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Day 23, Onsite in Galilee, Part II

God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.

Matthew 5:9 (NLT)

. . . continued from yesterday.

March 12, 2017

The West Bank Wall, along the ridge in the background.

Uri, our guide on a tour through the Holy Land, had been promising for days to tell us about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We saw the wall on our first excursion after checking into our Jerusalem hotel. My sister and brother-in-law joined Corny and me for lunch at Olive and Fish. Afterward we walked to a park and stopped at a lookout over the old city. "Look," Wendell pointed. "Over there in the distance. Isn't that the wall?” He wasn't pointing at the wall around the old city. One of the first photos I took on our Israeli vacation was a picture of the wall that divides Israel.

That wall was never far from our consciousness. Someone asked Uri about it during the short bus ride to the old city the next day. We could see it on the neighboring hill. When we travelled to Bethlehem the following day, Uri didn't come with us. "Jews are not allowed in Bethlehem," he explained. "Our bus driver will take you through the checkpoint. On the other side of the wall, you will be met by a Palestinian guide who will take you to the birthplace of Jesus. She will leave you just before you come back across the checkpoint." On Shabbat, when we traveled to Masada and the Dead Sea, we passed through the wall again.

Several times each day someone on our tour would ask Uri about the wall, about Palestine, about terrorism. Each time he would say, "I will tell you about it when we have a longer bus ride and there is more time."

Today Uri answered our questions about the wall. He began by telling us about the Zionist movement in the late 1800s, how 25,000 Jews immigrated to what was then Palestine, how many gave up and went back to wherever they had come from, but how 5,000 carved out a life of cooperation and community with their Arab neighbors. He told us how that initial group of settlers grew, how succeeding colonial powers governed this part of the Middle East, how tensions between Arabs and Jews increased as more and more Jews made Palestine their home, but, even more importantly, as extremists on both sides controlled socio-political narratives and systems. When Britain withdrew from Palestine in 1948, war between Arabs and Jews was the immediate result, a war that has been flaring up in different forms and at different times in this part of the world ever since.

In the later part of the twentieth century, suicide bombers from the Palestinian-controlled territories became an almost daily event in Israel, so, according to Uri, in the early years of the new millennium, Israel built a wall (in urban areas, a fence in rural regions) to protect those living outside of the Palestinian-controlled areas. "Regardless of how one regards the wall,” Uri noted, “it has led to a dramatic decrease in suicide bombings. It has been successful from that perspective."

"The wall has made life more difficult for those on the Palestinian side," Uri admitted. "Ambulances are delayed coming and going from Bethlehem, for example. Palestinians have lost work in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel because it is so difficult for them to pass through the wall. We, Jews and Arabs, cannot continue to live like this. Peace has to come, someway, somehow. I would like my children, if I have children, to live in peace with their Arab neighbors."

Uri paused. Then with a note of longing that was also heavy with regret, he continued, "Maybe my generation is the lost generation. Perhaps we cannot make peace because we are too close to the conflict. Maybe we will have to wait for the next generation to see peace. There are organizations that encourage Arab and Jewish children to play together, to study together, to live together without barriers. Maybe those children will be able to see past our differences, see a way through our conflict."

Uri is almost a generation younger than me. If peace had passed him by, then what did that mean for me, for all of us on that bus? In an instant the weight of that realization settled on me. Here was someone several years younger than me who was recognizing that the opportunity to find peace might just have passed him by. Tears welled up in my eyes. Was peace an ideal never to be realized?

But Uri was not finished with his story of the wall. "We have to stop electing governments that are extremist, that do not recognize the right of the other to exist. Pray for peace," he urged us. "I pray for peace. I pray that one day I can drive to Bethlehem and eat hummus with my Palestinian brothers in peace."

And there it was, a kernel of hope at the core of Uri's story. Pray for peace. Work to achieve peace by exercising the right to vote, by creating organizations that promote peace, by supporting every effort to make peace.

Jesus' words slid off the page of my bible and into life: my life, Uri's life, Officer Madore's life, the lives of Jews and Arabs, those who live in Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan, and beyond.

Blessed are the peacemakers . . .

God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.


Day 24, NO Worries?

Day 22, Onsite in Galilee, Part I