Following the end of World War II, displaced Jews fled to the Middle East, settling in parts of Palestine.
On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, the Executive Head of the World Zionist Organisation declared the State of Israel; the next day war flared between neighbouring Arab armies and the Israeli forces.
The battle continues today and is commonly known as the Israel-Palestine conflict.
For many of us the conflict is everyday news; claims of bombings, shootings and terrorist attacks which feature on our television screens are viewed with horror but forgotten moments later.
However, for one man travelling to Israel, the conflict has ceased to be something he reads about in the papers, not only has it become real to him, but the Israel-Palestine conflict has led him on a path to evangelisation.
David Tunchon, assistant principal at Good Shepherd Catholic Primary School in Kelmscott, has been teaching since 1990; he spent 14 years as a teacher in the Kimberly and 10 years as a teacher in Perth.
At the end of 2012 he was offered the Easter Encounter Scholarship by the Catholic Education Commission of Western Australia (CECWA).
“Last year CECWA put out an offer for a scholarship.” Mr Tunchon told The Record.
“I applied for it, and was very surprised to get a phone call towards the end of last year from Deborah Sayce, the deputy director of Religious Education telling me that I had been successful.”
The Easter Encounter is a program conducted at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem that gives Catholic religious educators an opportunity to study, pray, share and experience the Holy Land.
The three week program aims to enrich the person and to give them an insight into other faiths, namely Judaism and Islam, and an understanding of their own Catholic roots.
After Mr Tunchon researched Israel, plans were made to leave so that he was in Israel for the Easter celebrations of 2013.
Before flying out he met with the other participants in the program for dinner, where they were blessed by Archbishop Emeritus Barry Hickey and given a book written by His Grace about the Holy Land.
“I arrived a week before Easter in Tel Aviv,” Mr Tunchon said.
“It was exciting but also terrifying; there are people walking around with guns basically everywhere as everyone has to do national service. There are 18 and 19-year-olds walking the streets with guns.”
Despite the change in scenery from Perth’s relatively quiet streets compared to the tensions simmering under the surface in Israel, Mr Tunchon did not let the guns faze him.
“My first week was the build-up to Easter,” he said.
“Going into Jerusalem was like going back in time; our first tour we went on the steps that Jesus would have walked up to go to the temple. It was a really emotional trip.”
Nonetheless, Mr Tunchon couldn’t escape the conflict, which has torn apart both Israel and Palestine.
“The Christians were celebrating Easter and the Jews were celebrating Passover,” Mr Tunchon said.
“Authorities weren’t letting the Muslims into Jerusalem so there were riots, thankfully we left before we got caught up in it.”
Despite the guns, sandbags, tanks and soldiers, the 15 people in Mr Tunchon’s group embarked on daily field trips, heard lectures, and studied and explored the ancient cities, including a four-day trip into Galilee.
One of the aims of the program was to teach the participants more about Jewish, Muslim and Christian celebrations, as well as enhancing their understanding of the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
“I knew nothing about it,” Mr Tunchon admitted. But once he was there he quickly grasped the severity of the conflict.
“Our guide had two daughters and his wife was expecting a third baby, and his daughters said to him ‘I hope mummy has a baby girl because if she has a boy the boy will play on the streets and throw rocks at the soldiers and one day my little brother will get shot.’
“The trip for me was to also bring back the story to Australians and to let them know that this is actually what is happening.”
But Mr Tunchon’s three weeks in Israel wasn’t simply a crash course in the conflict that has been raging in the Middle East for nearly half a century.
He also learnt more about his faith. “The trip was life-changing for me,” he said.
“I now listen to Bible stories on Sunday and have a renewed passion for my faith and how special it actually is.”
Mr Tunchon also discovered the similarities between Christianity and other faiths, which he found both perplexing and interesting.
“I didn’t realise how similar other religions were to our religion,” he said. “I was taken aback when we had a Jewish rabbi talk to us and a Muslim [imam]; there are many things that they think and do that Catholics do.”
One aspect that all three faiths share is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Over the years, all factions of society, wether the Catholics in Lebanon, the Jews in Israel or the Muslims from the neighbouring Arab states, have all been affected by war in the Middle East.
“Tantur is technically the West Bank but the borders have slightly moved because of the conflict,” Mr Tunchon said.
The most confronting part of his trip was his visit to Bethlehem, which he described as a “ghetto”.
“There’s barbed wire surrounding it, getting in and getting out was tough, we had to go through a labyrinth of security and the people are poor,” he said.
“Going to a refugee camp that has been there for about 40 to 50 years and seeing the living conditions was heart breaking; to think that this is where Christ was born.”
Mr Tunchon’s trip to the Holy Land opened his eyes to a raging war; his plane didn’t fly over any Arab states, instead it flew over the water in order to avoid flying over Arab countries, a significantly longer journey.
However an extended journey didn’t bother Mr Tunchon; the scholarship offered to him by CECWA was more than just a three week educational trip to Israel, it solved a three year problem.
“As part of the trip I went on a hike to Jericho, it was called the Wadi Quelt Hike and we were helping an 80-year-old lady and we took a long time,” Mr Tunchon said.
“And it just came to me beautifully – we evangelise our children like we are going on a hike.”
Part of the Good Shepherd school policy is an evangelisation plan that is renewed every three years, explaining and outlining how the school lives and reflects it’s Catholicity.
Mr Tunchon said after he had struggled for several years to discover how best to renew the evangelisation plan, it came to him on a hill in Jericho.
He paralleled evangelisation with climbing a hill.
“As we go through this windy rocky track there are tracks which split into two,” he explained.
“Which one do I take, do I take the easy path or the hard path, do I challenge myself?
“At times there’s no water and it’s dry and hard, we help each other through difficult times, just like we helped the elderly lady up the hill, so the pastoral care comes through and there are special moments where we rest and see the wonder and awe and it’s like going through our Sacraments.”
It was an adventurous trip for David Tunchon.
The large guns and military personnel no doubt stand out in his mind, but it was his faith which has deepened, he has a new found passion for being Catholic and he has brought back a message from the East, which can be best summed up in the words of Albert Einstein: peace cannot be kept by force, it can only be achieved by understanding.