 edition:

Here's the text:

"A man ran up to Jesus and knelt before him ..." in an encounter we know from Mark 10:17-22. He was rich, but he was not whole. Perhaps he was much like American Christians today who are stricken with the disease that filmmaker John de Graaf calls "affluenza" (visit the PBS Affluenza Web site). A combination of the words "affluence" and "influenza," affluenza can be defined as:

• An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the American dream.

• An unsustainable addiction to economic growth.

Perhaps the rich man's sickness is linked to our planet's sickness. Our Earth is ill with the fever of global warming and it is crying out to us.

What are our ills, our wounds, today? Do you live with a chronic disease, like Paul's "thorn in the flesh" — diabetes, asthma, HIV or addiction?

The Gospels depict a veritable procession of woundedness meeting Jesus' power to heal. The pattern is familiar: Jesus is passing through a village when someone runs up and falls down before him with a specific request.

"Make me well," begs the man with leprosy as he falls to his knees before Jesus.

"Heal my daughter," is the appeal of Jairus as he falls at Jesus' feet. Each comes with a specific request for healing.

Then there is the rich man. He seems to be able-bodied, often depicted in art as young, handsome and well-dressed. Yet this rich man, too, is wounded. He is sick, and Jesus' prescription for his healing speaks to us and to the ecological crisis facing our world today.

Like the others who sought healing, the rich man runs up to Jesus on the road and falls on his knees. Like the others, he has a request: "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Mark 10:17). His question sets this story apart from the other healing stories. This man asks about eternal life, not healing. He doesn't appear to be sick. Might he be sick without knowing it?

You can still see Affluenza, de Graaf's 1997 film, on the Documentary Channel or find it in synod resource centers. This humorous yet hard-hitting show opens in a doctor's examining room. A woman dressed in a skimpy hospital gown nervously clutches her purse on her lap as she waits for the doctor. The woman is actress Jackie O'Ryan from the well-known soap opera All My Children.

In the film's spoof soap opera, O'Ryan sits on the table fiddling with her gold jewelry until the doctor walks in. He has grave news: "I'm afraid there is nothing physically wrong with you."
"Then why do I feel so awful, so bloated and sluggish?" she cries. "Nothing gives me joy anymore. Not the clothes, the house, the raise. Doctor, I'm frightened. Can you give me a prescription?"

"There is no pill for what you have. I'm afraid you're suffering from affluenza," he replies.

"Oh my God," she reacts. "Why me? Is it fatal?

"It's catastrophic. It's the new epidemic.

"Is there a cure?"

"Possibly ...."

Affluenza is an exposé of our culture, of our insatiable appetite for more. The diagnosis, affluenza, is an epidemic that is making us and our world literally ill.

Jesus invites the rich man with affluenza into community, into a new way of life. Tragically, the man can't swallow that pill. He can't take the cure, the prescription for healing, that Dr. Jesus has given him: "Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor ... then come, follow me" (Mark 10: 21).

Even though Jesus has looked at him and loved him, this man leaves grief-stricken, weeping and alone, apparently to resume his way of life, steeped in sickness. He is so addicted to his possessions, to his great wealth and comfort-so sick with affluenza-that he walks away from Jesus' offer of eternal life. He misses out on the joyful community of the gospel.

But Jesus has looked at this man-gazed "into him," according to the Greek-and Jesus loves him. What a gift! This is the gospel moment of healing. Jesus can see the sickness in this self-righteous man, how much he is lacking, and Jesus still loves him. In the same way Jesus loves each of us with a wonderful, unexpected love that gazes deep into our souls, that knows us and loves us and our world unconditionally. It is this gaze of love that heals the rich man and heals each of us.

Are we sick in the same way? Have we been stricken by the epidemic? Christian environmental writer Bill McKibben thinks so. He defines our culture's insatiable hunger for "more" as a sickness of our times. The sickness metaphor helps us see the health threat that an unsustainable way of life poses to our world.

Lay aside your possessions, Jesus says. Give them away, divest yourself! These possessions are killing you. They are making you bloated and sluggish.

Our ever-bigger houses, our oil-based economy, our addictive accumulation of possessions: these are making our planet ill.

Our mounting levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide-380 parts per million and increasing at an ever-faster rate-are as dangerous to our planet's health as a diabetic's out-of-control blood sugar or a heart patient's high cholesterol. With our lifestyle of affluenza we are eating up the planetary capital that God has created over millions of years.

Jesus invites us to downsize our lifestyle, to adopt the way of life required for a post-carbon world. Give back to the poor and to the Earth what we have taken by fraud-before it is too late. Inherit, instead, the promise of eternal life.

The rich man's story can underscore both the urgency of our unsustainable way of life and the depth of Jesus' love for us. The rich man fundamentally misunderstands eternal life as something individualistic that he can obtain while still clinging to his lavish lifestyle. He failed to see that eternal life is life in communion with God and with one another.

Today our best scientists warn that we have may have less than 10 years to make the lifestyle and policy changes necessary to avert dangerous climate change. The message of hope is that there is still time to act. Will we move to embrace our healing? Or will we turn away, as the rich man did?

With God all things are possible, Jesus says. That is the promise of healing for us. Our planet suffers with the fever of global warming. We are ill with affluenza. But these don't have to be a sickness unto death. Even in the face of such sobering ecological projections as the doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by mid-century, rising sea levels and the shrinking polar ice cap, and accelerating extinctions, the amazing restorative power of God's healing love for the world-the proclamation that "with God all things are possible"-gives hope for our planet and for each one of us.

[Rossing is professor of New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, where her research focuses on the book of Revelation, ecology and liberation. She regularly teaches a course on “Nature in the Bible.” She is the author of The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation (Westview Press, 2004). She is an avid hiker and wilderness enthusiast and has served as pastor and teacher at Holden Village retreat center in Washington’s Cascade Mountains.]

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Mother's Day Proclamation by Julia Ward Howe

When I was a little girl I was fascinated by the kiddie biographies I found in the library. One of my favorites was Julia Ward Howe, Girl of Old New York.

In 1870, Julia Ward Howe, distressed by her experience of the realities of the Civil War, determined that peace was one of the two most important causes of the world (the other being equality in its many forms) and seeing war arise again in the world in the Franco-Prussian War, she called in 1870 for women to rise up and oppose war in all its forms. She wanted women to come together across national lines, to recognize what we hold in common above what divides us, and commit to finding peaceful resolutions to conflicts. She issued a Declaration, hoping to gather together women in a congress of action.

Influenced by the work of Julia Ward How, Anna Jarvis, started her own crusade to found a memorial day for women. The first such Mother's Day was celebrated in West Virginia in 1907. And from there the custom caught on — spreading eventually to 45 states. Finally in 1914 the President, Woodrow Wilson, declared the first national Mother's Day.

This Mother’s Day, let us remember the orgins of the holiday, read Julia Ward Howe's Declaration, and renew our commmitment to non-violence and reconciliation.

Mother's Day Proclamation - 1870
by Julia Ward Howe

Arise then...women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears! Say firmly:
"We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.

"From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe our dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace...
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God -In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.