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Middle East Semester Spring 2001:

Israel/West Bank, Egypt, Jordan, Athens, Rome


Seminar leaders: Linford and Janet Stutzman

February 1, 2001
Post-election report
February 15, 2001
February 27, 2001

At right: Middle East semester group shares at EMU chapel service, spring 2001.

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February 27, 2001

Student comments at the end of biblical, geography and history study,
Jerusalem University College

“Learning about the land of the Bible is helpful to the understanding of it like a playing board is essential for a board game.”

“I have a mental picture of Capernaum, where Jesus spent much of his life ministering and I have a deeper appreciation for the courage it would take for Jesus to enter a totally Greco-Roman area such as Decapolis and start preaching the Word. Understanding the politics of the time of Jesus’ life does nothing but enhance my admiration for Jesus.”

“This class has really expanded my understanding of the cultural settings and geographical settings where some of the most preached passages of the Bible took place. For instance in Cesarea Philipi Jesus had a very crucial conversation with his disciples. He asked them whom people say he is. They shared what they had heard, Elijah the prophet and so on. But Jesus asked them, "Whom do you think that I am?" Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus recognizing the divine revelation given to Peter, said to him that over this rock he will build his church and the gates of hell won’t prevail against it. Cesarea Phillip was a cultural, religious Greco-Roman center. They worshipped the god – Pan of fertility. There was actually a temple built on a cave of a rock. Jesus was claiming and foretelling that His Church (His message) will be extended to the Gentiles. Great revelation in a place of great pagan influence!”

“It is important to understand Biblical settings ( archaeology and geography) when studying the Bible. It makes the stories alive and exciting and creates real people out of the Biblical characters. For example when Elijah illustrated Yahweh’s power to the prophets of Baal, it is important to know that this did not end the debate. Instead, it caused Elijah to question God himself. It is important to understand that people recognized Baal as lightening so when lightening struck and lit the fire at Elijah’s request – it was unclear which God/god presented himself. Mt. Carmel is known as a place of fertility always green and lush. Baal as god of fertility was responsible for it. Elijah fled to Mt. Sinai, the mountain that God appeared to Moses on in order to find him. God appears in all forms and is totally other.“

“For me, the archeology helps to bring the Bible to life. I will never again read the Bible in the same way. Never!”

“The Bible comes alive. When I read both the Old and New Testament stories, I can actually see Jesus walking through Capernaum. I can understand the storm on the sea. I can hear Goliath’s shouts across the valley at the Israelites. It makes the stories real.”

“I learned how the lay of the land is vital in shaping many stories of the Bible. The land which is the current state of Israel and the Occupied territories has always been a zone of conflict, not just today. Several important international routes pass right through the land, making the inhabitants an easy target for international powers passing through.”

“I sat outside the Temple mount where there is evidence that Paul taught and Jesus walked. Just sitting on those steps gave me a good feeling. It’s good to actually feel the land beneath my feet .” “Being in the land helped me understand how different groups of people were living right on top of each other. That’s why they were always in conflict. The Old Testament never meant a whole lot to me before this trip. But now I can read the stories and picture the land that they took place in. It gives me a reference point and a context to start from. Even the different rock types provide the context that the people lived in.“

“Before this course at JUC, I never really thought about the geographical implications that this land plays in developing the stories of the Bible. For example, when God called this land, 'the land of milk and honey,' He was not referring to a tropical paradise filled with lush fertile fields and gurgling springs. He was referring to a land composed of two different and uniquely harsh regions. The land of milk refers to the rugged hill country of the shepherds – dry and desert regions. The land of honey on the other hand refers to the western plains, the shephelah, and areas like the Jezreel valley where agriculture can be fruitful. This is the land of the farmer. It has become evident that geography plays a key role in understanding the Biblical context. I am excited to read the Bible through a 'new lens' and discover more and more. What a great connection!”

“The same type of temperatures and climate occurred then as it did today. So as we went to different sites, we could experience what people who lived then had to experience also.“

“I found the most meaningful day on the side of the Sea of Galilee when we had a little meditation followed by a song sitting on the rocks by the water. Everything we learned and where we were just struck me all at once sitting there and it was very meaningful for me.”

