This post is part of the MennoCon23 #BeTransformed series. MennoCon23 will be held in Kansas City, Missouri, July 3-6.
Anthony Khair is the international fellow at Mennonite Central Committee’s National Peace and Justice Ministries, a part of MCC’s international volunteer exchange program. Anthony is working on advocacy issues related to Palestine and Israel, Syria, Latin America, and migration. He is from Palestine but was born in Honduras, where he lived for 10 years before his family moved back to Palestine. Anthony has a two-year diploma of theology from Bethlehem Bible College. He was part of the model United Nations, a debate team for young adults, and attended conferences in Denmark and the Czech Republic. Anthony is fluent in Arabic, Spanish and English. He will facilitate the seminars “Both sides of the wall: the good side and the bad side” and “Palestine Land Exercise” at MennoCon23.
I have been living in the U.S. for the past several months, and recently, I have reflected on how life changes depending on what side of the wall you were born on. As a Palestinian, I have lived under severe systemic oppression. I am not allowed to travel freely within my country, due to restrictions the Israeli government has placed on people like me. This has affected my education, job opportunities, and physical and mental health. Like other Palestinians who live in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, I live in a form of constant segregation. I experience how a wall separating illegal Israeli housing settlements —illegal under international law — is used to “protect” Israeli citizens from people like me.
I come from a family of refugees who left Palestine, because, as my grandfather describes it, the land his great-grandparents used to call heaven came to feel like hell under occupation. As many as 900,000 people left Palestine as refugees, and my family was part of that exodus. They came to call another place — Honduras — home. I was born in Honduras and lived there throughout my childhood. When I was young, my parents did not tell me about my Palestinian heritage, because they did not want me to suffer the same way they did for holding the label of being Palestinian.
After I moved to Palestine, at the age of 10, I heard that when the Israeli military bombs civilian areas in Palestine they send two rockets — the first to alert people to leave the building and the second to cause destruction. When I was 12, I heard that first rocket land next to my house. In that moment, I thought I would die in five minutes. Luckily for me, that day, a second rocket never came.
These experiences challenged my belief in Christianity, because I always thought to myself, “How could I trust a God who would allow his people to be harmed?” This led me to pull away from Christianity at a young age.
However, after studying theology, I have come to understand how many people have misinterpreted the Bible in ways that dehumanize my suffering due to my ethnicity.
My favorite Bible verse is Matthew 5:9 (NIV): “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” In the United States, I hear people speak about this verse when talking about Palestine and Israel, saying, “I want peace, therefore I won’t pick sides.” And yet, they often support U.S. government policies and actions that encourage the oppression of Palestinians.
In the MennoCon23 seminar “Palestine Land Exercise,” that I am co-leading with my colleague Zachary Murray, we will challenge false narratives and discuss the depth of oppression and power imbalance in the region. Participants will experience an interactive exercise that will challenge their beliefs about the situation in Palestine and Israel. Come with an open mind and heart to hear stories of people directly affected in the Palestinian context.
Register for MennoCon23 today!
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