The shadows of four army transport helicopters could not have swept over us at a more ironic time. I had just read aloud, “Blessed are the meek.… Blessed are the peacemakers.” We were 18 American Christian journalists, in the Holy Land at the invitation of the Israeli government, sitting in a circle on the Mount of Beatitudes. There, tradition says, Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount. For a moment, the roar of the four choppers passing over us almost drowned out the sounds of our hillside worship service.

It was not the only time I wondered why peace seems so elusive in the land called holy. I had flown into a country of great beauty, where the very soil seems to give rise to anger and hurt. The fight over “turf” elicits a passion that is hard for many Americans, with their history of an ever-expanding frontier, to grasp. I was only scarcely prepared for the utter complexity of the claims and counterclaims made on the land where once Jesus walked. But I also discovered the longing for peace in surprising places.

There’s been a slight change in your accommodations,” Mike, our tour guide, told us. U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and entourage, due in town for a round of peace talks, were taking over several floors of the venerable King David Hotel. “Sorry for the inconvenience, but think of it this way,” he said: “You’re giving up your rooms for the cause of peace.”

If only it were that easy. Just outside Ben Gurion airport, where our El Al 747 landed, we had seen two Israeli soldiers hitchhiking. None in our group worried about safety. We would walk down few Jerusalem streets where we did not see soldiers, on watch, carrying M-16s.

Beside the road to Jerusalem, we saw rusted hulks of armored trucks, part of a convoy blown ...

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