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I pressed the pay phone closer and closer to my ear, trying to make out the instructions through the background noise and an Israeli accent.
“I’m sorry, meet you where?”
“Manger Plaza. People will tell you how to get there,” he assured me.
“Ok….ahh! Hold on.” I dropped two more Sheckles into the plastic phone cradle, tucked underneath candy and gum cluttered all over the shop counter. It was the first place I saw with a phone after getting off the bus in Bethlehem.
“Manger Plaza? Like, THE manger? Of course. I’ll be there soon. Inshallah.”
Not a bad spot for a meeting! I crossed into Bethlehem—the West Bank—to meet with the friend of a friend from back in Arizona. Sounds harmless enough, but politics added a layer of intrigue to the situation: he is an Israeli citizen in living in Bethlehem. In other words, he was breaking the law.
Confused? So was I. If Bethlehem is in the West Bank, and the West Bank is in Israel, than why would it be illegal for an Israeli citizen to be there?
Explaining the situation would take a book, and I know only the basics (you can get a good overview by reading Barry’s articles from Musalaha). But in short, the West Bank is a large territory of the Palestinian people within the Holy Land. Some Israelis live in parts of the West Bank, but areas like Bethlehem are under complete Palestinian authority, and Israelis are not allowed in by law.
Sounds like all the more reason to meet this guy.
I walked down the street asking the occasional stranger about the direction of Manger Plaza, but we had some lapses in communication. I even tried in a variety of accents. Finally, I resigned to desperately asking, “Jesus? This way? Jesus?”
It worked. Ten minutes later, I was standing in front of the towering stone Church of the Nativity, built on the ground believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ. I slowed down, soaking in the significance of the place, and simultaneously regretting not saying, “By the way, I’m wearing a blue plaid shirt,” during that phone call. This place was packed.
I looked around, made lingering eye contact with a few strangers until a guy with a baseball cap with Arabic script walked up and hesitantly said, “Can I ask you a question?…Are you Laura?”
We chatted for a couple of minutes about my trip so far, the mutual friend who connected us and a little about what I do. Upon hearing more about World Next Door, my new undercover friend lit up.
“You know, my boss at the place I’m volunteering is a big time follower of Jesus. We’re working on nonviolent resistance and reconciliation efforts. He said you could come by, if you wanted. He’s explaining our work to some people right now…or if you want to take some time walking around the church, you can come later….”
I took another look at the Church of the Nativity, then back at my friend. Given the choice between sacred places and the living work of Jesus, it was an easy decision.
As we made our way to the office, he explained more about his situation. He is passionate about reconciliation in the Holy Land, and he’s in the process of starting an organization to connect Israelis and Palestinians over a common concern: the land itself.
He and others are creating a permaculture project where people can come learn about living in harmony with the land—conserving water, utilizing solar energy and growing food responsibly. But most unique is that the project is located on politically neutral ground, on a place within the West Bank where both Israelis and Palestinians are free to go. It’s a place of connection. It’s a place where relationships between “adversaries” begin or continue from previous meetings.
But for now, he is in Bethlehem—illegally—for the opportunity to learn from others working towards similar goals of reconciliation.
Peace Above All
Bethlehem is home to another important rung of the ladder to peace in the Holy Land, an organization called Holy Land Trust. Holy Land Trust works for the empowerment of the Palestinian community through community outreach, encounter programs, leadership training and more.
Most importantly, they are committed to non-violence.
“Non-violence” doesn’t exactly jump to mind when I envision the Holy Land. The news channels and newspapers feed the outside world a constant stream of violent reports—bombings, deaths, weapons and general unrest. It doesn’t seem like any other course of action gets you much attention in these parts.
But Holy Land Trust pursues peace with the only option they see as possible: peace itself.
“We don’t want ‘no war,’” my friend explained, “We want peace. Just because you don’t have violence doesn’t mean you have peace.”
This guy knows the value of reconciliation, so much that he’s willing to cross boundaries to work towards those ends. And after
seeing Holy Land Trust in action, I can understand why…
Click here to read Part II…
- Learn more about Holy Land Trust.
- Want to learn more about reconciliation work in the Holy Land? Read Barry’s articles from Musalaha and tune in for part II of this article.
- Is there a relationship in your life that’s tolerable but not truly peaceful? Try praying for the ability to forgive and love without inhibition.
About the Author: Laura is a journalism fellow with World Next Door. She graduated from the University of Arizona, Tucson with a degree in Animal Sciences and a minor in Spanish. She is constantly learning, making friends, dancing, and trying to understand her role in alleviating the suffering of others. Laura also attracts a lot of awkward situations.