Israel and Palestine at Christmas

Trinity Church, Bedlington, supports the people of the Palestinian Occupied Territories through the United Reformed Church's Programme 'Commitment for Life', that seeks to raise issues around justice and development. The programme produces articles about life in the Territories from the people there, under the general title 'Moving Stories'. The following is reproduced from this source, with permission. If you would like to receive Moving Stories email . Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Trinity Church or of the United Reformed Church


Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

This oft quoted question by Nathanial in response to Phillip’s statement that he had found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, and Phillip’s response Come and see!” has become a personal quest for Valerie and I this year as we relocated from the UK to Nazareth at the end of March for me to take up the role as spiritual director of the Nazareth Trust (the operating name of the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society or EMMS Nazareth).

The Trust runs the historic EMMS Nazareth Hospital (which has been offering healing in the name of Jesus to all the residents of Nazareth since 1861), the Nazareth School of Nursing (the only Arab nursing school in Israel), the Nazareth Village (the recreation of a first century village on an authentic first century farming site below the hospital) and the SERVE Nazareth Program (a program for volunteers who serve in Nazareth for up to 3 months).  This makes the Nazareth Trust one of the largest employers in Nazareth with close to 600 employees who roughly reflect the current demographics of the town where Jesus grew-up.

As the largest Arab city in Israel, Nazareth has a population of approximately 80 000 people of whom about 55,000 (70 per cent) are Muslims, and the remainder Christians (28 per cent) and Druze (2 per cent). The Jewish population live in Nazareth Illit (Upper Nazareth) which is directly opposite the City of Nazareth and has a population of 60,000 of whom 85 per cent are Jewish (mostly Russian immigrants) and 15 per cent Arab (Muslim and Christian). Added to this complex mix on Nazarene residents is the constant stream of Christian pilgrims to the Basilica of the Annunciation (the largest church in the Middle East), the Orthodox Church situated at Mary’s Well and the Nazareth Village (among other attractions in the town where Jesus grew-up).

These demographics and the religious and political context of Israel and the Palestinian Territories make for a dynamic and often challenging environment to live and work.  However, in the nine months that we have lived in Nazareth, our overriding sense is one of peaceful co-existence between the various religious, ethnic and cultural traditions that constitute the diverse population of Nazareth. This dynamic is perhaps best demonstrated by the Nazareth English Hospital (as it is affectionately known in Nazareth) where Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Druze staff work together in an environment of mutual love and respect to deliver compassionate and professional health care to the diverse population of Nazareth and the wider Galilee region!

The School of Nursing also provides excellent education and training to Christian and Muslim students who coexist as a student body in a very positive way under the capable leadership of Dr Amal Khazin, the first Arab woman to receive a doctorate in Nursing in Israel. The Nazareth Village also lives out the reality of our unity in Christ in a profound way where Arab and Jewish Messianic believers work side-by-side as guides and villagers to provide visitors with an authentic experience of life in a first century village at the time of Jesus!

This is not to deny the deeper divisions related to religious and political identity which is an ever-present reality of life in this troubled neighbourhood of the world and surfaces in disputes from time-to-time. An example of this was the recent month long strike by Christian schools in Nazareth and the rest of the country over a cut in their funding from the Department of Education. However, what was remarkable about this dispute was the solidarity between the Christian and Muslim communities who stood together to provide a united front to demand justice for the Christian schools (which many thousands of Muslim children also attend). Even more remarkable was the solidarity which was expressed by the Jewish schools in Nazareth Illit who threatened to join the strike if the Department of Education persisted in their policy of under-funding Christian schools. Many believe it was this act of solidarity which finally resulted in a resolution to this protracted dispute!

Living in Nazareth – a few personal reflections!

We live on the third floor of the home of the Srouji family (one of the largest Arab families in Nazareth) which commands a panoramic view over the City of Nazareth and Mt Tabor to the east and Mt precipice and the Valley of Jezreel to the south – see picture from our balcony! We have been adopted as members of the family and have enjoyed many sumptuous Arab dishes cooked by Mrs Srouji and we will be celebrating our first Christmas in Nazareth with them on Christmas Eve (which we look forward to with relish)!

We were initially awakened each morning with the call to prayer from one of the many mosques that surround us at around 4.30am in the summer but thankfully now often sleep right through this early morning intrusion! The work day at the Nazareth Hospital generally commences at around 7.30am and finishes at around 4.00pm for the administrative staff and the working week is Monday to Friday (similar to the UK).

From our home it is a ten minute walk to the Nazareth Hospital campus through the bustling streets of Nazareth where you do need to keep your wits about you as Nazarene driving through the narrow, steep streets is a challenge at the best of times! Fortunately, the route to work is along a broader road with a sidewalk, which invariably has cars parked on it (which was initially frustrating but now something I barely notice). This makes a pleasant change to my one-hour commute from Northampton to London and the weather, although extremely hot and dusty over the summer, is once again a very pleasant 15 degrees Celsius.

Each day commences with prayer at different venues and a service in the Chapel on Wednesday mornings. My work requires me to remain flexible to the daily demands of providing spiritual care to the staff, patients and students in the different institutions as well as lead various projects to help strengthen and promote the Christian witness of these institutions in a culturally sensitive way without compromising the core vision, mission and values of the Trust. This has proved challenging in the religiously diverse environment in which we work and I have developed an advisory group of experienced Nazarene spiritual and medical leaders to provide me with counsel and guidance in this challenging task.

The Nazareth Hospital has developed a number of interesting social accountability projects in and around Nazareth including a medical outreach into Area C in the West Bank where a mobile clinic is in the process of being set-up to provide medical care to Bedouin and other residents of these disputed areas. There are also plans to begin treating children requiring corrective surgery for club foot and other impediments from the West Bank at the Nazareth Hospital and more information about both of these projects will be forthcoming in future.

Concluding comments

Based on the above reflections of our life in Nazareth thus far, Valerie and I can say a resounding Yes! To Nathanial’s question! There are still many good things that come out of Nazareth and we invite you, as Phillip did, to Come and See for yourselves by paying a visit to the town where Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and people!  Valerie and I will be delighted to introduce to the many wonderful people of Nazareth whom we now call our friends and to give you a tour of the Nazareth Hospital and Village and take this opportunity of wishing all our friends in the URC a very blessed Christmas and joyful New Year!

 Frank Kantor

Advent 2016