A Glimpse Behind-the-Scenes of the West Bank

In Tel Aviv, I got a text asking me to speak about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when I got back to the States. After my own glimpse behind-the-scenes of the West Bank, I wasn’t sure if I was ready to say what I was thinking out loud. Some of my thoughts weren’t very nice. 

So I wrestled with God. How do I put all this into perspective? What do You want me to say when people ask? And why should I care about what’s going on in the Middle East with all the shootings in the US?

There I stood in front of thirty-five people at the Congregational Church in Falmouth, Massachusetts. I told them about my struggle and then took a deep breath. A sweet lady dressed in a sari said, “You are safe here.” So I began.

We all have a bias. Even though I want to, I can’t seem to lay mine aside.

That’s what I thought as I walked away from a tour called Dual Hebron

Eli, a Jewish guide, had taken us to the Tomb of the Patriarchs where Jews, Muslims, and Christians have paid homage to Abraham and Sarah, the ancestors of all three faiths, for thousands of years. Inside the synagogue, Eli also showed us the graves of Isaac and Rebecca, the forbearers of the twelve tribes of Israel, the Jews. 

Then we exited and met with Mohammad, a Palestinian guide, who took us around the same building and brought us inside a mosque. From both sides, we could see Abraham’s tomb in the middle divided by bulletproof glass. 

Isn’t that just a picture of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in its simplest terms. Click here to see several shots.

After, we went to the Old City market with Mohammad. A shopkeeper served us a cold drink and told us how limited he felt living in the “occupied territory.” Depending on who you ask, definitions around the conflict differ.

After lunch in a Palestinian home where Mohammad answered our questions, he took us back to reconnect with Eli and we went into the home of a settler. Do you know what a settler is?  Wikipedia describes Israeli settlements: “as civilian communities inhabited by Israeli citizens, almost exclusively of Jewish ethnicity, built predominantly on lands within the Palestinian territories,” but again depending on who you ask, definitions around the conflict differ.

Rather than call Hebron an occupied territory, this settler describes it as “the God-given inheritance of the Jewish people.”

At the end of the tour, I struggled with my thoughts as I climbed on the bus heading toward Jerusalem. The young guy sitting next to me said, “Why don’t you just own your bias?”

In this divisive world, especially when it comes to politics, that’s what I didn’t want to do. However, I’m taking his advice and trying to figure out how to put all I’ve seen into words.

After my glimpse behind-the-scenes of the West Bank, I wondered, what do I believe about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict?

In 2003, I came to Israel with Zionist leanings. From what I saw in the Bible, I believed God had given the land to the Israelites. I’d hoped to make friends with some of their descendants in order to learn about the background of my Christian faith.

That didn’t happen. Aside from a couple of Israeli teachers, I didn’t have a place where I connected with local Jews. 

However, I did interact with a Palestinian family that lived and worked on the campus of Jerusalem University College and I met Palestinian women in a Bible Study. Plus I regularly stopped to talk to several shop owners in the Old City, also Palestinian. 

That’s when I sensed God’s nudge to move to Jericho and work as a missionary. I didn’t want to, but I thought about the story of Jonah who ended up in the belly of a whale when he ran from God. After a year in Jerusalem living amongst Israelies, I moved across what’s called the Green Line into the West Bank and lived with Palestinians for the same length of time. 

There were no Jews in Jericho. And even though Palestinians can be killed in the city center for conversion, I watched several of them convert to Christianity because they’d had dreams or visions of Christ. 

That’s where it became clear to me that God not only loves the Jewish people, but He also loves the Palestinians. 

Every time I lean in favor of one group, I visit the other.

This summer, I went to Hebron twice. Once with the Dual Hebron tour and then again with some Isreali ex-soldiers on a tour called  Breaking The Silence. The ex-soldiers told us about their struggle with their military service.

As we drank tea in a Palestinian home, one of the ex-soldiers said she could have been exempt from the two years of service because her parents are religious. Instead, she chose to serve because she has compassion for the Palestinians. She thought she might treat them better than a soldier who didn’t.

