About  50 people, several of them members of the Christian Reformed Church, took part in an interfaith “Vigil for Palestine” on Tuesday night in downtown Grand Rapids, Mich.

They gathered about 7:30 p.m. at the local Ladies Literary Club, where they listened to CRC pastor Rev. Elizabeth Vander Haagen, Muslim Imam Sharif Sahibzada, and Jewish community leader Diane Baum offer prayers of repentance and lamentation regarding the loss of life, particularly of Palestinian children, during the recent conflict in Gaza.

Fighting between Israeli and Palestinian fighters in the Gaza Strip began in June and is currently on hold after both sides agreed to a long-term ceasefire.

According to news reports, the seven-week conflict saw the deadliest violence in years. More than 2,100 people were killed, the vast majority of them Palestinians.

“Right now, there are hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza who are homeless. It is a human catastrophe,” said Nidal Kanaan, a founder of Healing the Children of Conflict, a West Michigan organization that helped sponsor the vigil.

“It is as if six nuclear bombs went off in Gaza,” said Kanaan. “It is going to take 20 years to rebuild.”

The Calvin College Middle East Club, the Arab American Association, Peace Means, and Hope Equals, a peacemaking ministry of Christian Reformed World Missions, also sponsored the vigil.

Mariano Avila, coordinator of Hope Equals, says his group was inspired to support the vigil as the result of a trip it made this summer to Israel and Palestine at the time hostilities broke out.

They make these trips regularly with college students but have never been there when fighting like this has occurred.

“We were in the West Bank and the fighting was in Gaza, but we spoke to many people who were affected by it” and to many others who spoke more generally about it and the pressure and problems it causes, said Avila.

At about 8:15 p.m., participants left the literary club. As they did, they carried candles and quietly sang songs such as Turn Me Around, We Shall Not Be Moved, and Jacob’s Ladder, drawing the attention of people walking or sitting at bars or in doorways along the streets.

At first, they we were going to promote this march through the city simply as a peace vigil, focusing on peace for everyone everywhere.

But then the organizers decided it was important to insert the word Palestinian into the title of the program.

“We wanted to include the word to recognize the right of the Palestinian people for self-determination,” said Avila.

“We also wanted to recognize the role that we in the U.S. have played by providing so much in military aid to support Israel.”

As the sky grew dark, marchers crossed South Division Avenue and walked to the nearby Catholic Cathedral of St. Andrews, where they gathered in Cathedral Square to recite a litany of lamentation.

Written by Calvin Theological Seminary student  Jon Gorter, the litany began: “For the times when our ignorance and apathy toward global politics cause us to turn a deaf ear to the call of justice and mercy.”

People gathered in the square responded, “We repent of our sins.”

After that, there were prayers followed by a benediction, inviting participants to go forth and continue working for peace.

Kanaan said that he hopes the vigil can help to humanize and tell the story of what his people — the Palestinians — have been facing for the last several decades under the rule of the Israelis.

“People think that what we have is a boxing match between two equal opponents,” he said. “But for every 25 Israelis killed, you have 2,000 Palestinians.”

Avila says other events will be offered in the future. A program for the “Vigil for Palestine” included information on things to do.

Comments

This article seems to bemoan the military aid provided to Israel by the US, saying "We also wanted to recognize the role that we in the U.S. have played by providing so much in military aid to support Israel." Thankfully, the US did provide military aid to Israel. Otherwise, the Iron Dome system would not have been in place to intercept and destroy thousands of Iranian supplied missiles fired by Hamas from Gaza into Israel.

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Well, who is against peace? Oh - right - a majority of Palestinians, who could have peace tomorrow (and could have had it several times in the past - including with pre '67 war borders), if they would only recognize Israel's right to exist.

In 1948, by most estimates, there were at least as many (and perhaps 10's of thousands more), Jewish refugees uprooted from ancestral homes in "Palestine" as there were Palestinian refugees. Israel not only settled those Jewish refugees, it offered right of return at that point to displaced Palestinians, to claim their homes and property. Those who did, and their descendants, are voting Israeli citizens today. It was Palestinian and Arab leaders who discouraged Palestinian refugees from returning, then settled them in camps.

You can't understand Gaza today without noting that for 20 years before Israel ever stepped foot there, it was a squalid refugee camp set up by Arab governments intent, not on settling refugees, but on using their suffering as a pretext for taking back land - and by "land" we are not at all talking about Jewish settlements (none of which existed between '48 and '67, either in Gaza or the West Bank). The land Palestinians and Arabs have consistently demanded is Israel itself.

"20 years to rebuild Gaza"? You mean with more cement, the likes of which has been used in recent years not to build/rebuild housing for suffering Palestinians, but to build a maze of tunnels bent on ensuring suffering, torture and grisly death for Israelis? And, regarding the high casualty count in Gaza - any thought given to the reality that Hamas launches rockets from schools, mosques, hospitals and large apartment complexes so as either to keep Israel from retaliating, or to produce bloody pictures that will engender sympathy?

