• FEATURES \ May 03, 2002
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    Israel And Palestine: A Different Perspective
Israel And Palestine: A Different Perspective

When we first knew Andrew Bush, he was a pastor in the small town of Taos, New Mexico. Now he and his wife Karen serve in what is currently the world's hottest trouble spot - the West Bank. They are in the village of Bir Zeit.

Bush is the director of the Living Stones Center, which he founded in 1998. It is associated with the United Bible Societies and serves the students of Bir Zeit University and the surrounding villages.

However, Bush and his wife Karen felt that for the safety of their family they should leave the area temporarily, so they're living for a while with friends in Jerusalem until they feel it's safe to return home to Bir Zeit. Bush described what happened when he and his family left Bir Zeit a few days ago. In e- mail and telephone interviews, he told me "We were able to get out of Bir Zeit just as all routes were closing.

"We had to drive over a mountain on a makeshift dirt road. The tires were smoking as we kept sliding backward. Artillery fire getting stronger behind us. Tanks rolled into Bir Zeit that night. We're now in Jerusalem, which is somber and quiet as this terrible tragedy wracks Palestine and Israel. Many of our close friends have been pinned down in their homes in the crossfire for days. We can reach some by phone. The family we formerly lived with in Ramallah, right next to Arafat's compound, no longer has a working phone. We're praying for their safety."

Bush said the students with whom he talked prior to leaving Bir Zeit are feeling very discouraged and hopeless. "It's been 19 months of steadily going downhill." Bush explained that the current conflict had its roots in an incident 19 months ago when Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon descended the Temple Mount and made a statement of sovereignty. Bush said to the Palestinians, that was a declaration of war. "It was a provocation so severe that it's sparked what has been going on."

Bush said that he had just talked to his Palestinian associate at Living Stones and learned that Thursday night "there is are dormitories of (university) students who on one floor are collectively down to 25 cents to buy food. They can't go outside. People aren't even on the street. Tomorrow Living Stones is preparing them food." I asked Bush what the Palestinian youth with whom he has mixed are feeling. He said, "The kids are very angry. They're angry at what they perceive the injustices to be on a daily basis and that the United States hasn't heard their voice. Many of them see no light at the end of the tunnel and that's where these suicide bombers have been coming from."

Bush said that some of the anger stems from what he called Israel's increasing occupation of the West Bank and the road closures through the West Bank and Gaza that are locking villagers in. Bush said that these road blockades have resulted in "economic strangulation" for the Palestinians. He added that while Israelis may regard their actions as self-defense that the Palestinians see them as "Israel's continued aggression to gain all the land."

I reminded Bush that this was not the usual perspective shared by evangelical Christians and asked him how he thought Christians should be viewing the current conflict. He challenged believers to get the whole story. "For Christians that come to Israel and make it on to the West Bank, they'll realize they've only been receiving part of the story and have been poorly informed."

He added that Christians who care for Israel should "move past a spirit of romantic idealism and begin to relate to Israel from a perspective of reality which is to call Israel to the principles of Scripture. That is to 'do justice, to love mercy and walk humbly before our God.'" However, Bush cautioned, the calling upon Israel to be a blessing to the nations will never be realized until it can be a blessing to its neighbors and love those whom it hates.

Bush said he plans to return to Bir Zeit with his family as soon as the roads reopen, "when we hope to expand into similar work and speak to more of the youth."