Before I came on this visit to Israel and Palestine, I agreed to film a short reflection as part of the Church of Scotland’s Advent series being produced this autumn.
After some thought, I decided I would like to frame it using my favourite lines from the Benedictus:
In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
I’ve been getting up at dawn to film the sunrise in each place I’ve been staying: Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Tiberias. Though the initial darkness has obscured much of the scene, I’ve been struck by the distinctive morning noises of the different locations: the call to prayer and rooster crowing in Bethlehem, the birds and church bells in Jerusalem, the gentle lapping of the water in the Galilee.
As time has passed though, the calm of the early morning has shifted to noise and tension. A day after I filmed a quiet dawn over Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem, a 13 year old boy was shot by a sniper nearby. On Sunday morning as I filmed the sky over Jerusalem — a scene which the week before had echoed with idyllic birdsong — sirens and constant traffic shattered the peace. It turned out that the night had been one of violence, with stabbings in the Old City.
Here in the Galilee, all seems quiet on the surface, but protests and unrest are never far away.
When I began the project, I had hoped for striking sunrises, brilliant reds and oranges, the dramatic emergence of the sun out of the dark sky. But instead they’ve been subtle, a gradual lightening of black into a deep purple bruising the horizon before easing into the brilliant blue that has marked each new day.
I realise that I hope for peace in much the same way. I want bold strokes of colour to break through the ever deepening darkness of violence. I want passionate reds and oranges to replace the sadness of the never-ending black. I want a blue calm to come suddenly, enveloping the land in its warmth. I want the international community to finally call time on the human rights abuses.
But even in this time of escalating tension, that is unlikely to happen. Instead, peace, if it comes at all, will come slowly. It will be in the work of small groups and individuals making a difference that is almost undetectable. It will be in the non-violent resistance, the solidarity movements, the refusal by families and communities and governments to accept and perpetuate narratives of victimhood which justify the victimisation of others. The sky will lighten imperceptibly, but it will lighten. Dawn must break eventually.
God of mercy and peace, if ever a place were to need your compassion, it is this place. If ever there were a time for the sun to rise, it is now.