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Paradise Now–A Call to Peace

by Jay Gary, Jun 21, 2006

paradisenow_xlI just watched Paradise Now–a Academy Award nominee for the best foreign language film of 2005. It was riveting. It is the story of two best friends, Kahled and Said, who live in Nablus, West Bank. As Palestinians, they struggle against the occupation, and the humilitation. Paradise Now is the story of them being chosen to be Suicide Bombers, and how they each spend the next 48 hours, on their way to Tel Aviv to blow themselves up.

The producer, Hany Abu-Assad, has humanized these two would-be terrorists, on their mission of doom. Said mets Suha Assam, the beautiful daughter of the famous Abu Assam, Bin Laden’s Palestinian mentor. When asked by Said if she was proud of her father, she replies he wishes he was never a hero, and was still with her family. She claims there are other ways to resist an occupation. The world has changed.

Paradise Now by Warner Independent Pictures is not a feel-good movie. It is in Arabic with English subtitles. My college age kids found it dragged a little in the middle, but the last third is a harrowing journey. Strappled with suicide belts, Said and Khaled must make a decision to be murderers, after a first abortive attempt. Each makes his own decision. The moral of the story is: sometimes the most courageous thing you can do is not act.

I’ve been to Israel three times over the past decade. I have walked the slum streets of Gaza and strolled the promenades of Tel Aviv. I have eaten dinner with Messianic Jews one night, and the next broken bread with Arab Christians in Bethlehem. Each are dependent on the other to do the courageous thing, the moral thing. Yet each cannot act, given the paralyzing history and mutual violence which has gripped both their peoples.

Said asks, “How can Israel be both an occupier and an a victim?” I ask, “Why are good meaning American Christians supporting illegal Israeli settlers in Jerusalem, in Hebron, in Jericho?” Why are we keeping a whole generation of Palestinians from living in dignity, honor and peace?

A vocal minority of Christians in America are Zionists. They unilateral support of Jewish settlers is an offense to God. In endorsing Olmert’s disengagement plan, I feel that President Bush has turned his back on a people who trusted the U.S. in the Oslo Peace Process. I support Israel’s right to live in pre-1967 borders, but not to permanently deny justice to Palestinians.

Yes, I realize some Christians say that God promised the land to Israel. But I read the story of Jesus much, much differently. Jesus died to free us from our obsession with national Temple worship, whether in Jerusalem or Samaria. Jesus came to give us an alternative to zealotry. Jesus came todie on the Cross, so we wouldn’t have to die as zealots.

I have no sympathy for Hamas terrorists–those who take up the sword; neither do I have sympathy for Israeli territorialists, those who grab land and resources and a future from the downtrodden. We must not let this tragedy continue. Paradise Now is a call for peace. It is a call to come back from the edge of religious zealotry. It is a call to write our own stories, and not be defined by extremes on both sides.

Jesus spoke about a broad way that leads to death and a narrow way that leads to life. Are you willing to do the courageous thing? To support peace and justice between Israelis and Palestinians, rather than back the colonization and destruction of 3 million Palestinians and the soul-death of a militarized Israel?

Watch the Paradise Now trailer, and then rent the DVD. Wrestle with this moral issue. Write me off-line. Then visit Sabeel, the ecumenical center of Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem, and support the courageous work of Naim Ateek, who is calling for peace, like Paradise Now.

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