I send many of my students to the Middle East as interns. In fact, Wheaton College has an entire program devoted to student short-term placement. We've used Syria, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, and Egypt. I even have a student teaching in S. Lebanon.
But sometimes I worry. Could there be a conflict or crisis that puts them in jeopardy? On the other hand, perhaps such experiences are exactly what they need to truly understand the region.
Today that worry was realized. This morning I received an email from a student serving somewhere in the West Bank (location withheld) at a nonprofit charitable organization. This morning everyone fled the office and he was ordered to grab his things and head out immediately: The Israeli army was in the neighborhood.
The Oslo Accords divide the West Bank into three "zones." Area A is for Palestinians only -- their police, and their civic authorities. It comprises 17 percent of the West Bank. (Area B is shared; Area C is Israeli-only). The Israeli Army is not allowed in Area A -- an agreement Israel signed at Oslo in 1993. In other words: The army was not supposed to be there.
My student ran outside, stopped on the sidewalk, and there met armed soldiers and their trucks. One was pointing his automatic weapon in his direction. He froze.
It is hard to imagine a suburban boy from a nice Christian college digesting this. But the curtain has now been pulled back for him and he has seen (and photographed) what Israelis deny is happening. His early emails were all about how his Palestinian hosts were friendly and happy. "Nothing seems to be wrong here," he wrote. Today he saw it. His first real weapon poised for use. Aimed at him. And his innocence was gone in an instant.
Gary M. Burge, Ph.D., is professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. He is the author of numerous books both on the Middle East (Jesus and the Land: The New Testament Challenge to "Holy Land" Theology, and Whose Land? Whose Promise?) and the New Testament (Jesus the Middle Eastern Story Teller, The New Testament in Antiquity, and Encounters with Jesus).