This interview is part of a series produced for the World Council of Churches olive harvest initiative, a global effort in 2020 to highlight the spiritual, economic and cultural importance of the olive harvest for Palestinian communities, and to witness to the impact of the occupation.
By Anne Casparsson
Illegal occupation of Palestinian lands has been ongoing for 53 years, imposing deep injustices on the daily life of local communities. In Nablus, in the northern West Bank, many Palestinians know what it can be like to live with settlements close by, not least in the villages around the city, where Palestinian landowners regularly face settler abuse. Yet there are many in the area who persist, in working hard on a daily basis to foster peace and justice. Below, Rev. Jamil Khadir reflects on what this means for him as a local pastor in Nablus.
Rev. Jamil Khadir is the leader of two congregations in the Episcopal church in Nablus: The Good Shepherd Church and St Philip Church.
Would you like to tell a bit about your congregation and your own path to becoming a priest?
Rev. Khadir: Already as a child I wanted to become a priest, coming from a family with strong bonds to the local congregation in Jenin. In our congregation in Nablus, we have doctors, teachers, students and engineers, all reflecting on how they can contribute to the community and congregation from different perspectives. We work hard to live our life peacefully, with each other and with our Muslim friends. We are happy to have Muslim youth coming to our activities, and when our Muslim neighbors, friends and relatives, visiting us. Our church is part of a whole community and we are grateful for our good relationships.
What challenges do you see as a pastor in Nablus today?
Rev. Khadir: Many suffer, not only from the occupation, but because of the bad economy and unemployment. As a priest I try to encourage these people to stay in this land regardless of this. Life can look easy in other countries, but that is often an illusion. Living far away from your family, culture and land is far from easy. And if all leave—what happens then with our culture, our land, our families? Many ask me: “Why are you encouraging me to stay here without possibilities and with daily human rights violations?” But if they leave now, who will stay?
How can faith, hope and love be cultivated in these difficult times?
Rev. Khadir: As Christians and Muslims we all suffer from the occupation; there is no difference between us. In our kindergarten, we have 37 children. One of them is a Christian child, the rest are Muslim children. All our neighbors are Muslims. We are living peacefully together and our government respects different religious beliefs. Together we have a big role to work for justice, peace and reconciliation. The three words—hope, faith and love—are very important for us Christians, where the greatest is love. I see faith as the way we can live life in the presence of Jesus Christ. Of course you can live your life without this presence of Christ, but then you don’t have real faith. And without faith, there is no real hope. Our life is full of suffering, but our faith helps us to face the problems. God never takes away our problems, instead he promises us that he will be with us in the midst of suffering. Occupation is part of our suffering and our problems. But we have to have faith and hope. Without that you cannot deal with it.
How can the struggle against the occupation be done from a spiritual point of view?
Rev. Khadir: As Christians we don’t use violence—love is our force. You can summarize Christianity by the word love. We are facing the occupation and suffer with big hearts of love. It is a commandment of the Lord: You have to love your enemy. But that does not mean to accept and allow anyone to act in a bad or cruel way. By our love we can change everything. We can switch the heart of a stone or a rock, into a heart of love and peace, by our actions.
The gospel tells us to be peacemakers. This is what I teach in the congregation. We are Christians by our words and our deeds, by our love and our actions. This is part of our mission in this life.
How can we as Christians work and keep believing in peace and justice for the Palestinians?
Rev. Khadir: Palestine is the place where Jesus did his miracles, where he lived, suffered and died. The people calling themselves Christians, all around the world, are brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to take care of each other. And if your brothers and sisters are suffering–what would you do? First of all, it is very important to pray for each other. Prayers can change everything and will support us Palestinians a lot. Second, you have to come and see the reality on the ground here in Palestine with your own eyes. You can become a voice that is crying over the situation for the Palestinians today. Share this experience with the world. All Christians can be ambassadors for the Palestinian suffering. You can all help to change the situation with true faith, hope and love.
In Palestine, “God honored this olive tree” (WCC press release of 12 November 2020)
“Your life is in peace when you collect the olives" (WCC press release of 29 October 2020)
* Anne Casparsson is a freelance journalist who focuses on justice and peace.