It seems rather appropriate that the May 2013 CPT delegation to Palestine began in the days between Pentecost and Holy Trinity Sunday. Pentecost, on the one hand, shows us that God comes to us in community, uniting us in our diversity of nations. Holy Trinity Sunday, on the other, shows us that God is, in essence, a community, and that we are invited to experience God as the mysterious dance of three-in-one. Our delegation of thirteen, from the U.S., Canada, Scotland, and Romania, has dwelt in both of these mysteries together as we’ve felt God uniting us despite various religious and national differences.
For most of us on the delegation, this is our first time here. We come with our own stories of settlement and racism from our ancestors in other lands and so our primary task here is to learn the stories of the oppressed people groups here, to let their stories inform ours. Story has been a common theme. The stories of Palestinian families whose children have no birth certificates because one parent is from the West Bank and the other is a resident of Jerusalem, mere kilometers apart. Stories of women in labor being detained at checkpoints and having to give birth in vehicles. Stories of the Bedouin, a traditionally more nomadic population of desert farmers and herders, who face home demolition at a rate of 1000 homes per year simultaneously being forced from their land into towns, destroying their way of life. Stories of the village of Lifta, the first of over five hundred villages emptied and destroyed by the Israeli army in 1948.
There are also competing stories that reveal the cognitive dissonance and denial that many people here and around the world live with. In visiting Yad Veshem (the Holocaust Museum), we struggled when we heard other tour guides speak to “Birthright” tour groups, furthering the narrative of the Jewish right to occupy the land, justified by the horrors of the Holocaust. We met with an Israeli settler, hearing the contradiction between his expressed desire for the wall to come down and his need to carry a gun, between his hope for peace and his life of fear. As a team, we’ve been challenged to even think of the violence here as a war, the story often depicted in the media, because the concept of war implies a balanced clash between two sides. But the reality here is a one-sided, strategic, U.S.-funded obliteration of Palestinian and Bedouin land and human rights. These stories are forming the lens with which we will see the conflict firsthand these coming days in the West Bank.
But we’re also thankful for stories from places like Sabeel, a Palestinian Ecumenical Liberation Theology center that is working to correct the Zionist narratives that have garnered so much support from Christians around the world.
We have been “dancing” with God as we visit the land Jesus once called home, weeping with him over the city of Jerusalem, that to this day still does not know the things that make for peace. And we pray daily for the Holy Spirit to enliven and empower everyone here, regardless of religion or race, to work for that peace, to help us all beat swords into plowshares.