An Unholy Wall in the Holy Land

I just returned from Bethlehem, and brought this nativity scene back as a gift. It’s a beautifully hand-carved nativity made from the olive wood distinct to the region. But you can also see something else special about it – there is a wall separating the Magi wise men from Jesus.

It was made by a Palestinian woman, who lives only a few feet from the Separation Wall in Bethlehem. She and other Palestinian Christians began making these nativities as a source of income and as a symbol of the reality they live in today, where the wise men would not have been able to complete their journey from Persia to the West Bank because of the wall.

And in it you can imagine how much more beautiful things would be without that big ugly wall.

I am reminded of one of the talks at the Christ at the Checkpoint conference there in Bethlehem last week. Sami Awad, one of the Palestinian Christian leaders and one of the conveners of the conference, shared his dream for an end to the Separation Wall. And he said that it may seem impossible, but God is a master of the impossible. The image that came to mind was the fall of the Jericho wall (Joshua 6 in the Bible), which crumbled without a single weapon being raised – it fell from the prayers, celebration, dancing and music, and nonviolent marching of God’s people… chanting down the walls.

Then Sami shared something deeply personal. He felt God calling him to a pilgrimage to the land and sites of the Holocaust. So he went – to Auschwitz and the concentration camps, to the museums and memorials. Sami shared about what happened in him as a Palestinian, as he learned the history and felt the pain of the Jewish people. It was deep, moving. Then he said something I will never forget. There came a moment when he realized that the wall was not built out of hatred but out of fear, and that made all the difference in the world.

It certainly doesn’t make the wall any less ugly or justify any of the terrible things being done to Palestinians… but knowing that the wall is driven more from fear than by hatred humanizes those on the other side. And it also gives us hope that someday the wall can come down because love can overcome fear. There’s a great verse in the Bible that says: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” (1 John 4:18).

I am grateful for my time in Israel/Palestine and the dreams ignited there for a world with fewer walls.

The organizers of Christ at the Checkpoint took some notes and listed a dozen or so dreams for the future that emerged out of this historic gathering. Here they are. May we continue to pray for, and live into, these dreams. And may we hold onto the promise that love drives out fear.

The Christ at the Checkpoint Manifesto:

1. The Kingdom of God has come. Evangelicals must reclaim the prophetic role in bringing peace, justice and reconciliation in Palestine and Israel.

2. Reconciliation recognizes God’s image in one another.

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3. Racial ethnicity alone does not guarantee the benefits of the Abrahamic Covenant.

4. The Church in the land of the Holy One, has born witness to Christ since the days of Pentecost. It must be empowered to continue to be light and salt in the region, if there is to be hope in the midst of conflict.

5. Any exclusive claim to land of the Bible in the name of God is not in line with the teaching of Scripture.

6. All forms of violence must be refuted unequivocally.

7. Palestinian Christians must not lose the capacity to self-criticism if they wish to remain prophetic.

8. There are real injustices taking place in the Palestinian territories and the suffering of the Palestinian people can no longer be ignored. Any solution must respect the equity and rights of Israel and Palestinian communities.

9. For Palestinian Christians, the occupation is the core issue of the conflict.

10. Any challenge of the injustices taking place in the Holy Land must be done in Christian love. Criticism of Israel and the occupation cannot be confused with anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of the State of Israel.

11. Respectful dialogue between Palestinian and Messianic believers must continue. Though we may disagree on secondary matters of theology, the Gospel of Jesus and his ethical teaching take precedence.

12. Christians must understand the global context for the rise of extremist Islam. We challenge stereotyping of all faith forms that betray God’s commandment to love our neighbors and enemies.

Shane Claiborne is a prominent author, speaker, activist, and founding member of the Simple Way.  He is one of the compilers of Common Prayer, a new resource to unite people in prayer and action. Shane is also helping develop a network called Friends Without Borders which creates opportunities for folks to come together and work together for justice from around the world.

