I would like you to take a few moments to picture the following:
Imagine an area of land that is only a mere 360 kilometers, is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, and is surrounded by a tall barrier wall that shuts those who live inside the borders out from the rest of the world.
Here, you will find mass destruction of buildings and tens of thousands of people who are displaced. You will find one of the world’s highest unemployment rates, and you will see that more than half the population is food-insecure and more than 80% of the population relies on humanitarian assistance. You will discover that most hospitals have severe shortages on equipment and fuel, and thus must limit their care for patients and could potentially risk closure.
In this densely populated land, you will find that several of the schools that were damaged or destroyed when it was attacked in 2014 have not been rebuilt or restored. And you will see that 94% of schools have to run on double-shifts due to severe underfunding. Children and youth receive half the education they need since each school hosts two “schools” per day: one in the morning and one in the afternoon. And many college-age students are unable to receive a college education because they are barred from leaving the land, even when their programs of study are not available here.
This place is called the Gaza Strip, and it is known by many as a “man-made living hell on earth.”
Now I want you to imagine that you and your family are trapped inside this living hell.
Imagine having power outages for up to 16 hours a day, only having access to running water six hours once every two days, and not knowing where you can find clean drinking water.
Imagine your children or grandchildren can’t sleep at night because they have night terrors and when they ask why they can’t leave Gaza – even to visit relatives who live in the West Bank – the only answer you have is that the world believes the safety of some is more important than their safety.
Now I want you to imagine a poor, first century Palestinian refugee named Jesus who said to his disciples: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me… Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.”
Last month marked 10 years of the blockade on Gaza that severely limits imports and exports and bans almost all travel to and from the Gaza Strip… A blockade that is not only immoral and inhumane, but that is also deemed a violation of international humanitarian law.
The main reason for this blockade is fear of the “other.” But in the Christian tradition, we hear in 1 John: “There is no fear in love, [for] perfect love casts out fear…” and we believe that there is no “other,” for God created all humankind in God’s image.
Because of this, we must take seriously God’s call in the Psalms for us to: “Defend the cause of the weak and orphans; to maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. To rescue the weak and needy.”
Therefore, as Christians, we cannot allow fear to paralyze us. And we cannot remain silent while our Palestinian siblings are suffering. To do so is to deny their humanity and to fail to live out what Jesus proclaims is God’s greatest commandment: to love our neighbors as ourselves – especially the least of these.
So let us choose to not be silent. Let us not only pray for our Palestinian siblings who are suffering in Gaza, but let us also continuously raise awareness about the severe effects of this inhumane blockade, financially support humanitarian aid efforts in Gaza, and call on our elected officials to work to end the blockade!
Check out Gaza Unlocked for more information about the blockade, personal stories from Palestinians in Gaza, and ways to make difference.
You can also learn more about the humanitarian relief work of United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza and donate here.
Rev. Emily Heitzman is an ordained Presbyterian (USA) pastor serving as the shared Pastor with Youth and Households at three ELCA congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago: Unity Lutheran, Ebenezer Lutheran, and Immanuel Lutheran. Some of her sermons and reflections can be found at Musings from a Bricolage.
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