“Is it Safe?”
Recommendations from recent Living Stones Pilgrims
Rev. Dr. Alan Dorway, WA, May 2015
“To anyone thinking about traveling to Israel/Palestine: GO. I went with the Pilgrims and felt totally safe (and my parents went with me!). Joan and our many hosts prepared us well and steered us clear of any potential conflicts. I felt the reading I did in preparation did open my eyes to legitimate concerns in the region, but did not prevent me from going. Yes, things can happen anywhere. Yet, there is a vast difference between being there and watching the news on television.
The news gets many things right, but they do not showcase the hard work of reconciliation many on both sides of the issues are doing right where we as Christians boast “Jesus” lived. Yes, he did live there, so we need to go, learn, and be reminded that reconciliation, justice, grace, and love are not just theological terms; they are being practiced today exactly where and how Jesus would. We have a lot to learn and this trip will open hearts for scripture and our ability to interpret for our friends stateside some of the complex issues tearing apart the Middle East. I hope you go, it changed my views, my life, and deepened my hope in Christ and His coming kingdom.
Heidi C. Borter, PA, May 2015
I sincerely felt our group was protected by the loving arms of God which took the form of inspiring Palestinian guides and friends who were so loving and kind. They had our best interests at heart each step of the way during this truly once-in-a-lifetime journey. Go! Learn! And come home and spread the truth as God would have us do.
Andrew Lewis, NJ, May 2016
The trip is safer than many popular tourist destinations I can think of. I never felt scared for the safety of anyone on the trip. In fact, both the residents of the West Bank and Israel are very kind. In my opinion there is really less risk for Americans traveling in Israel than for traveling in many cities in the US.
A May 2016 participant from OH
Before I took my first trip to Israel/Palestine in 1989 I wrote my will. I was excited to be going, but not sure what to expect. I’ve been back several times and loved every minute every time. We’re treated not like tourists, but like very special friends. This year my daughter who went with me said she’s coming back and telling every one it was very safe.
Ann Lewis, WA, May 2016
I really appreciated the careful planning of our Living Stones pilgrimage itinerary. The opportunity to meet and learn from people with different perspectives quickly rose to being the most significant aspect of the trip. The strong military presence in the area was a constant reminder of the fear and oppression people of this region face, yet I always felt safe as we traveled together by private bus and walked through markets and city streets. I would sign up for this trip again in a heartbeat.
Bob Garrison, WI, May 2016
Thank you for leading the trip. I have termed it “the most educational trip I have ever taken” to anyone who has asked. (That is a compliment, by the way.) By educational, I mean learning as much as I did about the issues/the occupation; coming in, I knew what I read in Chacour’s book Blood Brothers. After the trip, having experienced, with my eyes and ears, the real stories from the real people, it was an eye opener for me. I felt safe the entire trip, with you and the guides leading the way. It was a little uneasy on the CPT rooftop with the armed guard staring at us from the next rooftop. But we were told what to do, and what not to do, so no problem. Same at the check points and airports.
Ann-Sofie Dean, CA, May 2016
This trip gave much more than I had hoped for in helping me understand the current situation in Israel/Palestine. We had access to a large number of people who worked for peace and reconciliation in the area and their reports were both helpful and concerning. We developed a deep empathy for the Palestinian people. The interactions we had with children, both at the Mar Elias school and schools in the West Bank were the most encouraging. The Palestinian people were at all times welcoming and happy to see us. It would be difficult to find more genuine hospitality than what we found everywhere we went.
At no time did I have any concern for my safety. My goal of seeing where Jesus had walked was more than fulfilled, the hills and sea of Galilee, Capernaum, the road from Jericho to Jerusalem, drinking from the same well where Jesus met the Samaritan woman and (of course) Jerusalem. We travelled all around to visit places mentioned in the bible, in a very comfortable bus, and stopped to see what various churches had done to commemorate these holy places. Jesus would have been surprised.
Phil Dean, CA, May 2016
Before leaving I asked Don Griggs, who has previously led 13 trips, how safe would it be. He said no trip had had any problems. He said the guides, and the bus chauffeurs were well connected and were able to assess any risk if there were any. The whole time we were there, I felt completely at ease. In fact, more relaxed than being in crowds in Italy or France where I’m always worrying about pickpockets.
For anyone considering this trip, the initial focus is a study tour of the occupation and what the Palestinians are experiencing under it. As the trip unfolds, you’ll be meeting many wonderful, hospitable, open, and welcoming Palestinians. You’ll hear them describe their work for peace and reconciliation. You’ll hear stories of how the occupation affects them, but also stories of forgiveness. You’ll be inspired by the wonderful children and youth and what’s happening at the Mar Elias and the other schools you’ll visit. As you talk with students and teachers, you’ll realize you can’t detect who is Muslim, Jewish, or Christian. Everyone honors and respects each other. What a hope for the whole country.
And, of course, you’ll see the holy sites. I now know what the land looked like where Jesus lived and did his ministry. I saw places where I know he walked. What a feeling to be in the Garden of Gethsemane, among olive trees older than 2,000 years, and to look at Jerusalem across the valley, as he did.
Charlie Lewis, WA, May 2016
Reflections on Why to go:
~ a very well rounded/balanced trip with seeing the holy sites and meeting with the living stones
~ I have never met Christians anywhere around the world who live more authentic lives of faith and follow Jesus’ teaching with more courage and conviction than the numerous Palestinian Christians I’ve met. They model what being a follower of Jesus looks like and encourage my faith by their perseverance in hope.
~ our brothers and sisters in Christ in the occupied territories are so grateful to know that they are not alone, that Christians from the U.S. are deeply concerned about their lives, their story, their struggles, and their desire to be agents of reconciliation as well as free of an oppressive occupation.
~ Having read rather extensively numerous books and articles on the Israel/Palestinian conflict and having had many Palestinian Christians as guests at our church there is simply no substitute for actually going to the West Bank and Israel, experiencing the land and the people and the situation firsthand. My previous impressions and views took on a much deeper and richer dimension.
In terms of safety…
~ I never felt unsafe being in either the West Bank or Israel, though the pervasive military presence of the IDF everywhere took some getting use to. The only thing that made me feel uncomfortable and ironically, less safe was the culture of militarism exemplified by the ever present Israeli Defense Forces.
~ After the Pilgrim’s tour group left for the U.S., my family stayed later. We spent several more days in the West Bank and Israel, even walking alone at 9 at night for a mile in a busy Bethlehem after parting from our Palestinian friends. Though we were the only Americans on the street, it felt as normal as walking in a busy small city in the U.S. with people talking, shopping, buying ice cream, taking care of kids, and not a hint that we were any different than any other person.
~ we got happy greetings from children and adults saying “welcome” when on the streets of Hebron, Bethlehem and other West Bank towns. Many were, no doubt, hoping we might purchase from their shops and support their business which relies heavily on tourists which is impacted negatively when people, unfortunately, do not come out of a sense of fear. ~