“I found it so valuable to look at the Bible and then go to the places mentioned and Paul, the professor, would tell us why things happened. It put so much meaning into passages that I would normally skim over. I feel like I have a grasp of this land and the people that I didn’t have before and I don’t think I will ever forget. We didn’t only walk the places Jesus walked, we learned them and tried to understand them. I would definitely recommend this. It has been my favorite part of this experience.top

February 15, 2001

Allan Reesor-McDowell: The most disturbing thing has been the banality of the whole situation between Israel and Palestine. Since Sharon has been elected, shooting in the Bethlehem area has been a daily occurrence, and I fear that I am slowly becoming desensitized to it. I can't forget that the bullets have to land somewhere. top

Shawn Rice: Today (Jan. 25) is the first day in Beit Sahour, living with a host family. While we were talking to the family they showed Mark and me 70-100 bullet holes throughout the house. Then as a grand finale a missile was pulled out of a bag. This American-made missile was fired from an Apache helicopter and hit the house early in the second intifada. The sleep that night was not one of the best I ever had.

Mark Miller: When we got to our host family's house, the first thing that we were shown were all of the bullet holes in the house. There were over 1,000 [Shawn said 100!] bullet holes in the house, and there used to be a huge hole from the shell. What struck me the most when he showed us the missile that hit the house was that all of the writing on it was in English. But even despite this, my family showed me so much friendliness and generosity, and they were able to distinguish between me, an American, and the American government. "People are just people, like you and me," he said.

Margaret Gearhart: My host mother is so beautiful. She lives a life of persecution and frustration but has a heart full of peace and love. She was born and raised in Gaza and her family lives there today. Due to the recent intifada, she hasn't been able to see them for many months. She longs for that land and her family very much. Today (Feb. 12) we went to Gaza. What justice is it that we, a group of American tourists, can go there; while for a NATIVE who longs to go "HOME" it is virtually impossible? top

Marie Rhodes: When we visited the families one Thursday, one mother commented, "They always choose Sunday to fight, we don't know why." Sunday for me is a day of rest and the night provides comfortable slumber; for others, however, in Beit Jala, Sunday means a day of fearful anticipation and darkness brings violence and attack.

Sara Ulrich: Peace. What is peace in this land of violence and strife? What is peace in the land where the concept was first developed? Is peace the election of Ariel Sharon? Does peace mean soldiers at every corner? Is peace the quieting of Palestinians? Of Israelis? Is peace an end to occupation? An end to stone throwing? Peace at home is different than peace in Beit Sahour. Peace here is the freedom to live, work, pray in Jerusalem, laugh. Peace is the ability to raise children to believe that stones and guns solve nothing and that it is okay to sleep at night, because no shelling will happen. Is this idea of peace even a dream here?

Chris Lowen: Welcome to the reality of Palestine. At home we have to take traffic delays into account; here there are curfews, shootings, funerals... We walked outside last night to hear and see Israeli choppers firing on houses just up the hill in Bethlehem and came to realize that these kind of "delays" are an everyday reality for Palestinians in this land. top

Andrea Lengacher: "I am forced to restore what I did not steal" Psalm 69:46. For the past few days this verse has constantly echoed in my ears. As I walk through the rubble of bombed Palestinian homes, every bullet hole reminds me of a forced restoration. The faces of the Palestinian people cry for their innocence and justification for what "they did not steal." For the Palestinian civilians here, all of the violence represents the repercussions of a land and countless lives they did not steal. Yet, in the end, the bullet holes remain engraved on walls, waiting for restoration, and pleas of innocence remain unanswered.

Hans Harman: I can hardly imagine or identify with the fear that some of these people face on a daily basis. In Virginia, I live in a quiet neighborhood. Old couples walk by our house daily and children play in the streets. Children in Beit Jala visit psychiatrists and wake up screaming at night for fear of their safety. Russ Pyle: As I stared into this broken house, walked across the plain of broken glass that was once the windows, dishes, and lamps of the physically undamaged but emotionally tattered remnants of the family, I forgot about any other side to the story. At this moment, to these people, there were no sides to the story. All they saw was all they had, ruined. The dusty fragments of a picture, never to be reframed. It was at this point when I realized that this situation was much deeper than a meager, sheltered American student could ever understand. top

Kacy Spooner: Hey, Galileo, what do you make of the red stain that just shot across God's sky? A new constellation formed by the burning gases of hate and pent up frustration. I m thinking about the families that we met only a few days ago -- the two little girls who have not slept in their own beds for months and want to be anywhere but home, the jagged pieces of metal that miss their mark but always penetrate into the minds of their targets, who keep them as reminders.

Holly Hochstetler: Setting: A wedding of a Palestinian Christian couple. Dressed in white and glowing, the bride steps out of the car assisted by her groom. The photographer rushes forward, turns and snaps pictures as they pass over the threshold of the Greek Orthodox Church which stands proudly overlooking the noisy street. As the wedding progresses, the church doors are kept open to curious onlookers and children running in and out. The priest chants in Arabic and Greek, blessing the couple as they prepare for life together...