And if we can agree, as most Israelis do, that their government has not always acted with justice and mercy, can't you manage even one word of rebuke for Hamas and similar radicals, whose express and explicit policy, strategy and goals are not a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza, but a Palestine built on the eradication of Israel and as many pig-Jews as possible?

“For the times when our ignorance and apathy toward global politics cause us to turn a deaf ear to the call of justice and mercy, we repent of our sins.”
Amen. But let's not get so wrapped up in PC preening as to pretend this is a matter of Palestinians good guys vs. Israeli bad guys. That is a twisted and depraved moral compass.

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While the interest in activism on the part of our denomination (and Hope Equals is an official sub-office of World Missions) is nothing new, what is disturbing are these "interfaith" prayers. Is Rev. Vander Haagen praying in Jesus name? If so, how does this not offend the Muslims and Jews? This strikes me as putting a secular political agenda ahead of our creeds, confessions and the heart of the Gospel.

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Responding to Kirk's, the nature of 'doing politics', that is, working to influence government so its imposed rules on all of society will more reflect what you believe they should be, cannot and thus does not focus first of all on commonality of theological creeds or confessions. It can't because political alliances cannot be formed when the focus is on theological creeds or confessions.

This is just one of the reasons the institutional church ought not be 'doing politics'. To the extent it does politics, it works against being nuanced in its theological creeds and confessions. To the extent it does institutional church work, it works against its success in doing politics. The history of mainline denominations that have become political organizations provide an Exhibit A in demonstrating the former.

The more an institutional church becomes politically engaged, the more the reasons for minding sphere sovereignty rules become apparent.

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"We're pro-human" is something folks at Hope Equals say; I think during this march they showed that to be true.
It's a consistent issue in the church that we (all of us, I include myself) forget to TRULY see, and treat, all our fellow humans as people.
As a CRC member, I'm proud to see the denomination involved in vigils like this.
It was a thought-provoking, sensitive, counter-cultural event based on respect and compassion for all people - especially those who suffer.
That's not being political; that's being Jesus.

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It is good to be pro-human, and if folks at Hope Equals say that, that is good too. I'm pro-human too. But this vigil, by its very name -- and with careful intention if this article reports correctly--, was not for all people but only for Palestinians. In that sense, this march did not show the Hope Equals was pro-human but rather pro-Palestian in the context of a particular political struggle, which by necessarily implication says the march was also anti-Israel (and thus the plea for "justice").

Indeed, we should see and treat all humans as people. I've represented a number of convicted murderers in my 35 years of practicing law. They were human, made in God's image, regardless of what they had done. At the same time, scripture requires us to exercise discernment about actions of people. Hitler, Lenin and Mao were all people. Yet I would not regard their actions as indistinguishable in all respects from those of Abraham Kuyper, Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa.

This march, at least as reported, did take sides in a political struggles. The marchers did, again at least if this article accurately reports, deem the Palestinians to be the good guys who were oppressed and the Israelis (and the US?) as the bad guys who did the oppressing. Again if not, what does all the talk of "justice" intend to say? Why would Mr. Avila say, as here reported, "We also wanted to recognize the role that we in the U.S. have played by providing so much in military aid to support Israel.” The article makes clear that "at first, they we were going to promote this march through the city simply as a peace vigil, focusing on peace for everyone everywhere ... BUT THEN [cap emphasis added] ..." they decided to do otherwise. As Mr. Avila continues to say, "But then the organizers decided it was important to insert the word Palestinian into the title of the program." They decided, “... to include the word to recognize the right of the Palestinian people for self-determination ... [and] also wanted to recognize the role that we in the U.S. have played by providing so much in military aid to support Israel.” This is political advocacy, not merely "being pro-human."

The reason some of object to this political advocacy is pretty simple. We are part of an institutional church -- the CRC. As members of that church, we never signed up for the church to speak for us on political issues, especially when those political issues are very difficult (and this middle east struggle is nothing if not difficult). Yet, some in the denomination think they should have the right to speak in behalf of all in the denomination as to difficult political issues. Beyond that, many of us think the political analysis represented and expressed by this vigil (by Hope Equals) is significantly flawed, even shallow. This doesn't mean the individual people who are part of Hope Equals aren't entitled to their own political opinions or to engage in whatever political expression they want. They should. But when they do, they should speak for themselves, not others, not all of us in the denomination.

Hope Equals should be pro-human (a theological view consistent with CRC confessions) but it shouldn't take sides on political issues in behalf of all CRCers. The CRC isn't a political organization and Hope Equals is part of the institutional CRC.

That's the problem with Hope Equals participation in this vigil.

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Thank you Mariano and all for taking a public stance for a just peace for Palestine, especially when this issue is such a polarizing one today, in our churches and our community, both local and global. I wish I could have been there with you, but please know that I am constantly praying for open doors for Hope Equals and open hearts to understand and see the devastation that is occurring daily amongst the Palestinian people.

