The first time I visited Israel Palestine, I joined a group at St George’s College in Jerusalem but flew out and back on my own. Travelling home, I found myself sitting next to another man who was evidently also alone, and, in the way that perhaps men in particular do, we studiously avoided eye contact or speaking to each other until the plane had started its descent to Heathrow, confident that conversation would not then have to be drawn out for more than half an hour or so.
He told me how pleased he was to see me reading A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz (it’s a wonderful book). He was Jewish, and glad that I was enjoying the work of a famous Israeli author, not so well known in the UK. How had I found out about it? I replied that I’d been in the book shop at the American Colony Hotel and the proprietor had recommended it to me.
This was clearly the wrong answer, as the conversation came to a pretty abrupt end soon after. The American Colony Hotel is in predominantly Arab East Jerusalem, and the bookshop was run by a well-known Palestinian. I had the right book, but I’d got it from the wrong place, and been in the wrong sort of company.
The tensions in Israel Palestine are never far beneath the surface, nor is the violence they can elicit. I know that. But I still found myself stunned by what happened last weekend, with the kidnap and massacre of Jewish people by Hamas fighters crossing the border from Gaza. Those tensions have exploded in murderous rage, and as I write, there is no end in sight to the avalanche of continuing suffering it has unleashed, for the hostages and their loved ones, for the Palestinians who live in Gaza, including the huge number of children there; and many more may yet be engulfed.
It is hard to know what to say, or how to pray. For an end to suffering, of course. But there can only be an intermission, and no real end, without more justice and more peace. So I pray for those too, knowing that there are bitterly contested narratives about what they would mean in this context. And can there be justice and peace without reconciliation? Somehow, I still have to hope and pray that a time will yet come for that too.
The Revd Dr Jeremy Worthen, Team Rector