Tag Archives: Nazareth

Hamas testing the limits of hope

The fighting in Gaza between Israel and the Hamas terrorist organization that has picked a serious fight with our nation’s strongest Middle East ally is testing my once-unshakeable optimism that there can be a peaceful solution to this ancient conflict.

It’s Hamas’s fault.


Hamas has rejected an effort led by Egypt to broker a ceasefire. It has fired more rockets into Israeli neighborhoods, killing an Israeli resident overnight. Israel has responded with more air attacks. It is threatening now to invade Gaza with ground troops and armor.

It baffles me beyond my belief that Hamas would pick this fight. I am acutely aware of the ancient tensions and the dispute that goes back almost to the dawn of recorded history between Arabs and Jews in the region.

While other Arab nations and political groups have declared a sort of peace with Israel, Hamas and some others have continued to insist that Israel has no place in the region. They are fundamentally wrong in both a political and historical sense.

I don’t proclaim to be an expert on Israel, but I’ve had the high honor of spending five weeks in that country. I have spoken with dozens of Israelis about this on-going war with Arab terrorists. The only conclusion I can draw is that Israelis — on the left and the right — simply want to live in peace with their neighbors.

Hamas sees it differently. They want Israel wiped out. They contend the land occupied by Israel is Arab land. Hamas wants it for Arabs and will fight for it.

I won’t argue here what I understand to be God’s view of who belongs in the region.

Israelis and Arabs can live side by side in this place. Indeed, they do so within Israel’s territorial borders. Nazareth, one of the holiest cities in the Holy Land, is now 80 percent Muslim. Mosques and churches stand next to each other, on the same block as synagogues.

Yet the fighting continues. It has flared again because Hamas has launched rockets into Israeli neighborhoods.

The Israelis say they’ll do whatever it takes to put down this violence, even if it takes more violence. That’s the nature of the place they call home.

My hope for an eventual peace remains. However, it’s getting a little shaky.

Can His Holiness work a miracle in Holy Land?

Pope Francis’s tour of Israel and Jordan is getting some hearts fluttering.

It’s not just that the head of the Catholic Church is making his first trip to the Holy Land. It is that this man who’s been dubbed a “rock star” on the world stage might be able to move Israelis and Arabs closer to a peace deal.


The Holy Father will deliver a Mass in Bethlehem on the West Bank. Just a hunch, but he’ll pack the place with worshipers. His predecessor, Benedict XVI, delivered a Mass in Nazareth in 2009. I had the pleasure of touring the amphitheater built for that event. He drew an overflow crowd in a city that is now 80 percent Muslim. Yes, they came from all over Israel to hear it, but I think you get my point, which is that the pope represents something quite special to folks of all faiths.

Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have broken down. PA President Mahmoud Abbas struck a deal that gave Hamas — a notorious terrorist organization — a role in governing the Palestinian Authority, which Israeli Benjamin Netanyahu said correctly was a non-starter for Israel.

Hope is emerging that Francis might be able in private talks to persuade the two sides to resume talks. Indeed, there must be a path to peace and it well might take someone with Francis’s global stature to help the two sides find their way toward that path.

He’ll be there only for a brief time but, hey, miracles can occur in an instant.

Looking back on an incredible journey

The world, or at least about a fourth of it — the Christians among the world’s people — is getting ready to celebrate the birth of a baby who would come to symbolize salvation, grace and victory over death.

My own thoughts at Christmas every year since, oh, 2009, have turned to an amazing journey I was honored to take through the Holy Land. I was given the honor in May-June 2009 of accompanying four young people on a Rotary International Group Study Exchange trip through virtually all of Israel. Fernando, Aida, Shirley and Katt have become four of my closest friends and I cherish them more than they know.

We spent four weeks there traveling from Nahariya to Eilat, to Tel Aviv, Sderot and Ashkelon, to Nazareth and Caesarea, the Dead Sea and Masada. It was an amazing time. Then, after the exchange had concluded, I spent another week with my wife who had flown over to join me as a tourist. We spent the bulk of our time in Jerusalem, visiting holy sites.

But I think of that journey now every year at Christmas time and remember the things we saw along the way.

* Nazareth and the Church of the Annunciation, where the angel told Mary she would give birth to the Son of God.

* Bethlehem, where my wife and I visited the Church of the Nativity and the Shepherds Field.

* The Temple Mount, where Jesus preached.

* The Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem and Via do lo Rosa where Jesus walked.

Easter, of course, marks the end of Jesus’s life on Earth and the resurrection we celebrate.

This day, though, is to remember his birth.

I’ve believed my entire life in all that is holy about this holiday. However, being able to see those places up close and to walk the paths trod by Jesus himself makes it special beyond all measure.

Can you say ‘gig ’em’ in Hebrew?

I was thrilled to see the Texas Tribune story about Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp’s planned announcement that A&M was going to the Middle East to open a “peace campus.”


The Aggies are going to set up a branch campus in Nazareth, Israel, of all places. It’s the result of some communication between Sharp and Manuel Trajtenberg, an Israeli economist who’s had this idea of bridging the distance between his country and ours.

I’m fascinated for a personal reason. I got to spend some time in Nazareth in 2009 as part of a Rotary International Group Study Exchange team. I learned that Nazareth over the years has become a primarily Arab community. Much of the Jewish population has moved into the suburbs around Nazareth, leaving the city proper to the Arabs.

It’s also a city with some magnificent Christian antiquities, such as the Church of the Annunciation, where Scripture tells us Mary learned she would give birth to the Son of God.

Now the Aggies are going to set up a campus in this holy city, bringing modernity to a community that is steeped in ancient tradition.

The Tribune reported that Sharp visited Israel earlier and had lunch with Trajtenberg, whom the Tribune described as “an economist who has chaired the Planning and Budgeting Committee of the Council for Higher Education in Israel for about four years. In that role, Trajtenberg has worked to increase access to higher education for, among other groups, the ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities.

“’There is no major academic institution in any Arab city or town within Israel,’ he observed in an interview with the Tribune.”

The announcement hasn’t been made official just yet. Sharp, along with fellow Aggie, Gov. Rick Perry, and former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, will make it official on Wednesday.

This is a big deal for all parties concerned. Texas A&M University is establishing a tremendous foothold in a place where deep faith and bitter conflict exist in close proximity to each other.

Is there a better place than Nazareth to establish a university campus dedicated to peace?