May 22

Posted in Holy Land 2017
May 22nd, 2017

Morning brought the sounds of children gathering in the school courtyard below our window. We have a beautiful view over Nazareth town.

Our first stop today was at the church that honors Mary’s well, where some traditions remember her hearing the angel’s voice before running home to get the full message as recorded in Luke. In the basement of the church is a spring. I watched pilgrims from Ethiopia washing themselves at a spigot before praying at the spring. The painting above the well shows Mary with a tiny image of Jesus painted on her abdomen, representing the incarnation.

The Church of the Annunciation is a huge church, finished in 1969 and modern in design. Our guide explained some of the symbols on the front of the church: 4 evangelists, 4 elements (earth, water, fire, and air), and Latin inscriptions quoting Bible verses. On the walls of the church and in the courtyard around it are mosaics and sculptures from many countries representing Mary. The one from the USA is a woman in a metallic dress. On the terrace behind the house a large tree of life is represented in a modern mosaic floor.

While the church is modern, our guide says that Christians have venerated this site since the first century. In the center of a church is a grotto that is considered to have been Mary’s house, and behind the church excavations have revealed items from as far back as the 8th century B.C.E.: storage bins carved from the rock, millstones, etc. Now that we have seen caves where people live today, it is easier to imagine this as Mary’s home.

Next is St. Joseph’s Church. Again there is a grotto in the basement, with an ancient baptistry and an area that could have been a workshop.

When we scattered for lunch, I had a special treat. I was met by the man who had been the director of the lab at the Scottish Hospital when I volunteered here 40 years ago. We saw the lab (fully modernized in the intervening years), the chapel with a carpenter’s bench as an altar table, and the canteen with a picture of a boy holding 5 loaves of pita bread and two fish. We walked around the building where I had lived while I was here, and talked about friends and family.

The afternoon was spent touring Nazareth Village. A first-century winepress was unearthed here, and a village has been built up around it, with persons in period dress taking care of sheep, spinning wool, and using hand carpentry tools. A guide walked us through the village, explaining how olives were pressed and wine was made at that time. A meal of first-century foods delighted our palates (have you ever tasted apple slices dipped in date puree?). After visiting the gift shop we headed back to St. Margaret’s for a quiet evening.

–Martha Yoder Maust

May 21

Posted in Holy Land 2017
May 22nd, 2017

Our morning began with a worship service at the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Nazareth. We were guided through the service with the aid of English liturgy translations and a helpful elderly man. Following the service, we engaged in delightful conversations with the congregation members over coffee and pastries.

After church, we headed to a lookout panorama view at Mount Arbel. From this vantage point, we were enthralled by the view of the Sea of Galilee, Capernum, the Valley of Doves, and Golan Heights. I found that the mountain provided a unique perspective. The people seemed so small and distant. It is no wonder that Jesus retreated to the mountains to pray. The mountain vantage point is a unique one of being both in and outside of the world.

Next, we headed to another mountain, Mount Tabor. At this mountain, we remembered the transfiguration. Tony, our guide, shared with us interesting exegeses before we ascended in taxis that took the curvy roads surprisingly fast. At the top of Mount Tabor, is a church built in the shape of three tabernacles in honor of the transfiguration characters- Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. We were given free time to explore the church grounds pondering transfiguration and its role within the Gospels. I chose to spend my time walking along a path through a forest. While walking, I imagined Jesus, Peter, James, and John trekking up the mountain. Peter, James, and John did not know what to expect, where the path was leading to. Yet, they trusted Jesus and kept putting one foot in front of the other.

On the way down the mountain, Dorothy Jean and I shared a taxi with another tour group from India. I enjoyed this unique opportunity to converse with fellow pilgrims. They shared that their trip is only eight days. I cannot imagine spinning only eight days here. We have been here much longer and still have so much we have not seen. When reaching our designation, the Indian leader said, “See you again… See you in Heaven.” Under his breath, his co-leader muttered, “Or maybe before.”

After our long day of mountain exploration, we returned to our guesthouse to meet with a local Anglican pastor, Fr. Nael Abu Rahmoun. Fr. Nael discussed with us the conflicting identities of Christians who live in Nazareth. Fr. Nael discussed his own identity of being an Arab Palestinian Christian Israeli. His multi-faceted identity has allowed him to be at the center of interfaith and interethnic discussions. For example, he has played a key role in organizing summer camps, Bible trivia competitions, and a Pentecost interfaith vigil. Thus, we were challenged to think about how our identities can help us facilitate conversation and activities in seeking sustainable change.

Submitted by Rachel S.

