Natalie Maxson served the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine/Israel (EAPPI) in 2012. She stayed in Jayyous in the Qalqiliya district. She is an educator, writer, peace activist and defender of children’s rights. From 2004-2009 she worked as the Programme Executive for Youth at the World Council of Churches. Natalie currently serves as a Program Director at the Centre at Naramata, an educational facility of the United Church of Canada.
During the week of September 22 to 28, churches and communities are invited to pray, learn and act for justice in Palestine and Israel. The theme of the World Week for Peace in Palestine/Israel this year is “Jerusalem, the city of justice and peace.”
For many of us around the world, Jerusalem is a name familiar to us from bible stories. We may forget that it is a real city with people living in it today. Jerusalem is a divided city and the site of much conflict. Last year, I was with a group of twelve people on a Pilgrimage of Solidarity to learn more about the place we call the Holy Land. We were there to learn about the political situation and about the work Israelis and Palestinians are doing for peace and justice and what we can do to support them. One night when we were in Jerusalem, I took the group to St. George’s church for a time of prayer and reflection. While we were sitting in the chapel, I read this passage from the prophet Isaiah:
For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat;
(NRSV Isaiah 65:17-22)
These words brought tears to our eyes. It seems like Isaiah is speaking to the reality of Jerusalem today. East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza have been under military occupation for over forty-five years. After the British colonial rule in the region, a plan was made to partition the land to create the state of Israel and a state of Palestine. Until this day, Palestinians have not had their right to self-determination realized. Instead, Palestinians live under a system of military occupation that makes everyday life unbearable. Successive waves of Palestinian refugees who reside in the West Bank and surrounding countries have not been allowed to return home over the past several decades and subsequently there are over five million Palestinian refugees in the world today.  Many Christians leave their homes because of the occupation which limits their mobility, employment opportunities and threatens their security. Their community has shrunk substantially and today Christians only make up two percent of the population in the region. Our Palestinian sisters and brothers in the faith have rich family histories that connect them to the earliest Christian communities. Their connection to the land and stories of our Christian faith are an invaluable part of our ecumenical family and they need our support to live in peace and dignity in their ancestral lands.
Isaiah says, they shall build houses and inhabit them
But I am reminded of the Palestinian families whose homes are bulldozed by the Israeli military or Bedouin communities who continue to be displaced. 
Isaiah says, they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit
And I am reminded of farmers I met who cannot access their agricultural land because of the separation barrier, permit system or because their olive trees were bulldozed by the Israeli military or burnt to the ground by illegal Israeli settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories. They struggle to make a living and feed their families.
And for Isaiah’s prophecy that no more will there be weeping, distress and youth who die at a young age, I am reminded of the dehumanizing realities children must face. Lets pray and act for the children who are arrested and held in Israeli military detention sometimes without adult accompaniment or fair legal proceedings. And lets pray for the children whose homes and schools are demolished or who must pass through a military checkpoint just to get to school.
Once when I was travelling from Jayyous, a small community in the north, to go to Jerusalem for the weekend, one local resident asked me to, “Say hello to Jerusalem for me. I would love to go there. I haven’t been able to go there in over fifteen years.”
Though Jerusalem is only three hours by bus from Jayyous, to obtain a permit to enter the city is very difficult for Palestinians. Another friend of mine in Bethlehem, only a short distance away from Jerusalem, has not been able to go to the annual Easter celebrations with her children that take place in the city also because of the difficulty involved in obtaining a permit.
Jerusalem is a special city. It is a holy place for Jews, Muslims and Christians. Unfortunately many Palestinian Christians and Muslims cannot enter the city walls even for special religious holidays. The vision for the city around the time when the state of Israel was created in 1948 was that Jerusalem should be an international city shared by all. But the separation barrier and Israeli military checkpoints have turned it into an exclusive fortress and a hell for those Palestinians living under the reality of military occupation.
So this year, when you are at church and hear the name Jerusalem read in the scriptures, remember that this is a city that needs our prayers and advocacy. It is a divided city and a place where there are indeed “cries of distress” as the prophet Isaiah mentions. You are invited to pray, educate yourself and others and advocate for peace and justice during this week and throughout the year. The Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum (PIEF) of the World Council of Churches has put together resources as we pray and act with our brothers and sisters in Palestine and Israel.
World Week for Peace in Palestine/Israel:
 The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) http://www.unrwa.org/who-we-are; http://www.unrwa.org/sites/default/files/2013042435340.pdf
 See Christians of the Holy Land, an informative CBS News Story about Palestinian Christians and their reality, first aired in April 2012. http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18560_162-57417408/christians-of-the-holy-land/?tag=contentMain;cbsCarousel
| For more information, see the work of Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, (ICAHD) www.icahd.org|