“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it has been hidden from your eyes.’” –Luke 19:41-42
My first couple days in Israel have been absolutely incredible. God has provided for me in a million ways, some of which I will describe here but there are perhaps too many to write down (John 21:25). So I think I will use this blog to be a bit more reflective of my time here.
The first thing one becomes immediately aware of is the geographical intimacy of Israel. When my adult friend Nick (who works for the UN in the Palestinian territories) picked me up in Tel Aviv, I was about 10 miles from the Mediterranean. Within 20 minutes of driving, I was in Occupied territories in the West Bank. Later, he took me to Jericho—one of the few autonomous Palestinian cities and firmly within the Occupied Territories—and from there I could see Amman, the capital of Jordan. So the first thing one I’ve understood is the extreme proximity of everything in Israel. In less than 2 hours of driving I had completely passed through Israel proper and nearly arrived at the next nation’s border.
Along the way, Nick pointed out settlement after settlement, nestled on ridges and hills, walled off and inaccessible to Arabs or even outsiders in general. He explained the process: Israelis would build a hut or two within Palestinian territory, and then slowly expand it to a few families. Soon they would receive military protection and so gain a status as being legitimate. In would pour more families, until soon the community had hundreds or even thousands of persons within it.
In theory I already knew this. Seeing it in person was a different story. Each settlement was a walled off compound, usually bordered by Palestinian communities on either side of it. In Israel, building a building (in Palestinian territory) is often an act of aggression. It takes land used to pasture livestock, cuts off roads used to travel to work, and can disrupt ecosystems. But it’s more personal than that: on the drive to Jericho, Nick pointed out a hill completely covered with tree stumps, but no trees. I figured it was due to deforestation, but he told me that local Israeli settlers, angry at having an expansion project halted, cut down all the Palestinian’s olive trees in spite. Moreover, since the land was permitted to be used for military (though not residential) use, they put a police station on the top of a deserted hill—in the middle of the wilderness, far from any cities or neighborhoods. Just to stick it to the Palestinians.
On the other hand, Palestinians can be violent toward even innocent encroachers on their “turf”. Nick spoke of rocks being hurled at him when he made the mistake of going on a run that passed through a Palestinian neighborhood.
I could tell more stories, but I think you get the picture. Land is tight, and tensions run high. The building of a single house or a single misstep is an act of aggression. Despite—or perhaps because of—the walls, security, and M-16s, Jerusalem still has not found true peace.