Meah Shearim
Meah ShearimFlash 90

It was 1980 and hundreds of Christian Arabs were leaving Lebanon to escape the growing encroachment of Muslim influence over the country. The southern part of Lebanon was under the control of a Christian militia that assisted Israel in securing the border between their two countries. Shelling of kibbutzim in the north of Israel was a regular occurrence from Muslim forces further north in Lebanon.

The United Nations, as well as many other western countries, resisted Israel’s attempts to defend herself against the attacks. I had friends who lived on the kibbutzim in the north who spent many days in shelters for protection. Since I had recently arrived in Jerusalem from Seattle, I considered the UN’s stance unjust. If we in Seattle were being shelled from British Columbia, Canada, I knew the United States would retaliate and no one would question it!

I witnessed this double standard over and over again in the two plus years I spent in Israel. The Israelis generally treated their citizens, residents, and neighbors fairly, but outside countries always seemed to find fault with them! Granted, I came to Israel as a supportive Christian and I agreed with Prime Minister Begin’s declaration of Jerusalem as the Eternal Capital of the Jews. When he made that statement, all embassies pulled out of Jerusalem and moved to Tel Aviv in protest. But there were Christians from around the world celebrating in Israel during the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, and they wanted to show their support of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by opening their own embassy. I was soon on staff with the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) housed in the former Chilean embassy building.

Although I already supported Israel, I was open to seeing all sides of the issues facing the country’s relationship with its Arab residents and neighbors. I was grateful that our embassy took a peacemaking stance and performed actions that benefitted all who lived in the country.

As a staff member I was entitled to receive room and board. My apartment was in a house owned by a Muslim family. I lived there initially with the woman who secured the home for us. After she moved on, I lived there with two others, one Swiss gal who grew up in England and a fellow Embassy worker who was Dutch and had also spent years in England. We lived on the third floor with the Muslim family in-laws on the second floor and the pharmacist, American wife, and their eight children on the first floor.

Our home was in a very strategic part of Jerusalem. The house was located at the famous Mandelbaum Gate intersection which had been the main checkpoint between Jordan and Israel prior to the Six Day War. Bullet holes were still visible on buildings opposite us at the intersection. The United Nations building was directly across the street from us, the stringently Orthodox Jewish section of Jerusalem, Mea Shearim, was kitty corner to our building, and the land next to us was owned by the Baptist House Jerusalem. Our apartment had been used during the conflict to house sick and dying Jordanian soldiers and to store their dead bodies.

The American on the first floor was in nursing school in the United States when she met her Arab husband who was studying to be a pharmacist. They fell in love and moved back to the middle east after marrying. My new American friend told me that she was sent to live with her in-laws in the 'West Bank' and that they removed all vestiges of her former life, dressing her in long robes. She spoke no Arabic and her husband was in the Old City of Jerusalem tending to business. The Six Day War broke out and she wondered if she’d ever see her husband again as much of the intense fighting was centered in that area.

We know historically that Israel won the war and took territory from Jordan and the other nations that had attacked. The Mandelbaum Gate opened up as well as the Old City and all in their family were reunited. She and her husband lived at the family property in Jerusalem with the in-laws. They all shed their robes, put on western dress, and regularly shopped at the more up-to-date stores in the Jewish side of town.

My friend had varicose vein surgery while I was in the country. Her husband wanted her to get the best care possible so he chose to put her in an Israeli hospital. She had two roommates when I visited her. On her right was a Jewish woman who spoke Arabic and Hebrew, on her left was an Arab woman who spoke Arabic, and my friend in the middle bed spoke both Arabic and English. They all got along great, laughing, and talking like old friends. It was a picture of peace between neighbors.

My friend introduced me to another American who was married to a Muslim. I learned a lot from that woman. Her husband had to monitor their conversations so that they would not offend the Palestinian Arab authorities. But since he wasn’t home, she spoke freely. She told us about her experience giving birth. While pregnant, she was not allowed to leave the house for fear of possible rape. She was kept at home until she was ready to deliver, loaded into a car, and taken to the hospital. After she delivered, she was transported directly home. These precautions were necessary because rape was a common occurrence for foreign women by the Jordanian soldiers.

However, when Israel won the war and their soldiers took over the area, women were free to walk safely outside and were treated respectfully. The Israelis also upgraded basic services to residents’ homes by providing running water and electricity.

I had encountered many young Arab boys running up to me and putting their hands on my private parts. Although they knew little English, they used foul suggestive language when addressing me. Once I was walking with one of my roommates to the American Colony Hotel where she worked, and we encountered an Arab man across the road who began whistling for us like he was calling for a dog. I startled both him and my friend by barking back at him! He left us alone after that!

