Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace. I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war. – Psalm 120:6,7
Hebron is just an hour from Jerusalem by the settler roads. It is a holy space for Muslims, Christians and Jews. Abraham and Sarah, patriarch and matriarch of the faith, are said to be buried here.
It is difficult to comprehend what is happening in the West Bank in Palestine. Since the 1967 war, the West Bank is Occupied by Israel. On the road to Hebron we see a number of Israeli settlements. Gates mark the entrances to Palestinian villages. The gates can be locked at a moment’s notice by the Israeli military.
In Hebron, illegal Israeli settlements are here, too. Our guide, Abdullah, leads us through a part of the city near the burial place of Abraham and Sarah that almost looks abandoned. Palestinian shops on the ground level have long since been shut down because Israeli settlers have moved into the top floors of these buildings. Only Israelis can drive on the streets. Abdullah leaves us to walk alone down the street, since Palestinians are required to make a detour through the cemetery on the hill, high above this section of the city.
In another part of the city where the market is bustling, a netting is drawn above the Palestinian shops because the Israeli settlers who live above the market throw their garbage down into the streets.
In Jerusalem earlier in the week, I had met Ruth Hiller, an Israeli Jew who is outreach coordinator for New Profile, a Jewish organization in Israel that is helping young people and others choose alternatives to serving in the Israeli military. Ruth sees an awakening among Jews in Israel and in the United States.
More people are questioning the status quo, she says, and they believe Israel should be accountable for their treatment of Palestinians.
Dr. Naim Ateek, a Palestinian Christian who is director of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem, tells me that if the leaders of the church are willing to go down to the street and raise their voices, change can come. He says we must move from advocacy to activism.
How can Christians and Jews in Israel and Palestine and in the United States begin to work together to speak for peace, not war, in this Holy Land?
“We are God’s hands and feet,” Dr. Ateek tells us. “Thank God for all of the people here, believers or not, who are working for justice.” And I thank God, too, for Christians and Jews in the United States who are beginning to raise their voices against the injustice in Palestine.
Ruth Hiller and Naim Ateek, and many more like them, are lovers of peace, not war. I am joining their efforts.
Ron Byler is executive director of Mennonite Central Committee U.S.