Into the Land that is Holy… Reflection for February 2016

Revd David Bedford recently went on Sabatical to the Holy Land and shares this reflection with us.

Into the Land that is Holy…

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In such a reflection one will never say all there is to say and probably never achieve the balance required but where angels fear to tread…..

This eight day encounter with the realities of modern day Israel and the Palestinian Authority (Gaza and West Bank) was for Church Leaders (mainly Anglican, including the Bishop of Chester) and was fully funded by the Anglo-Israel Association & Christian Friends of Israel UK.

It was an opportunity to challenge assumptions/impressions gained from the media, to listen to a variety of voices / experiences / and reflect, in order to inform prayer, action and ministry. Not so much a pilgrimage but a fact finding tour which left us all (a group of twelve) spiritually and emotionally exhausted!

Gaza: of course we could not safely enter but we did visit Karem Shalom, the only way into the strip for lorries and any vehicles (given comprehensive access to all parts of this enormous area), Sderot (where they have 15 get into shelter when rocket warning sounds), and Erez Crossing (designed for 20,000 daily but in reality used by a lot less). Sad that Egypt has given up on Gaza by closing its crossing (Rafa), destroying homes over 500m to create buffer zone, flooding the tunnels causing issue with fresh water supplies. Some quotes: “ the peace industry has not helped”/ “ in Gaza city there are 11 people per square metre”/” nothing is black and white”/”media in UK are 70% wrong and 30% exaggerated”.

Prof. Uzi Rabi, Head of Middle East Faculty, Tel Aviv University No way back! Don’t know destination: 5 Factors at play:

  1. Mentality/Psychology: One man show gone and replaced by people power. Now bottom up analysis with energy from new media/NGO’s/ public at large. New state: Blogistan. 2. Instrumentality of Religion Not allowed to move forward: past more important than present. 3. Failed states in essence all post WW1 sykesbeko lines: Syria, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon, Yemen: now back to pre WW1 tribal divisions. Vacuum filled by the likes of ISIS etc. 4. Change of guard of Super powers Out: USA In: Russia and China /Turkey and Iran. 1 million slaughtered by own leaders / 15 million refugees. Lesser evils? All about Education: Jewish and Palestinians. 5. New Agenda Alliance of moderate parties against all extremists.
Trucks at Kerem Shalom

West Bank: Green line (Oslo 1993) is 350KM but Wall in all forms is 700KM. Rawabi: newly established city for upwardly mobile Palestinians. Founded by Bashar Masri wealthy and living in USA. “Love, Work, Grow” is its motto. Comment: Completely out of place? Bir Zeit University: Established 1970’s under great pressure / now 13000 students /closed 15 times by IDF / 34000 Graduates since inception. Comment: place of great hope. PLO Negotiating Team: Balfour Declaration: gifted country that wasn’t his to a people that weren’t here (only 7% Jews in 1917). War in 1947/48 was catastrophe: 418 villages destroyed / 70000 refugees. 1967 Israel want it all. 1988 PLO recognised Israel at 1967 borders but met with more settlements and no change of policy (1993 200000/ 2015 600000). “Young pray-ers become young stone throwers”. Comment: already we seem to be getting narratives which we can’t reconcile. Met Anglican Vicar in Ramallah: “by 2025 there could be no more Christians in Holy Land”. See later Beit Jala. Comment: how do we define Christian?

Birzeit University

Galilee Went to normal sites plus Magdala: Clear evidence of 1st century Synagogue (much older than Capernaum). AD66 Battle when sons of Magdala made stand to death against romans. Golan Heights: Syrian till 1967. 2010 survey on whether Jerusalem should be redivided said more objected to returning Golan Heights. Tour of Winery: “we replaced tears with cheers”.

Magdala – 1st Century Synagogue

Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu: “if you switched all the lights off in the country and turned on those belonging to Kibbutzim, then it would make an outline of the nation of Israel” Pioneers in Bio Bee / Organic Farming /working with nature. Comment: Hugely inspiring. “The natural solution works: how good is our God!”