I also saw the frustrating circumstances Palestinian Arabs faced. One day I boarded a sherut and travelled to Ramallah, a prominent 'West Bank' city, to visit friends. A demonstration against the Israelis was taking place on our way. I remember seeing the Israeli soldiers, on one side of a line that they’d established there, and demonstrators on the other side throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at the soldiers. The sky was filled with smoke. To avoid the area our driver found a small road between two buildings with barely enough room for the car to squeeze through. But then there was a large field between us and the other road leading to Ramallah. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to cross the field with us all onboard. He had us get out of the taxi and walk across the field while he carefully drove to the road for us to join him. I was travelling with 'West Bank' residents who commuted every day between their homes and work in Jerusalem. And I could only imagine how taxing that commute must have been on a regular basis, but it was hardly Israel's fault

One Easter Sunday, friends, roommates, and I attended a sunrise service at a hotel on the Mount of Olives. Partway through the service we saw an uproar below us on the Temple Mount where the Dome of the Rock is located. An Israeli soldier was violently shooting at Arabs coming out of the Al Aksa Mosque. Two were killed. (It was was an American who had joined the IDF and went berserk, he was arrested by the IDF within 20 minutes, ed.) The Arab employees operating the hotel where we worshipped, desperately called on us to help by giving blood. They thought many Israelis were murdering their people. And the stories were getting more and more exaggerated. I heard that people were being disemboweled and slaughtered indiscriminately. Although this wasn’t true, I certainly understood why there was anger among the Arab population.

I had taken a bus to the event and the crowds were considering stoning any Jews among us as we prepared to ride back to the city. I ducked instinctively in my seat in anticipation of trouble. One of my roommate’s parents had been visiting us and they had rented a car to drive to the service. Their vehicle hugged the back of the bus as the crowd pushed against them to see if there were any Jews inside. They finally let us all go. Two other friends had also attended. One, who is of Scottish descent, has dark hair, and could easily be mistaken as a Jew, was attacked by an angry Arab man as they walked back to the city on a common walkway. Her friend, who is of Lebanese descent, fought him off. They quickly hurried down the mountain to safety.

The threat of buses and popular areas being bombed by Palestinian Arabs was sadly to become commonplace. I was used to having my bags checked whenever I entered a store. One evening I was working late at the embassy when I noticed a bicycle propped against a fence. A member of the Israeli bomb squad came and checked it out to be sure it wasn’t booby trapped. Thankfully it wasn’t.

I spent three months in Eilat at the Gulf of Aqaba. While there I was invited by friends in Jerusalem to join them in visiting Christians in Gaza. It was a wonderful time of fellowship. I stayed in touch with two gals who were best friends. One was Jewish and the other Arab. It was my last weekend in Israel. When I returned to Eilat I was told my father had passed away and that the family requested my presence at his memorial.

I left Israel in 1983 to attend the memorial in the States. Later in that decade Bill Clinton brokered the Oslo Accords when Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Liberation Organization seemingly agreed to recognize Israel’s right to exist (it was never brought to a vote in the Palestinian Arab legislature although that was promised, ed.) and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin agreed to recognize the PLO as representing the Palestinian Arabs.

That agreement would later break down. Hamas violently took over control of Gaza and the Palestinian Authority controlled the 'West Ban'k. Recognition of Israel’s right to exist was denied and the intifada began. The stated goal of Hamas is to create a Palestinian state where Israel currently exists. Hamas is brutal in its tactics and has no regard for life, willing to sacrifice members for their cause and sadly use their own people as human shields.

As I write these memories, Israel is again at war. Hamas in Gaza brutally attacked the southern part of Israel and slaughtered men, women, elderly, babies, and children on October 7, 2023. Verified stories of their brutality have shocked the world. The massacre involved torture, rape, beheading, burning, and mutilation. Israel has retaliated and currently the Israeli Defense Force is seeking to rid Gaza of Hamas.

Once again Israel is being challenged for seeking to eliminate Israel’s enemy. An American born Palestinian Arab was interviewed and referred to Palestine as his country. But Palestine is not a recognized country. One demonstrator said that they don’t hate Jews, just Zionists. Since Zionists believe Israel is their rightful land, the implication is that the Palestinian Arabs do not recognize Israel as a legitimate country.

In the Biblical book of Ezekiel, we read the story of a vision the prophet had of a valley of dry bones. When the bones were gathered and brought back to life, God gave insight to Ezekiel. (37:12b-14 NIV) “’This is what the sovereign Lord says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”

In 1948, after the horrific Holocaust that claimed six million Jewish lives, the world witnessed the establishment of the nation of Israel. God is committed to her survival. We too, must take a stand to support her!