Yesterday was Sunday in Israel. Since Shabbat ended Saturday at sundown, we were back to a full day of visiting some amazing sights. We have been in the north for several days, staying each night in Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee, and touring the Galilee area.
This trip is different from any other time I’ve been here. We usually started outside of Jerusalem and ended there. This trip we spent 4 days in the Holy City, then went south to Masada, the Kumran Valley, and to the Dead Sea. Since then we have been here in the north seeing Nazareth, Megdala, Capernaum, and today, the Golan Heights.
It may sound almost sacrilegious to say but Israel is so much more than just the Biblical places. To see only those is to do an injustice to this magnificent, vitally important, historical little strip of land. There are ancient cities and landmarks that are only vague references in scrpture at best. There are the miraculous modern accomplishments from a people that must, somehow, be blessed by God. And there are the places where we stand and recount the headlines of the last 70 years, even the last 7 days.
Today was one of those days. We sat early in the cold, morning air, and looked across a mine field, from the strategic location high atop the Golan Heights, into Syria, which occupies much of our geopolitical attention today because of the brutal civil war and the ramifications of the upheaval there. If we looked north of that we could just make out the mountains of Lebanon, south is Jordan, beyond it, Iran and Iraq. Sitting here helps put the news stories in perspective. This high cliff top, that Israel won back when it was attacked on 4 fronts during the Six Day War in 1967, is as strategic and vital a piece of real estate as you could imagine. Whoever controls this narrow ridge has the ability to shoot missiles down into the entire northern half of Israel, basically controls the water supply for the country, and holds the key to the gate to the north for any group that wants to come through. When we read in the papers that Israel would be able to live in peace if it would just give up the Golan Hights, it is like saying, “I could get along with my neighbors better if I would just allow them to park their car in my front door.” It is a truly complicated situation, but there are some solutions that we blindly offer that frankly, are just impossible for the Israeli people to allow.
One of the most moving moments of the day, maybe of the week, was our tour guide standing in front of us this morning, there overlooking Syria. Two burned out tanks were just to the left of us. He told us his personal story of defending his beloved nation.
Military service is mandatory for all Israeli young people. Boys and girls go into the military at 18, boys for 3 years,and girls for 2. After that, most of them stay in the reserves for another couple of decades, ready at a moments notice to take up arms and defend their country. Moshe was 11 and just leaving church, (He is a Christian believer), when the sirens blew in 1973, signaling the surprise attack from Egypt to the south, Jordan and Syria to the east, and Lebanon to the north. He told us how he remembered his father kissing his mother, his brothers, and himself, then running out the door, and for 2 weeks they did not know if their father was dead or alive. His father came home and held his boys and prayed that they would never have to face war.
Moshe was 21 and a tank commander when he was caught in a firefight in Lebanon. He told us of the scars that it places on your soul to k:ow that you are directly responsible for taking another human life, even when you know it is completely self defense, and absolutely morally justified. He remembers holding his two young sons and praying that they would never have to face the same thing.
They are both in their late 20’s today. They both have.
I was most moved when he said, “It is not wrong to kill your enemies when they leave you no other choice. What is wrong, is to do that with any kind of pleasure.” On a much lesser scale I thought of our own country today, our own political system, even our own social media. We so casually, so frivolously, even gleefully attack those that we disagree with. We tell our political jokes and post our funny memes. We destroy and kill in print and in conversation, with great pleasure, even we who call ourselves Christ followers. I wonder if it doesn’t scar our souls.
We ended the morning up there, somber, introspective. The last thing that Moshe said to us was, “We do not want to be at war. Please do what the Bible says. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” (Psalm 122:6). I am going to do that.
(I am not so arrogant to believe that my blogs are read by all that many but just to be safe I changed the name of our guide.)