God’s justice includes healthy families and communities. Families and communities exist to care for and support every generation, from the new-born child to the eldest member. Families and communities give us identity, teach us to live and love, and offer us a purpose and a place of belonging. Yet internal and external forces—war and violence, poverty, and disaster—can threaten families and communities. When families are separated, as many Palestinian families are, the whole community suffers. This is not God’s will. We are called to work together to build healthy families and communities for Palestinians and Israelis and for all people.
1 How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity!
Family, of one form or another, is held sacred by nearly every culture. In Palestinian culture, the family is the heart of the community and society. The Arabic language makes this evident: parents are often addressed with respect as Abu and Um (“Father of or Mother of”) and the name of their firstborn child. This title recognizes the importance of children as well as the role of parenthood. Adults who are not part of the family may still be addressed in family terms—such as “uncle” or “aunt”—that honour others by claiming them as kin. Respect for elders, a warm welcome for children, and hospitality to visitors are common values, not only in private homes but also in public spaces. At its best, this sense of community as a large and welcoming family brings the vision of Psalm 133 to life: how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!
Of course, all families and all communities are imperfect because they are made of imperfect human beings. Conflict, misunderstandings, jealousy, and hurt exist even in the closest families. When families and communities also face external threats and pressures, like the pressures of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, it can create trauma that affects every generation and every relationship.
The occupation separates families and communities in several ways. The separation wall between the West Bank and Jerusalem keeps Palestinians enclosed in separate and disconnected areas. Many are unable to visit extended family or tend to family farms and other property. Unjust laws also prevent Palestinian couples and families from different areas and with different ID statuses from living together in unity. In theory, all citizens of Israel are eligible to apply for citizenship status for their spouse and children through a process called “family reunification.” However, since 2003, a “temporary” ban on allowing Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to receive citizenship or residency through marriage has placed many families in a perpetual state of turmoil. Although this ban expired in late 2021, and the Israeli Knesset did not vote to renew the ban, the policy has not been changed.
Palestinian communities are harmed when unjust laws and practices violate the human right for families to be together. When married couples must break the law to live together or be separated, when loved ones are denied a permit to attend a family member’s wedding, when whole communities are treated as criminals, actions like these go against God’s will for unity. A just and lasting peace will never be achieved by separating families and communities. God’s people are meant to live together, in unity.
One remarkable thing about the resilience and strength of Palestinians is that despite all obstacles, families and communities persist in love and in unity: building, planting, and creating; celebrating weddings and welcoming new babies; sending children to school and honouring elders; helping neighbours to harvest and visitors to find their way. The Psalmist who writes of how “good and pleasant” it is when people live together in unity probably writes from experience—not the experience of a perfect family, but the experience of knowing the hard work, faith, and compassion it takes for families and communities to “live together in unity,” and how this hard-won unity is indeed good and pleasant!
Sadly, family and community separation are all too familiar in many places in the world: on the southern border of the United States or in refugee groups fleeing war and violence for places of safety, even when this means living apart. So may the words of this Psalm inspire us all—those blessed with families and communities who live together in unity and those who are cut off or separated from loved ones or from unity. May we strive for the sacredness of healthy families and communities for ourselves and for our neighbours, in Palestine and throughout the world.
1. How do families and communities support each other? What is the role of each?
2. How can we work to support families in our community?
Loving God, you created human beings to be in relationship–with you and with one another. You gave us the gift of love, which knits families and communities together. We pray for families and communities challenged by internal conflicts and threatened by external pressures. When times are tough, grant your people patience, compassion, and hope to face all challenges together, so that your people may live together in unity, now and forever. In Jesus’ name, Amen.