Philip Cassel: While listening to the talks about how the land is divided up one can really see the passion of the people for what's going on in their land. They know so many facts and speak with such conviction that it is very evident that this situation consumes much of their daily thoughts. I cannot fathom how much of their time and energy have been put into this situation and discussing what is happening. top

Kent Yoder: I feel so wrong being here. I'm to feel as an alien in any land, but now I find myself wanting to be a Palestinian. I suffer to see them suffer, and I suffer because I cannot suffer with them. They are Palestinians, I am American. I shouldn't have to suffer; "You're safe here," they say. But why should I be safe in the midst of a war? Why? We have grown so close to the people, and they so close to our hearts. If they suffer we should suffer in the same way, with them, for them. But we are not allowed to suffer. We are Americans. I'm an American, but I am now an alien to that land as well.

Jennifer Miller: The people at home will never understand -- our friends, family members, they will not be able to imagine anything but what the news shows them. They will think we must be the victims or the witnesses of violence since we are in this land of conflict. They don't know that life still goes on every day, and while we may hear the bombs and the guns at night, we know that it will still be life as usual the next day. We have become like the Palestinians; we do what we have to do to get by. We joke about the bombs, the checkpoints, the danger. We are not afraid. top

Bethany Yoder: There is a conflict stirring within me. Two opposing feelings struggle to gain control. The one is a feeling of anger and hopelessness over the injustice I'm seeing and hearing about, the oppression of the Palestinians by the Israelis. The second feeling is skepticism and the fear of being manipulated to take sides. Melanie Miller: ...Then all of a sudden we heard a voice blast out of speakers that were all over town. Imon, our Palestinian leader, jumped up and said, "They're calling curfew, we have to leave." Imon told us that translated into English it meant "You may not walk, it is forbidden to walk." As we were leaving we heard that the Israelis found what they believed was a bomb in the market place. So that was it. All Palestinians in Hebron were put under curfew.

Kyle Horst: Response to hearing and seeing shots being fired from Gilo to Beit Jala. Hearing and witnessing shooting only days after seeing the destruction done to innocent families made me immediately feel ill to my stomach. I could only hope and pray that minimal damage was being done and no lives were being lost. At that moment the conflict suddenly became personal and real. As the shots rang out, my mind kept replaying the Palestinian faces who told passionately the horror that had filled their lives for the last five months. I wondered if they were ok. I wondered what was going through their minds. I wondered if this conflict would ever end. top

Chris Noll: I will take with me many faces from Beit Sahour. I will remember the wrinkled smiling face of my host father, Salim, after he once again beat us at a card game we had taught him. I will remember the earnestness of Jihad, my host mother, as she tried to help us understand her suffering. I will remember the Palestinian soldiers who flagged us down to stop for tea every afternoon on our walk back to the Iskan neighborhood. All my age and younger, they were teenagers goofing around, not men I could see fighting in any kind of war. I will remember the owners of the falafel and shwarma stands downtown, many of whom opened their doors simply because they knew that there were Americans in town. Open stores are sometimes hard to find in this town which has been under an economic squeeze for the last six months. All of these encounters have helped me put a face on the Palestinian people. Before coming I knew of their suffering, but now having names and faces to connect with the pain only makes my feelings deeper. top

Nathanael Overly: Talking face to face with Palestinian families and seeing up close their houses that were bombed during the intifada gave me a great sense of pity for these people and the lives they were forced to lead. What hurt even more was seeing the remains of a missile fired upon one of the houses. The writing was English and it was clearly American army issue.

Carolyn Weaver: This issue [Palestinian/Israeli conflict] is so complicated and so frustrating. I am discouraged, yet grateful to be able to learn from my host sister, Jane. She has experienced so much injustice, but still has hope for the future. Because Jane and the other residents of this area [Beit Sahour, Bethlehem, Beit Jala] cannot move freely anywhere, they are essentially a caged people. One comment Jane made sums it up best in a depressing yet realistic way: "There are so many things I want to do while I'm young, but I can't do those things now and I can feel my life passing me by." top

Matthew Krabill: (A Visit to Hebron) Settlers. What drives people to hate? They are armed and provocative, running through the marketplace, overturning fruit baskets and tearing down clothes just to be spiteful. A bumper sticker reads, "I've killed an Arab. How many have you killed?" The leading rabbi of the settlement has killed two Palestinians and still manages to walk the streets freely. Another kills a young girl and only receives six months community service. What drives a person to move from Brooklyn to Hebron in order to overturn fruit baskets in a market? I don't understand.

