Tomorrow I’ll fly to the Holy Land with another 17 pilgrims for a very unusual experience of Israel and Palestine. Todd Deatherage of The Telos Group and I will co-lead it, our fourth trip doing this together. It’ll be my sixth trip following in the literal footsteps of Jesus, but it’s not just for a spiritual experience. It’ll also be about the discipleship of peace-making. As Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers…”
I’ve been passionate about peace and justice in Israel and Palestine for over 25 years now, due to some very formative experiences in my 20s that defy easy categories for this place, holding one of the world’s longest and most complicated conflicts.
Up into my 20s I had a pretty simple view of the Holy Land that was formed simply by breathing the air growing up around Dispensational Theology. I’m not claiming these teachings but they went (and sometimes still do) something like this:
- The Jewish people who live in the State of Israel are entitled to this land, to live on it exclusive of others, because God gave it to them in the first place.
- The creation of the State of Israel was a really handy way for the Christian God to bring the Jews ’back to the land’ in order to fulfill apocalyptic prophecy which is but within a generation away from being realized. The creation of the State of Israel was important politically, but much more so religiously, heralding the beginning somehow of the ending.
- For those who lived in the Holy Land prior to the creation of the State of Israel, if there were actually that many…well, that’s too bad for them, but I guess they’re Muslim anyways so maybe they’d be more content in a more Islamic country. The Jews were just being given back what was theirs in the first place, too bad for those whose ancestors took it from them.
- American support–politically and militarily–of Israel was really important because the Jews staying on the land was really important to God’s plan for the second coming of Christ, so we must support Israel any way we can and any way they want.
I didn’t really have any reason to think other than this, or differently than this.
But then I began to travel outside of America, first to Europe, and to meet people. And things became more painful, and more complex. And then I traveled to the Land itself–the Holy Land, the Promised Land, Land of Jesus, Land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, contested Land. And things became much more painful and much much more complex.
So a few unadorned memories of what began to shape my thoughts on specifically Israel and Palestine.
1989–Auschwitz, Poland: Seeing this holy, awful place was when the horror of the Holocaust landed. Rooms with piles of human hair, greyed by Zyclon B. Rooms with piles of eyeglasses. Rooms with piles of prosthetic limbs. It created in me a visceral reaction wanting defense and protection of the Jewish people, a sense that has never gone away and which is not hard to tap into.
1994–Amsterdam: I went to the house of beautiful teenaged girl, murdered, Anne Frank. I climbed inside the famous Hiding Place of the ‘righteous Gentile’ Corrie Ten Boom, whose family was slaughtered. I’ll never forget the quiet, unadorned memorial somewhere in the city that had a plaque of few words and simple statistics that said it all: In 1939, there were 140,000 Jews living in Holland, in 1945 there were 35,000 left.
1994–Alissar in Amsterdam: I had never actually met a Palestinian until I met Alissar at Youth With A Mission. And I was shocked to learn that she was a Christian, and that many Palestinians were Christians. And I also heard first hand of when she was a little girl how her family was forced from their home and land that had been in their family for generations, and how she was not allowed to return to her own homeland, where she grew up, her own homeland. In words from my journal then, “She is a wonderful woman, with much pain in her heart. She cannot go back to Palestine, for she was kicked out, along with the rest of the Palestinians.” And thus I saw that there was another side to this story, and that the story was not ultimately about religion, but actual humans.
1995-Jerusalem and Israel and the West Bank: For eight weeks. Seeing the plight of the Palestinians for the first time, and not even as up close as I could have but what I saw was outrageous enough, crippling. Seeing the real threats to Israel from all sides-Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Iran, from within ones own borders. And seeing at Yad Vashem the letter from the United States during World War II denying entry to Jews fleeing Hitler.
I walked away from those experiences way back then, almost 25 years ago now, with a position that I still affirm and have carried with me ever since: That the true solutions to this holy place bitterly contested for millennia will be honestly pro-Israeli AND pro-Palestinian, simply pro-Human. 25 years ago I wrote that, and, this from my journal in 1995, “This is about treating people fairly and as humans”–Jews and Palestinians, Israelis and Christians, Muslims and Arabs all. Simplistic to be sure, and still true.
Dale Hanson Bourke has written a supremely helpful primer on these things, called “The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict”. In it she introduces us to Robi, “One of my first encounters was with an Israeli woman named Robi Damelin who had lost her son David in the conflict. Now part of an organization that brings together Palestinians and Israelis that have lost family members, Robi advises well-meaning people around the world: ‘Don’t be pro-Israeli. Don’t be pro-Palestinian. Be pro-peace…”
This is the mission of Todd and The Telos Group, to raise up peacemakers and find solutions for peace by being Pro-Israeli, Pro-Palestinian, and Pro-Peace.
Yes, pro-Human. Yes, pro-Imago Dei, in each and every human being, and in each one who calls this little strip of contested land home. This posture is what the Holy Land needs, from all who live there and all who visit.