An Easter Pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Bethlehem and the West Bank

Revd Jonathan Herbert, Chaplain to the Gypsy Roma Traveller community, reflects on his Easter pilgrimage to the Holy Land:

"Shocked by images of the war on Gaza in January, my 82 year old friend Revd Sue Parfitt asked me to accompany her on a solidarity journey to meet Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem and the West Bank. Her use of the word accompaniment particularly resonated with me as I’d spent three months in Israel/Palestine as part of the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in 2010.

On Palm Sunday we entered Jerusalem with Dean Nick from Salisbury Cathedral, who is on sabbatical in the Holy Land, and thousands of Palestinian Christians waving palms, shouting Hosanna. Remembering Hosanna means ‘save us!’, we particularly thought of those in Gaza crying out to the world, ‘save us from hunger, thirst, disease and bombs.’ We re-enacted Jesus non-violent entry into the city, and throughout our visit numerous Palestinians stressed the importance of non-violence as the only way to bring peace and justice to the Holy Land. 

On Maundy Thursday instead of the liturgy of the Last Supper and foot washing, we attended an Iftar, to break the fast of Ramadan with Muslim brothers and sisters as the dusk descended in a remote Palestinian village in the South Hebron hills. We’d gone there to provide protection by presence to the villagers who had seen a significant rise in intimidation and seizure of their land by Israeli settlers on an illegal settlement on their former land. They said the armed settlers had been emboldened by the war on Gaza.

Good Friday we spent with a Christian family on their land outside Bethlehem, where they run a project called ‘Tent of Nations’. Their land is now surrounded by Israeli settlements, and they are regularly harassed by settlers, who have now closed the main road to Bethlehem, so what was a ten minute journey now takes 45 minutes. Their motto is "We refuse to be enemies" echoing Jesus words from the cross ’Father forgive them for they know not what they do’.

Holy Saturday we had a largely quiet day trying to stay with some of the feelings of anger, shock, impotence, and grief. We heard so many stories of loss of life from those with relatives killed in Gaza, the West Bank and Southern Israel, and the loss of livelihoods as much of the West Bank has been locked down by the IDF, that there is much to ponder and process.

If there were signs of resurrection anywhere, it was in the dedication and selfless commitment of so many working courageously for peace and justice and their appreciation of our visit to accompany people for a short while.

Please pray and act for peace."

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