I have to admit that I never really knew much about the Palestine/ Israelite conflict before conversation began about this trip – other than the fact that it existed. I knew from history about the Zionist movement and how it had led to the creation of an Israeli state. I knew about the conflicts over land with some other group that didn’t like the Jews very much. I knew that the United States supported Israel’s statehood at all costs– no candidate could win the presidency in modern times, for example, unless they said repeatedly that they were pro-Israel.
So, while I am ashamed of my ignorance on these important matters, I believe my being in Israel this week with such an open mind to see things as they really are is a gift.
Our time in Israel is about the abormal. Our travel roster has brought together folks from America to Israel that the people of this land would never see together, much less as traveling companions and friends. We are traveling with Palestinian and Israeli guides (which is a cultural no no). We are meeting Rabbis in settlement camps and those who are a part of Rabbis for Human Rights (a moderate to liberal group). We are traveling with and meeting Reformed, Conservative and Orthodox Jews. We are hearing about Palestine from Imams working in East Jerusalem (the Arab section of town). We’ll be meeting Christians in the Palestinian territory tomorrow (where many Christians are afraid to go on their Jesus pilrmages).
The Israel/ Palestine landscape as I see it on Day 3 is that the situation is way more complex than we imagine it might be from all of the pro-Israel rhetoric we get in the States. There truly are no easy answers. Legitimate hurt has occurred on both sides. Peace and reconciliation will not come easy as the conflict that began in 1948 is still not over. There is not peace in this land and it is obvious! Segregation and calling the opposing side the “other” and as “less than” will continue to hold back true solutions to peace talks with religious propaganda at the center.
Yet, while all of this sounds so complex and depressing. There are some– actually more than you would ever imagine– who are doing powerful peace work on the ground. Groups like Jerusalem Peacemakers, who we met with tonight for dinner are creating opportunities for shared prayer, shared meals, shared forums among Jews, Christians and Muslims all throughout Israel. With fewer financial resources than most NGOs, Jerusalem Peacemakers and their leader Rabbi Eilyahu McLean-Dalah are holding powerful forums like “Hug Jerusalem Day” where thousands of people gather of all faith traditions each year to literally hug around the wall of the Old City as a symbol of the goodness of human dignity and love. The Rabbi said, “We want future generations to know that we love this city and there is a better way of living together than just shooting each other and suicide bombs.” Though this Rabbi may never make the American news, his work points to knowing that there’s more than one side of the true story on the ground in Jerusalem.
I am so glad that I came on my first trip to Israel not on the typical Christian tour only seeing Jesus specific things. I am so proud to be here among my new friends who are all a part of the Abrahamic tradition with me– showing me more each day that there might be a better way to see the conflict in the Middle East other than the soundbites of worldwide media on the issue.