Journey to the Holy Land

Last year, I traveled to Israel/Palestine with BelPres members, Overlake Christian Church members and a Muslim couple. Our primary purpose was to learn about multiple perspectives on the current conflict there.  Our good fortune was to have Rev. Dr. Mae Cannon (Churches for Middle East Peace, Washington D.C.) as our sponsor and guide.  She arranged for us to meet with people from Israel and Palestine to hear what life is like and to learn how things became so very complicated ‘first-hand.’

Our two guides, an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian Muslim from the West Bank, were wonderfully qualified to provide rare, multidimensional views of two ongoing, diverse perspectives.  They were with us throughout the trip explaining their respective histories.  Together, Israel and Palestine are about the size of New Jersey, so we covered a lot in 11 days.  There are two stories to share.

The first involves two fathers who lost daughters in the conflict and whose stories are heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time. One is Jewish whose teenage daughter was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber and the other is Palestinian whose young daughter was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier.  The pain these two men have experienced is unimaginable. The temptation to react violently must have been overwhelming.  However, neither chose to respond with violence.  Instead, they chose peace.

They met after their respective tragedies and became very good friends.  Now, telling their stories together, they’re advocating for reconciliation.  The two men, like many we met, are weary of war and in sharing their heartbreak, their strength and determination, they are making a difference.

The Palestinian father said he believes people hate each other because they fear each other and they fear each other because they don’t know each other. For example, he didn’t know about the Holocaust until he was an adult.

The Israeli father said, after his daughter was killed, he asked what had happened to Palestinians to make them so angry they would destroy their own lives and the lives of children. As he uncovered answers to this, his heart was softened to the history and pain of Palestinians. The Israeli man closed by saying that occupation is not a Jewish value and standing against it is not anti-Semitic. Both men agreed the best place for Americans to begin understanding is to become informed.

My second story involves a man who served in the Israeli Army. During a quiet time in our travels, I asked him what he thought about U.S. presidential administrations’ actions related to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.  He responded with regret and sadness that it doesn’t matter who the U.S. President is; none of them has had the courage to stand up to the Israeli government.

My heart breaks for the horrors Jewish people have suffered, especially the Holocaust.  I have been to Dachau, Germany (a Nazi death camp) where many Jewish people were murdered.  I‘ve been to The Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. and to the Holocaust museum near Jerusalem – Yad Vashem.  While both memorials show the stark detail of unspeakable crimes committed against the Jews, anti-Semitism still exists in much of the world today.  I believe Israel has the right to have a State and to live in peace within the pre-1967 borders.  So, I am pro-Israel.

I am also pro-Palestinian.  On our trip, we spent a great deal of time on the Palestinian side of the “separation wall.”  The contrast between the Israeli side and the West Bank side is startling: limited access for Palestinians for basics such as water, health care, jobs and roads, is all controlled by Israel.  From what I saw, both sides continue to suffer and Palestinians seem to bear a greater share of suffering.  My heart also breaks for them.  I believe for Israel to prosper, Palestine must also prosper.

Our group continues to meet and act with a pro-Israel, pro-Palestine, pro-Jesus narrative at the heart of our work.  We pray for peace and we act for peace.  We invite you to join us.

Tell Them We Are Not Terrorists

By Rev Rich Leatherberry 

“Tell them we are not terrorists”, she says in response to our question; “What would you say to our congregations?” She is 17, a Christian, in her senior year of high school and hoping to attend college next year. She is bright, well spoken and looks like any other 17 year old here in Bellevue with one big exception. She is Palestinian and lives with an international stereotype which, like the 26 foot wall that separates her from the rest of the world, prevents us from ever knowing who she really is. All her dreams, hopes and aspirations will remain hidden behind the wall and obscured by the stereotype assigned to her for the rest of her life. Because of the economic insecurity created by life behind the wall, she will graduate from college but will live most of her adult life unemployed and poor. Unless something changes.

“Hope” is a 4-week class I am teaching in May. The class will provide an overview of what is going on in Israel/Palestine; examine the varying perspectives and biases which influence the way we interpret current events there; look at the Bible and what it has to say about what God might want for Israel/Palestine; and how we can bring change.

Personally, my experience with Israel/Palestine has caused me to examine my own faith walk with Jesus. It has questioned how I view the world as a follower of Jesus and what I allow to influence my worldview. It has questioned my own sense of calling and how God might want to use me each day. It has questioned the way I interpret the Bible and how I allow it to speak into my life today. The truth is that Israel/Palestine is making me a different follower of Jesus.

My hope for you who take this class is that Israel/Palestine will be an outward journey of discovery, discussion and decision around what is happening and the people who live there. I also hope this class will launch you on an inward journey to examine your own faith and help you become a different follower of Jesus.

Called to Suffer

It was nearly a year ago when I traveled to the Holy Land for the first time along with several other area pastors. Ever since Jesus called me to church ministry, I have wanted to visit the places where He walked, taught, healed people, was crucified, and rose again. I was tired of looking at pictures and hearing second hand accounts; I wanted to see it for myself. (more…)