Learning Through Experience
By: Debbie Dean
Do dreams really come true? Well, mine did! On January 3, 2023, I boarded a plane bound for Tel Aviv. Bucket list item #1…check. I booked this tour a year and a half prior and told anyone who would listen that I was going to The Holy Land: I was going to Israel.
I have a very dear friend, Hassan, who is an American of Palestinian descent. In the Summer of 2022, my husband and I were on our way to Arkansas with Hassan and his wife Jennifer to see their son play baseball. During that long drive, I told them the news that I would be going to Israel on a pilgrimage to The Holy Land.
Hassan snapped his head around and glared at me as though I had just cursed his mother. Jennifer quickly interceded with, “She is going to The Holy Land… It’s a tour of The Holy Land.” I couldn’t understand Hassan’s reaction, so I asked him to explain, and he proceeded to tell me of how his grandparents were forced to leave their homes and businesses. He relayed to me the stories his mother would tell of how they were able to bring very few possessions, which were put in the back of a truck and taken to Jordan. Hassan’s mother knew she was born in January, but her birth certificate was left behind with the rest of her family’s belongings, so she never knew the day. I could not imagine these things happening; I did not know the history of Palestine and some things he was telling me just weren’t sinking in. Hassan told me to simply go on the trip and see for myself. He said that when I returned, we would talk.
What I saw and learned on that trip was beyond my imagination. On the first day of our trip, we were in Bethlehem. Tensions were very high throughout the entire city. We would find out later that this was because a 16-year-old Palestinian boy was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier. The unarmed child was killed because he did not respond to the soldier’s command fast enough. We were told about the different license plate colors, one for Palestinian cars and one for Israeli cars, and the problems these plates can create for border crossings. We were told that many Palestinian families keep the keys to their old homes, which they were forced to leave decades ago, in the hopes that they will someday be allowed to return. This simple idea of keeping keys filled me with such sadness, hopelessness, and despair. I learned about the Nakbah, where military forces entered Palestinian homes and forced the inhabitants to leave, while new families moved into these same houses under the watchful protection of the same forces.
Two days after that young boy was murdered, my tour group of ninety-eight American women was headed to the Sea of Galilee through the West Bank. We came to an Israeli checkpoint where were detained for 2 ½ hours because the Israeli forces said it would be too dangerous for us to cross the border. As I sat in that bus staring intently and nervously at the Israeli soldier with his very large gun pointed at our bus, I noticed the ten or so soldiers dressed to the nines in military uniforms. Perfectly tailored uniforms, shiny black boots, state-of-the-art guns, ammo, and other essentials. On the way back from the Sea of Galilee when we got to a Palestinian checkpoint, the singular soldier at the border was in jeans and a t-shirt, holding a gun that looked as though it was older than he was. I felt the stark contrast with the Israeli soldiers from earlier that day, and I felt aware of how much money the U.S. sends to the Israeli Defense Forces, alongside statements from my government like “We stand with Israel.” Well, in the words of my friend Hassan, “I DON’T.”
I went on a Pilgrimage to The Holy Land to experience Jesus by walking in His footsteps; I saw the places where He taught, prayed, and healed people when He was a human being. All of those things I did. However, I also learned some unexpected realities which I had not expected to encounter. I learned that Hassan’s story of his upbringing was only one of thousands of stories from Palestinians around the world, and the story of oppression has not ended.
Now, while reading articles about the situation in the Middle East, I have been struck by the vocabulary chosen to discuss the Israel/Palestine conflict in the news. The actions of Israeli soldiers, even when it comes to the death of Palestinian civilians, are described as a military action to protect their people. The actions of Palestinians, on the other hand, are constantly described as terrorism.
I am passionate about telling my experiences to the world so that all will know. For all Abrahamic faiths, this land is sacred and important, and I am passionate about bringing peace to this most holy land. I tell people what I saw, what I know to be true, any chance I get.
I have started to educate myself on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and on the history of the region. It’s a lot to learn but I am determined. I came back home with my heart and my mind on fire. I would like to see more Christians educate themselves on the subject and not just believe what someone tells them the way I did before my experience. American Christians can change hearts and minds through prayer, seeking out Palestinians in the US and hearing their experiences, voting for people who are working towards peacebuilding in Israel/Palestine, or attending conferences to hear the voices of peacebuilders first-hand.
I’m just me. Just one person from Texas who was touched by my Pilgrimage to The Holy Land in so many ways. My hope is to reach as many people as I can and hopefully educate people on the situation at hand. My hope and prayer is peace and unity. This must begin with love, and I have a lot to share.
Let us pray:
I thank you and praise you for allowing me to make my pilgrimage to see where Jesus started and ended his life on this earth. I thank you for the opportunity to tell my story. I pray that as insignificant as I feel, perhaps telling my story among all the others telling theirs will bring peace to such a Holy place.
Lord conflicts are not started by children, but they are who suffer the most. As a mom and a grandmother, it breaks my heart to see the children suffer as well as their parents who are powerless to stop it. Lord, we pray over the mothers, the grandmothers, the children, and the families suffering throughout Israel and Palestine.
I pray for the Holy Spirit to fill the hearts of your faithful so that your love can be shared and felt the world over.
Lord, I praise you, I love you and I bless you.
In Jesus Holy name,
About the Author: My name is Debbie Dean. I am a 61-year-old living in a small town just North of Houston, Texas in the United States. I have been married for almost 40 years and we have a 22-year-old son, who by the way was born on our 17th wedding anniversary. I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior at the age of 16 but didn’t really understand what that meant and what Jesus meant to me until I went on a retreat in 2008 called The Walk to Emmaus. It was there that I learned what God’s love really means. Walking in the steps of Jesus has been a high priority of mine since 2008. I was able to make that trip along with 97 other American women and have been both humbled and blessed.
Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).