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About the Author

Shane Claiborne

Shane ClaiborneShane Claiborne is a Red Letter Christian and a founding partner of The Simple Way, a radical faith community in Philadelphia. His most recent book, Executing Grace was released in June.View all posts by Shane Claiborne →

  • Fred

    The word evangelical in the 1st point in the manifesto freaked me out a little… with the ridiculous partisan environment I didn’t realize how dirty that word makes me feel…. and I am an evangelical by definition 

  • Shane,

    Thank you for going, seeing, and telling the story.  It is important.  Hugely important.  God is asking us to be better people and this Occupation we support is not in line with the teachings of Jesus.  It is more in line with the warmongering of Joshua, who I believe was listening to another voice.

    • IMHO

      Joshua? You mean the guy who was a “type” of Messiah… who listened to the One True God and where Messiah Yeshua’s name was derived from? 

  • In the spirit of Christ, I think we should be sensitive to people on both sides of the wall. The wall in Bethlehem was rightfully erected due to numerous violent terrorist acts perpetrated by Palestinian Muslim extremists in which hundreds of innocent Israeli children, women, and men were killed and maimed. Truly an injustice. Ironically, since the wall was built, many lives have been spared. In a country that is surrounded by Muslim countries bent on the destruction of Israel, I think it is only prudent by taking a little extra step of protection (the wall) that provides an ounce of prevention. If Palestinians really want to see justice, freedom, and liberty, then it is incumbent upon Palestinian Christians to step up to the plate and denounce these acts of violence and engage their Muslim neighbors in dialog about peace. Be the model that Christ exhibited and show that it is actually through peace, that many rights and freedoms have been achieved.

    • Doug

      Well spoken Greg. That is exactly the problem. The wall has probably saved numerous lives. It’s too easy for safe and secure Christians who live in the West to finger wag the Israelis for doing it but they are only trying to save lives. 

    • MableSpam

      Well spoken, but slightly misleading.  The terrorist acts of the Palestinians are indeed denounced by almost everyone; but for some reason, the far more numerous terrorist acts of Israel are always justified, framed as self-defence or simply outright ignored or twisted by mainstream media.

      Some numbers that should clear up the disproportionate terrorism of the state of Israel (almost ten fold the civilian deaths)…which has been inverted for our consumption by the media:

      Before Cast Lead:
      2500+ Palestinian civilians killed, including 1000 children
      250 Israeli civilians killed, 

      During Israel’s Operation Cast Lead Offensive:
      1,440 Palestinians killed, including 431 children and 114 women 
      5,303 Palestinians injured, including 1,606 children and 828 women 
      3 Israeli civilians killed, 183 injured 

      Since Cast Lead:
      Palestinian civilians killed, including 32 children
      15 Israeli civilians killed. 
      The good news is that in terms of civilians, most, on both sides, want peace…sadly, the war mongers remain in power.

      • Doug

        What is wrong with your analysis MableSpam is that it is not pointed out that Hamas fired rockets from heavily populated areas, near schools, and hospitals.

        You likewise dont mention the Hamas policy of using their own population as human shields nor using ambulances to transport their ‘fighters’ around the battlefield. Do things like that and your own civililians get killed/injured so your above ‘analysis’ is very misleading.

        The IDF fought Operation Cast Lead with great care to avoid civilican casualties, indeed going so far as to phone Hamas leaders to tell them to leave their homes prior to bombing thus saving Gazan children.

        Tell me when Hamas suicide bombers warned Israelis prior to detonating? How did Hamas ensure Israeli children in Sderot were safe from rocket attack?

        Thus comparing casualty counts is misleading, poor scholarship and analysis at best , capricious and deceptive at worst.

