I have waited and reflected a bit since my pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine before writing something about the conflict between the State of Israel and the Palestinians. Recent violence in Gaza and the conflicting destructive messaging all around in my social media circles has compelled me to go ahead and get this written out. I want to be clear and I want to be irenic (peace-making) in what I say. I was deeply grieved and affected by what I saw in Palestine. I was moved by the daily plight of Palestinians in the West Bank having to navigate checkpoints and walls in their daily lives. I was moved by the stories of families and communities who were displaced and dispossessed in the late 40’s when Zionist armed forces removed them from their homes and lands and set them adrift. And what I personally saw was just in the West Bank, we aren’t even talking about the world’s largest open-air prison, the Gaza Strip.
As I process what I saw and what I have come to hope for, let me be clear about a few things. I support the right of the State of Israel to exist, I support it as much as I support the existence a Palestinian State. I would support even more a single state which granted full human rights and civil liberties to all the people within it’s borders regardless of race or religion. Sounds down right American, right? This is my left hand most days now, pictured to the right, with my wedding band inscribed in Hebrew and my bracelet bearing the Palestinian flag and the word love. I choose not to hate either people, or to ignore the needs of either people. My desire is for a peaceful, secure home for all the people of that land. I am glad that the State of Israel was created as a solution to the global and historical problem of anti Semitism and existential threat to the Jewish people which culminated in the Holocaust. I am aware of and terribly empathetic to the needs of the that time which moved the international community to sanction and support the creation of the State of Israel. I have no ill will toward Jewish people or Israeli citizens.
Now let me be as clear on the Palestinian people. They are a dispossessed and disenfranchised people, expelled from their homes, some into exile in other countries and some into lives as exiles near or on their own lands. As a group they were forced into this situation by immigrating Jewish families and Zionist forces, at gunpoint, and their plight has been one of the great injustices of our age. Even as the international community has leveraged it’s great moral weight and power to end Apartheid in South Africa, it ironically has ignored the similar plight of the Palestinians and their systematic and nearly complete disenfranchisement under an invading and expanding power.
The State of Israel has not been a shining example of democracy in the Middle East, but along with it’s achievements and progress as a nation and a military power it has systematically destroyed a people, occupied and dehumanized them, and never extended them full citizenship in their own land or anything near equal representation. When speaking of the Israeli settlements and occupation of Palestinian lands Henry Seigman (past National Director of the American Jewish Congress) only a decade ago warned us that, “As a result of that ‘achievement,’ one that successive Israeli governments have long sought in order to preclude the possibility of a two-state solution, Israel has crossed the threshold from ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’ to the only apartheid regime in the Western world.” <— source The Palestinian people have been repeatedly removed from their homes and lands to make room for immigrating Jewish families, and with the newest settlement under construction just last year, they are still being displaced and dispossessed, today. That great injustice, met so often with war from without and terrorism from within, has been the foundation of all the death and hopelessness we see, today.
That is what we call a 40,000 foot view, from up in the clouds. Down on earth today we have Israeli settlements, Hamas, the PLO, checkpoints and walls of separation, Zionism, the War of 1967, the Oslo Accords, armed occupation and terrorism. We have a human rights mess of titanic proportions including the most recent demonstrations for the Right of Return in the Gaza Strip and the brutal, lethal military responses of the IDF. There is such an enormous difference in Israel and Palestine today between the Israeli cities and the cities of Palestine, an enormous gap in wealth, stability and hope. You can wine and dine in Haifa, Israel, and struggle to find basic affordable medical care in Nablus, Palestine, on the same day. And yet in both areas we find human beings, families, neighbors, communities seeking a future and deserving one. We must take a longer view to find a way to peace. Solutions are not found in one-sided histories or focus on any one day’s violence.
If you choose to unconditionally support the State of Israel continuing as it has, then you point to Hamas and speak of a sovereign state defending it’s borders. If you choose to unconditionally support the Palestinians, then you ignore the indiscriminate terrorism of Palestinian factions and speak of the State of Israel only as an oppressor and only as an occupier. I am asking that we change this narrative to speak unconditionally of human dignity and equity, and about the needs of the future. The security of the Israeli people is bound to the security of the Palestinian people. Justice and peace for both sides must be founded in an equity of belonging, an equity of civil rights, and an equity of human dignity. We citizens of the United States learned (and are still learning) this lesson in our own country as we deal with the deep and painful legacy and resurgent reality of racism and oppression in our own nation as we are still learning to live together. We eventually joined the international community and helped end Apartheid in South Africa… not by killing the white South Africans, but by demanding equity and taking economic and political steps to stop the oppression. We must do the same for the Palestinians. This is not about killing Jews or destroying the State of Israel, but about ending the oppression upon which it currently has anchored itself. This is about saving the both Palestinian people and the State of Israel, for their future security and peace are inextricably bound.
