Among the joys of my service at First Congregational Church has been the opportunity to organize trips to the Middle East. One of the most memorable was a trip that 12 of us took to Israel/Palestine. This trip included visits to the holy Sites and opportunities to speak with Palestinian and Israeli Just Peace Activists. We arranged to use a Palestinian Tour Company and stay where possible in Palestinian owned hotels.
Our trip began and ended in Jerusalem. During our stay in the Holy City, we saw the places associated with the death and Resurrection of Christ. We went to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher that may be where the Crucifixion took place. We visited a Garden Tomb that the Episcopal Church considers to be the location of the tomb. We visited the Upper Room and walked the Via Dolorosa. We also visited the Garden of Olives and the site of the Temple.
Just about 10 minutes from Jerusalem is Bethlehem. We visited the Church of the Nativity that was built over the site, many believe, of the birthplace of Jesus. We also visited a cave that some believe was the site.
While we were in the Jerusalem/Bethlehem area, we met our UCC representative in the Holy Land. She was an American married to a Palestinian UN Worker. We learned from her about Israel’s control of water that comes into the Palestinian area. There is no one day nor is there an arranged time for water to be turned on. People need to be alert so they can fill bowls and pots. The water may have to last a week or more.
We also met the director of an Israeli Women’s group called Bat Shalom (Daughter of Peace). Working with Palestinian women, these courageous souls seek to rectify the inequities that are borne by the Palestinians.
On the way to Nazareth, we stopped at Capernaum and saw an ancient synagogue built on the foundation of an older building. It is conceivable that we walked on the same stone floor as Jesus. We saw the Mountain where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount and took a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, saw the River Jordan and realized that the country of Jordan is just about 200 feet from Israel.
In Nazareth we saw the traditional site where it is believed that the Angel came to Mary. We also met with a Palestinian Episcopal Priest and his wife who do advocacy for other Palestinians.
On our trip we passed Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land and visited the border between Israel and Syria. Everything in this area is very close to everything else.
On our return trip to Jerusalem we visited the Dead Sea and the site of Qumran where the Dead Sea scrolls were found. We visited a Palestinian School that is supported by many UCC churches and pool of the waters of Siloam.
All of us returned satisfied with both the spiritual and the political elements of our experience.