May 20

Posted in Holy Land 2017
May 22nd, 2017

May 19-20: Shabbat dinner reflections and our journey to Nazareth

My roommate (Carlos) and I were invited into the home of an older couple for Shabbat supper on Friday. During the dinner I ventured a political question: “What do you think of President Trump coming here in a few days, and all the posters around Jerusalem that say ‘Trump Make Israel Great’?”

Moshe wasn’t very impressed with Trump, but I sensed that his three grown children (also at the table) were big supporters. Moshe then expressed his support for a two-state soution with the Palestinians. His children immediately voiced their support for a one-state solution. He chided them: “That’s what the Arabs want! Then they will demographically overwhelm us and we will no longer be a Jewish state.”

Moshe went on to express his feelings about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “It’s understandable for people to emotionally side with the Palestinians. After all, they are the weak ones and we are the strong ones. They have limited rights and feel oppressed. People always favor little David against big Goliath. But what can Israel do? Twice our government has offered a generous plan for a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 lines, and twice it was rejected. If it were offered again today, it would be rejected again. So what can we do when the current leadership of the West Bank won’t support an agreement? And if a new election were held in the West Bank, Abbas would lose, the terrorist organization Hamas would win, and the prospects for peace would be even worse.”

Though I could quibble with some of his assertions, Moshe was expressing common concerns of the Israelis and pointing out how insoluable the conflict appears to be. He and his sons were genuinely surprised when I told them that just the night before a Christian Palestinian living near Bethlehem had told me that a two-state solutio was the only rational solution, and that the biggest obstacle was the insistence of the refugees to have a right to return to the homes they were driven from in 1948–a right that Israel will not recognize or agree to compensate.

I asked him why he and his wife moved to Israel from Connecticut in 1988. He said, “Because of my faith. I wanted to be where the events in the Bible happened. This is the land of my faith; and I see the scriptures being fulfilled today as the land prospers and is being filled with evermore Jews from around the world.” As he spoke I had a deeper appreciation for how Jewish faith is intimately tied to this land; many Jews truly believe this is where they are supposed to be–where they must be–if they are to be faithful to God. I left the dinner with some deeper unerstandings, and deeper pessimism that any solution is possible at this time.

Today, Saturday, we left Jerusalem and headed north to Nazareth, several hours away. On the way we stopped in Ramallah, a large bustling city that serves as the headquarters for the Palestinian Authority. There we met with a representative (Jean) from the Friends International Center. She told us about the Quaker efforts to advocate for nonviolent resistance to the occupation in the West Bank. As with a previous speaker, the sticky issue of youth throwing stones during protests came up. She did not support this, though she found it an understandable response to daily frustration.

We then stopped in Taybeh at the Latin Catholic Church for lunch. While there we were given a very enlightening tour of the “Parable House”–a 300-year old Palestinian home that throws light on many stories and parables in the Gospels.
We also stopped briefly at the Taybeh brewery which is selling its products around the world, including the United States next month (starting in Boston).

We made one more stop in the town of Nablus, which is situated at the foot of Mt. Gerizim and is the religious center of the biblical (and modern) Samaritans. There we visited “Jacob’s well,” a very old well that may be the well at which Jesus dialogued with a Sararitan woman (John chapter 4). Ten years ago a magnificant Orthodox church has been built over the well. The grounds are very beautiful, full of trees and flowers and terraces.

After passing through a checkpoint to leave the West Bank (in which two young soldiers carrying machine guns came on board the bus to make sure we weren’t smuggling Palestinians), we entered Israel. As we continued toward Nazareth we passed famous Mt. Gilboa where King Saul and his son Jonathan were killed in battle; nearby is also where Gideon’s army scared off the Midianites.

Finally we arrived at our new guest house in Nazareth, a large city that is a far cry from the tiny village Jesus grew up in.

-submitted by Ryan Ahlgrim

May 18

Posted in Holy Land 2017
May 19th, 2017

This was our last morning at the Diyar consortium guesthouse and in Bethlehem. We spent the morning at Tent of Nations, an organization with a farm and summer camp programs run by the Nassar family. We had to walk the last half mile or so, because the Israeli settlements that are being built around the Nassar family land have created a roadblock to make it more difficult for visitors and volunteers to reach it. Tent of Nations’ motto is “we refuse to be enemies,” and as they are increasingly surrounded by settlements and have the farm buildings placed under demolition orders, their goal is to use nonviolent resistance to continue to live on their land. To support this, we went and worked on their farm for the morning – pulling weeds and moving rocks. Then they served us a delicious lunch and gave us a tour. It’s important for Tent of Nations to have volunteers not only because of the help volunteers provide with farm labor (which, in our case, was minimal), but mainly because Israeli settlers and soldiers seeing that there are more people there makes it harder for them to take the land on the pretext that it is unoccupied.

