Pastor Michael Mayer’s reflection on the Israel-Palestine war, written two days after it began.
I had the privilege of joining a two-week pilgrimage in Israel in early September. We stayed in the St George’s Anglican community, East Jerusalem – a little oasis of calm in a crazy, busy country. Christians are only 2% of the population in Israel, and they are all Palestinian. This includes the Lutheran churches in Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
During this time we worshipped with an Anglican church in the West Bank, had lunch at a refugee camp in Bethlehem (hosted by a group of women who raise money to support their disabled children), had a tour of the mosques of the Temple Mount area, and heard from a Palestinian man and Jewish woman who are part of a small grass roots organisation that works for peace. We also worshipped with the Lutheran congregation in Jerusalem.
Israel as a nation started in 1948, after many decades of Jewish people working for a homeland where they would be safe. We all know the horrific things done to Jewish people in World War 2, as the Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem reminds us so forcibly.
The issue is that Israel was not empty land in 1948. Palestinians have lived there for two millennia. How Israel can have both Jewish and Palestinian people living together has never been effectively worked through, and the problems about that are only escalating. Many Palestinians left their homes in 1948, as Jewish people moved to take over land to safeguard their security. The locals hoped to return in two weeks, once tensions had been sorted out. That never happened. Now there are 4 generations of displaced people living in overpopulated refugee camps, and people who have lost their houses without ever being reimbursed. In the late 1960s there was a short war and since that time Israel has occupied the West Bank, and more recently part of the Golan Heights, which were not part of the original negotiation.
We did not meet any people from Gaza. I gather there are 2.3 million people, living in a tiny area tightly locked down by Israel. People from both Gaza and the West Bank need permits if they work in Israel. There is a huge wall around many areas, and checkpoints to cross over. One of our speakers from Bethlehem has never lived with his wife from East Jerusalem, because his permit does not allow him to stay overnight. One of the Anglican priests, doing the 1½ hour trip to regularly meet with other Anglican priests in Jerusalem has to get out of his car at the check point, and walk through. His Palestinian wife and baby, who have Israeli citizenship, drive through, and pick him up on the other side. We could sense, especially from the men, a despair that they were being treated as second class citizens, with basic rights of movement and
Israelis have a right to be safe. There is no justification for violence from any group. There is also an unsorted issue of justice about a safe and open future for Palestinian people in Israel. Bigger walls, rocket attacks and more tear gas will never sort that out. People aggressively asserting their right to take over more land does not help either.
Pray for peace within Israel and Palestine, and for a way in which Israelis and Palestinians can live together in peace and justice.
Pastor Michael Mayer