We began the day with a visit to a Jewish synagogue located in Efrat, which is an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. We had the opportunity to listen to Artie, a local Jewish-Israeli living in the neighborhood. Originally from Chicago, IL, Artie was very relatable to our western culture, as well as showed hospitality when he offered us to come back. Our time with Artie provided an Israeli perspective of the current complex situation between the two peoples. He explained the biblical context of Judea being the Promised Land for the Jewish people, as well as key points that have led to the current state of Israel. Artie shared with us his story of raising his children within this tense environment. Our session ended by Artie encouraging us to listen to every side and create our own viewpoint of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Mid-morning, we traveled south to Hebron while passing several olive groves and vineyards. Hebron is located in the southern part of the West Bank. After eating pitas, cheese, and hard-boiled eggs for lunch, we met our tour guide, Abdullah. After going through the checkpoint (an Israeli military presence to check identification), Abdullah led us to the Old City of Hebron. The checkpoints are a controversial aspect we continue to encounter on our trip. Their purpose is to protect the Jewish settlements within the Palestinian land, yet they make it extremely difficult and sometimes impossible for the local Palestinian residents to move around their own communities.
Within the Old City of Hebron, we witnessed the obvious difference between the homes of the Jewish settlements compared to those within the Palestinian neighborhoods. We had an awesome opportunity to experience the combination mosque/synagogue called Cave of the Patriarchs, which is a building divided for both groups to use. This building holds the ancient tombs of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Leah. We had the opportunity to see and hear from storeowners, who talked about how their businesses had suffered since the checkpoints created the isolation. After walking through the market, we experienced how drastically things had changed. During the tour, we experienced blatant discrimination when our Palestinian guide, Abdullah, was forced to walk on a trash-filled, unpaved trail while we walked on the opposite, paved road. The fence between our group and Abdullah was a challenging and real visual for a lot of us.
We ended the day over conversation and a Palestinian stuffed-cabbage dish called malfouf. During our meal, we listened to a very interesting, intelligent man named Dr. Ray Dolphin, an UN-OCHA Senior Humanitarian Researcher. He enlightened us on the long history of the land and the UN official on the current situation. Explaining different definitions and providing facts, Dr. Dolphin helped paint a more educated picture about the worldview of the conflict.
All in all, today was a heavy day of information. We saw and heard several aspects that were difficult to grasp for anyone. With Jewish settlements within Palestine, walls, and military presence, we are learning that this issue is not easily explained or resolved. One of the most important things we took away from today is the validation of every human and their life. We are excited to continue our pilgrimage on these holy grounds, to listen to the peoples’ stories, and to seek God in the midst of it all.
Molly and Shelby