Palestine: A Two-Sided, Not a Two-State Solution
You are already aware of what comes to mind when people think of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: young Israeli soldiers with machine guns. Palestinian boys throwing rocks at these machine gun-toting Israelis. Palestinian suicide bombers blowing up buses of Israelis. The massive cement wall snaking its way through this divided country bringing “security” to Israelis and “oppression” to the Palestinians.
I just spent 10 days in the un-holy land and I, too, picture all of the scenes above. But I now have a new way of seeing the threats upon Israelis and the occupation of the Palestinians. The conflict is no longer just about religion, land, and justice. It is about real people and friends that I have made there. I heard stories from both sides (this is my second time there). I have seen their pain, faced my own prejudice, and learned a lot about peacemaking. Some highlights and examples…
- Jay Pathak and I had a sabbath dinner in Jerusalem with an Israeli scholar and friend, Raquel Ukeles and her family. It was a fun, rich time. What a beautiful family. The next day we met Muhammad at a Palestinian Refugee camp. Muhammad is only 25 yrs old, has been shot twice (at point blank range) by Israeli soldiers, and put in prison for two years for disturbing the peace.
- Rami is an Israeli (a former soldier) who lost his daughter to a suicide bomber. Moira is a Palestinian who lost her husband to a senseless killing by an agitated Israeli military. They are members of The Parents Circle, a grassroots organization of bereaved Palestinians and Israeli families who promote reconciliation as an alternative to hatred and revenge. Their slogan, “It won’t stop until we talk” highlights the need for dialogue in the reconciliation process.
- Fatima, a Palestinian Muslim; and Yvette, an Israeli Jew, co-lead a peacemaking organization: Shorouq Women’s Empowerment and Economic Development Center. What a joy to meet these women and hear their stories. Women are some of the most oppressed and victimized people on earth, yet also some of the best peacemakers in the world!
- Rabbi Yossi is an orthodox Jewish scholar I met at the Yale Building Hope Conference. He was so inspired by the peacemaking between Christians, Muslims and Jews during our time at Yale that he wants to get a second Ph.D. in that field. But this doesn’t come naturally to Rabbi Yossi. He lost his grandmother to a suicide bomber and fears terrorists, but Rabbi Yossi doesn’t let his fears keep him from doing what is right. His students kid him about protecting Christians too much. He visits Imams and even hosts them in his Rabbinic school, and he teaches his son to differentiate between terrorists and Muslims. So when Muslims gather for prayer at the mosque, his young son says, “Dad the good Muslims are praying in their synagogue!” Rabbi Yossi is a man of peace. He also has a good sense of humor. When the call to prayer echoed from the mosque, he smiled and asked, “Do you wanna go pray?”
- Daoud is a Palestinian Christian who leads Tent of the Nations and focuses on nonviolent resistance against the Israeli occupation. The sign outside his property says, “We refuse to be enemies!” When I heard about the many things they're doing, I couldn’t help but think of what Jesus’ little brother said: “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:18).
So what did I learn about peacemaking? I have to confess that I was prejudiced against Israelis. It is humbling to have my own issues exposed, but after more than 30 years working with Muslims, I clearly stood with the Palestinians. I went to Israel as an advocate for the Palestinians, but I came home a peacemaker, dedicated to building bridges between both sides.
The Palestinians are brutally oppressed and need us to be advocates. But the Israeli story needs to be understood as well. Sami Awad, a Palestinian peacemaker who directs the Holy Land Trust, is a powerful advocate of nonviolent resistance. When God called Sami to love his Israeli enemy, He told him he needed to go on a pilgrimage. Sami said, "God. I am in the Holy Land! Where do you want me to go?” God said, "Auschwitz.” Sami visited the Auschwitz group of camps in Germany where over 1,000,0000 Jews (conservative estimate) were brutally murdered. God wanted Sami to love his enemy, and to love Israelis he needed to understand their story and their fears. Wow!
Like Martin Luther King Jr, Sami doesn’t just want liberation for his people. He wants reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, and he seeks healing for both peoples. Sami is obeying Jesus. He is also imitating Jesus – the greatest of all mediators!
There is a lot of talk about a two-state solution to the occupation. But whether the political solution is a one-state or two-state solution (both are talked about on the ground in Palestine), there clearly needs to be a “two-sided solution.” We need to pray that God will raise up more courageous people from both sides of the wall to work for peace. We need to network with people there and facilitate new peacemaking initiatives of all types.
Everyone agrees that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most difficult conflicts in the world today. From the outside is seems like an insurmountable problem, an impossible dream. But that’s how people felt about the racial walls between blacks and whites in America and apartheid in South Africa. That’s what people assumed about the Berlin wall dividing communists and the free world. The impossible has happened before in our lifetime, and it can happen again!
There is already a small grassroots peacemaking movement seeking to bringing change in the Holy Land, and they need our support. Why don’t you consider visiting the Holy Land and become part of the solution? Sami’s organization, Holy Land Trust, can help you set up a tour, as can my friends Steve and Marianne Smith of Hope Ventures International. Here’s a good article to read by Dr. David Johnston if you want to know more about the issues.
Blessed are the mediators, for they are imitators of Jesus.