Josiah McGee is a sophomore political science major who visited Israel this summer.
Shortly after visiting Israel, I learned that Hallel-Yaffa Ariel, a girl barely a year older than my sister, was stabbed and murdered in her West Bank home by a Palestinian terrorist. After spending 10 days in Israel with an organization called Passages, I was asked “Why do you want to go back to Israel?” The question, much like Israel itself, is complicated. Ultimately, I am drawn to the people and the miraculous hope they exhibit, and I want to share that hope with others.
We oversimplify Israel as a war torn, desolate land. Is conflict a daily reality? Yes. However, there are incredible events taking place in Israel that we can’t overlook. Despite constant threats to the ideal of universal peace and safety in Israel, the land has blossomed. Put in perspective, the land of Israel is a miracle. Largely barren since the expulsion of the Jewish people, the land currently generates massive production in technology and agriculture. Silicon Valley stalwarts like Google and Microsoft flock to Tel Aviv and consistently partner with Israeli startups for cutting edge innovation. Drip irrigation systems, which originated in Israel, are now sold across the world, helping to address critical needs on African continent especially. Most significantly, after wandering for 2,000 years and enduring trials like the Holocaust, the Jewish people have finally returned to their homeland. Since then, they have labored to strike a balance between self-defense and repairing the broken world around them (tikkun olam) by sharing technology, providing humanitarian aid, and welcoming Syrian refugees seeking medical care. Israel is a beautiful flourishing in a barren land.
I saw the convergence of three world religions. A somber, Palestinian Muslim spoke to a group of Christian college students gathered in a Jewish synagogue. In a time often characterized by intense hatred, it’s hard to overstate the significance of such a moment.
I saw the church in Israel celebrate centuries of church history while struggling for vitality in a region attempting to choke the Gospel. I saw the largest church in the Middle East and cathedrals built of stone by Crusaders. As an Aramaic pastor told me, the Israeli government affords significant freedom and protection to minorities both ethnic and religious including Muslims and Christians, Israelis and foreigners. Too easily we may take for granted the privilege we enjoy of being free to pursue Christ centered community.
I saw Jews welcome Shabbat at the Western Wall (the retaining wall serves as the only remaining symbol of the temple), as the surrounding streets and mosque built overhead filled with Muslims celebrating the end of the day’s fast during Ramadan.
The media doesn’t tell these stories, at least not often. I was especially touched when meeting with a man less than a mile from the Gaza Strip. With an ISIS outpost within striking distance and consistent threats from Hamas, his children know every siren is followed by 3-5 seconds to find cover in the giant caterpillar on the playground. Painted bright yellow with sleepy eyes, it is built to withstand rocket fire. It reflects the incredible strength of Israeli citizens. A day with rocket fire is just another day, yet they wrestle with incredible moral dilemmas. Meanwhile, my biggest concern is my next paper.
Palestinian children are taught as early as kindergarten to hate Israelis and often resort to violence later in life. Nevertheless, our host carefully told how he pleads with his children not to hate the Palestinian, or to celebrate when Israel is forced to fire rockets in return. He explained how desperately he desires his children to understand the value of a human life, and how precious enduring peace would be.
In the midst of these experiences, I saw the Sea of Galilee. While on the water, I pondered the earthly ministry of Jesus, and I marveled at the faith required to walk on water. I envy the people of Israel, who possess tremendous faith. When meeting with average Israeli citizens, I could not help being overwhelmed by the sense of hope they exude not only for themselves, but also for the world around them. Somehow their hope is tangible and infectious. Their optimism overflows despite innumerable odds stacked against them, and as a result they continue to beat the odds. This way of life is reflected in their national anthem titled “Hatikvah” or “The Hope.
Photo credit: Jena Powell