Tell Our Story
“Tell Our Story”
by Kathy Escobar
For many years, when I heard people talk about a Holy Land visit I never once thought of Palestine. To me, the Holy Land was Israel, and a trip there was every Christian’s dream. I assumed Palestine was an old term used to describe the land. I am now so embarrassed to say that I truly had no idea of the true history of this region, relying solely on what was taught to me in my conservative evangelical church or what I saw on the news.
My mom is half Jewish, and in 2013 her dream was for her and I to take a trip to Israel as part of engaging with our heritage. Through an incredible turn of events, we ended up joining in on a trip with a group at the last minute that had been doing work with Palestinians for many years. We truly had no idea what we were getting into but it was a life-changing gift I will always treasure. Part of our reading was learning about the realities of Palestinian history and the stripping of their lands and rights over time, but it wasn’t until we were there, on the ground, that I realized how much I truly didn’t know.
The negative narrative I had been taught about Palestinians was utterly, completely wrong.
Our trip was extremely balanced, a mix of biblical archeology, visiting holy sites, but also listening and learning from Muslims, Jews, and Christians, including visiting a kibbutz as well as several Palestinian Refugee camps. The more I saw, the more I realized how much I truly didn’t know.
An entire culture subjugated and displaced.
Land and rights and resources and dignity completely stripped.
A generation of people who have never lived outside of a refugee camp.
Systematic oppression that is completely supported by so many of our churches.
A complete misperception of Palestinians by mainstream media.
I will always remember sitting in a room in a refugee camp, listening to one of the leaders share about his family being removed from their home an entire generation ago, never to return. He spoke honestly about the reality of no jobs, no economic possibility, no future beyond the confines of the camp, an inability to use the airport or travel freely, and power, water, and basic services being turned on and off at the will of the Israelis.
If I hadn’t heard it, seen it, smelled it, touched it, tasted it, been there I’m not sure I would have believed it.
The story is so brutal, the narrative so completely different from the one I’d been taught. But the more I read, the more I listened, the more I saw with my own eyes during our trip, the more my heart broke open.
As we left the camp that afternoon, I remember asking, “What can we do?”
His response: “Tell our story. Please, tell our story.”
I went back to the states and started telling the story of Palestinian refugees and what we saw and experienced. I kept reading. I kept learning. I kept telling the stories in whatever small way I could. I started telling people, “Please, just read The Lemon Treeas a start. Look at the map of Palestinian land. Consider the possibility that it’s different than what you’ve been taught.”
Fortunately, when I got back from my first trip I was also able to connect with Suzann Mollner, a friend of one of my friends and someone I was truly meant to know. I asked her to start teaching us, sharing her experience on the ground in Palestinian refugee camps for many years. We hosted learning parties and ways for people to learn from someone who knows, to have the stories speak for themselves. Since my first trip, I have traveled back to Palestine twice, once taking another group who spent one year together, reading and processing the realities of Palestinians before our trip. Still, until they saw it with their own eyes, it didn’t sink in. My husband—a wise and skeptical guy as a pilot and lawyer--was on that trip and always tells people, “Sure, I listened to Kathy share but really didn’t believe it until I saw it for myself.” He was changed forever, too, and a year after our trip he and I took our teenage sons to Bethlehem so they could also see it and hear the stories for themselves.
I love hearing him and the twins share the stories now, too.
We’ve all been rattled in all the right ways through our experience, our eyes opened to the realities of Palestinian refugees and how little so many of us know because we don’t know the real stories.
I know that not everyone has the ability to go travel there for themselves, and I am 100% sure that the small amount we saw is not even a scratch on the surface of the stories. Short trips there do not make me anything more than a person who went on a short trip there and tried to learn what I could in a brief amount of time. The people we need to be listening to are those on the ground day in and day out, like Suzann Mollner. Listen to her. Believe her. Learn from the stories of her friends.
Above all, do whatever you can to learn for yourselves so you, too, can share a different story.
It needs to be told.
Kathy Escobar co-pastors The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver. A speaker, advocate, and spiritual director, she’s also author of several books, including Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and blogs at www.kathyescobar.com.