This is a cross post from The Jerusalem Post by Fran Waddams
The Jewish Leadership Council of the UK recently led a group of leaders from several Christian organizations to Israel and the Palestinian territories.
This group had the opportunity to meet with and question Israeli officials, citizens and clergy.
Fran Waddams of Anglican Friends of Israel, one of the organizations represented on the trip, responds to a report by the archbishop of Canterbury on his visit to the Holy Land which took place a few days later.
Dear Archbishop Justin,
I toured the Holy Land, together with Christian leaders of other organizations, on a visit organized by the UK Jewish Leadership Council just a few days before you last month, and read your reflections on your own visit to the region wondering whether you would be as attentive and impartial as you were at a meeting a few years ago at which I spoke and you were chair.
It’s heartening that you support the rights of all people in the region “to peace, security, and justice.”
The issues you touch on also arose on our three days of visits and meetings with Israelis, both Jewish and Arab, and Palestinians, and some questions sprang to mind as I read your piece.
You were shocked at the contrast between west Jerusalem and Ramallah.
Next time you visit, would you ask Palestinian leaders why there is such a contrast? The Palestinian Authority has received billions of dollars in aid. Where, exactly, has this money gone? It doesn’t appear to have gone into infrastructure, public buildings and utilities, nor created Palestinian jobs nor gone onto Palestinian tables. It might really help our understanding if we knew the answers to this question.
Palestinians may find passing through IDF checkpoints inconvenient, or even humiliating.
But air travelers of every nationality accept the indignity of intrusive security searches, understanding that there are those who would blow airliners out of the sky if measures were not taken to stop them.
Israel’s security fence and checkpoints exist for the same reason. They were put into place only after dozens of murders and hundreds of mutilations caused by Palestinian suicide bombers who drove unhindered into Israel to carry out their missions. Several people loaded with explosives have been stopped at checkpoints over the years. Every week the Israel Defense Forces intercepts weapons and explosives and prevents indiscriminate death and mutilation of Palestinians and Israelis alike. Israel’s security measures save lives.
One young Palestinian woman has written that “most Palestinian Christians and peace loving Muslims acknowledge (privately) that the wall was built as a direct response to suicide bombers from within the Palestinian community.”
However unwilling the Ecumenical Accompaniers Programme for Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) is to believe it, it is a fact that the number of terror attacks, which reached epidemic proportions by 2003, has dwindled to almost nothing.
Like us, you were alarmed by the danger with which the citizens of Sderot live daily. It’s one thing to read dispassionately the few reports that appear in the UK media, quite another to be on the spot, wondering whether the nearest bomb shelter (at every bus stop) could be reached within the 15 seconds between the Red Alert and the missile exploding. The morning after our visit, terrorists were lobbing missiles toward Israel.
They missed this time. But missing was not the intention, and it didn’t stop Sderot’s parents having to make agonizing decisions on whether they had time to get all their children to shelter in time.
Then we met young IDF soldiers, amazed that British Christians wanted to show appreciation for their dangerous work. Most Christians they encounter are scrutinizing their behavior for faults as they work at checkpoints or try to prevent violence at demonstrations.
These Christians seem indifferent to the dangers they face as they try to distinguish between peaceful Palestinians and those smuggling explosives or weapons.
Finally we had the privilege of visiting Baptist Pastor Naim Khoury in Bethlehem. Brought up to believe that the Jewish Scriptures were irrelevant, he began to read them for himself as a 17 year old. He has discovered that the whole Bible is God’s Word, not just the New Testament and as a result insists that Palestinian Christians are obliged to love all their neighbors, Muslim and Jew.
He also learned that God has given the Jewish people a right to live in the Holy Land. Pastor Khoury does not endorse all that the Israeli government does. Nevertheless, he insists that Jews’ right to live unhindered on the land promised to them by the God is clearly set out in the Bible.
As a result of his courage, Pastor Khoury is shunned by fellow Christians, his church has had its right to conduct official marriages and baptisms withdrawn by the Palestinian Authority, his church has been bombed 14 times, and he was once shot. Nevertheless, his Arab congregation numbers in the hundreds, the largest in the Territories. What an irony.
The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is complex.
It is about land and it is about justice. And your question is excellent – what constitutes a “just solution.” There are many voices that you won’t hear by sticking to “official” channels. The truths told by the “other voices” are out there, but so often those voices have to be sought out.
They’re worth listening to.
They really are.