A Hebrew Bible/Old Testament scholar looks at the Bible and culture…

West Bank and Israel Travel Log: Purposes

From January 6 to January 25, I joined my colleague Anabel Proffitt in leading a group of 21 students from our institution through the West Bank and Israel.  I’ve recently returned, my camera full of pictures and my head full of realities to process and responses to formulate.  In the next few weeks, I’ll be reporting on my evolving experience of the trip.

group-at_sepulchre

This was not a Holy Land tour.  Although we visited many sacred sites, our trip was formulated to meet the goals of the seminary’s crosscultural requirement, described this way in our Student Handbook:

International Cross-cultural seminars aim to enable participants to discover and shape their identities as persons, as Christians, and as world citizens in relation to a culture significantly different from their own, enabling them to discern the uniqueness of Christian churches in another culture.

In these seminars, students and faculty undertake not only 3 weeks of international travel but also 6 preparation sessions and 6 follow-up sessions.  At its conclusion, students write a reflection paper and participate in a presentation to the seminary community. Previous trips have included  India, Turkey, Lebanon, Central America, Ghana, Egypt, and South Africa.

The goals of the crosscultural requirement shaped our itinerary in various ways. Because our focus was realities of global Christianity, we endeavored to see the situation through the eyes of Palestinian Christians–to experience as much of their daily lives as we could and to hear from as many individuals and churches as we could.  That is why we organized our trip through the Palestinian group ATG (Alternative Tourism Group) and stayed as often as possible in hotels run by Palestinians.  While most tourists spend less than one hour in Bethlehem, we made the city our home base:  we stayed in a Bethlehem hotel for 11 nights and daily passed through the checkpoint that controls access to the city.  ATG also arranged for home stays in nearby Beit Sahour:  for 3 nights, we split into pairs and lived with families, eating and sharing stories.

Our focus on Palestinian realities meant that we went places and met with people who would have remained invisible on a standard Holy Land tour: separation walls, warrior fences, refugee camps, universities, an orphanage, Nablus, Ramallah, and Palestinian villages under demolition orders.

That is not to say, however, that we ignored the voices and experiences of Israelis.  An Israeli guide led us through Yad vaShem as a painful reminder of the atrocities of the Holocaust.  We met with the Israeli peace organizations Zochrot and ICAHD.  And we did sit and talk with a settler. We heard a lot of data but also a lot of personal stories of oppression and hope.

In coming posts, I’ll be talking about these experiences and showing pictures. I hope that the process will help me formulate my own response to what I learned and to provide fodder for reflection for others.


9 Responses to West Bank and Israel Travel Log: Purposes

  • Can’t wait to read your observations. As one of the trip’s participants, I also appreciate your brief overview of our trip. Before the trip, during it, and even in the few days after I’ve met responses similar to “well, it looks like you are only getting one side of the conflict.”

    Truth is, as we saw and heard, there are not only two sides. There are several. There is much blend. And our task was not to compare and contrast the “Palestinian” versus “Israeli” position. As if a homogeneous “Israeli” position or homogeneous “Palestinian” position even exists.

    Your overview helps define what we were there to do. It gives an indication of why we stayed where we did, why we interviewed who we did, and how we did our best to involve a variety of voices – both before our trip and during.

  • Thank you, Julia. For those of us who can’t go, it’s great to get a first-hand report.

  • I, too, have been receiving comments and “glances” telling me our experience was one-sided. I must also agree with Chris that I saw and felt much blending. Julia, I appreciate your overview. Reality stood boldly in front of our faces–and we walked on. My appreciation for the experiences we encountered becomes greater each day as I review pictures, tell stories, shed tears and smile smiles. My heart and mind are still “there,” and pieces of me will always be “there.” Our experience does not stop now that we are home. I am sure each of us are, and will be, reading, talking, learning, and questioning. I am different–Now I must discern HOW and WHY I am different and what God wants me to do with this. Thanks Julia, Anabel, and my second-year family!!!

