We began our descent through Israel after our stay in the kibbutz, a communal colony in the middle of nowhere. Our first stop was Mount Tibor, rising to the peak along tight, switch-back roads, squeezing past descending taxis. This is where Jesus met with Moses and Abraham and is the sight of the Church of Transfiguration. We encountered some of our first large missionary groups of Christian pilgrims come to the Holy Land to see the many religious sites. The views from the top were spectacular with green farmland spread over the rolling hills.
We then made our way through congestion and countryside to Kanna (Cana) the sight of the wedding where Jesus performed his first miracle, turning water into wine, before making our way to Nazareth. Nazareth is a congested, crowded and otherwise average modern, Israeli city. We proceeded to get lost and stuck in traffic before parking and making our way through the winding souks to the Basilica of the Annunciation or the site where Mary spoke with the angel Gabriel and it was declared that she would give birth to Jesus. The complex is peaceful and vast with beautiful mosaics and stained glass representations of the Virgin from all around the globe. We shopped briefly through the souk, purchasing ingredients for the dinner we would make in our apartment later and had a quick lunch. After lunch however, in our quest for our afternoon coffee, we stumbled into Fahoum Coffee, a small coffee roasting and grinding business in a 200 yr. old building. I stepped inside the doors and asked in halting Arabic if we could have coffee to drink. Little did we know, Mr. Fahoum does not sell coffee to drink. Yet for us, complete strangers, we were welcomed into the back of his shop, made endless fresh Arabic coffee and offered pastries. He showed us his grinding and roasting equipment as well as the large stores of spices in his back room. As we were leaving, he refused payment, another spectacular example of Middle Eastern hospitality and kindness. I have never, and will never, go to a Starbucks in the states and experience this kind of treatment.
We continued down to Jerusalem, driving south through the West Bank. Border crossing was a breeze/non-existent for those entering the Israeli-occupied territory. However, even this late in the afternoon on a Sunday there were long lines of vehicles waiting to cross into Israel. It was there, driving through the dusty desert landscape and past endless palm tree farms, along the Jordan River, that I saw firsthand the economic difference between Israeli rural towns and Palestinian communities. Many of the towns we drove past were rather rundown in appearance, in contrast with the crisp white silhouettes of Israeli towns maybe 10 miles away. We drove past barbed wire, gated communities or Jewish settlements, built on Palestinian land forcibly with money from the Israeli government and permission from the Knesset. As a staunch supporter of human rights, I am pro-Palestine, hoping for a peaceful resolution between the conflicting sides and the restoration of safety and sanity into the lives of all the people in this sacred region, Jews and Muslims alike.
I believe that it is important for me to address the recent events in the region in this post. It is an interesting time to be in Israel. Recently, three Israeli-Jewish boys were supposedly kidnapped in the West Bank by the Palestinian group, Hamas. Hamas has a reputation in Western media as being extremist and radical. It is often blamed for violent acts committed by a small number of radical people, the same kind of radicals that exit within all political parties. By no means are the violent members of Hamas representational for the entire party. In retaliation for these kidnappings, the Israeli government, Netanyahu commanding, is undertaking an massive raid and search in the West Bank, unfairly and illogically arresting hundreds of Palestinians and killing 5.
I am a supporter of the establishment of a peaceful coexistence between the Palestinians and the Israelis and I clearly favor the Palestinian side and the freedom of these persecuted peoples. However, I do not condone the radical and violent actions of any person or group, including any violent members of Hamas. I send my prayers out to the families of Gilad, Eyal and Naftali but I also send my prayers to those in the West Bank, living in fear of imprisonment or eviction or death. I plead the Israeli government to adopt a different, more peaceful tactic of searching for these boys and for the release of all the unjustly captured Palestinians. things are still peaceful here in Jerusalem, but we must take action to avoid a Third Intifada.
This land is beautiful and sacred and must remain protecting for the benefit of people of all religions. As the sun dropped behind the Dome of the Rock and the wind whipped past me sitting atop the Mount of Olives, I hoped that people will someday soon be able to look past politics and religion and admire the beauty of the world, our history, and the glory that is humanity.