>Keep out!

>As the journey through Israel and Palestine continued, we met with Palestinian and Israeli leaders who actively seek a peaceful end to the feud over land rights. My group asked each leader what we could do, as Americans, when we returned to our homes, schools, and churches. What could we do to help there be peace in the Holy Land that people have been staking claim to since, it seems, the beginning of civilization? It was hard to think that I, little ol’ me, could make a difference when world leaders had been trying to facilitate peace talks for many years. Every leader we asked answered by telling us simply to share their story with our network of friends, family, classmates, and fellow Christians when we returned.

The part of the story I’d like to share with you is apartheid. Apartheid is, according to Merriam-Webster, “racial segregation, specifically: a form[al] policy of segregation and political and economic discrimination.” I can think of far too many policies past and present that sanctioned discrimination and segregation, though they may not have all been officially labeled apartheid.

The current state of Israel’s policy toward Palestinians is by definition apartheid. Israel, with international financial aid – including help from the United States, built a structure around the areas that are recognized as Palestinian land, such as the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. This structure is most often called the Apartheid Wall or the Separation Barrier.

This Separation Barrier was not built for Israel to occupy Palestine, but to protect the Israeli people from suicide bombers and other acts of terrorism. For that purpose, it has been very successful; however, it divides Israelis from Palestinians. This causes economic, political, medical, and educational hardships for the Palestinians. Much of the Palestinian economy relies on travel and tourism while travel and tourism is down because so many people think it is unsafe to travel to the West Bank.

Did you know? You can not visit many of the Holy sites without entering the West Bank. You can not enter the West Bank without passing through the Separation Barrier checkpoints guarded and monitored by armed Israeli soldiers. Today, the shepherds would not be able to get to baby Jesus in the manger without passing through a checkpoint at the Separation Barrier.

Their story of apartheid in the Holy Land has lifted up two lessons for me. First, God is not a real estate agent. God pays no mind to one nation living here while another lives there. We can own land, fight over land, build on land, ruin land, occupy land; regardless, it is all God’s land.

Second, how can we call land the Holy Land? God is present in all places. Yes, on some land, very significant events happened which changed forever our relationship with God. Those sites we do revere. But, holy means to be sanctified or set aside for God’s purposes. It seems to me that God would be more concerned about us living out the purposes for which God set us aside than some plot of land.

Of course, the Palestinian and Israeli leaders also asked for our prayers to God that justice, righteousness, and peace would reign in the land.

May we remember that we belong to God who created us from the land,
Rev. Tracy

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