Mahane Yehuda Market classic Shuk bustling with shoppers prior to Sabbath. Shabat Shalom: shared with family (Rabbi, wife and two children). Lovely to see him sing blessing (Proverbs 31) over wife, and then parents sing blessing over children. Profound experience.

Mahane Yehuda Market

Jerusalem classic tour. Museum: Model and Dead Sea scrolls. Bethlehem: Church of Nativity being renovated. Not destroyed because of pictures of Magi.

Beit Jala visit to Beit Al Liqa ministry led by Johnny Shahwan. Returned during 1st Intafada 1992. Set up home meetings/ then coffee house of meeting. December 1997 70 young people come to know Christ: no spiritual food in traditional Churches: declared ‘cult’ and cut off when baptised!! 300 children in summer camps. No public playground in area: asked God for it. Got it! God says: start to build the centre during worse part of second Intafada 2001/2. “if its God will He will foot the bill”. Centre ministry now reaches out to thousands of local Palestinian’s. Comment: probably the most inspiring ministry I have seen anywhere in world.

Beit Al Liqa Website

Western Wall Tunnels are main thoroughfare in Jesus’ day. Now under centuries of Turkish developments. “God’s divine presence never left”.

Supermarket in Area A employing and serving both Palestinian and Israelis.

Shiloh Ancient capital of Israel and where arch of covenant housed in permanent Tabernacle for 200 years. Destroyed 1100 BC. Excavated 1927. Four Christian Churches found. Edward Robinson: Jerusalem/ Masada / Find Shiloh. Found just a mosque………. But evidence of…….

Bargan is a Secular Settlement. Ellie Pieprz made case for settlements.

MFA at the Knesset (120 seats). Akiva Tor: From US where Father is Orthodox Rabbi. Here to get balance. Exodus 7 God hardens hearts. Diplomats can only work when governments want outcome. Daniel Toub: Ex-Israeli Ambassador to UK. You wont get peace between nations without peace between religions. Has changed mind about role of faith. Involved in peace negotiations for 20 years. Why? It’s in the room already (identity/faith). Not just piece of paper but agreement that can be implemented/ people feel part of it / faith leaders influential. Need bigger toolbox: we can. Tools in faith traditions go much deeper. Security Barrier: 15 years ago no one wanted it / April 2002 its built because previous month 35 attacks with 136 killed. Part of the scaffolding of way ahead. Good News: 1. Remarkable people: nobody wants to read about good Israeli and good Palestinians. Boycott campaigns are just helping Palestinians on cheap. 2. Foster positive identity: culture of hostility and indoctrination: how are you pro-Palestinian? What are you saying about this? Deepen conflicts with each camp. Gaza: Hamas terrorist uses 10-year-old boy as shield. Which one are you supporting? 20 Palestinians protesting for peace: Hamas murders them? Decide on values and live them out. 3 We don’t talk about peace in the right way! Not neat White House lawn stuff. Difficult to keep peace alive. Negotiation is across table / along table, behind table: 4th dynamic in each negoiation: voices of grandparents and voices of grandchildren. Listen to the children.

World population: 7.3 billion: 2.2 bn Christians / 1.6 bn Muslims / 1 bn Hindus / ½ bn Buddhists / well there’s just 14 million Jews and only one Jewish State.

Yad VashemFirst they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me”.  Martin Niemoller, German pastor.

Yad Vashem

Thence Dead Sea, Masada & Qumran.

General Comment: I was glad to go and see for myself and hear many different voices. I felt at times pressed to take sides but resisted doing so: surely as Christians we need to stand painfully in the middle ground and be ‘peacemakers’ as far as either side will let us. So I can say from the depths of my heart: yes the Palestinians need hope and a future laid out before them, and yes Israel needs to ensure the security of its 7.2million population. It feels as if 10% of either side (Hamas or Ultra-Orthodox) are dictating the direction of events when the other 90% would like to find a way to co-exist…… Lord open eyes and ears and hearts.

DB 10/1/16 to 19/1/16


N.B. Images sourced / linked to outside websites: The United Reformed Church (Southern Synod) Trust Ltd takes no responsibility for their content.

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