I just got back from Israel, Palestine, and Jordan. Every time I write Israel and Palestine, I feel a little weird because most people just think it’s “Israel.”
For a long time, I did, too.
Now, I never say it any other way. The Holy Land is Israel and Palestine (and Jordan, too).
Until a few years ago, I didn’t understand what was meant by “Palestinians” beyond what I had heard on the news related to terrorism. Then I started reading more about the history of the formation of Israel and the reality of 1948, when Palestinians were removed from their homes, told that they’d only be gone for a few days. Days turned to months and months turned to years and now almost 70 years later, many of them are still in refugee camps throughout the region. Jewish immigrants from Europe were told a different story, that the Arabs had fled and that their homes were abandoned. The story’s been going on far before 1948, but the truth is that here in the US–and especially in many churches–we have been told a much different story about what was going on over there. Christian Zionism has pervaded much of the narrative many have been taught.
When I traveled there in 2013, I was able to see the walls that separate Palestine from Israel, hear from male and female leaders in a refugee camp and listen to stories not only from Palestinians but from Israelis, too.
My mind got bent.
My heart got broken.
And I was reminded yet again how issues of power and oppression all have so many of the same ingredients:
One above another, one more valuable than another, one less than another, walls somehow separating each other.
Sometimes those walls are invisible; they are the hidden rules, the separation between us and “those people”, the ways we divide and stick with our own kind to stay safe and comfortable and protected.
And other times, the walls are visible, thick, stretching to the sky and lined with barbed wire and armed guards. These are the kind that Israel constructed to separate themselves from the Palestinians, to prove who was boss.
The gray concrete is a glaring reminder of what humans do to those they think of less-than.
The Palestinians are considered less-than.
They are walled in.
I just returned from my second trip there, bringing a group from Denver that had been preparing for our adventure for over a year. I am so glad to have this shared experience and not only see the many holy sites in the region but also hear the reality of the Palestinian story.
Like everything else, stories change everything.
In-the-flesh is completely different than words on paper or a screen.
Hearing hearts is completely different than having someone intellectually interpret history for us.
Seeing with our own eyes is different than seeing through the media’s.
And even though I have seen this map before, seeing it again while sitting in a refugee camp, I couldn’t help but cry at the systematic squeezing out:
Here are a few things that I heard over this past week:
“As Palestinians, we can’t use the Tel Aviv airport.” – A US-college-educated small businesswoman, who holds an American and Palestinian passport. They have travel to Jordan in order to fly anywhere, and getting through to Jordan border is a long, complicated process.
“70% of water in Palestine is controlled by the Israelis, and we never know when we won’t have it.” That means that sometimes they go for days without water and most every house there has some kind of way to catch rainwater as a backup.
“Sometimes there are over a thousand people lined up to try to get through the Israeli check point to work. We never know if we will make it through or not or how long it might take” – A young man from Bethlehem.
“My family was told by Israel soldiers that they would be gone from their house in Jaffa for a few days in 1948. They have never returned. I was born in this camp.” – A young, educated woman in one of the many refugee camps that started as tents and now are whole cities housing men, women, and children without the resources to find another place to live when the Israelis took their land by force.
“When I publicly spoke out against Israeli policies, my permit to travel to Jerusalem to see my family was immediately revoked.” – An educated father who chooses to live in a refugee camp to cultivate change there.
“The kids of this generation have never known what it’s like to not be behind the wall so it’s difficult for them to picture a different future.” – A Palestinian father of three. I had asked if the kids would be the catalysts for future change in this region. His answer rocked me because I was expecting him to say what we always hear, “Yes, the next generation will be part of changing this.” But he knew life before the wall was constructed; he has Israeli friends and memories of everyone being together. His kids have only known life inside them.
They do not have the option of mixing, and the truth is that without connection, without relationship, without seeing-what-might-be-possible, we can’t build a better future.
And they don’t just try to ruin who is inside them, stripping dignity and sending a distorted message that they are less-than.
They also ruin those who build them, stripping their dignity and sending a false message that they are better-than and that the separation will keep them safe.
I think this is one of the reasons Jesus was constantly railing against misused power and one over another–he knows how it destroys.
I get that the situation in the Middle East is so complicated and there are no simple answers. It can feel so hopeless.
But I also believe that walls are never a good solution.
Whether they are visible or invisible, walls between people always divide and separate and ruin.
It’s one of the reasons Baltimore is burning, too.
And oh, how I believe the only way to crumble them is through relationship. Eye to eye, heart to heart, life to life.
We’ve got a lot of work to do.