In the course of final preparations for my pilgrimage to Jerusalem, my heart, mind and prayers are very much with the people of Palestine and Israel as they live in the midst of the terrible conflict that has been so much a part of our news and their lives these past two weeks. I visited Gaza in 2005 and so I have some personal visual images of that small, heavily populated and troubled region. I especially recall our visit to Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza and so, because I wanted to do something to help relieve some of the suffering, I have sent $1,000 from funds available to the Bishop in response to the appeal for aid to the hospital from Bishop Suheil Dawani. I have asked the Global Reconciliation Committee to consider a donation as well. Here is a link to the appeal should any of you wish to make a contribution: http://www.j-diocese.org/resources/file/news/Al%20Ahli%20Gaza%20Appeal%20July%202014.pdf
I am certainly no expert on the Middle East and the seemingly intractable conflict between Israel and Palestine over this land that is home to many people and many faiths, Jews, Muslims and Christians in particular. You have been reading, watching and listening to the same news reports as I have. There is no lack of “spin” or “blame” in the various reports and accounts. Tragic is the word that most often is on my lips. Complexity is the other word. Perhaps by being there in person I will gain some deeper understanding, but mostly I am going to be in solidarity with individuals and families connected with Kids4Peace (http://www.k4p.org) and with others who I know from previous visits or to whom I have been introduced by colleagues. This is a relationship pilgrimage.
I arrive in Tel Aviv Tuesday (tomorrow) July 22nd. I am staying at the Tantur Ecumenical Center in Jerusalem (http://tantur.org/) from July 22-31 and then spending the last three nights of my pilgrimage in Bethlehem with a friend and colleague. I am told that at Tantur there will be guests from all over the world taking part in one of their study programs and so I look forward to meeting some of them at meals and at other times. I have many wonderful opportunities in these next two weeks to break bread and share conversation with individuals and families. I especially look forward to several Itfars (meals ending the day’s fasting) with Muslim colleagues during these holy days of Ramadan. There will be time to visit some sacred sites and meet with representatives of programs and projects in the region that are working for peace. I am not visiting Gaza on this pilgrimage, although my heart will surely be there with the people of Gaza.
I can only imagine how the current circumstances are affecting the people with whom I will be in contact. My hope and prayer is that my being there will offer some small sign of solidarity. I pray that my own heart and mind will remain open to experience what lies in store for me these next two weeks and I ask for your prayers as I journey with hope in my heart.