The groundwork for the Palestine – Israeli conflict started before I was born. By the time I was two, a major offensive had taken place. Through all these years, I heard one story. It was the story of the Holocaust and a land that became a Jewish homeland after Hitler’s ovens were shut down. For most of these years I wondered why there was no peace in that land. I wondered why the Palestinian people simply didn’t move on with their lives and work for the betterment of their people. I wondered why, just about the time when peace might finally break out, there would be a bombing in Israel by Palestine or an assassination in Palestine by Israeli forces.
I applauded the peace accords at Camp David and hoped that peace might finally come to that troubled land. Through all these years, peace has been elusive. A few years ago I read a book which gave perspective to the issue and helped me to understand there were two distinctive views of Israel and Palestine. More books caused me to dig deeper. Last summer I attended an event which brought Christians who live and work in Palestine to the states. Their stories were full of heartache.
I didn’t know that a wall was built around the biblical city of Bethlehem, birthplace to both David and Jesus. A wall built not for protection, but to keep people in, allowing access to mere four square miles. Movement between Bethlehem and another part of Palestine takes hours of waiting in line at a checkpoint, only to be repeated at another wall and another checkpoint. I learned that Christians who lived in Bethlehem were only allowed to go the four miles to Jerusalem at Easter and Christmas. I didn’t realize that Israel controlled both water and electricity in Palestine or that they allowed only scarce amounts of each to reach people who live there. Their stories of ongoing harassment caused me to entirely rethink what I thought I knew about Israel. I find it difficult to understand why the children of people who survived the Holocaust could treat an entire nation with so little compassion.
In the past few years, more and more Jewish settlements have started in the West Bank. The land is spotted with settlements which make a two-state solution increasingly difficult. Settlements have no lack of either water or electricity. Settlers have incentives to move into these new cities. Meanwhile, land that has been held in a family for generations has been taken, named as state land. The Israeli government will refer to an action by Hamas as the cause for taking the land, but somehow Christians in Palestine are among those losing their land.
The staff at Bethlehem Bible College talked about Jewish settlers who saw the land as something that God had given them, and therefore they had a right to take land in Palestine for themselves. They told of farmers with trees ripe for harvest who were told that their land was now state land. Between the time the farmer could appeal the take over of his land and a military tribunal validated his right to it, fifteen-hundred trees ready for harvest were plowed under. As I heard those stories, I thought of the good farm people I knew in Southern MN and how angry they would be if they were aware of what the current government in Israel was doing to farmers like themselves.
I started to read Goggle’s Israeli news after the conference. I’ve learned European Jews link rising antisemitism to Israel’s treatment of people in Palestine. In February of this year, 500 rabbis protested the demolition of housing built in the West Bank by non-profits to help fill the serious housing shortage there.
I wish there were easy answers to this long and painful conflicts. The frustration of the Christian population in Palestine was easy to see and hear. I wished for them an easier life. They told us they saw themselves as a bridge, trying to pull people together. A part of the solution. They asked each of us to do whatever we can do to draw attention to the conditions under which they are living. It seems a little thing to do. To tell a story, to share an insight. To say a prayer for peace.