Spiritual Adventure Time!

A Little Perspective on the Volatile Conflict You Need to Know

We all have conflict in our lives, right? And when we help friends, it’s often easier for us to see the answer to their problems than our own. In the volatile climate of the Middle East, that didn’t happen. 

But certain relationships inspired me and shifted my perspective.

My Initial Understanding of the Conflict

In 2003 I moved to Jerusalem to study my faith in the context of its culture. I’d seen the violence on TV, but so far removed from my world, I hadn’t paid much attention. I had no idea how much I was about to learn, not only about faith—but about the Jewish and Islamic religions, too.

At King of Kings, a church in Jerusalem, I listened from a seat in the congregation as a couple shared their story. The man, a Palestinian, had a Muslim background and his wife, an Israeli, came from a Jewish heritage. They married after they’d both converted to Christianity. 

Wow, right? Both from cultures that people sometimes disown their kids when they switch to another religion. Imagine their family gatherings.

As I sat and listened to them, I knew the Bible story about Abraham. But I didn’t get why God would ask him to take his son up a mountain and sacrifice him or why Abraham almost did it.

What I learned is that not everybody tells the stories in the same way. 

Abraham is the patriarch of not only Judaism but also Christianity and Islam, too. The Jews descend from Abraham’s son, Isaac, and the Muslims from his older brother, Ishmael. The Quran, the holy book of the Muslims, says Abraham almost surrendered Ishmael, but the Old Testament (or the Tanakh as the Jews call it) says it was Isaac whom Abraham had on the altar.

And after all these generations, the brothers are still fighting. 

Watch for the Incongruity

On another Sunday, after a service at the Scottish Presbyterian Church, the Irish minister said, “You’re welcome to come with us to Hebron.”

Each week, he brought raw materials and equipment to Muslim women in the West Bank city so they could make embroidered pillows and purses to sell at a store in his church. He helped them make a living. 

I sat in the back seat of his car with a third-generation atheist Jewish woman, a Physics professor from Hebrew University. As we passed through the barrier going from Israel into the West Bank, she said, “My sister and I hang out at these checkpoints on our days off. I have a Palestinian friend who lives here and the Israeli soldiers treat him better when we keep an eye on them.”

Both Jews and Palestinians live in Israel. But in Gaza and the West Bank, there aren’t many Jews except the soldiers at the gate. New to all that was going on, I didn’t realize the oddity we made as we traveled into the West Bank with a Jewish woman, but I’m sure the Israeli guards had an interesting chat after they let us in. 

In Hebron, the changes were instantly visible, giant potholes in the street and rebar sticking out of many unfinished buildings. The few people outside scurried past.

Our pastor pulled the car to the side of the road, got out and ran to knock on a door. He beckoned us to follow. We ducked inside. Six women dressed in burqas got up from their work at sewing machines and pulled in close to each other like a herd of sheep. I watched the Physics professor chatter in Arabic. Within minutes, she set those women at ease, putting smiles on their faces. 

I had no idea what she was saying, but having heard so many ugly stories, this scene gave me hope. 

An Example of the Flip Side of their Reality

On the way back to Jerusalem, we got stoned. Not the way I used to, by smoking a joint. This time people pelted us with rocks!

We’d pulled into the parking lot of the Cave of the Patriarchs. Sure enough, Abraham himself is buried in Hebron. 

The Physics professor had arranged to meet her friend to give him some medical supplies. As she handed them out the car window, other locals gathered. They didn’t like what they saw–one of their neighbors acting friendly with an Israeli. The other locals began to shake the car. Were they going to roll us over? 

“We have to go,” the pastor shoved the key into the ignition. As he sped away, I ducked, hoping none of the rocks would come through the back window.

The Spiritual Battle Played out in the Physical Realm

Examining the giant conflict in the Holy Land, I wondered, is resolution possible?

If I only had friends on one side, it would be easy to take offense. But as I accumulated both Palestinian and Jewish friends, I realized there’s so much more to the story. Each person carries a piece of it. That’s why having more friends always helps me. As we connect those pieces, they build a bigger picture. 

This is a God-sized problem. And I love what God did in that marriage between the Palestinian and the Israeli. I want to be a part of loving people as He does, rather than choosing sides. 

I want to love as God does.

So I continue my quest for relationship and understanding. 

Although Arab Israelis are exempt, those over the age of 18 who live in Israel are required to spend time in the military. Each time I return to the Holy Land, it takes a minute to get used to seeing all those kids carrying giant guns everywhere they go. 

On July 1, I’m going back to Hebron. This time with a group of Israeli ex-soldiers on a tour called Breaking the Silence, where the soldiers will share their experiences and their regrets over what they saw and did in the military.

Remember you’re right alongside me, and I need your perspective. What would you ask those ex-soldiers? (Just so you know, the conversation blocks below require at least 15 characters, but no more than 2,000.)

