Trip to Israel
Four weeks ago today, I was in Israel with a group from the Church of Scotland, never imagining that the situation there would deteriorate so quickly less than a day after we flew back home. Like so many people, I’ve been appalled by the escalating violence and the potential for wider conflict. I’ve been meaning to write something for a while, but I do worry that our desire to wade in and immediately voice our own opinions can sometimes add more fuel to the fire.
I’m not going to talk here about the rights and wrongs of this conflict. I was privileged during my time in Israel to meet with our Church of Scotland partners and employees: a mix of Palestinians, local Christians and expatriates. We were reminded that in a land of so many dead stones, God works through the living stones of his people here and now. The Kirk has a long history in Israel, and offers an opportunity through our properties there for people to live and work together in a different kind of way. It’s a small thing, but in a land that is so torn apart by deeply embedded hatred and violence, I believe it is increasingly important to model a different approach.
It was such a privilege to hear the stories of the people we met and the difficulties that they face on a daily basis. It’s vital to do our best to educate ourselves as much as we can. One of the people we met was Daoud Nassar, a Christian Palestinian farmer living on land surrounded by five growing Israeli settlements with up to 70,000 inhabitants. In the face of unrelenting pressure and opposition over many decades, Daoud lives by the motto ‘we refuse to be enemies’. You can read about his organisation Tent of Nations here or listen to the episode of that name in Kirsty Gilchrist’s podcast ‘Making the difference’ (available on all good podcasting platforms!).
We also met Hadas and Asaf from the amazing organisation Sindyanna. They are a non-profit organisation led by Jewish and Arab women, seeking to break down barriers through the promotion of fairly traded olive oil and other local goods. Asaf spoke powerfully about his own experience of being sent to prison for trying to promote positive relations with Palestinians.
It can be so difficult to know how or what to pray when faced with such complex situations. But the words of a hymn have been running through my head over the past few weeks, since I listened to them in my room overlooking the Sea of Galilee. I think they offer a powerful way for us to pray into this conflict just now, in particular these 2 verses:
Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways!
Re-clothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise.
Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm!