Thoughts from Israel/Palestine, November 2016 – John Hastings-Thomson
Some years ago someone coined the phrase “The Land that once was Holy.” As one sees the eight metre-high separation wall between Israel and the West Bank winding through the streets of Bethlehem, it is easy to be drawn in by that thought. To stand at Checkpoint 300 in Bethlehem in early morning and watch the Palestinians lucky enough to have a permit to work in Jerusalem 10km away passing through is a chastening experience. Then following the groups of Pilgrims walking the Via Dolorosa in the Old City of Jerusalem to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, to queue patiently to spend a few moments in the Sepulchre itself, further confuses.
To be welcomed into the homes of Palestinians who have had their houses demolished several times, who tell their story with a dignity that is humbling. To share a simple meal with them because of their gratitude to the organization we are travelling with: the Israeli Committee again House Demolitions (ICAHD) is a privilege.
Since returning from the 10 day study tour in Israel/Palestine I have been amazed by how many people have been astonished by the stories I have to tell. “We didn’t know that”; “that is the story we never hear” are comments repeated time and time again. I am grateful that I have had privileged access to areas not on the “Tourist Trail” including a Refugee Camp in Bethlehem and a Palestinian Village in the Jordan Valley. Also the opportunity to hear from groups trying to improve life for the Palestinians including the YMCA, The UN, a lawyer from Military Court Watch and the Jordan Valley Solidarity Campaign.
So is it the “Land that once was Holy?” No, it is an incredibly special place. The dignity of the Palestinians holding out for a solution which would allow them to move freely throughout Israel /Palestine, to have their right to the land they own confirmed, to live peacefully with their neighbours is awe inspiring. The Pilgrims who throng the streets of Bethlehem and Jerusalem also seem in no doubt of land’s holiness. A solution to the country’s pain and suffering would be a wonderful Christmas gift. Banksy’s Dove painted on the Separation Wall would then not need to wear a flak vest! Please follow my daily Facebook posts between now and Christmas to find out more.
Image: Banksy ‘Dove’ mural, painted on the Separation Wall