Palestinian Christian peace worker yearns for courageous leaders

Nora Carmi. Photo: Ivars Kupcis/WCC

WCCAs the WCC olive harvest initiative in 2020 drew to a close in early December, WCC News met with Nora Karmi, a Christian Palestinian who has worked for peace and justice her whole life, to hear her perspective on the situation in the holy land today, and the role of faith in sustaining hope.

For many Palestinians, efforts to fight off COVID-19 have presented unprecedented challenges, as closed shops have robbed them of their livelihoods, adding to the already long-standing, deep injustices of illegal Israeli occupation.

 “The situation in Palestine is alarming. On the economic side, people are desperate, many without work and having difficulties feeding their children. We are approaching Christmas and in Bethlehem, most shops are closed, due to the pandemic,” says Nora Carmi.

Carmi is a Christian Palestinian who has worked for peace and justice her whole life.

She was born in 1947 in Jerusalem into a family of Armenian survivors from the genocide perpetrated by the Turkish Empire.

She experienced becoming a refugee, and since then she has faced the worsened situation for the Palestinians since the illegal occupation of the territories in 1967. 

“In an early age I learned the importance of faith and the value of the land where God and humanity had met. I inherited the gift of service to all created in the same image of God,” she says.

For over forty years, Carmi has worked as an educator and community-builder with all age groups of the society including children, teenagers, men, women, clergy and with people with disabilities.

She has also worked for several organizations such as YWCA, Sabeel and Kairos Palestine. Although now retired, Carmi is still an active person, a member of several boards, and a peace and justice voice for Palestine and Israel, and also globally. 

Just peace

“A big problem today for a just peace in Palestine, is the lack of courageous leadership in the world,” she states. “Many are afraid to speak up for justice in fear of offending Israel, which also is a problem for many churches worldwide.”

Over the years Carmi has contributed for the spiritual growth and practical development in Palestine and Israel, linking groups culturally and beyond faith differences. She has always lived in Jerusalem, but today as a permanent resident, she is in a very uncertain situation. 

“The Palestinian Authority has no practical control in Jerusalem, or the various areas of the West Bank. Israel controls water, borders, and air. The division of areas A, B, and C do not really make much difference since Israel can go into Palestinian territories, arrest and dispose of anybody without being held accountable,” says Carmi.

During the 1960s about twenty percent of the population was Christian. Today the Christian population is one percent in Palestine. However, Christians still living in Palestine, often have important roles in the society leading schools, institutions and have other eminent positions in the communities.

“Despite the figures, I don’t see myself as a minority. This is the place on earth where our faith started. We have a rich tradition of thirteen church families in Palestine, who all do excellent work.” 

She emphasizes that there has never been an equal conflict between Israel and Palestine, as many think, despite what international law has proved. An illegal occupation persists for 53 years and the world silence and apathy has made it even harder for the Palestinians to reach justice. 

Carmi says¸ “The settlers terrorizing the Palestinians, the land grabbing, the demolition of houses, destruction of olive trees for the farmers and the restriction of movement. All this is really bringing despair to the people and many have lost hope.”

What helps her to keep believing in humanity and keep a positive perspective, is her faith, that has guided her through life. 

“In every aspect of my life, and in all possible and difficult situations, I try to do the will of God remembering the message of Jesus Christ in Luke 4:18: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.”

Reported by Anne Casparsson, a freelance journalist who focuses on justice and peace. Edited by Peter Kenny.

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