***I snapped the above picture in Jerusalem during our President's visit.***
I recently gave a presentation to our church about what I experienced during my trip to the occupied West Bank. I've written about those experiences on another post (www.thecrossingchurch.net/pastors-corner/israelpalestine-delegation-may-2017). I highly recommend you read that blog first.
After sharing the many human rights violations I had witnessed (including home demolitions, detainment, and home raids), some people expressed sincere shock as they truly didn't know what has been happening there for the last 70 years. That was the reason I gave the presentation. Many people don't know and they need to. Especially Americans. Especially Christian Americans. Especially Evangelical Christian Americans.
The issues involved in the Israel/Palestine conflict are well-documented, yet little known. So few Evangelicals actually understand the reasons for the conflict or the effects of it, yet so many have a strong opinion. We are to support Israel. It's as though supporting Israel came with the standard Christian-American package. Jesus, baseball, the pledge of allegiance, and standing with Israel. How can we have such strong opinions about something many of us know so little about? Or, for those who would say they are informed, why are so few engaged in seeking a solution? Two words. Theology and Politics.
For those who admittedly are uninformed, I hope you will take the time to catch up. Here's a great link with many resources that may help. ifamericaknew.org/
This particular blog is really to challenge those who would say they "stand with Israel". Why do you stand with Israel? Here are some of the reasons most often given:
Our theological and political views can actually serve as an excuse to dismiss human rights violations. I'm talking about lives being ruined because of a single Bible verse. Again, if your theological or political views allow you to ignore human rights issues, are you open to reconsidering your views?
This, of course, won't be so easy to do. I'm wrestling with it myself. I was asked a great question at my presentation. It was concerning my disbelief that God could be the guiding force behind the occupation of Palestine. Someone said, "God commanded the Israelites to kill every man, woman, child, and beast in Canaan. How do feel about that?" It's a great question and to be honest, I don't feel very good about that at all. Personally, I think a little YouTube footage of the slaughtering of women and children in Canaan might change how we view Joshua's glorious conquest.
My concern is that anyone could justify the actions of this occupation because they believe there's a biblical precedent or doctrine that allows it. Keep thinking about that. Do statements made in the Old Testament override Jesus' clear teaching in the New Testament? Does the fact that Moses declared that God gave Israel the land mean that the people living there now should be removed? Do we make decisions based on the teachings of Jesus or Joshua? I'm hoping you'll take time to pray and think these kinds of things through.
I've watched the response to people on social media who are rethinking things like this also. It's been pretty ugly. Now, if rethinking my theology and politics in order to love the oppressed removes me from membership in my current clubs, then I accept that. I'm done risking being a monster, but a biblically-supported monster. Christian history is scarred with biblically-supported monsters. Witch hunters. Crusaders. Inquisitors. Slave owners. Conquerors. Oppressors. We must be willing to reconsider our theology and/or politics. People's lives are at stake.
***This is a paper I wrote to be used for future delegations with Christian Peacemaker Teams.***
Our delegation began with a sober warning that our experience may prove to be difficult to process. As I search for words to begin this paper, I find that to be quite true. I spent 15 hours on a plane home from Tel Aviv and found myself not wanting to think about it. There are faces and stories that loop vividly through my mind whether I want them to or not. I will attempt here to briefly convey some of those experiences and how they affected our team.
One of the clear benefits of our delegation was the structure. Every day, regardless of the surprises or chaos we encountered, we knew it would begin with a time of spiritual reflection and would end with a chance to share the experiences that had affected us that day. In a land of uncertainties, we were able to hold to these two certainties. I commend our delegation leader, David, for his leadership in this area. Each member of the team took turns leading a time of meditation and reflection to help us begin the day with a strong step forward. There were words that spoke of peace. Words of hope. Words calling us to love our enemies. Words to remind us of our commitment to non-violent peacemaking. Looking back, I think we needed these words.
