Friday, January 30, 2015

Trip to the Holy Land - Beliefs Shattered

I am making a disclaimer up front that I do not know the entirety of this topic, nor am I sure it is even possible to know it that thoroughly.  I am not claiming to have any right answers, especially as right answers are not very straightforward.  This post covers an issue that is very controversial, and until I visited Israel-Palestine, I didn't even realize it was an issue because I didn't realize there was another side to the story.  This was one thing on the trip that shook my beliefs to their core, and while the dust still hasn't settled, I do know that my beliefs will be forever changed to some degree.  We in America do not know as much as we think we do, and one of the best things we can do to help is to simply weigh both sides of the issue fairly.
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There are two conversations that have come up (more than once) this week that center around one of the more challenging aspects of our trip.  It's an aspect that is difficult to discuss because it challenges the average perception held by most people in our little corner of the world.

The first conversation starts with, "Did you ever feel unsafe?"  This is the easy conversation.  "Nope, never did."

The other conversation is the tricky one.  It's not a question, but a statement:  "I'm definitely on Israel's side and our country needs to support them," or something to that effect.  This is where I falter, because that's what I used to say and I understand where that statement is coming from.

Now...everything has changed and I don't know how to say that because I know how I would have received then what I have to say now, and it would not have meant a thing to me then.

This belief that we need to support Israel is rooted in Scripture.  It is very clear that the Jews are God's original chosen people and are very special to Him.  God is also very clear that anyone who opposes His people will suffer consequences.  In other words, to go against Israel is to go against God.  Tied into that (at least fairly often) are interpretations of end-times prophecy.  A rough description of these beliefs says that a series of events must take place before Christ returns, including the return of Israel to her land.

I was a very firm believer in this line of thought.  There's a term for it - Zionism.  I learned a lot about the definition of this word on the trip.  There's a Jewish form and a Christian form.  Both are radical and basically believe that the Jews must regain the land of Israel at any cost.  Tie that into the belief that we must not oppose Israel and you have quite a formidable weapon, intentional or not.

Take this firm religious belief and combine it with our stereotypes we form based on the information we are fed and we become downright dangerous.  Here is the stereotype we have created:  Palestinian = Muslim = terrorist = kill them all.  That may sound a little silly, but what's the first image that comes to mind when someone says "Muslim"?  Shut down the airports, increase security, don't let them in our country, and certainly don't put any mosque on American soil.  We have no place for them in our society, no tolerance for their presence within our borders.

The first man who spoke to our group is a Palestinian Christian.  His grandparents used to be neighbors and friends with Jews.  And then wars happened and now his family has been shunned and persecuted by Jews.  He has lost much at the hands of people who used to be friends.  Yet his desire and the thing he actively works toward is peace between Palestinians and Israelis.  He reaches out to the Jews who are the hardest for him to love and finds ways for his people to be reconciled with theirs.

Another Palestinian man heads up a ministry organization to find non-violent ways of resisting the wrongs being done to his people.  His own wife can only stay in the country with him on a temporary visa, and then she has to reapply.  If her application is not accepted, she has to return to the States until it is.  Why wouldn't it be accepted?  Because it's processed by the Israeli government and she's a Palestinian.  This man can't be with his own family because of his nationality, yet he hopes and prays for peace between the two nations.

The stories could go on for pages of the Muslims and Christians and Athiests and Jews we met from both sides of the issue.  The overriding theme coming from each Palestinian was the desire for peace.  Not to blow everyone up, not to send the Jews packing, not to have an all-Muslim nation.  No, they want to live side-by-side, together, each man with his own religion and living as neighbors.

These are not the faces of terrorists or murderers or extreme religionists.  These are the faces of people.

