From the Conference Minister’s Heart
by Heidi Regier Kreider, Conference Minister
Earlier this month I joined 12 other people from Western District Conference, South Central Conference and around the Mennonite Church (USA and Canada) on a Come and See learning tour to Palestine/Israel co-sponsored by MC USA, WDC, and SCC. Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) coordinated the tour, to help us learn about the experience of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, understand perspectives that shape Jewish/Israeli attitudes and policies, meet people working for justice and peace, and visit sites important to the Biblical story and today’s religious communities. Mennonites have built long-standing relationships through more than 65 years of service and witness in Israel/Palestine. Come and See tours are one current way that MC USA is responding to recent appeals from Palestinian Christian leaders in Kairos Palestine: A Moment of Truth (to read the document, see http://www.kairospalestine.ps/index.php/about-us/kairos-palestine-document).
Our tour included a rich variety of encounters with organizations, people and places. Some visits presented the realities and perspectives of Palestinians: Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, Bedouin villages south of Hebron where demolition is always a threat, ruins of the Palestinian village of Lifta destroyed in 1948, presentations on Palestinian liberation theology, statistics on home demolitions and detentions, and tours showing the devastating effect of the separation wall. Other experiences highlighted Jewish perspectives and experiences: A visit to Yad Vashem holocaust museum in Jerusalem, and presentations by Orthodox Rabbi Ian Pear and Jewish settler Ary’el Tsion on their views of the history and purpose of the state of Israel. Some of our encounters demonstrated the “co-resistance” of Israelis, Palestinians and international partners working together to educate and raise awareness about different historical perspectives, share common pain at losing loved ones in the violence, work toward reconciliation as an alternative to revenge and hate, accompany those who are threatened, and further political diplomacy. Visits to holy sites and worship services with local congregations reminded us of the historical and contemporary presence of the Christian church and other religious traditions.
Of course, this summary of activities merely skims the surface of all that we experienced and learned! I will continue to read, ponder, pray, speak and write about the complex realities we observed, and hope to partner with others acting for justice and peace. Come and See participants from WDC and SCC (Anita Kehr, Jonathan Wenger, Bill Zuercher, Ron Moyo, Del Schroeder, Lupe Aguilar and I) welcome invitations to share our reflections and photographs, and those of us from central Kansas are planning for a joint presentation at some point in the future. Watch for more information, or let us know if you are interested in hosting a presentation.