We also took turns cooking meals, which proved to be easier for some than for others. Yes, it would have been quicker and easier to grab a falafel every night, but we would have missed out on a number of opportunities. Those who knew they were cooking that night had to make time to both plan and shop for dinner, regardless of the intensity of our schedule. We learned which shops opened early and which ones stayed open late. We found out who can cook and who probably should have picked up falafels for dinner. I had no idea what I was doing in the kitchen, but I had lots of fun adding unknown amounts of unknown spices to an unknown meal plan that ended up being a rather salty collection of chicken and veggies. It was all part of the experience of serving my fellow team members.
These were the sure moments. Morning reflection. Evening meals. A chance to reflect on the day. They were built into the schedule and became part of the routine. I recommend that future leaders of delegations strive to maintain these basic routines as they form the structure to a daily plan that otherwise shifts depending on the circumstance.
Our days in Jerusalem began with Omar, the director of Sabeel, a Christian Liberation Theology Center. His tour was structured by what he calls "The Way of the Cross". It's an interactive tour that recalls the sufferings of Christ and reflects on the current suffering of the Palestinian people. Each station brought to light a different aspect of their suffering. The Nakba (catastrophe) of 1948. The occupation. The refugees. The home demolitions. Gaza. The wall. This was no subtle introduction to the conflict in this land. Our team didn't get a chance to dip our toes in the pool before deciding whether or not to jump in. We woke up on day one and dove into the deep end of the pool.
I think we'd all heard about things like checkpoints and refugee camps before committing ourselves to this delegation. Within 12 hours of arrival, we were experiencing them. Omar took our team through our very first checkpoint and into a refugee camp in the heart of Jerusalem, which according to Omar, was more overpopulated than anywhere in Gaza or even China. It was in the camp that we first experienced the effects of living under occupation. Omar pointed out the girls school, where just the day before, Israeli soldiers had pelted with rubber bullets. It was their response to stones having been thrown at them recently. The girls now sit in a classroom with broken windows and the threat of being under fire again by the soldiers. Welcome to life in the only democracy in the Middle East.
As we walked away from the scene of rubber bullets and shattered glass at the girls school, we got a whiff of tear gas. Omar pointed out that it was often used by the soldiers as a way to control the crowds. This was happening just blocks from where we were walking. It was time to leave the refugee camp, but exiting the camp demands going through a checkpoint. This was our team's first of many trips through the iron bars and turnstiles of an Israeli checkpoint. Though we'd had easy access into the camp, we had to empty our pockets, remove our belts, and provide our passports in order to leave. One of our team members had left her passport on the tour bus outside the camp. She couldn't leave until we retrieved it for her. Yes, each of us had our passport with us from that day on. Lesson learned.
A moment that caused me to reflect on my own privilege was a time of worship and reflection at the checkpoint. Omar said that whenever he brings groups through that checkpoint, he asks someone to lead them in a chorus of "We Shall Overcome". I recognized the song, but quickly found out that I didn't actually know the tune or the words past the first line. We don't sing that song in our church. There's no sense that we need to. Our congregation enjoy the benefits of the ruling power. We can come and go as we please. We can shop and dine where we like. We have the freedom of movement. There is no giant thumb pushing down on us. There is no force or system we must overcome. We don't feel the need to sing that song. Omar and his fellow Palestinian Christians need that song and the hope it inspires. Lessons learned at a checkpoint in Israel.
Omar had one more thought for us that day. We stopped in the middle of the road where Omar pointed out the refugee camp on the left and a Jewish settlement up the hill on the right. The differences were stark (as we saw day after day), but Omar brought up the particular issue that the people in the refugee camps were required to pay taxes that Israeli citizens don't. The taxes of the poorest people helped to provide the luxuries of the richest. The oppressed with little water helped pay for the swimming pools and green lawns of the oppressors. While the injustice was rather obvious, Omar framed it in light of Christ. He said, "If Jesus stood between these two communities, what would He say?" Indeed. What would He say?
