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Rev. Ira Acree, the prominent pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church, 1256 N. Waller Ave. in Austin, said he returned from a recent trip to Israel something of a new man — with a much more profound sense of history.
Acree said that before he took his trip to Israel over the summer, most of what he knew about the nation's conflict with its Palestinian neighbors was framed by Western media.
"The papers can put a real European spin on the conflict and to get there firsthand and talk to people who have boots on the ground was eye-opening," he said. "I'm more sensitive to the Palestinian perspective and I now realize that it's more complex than I really knew."
During the overseas trip, Acree accompanied numerous clergymen of varying denominations, many of them from the West Side and western suburbs, including Rev. Marshall Hatch, Oak Park Rabbi Max Weiss and Rev. Cy Fields.
"The reality is that if you're a Palestinian, you feel like your land has been taken from you unjustifiably and that the Jews have the land and all the Western forces supporting them," Acree said. "If the adversary has people, money, military support and warfare, they think that, in an unjust world, they're getting justice at least by being able to fight back through unconventional means."
Acree said the Palestinian struggle has echoes in the generations-long struggle of African Americans in the United States.
"Really does remind you of the Black Panthers and other radical black activists during slavery, such as Nat Turner and Harriet Tubman," he said.
But Acree explained that he also learned to be more empathetic to the plight of the Jewish people and the unique nature of their history.
"Even though I studied it in seminary, it's amazing to really understand how some Jews are so bitter and hostile toward the Christian church," he said. "Hitler claimed to be a Christian."
The West Side pastor and activist said he also learned from Jews the importance of solidarity and historical understanding.
"I realized that Jews are powerful because they're unified," he said. "And secondly, they treasure their history, as painful as it may be. They will let nobody make them forget their history or tell them to get over their history, whereas in America, people from the majority community have a tendency to tell us to get over it or stop using history as an excuse.
"Many of us have been victimized by the after-effects of slavery, which persists," Acree said. "We're in a country built on white supremacy."
Acree said the Jewish people "use their history to empower them," and he would like to see blacks do the same thing. Instead of running away from the past, he said, African Americans should embrace it and allow it to guide the current struggle.
While he was in the Holy Land, he added, one contemporary figure in particular crossed his mind during what he described as a moment that was almost otherworldly.
"I had a premonition in the Holy Land," Acree said. "God spoke to my heart and told me, No matter what we try to preach, we better remember one thing — Colin Kaepernick is a gift to the black community, but in the end he's going to be a gift for America as well. His stance will allow us to stop trying to sugarcoat and glaze over our history and will eventually force America to deal with her original sin."
Acree said he carried this premonition with him to Washington D.C., during a Ministers March for Justice, convened by Rev. Al Sharpton on Aug. 28 — the anniversary of the historic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
"We had representation from every clergy group, every race, every creed, every major city," Acree said. "We were standing up against the hatred being spewed out by this administration. We came with the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'We aint' going to let anybody turn us around.'"
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