Pilgrims participating in our alternative tour earlier this year were meeting with a settler in the Gush Etzion settlement block, just outside of Bethlehem, when President Trump announced what he had been heralding as his Deal of the Century. The 180-page, so-called peace proposal is formally titled, Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of Palestinian and Israeli People.
In spite of his spirited efforts, the settler’s sharing failed to convince the pilgrims that the plan was anything more than a detailed outline of how the State of Israel will further its economic, judicial, and military occupation of Palestine. When we asked Palestinian speakers about their reaction to the plan, Christian and Muslim partners and friends replied with something to this effect: “The plan is little more than what we’re already experiencing. It simply codifies what we have known: Israel plans to annex the Jordan valley and its illegal colonies built on Palestinian land, with the intent to maintain control over the whole of historic Palestine.” They called it The Steal of the Century.
A look at the proposal’s conceptual map (to the right) clearly shows that what Palestinians will be left with, as many Palestinians and others describe it, is nothing more than what was known under the system of South African apartheid as Bantustans. Trump’s plan spells out the judicial, economic and military administrative devices through which Israel will maintain its control. Notice, for just one example, there are no air or water ports in the portions of land designated for Palestine.
But why sully a long-awaited, treasured pilgrimage to the Holy Land with the mess of international politics?
Why should the Church care?
What’s the conflict between Israel and our Muslim and Christian brothers and sisters in Palestine got to do with walking in the footsteps of Jesus?
1. God chose to enter our world—and walk in our footsteps—in a troubled land with a people suffering under a cruel occupation. Maybe God wanted to teach the world something about how to trust God and resist injustice and live a life of kindness and generosity in troubled times. Maybe.
2. While Jesus began his ministry in the relative calm of Galilee, his work inevitably led him to Jerusalem, the seat of religious and secular authority. Maybe, when we read the texts that we associate with the holy places—the Mount of Beatitudes in Galilee, the sycamore tree in Jericho, the dinner in Bethany, the walk down Mount of Olives and across Kidron Valley into the holy city, the temple mount in Jerusalem, the agonized prayer in Gethsemane—in the context of the political and religious realities of Jesus’s day, they’ll reveal something more deeply profound of God’s will and ways in the world and, more significantly, formative in our lives. Maybe.
3. Maybe, when walking in the footsteps of Jesus in a land still troubled and under cruel occupation, we’ll discover anew that the life to which God calls us in our own troubled places likely leads to a cross on the way to resurrection. Maybe.
4.Maybe when we return home, we’ll be moved to attend more closely to what is happening—politically and religiously—in the land of God’s incarnation and in our own holy neighborhood.
Here are three ways you can do justice, act kindly and walk hu mbly with God.
1.Learn about the Israeli Defense Forces treatment of Palestinian children and ask your member of congress to sign on to Rep. Betty McCollum’s bill, "Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act," a bill prohibiting U.S. taxpayer funding for the military detention of children by any country, including Israel.
2. Consider supporting a Palestinian child in East Jerusalem’s Rawdat el Zuhur school, a Palestinian senior in Bethlehem’s Ajyal Senior Care Program, or become a sponsor in any of the other Child and Elder Sponsorship Centers hosted by our Global Ministries mission partners around the world.
3.Read Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem (Luke 13:31-35). Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, for peace around the world.
My favorite holy site in Palestine/Israel? There’s a spring in Nazareth over which the Greek Orthodox have built a church. I imagine that, as children, when Jesus and his friends were thirsty from playing, they would run to this spring to get a drink of water. Church members there are amazingly hospitable. You can draw a drink from the spring any time. You may even walk quietly through their worship to get to the spring.
Thanks, Jesus, for your living water.