By Lawrence Paltep
From August 3 to 14, 2019, I was blessed to participate in a 10-day Holy Land Pilgrimage hosted by Discipleship Ministries. The pilgrimage was a unique experience. Our group was composed of young people from around the globe who have only known one another through a few conference calls in preparation for the trip. Imagine an intimate week with strangers who don’t know one another that are coming from different social and ethnic backgrounds. The first night or so was awkward for all of us, but to our surprise, we grew very close.
The opportunity to deconstruct my values and faith in this sacred space was an important aspect of this trip. I learned about Palestinian and Israeli relations/tensions from our tour guides: one of our guides gained their knowledge from the Palestinian point of view and the other, Israeli. What was interesting about hearing dual narratives was how the information told was against one another. Despite this, both tour guides showed respect towards each other’s differing perspective.
For example, one significant point of conflict was land occupation. We went to the Wi’am Conflict and Resolution Center and visited a large wall that separated Palestinians from Israelis. Our Israeli guide’s narrative was that it is used to protect the Israeli people from the violence caused by Palestinians. On the other hand, our Palestinian guide emphasized that the wall creates hardships for people because job opportunities and social services can only be found beyond these walls.
Aside from the politics, I also realized how beautiful of a country Israel is. Its beauty gets overshadowed by the injustices portrayed by the media. Israel includes stunning views from mountain tops and hillsides, rich history and development from different eras of rulers, ruins of middle age structures, and brilliantly designed mosaics. I was also able to experience the fervor of the Islamic call to worship that gets projected on megaphones. Sadly, the sound of this call in the U.S. is associated with terrorism rather than a passionate call to God.
What I witnessed in Israel was not the kind of glory and special holiness that one would expect to feel being at such a place called the Holy Land. Paraphrasing what our tour guide reminded us of: people worship anything — even rocks are worshipped. Holiness is not to be found in the rocks or monuments themselves, but from the history and events that took place.
I’m learning that there is much more to understand about my values of fear, safety, and respect that I’ve learned growing up. I am encouraged to build my life around community — sitting with and listening to stories of real people and cultivating communities out of love instead of fear or hate.
Lawrence Paltep serves as a co-director for the youth group at Blaine Memorial United Methodist Church in Seattle, Washington.