A very warm welcome to guest poster Chris Chamberlain.
Chris grew up in Timaru and West Auckland. He has been in Baptist church pastoral leadership roles for over 20 years in exciting places like the South Island’s West Coast and central Christchurch. Experiencing the destructive forces of the 2010-2011 Canterbury earthquakes has introduced him to new layers of care, community response, and recovery red tape. He currently owns four old Fiats, some of which are drivable, and secretly wishes he was in Dave Dobbyn’s band as the fiddle player. He is learning to share the Fiats with Julie and their three children.
I have never seen so many ancient sites. I have never photographed so many old buildings. It puts Christchurch and our demolition of earthquake-ravaged buildings into a different light.
In March 2015 I went to Israel and the West Bank with World Vision. Over a 12-day period, we visited historic sites of interest to Christians, learning about the formation of the state of Israel and the lead-up to that point, and visited World Vision projects that are making a difference (especially in the lives of children). We discovered some of what life is like for Palestinians, in particular Palestinian Christians. A good portion of the visit included sites that are not on the tourist routes.
Where I came from
I have never harboured a desire to visit the Holy Land. I think this might be in part because international travel is not something I yearn for. Late in 2014 I recall saying as much to a colleague! Suddenly, in January 2015, I got a call. It tied in with my study leave options that were being finalised, and the church elders encouraged me to go. So I did.
I should state my theological position at the outset: that over time, I have shifted from a vague antipathy for the idea that modern Israel and the Israel of scripture are intimately linked, to a view that they are not linked.
My view on Christian support for the modern political state of Israel is that it is not useful.
I further have formed the view that many Christians have this subject in the background ‘noise’ of their faith and life, and perhaps assume that ‘Israel=Good’ because from time to time someone will preach or visit and strongly state their support for Israel, and that there is a kind of ‘prophetic fulfilment’ that is taking place in modern times. I have grown to disagree with that view.
With all of this in mind, I’m aware that it puts me in a tricky position in communicating effectively as a local church leader because of very mixed views on this subject among churchgoers.
My antenna regarding injustice and the plight of those who are being treated unfairly has been raised significantly since the earthquakes of 2010-2011 in Canterbury, New Zealand. Self-interest is no doubt mixed in here, as I still wait, four and a half years later, for IAG State Insurance to act honourably with regard to my own house insurance claim. I’m certain all of this background feeds into my experience and reflection on this visit to Israel and the Occupied Territories.
I also should state the obvious: I was only there for 12 days… so what I saw and heard and felt is the smallest of snapshots. I have a lot to learn, and in putting my thoughts and reflections on paper, I hope this learning is ongoing.
Hardship and Old Cars
This is a place of contrasts. The roads are smooth. The roads are rough. The water is unending and guaranteed. The water is limited and must be stored when the taps are on. The fields are lush. The fields are dry. The walls are intimidating. The walls are built by fear. The soldiers are children. The children are missing out. The cars are new. The cars are old. It’s dusty. It’s not dusty. It’s free. It’s confined. It’s the promised land. It’s a prison. $7 billion a year is spent on arms. Millions less could end hardship, soften hearts, open conversations, facilitate hope. Peace. Justice. War. Ignorance.
I’m an old car buff, and especially all things Fiat. Bethlehem was the promised land as far as this was concerned! Travelling from Jerusalem to Bethlehem takes about 20 minutes by car. It starts on smooth, well-paved roads, crowded with many late model, high-end cars. Then there is a checkpoint, manned by a bored or sullen teenager with a machine gun. No cameras. No sunglasses. Silence.
Then the road gets a bit rough, slightly less well surfaced, dusty, progressively bumpier. The cars change dramatically. Older, rougher, cobbled together, lots of old Fiats to distract me from the fact that this is a ‘standard of living’ gauge.
Something is amiss here, signalled by the homes all being topped off by water tanks, black and silver top hat reminders that 75% of the water is kept for the Israelis, the remaining 25% for the Palestinians, sporadically delivered, hence the need for storage tanks.
Driving from Ramallah to Jerusalem is a chore. We got jammed in a dusty queue that was going nowhere because of the daily grind of pass checks, hoping to get there on time, praying that nothing goes wrong. Our driver finally squeezed out of the jam, and we slipped up the road a few kilometres to another ‘Israeli-friendly’ checkpoint where there was no hold-up. A quick exchange, a nod, and we’re back into smooth, fenced, warning-signed privilege.
Hebron was probably the worst. A former tourist town where Father Abraham rests, 1900 shops have been whittled and pressured and forced down to only 500. The rest have been forced out of business by the tension and the pushing and shoving associated with forced Israeli resettlement. There are more soldiers guarding the settlers than settlers themselves.
Some shop doors have been welded shut by the soldiers. Narrow old city streets suddenly blocked up with tilt slab double story walls. Razor wire, chicken and duck vendors, a random lingerie outlet and patrolling Israelis have turned the town into a scene from Mad Max. There’s not a lot of hope here, and the graffiti and rubbish testify that it’s gone.
A turnstile checkpoint in a semi abandoned street allows access to Father Abraham, spinning in his grave at what goes on, if it’s not blasphemous to suggest such a thing. I wonder if Genesis 12:2-3 has been fulfilled yet?
12 The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
2 ‘I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.’
On the way back out, I was distracted from the pathos and tension by another old Fiat and a camel hung up outside a butcher’s shop.
Hope amidst Despair
Where is the hope?
The despair of Palestine is a long way distant from the first-world problems that crop up in New Zealand. Our desire for hope is a bit shallow when compared with the hope that is needed in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. And yet hope is what I saw in repeated and surprising ways. God is not fenced in, or fenced out.
More on the hope I witnessed in the next post.
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