It was truly an opportunity of a lifetime to visit the Holy Land in the month of June this year. The trip was made possible by a grant from the Society of Friends of St.Andrew’s Jerusalem, Church of Scotland. The whole experience could be briefly shared in two interconnected sections: One is the exposure to the Holy Sites and the other is the exposure to the socio-religious politically charged dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I had the opportunity to visit most of the Holy Sites in both Israel and Palestine. One of the things that struck me was how religious traditions can be so deeply connected and rooted in the land, and how these sites can become an integral part of the very identity of the people. And this is true about adherents of all the three religions of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Here one cannot do serious theology without land as a reference point. Ironically this rootedness and historical memory mediated through traditions can carry serious potential for conflicts. Interestingly, even within a single religious tradition, possession of particular portion of the sites becomes an immensely complicated issue. The church of the Holy Sepulchre is just one example. These complex realities have sharpened my insights and perspectives on intercommunity conflicts. Moreover, my experience of reading the Scriptures have now taken on a new meaning after walking through places wherever the Biblical patriarchs and Jesus walked.
On the other hand, I perceived the stark reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the plight of the Palestinians while crossing check-points, walls and visiting places like Hebron and parts of the West Bank. I got the opportunity to listen to stories of struggle of Palestinian students in conversation at Bethlehem University and Bethlehem Bible College.I had managed to visit organisations like Kairos Palestine, Musalaha, Sabeel, EAPPI, and Roots, all of them working for peace and justice between Israelis and Palestinians. I got some insights from these organisations about how work for peace and justice and conflict resolution is attempted. The Tent of the Nations was one of the locations also where I got to know first-hand the oppression that is perpetuated by the Israeli authorities. I got to see the Israeli settlements that continue to pop up illegally in the West Bank. Apart from these I also got introduced to some communities like the Druze, the Circassians and the Bahais and visited numerous places from Dan to the Dead Sea.
The whole experience has considerably enriched me and I believe would be food for reflection and action for the rest of my life.
You can find more information about the World Week of Prayer for Peace in Palestine and Israel, including resources for use in groups or individually, on the World Council of Churches Website.