In the afternoon we packed up and went to our host families for the home stays in time for supper. We’re doing home stays in Beit Sahour, a smaller town next to Bethlehem, so that we can have another short chance to interact with Palestinians on a more personal level rather than being as separated from local people as tourists usually are. Rachel and I had a lovely evening with our host family. We stayed with an older couple named Atallah and Jameela, and met some of their grandchildren who came to visit. They were very hospitable and Atallah cooked as a delicious meal. I’m sorry we can only stay here one night.

– Submitted by Eliana

May 19

Posted in Holy Land 2017
May 19th, 2017

Shabbat Shalom

Precisely because they have misled my people, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace, and because, when the people build a wall, these prophets smear it with whitewash… Thus will I spend my wrath upon the wall and upon those who have smeared it with whitewash, and I will say to you, The wall is no more, nor those who smeared it.
Ezekiel 13:10,15 ESV

We woke up Friday morning in Beit Sahour after eventful evenings with our host families. After breakfast, we gathered as a large group again to continue our tour activities. Despite the short duration of our homestays, they gave incredible amounts of insight into the daily lives of Palestinians that it is hard to get in other settings.
Because Beit Sahour is in the West Bank and we were headed into Jerusalem, we had to cross once again through a checkpoint in the infamous separation wall. Our bus has an Israeli license plate and we are an American tour group, so we always have far less difficulty crossing through the checkpoints than do Palestinians.
Our sojourn into Jerusalem began with a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. “Yad vashem” means “a memorial and a name,” and it is a vastly important site to remember the atrocities committed in the Holocaust, largely against the Jewish people, and to say that the names of those brutally murdered will not be forgotten. Never again. Never again can we allow a whole people to be targeted and treated as subhuman simply due to ethnicity or religion. Never again can ethnocentric nationalism be permitted to take over the consciousness of a state. Never again can silence meet the building or whitewashing of ghettoizing walls, whomever they are designed to keep out, whether Jew or Palestinian or Latinx. Never again.
We heard from a representative of Rabbis for Human Rights in the afternoon. This is a diverse organization that includes rabbis from many different denominations of Judaism, such as forms of Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Judaism. Our speaker considered himself Conservative, and shared the narrative in Palestine both from his point of view and more generally how the organization sees the occupation. Hearing from him re-emphasized that the situation here cannot simply be divided into a binary of two opposing narratives; rather, as in regards to most issues, people lie on different points along a spectrum filled with nuance.
In the evening, we visited the synagogue that our speaker attends for a Shabbat service. In a highly helpful meeting before the service began, a member of the congregation explained to us much about the Shabbat service in the Jewish tradition and about the idiosyncrasies of that particular congregation. They consider themselves Open or Modern Orthodox, which we were told means generally having quite progressive theology while still maintaining traditional practices. Very hospitably, we were loaned prayer books that had transliterations as well as translations of the different parts of the service, which allowed us not only to follow along but also to speak along if we so desired.
As a continuation of the trend of hospitality that has characterized this whole trip, we finished out the day in roommate pairs at the homes of different members of the congregation for the Shabbat meal. This involved fascinating conversation with a wide variety of people, wonderful food, and attempting to say traditional prayers before and after the meal along with our hosts and any other guests. At least around the table to which I was welcomed, though we fell all along different political and religious spectra, we all desired peace. Even if we do not know exactly how to reach it, a true and just peace, a peace that means right relationship with each other and with God, a peace that builds bridges instead of whitewashed walls, is a spring of water for which all of our hearts thirst. At the end of the night, we could end our time together with a genuine exchange of “Shabbat shalom.”

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.”
For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.
Psalm 122:6,8-9 NRSV

Tuesday May 16th

Posted in Holy Land 2017
May 18th, 2017

Determining reality in this land is not always an easy task. Earlier in this trip we were told, presciently, that “everyone here is a politician and everyone here is a theologian”. Today we saw this reality play out in stark terms and it is enough to cause whiplash.

