Posted Apr 16, 2011 by 16 Comments

I got chills when I first saw the wall.

I looked up.  All I could see was concrete and metal.  The height of a three story building, the impassable barrier is topped with a row of barbed wire.

Looking to my right and left the barrier stretched off as far as I could see in both directions.  In the distance, it wound up and down over hillsides like the Great Wall of China.

A constant stream of murals, spray-painted slogans, artwork and graffiti covered the wall, interrupted only by guard towers and the occasional reinforced steel doorway.

As I walked alone through a chain-link tunnel into the security check building, Tamara’s words from the day before echoed in my head.

“Tomorrow you need to go through the checkpoint… You have to experience it yourself.”

As I took off my belt to go through the metal detector, I shook my head.

Man.  She was right…

Digging Deep

Well, I’m here.  Israel. The Holy Land. A region of the world known almost as much for its violence and instability as it is for its beauty and historical significance.

The West Bank Separation Barrier stretching into the distance.

For the next few weeks I will be living in and around Jerusalem and working with a ministry called Musalaha.  I will be trying to dig deep into the issues surrounding the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and asking lots and lots of questions.

Although Musalaha’s office is in Jerusalem, I am staying in an apartment across the border in the West Bank.  Every morning I leave the city of Bethlehem (yes, that Bethlehem), and cross back into Jerusalem for the day.

To catch the right bus, however, I have to go through the checkpoint I mentioned above…

The Barrier

The wall I pass through is the West Bank Separation Barrier.  When it is completed, the wall will be 470 miles long and will separate Israel almost completely from the West Bank.

The barrier (or “security fence” or “segregation wall” depending on who you are talking to), is being built by the Israeli government to stem the tide of suicide bombings by terrorists coming from across the border.

A guard tower on the West Bank Separation Barrier.

The wall prevents anyone in the West Bank without a permit from crossing into Israel.  And although it has reportedly reduced terrorism by 90% since its construction, the wall is a source of a lot of tension and disagreement both locally and internationally.

Since coming to Israel I have already heard Palestinians share how humiliating and dehumanizing the wall can be. I have heard Israelis talk about the horrific insecurities of life before the fence. When talking about the issue of the wall, just about everyone feels victimized in some way.

In a sense, the wall is a symbol.  It represents much of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and strongly highlights just how complicated the situation can be.

Walls in Our Hearts

But perhaps most of all, the barrier symbolizes the metaphorical walls that are being constructed all the time around these issues; walls of hatred, walls of racism, walls of dehumanization…

Let’s face it. When a bomb goes off, it’s easier to think of Palestinians as uncivilized, angry fanatics than as intelligent and hard-working people trying to make their way in the world.  When the tanks roll in, it’s simpler to see Israelis as manipulative and land-grabbing elitists than as a persecuted people looking for a home.

Two Palestinian laborers walking into the security checkpoint.

When emotions run high, nuance and perspective tend to disappear. And so we build walls in our hearts and work hard to keep those borders secure.


But not everyone is dedicated to building walls…

The ministry that I’ll be writing about, Musalaha, in fact, focuses on breaking down some of those walls.  Their name means “Reconciliation” in Arabic, and that is exactly what they do.

Holding tightly on to 1 John 4:11 (“Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”), the staff of Musalaha works to reconcile Palestinian and Israeli believers, and in so doing, their respective communities.

Believing that their shared faith can be the foundation of reconciliation, they take groups of young adults, community leaders and pastors into the wilderness for what they call “Desert Encounters.”

Instead of struggling with the lack of a common meeting ground in Jerusalem or the West Bank (in most cases it is illegal for Israelis to visit Gaza and the West Bank and for Palestinians to cross into Israel), they take these groups far away from their tension-filled cities to a place where their racial or societal identities mean little.  Together they must face the hardships of the wilderness not as Palestinians or Israelis, but as human beings.

Physical walls aren’t the only thing separating the people of this land.

Through team building exercises, shared meals and guided discussions, participants time and time again walk away from the experience seeing the others on the trip not as lists of stereotypes, but as friends.

Although tension and hatred runs deep, Musalaha is slowly chipping away at the walls of separation that keep these people apart.

Why I’m Here

My hope is that, through my time with Musalaha, you and I can learn and grow as well.  As I meet with Israelis and Palestinians and as I tag along on one of the ministry’s Desert Encounters, I want the stories I hear to influence us all the way back in suburban U.S.A.

This is why I have come to the Holy Land.  I want to help each of us to tear down some the walls in our own hearts.

I’m not going to bring “peace in the Middle East.”  I’m not going to solve the crisis single-handedly. But if I can help to re-humanize a few people on both sides of the fence, if I can tell a few stories that cause us to think, if I can bring an ounce of perspective to the table, then maybe my trip will be a success.

The first step towards reconciliation is to recognize each other’s humanity…

Will you join me as I venture into the complexities of Israeli culture and history?  Will you follow as I try to reveal what life is really like for Palestinians?

I may make a few foolish assumptions.  I might word something poorly here and there.  But the kingdom of God is moving here in the Holy Land, and I’ve got to tell the world how…


After showing my passport and clearing the security barrier, I hopped on the 24 bus into Jerusalem.  As I sat down, several images from the checkpoint flashed through my mind.  A Palestinian man walking through a turnstile on his way to work, two Israeli soldiers laughing at a joke, my bus driver grabbing a quick smoke before heading into town…

These were people.  Human beings.  No different in their hopes and fears and dreams than me.

