by Art Gish, 25 December, 2007
It was a beautiful, warm, sunny Christmas day in the mountains of Palestine in the South Hebron Hills. My Christian Peacemaker Teammate and I spent the morning with an At-Tuwani villager and his children plowing and sowing wheat with two donkeys. There were flocks of sheep on the hills around us, an ideal setting for thinking about the birth of Jesus.
We were there to protect the people from possible attacks from the occupiers, from the people with guns, from those who wield worldly power. We were standing with the shepherds, with the dispossessed, people like those to whom the angels announced good news 2,000 years ago.
We were working in a narrow valley just below the village of Sarura, which the villagers abandoned in 1999 because of repeated attacks on the village from Israeli settlers. Since Sarura originally was a Roman village, I thought of the Roman occupiers at the time of Jesus. The Roman caves are still there, as are the ruins of Roman houses. The Romans are long gone. The family we were accompanying lived in that village before settler violence forced them to leave. The father showed us the cave he used to live in and a Roman coin he found there.
What has changed since the Roman occupation of Palestine? In spite of God’s revelation in Jesus, people still rely on violence and oppression, still reject the promise of peace on earth as a gift from God. People still seek to dominate and control. The donkeys were given a break and a snack of the wheat they were helping plant. We broke bread and drank tea together and experienced a bit of God’s peace in the midst of conflict over land and resources.