The following day took us to the remote villages of the Negev. This is the home of the Bedouin communities. This is also the home of home demolitions. Here we sat sipping Arabic coffee under the shade of a tarp with Azeez. His home had been demolished 112 times by the Israeli army and would again be the day after our visit with him. It was the first of many stories we would hear of life under occupation while enjoying the generous hospitality of the Palestinian people.
Our Jewish tour guide that day, Amos, pointed out many wrongs carried out by "The Occupation". This one point stuck with me. He said that the Israel/Palestine conflict is an ongoing one-sided war. The State of Israel are constantly warring against the Palestinians. Home demolitions are an act of war. Water restrictions are an act of war. Restricting movement is an act of war. These acts of terror are legalized by the state of Israel, but are viewed as acts of war by the Palestinians. That's quite a perspective. The war doesn't begin with a rocket from Gaza or a bomb from an Israeli F-16. This war is always happening. It's a one-sided war that's being fought every day under the radar of most media outlets. Our team now better understands how this war is being fought.
A picture I think our team would agree to stand out in our memories was that of the widow of a man recently killed by soldiers while evacuating his home before demolition. She stood bravely between us and the grave of her husband as a translator conveyed her thoughts to us. She has been left with 10 children and no home. Where is her hope? What will come of her children? These are thoughts that haunted me throughout our delegation and continue to do so today. My body may now be 7500 miles away from Palestine, but my thoughts are still there.
Something that I found to be crucial to our delegation and daily tours was that many of our guides were Israeli Jews. Since conveying some of our encounters on social media, I've already been accused of being brainwashed by a biased Palestinian view. Well, much of that "biased Palestinian view" was shared with me by our Jewish tour guides. Amos was one such guide as was Tamar, who with great skill and precision guided us through the Holocaust Museum in West Jerusalem. Tamar was born in Germany, but came to study history in Israel and later converted to Judaism. She relayed to us not only the horrific plight of the Jewish people in Europe in the 1930s and 40s, but also made sure we understood that similar aspects of this sad history was being repeated. Has modern-day Israel chosen a different way than the oppressive and racially-motivated Nazi regime all those years ago? The Nazis sought to remove the Jewish people from the land and resorted to tactics of terror and violence to achieve their goal. We were impressed and saddened by the many parallels in the current situation with Israel and Palestine.
The second half of our journey was in Hebron and was quite different than our time in Jerusalem. In many ways, Hebron was the part of the journey that had drawn many of us to be delegates. These were the "hands on" activities that made us feel part of the solution. In Hebron, we were given the opportunity to be active peacemakers. We spent two mornings monitoring the checkpoints as children made their way to school past the soldiers and through the turnstiles. These duties are carried out daily by the regular CPT team in order to document any harassment that occurs from either soldiers or settlers. We witnessed a number of youth as well as teachers being held while their IDs were checked. We encountered a Jewish settler who took our pictures, made rude sexual gestures, then threatened to put us on YouTube so that "our families could see what we were really doing here". I have to say, this was a disturbing encounter.
As we stood each morning monitoring the checkpoints, I also noticed the speed at which the settlers drove through that area. In America, we strict speed limits through "school zones". Obviously, there was no such law in Hebron. I found from a team member that Palestinian children are often hit by settler's cars on their way to school. It happened to a four year-old just days after we left. Children are not immune to the dangers of life under occupation. In fact, they may be the greatest casualty in this conflict.
I don't think any of us as delegates expected to be signing up to experience a home raid. At some point in the afternoon, a group had posted a banner on the sign of the CPT building speaking out against apartheid. Well, as we enjoyed a dinner of chicken and pasta, we were joined by 5 Israeli soldiers demanding we show them how to access the banner. We didn't put the banner up and neither did we know how to get it down. So, the soldiers attempted to enter the home of Palestinian Kindergarten teacher who shares the building with CPT. She refused to give them access, so they resorted to trying to break into the schoolroom one floor above us. They succeeded only in breaking the handle and were visibly getting frustrated with the situation. They threatened to return and they did just after dark. After breaking down the door, they came up the dark flight of stairs only to exchange photos and threaten to return every day, three times a day. They never returned and the banner was still up when we left Hebron. I found it's not easy to sleep when you're expecting soldiers to break down your door and invade your home at any given moment. Could that ever become normative?
