When I first made the decision to come to the Holy Land, I started doing a bit of background reading.  Sitting in my sunny living room in Indianapolis a few months ago, I turned the pages of some highly recommended books.

As I flipped through the first few chapters of my research, however, I realized something a bit unsettling. I knew surprisingly little about, well… any of it.

The view of Old Jerusalem’s wall from a posh neighborhood to the west.

I mean, I of course knew that the creation of a Jewish state had something to do with the holocaust and that Palestinians were upset about things called “settlements.”  I also had a vague notion that terrorism was a big deal here.  I knew that there was once a “six day war” and I had at least heard of Hamas, the IDF and the PLO, even though I didn’t really know what they were.

Beyond that, however, the details were kind of hazy.

So I dove into my reading, did some research online and, once I arrived in the Holy Land, started asking a lot of questions.  As I began to meet Israelis and Palestinians and as I started spending time in both Israel and the West Bank, the pieces finally started falling together.

The Basics

Two Israeli soldiers, part of the Israeli Defense Forces which requires every Israeli citizen to serve for two to three years.

Today, I have a foundational knowledge of the basics, although believe me… I have a long way to go before I fully understand the many dynamics at play here.

My guess, however, is that some of you are right where I was a few months ago; just a little bit lost when you hear about all the outrage, lacking context when you hear about rockets and fences and tanks, wondering just how it all began…

So that’s why I decided to write this two-part article.  I want to lay out some big picture, basic information about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict so that you can learn as I did what it’s all about.

Hopefully it will help us to get on the same page as we soon venture deeper into the realities of life in this fascinating land.

A Quick Caveat!

First of all, a quick caveat.

One of the things I learned very quickly upon my arrival in Jerusalem and Bethlehem is that people are very touchy about the words and phrases used.  Even what you call this region can make a political statement.

Having dinner with a group of 20-something Palestinians in Bethlehem the other night, I made the mistake of saying that I had come “to Israel.”  “This isn’t Israel,” one of them said, “This is Palestine!”

Israel and Palestine are full of amazing contrasts!

The next evening, as I met a group of Messianic Jews in Jerusalem, I used the words “social justice” when explaining what World Next Door is all about.

“So you think we should give the Palestinians social justice?” one of the young men asked. “Give them everything so that we have nothing?”

Sigh… Walking on eggshells all the time gets old pretty fast.

Nevertheless, I’m learning that these touchy words are divisive here for a reason.  There has been a lot of pain, loss and frustration on both sides.  And although it can be quite a challenge at times, I’m realizing that if I want to honor the lives of the people involved, I need to do my very best to step into their shoes.

And one more thing.  The team at Musalaha has cautioned me that both sides tend to have very different “historical narratives.”  In other words, Palestinians and Israelis often interpret historical events quite differently.

So this is my caveat: as an outsider, I will never fully understand the situation here.  But I’m doing my best, so a little grace would be much appreciated.  :-)  Thanks!

An Israeli soldier prays at the Western Wall (the last remnants of the ancient Jewish second temple).


Ok, so let’s dive into a bit of history.

Which… is actually easier said than done, I’m afraid.  I mean, where do you start? Is there any way to begin without taking sides?

Do I begin with the creation of the nation of Israel in 1948?  Do I go back to the holocaust in World War Two in which six million European Jews lost their lives? The rise of Arab nationalism? Perhaps to the Crusades or the influence of the Ottoman Empire…

Should I go back to the anti-Semitism that has existed around the world since the days of the early Church?  Or maybe I should talk about the birth of Islam.  The Roman destruction of the Jewish Temple in 70 A.D.?  The days when Jesus walked these hillsides?

Or perhaps I should just go back to the two sons of Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael, many of whose descendents are the ones fighting over this very land today…

Modern History

Then again, this is an article, not a giant reference book.  Although all of those things have played major roles in today’s conflict, I simply don’t have the space to go into them here.

So let me just give you a very condensed bird’s-eye-view of the modern history of this conflict…

At the end of the 19th century, when millions of Jews were reeling from pogroms in Eastern Europe and then the devastation of the Holocaust at the end of World War Two, several influential groups began lobbying the international community for the creation of a modern Jewish state… a place to which Jews scattered across the globe for two thousand years could once more call home.

The site of Jacob’s Well in the city of Nablus. A Greek Orthodox church in a Samaritan village filled with Palestinian refugees. If that doesn’t capture the complexity of this region, nothing will!

Over the course of several decades, while the world was debating the merits of this movement (called Zionism), hundreds of thousands of Jews began moving to the Holy Land and forming small communities and towns.  This would have been totally fine if it wasn’t for the fact that this influx of Jewish settlers was slowly beginning to displace some communities of Muslim and Christian Palestinians who were already living on the land.

Seeing this as an attack on their own people, surrounding Arab countries including Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq vehemently warned against the creation of the nation of Israel.  When, in 1948, Israel declared itself a sovereign nation, these countries declared war…

Click here to continue reading part two!

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Next Steps
    • I strongly encourage you to poke around on Wikipedia to learn more about the history of this region. Here is a good place to start…
    • If you’d like to hear a true story from the middle of this conflict (and from a Palestinian Christian’s perspective), pick up the book Blood Brothers by Elias Chacour. It truly is an amazing testament to the power of forgiveness.
    • Pray for the work of Musalaha (click here to see their website). The ministry faces many obstacles in their quest to reconcile Messianic Jews and Christian Palestinians and they need all the prayer support they can get!
    Next Steps

About the Author: Barry is the founder and Executive Director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.

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  1. Breanna Sipple said... 


    April 23rd, 2011 at 4:23 pm  

    Praying for you. Can’t wait to read the part two!

  2. Marian Hartman said... 


    April 23rd, 2011 at 6:48 pm  

    Thank you for writing on this, Barry!

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