by Johnny Zokovitch
Director of Communications, Pax Christi USA

View from the Shepherds’ Field, Beit Sahour, Palestine.
View from the Shepherds’ Field, Beit Sahour, Palestine.

I arrived in Israel two days ago, flying into Tel Aviv after a short layover in Istanbul. I’m here as a member of a Pax Christi International delegation, one of thirty in my subgroup, but, altogether, over 150 representatives from approximately 50 countries. I’ll be here for the next two weeks and anticipate that when I have time to write, my posts will address some of what I am learning and witnessing while here. A good portion of my time will be spent with people from Muslim, Christian and Jewish backgrounds who are working together toward reconciliation and peace.

For the next 7-8 days, my time will be spent in the Occupied Territories, primarily in and round Bethlehem in the West Bank, which is also where I am staying. Today was my first full day and it was equally divided between visiting sites of religious and historical significance and meeting with local Palestinians to hear their stories of life under occupation.

Our guide this morning made an interesting connection between Joseph, the father of Jesus, and Palestinians living in the 21st century. The backdrop for his remarks was a visit to the Shepherds’ Field in Beit Sahour, the site traditionally associated with the biblical story of Jesus’ birth where shepherds were first alerted to the good news.

Our guide admitted to an affinity for Joseph and recounted some of the traditions, biblical and extra-biblical, which are attached to him. He noted that while Joseph was born in Bethlehem, the city of his family and his ancestry, he was forced to leave it at some point and make the move to Nazareth. People didn’t leave their family and place of birth very often; to do so meant losing much that gives you a sense of identity and security. He suggested that Joseph left for a reason that resonates with many people struggling today in Palestine: the search for work.

He further asked us to consider Joseph’s courage, how he took to himself a wife who was not carrying his child, protecting her from the prescribed punishment for adultery: death by stoning. He noted how such a choice circumvented the rules of society and religion, rules which Joseph grew up with and in which he would have been deeply indoctrinated. Yet he goes against those rules to protect Mary and the child she bears…

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