"They want hope for the future..." Rev. Jessica Lowe Reflects on Israel

Mark Lambert
October 26, 2023

Rev. Jessica Lowe of First United Methodist Church of Downtown Lafayette lived in Jerusalem for nearly a year, working with charities and non-profit groups as a volunteer in 2015. From her perspective, the war news from Israel and the Gaza Strip is shocking and disheartening, but not surprising.
Rev. Lowe, who signed up with United Methodist Volunteer in Mission after graduating from seminary, worked mostly with Palestinian Christians. From her front door in Jerusalem, she often walked through a security checkpoint and into Palestinian Authority-controlled Bethlehem, moving from one world to another in just a few steps.
When Hamas launched 3,000 missiles from Gaza into Israel on October 7, Rev. Lowe’s thoughts returned to the Holy Land, where she lived and worked alongside Israelis and Palestinians almost every day.
“I was shocked in the sense that it’s always shocking when something like that happens. But for many years now, it (the Gaza Strip) has been recognized as the largest prison in the world,” she said. “It’s one of those things; when you oppress a people over time, and they have no hope, they strike back. I’m not condoning the actions of Hamas…it’s like, ‘What is expected of these people? What other alternatives do they have but to be filled with hate toward their oppressors?’”

Although the physical distance between the two sides is short, the cultural, political, and religious views are miles apart.
“It is an area that is very hard to live in the gray,” Rev. Lowe said. “People want you to be on one side or the other. There’s this constant pulling, where the Palestinians couldn’t understand why I was hanging out with Israeli Jews, and the Israelis couldn’t believe I would go into the Palestinian neighborhoods. It was kind of this sense of being overwhelmed, where people couldn’t connect…they can’t even hear the other side’s arguments.”
Rev. Lowe witnessed how fear and mistrust among Arabs and Jews divided the neighbors as much as the separation wall between Israel and the West Bank. And because she spent time with people on both sides of the wall, she also could see the similarities between the groups.
“In general, the culture of hospitality is much stronger there than it is in the U.S.,” she said. “I experienced that on both sides of the wall. People were willing to bring me into their homes, letting me spend the night; tea and coffee were shared all the time.”
Rev. Lowe said another commonality that neither Israelis nor Palestinians are able or willing to see is that “people are people; they both want the same thing. They want hope for the future, they want to feel safe, they want peace.”
But how society is structured in that region of the world “prevents them from building relationships,” she said. “Just the fact that conversations, I mean, legally, cannot happen. So, there’s a fear of the other side and a lot of times, whether people intend it or not, what we use to motivate people to dig in their heels is this motivation of fear, fear of what we’ll lose if we give the other side a seat at the table.”
It's difficult to nail down any one misconception Americans may have about the region or the conflict because “it depends on the American, what news they listen to, but typically our biggest misconceptions are about how we got where we are today,” she said. “These conflicts did not just start a week or two ago. I see a lot of people, especially among evangelical Christians, who say they are 110% for Israel. Most Christians there are Palestinians. There are Christians, our brothers and sister in Christ, who also are suffering.”

The fear, anger – and even hatred – have been stirring people in the region for generations, Rev. Lowe said, and the story doesn’t fit our Western standard narrative. “We want there to be an easy answer as to who is the bad guy and who is the hero,” she said. “I’m afraid I don’t have much hope because I don’t see a path forward.”
Rev. Lowe asks that Americans remember that there are “innocent people on both sides. It’s easy for either side to get really upset about children being taken hostage or children dying, but there are similar stories on the other side. We should be doing what we can to de-escalate the conflict.”

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