Caroline Spelman MP writes following her recent trip to Palestine and Israel.

 

The message we hear most often from our Christian friends and partners in the Middle East is that they want people to ‘come and see’.

To ‘come and see’ what is really happening and to immerse themselves in the reality of life in the Holy Land, and the challenges that face people of all faiths and none.

And so we were thrilled to be asked to escort a group of female MPs from the UK Parliament to visit a range of the projects you support in Palestine and Israel. They also met and spoke to local Christians, policy makers and church leaders.

They were deeply moved by their visit and a member of the party, Caroline Spelman MP, the Church of England Second Estates Commissioner has written of her experience…

The whole idea of living in an occupied land is novel for most Brits so a recent visit to the Holy Land came as something of a shock.

Some of the most holy sites for Christians are in East Jerusalem, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre purported to have been built where Jesus died on Calvary. Of course the Romans occupied the territory in those days; there is an incredible irony that the land is still not free for all.

It is possible to walk in Jesus’ footsteps largely unaware of the tumultuous politics surrounding these sites, but thanks to Embrace, a cross-party group of women MPs were given a much fuller picture of modern day Israel and Palestine.

Someone described this like layers of an onion skin being peeled back as we got to grips more and more with the complexity of this land.

The demography of East Jerusalem is challenging. It is not just the Israeli land grabs and new settlements but also the takeover of Palestinian homes by Jewish settlers which are then provocatively adorned with the Israeli flag.

The building of walls seems to be all the rage in our modern world, but the brutality of the separation wall surprised me, especially where it cuts Bethlehem off from

Jerusalem. A graffiti artist put my thoughts into words by saying: ‘The Berlin wall came down and so will this’.

Of course, we understand the wall is allegedly there for security after attacks on Israelis which I don’t condone. But the way in which the wall cuts off communities from each other and annexes Palestinian land to Israel is wrong.

It is difficult to see how a two-state solution can be made to work now. This came to a head on a visit to Hebron, in the Palestinian West Bank.


A group of women MPs joined us to see for themselves the reality of living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel.

Here the city centre has been hollowed out as a ‘secure zone’, for Israeli illegal settlements. For that read ‘ghost town’ with boarded up shops on its former main street and the ubiquitous Israeli flags claiming the homes from the expelled Palestinians.

The despair and frustration of the remaining Palestinians was quite apparent as they queued to go through checkpoints to and from the secure zone. Indeed the road blocks and security guards were a constant reminder of the occupation.

Embrace brought us into contact with individuals who challenged our preconceptions, for example an ex-Israeli Defence Force member who set up a charity called ‘Breaking the Silence’ after his military service shocked him into the realisation that what was happening was wrong. We also met a Jewish family with a firm commitment to human rights working for reconciliation.

It was as if no sooner had we formed a view than it was challenged all over again.

The residual Christian population is now only 1 percent of the whole, and it too faces the threat of having its land confiscated for Israeli Jewish settlers.

Recently this gave rise to the Christian denominations agreeing to shut the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to tourists to make this point. But it has the potential to help both sides be reconciled.

Its hospitals and schools offer Christians and Muslims the chance to get to know each other and build the bonds of peace.

If only the Christians, as one liberal Rabbi beseeched, could bring the warring parties together, Inshallah!

This blog first appeared in our January 2019 Embrace magazine which is published 4/5 times a year. Request your copy here.