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A series of essays in the Episcopal Church

A Visit to Israel

A Visit to Israel

By The Rev. Dr. Ronald H. Miller

Our trip to Jerusalem had two purposes: attendance at the Fifth Annual Sabeel Conference, Responding To Christian Zionism and to be part of the group who welcomed Mordechai Vanunu on his release from prison.

In addition to learned and informative lectures on the origins and development of Christian Zionism, we heard about how Christian Zionism is interacting with and influencing the relationship between US foreign policy and political life in Israel, particularly in terms of territorial expansion into Palestinian territory and the general discrimination against the Palestinian people. The other part of the course was to open our eyes and minds to the reality of the Palestinian people. Through a number of speakers and artistic presentations the conference became aware of the spirit with which the Palestinian people address the problems they face. A visit to Ramallah included the Friends Boys School where, in addition to useful lectures, we were treated to a performance by an amazing youth dance group, called Bara'em El-Funoun. It became clear that such activities both give some hope and challenge to young people who might have little otherwise and give a sense of pride and artistic enrichment to their local audiences who have little for which to be proud. Our hosts had also arranged for us to meet President Arafat in his compound where he's been imprisoned by the Israeli government. The assassination of Abdel Aziz Rantisi meant that we could not take the scheduled trip to Bethlehem for the final day of the conference; however, the originally scheduled speakers, including Mubarak Awad, either came to Jerusalem to speak to us or were heard by a telephone link. This made the injustice of the Palestinians situation all the clearer.

The statement we adopted at the conclusion of the conference and other relevant information can be found at the following link. Sabeel is a progressive organization working to overcome both the abusive attitudes of the Israeli government, as that is supported by other countries such as the USA, and to build up the spirit of Palestinian people so they see other ways forward than through armed conflict and suicide bombings.

Following the conference, Mary and I shifted our attention to the International Campaign to Free Mordechai Vanunu; on Monday we went by car to Jaffa. Tuesday, April 19th the group had a morning planning session and went by bus from the hostel an hour south to Ashkelon for a five hour vigil. The police had set up a barricade opposite the prison entrance behind which we stood. There were a number of dignitaries who joined in the vigil and who spoke at the 5:00 press conference: former Presiding Bishop Ed Browning (accompanied by Patti, his wife, Jacob, his grandson, and Canon Brian Grieves of the national church staff), Susannah York, the British actor, and several local figures.

We were at Ashkelon Prison on Wednesday the 22nd, before 8:00 am and lined up for our vigil. ln contrast to our quiet Tuesday, there were many conservative, patriotic demonstrators who tried to drown us out and provoke from us a violent or combative responses. --without success. There was a massive press presence with satellite dishes and battalions of cameras with attached reporters. Most of the ones who talked to us seemed to be supportive. There were, however, a number of conservative political figures posturing for the cameras.

At 10:00 18 doves were released to represent release from 18 years of prison; Ron, by wearing his clerical collar, managed to be selected to join in this photo opportunity. By 11:00, the stated release time, police had crowds well under control. At 11:00 Mordechai climbed the massive gate to wave and give the peace sign at his supporters before holding a press conference which apparently had world-wide coverage.

The International Campaign committee, which had done good work on the arrangements, had arranged, with grudging government cooperation, for us to spend some time with Mordechai. The original plan, a private dinner at a Jaffa restaurant, had to be canceled when it was announced by the TV stations, (some of which were reported to be suggesting violence against Mordechai) when, where, and with whom the dinner was scheduled. We were taken by bus to a secret place where we all had a chance individually to greet him and to receive his thanks. The mystery site was revealed to be St. George's Cathedral. No dinner, but a grand evening to conclude an exciting several days.

There was much more to our experience and to both of the events, but this will do for a brief overview and summary. We are now back home tending to the usual stuff and trying to sort out what it means.

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