As we recognize that the State of Israel was established to protect the human dignity of the Jews, we must also as honestly recognize the great human injustice done to the Palestinian people in that establishment. That injustice is the foundation for the narrative of hate, violence, terrorism and displacement which we have witnessed for the past seventy years and this very day. A new foundation must be laid for the future because anything built on that kind of injustice will forever be plagued by the violence, confusion and loss of human dignity we have witnessed. As we work to help change this narrative we must also deal with our culpability as a nation. Our money has financed and backed the Israeli military for decades. We have ignored the injustices done to the Palestinian people. We have rationalized and sided with oppression, and that must change.
Pray for peace. Mourn the dead. Speak for the future. Help change this narrative of violence and conflict to one of restoration and reconciliation. I’d like share some amazing voices I have recently heard met, and from whom I am learning about a future of hope…
Rev. Naim Ateek who recently spoke in Chevy Chase, Maryland, at St. John’s Episcopal Church and said, “The God we believe in loves justice and all people equally.” I agree. He’s an Anglican Priest, a Palestinian, an author, a theologian and no enemy to any human being. His books can found on Amazon right here!
Sabeel is the foundation for peace and dialogue which was established by Rev. Naim Ateek.
FOSNA is the Friends of Sabeel North America and offers ways to be involved with Sabeel and a peaceful way forward in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine.
Jewish Voice for Peace is an amazing Jewish voice for our time! They are a great resource for our peace studies.
I wish I knew an easy, concrete answer to making peace in the Middle East happen today or tomorrow. I don’t think that such an easy answer exists, but I do fully believe that a secure, peaceful and joyful future for both Israel and Palestine does exist. We have to change our thinking and telling of the narrative, and speak and act for that peace. We have to give each other the grace to grapple with these emotionally charged issues and events, and stay committed to arriving on the other side together. We must at all costs avoid the voices of one-sided extremism who call us to violence and to hatred.
On a personal note… I love my many Jewish friends. I love and appreciate our shared religious roots and I abhor the anti Semitism and history of racial discrimination that Jewish people have faced around the world, and sadly often at the hands of my sisters and brothers in Christ. You matter to me. The safety and security of people in the State of Israel matter to me. I also love my Muslim friends, a group which has grown in recent years and months to include Palestinian friends of both Muslim and Christian faiths. Your lives matter to me and the future joy and security of the Palestinian people matter to me. Never think that I fall on one side or the other, but only ever strive to be on the side of human dignity, something that each and every one of us possesses in equal measure by God’s grace. Renouncing oppression, disenfranchisement and violence is our way forward, a way to peace that will never be purchased with rockets, bullets, bombs or walls. The sooner we can help our respective faith communities, social groups and governmental leaders change the narrative, the sooner we can take real steps toward the future that we all need and deserve.
Ok, white people. It’s getting a little embarrassing out here. A string of recent events have caused some of us to scratch our heads and wonder at the audacity of your racism. You do know that when non-white people do stuff you don’t like them doing (like sitting, napping or having a cookout) that your dislike and racism does not criminalize their behavior, yeah? You know that, right? Because when you don’t, that same racism calls the police for no reason and even might put on a uniform and a badge and start assaulting grandmas and learning your life lessons the hard way… and that’s when we have to have a chat. Come on. Going after a grandma?
Wait, it’s not just adults and senior citizens… some white people will shoot at a black teen for asking for directions! We cannot look away. This is a stunning white sin on display, shameless and feeling very entitled. I wonder how many of our gallery of racist rogues linked above were at church, today? How many of them will claim Christ and a Christian life? I know I linked all the above stories, but let’s stop for a moment and say their names: Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, Lolade Siyonbola, Kenzie Smith and Ms. Campbell.
I totally understand the feeling that many white people get when these videos start popping up on Facebook and our news channel of choice, “Hey! That’s not me! I’m not like that! I’m not racist!” I mean, I’m not one of those rifle-toting Swastika-wearing (very fine people) nutters like those we see on TV and the internet! Well, good. But these episodes remind us that in all times and all places people of conscience who have a voice must speak. We all need to speak out in every social platform available to us: white supremacy and racism are wrong. Some may have the uncomfortable job of telling coworkers, friends and family to stop their racists language and behavior around us: don’t back down. Every time we remain silent we further enable racism and violence against our non-white neighbors, friends and family. This is an all-hands-on-deck, white people!
