Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

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Holy Land Pilgrimage Day 29

It’s hard to believe, but our time in Bethlehem is coming to and end. We’re already starting to make plans for our departure. We’ve got a few parties planned before we leave on Monday, but things are winding down. We finished our first set of classes today. We will start two new classes when we get to Jerusalem. Before that we are going to spend a week back in Galilee. Our time here in Bethlehem has been really wonderful, but I do think that I’m ready to move on.

We had the Patriarch over to our house for Mass last night. He gave us a very nice reflection after Mass on the state of the Church here in the Holy Land. It is interesting to think that when we first came here a month ago we had the goal of not thinking too much of the politics of the situation here. Well, that proved nearly impossible. The Patriarch too wanted to talk about the present situation. He said that these last couple years the people ask him, “Do you think we should even celebrate Christmas this year?” He said he of course tells them yes, that we have to celebrate Christmas. However, the situation is very difficult here. It was interesting that he wanted to make very clear to us that the problems are not between Christians and Muslims; the two groups get along fine. I can also attest to this. The problem is with the Israeli occupation of Palestine. It is affecting both the Muslims and the Christians here and even tends to unite the two groups.

I found it interesting that when Christmas came and all the western media came to town the Israelis opened all the checkpoints and really tried to put on a good face for the world. The very next day all the checkpoints were closed again and Israeli fighter planes were buzzing all over Bethlehem (they haven’t done this before) apparently just to let people know who is in charge. I found out just the other day that one of the students at the university that I talked to just had his house blown up by the Israelis as a “Christmas present”. They decided they wanted to build their wall where his house was, so they blew it up. This was is in the town of Beit Jala which is right next to Bethlehem and is most obviously in the West Bank and not in Israel. I have learned while being here that Israel doesn’t really much care about building this wall in their own country. In fact, they have recently told the people of Bethlehem that they like the winery here so they are going to build their wall around it and make it part of Israel. There is just no enforcement of international law here at all. Israel has all the money and weapons and Palestine has none, so Israel does what it wants to and no one really cares. It’s very sad for the Palestinian people who live under this constant oppression.

The Patriarch made a good point to us last night that when people live under oppression they will always rise up and that the oppressor will always have cause to be afraid and to want to build walls. He said that when there is justice there will be no more cause to be afraid or to build walls. It’s clear that peace can only come here when the international community gets involved and forces Israel to respect the borders established by the United Nations and Palestine can be a truly independent state. Even that only gives the Palestinians 22% of what is historical Palestine, but that would be enough to have peace. I don’t understand why the U.S. is so attached to Israel, but it is also clear that we are one of the biggest roadblocks to peace in this region. All of the priests and speakers that I’ve talked to here agree that only the U.S. has the power to be able to tell Israel to obey the law and if we did then there would be peace tomorrow.

I’m looking forward to going to Jerusalem to hear “the other side of the story”. No doubt there will be talk of suicide bombers. That’s all I ever remembering hearing on the news back home. Still, I have to say that I agree with what the Patriarch told us last night. If you understand what Israel is doing to Palestine then you can see how some people would think there is no hope and resort to desperate measures. Of course this doesn’t make bombings right and all the people I talk to here agree and condemn the violence. But, when people are willing to go blow themselves up, you have to at least ask what would drive them to such desperate measures. Having been in Palestine for a month now, I can say that I’m starting to see some of the reasons. The shopkeepers here just want to be able to have a job and raise a family, but most have never known peace.

As the Patriarch spoke to us last night and as I have talked with the local people here over the last month I can see one thing that gives them hope. I think that us being here and seeing what is going on gives them hope. They hope we will return to the U.S. and tell people the real story that you don’t see on the news. There is a sort of desperation here that truly believes “If only people knew…” So, maybe with my little post today I am doing my part. If you read this and at least had to think twice about what you thought you knew about the conflict in this region, them maybe there is some cause for hope here. Pray for the peace of the Holy Land…now I can say that and really mean it.

Patriarch of Jerusalem
His Beatitude, Michel Sabbah, Patriarch of Jerusalem
Explains to us the political situation in the Holy Land

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