I couldn’t sleep this morning. I kept seeing images of Gaza. As I’ve followed the most recent military conflict between the IDF and Hamas, I’ve wanted to speak out but have been hesitant. I learned very quickly after returning home from a college semester in the Middle East how unpopular my thoughts on the conflict were, particularly with many dear people within the Christian community. Questioning Israeli action is paramount to questioning God in some circles.
Yet, one particular face compels me.
I looked through all my pictures this week. I saw the photos from the Pyramids at Giza, the walk in the Galilee, the felucca ride on the Nile, the holiday by the Red Sea, and the hike up Mt. Sinai. Yet some of my strongest memories have very few pictures to document them. Maybe it was simply that it was a pre-smart phone world. Maybe some moments just seem too sacred. I couldn’t find any pictures of the Shabbat meal we shared with an Israeli family or the college students we visited with at the Palestinian Birzeit University. There were young girls in Gaza who we spent time watching sew at a community center of some kind. I cannot find pictures or notes to help me remember. Yet they are burned in my mind.
I found two pictures from my time in Gaza. One is of an older lady in her “kitchen” and the other is of a dirt road running through a refugee camp near Gaza City.
This sweet lady welcomed us into her home and showed us a key. Translators explained that this was the key to her parent’s house in a portion of Israel-Palestine that was conquered by Israel in the 1948 “Al-Nakba,” meaning “the Catastrophe.” This is the term that Palestinians use for the conflict in the wake of the United Nations Partition and British withdrawal from the Mandate of Palestine in that year. Israelis call the same conflict “The War for Independence.” Words have power, you know.
While I will not claim to be an expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, having met many legitimate experts, I have enough knowledge to be dangerous. I spent the fall semester of 1998 in Egypt, traveling to Israel-Palestine, Jordan, Syria, and Turkey. I wrote an undergraduate thesis entitled, Just Peace: A Proposition for Reconciliation in the Context of Justice in Israel-Palestine in 2001, and finished my master’s thesis, entitled Reconciling National Narratives: Constructing Peace through Education in Israel-Palestine, in 2009. I write this to acknowledge that I am still a student of this conflict, but one with a bit of experience on the ground and in research. Though I am not an expert, I cannot stay silent as I watch the coverage of the recent bloodshed. I cannot hold my tongue.
Some things I believe…
1. There are not just two sides. While you might be able to say there is an “official” Israeli or Palestinian position on something, it can be contradicted my numerous other viewpoints. It would be like saying, “Americans believe…” Too much media speaks for these groups as if there is one homogenous voice.
2. Propaganda is plentiful on ALL sides of this conflict. Check the sources or the language to identify bias. If you watch a video that repeatedly refers to The War of Independence, rather than Al-Nakba “The Catastrophe,” I’m sure you can guess the perspective it probably represents. [Refer to earlier paragraphs. Good student.] In a search on YouTube, there are a plethora of video explanations, some professionally done and quite convincing. These are a couple that I’ve seen posted on Facebook by well-meaning Christians to justify support of Israel.
These videos are technically very well-done but make little effort to represent the motivations behind particular Palestinian and Arab actions, leaving a viewer that doesn’t know any better with an incredibly one-sided view of this conflict.
For example, looking at the situation now it seems ridiculously stupid that Palestinian leaders (or really Arab leaders) did not accept the earlier land divisions. However, imagine that your people group had the majority population in a land that had been occupied by foreign empires/nations. It was finally going to be given self-determination and the occupying/international community said, “Well, you can have part of it but you need to give a chunk to these other people that want to come in that, frankly, we don’t want to let come into our countries to escape persecution. Yeah, you were expecting 100% but you should just take 80% (or later 50%). And if you have citizens and cities in those areas, you better move them out because this is going to be a country for just one people group, and it isn’t yours.” Is it surprising that war erupted?
They also include many horrifying anti-Semitic quotes. These legitimately reveal anti-Semitism and bias on the part of many Arab leaders. They also reflect an angry reaction to potentially losing land they felt was rightfully theirs. These words (and probably many of the speakers) were evil, but they don’t represent all Palestinians, many of which were neighbors with Jewish communities in Palestine, and which had no voice in early negotiations. Elias Chacour provides an account of this pre-Partition relationship in his book, Blood Brothers. These videos also don’t share the Palestinian perspective of how that war in 1948 was fought. Chacour’s personal account of “leaving” his home in 1948 is not represented. Accounts of massacres at Deir Yassin and brutality on the part of Jewish forces such as the Haganah, Irgun, and Stern Gang (Lehi) are left out. Of course, we MUST recognize the brutality of the Holocaust that made this type of resistance necessary in the eyes of Jewish forces. Yet, the experiences and perception of native Arab Palestinians to their treatment by Jewish forces must be part of the history or they seem like dumb, hateful individuals. Doesn’t it seem unlikely that an entire group of people would have all those negative qualities? It should put red flags up when we see such a monochromatic picture of an entire population. Just as it would be wrong to say that all Israelis are racist against Arabs and Palestinians based upon rising movements of racism, using these quotes to place judgement on a group is inaccurate and dangerous. See an article about perceptions of racism in the Jerusalem Post.