“The more deeply immersed I became in the thinking of the prophets, the more powerfully it became clear to me what the lives of the Prophets sought to convey: that morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”
Abraham Joshua Heschel, 11 January 1907 – 23 December 1972
The white sin of racism passed from generation to generation will not stop until white people stop it. We can’t legislate it away. We have to change white culture, white society and white people. No more excuses. Not being racist is not enough. We need a war on racism. We need a war on racism because non-white folks need to sit down sometimes, might become fatigued while studying and need a quick nap, and will surely enjoy cooking out on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.
“Each of you is now a new person. You are becoming more and more like your Creator, and you will understand him better. It doesn’t matter if you are a Greek or a Jew, or if you are circumcised or not. You may even be a barbarian or a Scythian, and you may be a slave or a free person. Yet Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us… each one of you is part of the body of Christ, and you were chosen to live together in peace. So let the peace that comes from Christ control your thoughts. And be grateful.”
Colossians 3:10-11 & 15, St. Paul
All of us, white people of faith especially, must be loud and clear in our condemnation and opposition to racism and white supremacy. There is no other way for us to be but loudly, clearly and completely opposed to this historic and tragic sin. Our weapons are love, grace and truth. Say it peacefully and say it civilly. But for the sake of all our beloved non-white friends, family and neighbors: say it!
It’s an old hymn, a melancholy hymn that begins with the line “O come and mourn with me awhile; And tarry here the cross beside; O come, together let us mourn; Jesus, our Lord, is crucified.” (Faber) Jars of Clay dropped it on an album a while back and now I’m caught humming the melody as I read the news and mourn again. Standing at the scene of out-of-control violence, let us tarry and mourn.
For all our wars we’ve fought, our deep national pride and our vaunted founding documents that speak of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness… we come here again. A place of violence. Images of jackboot policing that do not come from some history book about regimes we fought in liberty’s name, but from a school in our own country. A school. Mourn with me.
Mourn with me for what we do in our schools. Mourn with me that we create systems of violence and conflict instead of learning and participation. Mourn with me that adults can escalate situations with children to such violent ends, and then we have long discussions on what the child did to precipitate the problem. Mourn with me that we then divide and fight one another over why such violence is needed and who carries the most blame… we are all to blame. We are addicted to violence.
We don’t know how to give one another dignity and respect any more, so we are left fighting for the torn scraps of dominance. We don’t know how to be a community any longer so we violently police schoolrooms and throw children from chairs. We don’t know how to teach any longer, so students are arrested instead. Mourn with me.
Watch again as the student is thrown to the ground. Watch as she is thrown across the floor into a wall. Watch as the officer then pins her to the ground with his knee. Now, this is your daughter. This is your granddaughter. This is your sister. This is your friend. This is your neighbor. This is you. What did you just learn about police officers at the age of seventeen? You learned that they are violent, brutal and just waiting to unleash on you. You just learned to fear.
Watch again as that officer grabs a seventeen year old girl and flips her desk, hitting another student’s desk in the process. Watch the officer take a good hold, plant his feet and with almost a running start fling her bodily from the desk across the floor into a wall. Watch him again leap onto her back and pin her to the floor wrenching her arms behind her back. Mourn with me for this man. Mourn with me for his anger and rage that lashes out at a student. Mourn with me that such misdirection and rage is given a badge and a license to attack. Mourn with me for every single voice that will defend his brutality and blame his victim.
Don’t say, “She should have…” She did absolutely nothing to escalate the situation to that point. She was not physically capable of a fraction of that officer’s violence. The punch with her closed fist that people are taking about is the flailing response of a child grabbed by an adult and physically wrenched around by her neck. Don’t say what she should have done, for nothing she did or didn’t do was deserving of that response from the officer. When you blame the victim for the actions of the brutalizer, you rip away the last shred of dignity and respect from the victim. When you blame the victim you empower the brutalizer and set the stage for the next victim. This man is a monster of our making.
Mourn with me that this is America. Mourn with me that this is policing. Mourn with me that we’ll see the same thing today and probably again tomorrow. Mourn with me until we learn and grow and detox from the adrenaline rush of violence and dominance. Mourn with me until we see a day again when we can teach, live in mutual respect and dignity for one another, and create a community that is not fearfully policed and brutalized.
Mourn with me at the violent spectacle we make of ourselves.