Religious tensions and friendships
The Holy Land is, of course, a coming together of at least three major religions.
The Muslim call to prayer that was broadcast through loudspeakers at many times of the day and night was a new sensation for me. I admit to finding it unpleasant at times. Once or twice I wondered if that unpleasant feeling was an internal reaction that I might describe as ‘spiritual discomfort’.
The presence of Orthodox Jews was also very noticeable, and a new thing for me. My honest reaction to this is that they often appeared preoccupied with their own agenda and so in that way were not making their religion accessible.
I also noticed a little bit of animosity from some younger Orthodox Jewish men. One young man made a racist remark about Arabs in response to a comment he overheard me say.
In contrast, I had a very animated conversation with a shopkeeper about Islam as I bought some postcards. He was very keen to know the cost of lamb in New Zealand. I started thinking out loud about what four chops might be worth. “No, the whole sheep! I am a butcher!” he smiled. I never experienced animosity that I could associate directly with Islam, even if he did mistake me for an Australian or a South African.
In fact, while in Hebron we were welcomed into a mosque and treated with warmth by a local leader who helped us understand the significance of the site, the reputed resting place of Father Abraham.
Palestinians are people who are fabulous at hospitality!
The Israeli security and immigration staff were usually bland or curt in my experience. To some others of our party they were very rude and offensive.
Palestinian drivers, waiters, shopkeepers, and church members were universally warm, even joyful as they welcomed and served us. I guess had we been served and hosted by Israelis it may have been the same.
There was particular appreciation expressed, that we were making an effort to visit, and to find out what life was really like for them. Coffee was offered in every circumstance, and it came out as a warm gesture of ‘welcome’, particularly from those who were not well off. This was notable a couple of times.
To say the coffee was strong is to understate things. It was exceptionally strong, always black, and often flavoured with the addition of cardamom. The hummus and fresh spreads to dip our pita into were outstanding. The olives were superb. Have I mentioned how great the olives were? The mains were often chicken or lamb, sometimes off the shewarma vertical rotisserie and flavoured with fabulous spices. I will never ever forget the baklava from the Philadelphia restaurant in Jerusalem.
The main impression however, is of willingness by the three or four key people who accompanied us, to spend time, to gently educate, and to open up their personal lives in order for us to learn. This is not something that is simply ‘done’. It takes humility and it takes grace.
Grace is something I saw time and time again. It cannot be said enough, that in the face of tremendous and unrelenting pressure, it was very noticeable how gracious these people are. The hospitality we experienced during this visit was humbling.
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.
This is the second part of his guest series on his recent visit to Palestine and Israel with World Vision. You can read Part 1 here or see the whole series list here.
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