These videos also don’t represent what Palestinians see as the ongoing fifty-year war against them. One video suggests that settlements were dismantled…some were. However, it is more accurate to say that settlements have continued to be be built in disputed territories, particularly in the West Bank, even being used as “punishments.” See this article, Israel Expands Settlements to Rebuke Palestinians.
The following video provides a simplified view with Palestinian perspectives and an effort to empathize with Israelis as well.
The key says it all.
Whether you believe that the woman I met actually had a key and deed to a home in Green Line (the 1949 armistice lines that many of have used as parameter for a future permanent border division) Israel, the fact that she held on to that so dearly as she lived as a refugee in squalor for 50 years says something about the desperation in Gaza. See UNRWA description of conditions in refugee camps. There is a desperate need for justice. In the absence of economic stability, educational institutions, and safety, the desire for justice burns bright and hot. In both my experience and my research, the feeling of being wronged in the past and continuing to be wronged in the present pervade Gaza and Palestinian circles around the world. Issues of the occupation like growing settlements, limited water rights, closures, and home demolitions only grow the feeling of victimization.
Israelis and Palestinians have that in common in many ways. The feeling of being a victim is not foreign to either. Israelis long for security. They are tired of being attacked. They are a tiny country (the size of New Jersey) that has had hostile neighbors since their institution. Palestinians have been the outcasts of the Arab world. In 1948 and ensuing conflicts, no one wanted to absorb this population. Refugees still live in camps in southern Lebanon, Gaza, and Jordan. Terror and resistance groups grow stronger in these camps, feeding off of desperation.
3. These attacks on Gaza are doomed to fail politically. Hamas has a history and a record of atrocious acts. I think they suck at taking care of their people. I think they resort to terrible, violent, despicable methods to resist Israeli aggression. I think their actions incite violence. I wouldn’t put it past them to put military targets in the middle of civilian populations BUT, Israel is only shoring up the support for Hamas by attacking in this way. The numbers are staggering. In the last 18 days, there have been 844 Palestinian casualties (mostly civilians), thirty-five IDF casualties, and three Israeli civilian casualties. See Update 5: Israel Rejects Ceasefire Plan, Sources Says, as Death Toll Nears 850.
The disparity is obvious. Tunnels may be destroyed in this conflict but give a generation another reason to hate an oppressor for their violence and destruction and a little bit of time and something equally horrific will challenge Israeli security. Injustice for Palestinians is the enemy of peace. It is the enemy of the security that Israel desires.
4. As a Christian, I cannot support these actions by Israel. This is perhaps the most controversial thing I will say, at least to some very dear people that I love. I assert that it is not a Christian responsibility to support Israel no matter what they do. I’ve been reading in Ezekiel and it is just one of many instances where the Israelites were disobeying God and He sent a prophet to rebuke them. Israelites were far from perfect, perhaps being the reason why they are such a beautiful picture of redemption under the new covenant. With that said, even if you directly equate the Biblical Israelites with the modern, secular state of Israel, even then God requires justice and mercy. Do we really believe that people are lost without Jesus? Why aren’t we showing Jesus to Palestinians and surrounding Arab nations or to Israelis, for that matter? Our one-sided support of Israel, regardless of their actions, is harmful to our witness. I will never forget talking with Ceedar Duaybis, a Palestinian Christian woman from East Jerusalem who worked with Sabeel, an organization devoted to making the Gospel relevant to the conflict with Palestine Liberation Theology. Ceedar, a woman whose girlhood home had been stripped away from her at Israeli gunpoint, whose adult life has been spent in the midst of reoccurring violence in East Jerusalem, and whose children had wandered away from Christ because they felt that the Christian God sides with their oppressors, spoke with our group about her experiences. Her heartbreak for Palestinian Christians was great. The feeling of abandonment by the Church worldwide was real.
So, what do I suggest? Well, as I wrote before, I have just enough knowledge to be dangerous, but enough humility (I hope) to know that I don’t know everything. At this time, I agree with Gershon Baskin, an Israeli columnist for the Jerusalem Post when he wrote yesterday, “If the end result of this war earnestly answers the underlying issues and addresses the impossibility of continuing to keep Gaza an open air prison, there is a very good chance that the Palestinian people will get rid of Hamas. If the Palestinian people understand that they have a real chance at freedom and being able to live like everyone else wants to live in this world, they will have a reason to live, and they will no longer need Hamas. This is the only way that Hamas can be defeated – only when the Palestinian people themselves decide to get rid of them.”
The violence will stop, one way or the other. Other nations will step in and make pledges and promises to get a ceasefire of sorts. When it does, the political focus should be on building hope for a future in Palestinians. Maybe this is just economic to start…a modern Marshall Plan of sorts. Hungry people, both physically, emotionally and spiritually, are dangerous and desperate. Feed them. Then take a generation to educate each side with the narratives of the feared “other” so real empathy is possible. Throughout, bring them hope of reconciliation with a God that loves them.
It may not be possible to end this conflict. This may just be a harbinger of the end of days. But for my part, I want to fight for justice and mercy in whatever corner of the world where God puts me.