The Palestinian Exodus

Gaza-teargas-ap-img(Mohammed Talatene / picture-alliance / dpa / AP Images)

For Jews, the Exodus is one of the key events that shaped Jewish narrative, history, and identity. It is a foundational story of the Jewish people. Not only for Jews, but for many of us, followers of the Christian faith, it is a key story in our faith – at par with the importance of the story of Creation and Noah’s Ark from the Old Testament.

According to the Bible, life for slaves under the Egyptian occupation was a brutal one. Exodus 15:13 states that the slaves were to be strangers in a land that was not theirs, and they would be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years. There is debate on how many years they were enslaved in Egypt, and even if the lowest number is true, then two hundred years of living under a brutal and violent system of oppression would still be unbearable. Some might have normalized their lives to slavery, and others might have aligned themselves with Pharaoh and the powerful to gain favor. However, many died from brutal treatment or starvation. Some were sold or imprisoned for life. In the face of brutal depravity, Moses tried to negotiate with Pharaoh, but, when negotiations did not work, violence to achieve freedom became the option. Maybe none of us ever questioned Moses (or God) choosing a nonviolent path; though, Pharaoh’s response may have been the same.

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Ending Fear and Violence in the World Today

We live in a violent world. And fear, especially fear of losing what we have gained and achieved (politically, socially, economically, personally, emotionally, religiously, etc.) is the motivation fueling this violence. Fear, both real and manipulated, has become the central lens we use in how we relate to others.

Our identity groups are imbued in fear. We are pushed by many of our leaders to fear other ethnic groups, racial groups, religious groups, political groups, gender groups – anything which is different than us. They tell us that these groups threaten our security and stability; they create conflict, they don’t accept our “way of life,” and they don’t recognize and appreciate our identity. We have come to believe that they are out to destroy us and what we believe systems; they are simply “evil.”

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Talk at 10 year Combatants for Peace Anniversary

On July 15, 2016, Combatants for Peace celebrated their 10 year anniversary during the Freedom March Protest organized by them monthly. I was honored to have been asked to give a talk during the protest. The following is a text of my talk.


Dear friends, dear you who still dare to dream and believe…

We have come here today representing different tribes, identities, religions, cultures and languages of this land. Representing the global consciousness of morality, peace, justice, freedom and the right of every individual to live in dignity, honor, and respect.

We have come here on behalf of every woman, man and child who died or suffered a loss as a result of the violence in this land. We have come here on behalf of every Palestinian home that has been demolished, every Palestinian tree uprooted, and every Palestinian child who could not find a drop of water to drink this summer morning because of the Israeli military control over even a most basic human need… water.

We send a clear message to our leaders (Israelis and Palestinians) and to the international community. On this day and in this hour and in this place, our voice is united against injustice and united for freedom and dignity. We say that the pain we experienced and continue to experience is because of the continued, growing, inhumane oppression and occupation of the Palestinian people.

We, the people of the land say that it is up to us to achieve a real vision of peace and justice. We can not deny that fear, hated and resignation have now taken over and that the task at hand may seem impossible, but true peacemakers are the ones that look the impossible in the eye and make it a possibility.

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Redefining my Friend and my Foe


I grew up living under the Israeli military occupation, in a situation where my friends and my foes were clearly defined, those who were for the occupation and those who wanted the occupation to end. I witnessed the Israeli army and Jewish settlers attacking Palestinians and Israeli peace activists. So when it came to Israeli society it was clear, there was the left and the right, the settler and the Israeli on the other side of the “green line”, the secular and the religious, the activist and the soldier … the friend and the foe.

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It was a Life


Every killing of every human is a story and a life that was, that is and was to be. It was a heartbeat that stopped before its time. It was a dream that disappeared abruptly like a television set that suddenly lost its power.

It was a young woman who ate her last meal; it was not her favorite dish, but she did not want to upset her mother for cooking it. “Next time make pizza mom,”
she yelled… then she yelled her last cry. It was a wife who did not know that her husband’s last look into her eyes would be imprinted as her eternal memory of him.

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Jesus was Asian: A Lesson in Faith from Hong Kong

I just returned from my first visit to Hong Kong where I was invited to speak at the annual Justice Conference Asia on the following topics: Persecution, Religious Freedom, Migration and Border Control. I was also invited by the Ray Bakke Institute (who graciously covered all my expenses) to hold speaking engagements in several churches on topics directly related to the situation in the Holy Land, the work of Holy Land Trust, and my own personal journey in faith, nonviolence, and peacemaking.

View of Hong Kong from the Peak

I have to admit that my acceptance to this invitation was motivated almost purely by curiosity. In all my travels around the world I have never been in “that part of the world”, and Hong Kong—who would say no to that? Who would refuse an opportunity to see one of the most amazing cities in the world known for its record-breaking skyscrapers? A city where beauty, modernity, tradition, hospitality, nature, culture and the future come into one; I simply had to say yes and go.

