In early February, IPMN Advocacy Chair Addie Domske, led a group of young people to Israel/Palestine to participate in the Keep Hope Alive olive planting program with the Joint Advocacy Initiative in Jerusalem and the West Bank, and to tour the land, meeting up with activists and visiting holy sites. Over the last few months, IPMN has been sharing reflections from that trip. Many of the participants received travel scholarships from IPMN to help subsidize their travel costs.
Love is resistance
by Hillary Leslie
“More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.” - Henri Nouwen
Although it’s been a few months now since I traveled to Israel/Palestine as a part of The Olive Tree Campaign’s Olive Planting Program, I think about my experience there every single day. Before this trip, my knowledge of the situation in Palestine was limited; this was in part due to my own ignorance, but largely because the Israeli government and our popular Western news outlets silence and suffocate the voices of the Palestinians by simply failing to share their story. Since returning to Scotland, I’ve begun to realize just how much Palestine is referenced in the world around me; it’s incredible how the opportunity to be in the presence of others, hear their stories and see their surroundings, can change our perspective in a powerful way.
Two years before moving to Scotland, I was a Young Adult Volunteer in Belfast, Northern Ireland. On our first night in Bethlehem, we drove down to the nearby wall which divides Israel from the West Bank, and I started to get the same feelings in my stomach as I did on my first drive through the divided Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods in Belfast: sadness, confusion and fear. It was difficult to process exactly what I was seeing in Palestine, but it was evident that families, communities, and neighborhoods were being completely destroyed by Israeli law infiltrating Palestinian land. Just as I learned in Belfast, this wasn’t a situation of ‘picking sides,’ but rather wondering where love and justice fit into the picture that I was seeing before me.
Earlier that evening we attended a talk with the Olive Planting Program which was centered around the Kairos Palestine document, a call from Palestinian Christians which states: “Our word is a cry of hope, with love, prayer and faith in God. We address it first of all to ourselves and then to all the churches and Christians in the world, asking them to stand against injustice and apartheid, urging them to work for a just peace.” This first evening was extremely significant for me; it put the entire trip into perspective as to what it meant for me as a Christian to be visiting Israel and Palestine. I was there to hear, to see, and to witness the stories of the Palestinian experience, and communicate it to so many others who are unaware of the situation. I was there as an international presence to support Palestinian farmers to ensure that they could plant olive trees on their land. I was there to learn what it means to seek justice in the face of a government that doesn’t recognize the basic human rights of a nation.
Most importantly, I was there to learn another form of love: the love of resistance. Rifat Kassis, a Palestinian Christian and human rights activist, said on that first evening “[to] love your enemy doesn’t mean you love the aggression of your enemy. . .but love your neighbor means that you cannot hate your enemy but hate their deeds.” I learned that to love is to resist: To resist the building of illegal settlements, the construction of an apartheid wall, the loss of freedom to travel, the arrests of unarmed children, and the unjust destruction of towns and communities.
I experienced the hospitality and love of Palestinians when I was there. I ate, drank, sang, laughed and journeyed alongside them. I was present to their every day life: not only its overwhelming challenges, but also its many joys.
I saw that even in the face of oppression, their outpouring of love was overflowing for their friends, neighbors and their enemies.
For three days in the shadow of illegal Israeli settlements I joined together with other internationals and Palestinians to plant olive trees on Palestinian land: an act that symbolizes the resilience and strength of the Palestinians because the olive tree is known for its ability to bear fruit for thousands of years.It was an act of resisting illegal occupation. It was an act of love. It was an opportunity to be present and to be a witness to the reality of their situation. Justice is on the side of Palestine. It’s time for the rest of the world to be, too.
Hillary Leslie, 26, grew up in the rural Amish town of New Wilmington, PA, and graduated from Westminster College in 2014 with a BA in English Literature. She is a former Young Adult Volunteer with PC(USA), having served in Belfast, Northern Ireland (’15-’16) and New Orleans, LA (’16-’17). In 2017 after two years of YAV, Hillary moved to Edinburgh, Scotland where she is a youth worker at Mayfield Salisbury Parish Church. Hillary’s two years in the YAV program have significantly impacted her life, and she feels passionate about continually raising her awareness of social justice issues in our world and how it relates to her faith and understanding of God.