792 “Lord, forgive them, for they [simply] do not know what they are doing.”
Day 792: Tuesday, May 17, 2022
“Lord, forgive them, for they [simply] do not know what they are doing.”
A few days ago, I had hardly woken up and sipped my early morning Arabic coffee (with cardamom, of course!) than I heard the sad - unexpected - news that Shereen Abu Aqleh had been murdered in Jenin, in the northern West Bank of Palestine. Shock and sadness overwhelmed me as I learnt that this woman who was born and grew up in Jerusalem had been killed in her prime and at the zenith of her professional success. This was not fair! It is not fair!
And then, somewhat unselfconsciously, my thoughts drifted toward Passion Week and Holy Easter. I thought of the famous last words by Jesus at the ninth hour, as he was on the cross awaiting death for the sake of our salvation. Had he not cried, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” (Mk 15:34). But why did I think of that Scriptural verse? Was it because we had celebrated Easter only few weeks ago? Was it because Shereen herself hailed from a Christian family? Or were my flustered thoughts simply being dark and well nigh eschatological (end of the world thinking)?
(A mural painted by a Palestinian artist in Gaza City in honour of slain Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh.)
A stream of words and phrases have been used (and perhaps even overused) to express the outrage felt by large masses upon Shereen’s murder. And these words became even more strident and bitter after many of us witnessed on our screens the harrowing moments in front of St Joseph’s French Hospital in Jerusalem when Palestinian mourners and an Israeli police force faced each other off.
The coffin in which lay Shereen’s body almost fell to the ground. I was horrified at the violent disrespect being shown by the police to the dead woman in the coffin, and so I instinctively paraphrased Luke 23:34 as I muttered to myself, “Lord, forgive them, for they [simply] do not know what they are doing.”
The three long days from the moment this Palestinian-American 51-year-old woman was killed in Jenin to her final resting place in the cemetery at Mount Zion in Jerusalem have been quite distressing for me. Growing up in Jordan, I not only knew her stomping grounds intimately, I also identified with the Palestinian searing pain and sense of loss.
Do you too?
If we believe that we are all born in the image and likeness of God, we cannot approve of a policy of apartheid: you are inferior to me and so I can humiliate you. This cannot be what our Christian faith teaches us. It is not what Shereen’s faith taught her either as she went to the Rosary Sisters’ School in Jerusalem many moons ago.
To put it differently, all of us - politicians, journalists, NGO’s & charities, priests, imams & rabbis or ordinary men and women across the world - cannot fight for justice by tolerating injustice. We cannot constantly try to be “impartial” by sitting on the fence, with one leg dangling on one side of the wall and the other leg on the other side of the same wall! We should not be afraid to go against the tide if we feel that our claims are just.
Otherwise, our tremulous attitudes herniate us politically, and in my opinion become antithetical to the teachings of Jesus himself let alone to human rights norms and principles.
The truth has to be said, clearly and loudly, even if it were hard, at times unpopular and not always welcome.
Today, as I too bid Shereen goodbye, I ask you to remember that peace cannot be achieved except if we also secure justice. So as Embrace the Middle East struggles to assist those living in the Levant, do not shirk from saying the truth. After all, thousands of Palestinians like Shereen should not turn to us and ask wryly, “Why hast thou forsaken me”?
© harry_bvH, 15 May 2022
Dr Harry Hagopian, KSG, is an International lawyer as well as Associate of Ekklesia & Board Member of Telos. He authored 2 books, The Armenian Church in the Holy Land (2017) & Keeping Faith with Hope: The Challenge of Israel-Palestine (2019).
His website is www.epektasis.net