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A Jesus Based Leadership Development Program

A friend of mine once asked me what I thought was the leadership style Jesus developed and used to bring his vision and message to humanity. It was something I never thought of before. Jesus was Jesus; he did not need to develop a leadership approach, he just did what he did and whatever he did was the right thing and that was that. My friend then opened the Bible to Mathew 3 and 4 and began to challenge me to see that maybe Jesus had actually developed a particular leadership style for his ministry that was smart and practical and that we can actually learn from and practice in our lives, especially for those who are working in humanitarian issues; which seemed to be a big concern for Jesus as well.

First, the vision; Jesus starts out by receiving the call during his baptism (in other words, the vision is manifested). Having a vision is a probably a good first step for anyone who wants to be a leader. Second, Jesus is tested for his commitment to the vision when he is tempted. This is something that not many of us think about in our leadership lives; we start with a passionate vision and as time passes we fall into the traps of temptations and challenges that begin to distract us from the spark of the vision itself. Many leaders end up abandoning or ignoring the vision (maybe not their roles or positions in the organization) when they fall into temptations such as financial perks, power positions, ego, team management, sustainability of the organization, etc. It seems that the greater and more challenging the vision, the greater the temptations to abandoning it. Third, he assembled his dream team of disciples (student leaders). Interestingly he choose from the diversity of society (a very smart move as people tend to connect more with those that are similar to them) and most of the disciples came with no expertise or even any experience with the subject at hand (a leader builds leaders from the ground up).  Finally he goes into practice by actively going “… throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people” Mathew 4:23. It was not about sitting in some temple, government building or educational institute, he went out.

What has been the most interesting aspect of this approach from vision to action in my own life has been the last step: teaching, preaching and healing. Looking at it, this is pretty much all what Jesus did; he interacted with people by teaching them, preaching to them and healing them; they either followed or not, that was their choice, but he did very little beyond those three categories.

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When Illusions become Traps

On September 29, 2012, the Palestinian leadership went to the United Nations and overwhelmingly received a “non-member observing state status” in the General Assembly. I was sitting with friends who were glued to TV screens watching intensely, even with tears of joy rolling down their eyes as the green lights flicked on in the General Assembly floor with one state after the other saying “yes” to state #194. It was as if my friends were watching the lottery numbers for the biggest jackpot in history being announced and they were holding on to the winning ticket.


My arguments as to why I thought this was not the best of ideas and how the energy of the Palestinians and its leadership should be utilized for something more focused on ending the occupation and oppression fell on deaf ears. I heard things like “You don’t understand the significance of this;” “this is a new phase of the struggle,” “now we can do things we never were able to do in the past” (in reference to legal claims at the International Court of Justice), and of course the most common “This is a great symbolic victory!!!” Yes, symbolically winning the lottery is a great thing indeed…

Nothing of any significance happened this past year to change the reality of the Israeli military occupation and Israeli government policy of building more settlements and restricting more the lives of Palestinians. The change that has taken place has been within the Palestinian community, and I feel it is more dangerous to the Palestinians than the occupation itself.

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Being Light in the Midst of Darkness

As we were heading out to dinner last night, our host told us in a simple and loving voice “oh, just take enough money with you for dinner, you never know.. we might get held up.” A gentle smile and we followed him out the door of a high rise structure that can be called “an apartment complex” where the tenants that live here have to go through thumb print clearance in order to just get into the building through the thick gates and security guards with batons. Such a statement is simple for Nigel Branken to say because he probably thinks this every time he leaves his apartment knowing that several times he was held up by men with guns and robbed just around the block where he, his wife Trish and six children (including a new born) live.   This in an area of Johannesburg known as Hillbrow.

Waking up this morning (after an amazing meal last night) but in the midst of what is recognized as the one of the most violent areas in South Africa (the sounds throughout the night were a testimony to that), where extreme poverty, violence, drug use, prostitution, gangsterism are how and who people are, the only thought coming to mind is Jesus’s call to his followers to be light in the midst of darkness.  I reflected on how so many “Christians” (including myself) come up with the most convincing and logical responses and arguments to counter what Jesus calls us to do when he calls us to be a light in the darkness, when he calls us to sell all our positions and follow him, when he calls us to live with, work with, heal and touch those who society has given up on and has even labeled as “untouchable.”

“It can not be done…” “It is too difficult…” “It will not make a difference…” “No one else is doing it…” “I might lose my life…” “It is too dangerous…” etc. etc. etc.


Then in the midst of this darkness you meet the living example of this light. A family that decided, after deep struggles and doubts for many years, to simply do it… to be a light of love in the midst of darkness. Getting rid of all their position and moving into Hillbrow; following the call in full trust and deciding to suffer with those who suffer and stand “with” them, not “for” them, in the struggle for rights and equality because, as Nigel said “I am not better than them and if they can’t have it, i don’t deserve it.”

Nigel and his family have become fully part of the community and by doing that they are being a light from within, not a spotlight from without that only seeks to expose the bad, judge, condemn, etc. They love and are loved by everyone around.


Simply said, Nigel and his family have broken in me the myth of saying that it can not be done, that it is impossible. They stand as a light not only in the darkness of extreme poverty, desperation and violence; they stand as a light in the midst of the darkness of heart and spirit that many “Christians” live in and are not even aware of.

They are my new heroes…