Israel & Palestine
In this chapter of our sabbatical, we joined the Come & See Pilgrimage led by outgoing Bishop Rickel of the Diocese. The challenge of lining up with a set schedule and 30 others proved difficult at once, as our flight from Barcelona was canceled suddenly and had to get a special shuttle to catch up with the group by the Sea of Galilee.
It all was working out, and we were enjoying exploring the many historical and sacred sites of both Old & New Testaments with our group, when my wife and I came down with COVID. We had to quarantine from the group until we could test negative, so we missed much of the tours of Bethlehem and Jerusalem, and finally, had to be left behind altogether for the final leg to Jordan. As Bishop Rickel put it, we were on a different sort of pilgrimage, this time on our own in Jerusalem.
While in quarantine, events unfolded that put a spotlight upon the long-standing tension between Israel and Palestine. The Israel Defense Forces raided the Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin to suppress what they saw as a terrorist cell, resulting in nine deaths, the most in one incident in over a decade. Two of the nine were civilians, one of which a grandmother. The Palestinian world erupted, with Hamas sending rocket fire from Gaza and condemning the attack. The following day, a 21 year-old Palestinian in East Jerusalem shot a group of Israelis coming out of a synagogue in a settlement there, killing seven. Protests began all over the region. In Tel Aviv, where I am currently writing, a large demonstration took place against the Israeli ring-wing government, due to their increased militaristic stance, as well as their policies to override the judicial process and to allow more Israeli settlers to arm themselves. (https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/1/29/tens-of-thousands-of-israelis-protest-against-netanyahus-govt).
Since we were now able to come out of quarantine in Jerusalem, we hoped to make up for some of the sites we missed on the tour. We walked some of the Via Dolorosa (Way of the Cross) and visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We also walked through the Muslim Quarter, enjoying some of the harmonious chaos that we knew in Morocco, yet we felt conflicted about how best to be sensitive to the people here, both Muslim and Jew, as they continue to share this tiny Old City amidst the backdrop of violence.
We asked for the perspective of the tour organizer, who has had a lot of experience with having visitors in this country. He recommended that we give space to the Muslim and Jewish Quarters of the Old City for a couple of days, as well as not go into East Jerusalem (we had talked about visiting Gesthemane and the Mount of Olives, both in that area). Ironically, another shooting occurred that day, in a settlement at the foot of the Mount of Olives, this time by a young Palestinian who is only thirteen.
While we are in no way qualified to speak to the conflict or its solution, we have had some chances to hear from others about it. One was Daoud Nassar of the incredible Tent of Nations (https://tentofnations.com/). The Nassars have owned farmland on the West Bank, near Bethlehem, for three generations, yet find themselves in a battle with both the Israeli government (who want to use their land to increase settlements) and even neighboring Palestinians. Their story gives a long-term perspective on the impact of the fight over land effects the livelihoods of ordinary people.
On the hopeful side, there are efforts growing for Israelis and Palestinians to find ways to work together.
"We can see right now many laws being advocated for against LGBTQ, against Palestinians, against larger minorities in Israel," said Rula Daood of Standing Together, a grassroots movement of Arabs and Jews. "We are here to say loud and clear that all of us, Arabs and Jews and different various communities inside of Israel, demand peace, equality and justice."
Our Palestinian guide, who lives and works in East Jerusalem, believes that the outcome of what happens in this land, a sacred space for three faiths and central to the very world, may set the stage for either lasting peace or ongoing conflict, globally. If he is right, and he may be right, the fate of this embattled land may well be the fate of us all.
Director Dan Oberg