Reflections on December Gaza Interfaith Memorial Service

January 06, 2010

By Dorothy Wonder*

Several hundred people gathered at Union Square in San Francisco on December 27, 2009 to mark the one year anniversary of the start of Israel's intensive 22-day attack on, and invasion of, Gaza. By candlelight, Christians, Muslims, Jews, and others remembered the 1,400 children, women, and men who were killed in the attack. The Israel-Palestine Task Force of the California-Nevada Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church was one of many sponsors for this event.
 
Singing and drumming by two Native Americans set the tone of remembrance and mourning, as we recognized that we stand on land that was taken from their ancestors, vast numbers of whom were killed, by the settlers from Europe.
 
Mariam El Shafei (in red at left), a 15-year-old Palestinian girl, spoke passionately of her experience during the bombing of Gaza, in which she lost one of her eyes. The Palestine Children's Relief Fund brought her to the U.S. for medical treatment in San Jose, where she received an artificial eye.
 
Among the speakers were two UMC pastors, the Rev. Michael Yoshii of Buena Vista UMC and the Rev. Phil Lawson, representing the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI). Other faith leaders included Dr. Mohamad Rajabally, Islamic Society of the East Bay; Father Bernard Poggi, representing Father Labib, Orthodox Palestinian; Rabbi David Cooper, Kehilla Synagogue; and Sydney Levy, a member of Jewish Voice for Peace, who advocated the use of BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) to pressure for change of policies that severely oppress Palestinians.
 
Across the street, waving Israeli flags, stood some who vocally opposed us (see photo at left). The Mourning Mothers (below) - bigger than life-size puppets, garbed in black, with faces depicting agony - lined the sidewalk facing them. 
 
The siege of Gaza continues. There are still attacks; the borders are closed. Cement and other materials are needed to rebuild from the massive damage, but have not been allowed through the checkpoints. Though the suffering in Gaza was the specific focus of our memorial, Palestinians suffer in all of occupied Palestine. Imagine if Christ were born into our time in Bethlehem - with the imprisoning wall, the checkpoints ... 
 
We sang, "O Little Town of Bethlehem" with words that reflect the reality of today: "Oh holy Child of Bethlehem, be with us as we pray ... empower us to end the siege, be born in us today."
 
Do we remember the covenant service in our hymnal which asks, "Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?"  
 
At a Sabeel conference, I heard a Jewish man emphasize that one people's narrative is not more sacred than another's. I believe most of us know, and honor, the narrative of suffering of the Jewish people, but I wonder if very many of us have even heard the full narrative of the suffering of the Palestinian people.
 
*Dorothy Wonder is a member of the Israel-Palestine Task Force of the California-Nevada Annual Conference, and a member of Trinity UMC in Berkeley, California.
 
**To see all of Steve Rhodes' photos of the Dec. 27 event, visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/ari/sets/72157623088140218/.