Monday, January 31, 2011

Holy Land Pilgrimage – The Reality of Racism

In January my wife and I joined a group of other pastors and their spouses and made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It was a very moving experience. I kept a running journal of the experience so that I could reflect on the experience after I returned. Over the next few days I will share some of what I sensed while on this life changing trip.

To be honest, we had some nervousness about traveling to Israel. After all, everything we see and hear on the news makes it sound like that part of the world is in constant turmoil. Even now the news is filled with scenes of the revolution in Egypt, which is right next door to Israel. But friends assured us that Israel was stable and safe and our faith in the Lord filled us with a holy confidence that everything would be okay. We did find the nation to be quite secure, however, there is an underlying tension brewing just below the surface. I believe it is caused by rampant racism.

I got my first taste of what it must be like to live in a land with a history of ethnic struggle within minutes of getting on the plane. I was in the middle seat with an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man on one side and a man who was apparently Arab on the other side. The Jewish man was quite friendly and immediately engaged me in conversation and asked if I was Jewish and if I knew Hebrew. I told him I was Christian and only knew English. Undeterred, the Jewish man asked all about where I lived, my family, why I was visiting Israel, etc. He was clearly interested in a congenial conversation. The other man made lots of snorts and mumblings at the various things the Jewish man had to say and he became more and more agitated. He put his leg over into my section, leaned his arm over my armrest, etc. It was clear that he was trying to make my trip uncomfortable. I tried to speak to him in the same kind way that I spoke to the Jewish man, but he simply turned away. Even after my conversation with the Jewish man ended and the in-flight movie started, the Arab man kept finding ways to put his belongings under my seat or leave a jacket half way over the armrest so I had to lean away from him, etc. Though I cannot know exactly what was in that second man’s mind, I sensed that he was upset that I had such a friendly conversation with the Jewish man beside me. His sense of frustration grew with each hour of the plane ride as did his constant efforts to make own trip uncomfortable. It was sad to see that he could not relax and enjoy himself simply because a Jewish man two seats over had a positive experience.

Though America is by no means a perfect nation when it comes to race relations, it is rare for us to see public displays of anti-Semitism. Such displays are normally confined to a few radicals with “wanna-be Nazi” delusions. To see a well dressed business man display such attitudes was a bit eye opening for me.

At this point, some of my readers are thinking that I am being unfair to the Arab man and portraying the Jewish man in a more positive light. Well, the situation changed once we got off the plane and we were in “Jewish territory.” We were met by our Jewish guide and he led us around the nation for the next five days. At every opportunity he bashed the Arabs and told us how much they had damaged his nation. At one point his racial prejudice became so great that several members of the group pointed it out to him. That calmed him down for about an afternoon, but the next day he was back at his anti-Arab conversation. He did not seem to be aware of how racist he was. It was simply too ingrained within him.

It was clear that racism is common place in the Promised Land and that fills my heart with sadness. As I pray for the peace of Jerusalem, I pray for those who live in that land to see each other as people created in the image of God and to treat each other accordingly. Clearly racism is ingrained in both the Jews and the Arabs and no lasting peace can come until they overcome it. I have also been praying for my own heart, asking God to help see if I have any built in racism in my own life that I do not even recognize. Lord, fill us with love for each other and help us see beyond our ethnicity to find the special creation we all are in the eyes of God, and Lord, bring peace to Jerusalem.

You can read about the entire trip in the devotional book Touching the Footprints of Jesus. 

1 comment:

  1. My friend who was in Israel a month ago experienced the same type of behavior while she was there. The behavior by the Arabs can be constituted as bullying. Did you notice what was happening on the top of the wailing wall when you went to pray?