After you share your wonderings, click here to have a look at the tour’s website.

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24 Comments

  1. Excellent writing Elizabeth! Been fun to watch your writing mature over the years😊. My question is also about relationships. If any of these soldiers had the opportunity to develop relationships with a Palestinian, do they battle with internal conflict having to protect their borders yet see the value in the people they “defend” against. How have those relationships with the “opposition “affected their relationships with family/friends? Tough to live in 2 worlds and maintain hope and sanity.

  2. Elizabeth, you are so right about how expanding our circle of relationship changes our perspective…and also complicates our current world view. It exposes the shallowness of ‘pat’ answers, and often puts us in conflict with people near and dear to us. But Truth is seldom comfortable. It also emphasizes the importance of aligning with heaven’s perspective, and joining Him to see ourselves and others through His lenses.

    I would be interested in asking these ex-military people about how their experience has affected their outlook, perspective and personal strategies for securing peace with their neighbors? Do they have hope? What do they see as the greatest obstacles to peace? How would they enlist our help / involvement?

    Praying blessings your way….

    1. Yes, Truth is seldom comfortable. That line is sticking with me.

      Armed with all these questions, I am getting more and more excited about the tour. Thank you, Gordon!

  3. Reading this post stirs my love for the people of Israel. God’s love pouring through our hearts. Your adventurous spirit for God’s glory must make Him smile with such great pride. Thank you for sharing your journey. I love reading it.

    Question for soldiers: Is there one moment they’ve experienced that pierced their heart and mind? One they’re certain will continue to influence them throughout the rest of life?

    I ask this because my experience to the Western Wall implanted an image that remains strong. It’s of a particular woman praying. I see her in my mind often. She was one of many Jewish people at the Wall praying so earnestly & faithfully, rocking back and forth. As I observed, several thoughts and questions arose in my mind. The questions remain. But mostly, I thought about how most Christians aren’t as earnestly devoted to the Lord. And yet, we’ve been blessed with the gift of our salvation. I think of this woman and pray for her still.

    I can only imagine the experiences of these soldiers. The faces that may have implanted into their hearts. The words they’ve heard. The thoughts that blew in unexpectedly.

    1. I was just saying that there is so much that makes me think over here. I go to bed full every night. At the moment, I have been so busy and so desperately need to sit at the computer tomorrow and pour out my thoughts.

      Oooh, another great question!

      And what would you have asked the woman at the wall if you’d had the opportunity?

      I know.

  4. Beautifully expressed, Liz! Praying for deepening understanding and an even closer walk with Jesus, as He grows you and draws you closer! Safe beneath His wings! ❤

  5. Excellent writing! How did their experience as soldiers change their perspective on the conflict?

    1. Thank you, Savannah!

      You guys are coming up with some great questions. I am so glad I asked you to help me.

      I’m excited to hear their answers to your question.

  6. Liz, I just happened to be reading Genesis 17 this morning, and I’ve been wondering a lot about how all of Abraham’s descendants are so far apart… not just in location, but in beliefs. Ishmael’s descendants vs Isaac’s descendants. I guess a question I would have for the Israeli soldiers would be about relationships. I wonder how many of them have met Palestinians and developed friendships and how do they cope with their role in the military after making those friendships. Or….do they make those friendships even? Do politics and hostility prevent that from happening?
    Stay safe my friend. ❤️

  7. What advice would you give a new recruit that was about to go man the checkpoint?

    Godspeed,
    Kathy

  8. Are the teens required to be in the military one year or three? I was told three.

    I’m looking forward to reading about your July 1 trip to learn if you are still treated with such hostility.

    Thank you for writing about your experiences.

    1. Thank you, Marilyn, that may be newer information than I have. I will ask.

      I took this tour before and one of the things I loved is they have tons of books compiled of all the different soldiers’ experiences involved in this. And they let you pick which one you wanted. I picked one written by women. It was fascinating. I’d share some, but I passed it forward.

  9. Oh Elizabeth WOW and Ty Ty for taking us along on your journey. You so beautifully conveyed your experiences..I could picture it all ..i felt like i was there.

    As I was just thinking of questions for the soldier what came to mind is gosh since God is Love ..Pure Love this hate can not be the will of God…if only the Jews the Muslims the Christian’s could see this.Its reiterating to me that God IS THE answer. Also those fighting thinking they are following the will of God …how do they see this as truth When God has said hes pure Love?….Anyhow prayers for you sista as you Go on this Journey. Cant wait to hear more. Love to you Sue

    1. Thank you, Sue. Oh good!

      I met someone today who’s lived here for a long time. One of her comments was that everyone talks about God. It’s not a taboo subject like it can be in the States. But we all have a different take on who God is.

      Again I look to the Bible and remember how it says we all see through a glass dimly. How could any of us totally understand who God is?

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