The Holy Land Pilgrimage I attended last year immersed me in a group of 38 very different people with really just one common link – being Lutheran. I had never done a group tour before and was not at all sure it was going to be my cup of tea. To my pleasant surprise, I left the trip quite tearful having to say goodbye to so many wonderful people I had bonded with over those two weeks. One of the dearest of these was with Dorothy Beasley, a remarkable woman. She is a retired appeals court judge from the State of Georgia and has a lot of other impressive credentials like having served on the International Criminal Law Court. I can only hope that I will have as much spunk and half as many amazing stories as she does when I am her age. So, why I am talking about a pilgrimage from over a year ago?
Dorothy has a dear friend, Ilan Grappel who is a young Israeli whom she took under her wing when he was a law student at Emory (another one of her places of service). She was thrilled that he was able to meet us when we were in Jerusalem last year. We had a pleasant, albeit short meeting. Aside from the fact that Ilan is very bright and the even more interesting fact that he spent several months in an Egyptian prison while traveling there because they thought he was an Israeli spy, his mother plays viola in the New York Philharmonic. Anyway, when Dorothy heard of my trip back to the Holy Land, she immediately started e-mailing both Ilan and me to make sure that we arranged a meeting in Israel. I think that Ilan felt more a sense of obligation to Dorothy than any burning desire to meet up with me in following through with this.
The plan was to have lunch. As we wandered along the port, the one restaurant that looked appealing was the very one where we 39 pilgrims had our first meal upon landing in Israel. It was exactly the same crazy spread of probably 20 different little plates with various sauces (hummus and baba ganoush of course), salads and spreads. I had intention of retracing my steps from the last trip, but this was a very pleasant and unexpected exception. Aside from the annoying fact that I can’t eat pita bread because of a gluten intolerance, it was – again – quite delicious and the view can’t be beat.
The conversation with Ilan was interesting and challenging. I would say that in spite his liberal Americanized thinking he is a pretty hard core Zionist. We had quite a time sparring and I have to admit, he probably won the debate, just because he would usually end up throwing a “fact” at me which I could not immediately counter. At this point in my immersion in this conflict, that happens rarely anymore. and it made me realize, that I need to continue to do my homework. That said, the one thing he fell back on more than a couple of times was the old “why do you care about this conflict so much when [insert conflict of choice] is ever so much bigger” straw man. The example he used was the Indian/Pakistan conflict which resulted in the partition of India into two states. I readily admitted that I have limited knowledge about that conflict, although it is certainly much closer to resolution that this one, and actually did result in a real partition rather than a a prolonged occupation); but also that I wasn’t terribly interested in it either (You can only focus on so many things at time). But the most important justification is that I feel that as an American, I have a particular obligation to be activist on this issue because of the obscene amount of aid that my government, on my tax dollar gives Israel every year (over $3 billion last year, plus another $1/4 billion DURING AND IN SUPPORT OF the assault on Gaza this summer. This is all handed over with no strings attached as Israel continues stealing land that once was regarded by virtually the entire world as the future Palestinian State. And nearly all of our elected members of the US Congress are bought and sold by lobbying groups, among which AIPAC is one of the very richest and strongest. That is why I have no shame whatsoever in putting my full focus on this conflict and not others, as horrible as they may be. All this said, Ilan was very decent, he did not get upset or call me any names and, I dare say, would have continued the debate, as long as I had wanted. That’s a lot more than I can say for quite few other people who I’ve engaged with on this topic.
After departing from Ilan, I had another nightmare ride in my rental car. Getting out of Tel Aviv was fairly easy, but Jerusalem was as bad or worse as the previous day. I think it took me a full hour of navigating in the dark (my mental fog, that is to say) in the City before I finally found the car rental. I was saying my hallelujas when I finally got that thing parked, dent-free and deposited the keys. Again, my advice to anyone who comes to Israel is, do not rent a car if you’re planning to spend a lot of time in the cities.