Event in Holy Land faces Israeli-Palestinian conflictBy Sheldon C. Good Mennonite World Review
On a recent trip to the Holy Land, Mennonite pastor Lee Suderman experienced a “reality check.”
As part of the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference — an event for Christians, especially evangelicals, to gain awareness of issues of peace, justice and reconciliation — he and 14 others took a 6 a.m. walking tour that included the Israeli separation barrier in Bethlehem.
The controversial barrier is being constructed by Israel seemingly to separate Israelis and Palestinians, but often divides or confiscates Palestinian land.
For Suderman, walking up the gangway of the 20-foot-high barrier in Bethlehem and then going through a turnstile “seemed like cattle going through the dehorning chute.”
“We were about to go through the metal detectors when our visit was cut short by the appearance of an officer who posed a concern to our guide,” said Suderman, of North Newton, Kan. “We quickly exited to avoid possible detention — something local residents experience regularly, making their lives very difficult.”
That experience, along with glimpses of Palestinian life near the barrier and the March 5-9 conference, was life-changing for Suderman. Prior to the trip, he had “many political, theological and human rights concerns with how statehood for Israel has evolved over the years, especially as exacerbated by unbalanced U.S. policy and the emergent prophecy-oriented Zionism in some evangelical circles.”
Zionism is the movement to preserve a Jewish homeland in Palestine that many interpret as requiring the establishment of the nation of Israel as a Jewish state.
“This conference was the first time I felt I’d heard these complex issues treated in such a thorough, objective, respectful and compelling manner,” Suderman said. “It helped me synthesize differing interpretations of Scripture and my concerns for human rights, with a strong, personal sense of integrity and confidence.”
Bethlehem Bible College, a Mennonite Central Committee partner, organized the Christ at the Checkpoint conference, which was intended to create an ongoing forum for Christian peacemaking in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a historically divisive topic. In addition to walking tours, the conference included Bible studies, worship, workshops, panels and site visits.
More than 600 people from 20 countries participated, including Palmer Becker, a former Mennonite pastor and professor; Linford Stutzman, a professor at Eastern Mennonite University; three MCC Palestine workers; and student groups from Eastern University in St. David’s, Pa., and Wheaton (Ill.) College.
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