By Eileen Fleming
Everything is connected and when it comes to Israel Palestine: America is deeply connected!
The act that hurt or offended might always remain a part of your life, but forgiveness can lessen its grip…Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you deny the other person’s responsibility for hurting you, and it doesn’t minimize or justify the wrong. You can forgive the person without excusing the act.
Well it’s all right, [ALL the] times you gotta be strong
Well it’s all right, even if you’re old and gray
Well it’s all right, you still got something to say
Well it’s all right, remember to live and let live
Well it’s all right, the best you can do is forgive
In May of 2005, just prior to my first [of eight] trips to Israel Palestine I phoned Mother Agapia Stephanopolous, a Russian Orthodox nun and the administrator of the Orthodox School of Bethany in Jerusalem, to schedule an appointment for Spiritual Direction and to discuss our mutual feelings about The Wall.
Mother Agapia is the sister of ABC News commentator, George Stephanopolous, and she had recently and passionately informed Congress about the fact that, “Israel is destroying the local Christian community.”
In April 2005, Robert Novak’s article “Walling off Christianity” reported on the nun’s letter to Congress and how East Jerusalem had been cut off from the rest of the West Bank. Mother Agapia predicted, “It is only a matter of time before Christians and Muslims will be unable to survive culturally and economically.”
Mother Agapia spoke bluntly about the nine yards high wall of Israeli concrete that have “shattered” the Christian communities.
She told Novak, “I witness the strangulation of East Jerusalem, and the deprivation of her non-Jewish residents’ religious rights every day. Even the United States seems to have been taken in by Israeli spin.”
On my very first afternoon in Jerusalem, on June 12, 2005, the nun met me at the Ambassador Hotel in East Jerusalem and I told her that I hadn’t been taken in by the spin, but what could I possibly do?
She had no answer-but when I returned to USA I established WeAreWideAwake.org to raise awareness of what the USA media was not reporting and what the USA government was not wanting American citizens to know: such as the Christian EXODUS from the Holy Land!
I also told Mother Agapia of the surreal experience I had that very morning while wandering around in the Old City.
I had landed in Tel Aviv with ten other members of the interfaith Olive Trees Foundation for Peace just a few hours before dawn on that Sunday morn.
We all checked into our rooms at the Ambassador; they all crashed, but I was wide awake.
As soon as the sun rose I began to explore, and after attending mass at St.George Cathedral I wandered around the Old City, which was eerily empty.
I stumbled upon the site of the Pool of Bethsaida and experienced déjà vu, which was more real than imaginary.
Between 2000 and 2001, I was a first year student in the Episcopal Diocese of Orlando’s Formation Program for Spiritual Directors. I knew going into the program I would never be hanging out a shingle as a Spiritual Director that I was there for other reasons. I was drawn to the program because of the curriculum; to deepen my prayer life and study the lives of the saints. During the first year all the students attended three weekend retreats.
On the second night of the second retreat, we had a guided meditation on the story of Jesus at the Pool of Bethsaida.
I remember it as clearly now as I experienced it then.
There were seven of us in the class and we were instructed to close our eyes, listen to the story and allow our imagination to lead us to respond to the character that called to us.
Our leader prefaced the story from John 5:1-6, by telling the legend of the angel from heaven who would descend and agitate the waters of the Pool of Bethsaida.
Only the first leper, blind, or invalid who made it into the water would receive a healing.
One day while Jesus was there, he walked by a man who had been paralyzed for thirty-eight years.
Jesus asked him, “Do you want to be healed?”
The man answered he had no friends to help him get into the water first.
Jesus asked him again, “Do you want to be healed?”
Our leader then went silent, and in my imagination I was immediately upon the back of that agitating angel!
I hadn’t thought of that experience until four years later when I found myself at the site of the Pool of Bethsaida.
What triggered the memory of that guided meditation was the recollection of a dream I had had a few weeks after that day we call 9/11.
In my dream I had stood at the edge of a dried up pool where crumbling stone columns were overgrown with vines and weeds and scores of doves and pigeons nested and flew.
To my right was a large shade tree, but to my left I saw a few square squat dwellings with large satellite dishes attached to them.
I remembered thinking the moment I woke up from that dream what a strange place it was, but then I quickly forgot all about it.
That is, until the afternoon of June 12, 2005, four years later, when I found myself standing at the edge of a dried up pool where crumbling stone columns were overgrown with vines and weeds and scores of doves and pigeons nested and flew. To my right was a large shade tree, but to my left I saw a few square squat dwellings with large satellite dishes attached to them. What a strange place I thought, how could it be that I had seen this scene in a dream a few weeks after that day we call 9/11?
I told Mother Agapia about my dream and what I had seen at the Pool of Bethsaida.
She shrugged and smiled, then told me about the Jerusalem Interfaith Peace Conference with satellite link to the world that was happening the Sunday after the Thursday I was scheduled to return to the USA. I knew immediately that I needed to attend and after saying goodbye to Mother Agapia, I phoned my husband to get his OK.
On June 26, 2005, I attended the world wide satellite linked Interfaith Peace Conference at Jerusalem’s Notre Dame Cathedral. Dan Rather moderated from Washington DC and the Holy Land interfaith panel were all moderates attempting to reclaim the battlefield of ideas from extremists on both sides.
Reverend Theodore Hessburgh, President Emeritus University of Notre Dame began the evening with a pledge and a summons:
“The Peace of the world begins in Jerusalem.”
Dr. Tsvia Walden, Board of Director of the Peres Center and Geneva Initiative stated:
“There is a need for a third party in the negotiations that could enable both sides to trust each other. There are more people in this region interested in making concessions, they all want peace so desperately.”
The Coordinator of World Bank emergency services to the PA, Rania Kharma encouraged me:
“We all need to be the bridges to our leaders that justice, equality, and human rights will bring peace. Give people justice and they will reward you with peace.”
Sheik Imad Falouiji warned:
“Religions must go back to their origins. God commands us to love each other and live together. This Holy Land was given to all people. This land is on fire. There is an occupation that must be removed. The language of peace cannot succeed without justice for all.”
The Rt. Rev. Bishop Riah Abu Assal inspired me:
Peace is an act.
Blessed are the peacemakers not the peace talkers.
Peace is possible in the Holy Land.
The root cause for the lack of peace since 1967 is the occupation.
For peace to make progress in the Middle East we need to deal with the root cause.
Religion was not meant to bring death.
All those involved in searching for peace should commit themselves to work for justice and truth.
Throughout the entire evening, I kept remembering what President Bush promised in his Second Inaugural Address:
In the long run, there is no justice without FREEDOM.There can be no human rights without LIBERTY. All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know the United States will not ignore your oppression or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for liberty, we stand with you.
Also during my first mind blowing and heart breaking trip to Israel Palestine, I began a series of interviews with Israel’s Nuclear Whistle Blower Mordechai Vanunu who issued this invitation to Hillary Clinton and “all the Christians to come and see the real Wailing Wall: The Apartheid Wall” taped a few weeks after his FREEDOM of SPEECH Trial began in 2006 -and which culminated in 78 days back in solitary in 2010 because he spoke to foreign media in 2004!
Man made walls can fall in a day; but the walls in men’s minds and hearts can only fall when forgiveness enters.
Good and Evil cut through every human heart and all FREE WILL means is we get to choose which rules ours.
- Pollard Free in Israel: Vanunu Remains Captive - January 3, 2021
- Response to Israeli expert on whistleblowers and The Matter of Mordechai Vanunu - September 19, 2020
- America’s 19th 9/11, Stand or Fall - September 3, 2020