When I first applied to participate on the Alternative Pilgrimage last March, I honestly didn’t know much about the Israeli Palestinian conflict. I recognized a few terms because of what I had heard and seen in the media. I also knew this land was not only significant for Christians, but also Jews and Muslims. From the world news I had watched and read it was hard to decipher why there was so much violence in this area. Was it a religious conflict? Political conflict? Why did every news story coming from a holy place for many involve so much violence? Although I didn’t know much about the conflict, I thought what a once in a lifetime experience. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to stand where Jesus was born and crucified & to walk the land the Bible references. These places are considered dead stones. Places that have significance to the past. We also saw living stones; people that are currently living in the Holy Land in order to learn about current conflicts and faith. Both living and dead stones played a huge impact on my experience.
It was breathtaking to stand in so many places where Jesus once stood. It was surreal to recognize all the cities on the road signs as they were Biblical sites. From kneeling down to touch the gold star where Jesus was born to standing in the Jordan River to seeing the rough terrain Jesus walked, there was an overwhelming sense of holiness surrounding me. These were all examples of dead stones.
One of my favorite days during my Alternative Pilgrimage was when we visited living stones at Aida Refugee Camp. This is a Palestinian Refugee Camp right outside Bethlehem which houses over 4700 people. Through the Noor WEG program, a Palestinian family took us in their home with open arms to cook a traditional Palestinian dish, maqulabeh, which translates to “upside down”. This dish was composed of rice, noodles, many vegetables, chicken and a ton of spices! It was cooked in a pot, then turned upside down when it was time to be served. We also made pita bread, salads and dessert. It was the best meal I have ever eaten.
Over the four hours we spent in this home, we got to know the family, their story and of course how to make delicious food. Although this family lives in a refugee camp literally feet from the separation wall, they are filled with hope, peace and God’s grace.
This 30 foot concrete wall stands between these people and Israel. In order to cross this wall, they must go through a checkpoint, guarded by soldiers and have valid identification and a permit issued by the State of Israel. This is often a huge obstacle for people. Some Palestinians will never have the opportunity to see Jerusalem because of their nationality and lack of proper documentation. The ease of travel is a freedom Americans take for granted every day.
From my experiences and observations meeting with both Israelis and Palestinians, I found that settlements are the core issue of the conflict. A settlement happens a couple different ways. For example, when a Palestinian family leaves for the day, an Israeli settler will move in and put up an Israeli flag or cut off the Palestinian family’s livelihood such as sheep, olive trees or water supply. This family no longer has a home and is a refugee. These settlements are illegal according to international law. The face of humanity is obsolete in many people in the Holy Land which affects everyone’s day to day life.
I learned that Israeli’s and Palestinians are very attached to their land. A family’s land is passed down from generation to generation and those family members harvest and tend to the olive trees and land in order to create a vital livelihood for the family. Many of the trees in this area are thousands of years old. Personally, it is sometimes hard to understand as an American because we are a country of immigrants and can and do move easily throughout the country and world if we please. Israeli and Palestinian land borders have changed drastically throughout time. It is important to realize how important land is to these families to better understand why many people do not leave their homes when violence may occur at any time.
I found that the Israeli Palestinian conflict is very complex and intertwined with a lot of people, controversies, history, politics and religion. A quote that really summed up the Pilgrimage and conflict for me was stated by Pastor Ashraf Tannous at Beit Sahour. He said, “Don’t be pro-Israel or pro-Palestine. Be pro-peace, pro-justice, pro-mercy. Be Christian.”
There is not a simple resolution to the conflict. But, people cannot be on one side or the other, because lives are being taken every day because the humanity is taken out of the situation. Peace, justice, mercy and humanity are needed in the Holy Land and the stories of hope and encouragement need to be shared. Pray and advocate for peace and justice because we are all human beings.
Anna Moorhead is a senior at Augustana College, Rock Island, IL studying Business Marketing and Finance & is also pursuing a Nonprofit Leadership Development Certificate. Anna went on a trip to the Holy Land with Cheryl & Cassie in January 2015. Anna is active with Business Club, Scandinavian Club, Sigma Alpha Iota (International Women’s Music Fraternity) and Campus Ministries. She is still figuring out her post-graduation plans, but knows that they’ll include something that engages her faith and the world.