Land of Our Fathers
The last two days I was in Israel I traveled to the West Bank. The first day I went to Bethlehem. That was my first experience crossing to the other side of the separation wall. Here, rather than the tension that makes up the invisible wall in the old city, there was a physical wall in which the boundaries were clear to everyone.
It was so wonderful to see the sights of the Christmas story. Where the shepherds lived, the location where they first saw the star and where Jesus was born. However, it made me sad that the place where the Prince of Peace was born had to have a wall which separated the people in order to keep the peace. This first day was a good introduction to the most difficult and disputed area in the country which I visited the following day…Hebron.
Hebron is one of the oldest cities in the world. At the top of the hill, all three religions believe that Abraham and Sarah established their home and below, at the base of that hill, lies the burial grounds for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their wives. The building over the graves is called the Tomb of the Patriarchs and is sacred to the three major religions. It has had several additions over the centuries but the largest visible part of the construction was completed by Herod during the second temple period.
One of the few archeological digs allowed by the government in Hebron is at the top of the hill. Here one can view 4,500 years old structural remains. Yes, an archeological dig from the time of Abraham and Sarah! That was an unexpected “Wow!” experience during this tour. Even though I was captivated by the historical significance of this area, I was here for another purpose.
I found a rare tour of the West Bank that was started just over a year ago which takes small groups to the heart of Hebron; half of the day is given to an Israeli guide and half is given to a Palestinian guide. Each guide had walked us through the exact same areas but narration of the story had completely changed.
Both had prepared for us to listen to people who lived in the city who had experienced extreme tragedy. Both had family members that paid the ultimate price in this long standing conflict. We heard also about the hardships of living here from both sides. Each side explained the significant moments of history which they hold as an important memory of their story. It is clear that these memories and this personal history infects the conversation of the current conflict.
What I know for sure is that both sides agree that there was a time, only two generations ago, that all people lived here in peace…side by side. Both sides had grandparents who were friends with someone from the other religious group.
In the nineteen twenties there was a shift and everything changed. There are a lot of “What if’s?” historians and peacemakers can speculate about. Yet again on this world tour Britain is involved in part of those historic decisions when they occupied this land in the early twentieth century.
From the time the British government created it’s 1929 “solution” to the 1994 “peace accord”, it seems that only “a” solution was found in both cases; I can not believe that either the 1929 or 1994 solution promoted peace. It is clear that sending each group to “its separate side of the playground” is not creating any type of true or lasting peace….helping people to move on from the past.
A past which has created intense fear of the other side and an unwillingness to trust again after such atrocities. Everyone feels like they are the victim here. Additionally, there are common people on both sides that feel that the government is not supportive in giving them what they deserve. It is easy to see in their eyes, through their tears, that each side feels like they were the most victimized.
How do you do something differently here….with so much history, so much hurt, so much fear.
I now understand more about the current conflict and know there is not an easy solution. Anyone who thinks there is an easy solution does not understand the conflict from either side and should not have a seat at the decision table. There is so much layering of history, religion, anger and tears that I realize that simple solutions of most western people are obtuse considerations and will also fail.
Most westerners are not religious in the same way as the people living in the holy lands are religious. So most westerners, especially the non-religious, will not fully understand an important side of the conflict. Additionally, we can not comprehend not only their connections to scriptural ties as well as their religious attachment to the land.
I don’t have a solution. I feel more confused about how there is going to be a resolution to the situation in the Middle East now that I have listened to people living amidst the conflict. I also understand that any solution that comes from the government, and even worse foreign governments, will fail over time. The issue is between the people of this land and only these people can resolve the conflict there.
One thing I have learned on this year-long journey, is that when there have been deep wounds that have threatened a region or a country, there can be no peaceful solution until there is reconciliation and forgiveness from within. It was only a few months ago I wrote about the path to peace in South Africa. It was a religious movement and the act of forgiving that made all the difference towards a path to the future. Only those who have been hurt can lay down their past and trust again. Only then can a new relationship begin.
Within this land and between the people, not the heads of governments, this is the only way forward to any type of lasting peaceful resolution. This opinion is based on so many other countries I have seen move beyond the horrors of their own history. My prayer is that someday this would happen in this place too…..And wouldn’t this be what Abraham would have wanted for all his children…..True peace among all the members of his family.
Quote from January 1, 2013 Blog: My Journey So Far – A Historical Perspective
“Forgiving is not forgetting; its actually remembering–remembering and not using your right to hit back. Its a second chance for a new beginning. And the remembering part is particularly important. Especially if you don’t want to repeat what happened.”
– Desmond Tutu, Archbishop of Cape Town, Anglican Church of South Africa