HEBRON: A House of Prayer for All Nations

November 1, 1999
Hebron: A House of Prayer for All Nations
by Ben Kenagy

"My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations".
Isaiah 56:7.

I reflected on this verse for some time before coming to Hebron again with
CPT in mid September, 1999. I decided to claim it here at the Tombs of the
Patriarchs [a.k.a. Il Ibrahimi Mosque to the Muslims, and as the Cave of
Machpelah to the Jews]. Both groups come here to pray, but not together.
They are separated not only by a physical wall in the structure dividing
it into two units, but by ethnic, religious, and cultural walls. This in
spite of the fact that they both have legitimate claims to be descended
from Abraham, the first patriarch buried here. The physical separation
inside occurred in February, 1994, after 29 Palestinians were killed while
praying there.

When I was here three years ago with CPT I re-read the stories in Genesis
of Abraham and the patriarchs and matriarchs who were buried here in the
cave of Machpelah. I am doing that again. But this time I also wanted to
claim these words of Isaiah. These words refer to the temple that was in
Jerusalem. Jesus quoted them in the second temple. He also told the
Samaritan woman that where you worshiped was not the important thing. We
read in the book of Acts that the early Christians in Jerusalem continued
to go to the temple to pray.

Now Hebron is not Jerusalem, and the Tombs of the Patriarchs are not the
equivalent of the temple. But Hebron is second in importance only to
Jerusalem for both Jews and Muslims in Israel/ Palestine. For Christians
it is also important.

Since this place is a place of prayer I also wanted to use it as a place
of prayer. As a general rule Muslims and Palestinian Christians are
restricted to the Muslim side, while Jews are restricted to their side.
Other Christians are allowed into either side. My plan has been to
alternate days during the week between the two sides to read in Hebrew
from Genesis and the Psalms, and to pray. I want to demonstrate that this
can be "a House of Prayer for all nations."

I have set certain rules for myself. I will be respectful of the
customs and rules of both sides. I will exchange greetings if it seems
appropriate. I will answer simple questions such as where I am from, and
if I am Christian or Jewish. I will not initiate conversation, and will
try to avoid getting drawn into a conversation. I do not want to distract
others who are there to pray. I want to keep focused on going to pray, and
avoiding giving offense to anybody. If this leads to contacts or
opportunities to get acquainted with Jews or Muslims I believe this should
happen outside.

I realized it would be easy to cause misunderstandings and suspicions from
either Jews or Muslims about my intentions. There was also the possibility
of being misunderstood by the soldiers. Some Muslims recognized me as being
from CPT and have welcomed me. Some others are suspicious that I may
really be Jewish. One day one of the Muslims didn't want to allow me in as
he had seen me on the Jewish side the day before and that I was reading in
Hebrew. I finally convinced him and the soldiers that I am Christian. I
have explained what I am doing to some Palestinian acquaintances, and they
seemed pleased that I am doing this.

So far [alas] I have no Jewish acquaintances. Once on leaving the Jewish
side a settler who recognized me as being with CPT made some un-welcoming
comments. On the Jewish side I have sought to find an open area by myself,
and have checked with the soldiers if there is a question. A couple of
times the soldiers have asked me to move so as not to distract others. One
day, after checking with the soldiers about where to sit, I read the story
of Jacob going down to Egypt and being reunited with his son Joseph who for
many years was thought to be dead. As I was reading, one of the settlers
walked close past me, then circled around past me again to go back inside
the canopy. Soon after an older Jewish man did the same. They both went by
close enough to see that I was reading Hebrew. The older one soon came back
and invited me inside. When I hesitated he insisted and led me in. That all
felt very good.

My prayer is that this "temple" will be a 'House of Prayer for
all People.' I pray that all the walls that divide us can be removed. I
that what I am doing will contribute to this. I covet your prayers.