Would Jesus recognise the Holy Land?

Veronica Quinn SGS with Samaria in the background

Good Samaritan Sister, Veronica Quinn, returned from the Holy Land in late 2012 with a new perspective on the region after living and studying in Jerusalem.

Veronica was halfway through a three-month sabbatical at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute, when Israel commenced a military offensive on Gaza in retaliation for rockets fired on Israeli cities by Hamas militants. From Tantur, Veronica could hear the air-raid sirens and bombs, and could see the dividing wall, which separates Palestinians, who live mainly in Bethlehem on the West Bank, from the City of Jerusalem.

“It’s very easy for us to think of the Holy Land in some romantic sense. But seeing that wall all the time and hearing sirens, and over the last couple of weeks you could smell the tear gas and hear bullets, [it’s far from romantic],” said Veronica.

Veronica, who has a background in education, completed a course on the cultural, religious and political aspects of life in the Holy Land. She also visited biblical sites including Galilee, the Jordan River, Gethsemane, and Temple Mount, and pictured biblical events happening amid check points or landmines.

Veronica (right) with friends in Petra

“In Bethlehem they have thousands of cribs, but they also have cribs with the wall in them; the idea being that the three kings couldn’t have got to Bethlehem. They wouldn’t have got past the wall, and they wouldn’t have had the permit to get through. I find that incredibly powerful,” said Veronica.

Navigating security checkpoints from the West Bank into Israel could take up to two hours and provided Veronica with a glimpse of the daily experience of Palestinians who work in Jerusalem.

Veronica was moved by the plight of Palestinian people who are increasingly being dispossessed to make way for Israeli settlements, particularly in Hebron where about 500 Israeli settlers live, protected by an even greater number of soldiers.

“Hebron was possibly the most depressing day we have had. It is a large ancient city in the West Bank that has always been a cause of unrest. Over the last 20 years there have been a few small groups of Israeli settlers who have gone and entrenched themselves in the middle of this Palestinian city …,” Veronica explained.

“The Palestinians, on the other hand, are not allowed to build at all, not even alterations or additions, even though their population is increasing. There are roads in Hebron that are totally closed to Palestinians, some of whom have to climb over rooftops to get to their homes because they are not allowed in the street to get to their front door.”

Amidst the conflict, Veronica saw Palestinians and Israelis working together for peace and justice.

She described how a Palestinian Christian family, the Nassar family, has established a “Tent of Nations” on its 100-acre farm as a peaceful response to the Israeli government’s attempts to claim the family’s prime land. Young people across the world are invited to come and work on the farm and build understanding and tolerance.

Veronica spoke about a group of Israeli women who arrive at the checkpoints at 4am, when most Palestinians cross, to act as observers: “… they just sit there to make sure that the people that come through are not being mistreated, so that there’s somebody else watching”.

She also met former Israeli soldiers who have formed an organisation called “Breaking the Silence” to highlight the abuse of Palestinian people within the Occupied Territories.

The recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state, following the United Nations General Assembly resolution, is a sign that the international community is also starting to acknowledge what has happened and is happening to the Palestinians, Veronica hopes.

Reflecting on her sabbatical, Veronica said that she is much better informed on the region, but fearful of the uncompromising and narrow views of far-right political movements in the Holy Land and worldwide. Veronica said ultra-orthodox Jews whom she encountered showed the same “certainty of being right” of right wing Christians and right wing Muslims.

“I don’t think I expected to be challenged to the extent I was… I think even living there is a challenge – it’s a harsh land,” said Veronica.

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The Good Oil, December 11, 2012. If you would like to republish this article, please contact the editor.

8 Responses to “Would Jesus recognise the Holy Land?”

  1. monica subirats says:

    The creation of a Palestinian state in the Gaza was a test, they immediately voted in Hamas and is now a terrorist state. Would an enlarged Palestinian state alongside Israel do much better, after all Jordan is a 90% Palestinian state already.

  2. monica subirats says:

    The Palestinians do not recognize the right of Israel to exist. Since the Christian Palestinians relate to the Moslem Palestinians they will always have problems. The creation of Moslem Gaza ended in a vote that put Hamas in as their leader, the Hamas that represents Iran. The spectre of an Islamist or terrorist Palestinian state is very possible and as such the Christians should rethink their possibilities, the Moslems have treated them worse than the Jewish state.

  3. Kathy Hennessy says:

    We were part of a cruise/tour group seeing Israel, Egypt and Jordan during November. Our guides were passionate about their own country and history. We only had “peep hole” of the countries, and seen with comfort and the safety and security of a bed on board a boat each night. However, it still gave us another perspective of the difficulties and clashes in this area, claimed by 3 separate religions. I feel the situation will only be resolved by much good will and tolerance – a word which is often lacking. It requires acceptance of each group for each other and finding a way to live together with competing claims to “holy” territory. It’s hard enough to do this in a family sometimes!!
    By the way, did the rains come?
    I am a Good Sam girl, from Marymount.

  4. John Goonan says:

    Thanks for your reflection Veronica. Things obviously haven’t changed at all for the poor Palestinians since I was there. I hope Bob Carr gets to read it – fancy abstaining from the vote! Politics befoire justice!, or more likely money / political donations before justice.
    Like Mary-Ellen, I am pleased to see the wrist wasn’t a problem, but I’m a bit worried about the walking stick!

  5. Elizabeth Murray says:

    Thank you, Veronica, for your reflections – most illuminating. No doubt it will be an experience you will never forget. It was good to read about those women who get up early and stand watch, of the farmers who encourage a peaceful working side-by-side, and the Israeli soldiers’ alliance. The Spirit is indeed at work through these people. May it continue.

  6. Mary-Ellen Pattinson says:

    Veronica, thanks for the reflection. You certainly have had an eventful 6 months. Obviously a broken wrist was just a minor happening!!

  7. Marie Jones says:

    Good to read your observations, Veronica. Look forward to seeing you in Melb.

  8. Veronica, this is powerful stuff! Great to have first hand experience! Thanks for the down-loads. Peace. Marie O’Connor

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