Stories from the Holy Land: My American Ignorance

How do I begin to tell stories from the Holy Land? I visited places and listened to people for 8 days straight. It was jam packed. Full of amazing places. Lovely people. Commercialized places. Brave people. Battered places. Hopeful people. Divided places. Restorative people.

Where do I start? How do I begin to explain the complexity that exists in Israel-Palestine, when I do not understand it all myself? Yet I have a determined yearning to communicate what I can to whom I can. I am compelled–heart beating out of my chest compelled–to be a peacemaker in some way, shape, or form from my little suburban corner of the world.

Garden of Gethsemane

During our last pow-wow as a team our guide, Todd, encouraged us to tell our own story when we returned to America. It is my desire to tell my story as I engage the stories of the land I walked and the people I met.

Let me begin with the basic foundation of ignorance I lived with all my life about the Middle East, specifically about Palestine. In later posts, I’ll describe the misunderstandings I had about Israel, but this blog focuses on my ignorance about Palestine, also called the Occupied Palestinian Territories. On the second day of our trip, I turned to a friend and said, “I feel like I’ve been duped!”

Whether it was intentional or not I don’t know, but growing up in the 70s and 80s, I never heard a single positive thing about Palestine. Whenever I heard the word Palestine or Palestinian, or saw the Palestinian flag even, it incited fear in me. I saw “them” as being violent and hateful of America. The only memories of exposure to Palestinians, not many, are flashes of violence and anger across the television screen. Those images, chosen by the media powers-to-be, fostered fear in my heart.

After a while I did not think of Israel or Palestine at all. As a pretty typical, in love, college-aged American in the 90s I thought of myself first and foremost. In the years following college, as a newly married transplant to Ohio, I again focused on what was in front of me. I was too busy, navigating my new adult married life in a new state, to think about world affairs very often.

But God opened my eyes in a fresh way to my need for his amazing grace as God revealed how truly depraved, selfish and prideful I was. But his love didn’t change for me, it was wide and expansive. It wrapped me up, as is. Thereby, my heart grew in capacity for others as I experienced the depth of his love. I began to look at the world with fresh eyes–a world he loved, a world he longs to restore. Justice and peace began to beat in my heart. He has been awakening me to oppression and disadvantage in our country and in the world ever since. I just as easily could have been born into poverty or with a different skin color or in a different geographic region, completely changing my life experience. I am just beginning to see my privilege more clearly.

When I was in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories I heard a wide variety of perspectives. Here is a snapshot of some of the Palestinian perspectives I heard.

I listened to an Arab Palestinian Israeli Christian women in Nazareth speak of her job creating biblical resources to empower and strengthen others. I heard an Arab Palestinian Christian women in the West Bank tell of her family’s struggle to keep possession of the land they have legally owned for 100 years. Over speaker phone, a young Palestinian woman in Gaza spoke of her struggle to get permission to leave the Gaza Strip to attend the university she had been accepted to attend. An Arab Palestinian Christian professor in Bethlehem taught me about the stages of reconciliation and the organization he founded that brings Israelis and Palestinians together to get to know each other. In Haifa, in northern Israel, an Arab Palestinian Israeli Christian man shared of his family’s ministry to prisoners, in which they seek to provide a welcoming place of healing and restoration.

 Nazareth

Farm in the West Bank

Gaza Strip in the distance

Bethlehem

Ministry in Haifa

These stories of love and life now sit next to the TV pictures of violence and death in my mind. There was and there is violence, yes. But more so, there is life and restoration. There are so many Palestinians who live good, peaceful lives. They want the same things Americans want–life, family, peace, work, stability, simple things really. Such hope fills my heart as I think of these brave, enduring warriors on the front lines of reconciliation and restoration. Now I have a new, complex paradigm of nationality, religion, and ethnicity from which to think of and pray for Palestinians, some living in Israel, some living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and some living in nearby countries as refugees, still. I was in shock as I attempted to absorb the story of a young Palestinian man who has lived in a refugee camp in Bethlehem for his entire life.

Aida refugee camp

This is my first lesson and gift from the Holy Land: who the Palestinian people are is wider, more diverse and more hospitable than I could ever imagine. I am floored that I had a front row seat to see the beauty and complexity of the Palestinian people. Most Palestinians are Arab; many of them are Muslims, while some are Christians. Some Palestinians live in Israel and are Israeli citizens. Others live in the Gaza Strip or the West Bank (also called the Occupied Palestinian Territories), or in surrounding countries.

What people group do you think you know? What group of people is wider and more diverse than you know?

What ignorance do you carry, whether about people groups in America or abroad? What questions could you begin to ask to fight this ignorance? Is there someone’s story and perspective you are willing to sit down and listen to?

This is only the beginning of the unraveling of me, the unraveling of my ignorance, and the unraveling of the beauty I experienced there. I will continue to tell the stories that gripped and changed me while in the Holy Land. There will be stories from both the religious Jewish perspective and the secular Jewish perspective. I will look at Zionism and the birth of Israel as a modern nation state. I will get into more detail on certain Palestinian perspectives. I will tell my personal stories as I encountered Jesus there. I will attempt to convey the bravery and power of the women I met who live on the Israeli Gaza border.

It is absolutely crazy how much I learned in eight days. It is going to take me a while to blog about it all!

 

 

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