Pastors, leaders travel to Israel and Palestine

by Brook Musselman, for the Come and See tour

This week, we are sharing several reflections from participants on the October 2014 “Come and See” tour to Israel and Palestine. The tour is part of a broader initiative by Mennonite Church USA which encourages Mennonite pastors and leaders to travel to the region, to “come and see” what daily life is like for those who live there. 

Our group of 12 pastors and leaders–from Atlantic Coast, Eastern District and Franconia Mennonite Conferences–traveled to the West Bank town of Bethlehem, having intellectually prepared ourselves by reading the history of and various perspectives on the Israel-Palestine conflict. We weren’t prepared for our encounter with the hard realities of life in this country that would shake our hope in humanity and reshape our worldview.

Photo by Sheri Wenger.
The group sits on steps outside of the Damascas gate, Jerusalem. Photo by Sheri Wenger.

One day, we were taken to a shrinking, dusty Palestinian village that sat in the shadow of a recently-built Israeli settlement. Our guide showed us the farm land that had been confiscated from the villagers for the use or disuse of the settlers. We saw the pond where the village children used to swim in the summer heat before they were chased away by armed settlers who came to the pond for their own recreation. We passed the entrance to the village where a checkpoint was often set up that made access to the outside world incredibly difficult.

We heard the perspectives of Jews who are hardened to the suffering they cause by decades and centuries of fear, persecution, and constant threat. They told us of the hope they have because of Zionism and the establishment of their homeland, but we were deeply frustrated to see the harm that this continues to cause nearly 70 years after independence.

Photo by Sheri Wenger.
The group on a tour of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The church is said to be built over the place where Jesus was born. It was site of refuge for Palestinians during recent violence. Photo by Sheri Wenger.

We also met Jews who love their country but cannot support the oppressive actions of their government, so they endure teargas, rubber bullets, beatings, and arrests by the Israeli Army to stand alongside those without power.

In our brief time touring both sides of the dividing wall, we heard stories from the people that were both encouraging and discouraging. At times, we felt like throwing up our hands and admitting that there is no hope for justice or peace in this place. Each of us felt frustrated by the discrimination, inhumanity, and senseless violence inflicted upon the Palestinian people. We also felt anger toward the international community and especially our own government that acknowledges these atrocities but doesn’t take action.

But in spite of the discouragement we so often felt, we heard story after story showing the tenacity of the Palestinian people and their hope for a future. One of our guides was a Palestinian Christian with ancestry tracing back to the earliest disciples, who works tirelessly and daily risks imprisonment to raise awareness and promote peace in the area. Stories like this inspired us to come home and tell the stories of those in need of a voice and to promote shalom at home and abroad by encouraging all to be peacemakers in our broken world.

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