Most of the conversations we’ve had on this trip, aside from a conversation here or there, has been with Palestinians or other people who speak out against Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and people. We’ve heard a lot of stories about forced evictions, invasions, checkpoints, barrier walls, refugee camps, so called “administrative detention”, and many other atrocities committed against the Palestinian people by the Israeli government. So perhaps it is not surprising that our encounter today with a passionate Zionist Israeli settler felt like quite a shock to our collective system. As a point of clarification, settlers are those Israeli citizens that move into settlements that take land from what the international community recognizes as Palestinian land, either in the West Bank or Gaza. These settlements are heavily protected by Israeli military forces, checkpoints, and Israeli-only roads. They are also quite posh. Green landscapes, beautiful homes and parks, shopping centers and other accommodations fill settlements. Some are small, others are essentially small cities. We met with Eve in a quiet park gazebo surrounded by greenery, which is a rare sight in the West Bank and requires significant irrigation to create. Eve is originally from Los Angeles, is married to a doctor and works as a tour guide. Eve is also a passionate defender of the State of Israel. Unfortunately we only had 45 minutes to meet with her due to other schedule changes that needed to be made, but those 45 minutes were, how shall I say, lively. Eve opened our interaction asking us if we knew the word “Chutzpah” (which loosely translates as brashness or boldness). She stated that she wanted us all to be free to work from a place of chutzpah and not “dance around the hard issues”. Her presentation in defense of Israel and the ensuing debate certainly was some of the most frank discussions/debates we’ve had thus far. Hearing her defense of Israel and in defense of many (but not all) of the things we have seen and heard done against the Palestinian people was jarring. But I am proud of how the conversation stayed civil despite the heat. It is probably fair to say that most (all?) of our group left unconvinced by her, but it was an important piece of the puzzle to hear as we seek to understand the conflict here.

After finishing up that conversation, we got back on the bus and drove to an entirely different environment from the Israeli settlement. From lush trees, beautiful modern homes, and cared for roads, we drove to the Palestinian city of Hebron. Hebron is an ancient city south of Jerusalem and Bethlehem about 30 minutes drive or so. There we met first with two Israeli women who are part of a group called “Machsom Watch”. This group is made up of Israeli women activists who stand against the occupation and as a way to resist the Israeli governments treatment of Palestinians, are committed to standing at major checkpoints throughout the country and watching and recording the behavior of Israeli soldiers. Their commitment to justice is remarkable, especially because they face the stigma of being labeled “traitors” amongst their own people and even their own families.

We next met with a guide named Mohammed who took us to Ibrahimi Mosque, built on what is known as the “Cave of the Patriarchs”. This was our first visit inside a mosque thus far on this trip. In order to enter, all were required to take off our shoes and the women of the group were required to wear a garment provided by the mosque in order to maintain modesty that looked like a choir robe with a hood they had to have on their heads. Mohammed told us the story of a Jewish terrorist massacre that happened in the mosque in 1994 committed by an American-Israeli named Baruch Goldstein in which 29 worshippers were killed and several hundred were injured before he was stopped and killed. He also explained how the cave deep below the mosque held the alleged tombs of several major biblical figures including Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, and Leah. After touring the mosque, Mohammed led us to old town Hebron. The main market street was narrow and covered by chainlink fence littered with rocks on top. Mohammed explained that Israeli settlers that took over buildings in the very heart of this Muslim Palestinian city loom over top the market and regularly throw rocks and dump all matter of liquids down on the Palestinian shop keepers including bleach and human waste. The Israeli government has not allowed them to put up permanent barriers over top the market to protect it from settler attacks, citing “security”, which considering they also use that same reasoning to deny many other infrastructure projects by Palestinians, it was obvious to our guide that this was ridiculous. We were also introduced to a popular street art/graffiti character Handala devised by artist Naji al-Ali (see pic below). This character represents Palestinians, dressed in rags, hands behind back, and facing away from the viewer with no face. The artist was assassinated in England by a Jewish Zionist.

For our last stop, we left Hebron and travelled further south to the Palestinian village of Altwani, a very small, quite poor village of around 300 situated in the rocky hills of the southern section of the West Bank. We were treated to a wonderful lunch prepared by some of the women of the village. After lunch, we heard stories from leaders of the village about the long struggle the village has had to keep nearby Israeli settlements from taking over more of their land (the settlements that are there have already significantly decreased the village land which is needed for grazing flocks of sheep). We then toured the village and walked up the hill to observe the encroaching Israeli settlement. We heard stories of settlers beating children walking to the school from nearby villages. We heard stories of settlers harassing shepherds, cutting ancient olive trees, and poisoning villagers sheep. The pain and constant fear of violent conflict instigated by Israeli settlers is apparent and on display in the voices of the Altwani villagers. These villagers simply want to exist as they have for centuries, living simple lives of farmers and shepherds. They are not being given that freedom.

After dinner back at in Bethlehem this evening, we watched a video called “Living of the Pigeons” which is a 17 minute documentary that observes life at the checkpoint that hundreds of Palestinian men line up in and are herded through on foot (Palestinians are not allowed to drive outside of the West Bank) starting at 2-3am simply to get to work on time in Jerusalem. This film was incredibly moving, leaving us all in stunned silence. The inhumanity of their daily treatment simply trying to get to work was hard to watch.

