Winnipeg couple encounters harsh reality of Holy Lands

WINNIPEG, MB - When Jen and Dallas Kornelsen joined a Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation to Israel/Palestine last fall, they knew they knew they weren't in for a peaceful tour of the places Jesus walked.

The newly married couple, residents of Winnipeg's West End, had always wanted to see the Holy Lands. But they wanted to go to the places and meet the people state-sponsored tour guides carefully avoid.

So they joined a two-week delegation with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), a faith-based organization that supports non-violent justice movements in conflict areas around the world. CPT maintains two outposts in Palestine and welcomes participants who want to learn about the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Dallas loves history and read up on the conflict before he left Canada, but no amount of reading could compare with the experience of watching Palestinian children humiliated by Israeli soldiers or sharing tea with a Bedouin woman whose village had been bulldozed six times.

Over the next two weeks Dallas and Jen said they encountered Palestinian people struggling to live their lives under the scrutiny and control of a powerful state that seeks for opportunities to build illegal settlements on their land, destroy their olive orchards and control their movements.

In at-Tuwani, a Palestinian village in the West Bank, they accompanied students who have to walk to school past Israeli settlements. Settlers routinely pelt the children with threats and stones. The Israeli government has agreed to provide military escorts to the students, but soldiers often show up late or not at all.

In recent months Israeli settlers near at-Tuwani have vandalized villagers' cars, destroyed their olive trees, killed their sheep and poisoned a well with dead chickens.

Last year two CPT members accompanying a group of unprotected children were attacked and beaten with chains and bats.

Nothing that dramatic happened to Jen and Dallas.

“One of way Palestinian people feel they're oppressed is that they're required to get permits for everything," says Dallas. He and Jen spent an afternoon helping villagers repair a road they didn't have a permit to fix.

“This is Palestinian territory and a Palestinian village and they can't fix a pothole in their own road," Jen recalls thinking. “How ridiculous is this, that we're doing this illegal subversive activity of filling a pothole?"

The CPT delegation also visited an Israeli woman whose son had been killed when a Palestinian gunman opened fire in a library.

One thing that surprised Jen and Dallas was how many Israelis oppose the brutal actions of their own government. A group of former Israeli soldiers who have come together to speak out against the actions of the Israeli military told the CPT delegation how they had been taught to terrorize Palestinian people by doing house checks at 2 a.m.

One thing that impacted Dallas was seeing buses full of Western tourists who were visiting only peaceful holy sites. “They'll be protected and see these holy sites and maybe have a spiritual and intense time, but they won't see the ugliness of what's going on," he says. “The fact of the matter is that the Jewish nation is being built on the ruins of a people group that is being subjugated."

It reminded Dallas of way the nation of Canada was built by suppressing its aboriginal inhabitants. “I wonder if we're just further along in that process here," he says.

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