This desire for peace was astounding after I saw the living conditions Palestinians endure.  Their homes are easy to spot with black 10,000 gallon water tanks on the rooftops.  Israel controls the water supply of the whole country.  If Palestinian towns are lucky, clean water will be delivered monthly and they can refill their water tanks.  If not, they have to stretch those gallons to supply their entire families until more comes.  Water that used to run into their cities is now siphoned off, rerouted, or polluted.  Wells are not built without permits, which are issued by Israelis, and are immediately destroyed if built anyway.  No water for Palestinian crops or irrigation, no clean water within city limits.

Palestinians live in the prison of their own cities.  Bethlehem is a prime example.  It is surrounded by a 30-40 foot tall cement wall and guarded at the entrances by Israeli soldiers.  To work outside the city one needs a special permit to leave the city.  Sometimes they can get through the checkpoints with their permits without problems.  Other times they will be detained for hours on end.  Anyone leaving the city without a permit will be shot and killed.  No one can leave the city, no one is coming in, supplies aren't arriving in the quantities needed, and the economy is poor for the average man to be able to provide for his family.

In parts of Hebron (another Palestinian city), Palestinian children have to be escorted to school for protection from Israelis throwing rocks at them.  Their backpacks are searched daily at checkpoints before they even get to school.  If the checkpoints are closed for any reason, they have to walk miles out of their way to get around them.  Above one street in Hebron was chicken wire spanning the space between buildings.  It is there because Israeli settlers moved into the homes above the Palestinians' homes and will throw trash out their windows onto the people walking below.  The wire catches the trash.  Certain streets are completely deserted and empty because checkpoints have been set up, and if a Palestinian walks down this street past the checkpoint they will be shot.  Certain homes are marked by black paint.  This mark means the family is to leave their front door open at all times or it will be broken down.  Usually there is a camera on the roof above and the soldiers need access to it at all times should they need to check it.  No privacy.

Wire suspended above the street to catch trash thrown from windows above.

A once-busy street in Hebron, now completely deserted.

Palestinian home marked with a black arrow, requiring the front door to be kept open at all times for Israeli soldier access.

Certain parts of the land were agreed upon to be set aside for Palestinians.  On many of these areas of land are brand new settlements.  These are state-of-the-art apartments, condos, and businesses that Israelis have moved into.  The Palestinians who used to live there were forced away and their homes destroyed.  Entire villages have been bulldozed, these families now having nowhere to go or live except in refugee camps.

These are the things I saw, and I can no longer feel ok saying Israel is justified in taking back her land just because Western Christians believe it's theirs to take.  I realize both sides of this conflict carry fault.  I realize there is no easy solution, and even if Israel wanted to lay down her arms she couldn't because repercussions would come from other countries.  I realize both sides still actively attack each other and pick fights.  There are so many more layers to this conflict that we never even touched.  It is a very, very complicated situation.  It feels extremely dark and hopeless.  To hear those living in the midst of it say they still have hope, because that is all they have...we would do well to learn from them.

I am definitely rethinking my beliefs of Israel and her rights.  I still acknowledge the Jews as special to God.  But I cannot be in favor of their current ways of doing things.  They are extending the same hand of oppression that was held over them for so many years.  They are not caring for the foreigners and aliens living amongst them as God commanded.  After seeing it firsthand, I have a hard time believing God is cheering them on at the expense of other innocent people who fear Him as much as (or sometimes more than) the Jews.  I am not at all afraid to say that at this point I am much more sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians.  I want to do what I can to help them, even if only one family at a time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Throughout the Bible the Jewish people have suffered because of their disobedience to God. The present day Israel was re-established following WWII. We are witnessing events today that were foretold in the Bible. No matter how people or governments attempt to control events or situations, God is ultimately and always in control. Our faith needs to be in Jesus Christ not in anything or anyone else. It is a challenge to justify many of the Israeli actions you describe. I do not believe that God condones such behavior. Keep faith in Jesus and His Word. Sadly the Jewish people do not believe in Christ. He is the Only Way to salvation. The media as well as our government often mention God but rarely if ever mention Christ. It is the safe way to include all faiths. The Jewish people are God's chosen people but in the New Testament God made a new covenant. If we believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins and are baptized, we are chosen.


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