- About MCC Great Lakes
- What we do
- Get involved
- Stories and resources
- Ways to give
Holy or unholy land?
Myron Schrag, a member of Eighth Street Mennonite Church in Goshen, Indiana, recently participated in an MCC learning tour to Palestine/Israel.
One can travel to Palestine/Israel and view the holy sites where Biblical events took place: the Church of the Nativity, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Sea of Galilee, the Mount of the Beatitudes, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Shepherds’ Fields, Capernaum and many others. We saw these “holy sites” on our recent MCC learning tour visit to Palestine/Israel.
The “holiness” of these sites is somewhat negated by hordes of tourists with flashing cameras, jostling for position to get the best shot, and less than reverent tourist behavior. Then there are the ubiquitous gift shops at nearly every site selling tee-shirts, post-cards, trinkets of all kinds, and in some cases, even liquor. Viewing such sites certainly gives one some background as you read the Bible but the sites alone do not give one a picture of what is really going on in the so-called “Holy Land.”
Here in the U.S. we usually get only one side of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. The Palestinian side is rarely heard in our media. In our recent visit to Palestine/Israel we got a look at both sides of the issue and came away convinced that great injustice is being done to the Palestinians. The treatment of the Palestinians in the so-called “Holy Land” is anything but “holy.” Some Palestinians are Christian, most are Muslim. They are living under a system which can only be described as apartheid. Their living conditions are anything but holy.
There is nothing holy about a wall that separates Israeli from Palestinian. The wall is an ugly monstrosity that snakes through the rocky, hilly landscape, keeping Palestinians from their families, their land and access to hospitals. In order to build the wall, land was confiscated from the Palestinians without compensation. The wall is less for security then it is a land-grab by the Israelis attempting to wrest ever more land that has belonged to Palestinians for generations.
There is nothing holy about Palestinian homes being demolished by Israeli authorities under the pretext that the builders of the homes had no permits to build when permits are impossible to get. Not only are homes demolished, but the families whose homes are demolished must pay for the expenses incurred in the demolishment! There is nothing holy about Israeli soldiers in watch- towers on the wall shooting at children playing in a refugee camp. There is nothing holy about numerous checkpoints making Palestinians wait in line for long periods, keeping them from work, from hospitals, from friends, from family.
There is nothing holy about Palestinians in refugee camps having access to water only two hours per week while the Jewish settlement on the other side of the wall gets water 24/7 and even has swimming pools and green lawns. There is nothing holy about West Jerusalem having nice, broad, clean streets while East Jerusalem, the Palestinian area, has pot-holed streets and much garbage lying around. When one learns that 80% of tax revenues go to West Jerusalem while only 20% goes to East Jerusalem, this is understandable.
There is nothing holy about a land where Palestinian Christians are leaving due to the harsh policies of Israeli authorities. There is nothing holy about Israelis not being allowed to visit Bethlehem because the Israeli government cannot guarantee their “safety.” There is nothing holy about a system of roads on which only Israelis are allowed to travel. There is nothing holy about a land where the Israeli government can continue to carry out injustices against Palestinian Christians and Muslims with the support of the U.S. government.
Jesus must be weeping over the land where he was born.
Yet we witnessed holy things happening in this “unholy land.” It is holy when Jewish and Palestinian families who have lost children in the conflict come together to share their mutual grief and vow to work together for peace. It is holy when some Jewish young people refuse to join the Israeli military even if it means a jail term, rather than take part in the oppression of the Palestinians. It is holy when a young Muslim woman, with an advanced degree from an English University, comes back to the refugee camp to work with the children there. It is holy when Palestinians say they don’t hate the Jewish people, they just hate The Occupation.
It is holy when the Mennonite Central Committee and other organizations work to make life better for the Palestinians by installing water systems for poor families in villages or making funds available for people to purchase sheep, goats and bees.
There is the holy amidst the unholy. And as we reflect back on Christmas, this is the message – the Holy Child came into an unholy world. And through His faithful people, He is still present today in our still unholy world. There is Light in the darkness.
In the “Holy Land” we pray that the words of Ephesians 2:14 will come to pass: “For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall that is the hostility between us.”
- Myron Schrag