  • Julia and fellow-travellers: I find myself weeping as I relive my three sojourns in Israel/Palestine via your reflections. I yearn to sit with people there again – Jews, Christians and Muslims, Arabs, Israelis, Palestinians, and all the configurations of identities. I don’t think we need to worry about one-sided exposure, since that’s not even possible. I took an independent trip there in 2005, to fulfill LTS’s cross cultural requirement. I was impressed with how little contact the Israelis and Palestinians have with each other – how hard it is for them to respect each others passion for the land. (Common for polarized people.) The schools and programs where many identities live and learn together are very hopeful. May we strive to break down barriers in our own lives by reaching out to “the other” in sincere love. As one Palestinian Christian said: Pray not for Arab or Jew, for Palestinian or Israeli. But pray rather for ourselves that we might not divide them in our prayers but keep them both together in our hearts.

  • Thank you, Karen, for your comments. I have also shed tear. I have been feeling very “empty” since our return and a fellow seminarian identified that feeling. I realized on Sunday during church that the feelings are real and not imagined. He said sometimes we feel as if our soul is still “back there.” That’s how I feel–like my soul has not caught up with me. You are right–not understanding each other equals hatred. We must find a higher and better way to act–intentional love. Paul said to the Corinthians, “I will show you a better way.” I want to remember that peace looks different to people who are walled in. I also want to remind myself of the high calling we are called to answer.

  • Peace is a never ending quest – one that we all should be engaged in whole-heartedly. Sister Paulette of CPT (Hebron visit) said something that I felt was a good reminder. In the midst of the tragedies of the Israeli-Palestinian issue, God is greiving for all those lost, oppressed, hurt, and hopeful. Truth is somewhere in the middle and our job is to help find the middle and promote a vocabulary for peace that we can all speak, feel, and live. The trip was an awesome, eye-opening experience, and one that I will never forget. Yet the journey of how we can be active participants in this journey to peace is just beginning. May God open our eyes and help us find the way to be lights, sign-posts, and advocate of the peace process for all of God’s children. Like Lynn, I greatly appreciate and thank Anabel and Julia for their wonderful guidance during this trip, and for my seminarian family that shared this part of the journey with me.

  • woot! thank you for posting your thoughts, it’s been a joy to read thus far! both your posts and the comments that follow. really eye-opening.

  • I am so glad the seminary has taken this trip to the Holy Land. It brings back memories of the cross cultural I had to plan and take alone to Israel and the West Bank/Palestine in 2003. My class was supposed to go there but the trip had to be canceled due to the political situation. I went first to the Holy Sites (which sustained me through the rest) and then connected up with Christian Peacemaker Teams to go into Bethlehem and Hebron in the West Bank. (While in Jerusalem, I stayed in a hostel in the Muslim quarter and felt utterly safe at all times.) The wall, at that time, was mostly still in the planning. To see the pictures in your next post reminds me of the incredibly fragmented lives everyone lives in this part of the world. Is it a one-sided picture? Probably yes. But it is the side we rarely see or hear about in the US. In spite of the deep pain and conflict, I came away with a powerful sense of God’s presence in the people — Jews, Palestinians, Arabs, Israelis, ex-patriots, and all who simply will not stop working together for peace. That spirit is real and that spirit is what I chose to cling to. 🙂 Must be God!

  • I am so glad the seminary has taken this trip to the Holy Land. It brings back memories of the cross cultural I had to plan and take alone to Israel and the West Bank/Palestine in 2003. My class was supposed to go there but the trip had to be canceled due to the political situation. I went first to the Holy Sites (which sustained me through the rest) and then connected up with Christian Peacemaker Teams to go into Bethlehem and Hebron in the West Bank. (While in Jerusalem, I stayed in a hostel in the Muslim quarter and felt utterly safe at all times.) The wall, at that time, was mostly still in the planning. To see the pictures in your next post reminds me of the incredibly fragmented lives everyone lives in this part of the world. Is it a one-sided picture? Probably yes. But it is the side we rarely see or hear about in the US. In spite of the deep pain and conflict, I came away with a powerful sense of God’s presence in the people — Jews, Palestinians, Arabs, Israelis, ex-patriots, and all who simply will not stop working together for peace. That spirit is real and that spirit is what I chose to cling to. 🙂 Must be God!

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