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I–OPT journey home 2020
Thursday 16th January 2020 @ 5:54 pm

My plane got struck by lightening taking off from Tel Aviv this morning.

Just a flash, a bang, and a brief wobble. Followed by a few other passengers around me having that, ‘what just happened?’ face and body shape. Me? I thought, ‘I think we’ve been struck by lightening – but surely not – because that’s quite serious and we’d need to be turning around for an emergency landing pretty quick?!’

Two minutes later, the steward, rather sheepishly, came over the tannoy to tell us,

‘You might have just heard a bang – the plane was struck by lightening, this is quite common and is no cause for alarm – the captain will speak to you in a few minutes.’

He did sound a little perturbed, and the captain never did speak to us.

Yet, we all got home.

All good.



This however, is not the memory of the last week which will stay with me. Oh no. The deep feelings of sadness, empathy, grief and confusion all happened during another time. The moment where my hear dropped into my stomach and made a home there.

Genuinely, I cannot write about it in detail, as it concerns conversations with friends, who do not need their hearts spilled over the internet. But suffice to say, the conversations were with long time Israeli friends who lie awake at night fearing for their children. Primarily, the fear of sending their own flesh and blood into military service – military service they have done themselves, but which has shown them such deep horror (war will always do that to you) that they fear – FEAR – for their children.

Yet, they will do nothing to stop their children going into their military service. In the case of one good friend, they will do everything TO encourage their child into the military.

While lying awake at night, afraid for them.

There are complex moral anxieties:

Why should my child conscientiously object, while my neighbours children go and fight to keep me safe?

How would I be viewed if I am the only one of my friends whose child does not want to serve?

How can I teach my children to honour and love their country, while encouraging them not to do the service to country that all their friends are doing?

I live for Peace, I detest war, I love my children, I will encourage them to the military – and I will hold those things together, in deep deep sorrow.


A couple of reflections stay with me as I travel home:

Firstly, humans live on both sides of the Wall. The David and Goliath mismatch in power and military might, does not meet a mismatch of parents who fear for the lives of their children. Palestinian friends of mine lie awake at night worrying if they are making the right decision keeping their children in Palestine growing up under Israeli occupation, in genuine agony over the options for their children as illegal (according to international law) Israeli control increases. They feel the effects of occupation in education, in community living, in water and electricity shortages, in suppression of movement and so many other ways. And they cry ‘what sort of life is this for my children?’

Secondly, Israel lives and breeds a military culture like nowhere else I have ever been. And I grew up in Belfast. I’m used to guns being seen everywhere.

One recent conversation with an Israeli peace activist went like this:

Activist.  … for example, when talking about how a military mindset is all–pervasive in our country, I was in a town recently where the roundabout at the entrance to the town had three tanks on it! One pink, one blue, one yellow.

Me. They have a pink tank?

Activist. Your problem with this, is that we have a pink tank?  


Violence, military strength, overwhelming might, muscle through force – all these elements present to a culture only breeds one thing … ‘someone is always out to hurt us – and we will not be hurt.’

Yet, many of them lie awake at night, worrying.


It was devastating for me to listen to treasured friends express pain at their moral quandary – because the reasoning ended with, “What else can I do? This is the way it is – my child will go to the military, and I will not sleep. This is how it is.”

There are always, always, other conversations to be had. There is always going to be another imagination to be ignited. There will always be another corner to turn and dream to have.

It does not have to be this way. History teaches us occupations end – ‘how’ they end is the million dollar question.

Humanity at it’s best has an incredible ability to change families, change communities, and change countries. Humanity at it’s worst? God save us from us at our worst.


Former Chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes,

“The Torah places God’s covenant with Noah and through him all humanity prior to His particular covenant with Abraham and His later covenant with his descendants at Mount Sinai. Our universal humanity precedes our religious differences.”

Did you get that? Read it again.

The Torah (Hebrew Bible, Old Testament, call it what you will, it’s Scripture for both Christians and Jews). Our Bible has God making a covenant – a covenant NOT to destroy – with the whole of humanity prior to making a special covenant with the Hebrews. God reaffirms his choosing of humanity, before affirming a covenant with a specific people, who are to be a light for that covenant – i.e., they are chosen to be the people who show the rest of humanity what a covenant with God looks like.

Of course, the curving, twisting, beautiful, tragic, inspiring and transforming narrative flows through to the Christian scriptures where God fulfils his covenants by choosing his very self to be the flesh and blood of the covenant, thus showing the depth of Divine Life and Love, and making it beautifully and tragically clear what it is we are invited toward. What we are ALL invited toward.

That call is not toward fear, anxiety, protectionism, power, rebellion, guerrilla warfare, hatred or oppression. It is a call toward the other.

For some people, that thought is like being struck by lightening.


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