So as you might know, I spent the first half of this week in Israel/Palestine. We were only 'in country' for 72 hours (give or take a few minutes) but managed to pack in 10 meetings, 3 discussion sessions and plenty of time in the minibus. I won't give you a blow-by-blow account, but I'll give you some of the highlights.
The trip was part of an ongoing dialogue between the Methodist Church in Britain and the Board of Deputies of British Jews (a representative body of the British Jewish community). The group was made up of four leading people in the Methodist Church, an Orthodox Rabbi, a leading Rabbi in the Reform Jewish Movement, and me, and was led by FODIP and The Centre for New Diplomacy. The idea was that we would experience some of the issues facing people on both sides of the Green Line.
Between Monday evening and Thursday afternoon we met with Diplomats from the Israeli Foreign Ministry, members of the Palestinian Authority, leading Jewish figures, and a number of organisations (both in Israel and the West Bank) working for peace and greater dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians; Jews, Muslims and Christians.
I learnt a lot and took on a lot of different points of views. I realised the complexity of language around identity. I learnt that Modern Hebrew isn't the same as Scriptural Hebrew. I took part in an outdoor celebration for the last day of Hanukkah on the slopes of Mount Zion. I remembered that I really don't like Arabic Coffee, but drank it anyway (it would be rude to refuse it...)
One of the highlights was getting up at 4.55am to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (I never thought getting up that early would be a highlight for anything!). I had been to the Church before, about 18 months ago, during the day and it was crowded - at 5.30am there were very few people there, and the peace was amazing. To kneel at the actual* foot of the Cross is an extremely humbling experience, as was praying in the Tomb of Christ*. We spent some time in worship, singing and offering prayers in such an holy place.
I was so excited when I saw that a visit to the Tent of Nations was on the itinerary, as it is one of my favourite places on earth. I have talked about it before (here). Returning, hearing the story of the family's perseverance again and hearing some of what has happened in the last 18 months was very emotional; I have to admit I did start to well-up. The positivity of people living in such difficult circumstances is so inspiring, to thrive despite a 22 year legal battle, with not access to the electricity grid or plumbed water; amazing!
But the most valuable part of the trip for me was the chats between the group on the bus, over dinner, in the bar etc. Sharing experiences, thoughts and perspectives really helped me to understand the complexity of the issues in the Holy Land (and I mean understand the extent of the complexity, I don't think anyone actually understands it all fully). So I would like to thank the amazing people I had the honour of spending time with this week. I am so grateful to have been considered to be part of this process.
I'm not sure what the future is, but I ask those of you who pray and/or send out good thoughts to pray/send good thoughts to all those involved in the current negotiations, all those working for peace and justice on (and for) both sides, and especially for all the people living in the region. May the land where Jesus walked feel peace.
* I say these are the actual places. I'm a tad sceptical, but even if they aren't, they are still so highly symbolic that it doesn't really matter to me if they are or not.