As I get ready to leave the Holy Land this week and return home after a four-month research stint, I must admit that I am being assailed by a motley of different – and contradictory – feelings. Sheila Beswick, MBA As I get ready to leave the Holy Land this week and return home after a four-month research stint, I must admit that I am being assailed by a motley of different – and contradictory – feelings. On the one hand, I already feel the pangs of nostalgia for a city that has woven an almost magical spell on me! Jerusalem is certainly golden for its Jewish, Christian and Muslim inhabitants. On the other hand though, I am glad to be going back to Leeds since I have experienced in a small way the searing intensity of this place. Nothing is easy, nothing is straightforward, and the shortest distance between two points is rarely a straight line! If anything, the last two weeks of summit diplomacy at Camp David – with copious amounts of maximalism, brinkmanship and intransigence – have proven to me the powerful hold this city has on both Palestinians and Israelis. As much as I appreciate the charm and legitimacy of this hold, I also notice how wrenching such intense possessiveness or self-awareness could become for anyone! People here are far too serious! You can see it in the small children catapulting from childhood into adulthood as rapidly as winter yields to summer! There is no spring or autumn here. All is enshrouded in two absolute seasons with weighting responsibilities, scepticism, taboos, suspicions or recriminations. Often, I have been tempted to cry out, “Do not lose your precious childhood!” But Mark expresses it much better when he relates Jesus’ affirmation that the Kingdom of God is for little children (Mk 10:13-16 or Mt 19: 13-15 & Lk 18:15-17)). At least, they are not supposed to have many hang-ups, blemishes and scars, although the children here do have them in abundance! One need only stroll into the Christian Quarter within the walls of the Old City to witness the frightening truth of this stark reality! Am I being unduly harsh? Perhaps! But what is the point of loving a city and its peoples if I cannot indulge in some healthy honesty? So much here has given me untold pleasure, but so much has also caused me untold grief. I know full well that I am a neophyte when it comes to this region. As someone coming from the outside, I am not too sure I can – or even should – choose between a bi-national state and the two-state solution, that I can bother to expend so much energy on an ecumenism that the churches do not themselves always endorse or support, or that I can make such a big fuss over earthly Jerusalem as a precursor to the true and heavenly one. But I truly wish that the ‘two peoples and three religions’ (as Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah puts it) of this biblical land will re-discover their precious childhood. In so doing, they might also re-discover the Kingdom of God as much as themselves – let alone the other. They might even come to realise that the ‘other’ is like them too – be that ‘other’ the menacing soldier at the Ram checkpoint or the rabid settler in Hebron, or be that ‘other’ the furious student who burns an Israeli flag in Nablus or the frustrated woman who hurls stones at Israel from the checkpoint in Bethlehem. There is so much emphasis here on descriptives and objects, and so little on nouns and subjects! The ‘holy land’ has become almost a burden on its two long-suffering peoples and is no longer an incarnational inspiration for many amongst them. As I leave this land where Jesus suffered death and rose again, I wish all the traditional Churches of the Holy Land, the Middle East Council of Churches and all peace-loving men and women every success in their constant endeavours for peace and fulfilment. May they manage to put the jigsaw pieces of their common vision together. May they find that small place in their own hearts they can truly call a holy land. May they also be faithful and faith-driven Children of God. Sheila Beswick is an investment banker who spent four months in Jerusalem on a fiscal research programme. She also assisted the Middle East Council of Churches with Public Relations.
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