In late 2009 I accompanied a group from the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) on an informational visit to Israel and Palestine in conjunction with Global Ministries, the foreign mission agency shared by the two denominations.
Many of the trip participants were also sponsors of school-aged children in East Jerusalem via Global Ministries’ Child Sponsorship program. For these people, the trip was especially meaningful as they were able to meet their sponsored child face-to-face and see the school.
The trip was also a chance to see the beauty and conflict that is Israel and Palestine. Peter Makari, Global Ministries executive for the Middle East and Europe, was the group leader along with very a knowledgeable local guide, a Palestinian Christian also named Peter (second Peter…)
Along with visiting traditional Christian holy sites, the group was exposed to many of the details surrounding the Israel/Palestine conflict and hostilities – the separation wall, Israeli settlements (along with Palestinian home evictions), and attempts at peacemaking in this often troubled land.
Church of the Heptapegon in Tabgha, also known as The Seven Springs. Located on the Sea of Galilee, this early Christian site is near both Capernaum and the Hill of the Beatitudes where Jesus was active in ministry.
Hossam Jabron counts prayer beads (it is Ramadan) as he sits in a Bethlehem classroom that sustained bombardment during the second Intifada. The hole in the ceiling above his head was caused by a mortar shell.
A Palestinian woman greets us as we enter the village of Al Nu’aman in the West Bank to speak with local elders. They share with us the difficulties presented by Israeli controlled access to roads that prevents villagers from freely traveling to school and work.
A monk, and groundskeeper, at the historic location of the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem peers through the olive branches. The church located here houses the Rock of Agony, a popular pilgrimage destination, where Jesus is said to have sweat drops of blood as he prayed for God to take away the burden of crucifixion.
Women from the Al Jalazone refugee camp participate in skills-training workshops and handicraft production at the YWCA in Ramallah. These women earn income for their families through the sale of goods in international fair-trade markets.
The mother (seated) of a Palestinian boy killed by Israeli settlers near the Al Jalazone refugee camp recounts the details of the boy’s death as a counselor from the YWCA and her daughter look on. The teenager was playing in an open field when he was shot by settlers using a long-range rifle. His body was then dragged into the settlement where he died some hours later.
A self-described “Israeli nationalist” blows the shofar as Muslims enter the Temple Mount to worship during Ramadan. Confronted by Israeli police, he says his intent is to disrupt Muslim worshipers and to put them on guard that Israel will reclaim the Mount and rebuild the Temple.
The gilded Dome of the Rock can be seen in the background. According to Islamic tradition, the rock found in the shrine is the spot from which Muhammad ascended to heaven accompanied by the angel Gabriel.