Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Rays of Hope in a Dark Divide

by Rick Love

I was invited to speak at the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference in Bethlehem this year. So I invited my good friend Tim McDonell to join me. We went early to see some sites and meet with Israelis and Palestinians before the conference.

Full disclosure: our natural tendency is to focus on the plight of the Palestinians. So we determined to fight this prejudice by listening to and empathizing with both Israelis and Palestinians (listening and empathizing are two crucial practices for resolving all kinds of conflict).

We went to the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest place in the world for Muslims. Because we have many Muslim friends, we thought it was important to see it. Some of the Muslims there tried to evangelize us with a canned pitch. Others were more friendly, sharing their regret that we were not allowed to enter the Mosque because of political tensions.

Next we went to the famous Jewish “wailing wall” to watch the faithful pray. Gentiles are allowed to pray there if they cover their heads – which we did. The wailing wall is an intense place. Israelis sway back and forth in zealous prayer (it reminds me of praying with Korean Christians!).

Hearing the laughter of the Israeli children in the background touched me deeply. In the midst of violence and political tension it reminded me of the important things in life. So I put my hand on the wailing wall and prayed that I would leave the world a better place for my children and grandchildren – a place where they could laugh and love and live without fear.

Next stop: Hebron in the West Bank (Palestine). This is the home of the Al Ibrahami Mosque, where Abraham, the Old Testament Patriarch, was buried. After walking through the mosque and seeing Abraham’s memorial, we sat down for coffee with street vendors.

“So Mohammad,” I asked, “If you could speak to the world about your situation here, what would you like them to know?” He smiled and said, “Imagine if someone took your house away. Then they said you could stay in one room of the house. But you can’t go in other rooms without permission.” A simple but apt picture of the Palestinian situation.

Near the end of our time, Mohammad laughed and said the Israeli perspective could be summarized as follows: “What is mine is mine, what is yours is negotiable.” Then he said, “Please tell people that we are an educated people and we are not terrorists.” This reflects my own experience of them exactly.

We then went to an Israeli settlement. A settlement is an Israeli community built in the middle of Palestinian land. So there is great animosity between Israeli settlers and Palestinians. But we were told we needed to meet Rabbi Hanan. So off we went to listen and learn. We were blown away when we heard his story.

He shared about the first time he talked with a Palestinian. They both confessed that they had never talked to the “other.” And they admitted that they were both afraid of the “other.” During this encounter, Rabbi Hanan said, “I felt like I had what you Christians call a conversion. I lived so close to Palestinians, but I never knew one.” 

Rabbi Hanan is part of a dynamic peacemaking work called Roots. He took us to a neutral meeting place where young Israeli soldiers got to meet and actually talk with Palestinians, including a Palestinian Sheikh (teacher). In Palestine the only time Israeli soldiers meet a Palestinian is at checkpoints or conflicts. So this Roots gathering provided a safe space to meet and humanize the other.

More about our trip tomorrow in a second post!