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Members of the ‘Solidarity with the Suffering’ delegation share what they saw and heard during their eight days in Palestine-Israel

The Israel/Palestine Mission Network’s 35-member delegation included pastors and ruling elders from 19 presbyteries

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Brett Wharton via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — Together with a few ecumenical partners, “Solidarity with the Suffering,” a 35-member delegation of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Israel/Palestine Mission Network returned home last week after eight days of solidarity with people who are suffering and mourning the deaths of those who have died in the war in Gaza between Hamas and Israel.

“We lift up those Palestinians and Israelis who engage in nonviolent actions to achieve a future of justice, equality, and peace for all Palestinians and Israelis,” the IPMN said in a statement, “and pledge to continue to pray for and pursue such a future.”

Members of the delegation included a former Moderator of the General Assembly, five mid council executives, and pastors and ruling elders from 19 presbyteries. Some in the delegation shared reflections, which can be seen here and are excerpted below.

“I have learned, in so many ways, that Palestinians teach life,” wrote the Rev. Addie Domske. “They have opted to turn their martyrdom and suffering into a lesson for the world on resilience and hope and steadfastness. … I ask you to walk with us as we, yes, name that death is overwhelming, but also as we learn of the life that springs up … through the hope of liberation. Let us be active participants in the end of despair.”

“By no means” do all Israeli Jews approve of removing Palestinians from East Jerusalem or making “life so difficult that they will decide to leave,” wrote the Rev. Dr. Rick Nutt. Nutt suggests Presbyterians stay informed through organizations including the IPMN, learn from Jewish human rights groups like B’Tselem, consult General Assembly statements on Palestine including this one, support the work of partners including the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center and write members of Congress and President Biden to, among other things, urge for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Dr. Bob Ross noted that more than 7,000 Palestinians have been arrested, most without charge, since Hamas’ attack on Israel on Oct. 7. Ross witnessed a Palestinian boy who was 15 or 16 stopped by Israeli police officers, then frisked, assaulted and detained, “right in front of my eyes in broad daylight, just outside the Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem.”

The Rev. Mary-Gene Boteler talked about weekly night raids going on refugee camps in the West Bank “under cover of the war in Gaza” for the last four months. “The capture of the sons and daughters of the camp serves its intention of terrorizing the people into compliance,” Boteler wrote. “And yet, in the midst of occupation, the people in the Aida Refugee Camp we visited have endured.” Their “philosophy of ‘beautiful resistance’ against the ugliness of occupation and the violation of human rights focuses on the concept of non-violence as a part to peace.”

Photo by Ash Hayes via Unsplash

Dr. Hunter Farrell said the book “Decolonizing Palestine” by his friend the Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, a speaker at last month’s Matthew 25 Summit, “is helping me understand why we U.S. Christians have not seen Palestine for so long: my ancestors colonized North America, built a nation on the stolen land of Native Americans, and ethnically cleansed an entire continent … The voices of Manifest Destiny, the ‘white man’s burden’ and the ‘civilizing’ mission of the Church whisper continually in my subconscious.”

The Rev. Marietta Macy reported what she told an official at the U.S. Embassy in Israel. “Through social media, young people know better than most how intertwined our destines are globally and locally. … Our American young people can look around their own hometowns and see crumbling infrastructure, unhoused and hungry people and know that our government chooses, instead of supporting our own people, to send billion and billions and billions of dollars to support human rights atrocities … There’s no more business as usual. There’s no more church as usual. Long- and short-term, our government’s actions are not making us safer, and we are very close to feeling like we have nothing left to lose in the U.S.”

“Our visit to Daoud Nassar’s farm in the Bethlehem region was heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time,” wrote Noushin Framke. “The Palestinian farm known as Tent of Nations sits on the last hilltop in its area that is not built up with an Israeli settlement.” Nasser told the delegation, “For us, the land is part of our identity. You cannot sell your soul. Our connection with the land is not only physical, but more spiritual. We feel we do not own the land. We are stewards of the land. So how come I don’t sell this land? No, I got it as a gift, and a gift cannot be sold.”

The Rev. Gail Doering discussed a day spent in Nablus in the West Bank, a university and technological center and the home of two large refugee camps and Jacob’s Well, the setting for Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman. “I often think of the Samaritan woman as the first witness to who Jesus was and one of the true disciples,” Doering wrote. “On this day, it was the women who captured my heart, mind and soul. It was the women who demonstrated power and resilience.”

At the end of a long day, the group toured the Seeds for Development and Culture facility. A few chatted with three women who lead the organization. Asked what they’d be doing if the war were not ongoing, one of the leaders became quite animated. “I am still shaken by this beautiful young woman, her witness and her deep sadness and despair,” Doering wrote. “I will carry her and so many others with me for days and weeks to come, and I pray that I will be able to echo her cries and the sighs and groans too deep for words.”

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