Recovering from the home raid, our team found itself in the streets of Hebron during a clash between stone throwing Palestinians and tear gas launching Israeli soldiers. Before the clash, the bustling streets had been cleared by the IDF. As we walked through them, it was a true ghost town. We caught two taxis and made our way to our appointment with Hamad from the Hebron International Resource Network. As our cab pulled up the hill to a crowded intersection, we looked to the right only to see young Palestinian men throwing stones at Israeli soldiers who were on the other side of a wall of thick black smoke. As our driver attempted to navigate through the crowd, a hundred young Palestinian men scattered from the midst of the smoke headed in the same direction we were trying to go. With the screech of tires, we made our way far from the tear gas and rubber bullets that had caused the young men to flee. We had clearly entered a war zone.
On our last evening in Hebron, we joined the CPT team for the very first "counter settler tour" on the streets of the Old City. The Jewish settlers "tour" the old city of Hebron every Saturday evening, which has resulted in the closing of many Palestinian shops due to harassment from the settlers. The settler tour is designed to share with the settlers the Jewish history in Hebron and cast a vision of renewed ownership of the city. So, they tour the streets of Hebron as a clear sign to the Palestinians that this is really Jewish land.
Abdullah, a young Palestinian tour guide, walked us through the same path as the settler tour, while sharing with us the history of that area. Many of us on the team later shared our discomfort with the tour. Our team waited outside the gates for the settler tour to begin and the soldiers noticed us right away. A number of young settlers also peered over the top of the gate to see who we were and what we were up to. From their point of view, I can see how our presence might have increased tension. Why were we waiting for them and why were we following them through the streets? We shared our thoughts that night and hopefully the CPT team consider some of our suggestions to improve the tour and lessen the tension.
In breaking with both our patterns in Hebron and Jerusalem, we spent the night in a Bedouin village in the middle of the desert. The village lies directly under a settlement and has been under threat of demolition for years. We spent the night as a "protective presence" in their new community center, which has been demolished twice already. Our team was once again awed by the hospitality of these people as they treated us to dinner. These are people that have been offered an "open check" by the Israeli government to leave the area and have decided instead to stay on their land. As we witnessed in so many places, these villages are strategic points for the state of Israel to gain full access to as they could join settlements. The families in these villages live under constant threat and harsh conditions in order to keep not only their way of life, but to keep Israel from taking more land. The Israeli government do not acknowledge these villages and refuse to give them access to electricity and water, which the nearby settlements enjoy in plenty. Such is a day in the life for these brave people.
Our day in the desert included a visit to the village of Sarura, which had been demolished by Israeli soldiers just hours before we arrived. There were volunteers from the Jewish Center For Non-Violence helping to rebuild. What a beautiful sight. I was sad this morning to read that the village was once again demolished and a group of international activists were assaulted by soldiers. Such is a day in the life for these brave people. And so is the next day.
After two very exhausting weeks, it was time to go home. We had experienced a home raid and a violent clash in the streets of Hebron. We had countered the settler tour successfully and without issue. Some of us found a day and night in the desert to be more difficult than we'd thought, but we had provided a protective presence for the people and structures in that village. We had spent two weeks observing and documenting life under occupation. Our promise to these people was to come home and share their stories with the hope that, over time, public opinion might change and help overturn current policies that support the occupation. The CPT delegation offers a unique glimpse into how this occupation affects real people and the more of us that have this experience and then communicate it to others, the better chance there will one day be peace and justice in the land.
Dave became the Senior Pastor in April 2015 at TCC after serving as the Director of Children's and Praise Ministries for 9 years. He graduated in 2011 from A.W. Tozer Seminary with a Masters in Christian Leadership. He and his wife, Katie, live in Sequim with their 6 children, 2 dogs, 15 chickens, and 50,000 honeybees.
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