Janice Torres: (Visit to a refugee camp at Bethlehem and meeting with CPT at Hebron) Pain! It was the only word that came to my mind over and over. My soul has been in so much sorrow today. I think that all the questions of this conflict will never have the right answers. How do I explain to the mother of the "living martyr" that one day God will make justice? I believe He will, but it is hard for me to say the right words when I see so much suffering. Today was a very important day for my own understanding of the pain of these people. I am just a foreigner in a land of conflict, pain and confusion.

Report from Linford Stutzman: A post-election update (Feb. 8)

On the day of elections all of the students moved from Palestinian homes into the hotel as scheduled. That evening we had the farewell party with the hosts and the staff of the Alternate Travel Group (ATG). In the speeches and conversations I had with the host families, it was clear that the students were very much appreciated and left a very good impression. top

Everyone seems happy to be back together in the hotel for the final week. There is relative calm since the election, partly because it was clear who was going to win. The Palestinians have mixed reactions--although Sharon is feared by all and hated by some, there is also hope that the peace process may move away from stalemate.

This has been an intense couple of weeks and the students are being exposed to both tragedy and hope, and a variety of eloquent views.

Final night in Beit Sahour (Feb. 11) There has been nightly gunfire this week with helicopter and perhaps tank shots around some hotspots--close enough to hear and see in the distance. This has been the first in some weeks and it has everyone on edge. Yesterday an Israeli was killed driving down the road and this morning, in Bethlehem, the Israelis killed two Palestinians as revenge (according to our hosts). So its fairly tense. The group, however, has felt absolutely safe and at home in Beit Sahour and has been using good sense.

We went to Gaza today and experienced no difficulties other than spending an hour and a half trying to get into Gaza. Tommorrow morning we meet with Calvin and Marie Shenk and Ed Nyce from MCC for debriefing and lunch. Then we check out of the hotel around 2:30 and move into Jerusalem. This will be a real change from the past weeks and in spite of the situation, will be hard to do. top

February 1, 2001

Holly Hochstetler We are now staying with host families, in pairs because of past violence, in Beit Sahour. The experience so far has been wonderful. I live with Mr. And Mrs. Sabaha, one sister Mays, one brother Sam, grandmother Miriam, and a cousin who is always visiting-Gassam. The family is middle-class, but because of the war everyone is struggling. Although there is frustration with the Israeli government, my family and many others just want peace. Everyone is very open and want Americans to know what the Palestinians are going through in the occupied territories. It has been hard to have conversations which always lead to politics. It is such a part of their lives right now, and it is hard to connect and understand the Palestinian situation. In a few weeks we will be moving on to Jerusalem to study at Jerusalem University College. This has been an invaluable experience that has opened my eyes.

Shawn Rice There was some anxiety while waiting to get our host families in Beit Sahour. It was exciting to meet new people. I found that our host families have been a very good experience. I really enjoy my time interacting with my host family. They try to give me a good Palestinian view which is different than the view that T.V. usually gives us. top

Nathaniel Overly Being insecure and unsure are two emotions I was feeling when entering Palestine and meeting my host family. I knew they were people just like me, but with strong language, cultural, and political differences. The amazing thing I discovered, which I probably knew all along, is that people are people worldwide. My family and I have many of the same beliefs, interests, and even a similar sense of humor. This is a trend that carries over with every person I meet. As a result, my fears have diminished, and this land is beginning to feel like home.

Sara Ulrich "It is in the minds of adults that war and hatred develops. It is in the minds of children that peace and love must endure." This morning at Bethlehem University I saw the quote above. For the first time in my life I am experiencing the ravages of war and hatred so severe that it penetrates the lives of all, young and old. I have understood this concept in relationship to different racial groups or religions in the US, but never as it pertains to a livelihood and complete existence of a people. Living and learning among Palestinian Christians and Muslims has made this horror of war and hatred a reality. My host mother, Hanady, says, "We want war. We will kill them." Abdullah, Margaret and Yanice's host father, says, "We just want to live in peace with our neighbors. We want the fighting to end." I don't know how to understand all of these situations, but one thing that I do know is this: I will continue to pray that one day my four-year-old host sister, Christine, will know that her little plastic gun does not solve any frustrations or problems. top



January 8 to 11: Orientation at EMU

January 12: Friday Depart from EMU 1:30 pm

January 14 to 21: Egypt. Program arranged by MCC Cairo. Visit Khan el Khalili and attend performance of the Whirling Dervishes Pyramids, Memphis Islamic Cairo, Coptic Cairo, Coptic Museum Luxor: Karnak Temple, Luxor Temple, Valley of the Kings Mt. Sinai, St. Catherines Monastery

January 21 to 23: Negev Desert, Red Sea, Dead Sea

January 24 to February 13: West Bank top