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I was on the Hope Equals trip with Mariano. We spent 5 weeks in Israel and Palestine. our mission and prayer is that God works in the lives and hearts of all people that they may turn toward him and live as Jesus did, showing love and tolerance for all people. When I say people, I mean individuals as well as people groups, such as Palestinians and Israeli's etc. We pray for peace and are trying to demonstrate Christ's love to all people, regardless of their nationality, creeds or beliefs. Jesus did not promote a message of hate or separation because someone might not believe that he was the Son of God. He loved all that came to him and whenever asked about Rome or politics, Jesus preached the same message of love and peace. As a Christian, the Bible is clear that God appoints all rulers and governments and is in control of all that happens in this world. I am not wanting to debate why he allows evil to occur on the scale we see in Gaza as well as Syria, Iraq and around the world today. The Bible is also clear that God is influenced by our prayers. Therefore, I feel that it is imperative that we get involved in politics, human rights issues and anything that God puts in our awareness. How we get involved should be determined by the individual and his relationship to God. God will lead us in what we should do. But the Bible is very clear that it is imperative that we pray to our all powerful God and ask him for forgiveness for any nations sins against any people. God calls all of us to step in the gap and pray for others. I personally was at a prayer vigil, during our trip, in Nativity Square in Bethlehem. At the vigil was the Imam for Bethlehem, a Jewish woman and a Christian minister. Their message was one of love, peace and solidarity against evil and violence. I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit powerfully present there as all were weeping and praying as one. Please, I pray and beg all to not look at differences in religion, nationality, beliefs or any other reason to divide or negate the power of prayer and the message of forgiveness and love for our enemies as much as we love our friends. The Bible puts love for others, especially our enemies or those who are different than we are, as the greatest thing above all else. This vigil was organized in a spirit of love and inclusion. I pray that its message is not effected by anything that is not of God. May we all seek to love our "neighbors" as Christ loved us and gave his own life for all of us.

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“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn

“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household."

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A sobering event. The vigil was organized to lament the lives lost in the whole conflict, and to take responsibility as individuals of the Church, this city, and this country. We often hear cries of our neighbors in the US and organize community meals for the stomachs, health clinics for the body, youth groups for the children, and bible studies for the souls. But these people are well off compared to the starving, sectioned off, poor people of Palestine. We need to remember and pray for these people, be they Muslim, Christian, Jew, or other, just as we are instructed to take care of the wearied, widowed, and orphan. They are dying in grave numbers. I will do best to come alongside my Palestinian muslim neighbor here in Grand Rapids and cry out with him for the atrocities that his family has gone through, and continues to go through while Israel forbids his immediate family from visiting their relatives in the West Bank. It is hard to come up with a political solution, and I am not a brilliant theorist, but I am a child of God and a part of the body of Christ manifest today, so I must cry for justice. Thank you Mariano and Hope Equals.

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I was in Jerusalem in July when rockets from Hamas were fired at the city. I heard the air raid siren and then saw a puff of smoke over the city as an Iron Dome missile shot down one of the rockets. I was glad the Iron Dome prevented people from being killed – Israelis, Palestinians, or Americans.
A few days later, I was shot three times in the legs with rubber bullets by heavily armed Israeli riot police trying to disperse a gathering in Jerusalem. The next day I heard about Palestinians who were killed by riot police and soldiers using real bullets.

Israelis kill Palestinians. Palestinians kill Israelis. The United States arms Israelis. Iran arms Palestinians. The situation is full of political and economic complexity. I’ll leave it to others more politically and theologically savvy than I to address the issue of the extent of the institutional church’s involvement in politics.

But I do know that as a Christian, I am called to mourn with those who mourn. I mourn for the loss of the lives of Israelis cut short by rockets fired from Hamas. I mourn for the loss of Palestinians killed by Israeli rockets. I mourn for those killed on both sides in the ground offensive in Gaza. I mourn for the Palestinians whose lives are threatened daily under the occupation. I mourn for the Israelis who live in constant fear of attack. I participated in the Vigil for Palestine to mourn, because that’s what I believe the Bible calls me to do.

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I think Bill Thornburg's comment is instructive. It would also be appropriate for the institutional church (including the CRCNA/Hope Equals) to "mourn with those who mourn," -- including Israelis, Gazans and anyone else who suffered loss in this recent military conflict. Had Hope Equals not decided to take sides in this march, had it not made this about the blaming Israel (and the US) and ".. recogniz[ing] the right of the Palestinian people for self-determination," it would have done well.

As Bill says, despite having been there during the fighting, "the situation is full of complexity." In similar fashion, Hope Equals should realize the CRCNA is not called (as evidenced by church order rules, among other things) to be a political advocate, strategist or lobbyist (whether of Washington or of CRC members) on this. It should do what it is called to do, and not claim expertise or the right to speak for others when/where it has none.

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