Joy Put On Hold

War is hell.

Since arriving in the West Bank of Palestine midday on Sunday, we’ve sat with multiple friends and partners, as well as our Global Ministries mission co-workers who are serving here. Every conversation inevitably turns to the war in Gaza. Every encounter makes abundantly clear just how devastating it is, and not only for the people of Gaza.

The principal and former principal of our partner, Rawdat el-Zuhur Primary School in East Jerusalem, with Makari and Prestemon. The peace pole shown here was given to the school by Peace UCC in Stevens Point, WI in 1998, where Prestemon was serving as pastor at the time.

“We have no hope,” said one of our partners. “We keep praying for peace, but there is nothing.”

A Palestinian father worn by exhaustion and anger described how his hopes for his life and for his three young boys have changed dramatically since October 7. “I used to dream of the house they would live in, the things they would do. Now I don’t dream of these things anymore.  I want only to see them, for them to live one more day. There is nothing else.  Nothing else.”

The family lives in a refugee camp in the West Bank, there for generations since the Nakba of 1948 (“catastrophe” in Arabic), when Palestinians were forced off their lands during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war .  Twice in the last year their house has been raided by Israeli occupational forces, a common intimidation tactic they use in refugee camps particularly.  Guns were held to the father’s head and to that of his children.“For a father, this is….” He doesn’t really finish the sentence, but the look on his dazed face is a mix of total despair and agony. He won’t even talk of peace; to him it seems an empty hope.

The economy of the West Bank has also fallen apart.  Tourism has ground to a halt since October 7, shutting down hotels, restaurants, and anything else that used to depend on tourism for their business.  Palestinians that worked for Israeli firms before October 7 were fired immediately after that event. 100,000 Palestinians are now out of work in the West Bank.

The economic tailspin contributes to the chronic uncertainty so many here have talked to us about. It’s impossible to make plans. Trips to see family outside of Palestine are delayed.  Weddings are postponed. It’s as if all joy has been put on hold.

Sitting with the Programs Development Officer of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East today in her office in Jerusalem, we also got a horrifying view of the situation in Gaza itself. The Diocese is one of our partners through Global Ministries, and supports 33 social service, health care, and educational institutions. One of them is the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza.  Although it was bombed by Israel and had damage to the portion of the facility housing their offices, the hospital continues to operate, performing 25-30 surgeries/day and providing other critical care. Gaza is a public health disaster; 750,000 people (out of 2.2 million in Gaza) now have infectious diseases.  The staff at Al-Ahli work 24-hour shifts.  The Programs Development Officer at the Episcopal Diocese told us this morning that Al-Ahli hospital was the only hospital left in the whole of Gaza.  32 other hospitals had already closed.

Just before I sat down to write this blog, we received the shocking news that now the Al-Ahli hospital has just been required to close by the Israeli army. The Israeli military declared the area where the hospital is to be a “Red Zone” and demanded that everyone should immediately evacuate all buildings, including everyone in the hospital’s care.

Now there are no hospitals operating in war-torn Gaza at all. It is incomprehensible. 

“They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:14)

Those are the words of scripture on my heart tonight. There is no kind of peace here in the so-called “Holy Land”. There is only the ghastly cost of war. And a desperate cry for all of us to see it and name it for what it is.

(Your gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing and to special appeals like the Middle East Crisis Appeal support our partners in Israel-Palestine. Learn more about our partners in the Middle East here.)

The Reverend Shari Prestemon began her service with the national ministries of the United Church of Christ in January 2024. As the Acting Associate General Minister & Co-Executive for Global Ministries she has the privilege of supporting several teams: Global MinistriesGlobal H.O.P.E.Public Policy & Advocacy Team (Washington, D.C.), our staff liaison at the United Nations, and our Gender & Sexuality Justice Team. She previously served as a local church pastor in Illinois and Wisconsin, the Executive Director at Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, Mississippi, and the Minnesota Conference Minister. Her call to ministry grew, in part, from early Global Ministries experiences, especially service as a Peace & Justice Intern in Dumaguete City, the Philippines.

Categories: Voices of the Journey

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