Here are two essays for Easter, both coming from very different places, but rooted in the Levant. Both speak of hope, which is what Easter is for Christians, coming, as it always does, on the summer side of the first day of Spring.
The Gatekeepers’ Peace
Watch the Oscar-nominated documentary “The Gatekeepers”. The director, Dror Moreh, interviews all five former heads of Israel’s CIA-like security force, Shin Bet.
These men are warriors. They have spent their lives defending their country. Their words come from 30 years of fighting terrorism. Here is some of what they say.
… In the army you see the enemy as a target. In the Shin Bet, even when you are interrogating someone, you see the enemy as people. And with people you have to talk.
… We say we have to kill everyone who is trying to kill us. But you cannot kill ideas. The only way to defeat an ideology is to present a better ideology.
… It was a huge mistake not to recognize Palestine as a member of the UN. I don’t know why America and Canada opposed it. As an Israeli it is much easier to negotiate the route of a border with an entity if it is a state.
… When liberation becomes occupation, the liberators become conquerors. Then you are not promoting democracy, you are stifling it. Both theirs and yours.
That last quote can apply equally to the US occupation of Iraq, or the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, or any number of colonial enterprises.
If you listen harder, you can hear their rebuke of the kind of ‘target politics’ too many politicians love to practice—theirs and ours. Targeting people as ‘the enemy’ wounds democracy. It is a self-inflicted wound.
This is an interesting idea, that the occupier wounds not only the occupied but himself. Derek Walcott, the St Lucian poet, says much the same thing in Omeros the epic poem that assured his stature as a Nobel laureate. Philoctete a black fishermen suffers from a wound to the ankle that does not heal—a legacy of the Middle Passage that delivered slaves to the New World. And Major Plunkett, a remnant of the British Empire in the Caribbean suffers from a old head wound received in some colonial adventure past. The colonized and the colonial—the conquered and the conqueror—are both wounded by occupation.
The five Gatekeepers are wise warriors. They fear that the Israel their parents and grandparents sought will disappear in the occupation. They rebuff their own government’s current policies. They tell us the path to peace in the holy land—land that is holy to all three Abrahamic faiths—is not a military march. It will not be achieved with more rockets or bigger settlements or longer walls. The path must be walked by people, and with people you have to talk.
© David McLaren Easter 2013
- Q&A: The Shin Bet’s Interviewer – The Jewish Week
- Dror Moreh talks about ‘The Gatekeepers’ – Washington Post
- The Fog of Occupation: An interview with Dror Moreh, director of ‘The Gatekeepers’ – Mondoweiss
- A former Israeli security chief’s plan for peace – The Globe & Mail
- The censorship minister – Haaretz
This second essay is by my good friend Hanns Skoutajan, a Minister of the United Church and stalwart Neighbour of Nawash during the dark days of 1995. His posts appear each week online at True North Perspective.
Rest and Light at Jouney’s End
Requiem aeternam donna eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Eternal rest give to them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
So the words of the Introit to a Requiem. A requiem is of course a mass for the dead in the Catholic liturgy and there have been many musical settings to these Latin words. The composition by Maurice Durufle (1902-1986 ) is but one of the most recent settings of this mass.
It was performed appropriately on the evening of Good Friday in the beautiful sanctuary of Southminster United Church in Ottawa to a large audience. The performers were the expanded choir of Southminster church with Katarzyna Sadel, mezzo soprano, Joseph Chi baritone, and Carol Tsai cello, as well as trumpets, tympani and Matthew Larkin on the Casavant organ of the church. This masterpiece was conducted by Roland Graham, organist and choirmaster of the church—an enormous and enormously successful undertaking proving to be a milestone in the history of music of that church.
From a religious point of view one should never approach the joyful Easter celebration without having passed through the “valley of the shadow.” I fear that we are only too willing to hop over the negatives, too quick to celebrate victory without having walked the “Via Dolorosa.”
Some years ago when I visited Jerusalem for the first time. I entered the Old City through the Damascus Gate. I immediately found myself in a bustling market. The smell of delicious food and the shouts of the vendors filled the square.
I proceeded along the ancient city’s narrow cobbled streets. Presently I arrived at an intersection where a number of people were gathered before a memorial. I decided to follow them, pausing as they did before other similar plaques commemorating the road that Jesus had taken carrying his cross. The group, and I in tow, soon arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the burial place of Jesus.
There was something that was bothering me as I followed the crowd through the alleys and then the question presented itself, “Can this be the Via Dolorosa? Had I not been on the road of sorrows the previous day?”
A day earlier I and four other Canadians had been to Gaza. The crowds and traffic, the enormous potholes, the dirt, the stench and a sense of hopelessness in this incarcerated city is overwhelming. It is the most densely populated area in the world. It leads me to affirm that this is a modern day Via Dolorosa, a place of suffering.
Certainly there are many other places of suffering and hopelessness in our world. The Via Dolorosa in the Old City of Jerusalem needs to remind us of places such as Aleppo and Homs in Syria that have become war zones that its residents have sought to flee.
But we don’t have to move beyond our own borders to find our aboriginal people living under desperate conditions. A group of Cree youths arrived only a few days ago after having walked 1600 km from the shores of Hudson Bay. That too must have been a kind of Via Dolorosa. Just inquire about the state of their feet as they arrived on Parliament Hill.
This was an historic trek that must be recorded in the annals of Canadian history.
All along their journey they were welcomed and indeed joined by others. Thousands gathered on Parliament Hill to meet them but not our Prime Minister. He was preoccupied on the tarmac of LesterPearsonMemorialAirport in Toronto welcoming two giant Pandas, a gift from China. Doubtless this was a very important occasion, but could not the Governor General have ventured out of Rideau Hall to be present at this milestone? Members of the opposition parties were certainly there. One can only surmise that the powers that be wanted as much as possible to silence those who are no longer content to be silent.
As I sat in the pews in the gallery of Southminster United Church enthralled by the music of Durufle, the words of the ancient mass played in my ears and mind: “Give them rest,” the Cree youths and all the many other wanderers seeking a safe rest, in refugee camps wherever there is turmoil.
“Let perpetual light shine upon them,” those who dwell in the valley of the shadow in far too many places on our Earth while others bask in shameful opulence.
Good Friday is past and Easter is upon us. I have already shared with you my colourful Easter Eggs. I bought them 45 years ago from a cheerful woman on Prague’s Old Town Square. It was the famous Prague Spring which unfortunately did not last very long. These eggs are a symbol of hope, of new life, so needed in our time.
The beautiful and haunting music of Durufle pursues me. “Requiem aeternam donna eis Domine.” Light and rest hopefully come at the end of the hard and doleful journey. Therefore move on with hope. Do not despair. The Spirit moves with you.
© Hanns F Skoutajan, Easter 2013.