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.