Over the course of two weeks we travelled extensively throughout Palestine, Israel, and Jordan, visiting numerous places of interest. Many of my views were challenged including thoughts around the Palestinian- Israeli conflict.
Our first Sunday, we attended for worship at The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, where the service was in Arabic. Despite this we were able to join in familiar hymns including “What a friend we have in Jesus” and “When I survey the wondrous cross”.
We visited the Church of the Nativity, Shepherd’s fields, and Bethlehem Bible College. At this last stop we received an inspiring talk from Rev. Alex Awad, who is Dean of students, and a minister of the United Methodist Church. He outlined the origins of the problems in the region, and how the Bible College is training Palestinian Christians to lead the Church, and be the light of Christ to their Muslim and Christian neighbours’.
Looking from the College there was a large Palestinian refugee camp. When the state of Israel was established in 1948, 750,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes to become refugees. The Palestinians refer to this as Al Nakba, “The Catastrophe”. Approximately 1.2 million Palestinians live in refugee camps. In addition another 4 million U.N. registered Palestinian refugees are scattered throughout the world.
The picture of deprivation was much the same in the other Palestinian towns we visited including Hebron, Nablus, and Jericho. Roads, buildings, infrastructure all underdeveloped. Palestinian Arabs are restricted in their movement due to the separation barrier which stretches over 450 miles and in places reaches a height of 8 metres. Some of our party made the crossing on foot from Bethlehem through the barrier to experience what many ordinary Palestinians have to face on a daily basis.
Given the experience of the Jews during the Holocaust, it is difficult to comprehend why the native Arab people in Palestine/Israel are being treated as outcasts in their own land.
Despite the obvious difficulties we were very fortunate in being able to visit many significant religious sites in Palestine, some valued equally by Christians, Jews, and Muslims. In Hebron the tombs of the Patriarchs; Abraham & Sarah, Isaac & Rebecca, Jacob & Leah, while in Nablus, under a Greek Orthodox Church, Jacob’s well.
In Jerusalem I was able to experience the rich multi cultural, multi ethnic nature of the Holy city, with its Christian, Muslim, Arab, and Armenian quarters.
The Palestinian Arabs are widely misrepresented when there is debate regarding the future of the region. Stereotypes are too easily applied, and historical events ignored. I hope that in this short article I have presented some issues from a perspective which may challenge accepted ideas.
In Galatians 3 v 26-29 it is written…… “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus…..there is neither Jew nor Greek…for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”