        • Richard

          Total nonsense Doug.  You say that Hamas fired their rockets “from heavily populated areas” implying that they were looking for civilian casualties. Are you aware that Gaza has one and a half million people living in an area that is 20 miles long and 10 miles wide? What part ISN’T heavily populated?
           The whole “human shields” stuff is nonsense too. It sounds like you get your “facts” from AIPAC.
            And it is laughable that you think Israel was exercising “great care” by phoning Gaza residents that their homes were being targeted and to get out. So while the bombs are falling people are fleeing into the streets because Israel told them their homes are being targeted. Don’t you think this would cause MORE casualties?  Instead of hiding in their homes the Gazans are out on the streets as the bombs are falling. But you think was a humanitarian move on the part of Israel. Yeah, right.
            Do some more research Doug and stop relying on talking points from AIPAC.

          • Doug

            Richard sorry but there is so much wrong in your post it’s difficult to know where to begin.

            Let’s dissect your ‘analysis’ piecemeal –

            “Total nonsense Doug.  You say that Hamas fired their rockets “from heavily populated areas” implying that they were looking for civilian casualties.”

            No not quite – I implied they hid and launched in civilian areas and where prepared to use those civilians as human shields.

            Check out this link and see Hamas’ military wing fire rockets from a UN school. (Which part of school don’t you understand?)


            Likewise I maintained that Hamas fighters used ambulances to get around, another unpalatable fact for you but if you care to educate yourself you can see it easily at –


            “ The whole “human shields” stuff is nonsense too. It sounds like you get your “facts” from AIPAC”

            Really ? No Im afraid you are as dreadfully misinformed here as elsewhere. I don’t listen to AIPAC I get the human shields stuff FROM THE SELF CONFESSION OF A HAMAS MP – Fathi Hammad at a public rally. If you care to educate yourself about the issue you can see him admit this at


            This Hamas MP openly confesses to HAMAS using human shields but you don’t want to hear it because it doesn’t gel with your worldview. I guess you don’t do facts.

            Then you reply with a twisted parody of logic so beloved of the hard left. You claim that issuing a airborne bomb warning to Hamas activists to allow their family to escape a precision strike on their home is to cause MORE casualties. What type of twisted nonsense is this ? How can you espouse such a bizarre viewpoint ? Are you more likely to survive a laser guided strike in the house being bombed or a block or two away? You’d keep your family in the house ???!!! Your suggestion is of Goebbelesque propensity. So what are you saying the Israelis shouldn’t have given innocent family members a chance to escape ‘just bomb them anyway’????? You are turning reality on it’s head in a manner that would credit even the most rabid 60’s Stalinist propagandist. I propose you learrn to be cynical about your own cynicism.

            I think you should take the trouble to educate yourself over this issue.

          • MableSpam

            On these points…
            IDF footage is about as biased as one can get (as opposed to HRW, Btselem,the UN, independent journalists,etc). This is the same IDF that bombed the USS Liberty as a false flag attack.  The same IDF that released their edited footage of the Marvi Marmara and refuses to release the unedited footage, even that which was confiscated from journalists.
            The ambulance footage appears to show people coming under fire and fleeing in an ambulance…no real context as to why or what is happening???

            The confession is in Arabic so I would need to find a translation from an unbiased source. Why? Well take the “quote” of Ahmadinejad to “wipe Israel off the map” that was intentionally misinterpreted to manipulate the masses when his actual statement 
            “The Imam said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time” 

            But really, I garner the feeling that no matter what information is placed before you, your viewpoint will not change…and as such I think I will stop trying to present information.

          • Doug

            MableSpam, the problem with your reply is that you fall into the genetic fallacy, make huge inductive leaps eg USS Liberty and Marmara ( that ship organised by a Turkish extremist organisation ) and then ‘cant translate.’ One misquote about Amhmadinejad means everthings a lie / cant be trusted ? It’s just too convenient to dismiss all the evidence placed before you. Not surprisingly I conclude re yourself the very accusation you make towards me. However I bear you no ill will ,so God bless.

          • Abe


            Please review the attached map which shows that approximately 50% of the land area of the Gaza strip is unpopulated, let alone “heavily-populated.”


