“Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days” words by Claudia F. Hernaman
And through these days of penitence,
and through thy passion tide,
yea, evermore in life and death, Jesus, with us abide.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope.
My soul waits for the Lord,
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
In early February, I was talking to a close friend in Gaza on Whatsapp. It was late afternoon, and after a day of scrolling through news reports of Israeli rocket fire in northern Gaza and explosive photos that were reminiscent of the 2014 war, I was anxious to check in with friends living in the north east. Our exchange was as follows:
‘Habibti (my dear), I’ve been following the news today. Are your family ok? And the farm?’
‘We’re all fine, alhamdilillah (thank God). It’s just some bombings here and there. But it seems stable to an extent.’
‘Be safe habibti – it must be so scary.’
‘Habibti – you know God is the only protector.’
God is the only protector. Everything is the will of God. It will be as God planned. Such phrases of deep religious conviction are heard time and again from friends in Gaza and the West Bank. People living in conditions of unimaginable uncertainty often find faith in God to be their strongest and most reliable tool of survival. The same friend has recounted many times the stories of how, during the 2014 war, as explosions of Israeli rocket fire were heard all over her refugee camp, she and her family would huddle together in a corner of their apartment and pray throughout the days and nights.
Working within the frameworks of International Humanitarian and Human Rights Law, it is difficult to know how to respond to religious conviction at such a level. The Geneva Convention and their additional protocols are at the core of International Humanitarian Law, and are supposed to regulate the conduct of armed conflict and limit its effects as far as possible. Above all, the Convention enshrines protection of those not taking part in hostilities. As the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights so eloquently lays out:
‘Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world… Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people… Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law…’
And yet we know that however many violations of such frameworks are committed against the Palestinian people, the political status quo means there is rarely any recourse. In the darkest days of politics I believe my generation has ever known, not only in the Middle East but worldwide, we are tempted to be hopeless and to believe that situations of violence and political unrest are out of our control. Verse three of this Psalm adds, ‘If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord who could stand?’ Working to extend understanding of the realities of the life experience of Palestinians forms a crucial step in challenging iniquities in the name of a God of justice and peace for all religions.
Let us pray, Lord, Help us to build a politics of hope, in order to let the faith and trust that we find in others open our hearts to diversity and inclusivity, and to believe beyond doubt that love is stronger than hate. Guide our anger and outrage at the world we see around us not to a state of hopelessness, but to draw from the depths of our faith to see light in the darkest corners of our world; To cradle that light; that it may slowly shine brighter.
Devotion written by Fiona Smith, Methodist PhD. student from England
Picture credit: Graffiti at the Gaza port, picture taken by Fiona Smith.