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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Connecting Berlin and Palestine?

Dr. Khalil Nijem was a Ph.D. student in Berlin when the wall came down. As we talked about his experience of that time, he related to me the connection for him between the jubilation he witnessed in Berlin in 1989 and the celebration he hopes to see someday in his home, Palestine. Dr. Nijem is currently an urban planning specialist in Jerusalem who is one of seven Palestinians attending the conference.

In the video clip, Nijem says that although it took the Germans 40 years of waiting (from 1949-1989) before they were reunited, he is encouraged by the Germans' example: "It doesn't matter how long it will take, but eventually that will happen and this gives us hope as Palestinians."

The focus of today's sessions was the Berlin Wall and its impact on the German people and the German church. We listened to presentations by the former mayor of Berlin (Dr. Christine Bergmann), the bishop of Saxony (the Rev. Axel Noack) and German theologian (the Rev. Friedrich Schorlemmer), as well as other moving testimonies by pastors who served in the former East Germany.

In discussions following these presentations, the separation wall in Palestine came up. Participants disagreed on whether Berlin offers a parallel for the Palestinian situation. Some maintained that the Palestinian case and others, such as the U.S.-Mexico border, are different from the German example because those walls have been constructed to keep others "out" rather than to keep their own people "in."

During the discussion, Bishop Noack stated, "I do not want to justify the wall [in Palestine]. As a Christian, you cannot accept it and you cannot approve of it. But as a government, I'm not sure they [walls to keep others out] will come down."

Others like Victor Batarseh, mayor of Bethlehem in Palestine, argued that "it's a wall that puts us in a big prison. We are here to speak against all walls -- whether they are in Germany, Israel-Palestine, Mexico-U.S.A., or the invisible walls ... As a church we should have a big stand against all walls. You build bridges of love and understanding, not walls of separation."

Tomorrow's presentations will focus on Bethlehem and the separation wall, so there will be plenty more to discuss.


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