        • MableSpam

          Your arguments miss my main point entirely, and perhaps I was not clear so I will restate it: No one defends Palestinian terror tactics, so restating them provides no new information; I acknowledge and condemn them…but instead of acknowledging and condemning the terror tactics of Israel, you are defending and justifying them!!!The equivalent reaction from a Palestinian would be to justify terror tactics by citing all Israeli terror that has killed 10 times as many of their people…which is a ridiculous moral argument.  If that argument has no leg to stand on, then why should it if Israel is making it – regardless of the excuses/rationale.Palestinian lives have the same worth as Israeli lives. Even though this serves as a distraction to the point I was trying to make, I will respond to your points…

          How on earth is using CIVILIAN casualty counts, especially one that ONLY counts those killed specifically by IDF FORCES deceptive???

          Your statement reads as if the IDF targets combatants and Hamas targets civilians…and for some strange reason, Hamas (while using second hand weapons and homemade rockets) kills a far lower percentage of civilians than the IDF (using the most technologically advanced weaponry, including laser guided missiles with real time satellite imagery).

          As for the IDF avoiding civilian casualties in Cast Lead, quite the opposite, they intentionally targeted civilians, including with the use of banned and experimental weapons such as white phosphorous! Also, the IDF intentionally targeted known UN buildings and hospitals with laser guided missiles!

          • Doug

            Haven’t the time at the moment to give your post the thorough scrutiny it deserves but to quickly answer 1 point – you say –

            “How on earth is using CIVILIAN casualty counts, especially one that ONLY counts those killed specifically by IDF FORCES deceptive???”

            it is deceptive because Hamas was using human shields, firing rockets/mortars from schools and I believe using a hospital as a weapons dump at one stage. There were 2 attacks eg Asma Elementary School were the night before militants were present there and the IDF unaware that civilians were later present opened fire upon the school. The Palestinian Authority’s Health Ministry in Ramallah likewise  accused Hamas of using hospitals and clinics in Gaza as interrogation and detention centers. Given Hamas’ self proclaimed use of human shields , their hijacking of ambulances for transport and use of schools for firing rockets etc it is hardly suprising that civilians became caught in the crossfire.

            Your contention that the IDF was deliberately callous due to the high civilian casualty figures as explained can be attributed by fair minded observers to Hamas’ military techniques.

            Further you say White Phosphorus is banned, that I believe is incorrect it is permitted as a smoke generating / masking weapon , it’s use against civilians ( or combatants ) I believe is banned. I shall have to check further on that one although I would agree that it is a ghastly weapon.

            I acknowledge your point about condeming Palestian terror whilst dispute the ‘moral equivalence’ in the targetting policies of the IDF and Hamas.

    • Rick

       As I stated above, I do not understand how a wall built under the label of protection actually serves as protection for Israelis surround the West Bank.  The wall actually subdivides Palestinian territory.  Often times the wall is build to separate people from their land.  It is used to subdivide cities such as Hebron.  I have seen Israeli workers close off the only access to the Jahalin Bedouin community.  They are trying to drive them off the land so they can continue expanding the Ma’ale Adumim Settlement and move the indigenous out of the area.  To be fair, I have to report that the Israeli government did offer the Jahalin new land.  It happens to be the land surrounding the municipal garbage dump.  Check out he maps on the B’Tselem website – among others.  They are an Israeli  Center for Human Rights.

  • Shane.

    Have you been to Sderot, to tell the Israeli story?

  • Doug

    Any solution must respect the equity and rights of Israel and Palestinian communities.

    Perhaps you could enlighten how you will deal with the Hamas charter which declares it’s intent to wipe Israel out? Sorry Shane but amidst all your group hug banter , holy sounding declarations , beads and Kumbayahs I don’t see any reference on how you will deal with that pretty major problem.

