“Sometimes, it's very hard to be hopeful [for Mideast peace],” the Rev. Jim Roynon said with a sigh after a trip to the troubled West Bank city of Hebron.
Mr. Roynon, 49, pastor of West Clinton Mennonite Church in Wauseon since 1988, spent two weeks in Israel and Hebron with a seven-member delegation from the Christian Peacemaker Team, a Chicago-based organization that strives to reduce violence around the world.
More than 220 people have been killed in clashes between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the last two months.
The CPT's slogan is “getting in the way,” which can be interpreted as intervening between opposing forces as well as following “the way” of Jesus.
Mr. Roynon and six other delegates, chosen from applicants throughout the United States and Canada, met with Israeli and Palestinian officials, leaders of religious groups, ordinary citizens, and refugees during their two-week trip.
“We served as an observation team looking into human rights and justice issues,” said Mr. Roynon, who arrived home in Wauseon on Monday.
The delegates were not always welcomed with open arms by Jewish settlers.
“I don't think I've ever been called a Nazi before but that's one of the nicer things I was called [in Hebron],” Mr. Roynon said.
The delegation was pelted with stones, some had excrement thrown on them, and one CPT delegate was kicked and shoved. But, Mr. Roynon pointed out, none of them was shot at - “at least not directly.”
“The Jewish settlers in Hebron really feel that the Christian Peacemaker Team is against them because it looks like we are taking the Palestinians' side. And we're not. The CPT doesn't take sides. It just wants to be sure that justice, peace, and conflict resolution can take place.”
The volatile area has been under Israeli occupation since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Mr. Roynon said, and although Israel has yielded control of some land to the Palestinians, “it's only bits and pieces and they're surrounded by Israeli forces.”
Reconciliation is needed on both sides if peace is ever to become a reality in that region, he said, but the biggest stumbling block, from the CPT delegate's observations, is Israeli's continued occupation of Palestinian land.
“One of the things that everyone said - Israelis and Palestinians, Muslims and Christians alike - was that the occupation has to end in order for anything to take place.”
Mr. Roynon, who was making his second trip to Israel, said the vast majority of people the CPT encountered were “very gracious, hospitable, and friendly.”
“It's just a really bad situation ... but there are good people on both sides who want reconciliation and who want peace,” Mr. Roynon said. “Of course, there are fanatics on both sides, and the fanatics are the hardest to deal with.”
After getting a firsthand look at the situation, Mr. Roynon is convinced the media in the United States do not report fairly and completely on the Mideast situation.
“The coverage does not even come close to giving a full picture of what's happening,” he said. “The coverage in the United Sates tends to look at the violence and, I think, tends to characterize Palestinians as terrorists and Israelis as good people trying to fight off the terrorists. And that is not the case at all. In the USA, rightly or wrongly, it's a time of `soundbites,' and you can't really cover a situation like that when you get maybe 15 seconds on the air.”
Kryss Chupp, training coordinator for the Christian Peacemakers Team, said the organization was founded in 1987 and has two full-time teams, one in Hebron and the other in Chiapas, Mexico. The CPT has previously sent delegations to South Dakota; Washington, D.C.; Richmond, Va.; Ontario, Canada; Haiti; Puerto Rico; Colombia; Bosnia; and Chechnya.
While the organization is sponsored by Mennonites, Quakers, and Church of the Brethren, participation in CPT teams is open to all Christians, Ms. Chupp said from the group's Chicago headquarters.
- DAVID YONKE