If I say the word ‘Holocaust’ you know exactly what I’m talking about – and you should! It originally meant a sacrifice or offering that was completely burnt. But it’s come to mean slaughter on a massive scale – hence, ‘nuclear holocaust’ – and, in particular, the Nazi regime’s murder of millions of Jews.
But I wonder if you know the word ‘Nakba’. It’s Arabic for disaster or catastrophe, but has come to describe the events of 1948 when many Palestinians were displaced from their homes, lands and livelihoods by the creation of the state of Israel. Nakba Day is 15 May and this year marks the 70th anniversary of these events.
Victory for one people was catastrophe for another. The Nakba was not on the same scale as the Holocaust by any means. But it was more than displacement, and some of the facts might surprise you:
An estimated 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled
Over 400 Palestinian villages were destroyed
This included at least 24 massacres – what we would call ethnic cleansing
Sometimes we wonder that people who were themselves victims could create more victims. Sometimes victims are very compassionate towards others, but it doesn’t necessarily follow. Victims can be desperate; and brutality often breeds brutality. There had already been plenty of violence in Palestine before the Holocaust, when Jewish militias were fighting the British. Having started the battle, they were determined to see it through.
But the battle continues today… Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem are still having their homes demolished, land taken and livelihoods destroyed. Recently I have also read of schools being demolished. As the Institute for Middle East Understanding tweeted recently, ‘The Nakba never ended.’
There is violence on both sides, of course – although it looks very different from each side. But violence will never win the day. A different type of battle is needed.
That’s why I love the work of Lutheran Pastor, Revd Dr Mitri Raheb, whom I met briefly with a group in Bethlehem 10 years ago. Mitri was born in Bethlehem, where he went on to minister and found various institutions to serve the Bethlehem area. Some of these – a children’s and youth academy, a university and senior care programme – are part of the charity ‘Bright Stars of Bethlehem’. Their mission is ‘to partner in growing hope in Palestine’. Their vision is ‘educating the next generation of creative leaders in Palestine’. ‘Simply put… hope is what we do!’
Mitri has studied and lectured abroad. He has an international profile as a theologian, author of numerous books and articles, an inspiring social entrepreneur and recipient of various awards. He’s one of the ‘brightest stars’ of Palestine! But he uses all of his skills to keep hope alive in a situation which is hopeless at the best of times.
If Palestine is to have a future, it will need educated people, creative people and people with visionary leadership skills – people following in the footsteps of Mitri. He and all who work with him are preparing the way for that in hope. Together with dialogue, reconciliation and prayer, I think this is the only way forward. Nakba must be transformed into hope.
With every blessing