The sun is rise over Luton airport as I begin my journey. But the scratches on the bus windows make the beauty of creation blurry
A journey to the Holy Land. My first. My Middle Eastern Christian friend Nabil prefers to call it the Land of The Holy One – Jesus’ Country. His nation, which we visited three year ago, has been in on-off conflict with their neighbours for decades. We saw bombed bridges, barbed wire beaches and tell tale signs of conflict past and expected.
The Holy Land? A blurry vision. This feels like an apt metaphor as we begin a journey of social, political and religious discovery, with access to people and places not usual to come by.
A plane ride gives opportunity for rest, refreshment and good company, albeit crammed into the child sized seats of a budget airline.
A second metaphor for the day is offered by a friend and companion. There is no bad fruit. Fruit is good. It goes bad if unpicked. But how much fruit remains unpicked because brambles keep it out of harvests’ way? How much fruit is there in our lives unharvested because sin and mess keep others who might be nurtured by that fruit from accessing it?
I’ve been wondering what are the limiters on my personal growth and development as I embark on this tour? How much can be conquered by self-discipline, preventing brambles getting room to flourish? How many of those troublesome brambles simply grow in a climate of unease, distraction and anxiety? How much needs to be re-surrendered to the Gardener, who alone can uproot the unwanted weeds, and can change the weather as the man in Galilee once did so dramatically.
Plane journeys on and Ian Black’s Enemies and Neighbours: Arabs and Jews in Palestine and Israel , 1917-2017 stares back at me accusingly wondering why I’ve failed to finish his account of a life’s work. Historic insights drop off his pages, exposing not least the cavalier attitude of my own nation’s approach to the land of the Holy One, and the reality that well before Hitler’s Third Reich mass extermination of Jews had been prevalent across Europe and in particular Armenia. Jerusalem had been subsisting on starvation rations and ‘deplorable conditions’ under Ottoman rule during WWI, when General Allenby’s dismounted entry into Jerusalem (in deliberate contrast to Kaiser Willhelm II’s 1898 showy entrance), heralded the beginning of Palestine becoming a separate entity to greater Syria, after 4 centuries of Ottoman rule.
To the Europeans this seemed a primitive place, in need of enculturing. Lord Shaftesbury, emboldened by millenarian theology, may have seen it as a “land without a people for a people without a land”, but people there were aplenty. 700,000 of them, of whom just 60,000 were Jews and 60,000 Christians after Turkish Muslim rule had predominated for so long. Jews had a religious, not a national identity and were known as Jews, sons of Arabs. Increasing pogroms (massacres of Jews) in Russia and elsewhere led to rapid population growth, and a culture clash as often well educated European Jews found themselves mixing with an indigenous population mainly consisting of peasants.
The next few days, beginning the tour, will give the chance to hear from Israelis involved in sustaining the Gaza Strip through border control, doctors saving lives of Israelis, Palestinians and other children from across the world, a visit to a kibbutz, meeting the British Ambassador and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
Back home the UK parliament debates the biggest threat to the Irish peace process in a decade while we journey on. Home and here a reminder that land has deep history, simplistic responses are unwise to ignore.