It was the middle of October, 2000. I was studying abroad for the semester. One morning, a local pastor picked me up at my school in Jerusalem and started the short five-mile journey towards the West Bank, one of the two Palestinian Territories. He had heard that I was a juggler and wanted to have me perform for the children at a school near Bethlehem, all of whom were Arab Palestinians. But on the way to the school, he wanted to show me the remains of something that had happened the night before. So he wove his way into Beit Jala – an Arab neighborhood outside of Bethlehem in the West Bank. He drove me through some narrow streets and pointed out the remains of the attacks from the night before. There was glass in the street (and a calm lady sweeping it up), a large rocket-shaped hole in the side of a nearby building, and a Christian church (the one dedicated to St. Nickolas, of all people) that had been severely damaged by machine-gun fire – to the point that the priest’s chair was riddled with bullet-holes. This was one of the early battles of what came to be called the Second Intafada (Uprising).
We spoke with some of the residents (who were wonderful, peaceful people), who pointed out that extremist gunmen had taken over their neighborhood (forcing them to flee for the night) so that the gunmen could stage an attack on the Israelis across the valley. And attack they did. And of course the Israelis responded with about tenfold of the military force back at the gunmen. It was a volley of machine guns (extremist gunmen) versus tanks (Israel Defense Force). I had heard the fighting the night before from my school. I thought it was fireworks, but upon closer inspection from the rooftop of our library, I quickly learned that we were hearing the sounds of violent warfare – something my naive American ears had never before heard.
The missionary then brought me to the Palestinian School. The children were waiting for me, sitting in their very simple classroom with very little covering the walls. I did my show, calling up volunteers, telling jokes, doing tricks, and basically just trying to have fun and let them have fun. From a show standpoint, I really don’t recall anything extraordinary.
But what I do remember is what the pastor told me after my show.
He said, “Jesse, these kids just needed to laugh today. And you helped them do just that. When these kids go outside to play recess, they “play” funeral. The boys line up and pretend like they’re carrying a coffin while all the other kids pretend to be mourners at the procession. THIS is what the kids know. And today, you helped bring a smile to their faces.”
My heart broke.
There are children who live in such a world in this Century – millions of them. Children of war. The surviving ones are traumatized by their surrounding circumstances. And it is happening in the Middle East – again – on both sides of the conflict. If I was over there again, I would try to juggle again. But thousands of miles away, all I can do is pray – and hope. I can pray that there will be peace in Jerusalem – and Bethlehem and Gaza and Syria and Iraq.
The current events between Israel and Hamas have captured a great deal of my attention the past few weeks because of the time I spent there in college. In addition to that, last May, my wife, daughter, and I visited Israel and Palestine for a two and a half week trip. What I sensed while there last year was a greater polarization between groups of different race, religion, or culture – especially in Jerusalem. This doesn’t surprise me, since the land of the Middle East is so sacred to multiple groups of people. I wrote another post about why I don’t think the land of the Bible is as “holy” as many people make it out to be.
I don’t know the answers or solutions to this ongoing situation. And I’m certainly not knowledgeable enough to make a judgement as to who’s right and who’s wrong in the conflict. Though I will say that I don’t think it’s a black and white issue where one side is completely right and the other side is completely wrong.
What I do believe as a Christian is that Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace – and that full peace WILL come to Jerusalem someday. I do not believe it will come as a result of a geo-political violent war, but rather as the result of the non-violent spreading of His Kingdom (where battles are fought not against “flesh and blood”, but against the “principalities of the air” – to quote Paul in his letter to the church in Ephesus). To win peace as Christians is a spiritual battle, not a bloody one. Our enemies are Satan and his demons, not human beings on this earth. We fight with prayer, faith, righteousness, truth, and the Word of God (Ephesians 6:10-18).
When will that battle be won?
I don’t know. I hope soon. And only God knows how and when.