In 2010, Dr. Melanie Duguid May, the John Price Crozer Professor of Theology, published Jerusalem Testament: Palestinian Christians Speak, 1988-2008.
The book introduces the experiences of Palestinian Christians living in the Israeli-occupied territories of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank through public documents, statements and accounts of Palestinian pastors. Through this work, Dr. Duguid May has become increasingly involved in the work to find a practical resolution to the ongoing violence in that region.
The pilgrims who took part in “The Holy Land and Its Peoples” 2013 pilgrimage are continuing to share insights and thoughts about the Israel/Palestine conflict through a blog. Access it to join the conversation online by visiting www.crcds.edu/category/palestineisrael- 2013/
In early 2012, Dr. Duguid May began working with Dr. Mark Brummitt (Associate Professor
of Old Testament Interpretation), who has first-hand experience of Israel and Palestine, on plans for bringing CRCDS students, alumni/ae and friends directly to the region. The fruit of this work was “The Holy Land and Its Peoples,” an organized pilgrimage to the region to learn more about the conflict and the peoples—Christians, Jews and Muslims—it most impacts. Drs. Duguid May and Brummitt sought to incorporate a series of lectures and opportunities for spiritual reflection at the key Christian pilgrimage sites in the area.
The following two reflections were originally published in the Summer/Fall issue of The CRCDS Bulletin. The first is from Dr. Duguid May and it describes her relationship with the conflict in Israel/Palestine, the reasons she organized the pilgrimage and what she hoped the participants would gain from the experience. The second reflection is by Deborah Allen, a CRCDS student.
I was introduced to the conflict in the Israel/Palestine region in the spring term of 1975, when I was part of a student group. For three months we studied biblical archaeology and the present-day conflict. The land and its people have been very much part of my theological and ethical reflection. Most recently, I wrote a book, Jerusalem Testament: Palestinian Christians Speak, 1988-2008, which drew on statements made by the heads of Jerusalem churches in response to the conflict. The statements are at once pastoral and also addressed to the international Christian community. My hope was to help the often forgotten voices of Palestinian Christians be heard, particularly among US Christians.
Since 1975, I have made seven trips to the region, staying in Palestinian communities, riding local buses, visiting civic, educational and government leaders, as well as visiting sites of historical and religious interest. I have been witness to the way life and the landscape itself have changed and changed again, particularly with the building of settlements, settler-only roads, and, since 2002, the Wall. These things have increasingly, tragically separated the peoples of the land from one another, and made life for Palestinians more and more difficult. The Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories controls every aspect of daily life: freedom of movement, access to education and healthcare, availability of food and potable water, employment and housing.
For a number of years I have wanted to introduce students and friends of CRCDS to the people of the land of Israel/Palestine as well as to the traditional holy sites. In other words, I wanted people to engage the living stones not only the building stones. My colleague Mark Brummitt has recently spent time in Israel/Palestine, and our talking together hatched the idea that has become a reality.
The conflict in Israel/Palestine seems so intractable to most people. We feel so powerless to do anything that would make a difference. But, in truth, one of the most significant ways to change the status quo is to educate Americans about the realities of what is happening on the ground there. The US provides Israel $8.5 million in military aid each day, or $3.1 billion each year, while it gives the Palestinians $0.00. Total direct US aid to Israel amounts to well over $140 billion. American taxpayers are financing the building of illegal settlements and settler-only roads on expropriated Palestinian land. Thanks to American taxpayers, Israel’s arms industry has become one of the strongest in the world.
In addition, unqualified US support for Israel has meant that any attempt of the UN to sanction Israel’s repeated violation of international law is vetoed, or ignored with impunity. An educated US electorate can make a difference, by witnessing the injustice of an illegal occupation first-hand, and then by bearing witness to those in power back home.
It is so significant on multiple levels: as a multicultural immersion experience, as a way of bringing the land of the Bible to life, as an opportunity to think critically about important political and theological issues of our day, to name just a few.
We stayed at Tantur Ecumenical Institute, to which groups come from around the world for the same purposes. So around tables in the dining hall participants engaged others around issues of the land and its peoples. We also met with folks from Sabeel, the Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, which has been working for justice and peace in Israel/Palestine since 1990, when it sponsored the first conference on Palestinian Liberation theology relevant to the indigenous people of the land. Sabeel—the name is Arabic for ”the way” and ”the spring”—is a movement of Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Christians who are biblically based and committed to the path of nonviolent resistance as the way to just peace. A Sabeel staff person led us on the Contemporary Way of the Cross in the occupied Palestinian territories, to sites of home demolitions, checkpoints, illegal settlement and displacement of Palestinians, and the Wall’s incursion on agricultural land. We later walked the traditional Way of the Cross (or Via Dolorosa) through the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem, ending at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We were guided to sites of Palestinian life in Bethlehem and Hebron by Ecumenical Accompaniers, a program sponsored by the World Council of Churches, begun in response to the cry of Palestinian Christians to the international Christian community in the spring of 2002.
We also spent a day in the Judean wilderness, visiting Masada, the ancient fortification
overlooking the Dead Sea, atop which Herod the Great built palaces for himself. The Siege of Masada by Roman troops towards the end of the first Jewish-Roman War ended in mass suicide in 73 CE. Masada is Israel’s most visited tourist attraction, and is the site on which soldiers of the Israel Defense Force are sworn in. We visited Qumran, the nearby site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered between 1946- 1956, and the Mount of Temptations, with the Monastery of the Forty Days. We spent three days in the Galilee, visiting Nazareth, Capernaum, the Mount of Beatitudes, Mt. Tabor and other sites of Jesus’s ministry. On the way to and on return from the Galilee we visited the Old Testament sites of Carmel, Megiddo and Beit Shean. At the end of the trip, nine of the nineteen of us traveled to Sinai, where we stayed by the Red Sea, visited the sixth-century St. Catherine’s Monastery and climbed Mt. Sinai.
As I prepared to leave for Israel at the beginning of June, 2013, many thoughts and questions went through my mind. I have read books, heard stories and seen pictures of the places we were going to visit, but I had no idea what it would be like to actually be there. For me, this is the essence of pilgrimage. We set out on a sacred journey of discovery that would require letting go of preconceived ideas and openness in every moment to new sights, sounds, smells and feelings. I knew from past experience in other
cultures that this is a powerful experience. In this land, where three major religions have claimed their roots for many centuries, there was a very distinct historical and spiritual dimension. I was very happy to be able to explore that through the guidance and wisdom of two wonderful professors, and to be able to share the experience with the other members of our group. For me, two particular aspects of the trip had a special sense of anticipation connected to them. One was the Wall, (not the Western Wall which, of course, will be of great interest), but the Wall that continues to be built as a way of separating Israelis from Palestinian Arabs. It has been painful to learn about the building of this wall and I knew it would be painful, but very important, to actually see it. I was also eager to make the extended trip to Mount Sinai and St. Catherine’s monastery. The inhospitable nature of the landscape was compelling for me. It was the territory through which the Israelites wandered, the place where God delivered the Law to Moses, and later, the terrain to which the Desert Fathers and Mothers retreated. I was curious to experience the way in which this remote location transformed those who ventured into it. Most of all in preparing for what was a truly eye-opening journey, I trusted that the hand of God would be present to guide us and bring to light what we needed to know and understand.