She gave us three books filled with testimonies after reading an excerpt to us. In it, one soldier told how settlers would come out of their weekly service at the synagogue and invite him home for dinner. Hungry for a home-cooked meal, he went. After several visits, he realized he’d not only be fed dinner but also a dose of their philosophy. He stopped dining with settlers.

I didn’t forget the movie version of this story.

I promised you videos, interviews even, but some people didn’t want to go on record because they didn’t want a sound byte of what they said taken out of context and going viral. Others, like my Palestinian friend who converted to Christianity, can’t even tell his wife about it for his own protection so I didn’t want to film him. 

However, the tour guides let me tape them because they want their stories told. The problem with those videos is that the new case for the phone I bought covers two of the six microphone holes. So, all the footage I took, and I did take a lot, skips.

Don’t worry, I think there are bits I can salvage. I just need to learn how to do that.

Over and over, as I visited with people, I looked for their bias and watched how both sides attempted to convince me they were right. I saw where each played the victim. And some days, I thought everyone needed a spanking, myself included, for the way I felt.

Here’s the thing that most scared me.

When I thought about blogging, I wanted to share more than my perspective. Like I said before, we need each other. Coming from different backgrounds with unique stories, all of our viewpoints are important. And like puzzle pieces, when we unite them, the picture grows. 

The young man sitting next to me on the bus leaving Hebron said, for him, the 19-year-old soldiers were a symbol of the two people groups and the infantile behavior they’re exhibiting. So there’s one vantage point. I’m still working on mine. 

What do you think?

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  1. I love the mosaic idea, and think what seems like small circles of influence are actually extremely powerful — the seeds of reconciliation — small pictures of truth that God releases through us and uses in unexpected ways. Partnering with him to birth them is the key — because both sides have real wounds, and grasp parts of truth. But the TRUTH of unity can only be experienced as we encounter the presence of God and recognize He has made both sides in His image — and are able to grieve the damage to that together, and to stand in the hope that He is restoring and renewing His creation to be “Tov” – just as he intended it to be.

    1. I have been chewing on your words since you posted them yesterday . . . powerful seeds of reconciliation, yes!

      In my own life, I’ve experienced the power of God’s inner healing where Truth applied to the lies I believed brought huge healing. I never would have expected how healing that could have been, but it’s life-changing.

      Yes, Lord, we would love You to bring healing and truth into the hearts of the people on both sides of this conflict. And how fun that would be to get to be a part of that with You! Exactly and only Your will, that’s what we pray.

  2. There will always be division, understanding it is a different story, and probably impossible.
    I love your blog and after watching the news lately, I’m glad you are back home!

    1. Ha, ha! Thank you for reminding me that it is not my problem to fix. I think part of why I’ve been so disturbed is I’ve been trying to figure out the answer.

      I rode to the airport in Tel Aviv with a Jewish mosaic-ist from the States who had “made Aliyah” (immigrated to Israel) and was doing some creative work with both Jews and Arabs. As we parted ways, that’s what we agreed on. We can’t fix this, but we can do what we can in our own little sphere of influence.

      So what does that look like today? 🙂

  3. Liz,

    I can identify with so much of what you have shared. I have been to Israel three times, but on the last trip I spent a good chunk of time in Palestine at a conference and spending time with Palestinian friends, one of whom spoke at our church today, in fact. All I’ll say for now is that it was a highly transformative experience, but also one that left me more confused than ever. These days, I spend a lot of time studying Palestinian Arabic (I am already conversant in Hebrew) with the hope that I may be able to spend more time there in the future serving in a meaningful way. Thanks for sharing your story!

  4. The Jews could cower in fear, yet they rejoice in Life! They dance, they celebrate, they feast! I have also seen Israeli soldiers cry over the plight of the Arab people.

    What is the solution?

    If I had time, I would tell you what I really think.

