A Christian Palestinian introduced a Jewish Rabbi as the keynote speaker at a event explaining, “I would like to introduce you to my enemy and my friend.” I could hardly follow the speech that followed because my mind was spinning about the introduction that had just been given.
The Israeli declaration of independence in 1948 triggered a full scale Arab-Israeli war whose tensions have continued to this day. The most visual expression of this conflict is the 440 mile barrier that now separates Israel and the Western Bank. Israeli’s see the ‘security barrier’ as protection against terrorism whilst the Palestinians see it as ‘racial segregation’. So I can appreciate why the two leaders might be enemies.
This week I visited Israel and the Palestinian Territories so I grasped the opportunity to meet with the Christian Palestinian and the Jewish Rabbi. I was intrigued how the two leaders were friends.
They are not friends because they agree on one of the 23 suggested ‘political solutions.’ They are friends because of years of listening, hearing and understanding each other. They respect each other and recognise each other’s identity and story in the holy land. They and the people they lead are pursuing peace, reconciliation and transformation.
In the brief time we had together I learnt that the Palestinian‘s family had a lineage of Christian faith in the holy land that dated back more than 800 years. I was also surprised that there are 50,000 Christian Palestinians living in the West Bank today who feel forgotten by the world. In Bethlehem one of the Palestinian governed cities an incredible 30% of the population are Christian.
From the Jewish Rabbi and Knesset Members (Members of the Israeli Parliament) I learnt more profoundly the appalling anti-semitism Jews have experienced through history. The yearning of the Jewish people to return to their homeland and the sense of destiny about the establishment of the State of Israel. The anger about the loss of life at the hands of terrorists and the reason why the security barrier was built.
Following my time with the Jewish Rabbi and the Christian Palestinian I am reminded that God is indeed for Israel but he is also for Palestine. In the Old Testament God never chose Israel for a closed relationship with him, he chose her to be a light and example to the nations so that by her way of life others would be drawn to him (Isaiah 49:6).
In the New Testament Jesus says that all the Jewish law and prophets can be summed up in the commandment to love God and to love your neighbour (Matthew 22:37-39). When he is asked who our neighbour is he explains that even our enemy is our neighbour. That is one of the toughest challenges of genuine faith especially if you live in the holy land!
I have stood at the foot of the very intimidating 8 metre high security wall considering its humanitarian impact. I have wrestled with how faithfully I would follow Jesus if I lived in Israel or the Palestinian Territories. I am convinced that building walls will never make friends of our enemies only building genuine relationships will do that.
By Matt Bird
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