Shabbat Shalom! Greetings from Jerusalem and Bethlehem to all of our friends in Greensboro! I’m now completing the second week of my semester at Tantur Ecumenical Institute, and the time is beginning to fly.

Sunday I am doing a thing I’ve not done before, and that is visit one of the controversial Jewish “settlements” in the West Bank, just south of Bethlehem. There I’ll be hosted by Rabbi David Zlatin and his wife Gilda, beside whom I sat in the airplane on the way over. The Zlatins are examples of a particularly hardy sort of Israeli, who at some risk for the long-term decide to take up residence in Jewish communities that the Israeli government has planted in areas that the United Nations long ago allocated to the Palestinians. By most their action is considered (under international law) to be “illegal.” So why do they do it? I’ll learn more about that Sunday.

In the meantime, what I already know is that (1) the Israeli government encourages settlements in order to buffer what might be otherwise hostile neighboring territory; while (2) the settlers themselves are often motivated by a strong sense that the entirety of Israel and the West Bank–which actually comprises biblical Judea and Samaria–is rightfully theirs, having been given to them millennia ago by the one God.

There is no way, of course, that the Palestinian West Bankers can see it that way. It just looks like an Israeli “land grab” to them. Hence the “Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.”

Last evening I had the privilege of sitting in on a debriefing session for a group of 15 American Catholic bishops who had spent ten days here on “A Pilgrimage of Prayer for Peace,” touring various sites and listening to different voices along the way. The bottom line from most of the bishops appeared to be that the political situation here seems intractable, with well-meaning people on both sides less optimistic than ever. Christians, therefore, must pray harder than ever. Three rabbis in attendance listened to the bishops as they declared again and again that they could now see that the problem is political, and not religious. One rabbi took issue, noting that any conflict rooted in people’s religiously-motivated sense of ownership of land (Palestinian Muslims regard the entire region as “the lands of Mohammed”) is by its very nature religious.

The bishops have to be right about one thing, however. In circumstances as complicated as these, true believers must look to God more than government. It is better to take refuge in The Lord, than to trust in princes (Psa. 118.9).

Till next time, Shalom! Steve Pressley

Catholic Bishops at Tantur Ecumenical Institute

Catholic Bishops at Tantur Ecumenical Institute