Shock & Inspiration in the Holy Land
[Author's Note: Below you will find a guest post by Mrs. Pat Davis. This post was printed on December 23rd, 2011 in the Cincinnati Inquirer. The author of this particular post encourages you to read this and then return tomorrow morning for a follow up. This story is being re-posted here in its entirety with permission of Mrs. Davis. Pat Davis is the wife of Congressman Geoff Davis (R-KY4).]
“Are you nervous? Isn’t it dangerous? Do you feel scared?” Before my visits to Israel, the questions were always the same.
From the time I first set foot there, I became enamored. It was breathtaking! I actually walked where Jesus walked, lived and taught. The Bible seemed to come alive for me.
And no, I wasn’t nervous or scared. I felt safe. How could I not? There were soldiers at every turn, all heavily armed. We were in a cocoon of security. On that first trip, I couldn’t quite understand who or what the threat was.
I had, of course, seen news reports about Palestinian terrorists. I was, and am, deeply concerned about the security of the Jewish state. But I had never encountered a Palestinian.
Recently, however, I was blessed with the opportunity to deepen my relationship with Israel. But I also got to realize a dream come true and visit Palestinian places like Bethlehem – which I had previously been told were “far too dangerous.”
What I found both shocked and inspired me. In Bethlehem, for example, was the world’s oldest Christian community, believers who date back unbroken to the time of Jesus – and before. I was welcomed like family into homes of Christians and Muslims, too – sampling some of the most wonderful food I’ve had and getting to know some of the most hard-working and kind people I have met outside of Kentucky.
Getting there was much easier than I thought. In fact, we frequently drove back and forth between Israeli and Palestinian areas – often without winning a glance from bored Israeli soldiers at checkpoints. For Palestinians, however, it’s a different story.
There are roads for tourists and Israelis, and there are “other” roads for Palestinians. To travel on the modern Israeli roads, a driver must have a yellow Israeli license plate. Palestinians have white-and-green lettered plates and can’t freely use these roads. This means Palestinians can’t get to work, access their fields, visit family, or trade – even between Palestinian villages and towns – without being stopped for minutes or hours at Israeli checkpoints.
I saw this first-hand when I visited Bethlehem. I could scarcely believe that the birthplace of Jesus is now encased by concrete walls, taller than the Berlin Wall, dotted with IDF gun towers.
No one can deny Israel’s very real security needs. Hundreds of Israelis have been killed by Palestinian suicide bombers. Israel has a right and duty to protect its citizens’ security. But the wall I saw didn’t run along Israel’s border. It went right into Bethlehem, taking private property, farmland, and literally twisting and wrapping around homes.
Sadly, many Palestinian Christians told me about the days when they made an ancient Easter pilgrimage from Nativity to Resurrection. Jerusalem is only 7 miles away. Now Palestinians living in Bethlehem have not been able to go to Jerusalem without Israeli-issued travel permits, which are often extremely difficult to obtain.
Access to water is another source of contention in Palestine. Often, major Palestinian cities like Bethlehem and Ramallah can only access water for a few hours every few days – or longer. Farmers, the elderly and children suffer, especially during summers.
Meanwhile, Israeli settlements – Israeli towns built on land often confiscated from private Palestinian landowners – expand. One farmer shared that it was not uncommon to hear Israeli children splashing in the settlement swimming pool one hillside over as his family worked its farm.
Another farmer, a Christian, has had to dig caves into a hilltop his family has owned for over 100 years to stay on his land. Meanwhile, modern Israeli settlements expand all around.
I snapped a picture of a stone near the entrance of his farm, which says, “We refuse to be enemies” – in English, Arabic, Hebrew and German. I heard this expressed by many average Palestinians, Christian and Muslim.
On my last day in Bethlehem, I had the opportunity to meet Vice Mayor George Sa’adeh, a Christian. He spoke wistfully about one of his daughters.
As he and his family returned from an errand, they approached a checkpoint near Bethlehem. Without warning, Israeli soldiers sprayed his car with machine gun fire. His 12-year-old daughter died in the car with the rest of her wounded family around her. Later, the Israeli government informed him it was a case of mistaken identity. George was severely injured and spent months recovering.
This was one of many “mistaken identity” deaths we heard about while we were there.
I expressed my sorrow at his loss. This gentle Christian man, living in the City of David, simply said, “Thank you. This was the will of God.” He helped form a network of Israeli and Palestinian parents of children lost to the conflict, all committed to ensuring their group does not grow.
I left Israel inspired and conflicted. But as difficult as the politics might be, I also left convinced of a larger truth: Israelis and Palestinians are both right. And both are wrong.
The only way forward in the Holy Land will promote the dignity, equality and security of all its peoples.