As the bus pulled away from the curb, I noticed something beautiful… the walls I had built in my own heart were beginning to crumble.

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Next Steps
    • Visit Musalaha’s website (www.musalaha.org) to read more about their fantastic ministry.
    • If you really want to begin understanding some of the unbelievably complicated issues of this region, pick up The Israelis, by Donna Rosenthal. All I can say about this book is “wow!”
    • Begin to pray that your own heart would be softened as we venture together into brand new territory for World Next Door.
    • Finally, please pray for Christ-followers on both sides of the wall here. If we ever hope to see the situation change, they will need to love each other, put aside their differences and embrace forgiveness… something that will be very, very hard to do.
    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. Katie said... 


    April 16th, 2011 at 12:02 pm  

    Barry, thanks for your posts. I love reading about what you’re doing and experiencing. It’s good to know there are people out there getting their hands dirty for God. I hope to be able to be one of those people, too.

  2. Breanna Sipple said... 


    April 16th, 2011 at 2:10 pm  

    This year I had three very close friends live in Israel. Each one came back, and the center of our prayers and conversation were on the deep need for reconciliation. I am really looking forward to reading about the rest of your experiences and seeing what God has been doing, and what He will do during your time there.
    I also checked out the organization’s website and I love the vision God has given. What an amazing ministry.

  3. Gwen said... 


    April 16th, 2011 at 3:46 pm  

    You open my eyes and my heart to people and causes that I would never know about. God Bless ya!

  4. Jim Henderson said... 


    April 16th, 2011 at 5:27 pm  

    Be courageous
    Tell the truth that you experience
    Help us grow
    Teach us how to
    Stop comparing our best with “their” worst
    Love you Barry

  5. eness said... 


    April 16th, 2011 at 11:41 pm  

    Thanks for highlighting another place where the kingdom is breaking through. Looking forward to reading more about your experience in Israel & praying for your safety.

  6. Heather said... 


    April 16th, 2011 at 11:59 pm  

    Look forward to following this adventure, oh the many things the Lord is going to teach you through others. It is always interesting to learn from others stories and see life through their eyes.

  7. Dave Rod said... 


    April 17th, 2011 at 7:22 am  

    This will be, perhaps, World Next Door at it’s most controversial. And, that should reveal to us how this issue has been allowed to lie unconsidered for too long.

    I agree with Jim, be courageous and tell us the truth. Take us there Barry.

    We’ll be waiting and reading.

  8. Sheri Brown said... 


    April 17th, 2011 at 9:32 am  

    As I was reading your post I am reminded of the walls that are constantly being built whether real or virtual – meant to keep others out, meant to PROTECT – but at the same time the people building those walls are afraid…..afraid to let someone or something in…..afraid for their life. We are living in a society today where so many want to hide behind these walls that we can’t know what is in their minds, what is in their hearts and therefore we can’t connect. Thanks for being our connection Barry. :)

  9. Sarah said... 


    April 17th, 2011 at 2:08 pm  

    AWESOME, barry! Thank you for writing this. I am very excited to follow you on this adventure. I met with Salim from Musalaha while I was in Bethlehem and Jerusalem, what an amazing man and ministry. You will be covered in my prayers these next weeks. I am so excited about the path you are on and will be praying for your protection and revelation. Looking forward to your stories!

  10. Maeven said... 


    April 17th, 2011 at 10:59 pm  

    “When emotions run high, nuance and perspective tend to disappear. And so we build walls in our hearts and work hard to keep those borders secure.”

    Love this insight.
    Keep writing.

  11. Gabriel David said... 


    April 18th, 2011 at 8:45 am  

    I have been getting apprehensive. about crossing the wall, I remember the time I use to drive through without any obstacles (some times will be some carefew) that is when I lived in Bethlehem and worked in Jerusalem. When I heard about Musalaha, the Holy spirit renewed something inside of be, I remember the times I use to meet with jewish and palestinian believers and pray for the peace of Jerusalem. I am so thankfull for you Barry, to go there and tell about it.

  12. Denise said... 


    April 18th, 2011 at 9:57 am  

    Great perspective and insight Barry!! What an amazing ministry to be on the ground with in the Holy Land! How exciting! Looking forward to more articles as you journey there.

  13. Amy K. Sorrells said... 


    April 18th, 2011 at 4:41 pm  

    So many walls. And in the birthplace of our Savior. So heartbreaking. And yet, I think this teaches me is it’s not so much about where Jesus was born that should keep such a holy land free and at peace, but about where we–His disciples–take Him.

  14. ronit said... 


    April 18th, 2011 at 6:00 pm  

    musalaha is sooooooooooo awesome! especially that one really cool girl at the front desk. actually, i’d say she’s probably the back bone of the organization. without her, lots of baby seals would die, plus the barometric pressure would probably go up by at least 5%.

  15. Jim.M said... 


    April 18th, 2011 at 11:02 pm  

    This wall and others like it…a living testament to the brokenness within the human heart. Walls create a state of exile on both sides, exile from the natural order God intended… life in community with Him, and with one another.

    It’s all so complicated,… isn’t it?

  16. Rob said... 


    April 27th, 2011 at 6:26 pm  

    Hmmmm. Walls. Are they anything like fences between neighbors here in good ole suburbia?
    Thanks for exposing the height and depth of our own walls.

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