By Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton
General Secretary, The Canadian Council of Churches
Having been given wonderful breakfasts by our host Palestinian families, including in many cases home-made fig and apricot jams, having been shown their gardens of lemon and almond trees, we reassembled as The Path of Abraham.
Our next stop was the Church of the Nativity. Bending low to enter the ancient and closed in doorway, we explored a site sacred to Christianity and Islam and all too embarrassingly often fought over by Christians wielding brooms as 'weapons' against each other.
We then walked the narrow and winding streets to the site of Bethlehem Fair Trade Artisans. It was very moving for all of us to hear of the partnerships formed through that organization, partnerships that give the women of Palestine income and an opportunity for the dignity of expressing themselves in their traditional crafts. And then we shopped! Those who know me well will not be surprised to hear that a beautiful jacket completely decorated with traditional embroidery was purchased - red, of course!
Our walking and talking, our learning and reflecting continued through the Aida Palestinian Refugee Camp. Let no one think that there are easy answers to the situation of the Palestinian refugees. We continued our multiple crossings of the security barrier - sometimes a wall, sometimes a simple chain link fence and drove into Hebron to the Tomb of the Patriarchs. The massive, ancient stone structure thought by many to have been build by Herod the Great sits in what is at this point in time in a very challenged and divided town. Terrible violence has happened here, security looms large here. And so it must be that Jews and Muslims have to enter through different sides. The Christians get to choose whether they will go in the Jewish entrance or the Muslim one. The markers of Abraham and Sarah sit in the midst of this divided space - visible to both sides, sides that are divided from each other.
Our next stop was an Israeli settlement with a yeshiva school of Jewish learning. The rabbi there spoke to us of the relationship of God, humanity and creation and how that relationship can be thought of in different and conflicting ways, different and conflicting ways that impact the understanding of the land here. Or LAND.
Our evening session seemed to be one of great pain as we heard the stories of an Israeli man and a Palestinian man both of whom had lost innocent daughters to the conflict. Their stories were painful beyond painful and yet, and yet, in their commitment to stand together, in their determination to tell their stories and witness to the fact that the situation must change there was hope. The hope was real and tangible and will stay with us, 'Inshallah' through the journeys of our lives.