So, from an Israeli settler offering full throated support of her country to more heartbreaking stories of mistreatment and apartheid tactics against Palestinian folk, we covered the full gamut of stories. Sorting through it all is challenging, but we are all growing and being transformed by this process each and every day. Continue to pray for us as we know many of you have been.

Adam King

May 17

Posted in Holy Land 2017
May 17th, 2017

From Dan to Beersheba, was the ancient way of describing the north/south borders of the Holy Land. Today we went south to Tel Beer Sheva. Driving on what used to be an ancient Roman road, we passed through the area where Goliath was killed. We saw many trees planted by the Israeli’s. Our guide said that every baby born in Jerusalem has a tree planted in his honor. We passed Bedouin villages called “unrecognized villages”. These are villages with no water, no electricity, and no infrastructure except what they can come up with on their own.

At Tel Beer Sheva we dropped stones into a 120 foot well, that could have been there when Abraham was alive. We climbed down, down, and down rough-hewn steps to a water cistern for the city that once was located there. We saw a replica of a four-horned altar that may have been destroyed during King Hezekiah’s reform, and other ruins of the city that was once located there.

From Beer Sheva we went on towards the Dead Sea and Masada. We drove through the desert on an Israeli superhighway until we got close to Masada. We saw herds of camels in the fields.We passed by Arod, a Canaanite city, that the Bible says was conquered by Joshua. The last roads to Masada were narrow and curvy with impressive scenery. Masada is located on a large plateau near the Dead Sea. It is famous as a refuge and winter palace for Herod, then a Roman garrison, and finally a sanctuary for some of the Jewish rebels of the revolt against the Romans which broke out in 66CE. The last of the rebels fled to Masada. But the Romans came and surrounded the fortress. They built camps, a siege wall, and a ramp on the western slope. It was up this ramp that most members of our group (not including this writer) trudged to get to the ruins on top of the plateau. It was a difficult climb, but I heard that the view from there was spectacular. The top of the plateau was a huge space with ruins of the synagogue where Josephus said the rebels committed suicide rather than fall into the hands of the Romans. Frescoes and mosaics from that time period can stiil be seen in the synagogue. There are the remains of a church in the center and of extensive fortifications at the northern end. After a somewhat easier descent and an ice cream reward, we boarded the bus for a short trip to the oasis.

Looking across the desert, one can certainly spot the oasis green in contrast to the brown desert. This area is a tourist site where we could try to connect with the Bedouin culture. We ate a delicious meal under a tent and then heard from an authentic Bedouin who explained the culture of coffee drinking, told us some of the customs, and played a flute and rebabi (one stringed instrument) for us. We did learn that the Bedouins no longer are a nomadic people, since some of their land was confiscated, and they are not allowed to move around much on the remaining land.

The highlight of the day for some was our camel ride. First we received the “safety instructions”. Then we mounted the camels in pairs and took off into the desert. Well, that’s sort of how it went. Our camels were actually tethered to each other and plodded alongside their handlers, rather slowly, with many pauses. It was a long enough ride for some of us who wished we had stirrups to help support our weight, rather than dangling across the backs of the camels. It was an experience I’m glad I had, but not one I’d like to repeat very often.

After evening prayers and dinner (Dorothy finally got her stuffed grape leaves) we gathered to watch several videos about Musalaha (reconciliation) and listened to it’s founder, Salim Munayer. Musalaha is an organization that works on reconciliation between Israeli’s and Palestinians. They run women’s groups, trainings, and youth camps, as well as working with group or individual conflict situations. Salim talked about intractable conflict and the stages of reconciliation. There was more than we could absorb after 8:00 in the evening, but he had a book, Through My Enemies Eyes, for sale, so we can learn more from him if we wish.

Joan Kulp for the group

May 15, 2017

Posted in Holy Land 2017
May 15th, 2017

May 15, 2017

Today was a day of great excitement and energy as we met with many strong individuals seeking to change the narrative of violence in Israel/Palestine.  First, we met with Lucy who works at Wi’am, a conflict transformation center.  Founded in 1994, this center works for harmony and agape love through resolving conflict.  For example, the group uses a Palestinian tradition of sulhar (remediation) to facilitate discussion and compromise between parities.  Wi’am also works with women to promote gender equality in economics and government, through fighting a culture that shames women into silence.  Lucy is a star example of an empowered woman.  Saturday, she was voted to be a representative of her district in the Palestinian government.  Along with working with Palestinians, Wi’am seeks to connect internationals to the area.  Lucy, a co-author of Karios Palestine, urges outsiders to “come and see” and to bring home stories to share.