    1. Having been married to a Palestinian and loving Israel and the Jewish people the way you do, I would LOVE to hear what you’d suggest for a solution when you do have time! Thanks for writing, Sheri!

  5. I too have been to Jericho. I have been to the beautiful and fully furnished and functional hospital built by Japanese humanitarians. I was there after the Palestinian Leadership stripped it of all medical equipment! They stripped it and sold the equipment. The Arabs still have to go to Jerusalem to get medical care beyond first aid.

    I have laughed, prayed, eaten, and visited with Arab families and have stood in the center of Jericho while the Imam shouts death to Americans while I was the only American within miles. Ibrahim wouldn’t take me back to town anymore on Fridays.

    1. Yes, the corruption, it’s crazy, isn’t it? And then the blame I’ve heard placed on the Israelis by the Palestinian leadership for what they have done so their people get mad at the Israelis instead of them.

      1. Here in the Pacific Northwest of the US, there is the Strait of Juan de Fuca, where the Pacific Ocean connects with Puget Sound. At its narrowest spot were built three forts in the early 1900’s, with gun and mortar batteries for protecting the waterway – each with a different view of the same passage.

        While visiting one of these old batteries and taking in the view, I had an encounter with God. He caused me to realize the fact that although all three forts looked out at the same waterway, they had totally different perspectives of what they were seeing. What each saw was absolutely true, but their perspective was incomplete. When the perspectives from all three forts were combined together, a much more accurate picture of the reality was formed.

        God then began to convict me concerning my own arrogance of holding the truths of my personal experience above those of others, and that the only complete perspective was from where God sits, on His throne. He then made it clear to me that is was not my duty to pass judgement on the veracity of other’s viewpoints, but rather to carry the life of God that He has given me, and to look for the treasures hidden in the darkness…both within myself and in the others around me.

        My prayer is that we might yield to His working in us to reconcile us first to Him, and then to one another as He works in and through us.

        Thank you, Elizabeth for sharing your journey, and the various perspectives of those you have met. Happy wrestling.

        1. Wow, I love that, Gordon!

          So, lay down our arrogance, remember we all “see through a glass dimly,” quit judging, and speak life. And I love this part–go on a hunt with God looking for the TREASURE He put in each of us and partner it together to do so much more with it than we ever could on our own. Yes!

          I’d love to hear how that looks in each of our lives.

  6. Jews can get killed for just being a Jew any place in Israel. Stabbing is the fashionable method of the day. The Freedom Fighters stab 88-year-old Jewish women walking down the street, get commended by “Palestinians” and get paid thousands of dollars for the rest of their lives.

    The world pours billions of dollars into the coffers of the “Palestinian” “Leaders”. The money only gets to the people who murder Jews. They don’t build roads, schools, electrical generation plants, infrastructures, but they do build mansions!

  7. I read the Bible. I know what it says about Jews and the Land. I also know what it says about how to treat Strangers in their midst. They are missing the mark on that point.

  8. Yet! When I look at the Politics and the Radicals, I see actions I cannot in any way at all condone. Strapping a bomb to oneself and blowing up a bus is NOT acceptable.

    The Arabs don’t like the Security Wall. The Jews don’t like being blown up. The bus bombings have stopped since the Security Wall went up. It works! Can you blame them?

  9. It’s a mixed bag, isn’t it?

    Jews come from Europe and they are the chosen people in their promised land.

    Arabs are born there. Their fathers for tens of generations were born there, and supposedly as a people, the Palestinians, they don’t exist.

    I know Arabs who live in the West Bank town of Huwarra who live on land that has been in their family for 2000 years and that was after having lived in Bethany (Azzariya) for 1000 years.

    Don’t tell me these people don’t exist and don’t tell me they don’t have a right to their own homes.

  10. “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children. We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.” – Golda Meir

  11. Thank you Elizabeth. Your reflections reveal prospectives that isn’t shared in news reels. God loves the Jew and the Palestine. He died for us all. We must pray ALL receive the invitation if salvation.
    I love how you love others in actions and deeds.

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