NORTH NEWTON, KAN. - Bethel College students traveling with professor Patty Shelly during the January interterm trip to Jerusalem are safe, following reports of violence in the Middle East. "We did not hear about the bombings in Tel Aviv until late that evening," Shelly writes in an e-mail, referring to the Jan. 5 suicide bombings that caused 20 deaths and left more than 50 injured. "We had spent the day walking in the Old City of Jerusalem, particularly in the Jewish quarter and around the Western Wall. The vibrant Jewish life we saw in those neighborhoods contrasts in our minds with the tragic loss of life on the streets of Tel Aviv."
Shelly, who is leading her 11th trip Jerusalem Seminar study trip to Israel, Palestine and Jordan, is traveling with Bethel College junior Joel Goering from Silver Spring, Md., sophomore Jesse Zerger Nathan from Moundridge, and 2002 alumnus Phil Gratz from Bluffton, Ohio.
"Our daily experiences are making us aware of perspectives of both Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs in this conflict," Shelly says.
The next day the Bethel College group went to Bethlehem where the curfew had been lifted for a couple of days during Orthodox Christmas. Shelly and the others were able to visit the Church of the Nativity and attend Orthodox Christmas Eve services on Jan. 6 in the Church of the Nativity. The next day the 24-hour curfew, imposed late last year, was reimposed on the 80,000 residents of the Bethlehem area.
"The curfew creates tremendous hardship for families, schools and businesses and destroys any semblance of normal life," Shelly said.
Visits and shared meals with relatives of Jesse Zerger Nathan and other current Bethel College students have helped the travelers gain insight into life in the region.
"These opportunities to connect with people living in the region have been wonderful experiences of hospitality and have enriched our understanding of how people view the issues in the Middle East," Shelly said. The Bethel group also met three Mennonite Central Committee volunteers who work in Jordan and Iraq. After spending time in Galilee and other places, the Bethel group returns to campus later this month.
Shelly is professor of Bible and religion at Bethel College. A 1976 Bethel College graduate, she completed her Ph.D. in Biblical Interpretation at Iliff School of Theology/University of Denver. She has also studied at and served as summer staff associate at the Ecumenical Institute at Tantur in Jerusalem. From 1996 to 2000 she was MCC country representative in the West Bank/Gaza where she directed relief and development efforts.