Lucy shared her own story with us by describing the persecution she receives for being a Palestinian peace activist.  For six years, Lucy was banned from traveling to Jerusalem.  In fact, it was easier for her to travel to the United States and Japan, than drive fifteen minutes away.  Sadly, her story is shared by many.  Many Palestinians are under strict travel bands and those who work for peace often find themselves in jail.  In fact, one in three Palestinian men will have spent time in jail.  Children are not exempt from this statistic.  Currently, there are 500+ children in jail, often held and tortured without ever being read their charges.

Leaving Lucy and Wi’am, our group traveled to Bethlehem Bible College to speak with Rev. Munther, the Academic Dean of the college and the pastor of Christmas Evangelical Lutheran.  Rev. Munther shared with us a perspective on Palestinian Christians and their relationship with Christian Zionists.  Palestinian Christians are a very small percentage, numbering less than 2% of the population.  This is due to many Christians emigrating.  The largest reason given for their emigration (32%) is a lack of freedom.  Contrary to common belief, Christians are leaving the area because of political struggles of oppression, not religious conflict or extremism.

Despite being small in number, Palestinian Christians are extremely active.  Christians compromise the majority of education and political activists, as well as, dominating the creation of heath care clinics and NGOs.  Another activity of Palestinian Christians is providing an alternative discourse to Christian Zionism.  Palestinian Christians frequently support a Palestinian Christian Theology.  This theology challenges Zionism and emphasizes achieving justice through nonviolence and creative resistance.

The rise in Christian Zionism has proven to be a problem for Palestinian Christians because of international involvement.  Many Christian Zionists in the United States offer support to Israel and declare their solution for peace, while ignoring the Palestinian voice.  The common Zionist call is, “A people without a land, a land without a people” yet, this statement is simply not true.  The land was not without people, but occupied by Palestinians who were forced off their land and are surrounded by confining walls.  Instead of asking what a Christian’s duty is towards Israel (a common Zionist question), we were challenged to ask how can Christians advance peace between Israelis and Palestinians.  In beginning to answer this question, Rev. Munther reminded us of the Good Samaritan, calling us to not walk away and turn a blind eye to injustice, but to dare to approach the hard questions.

We were able to continue this interesting discussion as we were invited to eat lunch with the faculty and professors at the college.  While eating, we learned more about the challenges of nonviolence and the significance of today.  Today is Nakba Day, Catastrophe Day.  This day is the anniversary of the creation of the state of Israel and the consequential exiling of Palestinians from their land and destruction of their homes.  Expressing their anger and frustration, many Palestinians take up stones, a cultural symbol, to hurl at the Separation Wall and checkpoints.  In response, Israeli militant forces fire tear gas.  Many of those hit include children.

Many groups are working to protect these children by providing other outlets for expression.  One such group is the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).  MCC works to connect Israeli and Palestinian organizations to seek peace and friendship.  Through this work, MCC seeks to encourage art as a metaphorical stone throwing, a means of peaceful expression.  Additionally, MCC works to address children who are imprisoned, many for throwing stones.  In fact, the youngest child who entered the jails was a five-year-old, imprisoned for two days for throwing a stone. MCC’s advocacy seeks to prevent children from entering the criminal system through connecting them to education and creative resistance.

Reflecting on today, I am left wondering what my role is in all of this.  How will I use nonviolence to address the suffering of my sisters and brothers?  I believe this question is answered differently for all of us yet, it is a pertinent question to consider; especially for us in the United States, where the majority of our foreign aid goes to Israel.  What metaphorical stones do we have?  How can we stand in nonviolent solidarity?  Where is God calling us to go?  What is God calling us to do?



Image: Graffiti on Separation Wall

submitted by Rachel S.

May 14.2017

Posted in Holy Land 2017
May 15th, 2017

This morning we were given the chance to have a later start to our day. Breakfast, from 7:30 to 9:30am,  gave most of us a few more moments to rest. Life in Bethlehem has its regular morning sounds beginning with a 4 am  Muslim call to prayer, the rumbling of trucks, shopkeepers greeting one another in the market as they prepare for business and the resounding tones of ringing church bells.

The Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church is an easy walk next door from the Abu Gubran Guesthouse  where we are staying. This is a congregation that has faced violence even within the very walls of this compound.  In April, 2002, Bethlehem was under siege by the Israeli army.  Armed Israeli soldiers entered the compound as Pastor Mitri Raheb and his family hid within the parsonage.  Walls to the compound were destroyed, doors damaged, windows shattered, computers vandalized.  Pastor Raheb came out of hiding and courageously confronted the soldiers.  (Read more of the story in Bethlehem Besieged by Mitri Raheb)

The majestic, powerful music from the pipe organ, the robust singing, the warm welcome and repeating The Lord’s Prayer together took on new significance as we worshipped with people who understand on a daily basis the meaning of suffering and bearing the cross.

