Fear and Loathing in the Holy Land

Luke 13: 1-6 Then Jesus told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ The man replied, ‘Sir, leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’

It is as if there is a cold wind blowing through Palestine today.

It has not been an easy week in this land and it seems as if it is anything but holy. The past week has been dominated by some of the harder things. For me, it has been a time filled with the fear and loathing of bearing witness to violent confrontations and the aftermath.

On Friday, there was a demonstration in Hebron protesting the closure of a street to Palestinian’s. This annual event was met by a strong military intervention.

The crowd would surge forward and then retreat as the military used stun grenades, tear gas, rubber bullets and what is known as skunk water.

At one point, when there were no protestors in sight, I stood watching some soldiers about 100 yards from me when I noticed a soldier had me in his crosshairs. He continued to target me for about a minute that felt like an eternity.

Later, as the violent confrontation continued one of my colleagues witnessed Israeli soldiers laughing while eating cake with a group of illegal settlers.

On Saturday, five ambulances went racing by as I waited for my drive into Yanoun. I wondered if there was a conflict in the area but my Canadian sensibilities told me it had to be an accident. Within a few minutes, I learned there was a major confrontation between illegal settlers and the Israeli military on one side and Palestinian villagers on the other.

A 25 year old Palestinian farmer had been shot by a settler while he was tending his fields near Kusra. I watched the aftermath of this senseless act. Young Palestinians throwing rocks at the Israeli military who were clad head to toe in protective equipment. Rather than responding by going after the settler the military replied in their usual fashion supporting the settlers and attacking the Palestinians with rubber bulletins, stun grenades and tear gas. What shocked me most was when a tear gas canister targeted an ambulance.

Meanwhile, the man who had been shot was and is clinging to life. Six other young Palestinians were treated and released from hospital and have been released.

In another part of Palestine a hunger striker died. Then word spread swiftly that a prisoner died apparently as a result of torture.

Meanwhile in Bethlehem two young people were seriously wounded. We visited the 13 year old mainly to offer what limited support we could to his family. His mother said to us, “I want to tell everyone. Tell the whole world. He is just a boy. He was doing nothing.” The mainstream media is reporting he was shot by an Israeli sniper. At the time he was at least 150 yards from the wall. The 16 year old is in Jerusalem in critical condition with a bullet wound to the head in the temple area according to a doctor at the Bethlehem hospital. She was outraged that the 8 km. trip to Jerusalem took an hour because of security checks on the ambulance.

On a minor note, I was tear gassed three out of four days from Friday through Monday. This is in spite of being at least 100 yards away from any direct confrontation.

I can feel the chill in the air. My heart is heavy with the grief and sadness that dominates this land. I have only written of the violence that I am directly aware of. This does not deal with the many other heart breaking stories of humiliation, human rights abuses and long term actions by the Israeli government against Palestinians that I and my colleagues hear about every day.

So, I turn to this Sunday’s Gospel for a sense of hope and perhaps a better perspective. Jesus is telling a parable about a barren fig tree that has not produced for three years. The owner wants to cut it down but the steward wants to fertilize it and give it another year.

In the world of parables everything stands for something else. The fig tree was a symbol often used for Israel in the Biblical era. The fruit that Israel was expected to produce was justice and righteousness which were in short supply in Jesus’ day.

I am amazed at how often the Gospel offers challenge instead of hope. Once again, like on so many occasions I am forced to look at the reality that surrounds me in a different way.

I don’t know how this parable ends. Does the tree bear fruit in the next season? If it doesn’t, does it yet again receive another chance? I would like to have answers about the future but that is not possible in this parable, in my own life or in the complicated reality of Palestine and Israel.

I believe most Israelis are fine and wonderful people – as are most Palestinians. I suspect most have no idea of the full effect of 65 years of the occupation of Palestine.

Most of the time I find the situation here complicated and as soon as I truly reflect on it I realize it is. Protests are met with military resistance and suddenly the gathering turns into a riot. A young innocent boy steps out from behind a wall to get a better look at the action and is shot. A mother who sits and worries about the future for her 13 year old.  A tree that should be cut down is instead given yet another chance. It all seems very complicated.


About Steve Berube

I am a team minister at St. Paul's United Church in Riverview, NB, Canada. I served as a human rights observer in Bethlehem while on sabbatical in the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) of the World Council of Churches.
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15 Responses to Fear and Loathing in the Holy Land

  1. Debbie Hubbard says:

    What can one say as I sit here in the comfort of my home? May you be surrounded by God’s healing presence as you walk along side the Palestinians.

  2. Lloyd Bruce says:

    Might your presence be a sign of hope. Thanks for your words!

  3. Jack Spencer says:

    Thank you for these posts Steve and for your willingness to accompany these folk and help us here to see the tragedy of it all. Blessings on you and those you accompany. “How long O Lord, how long?”

  4. Gene Fisher says:

    Steve…may God’s blessings be with you, and may the Palestinian’s and Israeli find peace and hope. Shalom. Gene.

  5. Sheila Perry says:

    Please stay safe! My heart and prayers go out to all!

  6. could it be possible that 65 years of violence and war has numbed the people? made them feel this is their ‘normal?’ I mean, there are 2 generations now of Israelis and Palestinians, who literally do not know any different!! I feel, in spite of the observers being definitely a sign of hope, that people’s core thinking and consequently living out their thinking (actions) have to change. there seems to be no real sense of the meaning of peace anymore. it would be a painful and slow process to start teaching your children differently ….

  7. Brenda & Jens Jensen says:

    Take care of yourself and stay safe.

  8. Brenda Robinson says:

    You are in my prayers each night that you stay safe.

  9. Dan Tremblay says:

    Steve, thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us. It’s easy for us here to forget the struggles so many face daily. God bless you and keep you safe.

  10. Yvette Swan says:

    Steve, I have experienced the fear that you speak about. What will happen next? May God protect and Bless you as you continue this journey

  11. John Cassel says:

    Hi Steve. I was part of Group 45 in Bethlehem. With Dawn W. Just got to your blog. Very nice. Complicated… Please share my greetings with George, Samira, Ameer, Helile, others.
    We’ll (my wife Joyce was in Hebron) try to keep up with the rest of your stay. God’s blessings, and peace to you. John Cassel, Oak Park, IL

  12. Karen Rogers says:

    It is a great blessing that you are there with the people of Palistine and Israel. I wish I had the wisdom and grace to give you greater comfort, but good old Dr Suess once wrote “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.” Your willingness to answer these complicated questions with you love and compassion for the people inspires many. Thinking of you. Karen

  13. nataliemax says:

    Thanks for the update Steve. And thanks for the reflection on the parable. These stories are sad indeed but I hesitate to say they are complicated for two reasons. First because many people think what is going on in Israel/Palestine is too complicated to understand and therefore don’t bother learning more and doing something about it. Two, because what I see in Israel/Palestine is similar to all processes of colonization and domination. It is the same narrative just with different players and tactics in a different context.

  14. Jane Rowell says:

    Hi Steve, it was good to meet you a couple of weeks ago at the Lutheran Church… May god bless you and the other volunteers…

  15. Paul Burns says:

    Hi Steve. As I catch up on your blog I can’t help but wonder why the Israelis have such short memories. Many of these soldiers would have grandparents that were survivors of WW2. Did they not see the tattoos? Hear the stories? As you say – it does seem complicated.

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