    Shane, I dont have it in for you and to be honest I dont like excessive cynicism or sarcasm but I have to say , last Iraq war you trekked off to support one of the most barbarous and despicable regimes on earth ie Sadddams, now you are finger wagging the security precautions of the only democracy in the Middle East.

    I guess you dont have to worry much about your safety in a restraunt, shopping centre or Mall from suicide bombers unlike Israelis. Perhaps after your short spell in Israel you may reflect on that on the flight home to safety.

    • Kerry Cox

      I think I know exactly how Shane would deal with Hamas, because Shane is one of the truest followers of Christ I’ve ever seen.  He would combat them with the love of Christ, and it it meant laying his life down I have no doubt he would do it.
      To say that Shane went to Iraq to “support one of the most barbarous and despicable regimes on earth ie Sadddams” (sic) is to either be completely ignorant of his trip or else it’s an utter and complete lie. 
      Shane has worked with lepers in India and willingly spent time in an active war zone to stand up for innocent lives.  If you know anything about him, you would know that he doesn’t spend time in “a restraunt,(sic) shopping centre or Mall.”  He lives among the poorest of the poor, and in an area with crime, rape, and murder as constant realities.
      Please refrain from commenting further until you have gotten to know Shane instead of relying on what the Pharisees at your church are telling you about him.

      • Doug

        Shane would combat Hamas with love? Well no harm in trying but I can’t see it being embraced enthusiastically at a Hamas rally and frankly that is putting it midly. However banal platitudes such as ‘combat them with love’ might further prestige in the Christian left but do nothing to protect ordinary vulnerable Jews in the market place , train station or shopping Mall from suicide bombers. Just how many more suicide bombings would you from your safety in the West consider acceptable before his ‘combat them with love’ overpowered the Hamas military and political wings ? And what timescale are you talking about here? Maybe Shane would lay down his life but he doesnt have the right to lay down the lives of innocent Jews who would die in the meantime from suicide bombings the wall has very probably prevented.

        As for his trip to Iraq well I think Im not misquoting him to say he
        opposed sanctions, so he left the world with what options then ? And where was Shane during the chemical bombing of of that Kurdish town or during the decades of torture of the Iraq regime? Did none of that merit a visit but only when the organiser of those atrocities was to be removed ? Mmmm. And he’s going to Syria to stand in front of Syrian tanks when ?

        You say he doesnt live in Malls etc, fair enough but what consolation is that to the grieving relatives of victims of Hamas suicide bombers who did kill their relatives in such places ?

        You see Kerry it’s very easy to be a fly-in fly-out finger wagging moralist when you don’t have to protect innocent people from genocidal suicide murderers. Nehemiah said ‘we prayed and posted a guard’. That’s what the Israelis are doing guarding their own people from suicide bombers. So it’s easy to sit in a comfy computer chair in the West and pass judgement on the Israelis but then again you don’t live in Sderot.

        • Richard

           So Doug in your mind it was ok for us to slaughter hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi’s, destroy their infrastructure, send millions into exile all to remove one man from power? (A man who was no threat to us I might add.) I’m sure the Iraqi people are oh-so-grateful for our “liberation.”  Frankly people like you give Christianity a bad name.   

          • Doug

            Us to slaughter ? I suggest you are using rather emotive deliberately guilt laden language pressupposing the cause to sway the argument. You might do well to examine the –


            site to obtain a better picture of numbers and causes than your emotive framework. Some of those casualties were caused by internecine fighting, or proposed to be due to problems with medical infrastructure rather than our ‘slaughter’.  I don’t believe the US and other allied forces went on an indiscriminate firing spree. And how many of those casualties were Iraqi military firing back with tanks , apcs, artillery etc during the intial invasion ? You didn’t qualify – wonder why. 

            “Destroy their infrastructure” ?  – Well that normally happens in war or were you unaware of this ? Are you suggesting that we shouldn’t have bombed Nazi Germany or Imperial Japans power stations and grids ? A regretful aspect of combat but if their infrastructure remained then the war would have been lengthened leading to more deaths.