The service was in Arabic but songs were transliterated so we could sing along with the congregation. As someone pointed out in our evening time of reflection, it was truly a gift to us to have Arabic translated into the English alphabet so that we could sing the words in Arabic with the congregation.

Following the worship service we were invited for fellowship and coffee in the Fellowship Hall. No matter where you go, talking, laughing and sharing coffee or tea seems to be a given. This place is no exception.

We were on our own for lunch and the afternoon. There was a planned afternoon shopping trip to The Bedouin Store owned by Majdi Ala Amro, a Palestinian Christian. Several of us took advantage of the opportunity to purchase gifts to take back home. Majdi has many items from ceramics, Hebron glass, leather, olive wood carvings, scarves and much more. Majdi faces many challenges as a Palestinian business owner. He told us the larger tour groups focus on the stores where guides and drivers receive commissions. They sometimes discourage tourists from venturing out to smaller shops by saying it’s too dangerous. There is road construction outside his shop that was started last year which is not yet completed. This reduces the traffic past his shop. Majdi’s hospitality was evident as he offered tea and closed his shop to provide a ride for some of the group to and from the Guesthouse.

I have really appreciated the evening prayer time to collectively reflect on all that happened in our day. Where did we see God today? What were the signs of injustice? Where did we experience hospitality? We all have different perspectives and insights to offer. As a group we have grown closer to each other through songs, prayers, dialogue and encouragement.

Each day here we have concluded the day with the evening meal.  For starters there is always a feast of humus, chopped salads and pita bread, followed by a scrumptious main course. The remainder of the day allows for time to prepare mentally, emotionally and physically for a full schedule the next day..

