Today’s author is Debbie Jorgens, PoP’s Director of Visitation and Congregational Care.

The temptation to turn away from some of the heartbreaking images we see day after day is understandable. But God calls us to open our eyes not only to the beauty and goodness in the world, but to the pain and suffering, as well. Only when we are aware of our neighbor’s plight can we do whatever is in our power to help alleviate it. 

Ten years ago my husband and I had the good fortune of taking a trip to Israel and Palestine. And even though we spent just two weeks there, it was a life-changing experience. Admittedly, I had relatively little understanding of the very complex situation that has existed there for decades, and I welcomed the opportunity to learn more firsthand. 

In stark contrast to the beautiful landscape of Israel stood the West Bank barrier, a structure some 430 miles long, more commonly known as the Separation Wall. In some parts, it takes the form of a chain link fence with trenches below it. In other sections, primarily in urban areas, it’s a 29-foot high concrete wall with a barbed wire crest, punctuated by watch towers and cameras. (15 Years of Separation: The Palestinians Cut Off from Jerusalem by the Wall.

The construction of the wall which began in 2002 has been described by Israeli officials as “necessary security precaution” against terrorism. Palestinians refer to the Wall as a racial segregation or apartheid wall.

As a result of the Wall winding through the West Bank, significant numbers of Palestinians have been separated from their own farmlands, places of work and educational institutions, resulting in a devastating impact on their families, communities and livelihoods. Israeli authorities use a variety of permits to control Palestinian movement and access in the West Bank. Palestinians need permits to enter Israel and East Jerusalem for work, worship, family visits and medical care. But many applications for permits are denied, especially for men under the age of 55. 

Checkpoint 300 in Bethlehem, Palestine | Photo by Andrew E. Larsen

The movement of Palestinians has become even more restrictive since the horrific attack by Hamas in southern Israel last October. But as of 2018, there were 140 checkpoints along the Separation Wall, making everyday life nearly unbearable for Palestinians. Thirteen major crossings allow Palestinians with work permits to enter Israel. Checkpoint 300 in Bethlehem is said to be one of the worst because thousands of workers from throughout the West Bank have to squeeze through it every morning, since there are no other viable alternatives. Many have to wait for hours to pass through, even though the distance to their workplace is only a few miles from home. 

On an early January evening, our group made our way through Checkpoint 300 so that we might experience, in some small measure, the oppression that an entire community of God’s beloved people experience day in and day out. We began walking through the long, twisting, narrow corridor with iron bars that penned us in as though we were cattle being herded toward the checkpoint. Finally, we entered a space where the Israeli officials directed us to empty our pockets and purses into a bin to be x-rayed, before we were directed through the body scanner. There were multiple Israeli soldiers, all armed, in front of the guard station and on the platform above. A soldier with a dog passed over us on a catwalk. 

The last person in our group to go through the checkpoint was Peg, who set of the alarm when attempting to go through the body scanner. The alarm continued to go off even as she emptied her pockets, removed her belt, took off her sweatshirt and even her earrings. Peg’s husband, Chuck, who had gone through just before Peg headed back to help her. A guard stepped in front of him and sternly told him to leave. But Chuck refused. 

With the help of a patient Palestinian woman waiting in line behind Peg, they identified what was setting off the alarm: Peg’s glasses. Once she put them into the bin, she was able to get through the checkpoint. Peg later shared that she had felt very intimidated and extremely vulnerable because she can barely see without her glasses and would have had difficulty walking through the checkpoint had not Chuck – or someone – been there to help her. 

I found the whole experience eery and unsettling, and it was sobering to think that Palestinians are subjected to this treatment on a daily basis. As a result of seeing, firsthand, the oppression of the Palestinian people, I now pray regularly for the people of Israel and Palestine – Jews, Palestinians, and Christians alike – and support an organization that promotes peace in the region.

When our eyes are opened, we can’t help but be changed. 

When have your eyes been opened to injustice, pain, or suffering? How have you responded?

God of all, Help us to truly see the needs of our neighbors and show us what we can do, however small our efforts might seem, to make a positive difference in their lives. Amen.