VISIT PALESTINE

by John Newton Hickox, Dufer, Oregon

On my office wall is a big poster, the kind you find on a travel agent’s wall. The scene is Jerusalem’s Old City, the Dome of the Rock prominent at the center, printed in 1936. Even today most brochures promoting Holy Land Tours use this scene. But my poster is different in a couple significant ways. The city in the distance is framed on one side by an ancient olive tree in the foreground.

In 1936, olive trees were almost sacred to Palestinians. Even today, most Palestinians feel they have violated a deep covenant with their ancestors if they fail to gather the fruit produced by their trees. Every tree has faithfully produced fruit for hundreds or maybe thousands of years. Generations of families living near the cherished tree have relied on it as a staple of life. The tree has produced through good and bad times. Through long dry spells, the olive tree keeps on giving. The only requirement is that the olives be picked every year. Palestinians are distressed and guilt-ridden when olives are left on the tree.

My poster is different from contemporary ones in another significant way. Across the bottom, in large block letters, are the words: VISIT PALESTINE. On all current posters, the word “Palestine” has been replaced by “Israel.” Is this a big deal? To the Palestinians it certainly is.

Of course travelers can “visit Israel” today.  But here is a very important point: Whenever that traveler is in a place where Jesus was born and died, and practiced his ministry, that traveler is in Palestine. When you travel to Israel, in order to go to Manger Square or the Via Dolorosa or the Church of the Holy Sepulcher or Jericho or Shechem, you must leave Israel and cross over into Palestine!

How is it that all of ancient Palestine is now called Israel by most of us?  Even more incredibly, how is it that the West Bank andGazanow make up less than 22% of what has beenPalestinefor thousands of years?

I write to encourage you to come with me to the land and see for yourself how and why this is the most important human rights issue facing Americans today.  This will not be your typical  “Holy Land Tour.”  We’ll see Jerusalem and Nazareth, but we’ll see them through the eyes of Palestinians.  We’ll see Tel Aviv and Ashkelon and Haifa, but we’ll see them through the eyes of progressive Israelis.  Perhaps more importantly, we’ll see all of it through the eyes of those Christians, Muslims and Jews who seek justice and advocate for it.  Among them will be parents of children killed by suicide bombers and parents of suicide bombers. We’ll see the occupation through the eyes of former Israeli Defense Forces soldiers and Israeli Air Force pilots who declare,  “I will defend Israel against foreign threats but I will no longer oppress Palestinians in the occupied territories.”

We will also walk in the cool, serene early morning with Palestinian farmers who can no longer adequately tend their olive trees, because the “separation barrier” runs between their homes and their orchard.  They can go to the orchard, but only for one 20-minute period daily, between 6:20 and 6:40 AM.  If they are a minute late, they cannot work in the orchard that day.  If they do reach the orchard,  they must stay 12 hours and can only return home during one 20-minute period, between 6:20 and 6:40 PM.  If a tractor breaks down or they are a minute late, these Palestinian farmers must stay overnight and hide from IDF soldiers.  If found, they will likely be imprisoned for several months.

As a point of reference, the Berlin Wall was 96 miles long.  The Israeli Wall, still under construction, is now 400 miles long.

I will host a workshop on Israel and Palestine at the Annual Meeting in Pendleton. Please come—I promise you will not be bored.

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