I’d cancelled my weekend plans in Tel Aviv and posted a dismal picture on Facebook featuring medicine and a medical thermometer – my latest plans for spending the Sabbath in Jerusalem. Not long after, my cell phone rang, an Israeli friend on the other end: “Since you’re in city anyway, you’re welcome to come for lunch on Shabbat.”
Or take the time I was playing the guitar in my local Jerusalem park. The park was full of picnicking Palestinian families whose kids – and then their moms – eventually made their way over to me. Everyone wanted to hold the guitar, try playing it, and take photos. Despite the fact their English was limited and my Hebrew and Arabic were far worse, I somehow found myself invited to a picnic table and given a pita heaped with a week’s worth of succulent barbequed meat.
These are just two instances of the hospitality I have experienced from Israelis and Palestinians alike during my travels to Israel, but I could tell more stories: the Israeli girl I met at a concert who welcomed me to stay overnight at her family’s religious moshav (community) just a few days later; the young Palestinian professor from Bethlehem Bible College who toured a friend and I and then brought us into her family home; the neighbors whom my housemate prayed for on the street and who immediately invited us in to drink something. Hospitality—welcoming in even the stranger—is a regular part of life in Israel, and we in the West would do well to imitate this art and gift of our Middle Eastern friends.
And yet the sad irony is that the Israel-Palestinian conflict is also a question of hospitality—can we welcome and allow the stranger, the other, into our Land? Can even the enemy come into my home? The unfortunate truth is that both reality and fear erect limits to hospitality. Assumptions, window bars, metal detectors, and walls block an easy welcome – sometimes needlessly, but often needfully. To love one’s enemy would, from a political perspective, be reckless, even suicidal. This is not yet a country ready to unlock its doors.
But there is one place in Israel where hospitality has already reached its most reckless limit, the height of love that can welcome in not just neighbor but enemy. And, strangely enough, this oasis of hospitality is also the most contentious and volatile piece of land in the country, even on earth—the Temple Mount. These 35 acres are known to Jews as “Har HaBayit” (literally “mountain of the house”) and to Muslims as the “Haram esh-Sharif” (or “the Noble Sanctuary”). Here, according to Jewish & Christian belief, God chose to set His name and even His very presence. After the consecration of Solomon’s temple, the Bible tells us, “a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:10-11).
God Himself is the paradigm of hospitality, choosing to come down to our home—this ragged, diseased, war-torn planet—and to invite us into His. And yet the Psalmist’s words show that to enter God’s house is no light thing:
Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart… (Psalm 24:3-4, ESV)
This is a high standard. Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, asked, “Who can say, “I have kept my heart pure[?]’” (Prov 20:9). God specifically warns Moses that even Aaron, the High Priest, was “not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil…so that he may not die” (Lev. 16:2, ESV) but only once a year, on Yom Kippur, in a ceremony covered in blood and warnings. And today, at the entrance to the Temple Mount, a sign posted under the authority of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel reads: “Announcement and Warning: According to Torah Law, entering the Temple Mount area is strictly forbidden due to the holiness of the site.” Who, indeed, shall dare to stand in His holy presence?
And yet, there is a lovely hope tucked in among the Yom Kippur instructions: the High Priest was also to take the blood and “make atonement for the Holy Place…[and] for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses” (Lev. 16:16, ESV). As we move from Yom Kippur and find ourselves now in the midst of Sukkot (the “Feast of Tabernacles”), we are pointed to a God who longs to dwell with, and to host, the enemy and the unclean. As a Christian, I see the height of this recklessly hospitable love in these words: “while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son” (Rom. 5:10 NIV).
I am thankful for the many wonderful Israelis and Palestinians who have welcomed me to share in their homes and lives. Even more, I am thankful for the invitation of God Himself to come, by the atoning blood, into His home and His presence.
 The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
 Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.