Above is a photo of my friend and I in front of the birthplace of Jesus inside the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem.
As someone who has lived in the dominant narrative (Christian society) my entire life, I took on a journey to Palestine earlier this year to understand the land where Jesus walked over 2,000 years ago. I WAS EXCITED to be on sacred land. But upon entering the land, it didn’t take long for the excitement to turn into wanting to learn more about the Palestinian narrative.
Reflecting back on my trip, I ponder about how this trip has changed me and my faith journey forever. Reading scriptures about Jerusalem, Mount of Olives, Nazareth, Bethlehem, Jericho, and so on, I will forever picture what I witnessed in occupied Palestine where this sacred land is scattered with fences, barbed wire, and ugly, tall cemented walls.
Waking up every morning to the call of prayer or the Adhan/Azaan, my final morning hit me spiritually. I woke up to the Azaan in tears overwhelmed by all that I had learned about the NAKBA (history of the Palestinian exodus of 1948) and for my sisters and brothers of this sacred land who desire to be free. I then thought of my Muslim/black/brown sisters and brothers in the US who are often categorized and treated as terrorists. How I grieved that they too could live freely without judgment and fear. I also began to unveil some of my own institutionalized fear of the "Middle East" region and its people. More specifically, I reflected on how I needed to be “brave” when traveling to Palestine and in that moment while listening to the Azaan, connecting spiritually, how silly I felt for even thinking that I needed to be brave.
Visiting Ramallah and cheering for the opposing number 1 basketball team (Beit Sahour) and having coffee with a local store owner in Bethlehem are a couple of examples of how we are simply global neighbors wanting the same basic human rights as the next person. As an American visiting refugee camps and witnessing the daily lives of Palestinians who live under military occupation and as someone who did not know much about the Palestine and Israel conflict, it is challenging to explain my trip and its impact. Since a photo is worth a 1,000 words, below are some of my thoughts during this Easter season.
This is a photo of one of many checkpoints in Palestine. This was taken on my way out of Bethlehem. Palestinians who live in Bethlehem cannot use the roads beyond this point unless they are from Jerusalem.
This is a tiny section of the separation wall near the Banksy hotel in Bethlehem.
Below is the land that Jesus walked and led crowds who listened to his infamous parables. You can see the white stone buildings of settlers on Palestinian land. Settlers continue to build infrastructure for themselves, but the Palestinians are not given permits to build and renovate their homes. Water is also heavily regulated and often times olive farms store rain water to make ends meet for the year.
The last photo is of us and a hospitable store owner in Bethlehem. We sat, drank coffee, and spoke about our respective lives. The people are so kind and neighborly. As some of us observe Good Friday, let’s remember our brothers and sisters in Palestine who are wanting the same freedoms we have. Jesus spoke of the marginalized communities and it’s about time our collective and diverse faith communities come together to lift up the marginalized voices of where Jesus walked over 2,000 years ago.
On Sunday, as some of us observe Easter-- the resurrection of Jesus, let us remember that even in hopeless situations and in darkness, Christ came to lift us ALL up. He broke down walls and barriers to bring peace and love to the marginalized for the BENEFIT OF ALL. We can love because Christ FIRST loved us. Therefore, we are called to do the same.
*Jessie Choi is the Genesis of the Tri-Valley Delegate on the Genesis Leadership Council. She visited the region in March 2019. Her thoughts and reflection do not necessarily reflect the views of Genesis.