Tees & Swale Group minister Hilary Collinson has recently returned from a visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, where her sister, Theresa Mansbridge, is presently on a three month placement with EAPPI – The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel.
Now back home, Hilary has written about her experiences in The Link, the magazine of our churches in Barnard Castle and Swaledale. Most ministers find having to write a regular letter for the monthly church magazine one of their most demanding tasks. Maybe Hilary almost found this one wrote itself….. (posted here with her permission)
This will be a slightly different Minister’s letter this issue, as my mind is still trying to process all the experiences I have had in Israel/Palestine over the past 10 days or so. However, I will heed the advice of the Dean of the St. George’s Anglican Cathedral in Jerusalem: ‘do not become a two week expert’. He described visitors to Israel/Palestine as falling into several camps: ‘those who come for two weeks and write a book, those who come for 6 months and write an article, and those who stay longer and become even more confused!’ I think I come back after 10 days with that feeling of confusion in what is a highly complex, deeply disturbing and ultimately perplexing situation.
I have walked the pavements of the Old City of Jerusalem, moving from quarter to quarter with subtle differences in a warren of streets. I have been into Churches that were far from our tradition and felt somewhat alien. I have been to the borders of the Gaza Strip and looked out on Gaza City and a Hamas military training camp and heard a most inspiring Israeli Jewish woman from ‘Other Voice’ saying there will be peace one day. I have heard talks on the messy political situation in Israel where some in the new Coalition state, ‘Palestinian women give birth to snakes’, and ‘Palestinians are animals’.
I have sat down with a Palestinian Christian just outside occupied Bethlehem, who has called his land ‘The Tent of Nations’, when all around him are illegal Israeli settlements seeking to take his land away from him little by little, and walking back through the notorious Checkpoint 300. I have also sat listening to an inspiring Palestinian Muslim who fears that any day the Israeli army and settlers will come to turn him and his family, yet again, off the land they have owned and farmed since before the Ottoman Empire held the land.
I have walked around a Jewish complex guarded by a security firm in Haifa, Israel’s third largest city, and briefly met a ‘Rabbi for Peace.’ I have listened to Israeli peace activists, and told how to be a ‘cooked noodle’ to make it hard for police or army to move you, and another who supports young men and women who wish to refuse conscription. She also described the effect of military service on the 18-22 year old citizens, with increase in domestic violence and physical child abuse.
I went to the Crusader city of Alekko (Acre) and went along the Templar tunnels to emerge in the busy Arab souk. I ‘planted’ a remembrance cross on the grave of a relative of an Elder in the Pastorate, and paddled in the Med. near the place my father served some of his national service in Haifa. I have heard a complex lecture on Human Rights law and been to the Holocaust Memorial Yad Vashem, followed by a visit to an abandoned Palestinian village, where Ariel Sharon and his gang shot dead five Palestinians in 1947, whilst we heard read an eye-witness account by a young child, who left her favourite toys, as her father genuinely thought they would be back in a few days.
I have drunk coffee in a ‘Swiss café’ in East Jerusalem (the predominantly Muslim area), eaten ‘Austrian strudel’ in a café in Haifa, been given a complimentary copy of the Quran in English with my falafels, and been moved by a poem by a famous Palestinian poet.
I have been in a group in a group of Norwegians, Finns, Germans, Swiss, Filipino, Swedes, South Africans and Brits, all there to be Ecumenical Accompaniers monitoring the infringements of Human Rights they witness daily throughout the West Bank. I have listened to their experiences, their frustrations, their reflections so far, and grown in my admiration for the work they do. I have sung ‘If I had a hammer I’d hammer in the morning’ (after many years, and it seemed so fitting), ‘It’s the hammer of justice, it’s the bell of freedom, it’s the song about love between my brothers and my sisters, all over this land!’
So please forgive my confusion, my perplexity, my lack of clarity – for greater minds and more experienced commentators cannot seem to really explain how the area has come to this, nor indeed see a clear way forward. However, one theme ran through the whole of the 10 days, that however complex, however perplexing, however disturbing, the work of peacemakers is vital and we should support them in whatever way we can – especially upholding them in prayer. And my clearest thought throughout all of this, was Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, and his words from the cross, ‘Father, forgive them’. Yet we also must take care that we don’t look at the speck in others’ eye when there is a plank in our own, and we need to think about how we reflect the way of peace in our own lives and communities.
The Link editor has added: Do read the blogs by Theresa and other Ecumenical Accompaniers on: http://eyewitnessblogs.com. Read and meditate on Isaiah chapters 59 and 61. Pray for the accompaniers and the people living in the Holy Land.