A Response to Violence / by Mill VP

                                                                                                                                       A sunrise over Bethlehem.

                                                                                                                                       A sunrise over Bethlehem.

In the fall of 2015, I visited Israel/Palestine as part of a study abroad trip. This was not my first or my last time visiting the land, but it was perhaps the most impactful. My classmates and I were there for two weeks to study the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and our trip coincided with a flare-up of violence. Several of the speakers we heard at the time referred to it as the beginning of a third intifada. While on the trip, we visited famous Biblical and historical sites, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Church of the Nativity, the Mount of the Beatitudes, the Way of the Patriarchs, and the Western Wall. We also enjoyed traditional Arab hospitality by staying with Palestinian families in and around Bethlehem. Following days filled with speakers and site visits, we would return to a giant home-cooked meal followed by tea and fruit. Usually by the end of the night we could not move from exhaustion and being completely stuffed with food. These aspects of the trip remind me why and how much I love the land.

However, much of the rest of the trip showed me the many injustices and violence of the conflict. During one speaker’s talk, I could hear water cannons and shock grenades going off in the background. On several occasions, we had to reroute our day to avoid demonstrations. At night with my host family, I watched videos on the news and the internet of young Palestinians being shot and killed or their wounded bodies being kicked at and sworn at by Israeli soldiers. Many of our speakers, both Israeli and Palestinian shared about loved ones being taken by the conflict. During a discussion with a group of Israeli Jews, one woman shared about how a classmate at her university had been stabbed. Perhaps the most troubling incident happened during my Palestinian homestay. The grandson of my host parents rushed into the house overjoyed that school was cancelled for the next day. The reason why: a boy his age had been killed by Israeli soldiers and the funeral was the next day. This violence had become so commonplace that this boy was rejoicing over a lack of school instead of mourning a community member.

                Following the two-week trip, my classmates and I returned to our studies in Jordan emotionally bankrupt and not knowing how to respond. The next day we were asked to spend about an hour trying to come up with a solution for the conflict based on what we had learned. This was a laughable task on a couple of accounts. Surely a group of seventeen college kids would not be able to solve a decades old conflict in a matter of an hour. However, as we engaged in this task, I also realized that the impossibility of the situation comes from the many different narratives present on the subject. During our trip, we heard from dozens of speakers each with a different viewpoint. Even the language differed from person to person. Below I have included some pictures I took on the trip, each labeled as politically neutral as possible. I soon discovered that my picture of “A sunrise over Bethlehem” might be labeled by one person as “Occupied Territory,” but by another as “liberated territory.” “The Way of the Patriarchs” was either taken in Judea and Samaria or the West Bank. Similarly, the Wailing Wall and the Dome of the Rock either both belong to Al-Aqsa Mosque or the Temple Mount. And finally, the pictures taken in or near Bethlehem depict either the security barrier or the border wall. The difference of language only begins to hint at the depth of differences between each narrative. With these deeply rooted opposing perspectives, how then can the conflict be solved?

                Over the next week, I struggled with this question and the question of how to respond to all the violence I had witnessed and heard about. One source of comfort came from a quote by former President of World Vision, Robert Seiple: 

For those of us who believe in a sovereign God, intractability is not an option. Indeed intractability must be an offense to God’s very being. In Scripture we see the rhetorical question asked over and over again: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” The answer, which is obvious to the biblical writers, is a resounding no. Our Lord is the One who has the ability to change the course of rivers and the hearts of kings (see Proverbs 21:2). All power and authority are his![1]

While my earthly perspective sees a conflict with no possible solution, God has another vision. He may not share that vision with me, just as God did not give Job an explanation to his pain, but instead asked him “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?”[2] God provided a reminder of his power and the need to trust him. In times of overwhelming despair, this truth can be a source of hope.

                However, it is not enough to simply trust God. That trust needs to be followed by actions. After the trip to Israel/Palestine, I returned to my study abroad apartment which I shared with the other twelve girls on my semester. Thirteen girls in one apartment inevitably led to conflict, especially after such an intense trip. As I examined my angered responses to my living situation, I realized I could not escape the judgement I was casting on the perpetrators of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If I want to see the truths taught to us by Jesus, such as kindness, mercy, forgiveness, and love, lived out in the conflict, then I need to first embody these principles in my own life. Only then can I begin to see the Kingdom of God on earth, the Kingdom of God I hope to see brought to the conflict.

[1] Robert A. Seiple, Ambassadors of Hope: How Christians Can Respond to the World’s Toughest Problems (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 35.

[2] Job 38:4 (New International Version).

                                                                                                                  View from the Way of the Patriarchs.

                                                                                                                  View from the Way of the Patriarchs.

                                                                            The Wailing Wall and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.

                                                                            The Wailing Wall and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.