May 20

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