Reflections on Visiting Palestine 2023

Jenny Hartley and Fred Rogers visited Palestine and Israel for ten weeks in the spring of 2023 during an especially intense period of invasion and violence against the Palestinian people and isolated acts of violence against Israelis by Palestinians.

by Fred Rogers and Jenny Hartley

Living in Palestine is different than visiting it. Fred had visited twice—for ten days or more each time—in the past four years; Jenny had visited a long time ago. But living there for ten weeks was decidedly different. We came to feel and understand in a more profound way how the Occupation is practiced and how it affects the Palestinian populations.

Simply put – it is more than a disagreement or struggles over a particular house or piece of land. The Occupation is pervasive, coloring every aspect of life. It is oppressive and disheartening in a hundred large and small ways. It is brutal and too often lethal. And it is intentional.

To understand Palestinian life as being part of a ‘conflict’ or a struggle is to miss the depth and evil of the Occupation as it has been practiced. As devised and refined, the Occupation is intended to discourage Palestinians from living in Palestine, to erase hope for independence, and to debilitate, humiliate, and degrade individuals at any and every turn.

The Occupation is also heavily invested in making it possible for a small but growing (700,000+) population of Israeli settlers to live deeply embedded in the West Bank geography of Palestinian land. Some of these settlers are racist extremists, others are idealogues wanting to make a statement by their presence, and many are recent immigrants seeking subsidized housing.

The Israeli goal is the eventual occupation and settlement of all of Palestine and the dispossession of its Palestinian inhabitants. Settlement enthusiasts are persistent and growing impatient with progress toward this goal. Israeli military forces deployed in the West Bank protect settlers who burn olive trees, Palestinian homes, and cars, and they defend settlers against reprisals or defensive actions taken by the Palestinian people whose livelihood the settlers are attacking.

On our visit, we traveled by taxi through Hawara, a Palestinian town of about 8,000 people, approximately four and a half miles from the city of Nabulus on the main road connecting Nabulus to Jerusalem. A settler mob of more than 400 persons had recently burned dozens of cars and houses in a violent pogrom in that town.

We visited Nablus after the Israeli army had invaded the city, assassinating Palestinians they had designated as political targets, and killing or injuring a dozen others as collateral damage in a brazen daytime raid of this, the largest city in the north of Palestine. We took buses to Jerusalem, walking through checkpoints with Palestinians who were going to and from work, the markets, or the Mosque in Jerusalem. We rode the Israeli trains to Tel Aviv. We walked the streets of many cities and towns. We visited with colleagues in Gaza and witnessed the confining poverty and felt inspired by the good works being done there. Mostly, we visited with our new friends, had dinners in their homes or at restaurants, were informed by them and their work, and listened and relaxed with them in the moments afforded to do so.

During our time there both Secretary Anthony Blinken and Minnesota U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar visited Tel Aviv and Ramallah. They proceeded to assure the Israelis of U.S. support and to advise the Palestinian authority of their responsibility to curb violence against Israelis. They seemed oblivious to what we were witnessing.

We came away convinced that this is a time of great danger for both Israelis and Palestinians. The current Netanyahu government is intent on finishing the effective annexation of the West Bank and the further diminution of Palestinian life and liberties. The Palestinians are disillusioned with the Palestinian Authority and the youth are frustrated by what they see as the adult’s acquiescence to the Occupation. The Biden administration is disinterested in addressing these issues while continuing its “unconditional support” of Israel.

Time is urgent and the issues are serious and life threatening. We urge everyone to become more informed and to engage with this struggle for justice as you are motivated and able to do so.

Fred and Jenny are long-time advocates for the Palestinian people. Fred is a member of the First United Church of Christ in Northfield. If you would like them to speak with your congregation, contact Fred at

Photo captions:

  • Jenny and Fred in Bethlehem looking at a painting on the Separation Wall, contemplating their upcoming visit to the Dome of the Rock
  • The Red Sign, a sign Israel posts at every entrance to Area A, warning of danger
  • A picture of the Qalandia checkpoint – the largest in the West Bank – where most people from the north have to pass to get to Jerusalem.  You are not allowed to take pictures closer up, so this is from the car as we approached.
  • Jenny and Fred with Palestinian flag


© Minnesota Conference United Church of Christ | 2023