            “All to remove one man” – another bizarre statement. No doubt you’d espouse that all the death and destruction of WW2 was simply to ‘remove one man’ Adolf Hitler. No Richard it was to remove Saddam, his government and his cronies eg Chemical Ali et al.

            “( A man who was not threat to us I might add )” – again another classic of misinformation. You might care to reflect that a crippled wheelchair bound  elderly US Jew Leon Clinghoffer was murdered by Abu Nidal terrorists on the cruise ship Achilles Lauro and his body thrown overboard. The Abu Nidal terrorist group which has targetted the US and several other western nations was given safe refuge in Iraq. Saddams Intelligence Service tried to assassinate via car bomb former US President George Bush.
            Educate youself from

            “Frankly people like you give Christianity a bad name.“

            Yes yes I’d be a ‘good christian’ if I espoused hard left views, heard it all before. God will be my most important judge I’ll leave it to him to decide.

    • MableSpam

      Once again, no one questions the issues with the Hamas charter, but no one even mentions Sharon’s ruling party Likud’s charter (from 1999, compared to 1988 for Hamas’) which states:

      “Settlement of the land is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and constitutes an important asset in the defense of the vital interests of the State of Israel. The Likud will continue to strengthen and develop these communities and will prevent their uprooting. 

      The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river. ”

      The golden rule is what is needed to solve this…Have Israel draw up any agreement they want with one simple rule, that the Palestinians can swap Israel and Palestine in the document.  

      Do unto others…

      • Doug

        You’re not entirely correct in your assertions. You say Likud will not permit a Palestinian state west of the Jordan? I would dispute them based on the following –
        With Likud back in power, starting in 2009, Israeli foreign policy is still under review. Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, in his “National Security” platform, neither endorsed nor ruled out the idea of a Palestinian state.[14] “Netanyahu has hinted that he does not oppose the creation of a Palestinian state, but aides say he must move cautiously because his religious-nationalist coalition partners refuse to give away land.”[15]
        In June 2009 Netanyahu outlined his conditions for the eventual creation of a Palestinian state, including the state being demilitarized, without an army or control of their airspace.
        Has Hamas made any concessions to the existance of Israel ?

  • Christina

    In the words’ of a third generation Israeli, “We don’t want a wall. We would rather see the view.” But, in the words’ of another Israeli, “We built a wall to wall ourselves in.” Israelis want peace. The government bends over backwards for this effort. Everyday Israelis “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (as found in the Psalms). True peace will come with accepting the Messiah and that can be said about all people not just those in the Middle East. In the meantime, Christians do well to support the Jewish right to live without violent attacks from neighbors, and realize if it weren’t for a wall and constant defense (like utilizing the Iron Dome this month as hundreds of rockets were fired from Gaza) there would be a lot more acts of terror.

    • Rick

       I don’t understand why the wall divides Palestinians from Palestinians.  The wall has deviated greatly from simply surrounding the West Bank.  I agree that both sides have the right to protect themselves.  But when the wall divides a farmer from his olive grove, I have to wonder, how does that protect the Israelis?  If you look at maps or if you visit the area, you will see how the wall is subdividing the Palestinians and going around to protect the settlements that encroach on Palestinian territory.

  • Anonymous

    No man fights because he hates what is in front of him.  He fights out of fear, because he loves what is behind him. -GK Chesterton

  • Annpage57

    Well,I would just like to say that I was deeply moved by the story of Sami who stepped out in an act of faith and obedience to the teaching of Jesus. To travel to the sites of the Nazi holocaust in a search for understanding of those who he experiences as his oppressors must have taken great courage and humility.
    It cannot be easy to be a Palestinian Christian living in the occupied territories; despised by the Israelis because you’re a Palestinian, despised by the Palestinians because you’re a Christian. And what do I have to complain about?
    What an example he is to all of us.

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