Revd David Longe

Dear All,

 In March a group of us returned from the Holy Land, a place of such beauty and alas such tragedy as the conflict fractures cultures and people.  In this letter, I would like to share 3 incidents that shaped our trip:

 First, we visited Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem.  Formed in 1948, this camp came into being when the British Mandate for Palestine expired and the state of Israel was formed.  For the Arab inhabitants this was known as the Nakba, the catastrophe: huge numbers were forcibly removed from their homes to refugee camps.  75 years later the tents are now teeteringly buildings dwarfing narrow streets as there is no land to provide for the growing population.

 Here we met B.  He explained how Israeli soldiers often stormed their houses and arrested neighbours.  B explained how he had been filming a raid when he was shot in the head.   We asked B about the Israeli soldiers who now stand in solidarity with the Palestinians.  B said – “Unless they stand up to their government, they should all go home.”  I asked: “what about reconciliation?”  B paused; there was silence: we were shocked.  The concept of reconciliation is evidently difficult.  B responded that he felt the soldier who shot him was experienced and knew exactly what he was doing.

 Next we visited Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum.  Learning further about the horrors of the Holocaust left us distressed and speechless.  I was devastated by what I saw including a presentation of the antisemitism that the Church’s false dogmas had promulgated.

 We were left with so many unanswered questions, knowing that millions of words have been written trying to address them: Why when the state of Israel was formed was there a Nakba?  How could any institution, Church or other, engage in antisemitism?  Where was the hope?  Where is the peace?

 Finally, we met G.  G is a Christian (Christians are a tiny minority in the Holy Land – 2-3%) and a teacher at a school in Bethlehem.   G explained how he had been driving with his family to buy groceries.  Turning a corner, they met a barrage of Israeli gun fire.  G was hit in the hip and face.  His 12-year-old daughter was hit too. Climbing out of the car, G asked for medical assistance, but the unit would not let the ambulance approach.  His daughter died in his arms.

 We were silenced.  Then G said that he felt as a Christian he had to forgive.  G began to reach out to Israeli families who had lost children in the conflict and joined “The Parents Circle”. This joint Israeli-Palestinian organisation of families who have lost a family member in the conflict works to end violence and achieve an accepted political agreement.

 G gave us the glimmer of hope we desperately needed.

 On Good Friday Jesus cries from the agony of the cross “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”, showing not only how difficult forgiveness is but how vital it is in our broken and torn world.  Jesus’ cry in pain brings hope not that day, but unexpectedly two days later at the resurrection.  Is this what gave G, in the midst of his grief and suffering hope?  Does the resurrection mysteriously and beautifully offer hope and light?

I pray that whatever we face the light of Easter will be a light of hope for us all,