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From Hicksville To Hebron: Pastor Visits Middle East

Parkway Community Church’s Hank Lay

speaks with Palestinian, Israeli Christians

Though Harold “Hank” Lay missed out on Superstorm Sandy while in the Middle East, the Parkway Community Church pastor observed tumult of a different kind.

Lay, a 10-year pastor at Parkway Community Church, which recently combined with the Levittown Community Church, left the United States on Oct. 23 for Palestine as part of the Christian Peacemaker Teams organization, a group dedicated to spreading nonviolence throughout areas of conflict throughout the world.

Through Nov. 4, Lay and his group visited Jerusalem, Hebron and Bethlehem and spoke to Christians living in Israel and Palestine.

“I was with a team that was trying to present a position paper of our denominational response to the request of Christians in America to ask American churches to be supportive of them, as they get overlooked in the massive American support of Israel. It’s seen as a Jewish and Muslim conflict,” Lay explained.

At age 19, Lay witnessed the Six Day War in June 1967 as an American citizen and student at the American University in Beirut, Lebanon.

“I’ve been dealing with the Middle East-Palestinian issue for 45 years. Lost in the shuffle are the common Israelis and Palestinians who want peace, but it just doesn’t happen. It’s not unique to Palestine and Israel – it’s everywhere in the world,” said Lay.

Lay said he began his trip by interacting with Israeli activists who feel that their government’s treatment of Palestinians is unjust. He then visited Hebron, where they lived among the Palestinians in the old city.

“Part of the tension in Hebron for extreme Israelis, many of whom come from the United States, is that they believe God gave the land to the Jews exclusively 3,000 years ago. Their tasks are to form settlements to begin retaking the land, so they try to buy out or force out Palestinians that are next to the settlement and keep expanding.

“The extremist’s ultimate solution is for all Palestinians to leave Palestine and for it to be exclusively Jewish. That makes any two-state solution ultimately impossible,” Lay explained.

On the Palestinian side, Lay said he talked with Christians seeking non-violent solutions.

“The reality is, of the wider political realm, which included the Gaza War, and the eight-day war a few weeks ago, is that the non-violent Jews, Palestinians and Christians are being squeezed out. The politics does not go the direction of non-violence – it goes the direction of who has got the biggest club,” Lay said.

The pastor said he was aware of the realities facing Israelis and Palestinians but that seeing them firsthand gave him a better understanding of how citizens react to military occupation.

“Elementary school children have to go through one or two checkpoints each day. There are no laws in this world that really control armies, so they do as they please.

“Every country violates human rights in the name of security and Israel is doing that. I knew that beforehand but got to see it firsthand and got to speak to those who have to live through it every day,” said Lay.

While Lay said that Israelis “were aware of some of the occupational injustices,” many felt their safety, though at a price, is a necessity.

“Many [Israelis] said, ‘I’m really sorry the Palestinians have it so hard, but I feel safer.’ In America, since 9/11, with the Patriot Act, the presence of military in Times Square, etc. in the name of safety, citizens allow their government to do things they agree are unjust or unfair, but they make them feel safer,” Lay explained.

For more information, visit www.parkway church.org or www.cpt.org.