Saturday, 3 November 2007
Visit to Israel / Palestine
This week I took advantage of the gap between the end of one Parliamentary session on Monday and the start of the next (Queen's Speech next Tuesday) to join a Bible Society delegation with other MPs to visit Israel / Palestine. It was the first time I had been there and I've come away with a mass of impressions.
We talked on our visit to people on 'both sides' of the issue, although it quickly emerged that there are far more than two perspectives on what is happening. I had been told a lot about the wall (see pictures which are both around Bethlehem) that Israel is building - the Israelis call it a security wall, the Palestinians call it a separation wall. The Israelis point to the fact that since the wall and many checkpoints were put in place, the number of killings through suicide bombings has dropped dramatically. The Palestinians say that it is more about grabbing land than about security - one senior Palestinian said if the wall had simply been on the 1967 borders he would have helped them build it! The main problem it creates is that Palestinian people on the West Bank can be cut off from their place of work or their families. One told us it was like living 'in an open prison', and others that they felt 'under siege'.
Another thing that struck me was the daily suspicion and discrmination that Palestinian people can face. Our group was hosted by two wonderful Palestinian Christians, one of whom in appearance could be taken to be a Jewish migrant from Yemen or somewhere similar, whereas the other is clearly a Palestinian Arab. Everywhere we went, our host who was obviously more Arab in appearance was stopped at checkpoints or delayed whilst our other host was allowed through with no questions asked. One person told me that he was treated fine as long as he did not say much, but as soon as someone spoke to him in Arabic and revealed that he was not Israeli he suddenly got far worse treatment.
One of the most powerful meetings we had was with a senior figure in the provincial government in one of the West Bank territories. He told of how he had been driving with his family and the Israeli army had opened fire, shooting 300 bullets into his car. He was shot several times but survived, but his 12 year-old daughter was killed. As the father of a daughter of similar age, I could only begin to imagine how he must have felt. Yet he said that the only way forward was forgiveness - the alternative he said would destory him. That experience and that conversation reinforces the message that forgiveness and reconciliation is not a soft option - but it is probably the only hope for Peace.