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An Idahoan in Israel

peterson MARTIN

On election day, while many Idahoans visited their polling places, I was 7000 miles away on Temple Mount in Jerusalem. For Jews, Temple Mount, the former location of their two historic temples, is their holiest site. For Muslims, the mount contains the Dome of the Rock and al- Aksa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. The commonality for both Jews and Muslims is that the mount is the site where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac. Both religions are descended from Abraham.

Temple Mount has been the focal point of differences between Muslims and Jews that have set off the current round of violence in Israel and Palestine. The day after we visited the mount, an Arab with ties to Hamas drove his car into a crowd of people at the base of the mount, killing two people.

I had two things I wanted to accomplish in Israel. The first was to visit a number of historic sites, including many that form the foundation for Christianity. There may be more historic sites and ruins in Israel than any other country. The second was to spend time in the Palestinian areas to try to get a better handle on things that are driving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I began my visit as a fairly staunch supporter of the Israeli government.

The Jews have a sad history of suffering from discrimination, oppression, apartheid, confiscation of property and worse. Unfortunately, the more time I spent in Israel, the more it became obvious to me that the Israeli government has adopted a modified Golden Rule that goes something like “Do unto others as others have done unto you.”

There is no doubt that Hamas and other such groups provide a major threat to Israel. However, Israel doesn’t seem to understand that for a growing number of Palestinians, especially the young, things appear so hopeless that revolution is the only possible way out. Apartheid isn’t working any better in Israel than it worked in South Africa. In the United States, we launched a revolution against the British for much less cause.

Looking down on a Palestinian neighborhood in Jerusalem, I saw a group of teenagers throwing rocks at Israeli police cars, with the police firing tear gas at them. Watching this unfold I was told that such acts have become a recreational activity for Palestinian young people, since they have no parks, no recreation programs and little else to occupy their time. The Israeli government has responded with a law that provides up to twenty years in prison for throwing rocks at vehicles with the intent of damaging them.

Most Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land aspire to visit Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. Bethlehem happens to be a West Bank town controlled by the Palestinians. Israel is now in the process of constructing a 26 foot high wall around Bethlehem and other Palestinian controlled areas. When completed, the wall will be 500 miles long. By way of comparison, the Berlin Wall was 12 feet high and 96 miles long.

The eastern border of the West Bank consists of two heavy duty barbed wire fences roughly ten yards apart, with the central area planted with land mines.

The construction of new Israeli settlements in the West Bank has received almost universal condemnation outside of Israel. They are viewed as a violation of international law and treaties such as the Geneva Convention. We drove by one of the settlements. It sits on a hill above a Bedouin camp. To construct the settlement, the Israelis not only confiscated Palestinian land, but also took away the Bedouin’s water source.

If there is anything about these settlements that Idahoans should understand, it is the impact of taking water away from one section of land without permission or compensation and transferring it to another.

We attempted to visit the site of Jesus’ baptism on the River Jordan, but came across a sign saying that we were entering a military zone and no photography would be allowed. It made little difference, since a guard turned us away.

There is at least one influential person in Israel who seems to have figured out how to bring all parties together for the common good. His name is Elias Chacour, the recently retired Catholic Archbishop of Galilee. Chacour is a Palestinian Christian. As a child when Israel became a nation, he witnessed Israeli soldiers first forcefully living in his family’s home (The similar British Quartering Act was one of the major causes of the American Revolution) and later the demolition not only of his family home, but of the entire village he grew up in. We had the opportunity to spend some time with him in Ibillin, the Arab town in Galilee where he lives.

Chacour feels strongly that the solution to many of the major problems in Israel lies with education. He founded and constructed a school in Ibillin attended by over 5,000 Jewish, Christian and Muslim students. He has also founded a university in the same town. He espouses “building peace on desktops” and is a three-time nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. The day we visited him, he apologized for being late because he was out in a field doing repair work on a tractor.

Unfortunately, it is not the Elias Chacours that make up the governments of either the Israelis or the Palestinians. Until they do, it seems unlikely that we will see any lasting peaceful settlement to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Marty Peterson is native of the Lewiston Clarkston Valley. He is retired and lives in Boise.

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