Submitted by Duane Yoder

May 13 ,2017

Posted in Holy Land 2017
May 15th, 2017

As our tour leaders announced the itinerary this morning, I found myself filled with amazement and considering the question: in the steps of how many Biblical heroes, prophets, and pilgrims are we walking today?
We began our day driving from Jerusalem to Jericho, through the desert as I have not experienced it before ("wilderness " in the Bible), past where the Good Samaritan story might have taken place and where Elijah was taken up to heaven, to the Wadi Qilt, alternately called Qelt. Later we visited Temptation Mount, a possible site of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, saw the Jordan where he may have been baptized, and visited a “Zacchaeus Tree.” (Most of the trees we saw in the first part of our tour were olive trees which last for hundreds of years or more. Zacchaeus’s tree, of course, was a sycamore, a larger and more substantial tree, but one that typically lives at most 200 years. Enroute to and from the site, we also saw orchards of date palms.) And, finally, we visited Qumran, where Bedouin shepherds found ancient manuscripts in 1947 that provided a treasure chest for subsequent Old Testament scholarship.
As we rode through the desert, Tony, our tour guide, reminded us of the story of the conquest of Jericho in the book of Joshua and the curse placed upon the city in chapter 8. He also reviewed the story of Achan, who took advantage of his people’s victory to steal and hoard some of the conquered people’s treasure, thus bringing the wrath of God upon him and his people. Tony also brought the parable of the good Samaritan to new life as we imaged a man going from Jerusalem to Jericho (oh, through the desert, we realized) and falling among thieves.
Our first stop was the Wadi Qilt and the St. George monastery. I have read the word “wadi” in my Bible for years and looked for definitions of the term in footnotes and commentaries. I knew that they are valleys that are dry in dry seasons and burst forth with vegetation during rainy seasons. I was not prepared, however, for the vast expanse and depth of the wadi, nor for how hot and dry it is at this time of the year. It takes considerable imagination to see it come alive in the wet season. After a steep and winding climb down the very dry valley we made one more turn to find a breathtaking view of the monastery of St. George of Choziba, built into the side of the mountain.   The monastery was built by monks in the 4th century in tribute to at least two premises: that this is where Elijah was fed by ravens when he fled for his life for fear of Jezebel after God had killed “all the prophets of Baal;” and that here an angel appeared to the Virgin Mary’s father, St. Joachim, who was weeping because his wife, Anna, was unable to bear children, and the angel prophesied the Virgin Mary’s birth. Regarding Elijah’s experience, our tour guide, Tony, pointed out that the Hebrew word for ravens is a variant of the word for Arabs.
We were unable to enter the monastery, but we were inspired and challenged by the experience of climbing down and back up the rugged terrain, walking alongside pilgrims from around the world coming to this special place, and seeing the Bedouins with their donkey offering rides to the weary. On a personal note, although I could count on one hand the times I have worn sunglasses as an adult, I was very thankful for them as I began climbing back up the hill.  I needed to make several stops for water and to catch my breath on the way back to the top of the ravine, where our bus awaited us. And I was more than a little grateful for the company of my fellow sojourners who escorted me and, in one case, extended a hand to help me up after I had sat on a stone in the pathway for respite.
Tony framed our ride through the desert and our trek through the wadi in the context of Psalm 23, with particular reference to the words, “When I walk through the valley of death I will fear no evil.” For me, the potential dangers in the wadi gave new meaning to the words of the familiar Psalm. We also found new meaning in the words of Isaiah 35 – “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom….”
From St. George’s we drove to Jericho, the moon city, on the way to the Mount of Temptation, stopping enroute at a shop selling glass products made in Hebron, and, in a time warp, standing under Zacchaeus’s sycamore tree. Tony reminded us that, like other cities throughout Palestine, Jericho was named after the divinities of the Philistines. We saw signs to cities named after the peoples conquered in the Old Testament story and, as has been increasingly the case on this tour, I found myself
revisiting my concept of the “Old Testament” salvation story – the Exodus – and what it says about the people driven out by “God’s chosen people.” How does that story impact what is happening in Israel/Palestine today? Driving through the checkpoint into Palestinian-controlled Area A, Tony told us the story of December 24, 1995, when Israel withdrew from Bethlehem, causing much rejoicing for the next two years, but distracting the people of Bethlehem from Christmas, a sacred
Approaching the place where the story of Zacchaeus is commemorated, we read Luke’s accounts of the healing of blind man Bartimaeus, followed by the Zacchaeus story. We heard again the story of the rich but short chief tax collector who climbed a sycamore tree in order to get a better glimpse of Jesus and who, afterward, promised to give half of his possessions to the poor and to pay back anyone he had defrauded four times the defrauded amount. As I heard the old story I wondered: What would it mean for us to respond to Jesus in our time and place, as citizens of the world’s richest and most powerful nation in the world, in a manner qualitatively similar to that of Zacchaeus?
What can I say of the Mount of Temptation? A bleak, dry, rocky, vegetation-free craggy mountain, not somewhere I would want to spend the night, let alone 40 days and 40 nights. In what I can only, in understatement, refer to as a touch of irony, we had lunch at a cafeteria called Temptation Restaurant (!) in a tourist’s shopping mall. The food, as always here, was excellent, but I could not help feel a bit guilty contributing to a bald commercialization of Jesus’ response to the tempter, “Thou shalt not live by bread alone.”
After lunch we headed to Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, saw a video about the Qumran community, and looked from where we stood to Cave 4, where 400 scrolls and 30,000 fragments were found.  We also walked among the excavation sites and heard of current archeological research seeming to confirm that the scrolls were the product of the Essenes. Here a strict religious community stored their library of scrolls to hide them from the Romans as the Jewish revolt of 68 A.D. – and the subsequent defeat by the Romans – unfolded. All of the “Old Testament” scriptures have been found there, with the exception of the book of Esther, along with the books Protestants refer to as the Apocrypha. The scrolls are written in both Hebrew and Aramaic.
Our final destination today was the Dead Sea, at over 1500 feet below sea level, the lowest point on earth. Most of us (not I) experienced what it is like to float in the briny water. One fellow-traveler told me that as he walked into the water it was as though a flotation device pushed itself up under him. Another described the water as similar to her well water, which someone had assessed as of particular soft quality. A person who put his feet in the water found the water a cool contrast to the hot, hot sand on the beach. I, standing on the beach, enjoyed the view of the turquoise sea, lined with terraces of sand and bulrushes, with the mountains of Jordan visible in the distance. While we enjoyed the beauty of the Sea, we were reminded that it is shrinking at an alarming rate, largely due to water being diverted from the Jordan River for irrigation. So, today, we walked in the footsteps of ancient heroes, prophets and pilgrims.
Returning to Bethlehem, however, I want to remind us of more contemporary heroes and prophets, heroes such as Mitri Raheb, pastor of Christmas Lutheran church (among several other titles) whose creative energies he has invested into the lives of the people of Bethlehem and to helping people outside these walls understand what it is like to be Palestinian and Christian.
I want to note as well that today was election day in the municipalities of Palestine. The Lutheran center is a polling place, and we saw both voters and security folks bustling around the entrance as we left for our tour this morning. What does this election mean for the people of Bethlehem, I wonder? And how can the power of the electorate be expanded in ways that make for more justice and peace for the Palestinian people?
submitted by David Wenger