While in Jerusalem last week, with plans to go to Bethlehem, the US State Department issued a travel warning against US citizens entering the West Bank. There had been violence protests on one street over ongoing Palestinian prisoner treatment in Israel. Disappointed, we canceled our Nativity visit, only to be persuaded to change our mind by the Israeli Arab Director of the Jerusalem YMCA. “The American State Department and news media tends to overreact,” he said. The reason in this instance probably had to do with President Obama’s pending visit to Israel and the West Bank this month. Steeled now to resist our government, we loaded up the tour bus and crossed the checkpoints bounded by the imposing wall, exchanging our Jewish Israeli guide for a Palestinian one. Turns out that Jesus was born in a cave.
Coincidentally, we’d spent the morning at Yad Vashem (Israel’s Holocaust Museum). Walled afterwards in what felt like a Bethlehem ghetto, one of our traveling company remarked: “Israel is doing to the Palestinians what the Nazis did to the Jews.” Gas-chambers excepted.Israel claims the wall to be for security’s sake. Given Hezbullah and a collapsing Syria to the north, an increasingly Islamic Egypt to the South, a belligerent Iran just over Jordan and so many Arabs who reject Israel’s right to exist (Israel doesn’t even appear on Palestinian maps), security makes sense. And then there’s the Holocaust. Israel knows how the world feels about Jews.
For the Palestinians’ part, their strategy seems to be to out-suffer Israel. With heavy unemployment, high poverty, denied statehood, encroaching settlements, walled territory and restricted movement, theirs is not a hard case to make. One conservative, pro-Israel Republican on our trip admitted to moving more toward the middle. Nobody wins here. It’s a race to the bottom.
The Biblical animosities fester with no end in sight. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness, meaning, I guess, there is no hope for mideast peace.