Hello friends . . . grace and peace,
Our Wednesday wasn’t filled with joy as we saw some evidence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict up close.
We left our Jerusalem hotel at 8 a.m. and headed south toward Hebron, about 40 minutes away. En route, we made a brief stop to see part of the Way of the Patriarchs. This was the route that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph would have taken when they walked from Hebron to Jerusalem.
We drove on to Hebron, going first into the heavily-guarded Jewish settlement district. An Israeli officer stepped on to our bus and we all held up our passports as he briefly scanned the group. We then drove ahead and parked near the Ibrahimi Mosque. We had to walk a bit further that originally planned as our bus wasn’t allowed to go any further because our driver was Palestinian. The only other people visible there as we arrived were rifle-carrying Israeli soldiers.
Bishara did the talking and we were allowed to proceed into the mosque. Its main floor was spectacular, with beautiful carpets covering the entire floor. We were shown the spot where there had been an entrance down to Abraham’s tomb. We also stood where 29 Muslims were shot and killed by Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish physician, in February 1994.
It was a tense atmosphere although we felt safe. But the ongoing strife between the Jews and Palestinians almost forced us to cancel our trip to Hebron and did change part of the itinerary Bishara had planned and we were not permitted to enter the synagogue that shares in honoring Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, and Leah.
From there, we drove to the Palestinian section of Hebron, where approximately 170,000 people live and Jews are not welcome. Our first stop was at the Oak at Mamre, a large yard with the ruins of a former temple. It was there that Abraham was visited by the three visitors (Genesis 18:1-15). In our Western Theology, we tend to miss the significance of this encounter. The primary focus of this section of scripture is hospitality. Abraham RUNS out to meet these visitors and the brings water for them, not to drink, but for their feet, so they may stand in the cool waters and feel refreshed from their journey. It is this very instance of hospitality that Jesus repeats in John’s Gospel (John 13:1-17) when he demonstrates the Jesus Way of hospitality and goes even further and WASHES the disciples feet, rather than merely allowing them to stand in the water. It was interesting to listen to Fr. Kamal tell us the history, with the sound of schoolchildren playing nearby.
We then drove into central Hebron where we had lunch that consisted of chicken, kabobs, potatoes and rice, and hummus.
Following lunch, we headed back to Jerusalem where many of us took advantage of some free time by shopping in the Old City, whose walls are right outside the front door of our hotel. Tomorrow we will tour the Old City as a group, visiting many sites including the Western (Wailing) Wall, the Dome of the Rock, and The Holy Sepulcher.
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” – Psalm 122:6