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Reflection On Palestine

“Flight into Egypt”

by Andy Braunston

Have a look at this picture… What do you see?

This painting was created by Sliman Mansour, an artist in Palestine. His style which has come to symbolise Palestinian national identity has inspired generations of Palestinian and international artists.

Using symbols derived from Palestinian life, culture, history, and tradition, Mansour illustrates Palestinians’ resolve and connection with their land. With women wearing traditional embroidered dresses, he represents Palestinian land and protest. With images of Jerusalem and the glistening Dome of the Rock, he represents the Palestinian homeland and the dream of return.

He’s called this piece the “Flight into Egypt’. Let’s now take a moment to remember the story of the flight into Egypt.

St Matthew 2: 13 – 23

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’

When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He will be called a Nazorean.’

Reflection

The Holy Family, when facing danger and death, were able to find sanctuary in Egypt. Today Palestinians wait to see if the Israeli Defence Forces will continue their relentless military action and move them from Rafah – where they were sent for safety. The border is sealed but there is speculation the Egyptians are building a pen in the desert, with no facilities, to “house” displaced Palestinians.

Safety is tantalisingly close yet impossible to get to. The Palestinian mother and child try, in vain, to get to the safety of Egypt; in this picture we also see the plight of displaced, bombed, and starved Palestinians. The woman and child are fed by the UN Relief agency – now condemned and hampered in its mission by Israel which maintains it has been used by Hamas.

Around the world ordinary people react with horror to the treatment of the Palestinians; anger, rage, and grief at the atrocities in October are now held alongside desperate emotions at the plight of the Palestinians – bombed, starved, displaced and condemned by a superior military force, possibly eager for more of their land aided and abetted by many of the world’s great powers. Dissent is demonised as anti-Semitic. Games are played in Parliament to spare the blushes of politicians who should know better; vetoes are wielded in the UN to stop even the mildest criticism. A weak archbishop won’t meet a Palestinian pastor because he doesn’t like the company the pastor keeps. Meanwhile mothers and their children are left to their plight.

Palestinian artists who depict Jesus as Palestinian have been sharply criticised yet art, like theology, pushes boundaries and offers new understanding. Jesus can be authentically depicted in many ways; he identifies with Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free, Israeli, and Palestinian. Yet depiction is not enough; art, like theology, must lead to action. Jesus, told us, after all, to recognise him in the least.

Jesus personifies the poor, forsaken, homeless, hungry, thirsty, and naked. In today’s world Jesus is to be found in many places but not least with the millions of Palestinian refugees seeking to find shelter and safety – as once his parents found refuge in Egypt.

A Prayer from Islamic relief

O God, help and protect the people of Palestine.
O God, ease their pain and suffering.
O God, bestower of Mercy, bestow your mercy on them.
O God, open people’s hearts to give in this time of crisis.
O God, help those who are in need, wherever they may be.

Amen

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