Monday, June 14, 2010

Israelis and Palestinians both created by God

Taken from here.

Q: In a statement Monday, Vice President Biden said the U.S. is consulting with other nations "on new ways to address the humanitarian, economic, security, and political aspects of the situation in Gaza." What are the religious and moral considerations in determining those "new ways," especially in light of Israel's raid on an aid flotilla from Turkey bound for Gaza.

Since Israel's commando raid on a flotilla of ships bearing humanitarian aid to Gaza, much real and virtual ink has been spilled analyzing Israel's action and the motivation of the activists seeking to break the long siege of beleaguered Gaza. This is not the place to reiterate all the points made on both sides of the debate; there is keen commentary available on all topics related to the situation: international law; Geneva conventions; security; resistance; dueling definitions of what constitutes a humanitarian crisis; dueling definitions of what constitutes an "Occupation;" in fact, dueling definitions of just about everything!

And that is the crux of the problem. As Israeli politician Naomi Chazan once said in my hearing, "The problem here is that there are two competing narratives of the history of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and they are both true - and they don't meet!" Just look at the Gaza situation.

Much of the world sees in that densely populated and poverty-stricken strip of land a terrible humanitarian crisis. Israel's leadership says there is more than adequate humanitarian aid going in. Gazans experience a total land, air, and sea enclosure - a continued "occupation" by Israel; Israel speaks of having withdrawn from Gaza and given it a chance to flourish. Israel justifies its draconian policies in Gaza by pointing to the launching of Qassam rockets into Israel and the terrorizing of its citizens; Gazans point to the right of "self-defense," resistance, and the "terror" of Israeli strikes.

The list could go on and on - and extend into the broader conflict, and should. Gaza is not an isolated incident in the struggle for peace with justice in the region. Gaza is a vital part of a future Palestinian state - and the current Israeli government is struggling mightily to separate it from the West Bank, turn it into the "model" of what a Palestinian state would look like, and relegate the West Bank into isolated pockets of Palestinian populations, similar to the American Indian reservations that much of the policy of Occupation has been modeled after - that and South African Apartheid on steroids. And to this, there is another "narrative" rejoinder: "disputed" territory rather than occupied territory; security measures rather than subjugation; moral high ground and biblical precedent versus violent resistance.

So, that said, back to the question of the week: What "new" can be done in the world's response to the Gaza crisis?

How about a return to something "old"? Speaking truth. Cutting through the fog of dueling narratives to recognize a basic truth: both Israelis and Palestinians are human beings. Both are created by G-d and deserve the right to live in peace with justice and security. An Israeli life is not worth more than a Palestinian life. A Palestinian life is not worth more than an Israeli life. To quote Arab Israeli religious leader "Abuna" Elias Chacour, "We're not born Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Israeli, or Palestinian. We're born babies."

The ability to recognize this truth, however, is inhibited by what Jewish author of "Compartments," medical doctor Steven Feldman of Wake Forest University, calls our tendency to see the world only through our own narrow lenses. Growing up orthodox Jewish, in a "compartment" that saw all Arabs as terrorists, Israel as having been created out of barren, uninhabited swamps and desert, and Palestinian resistance as evil, Feldman's "epiphany" came when he visited Israel and simply asked the obvious question: "If this land was empty before my people came here, then where did 700,000 Palestinian refugees come from?"

As a scientist, he began trying to get at the facts and was shocked to discover a far more complex history to the conflict than he had been compartmentalized into.

And what is the result of our being in our isolated "compartments"? Palestinians can be seen as "less than," as subhuman. Israelis can be seen as "evil," brutal oppressors. And the nature of the region today, with Apartheid walls, fences, checkpoints, by-pass roads, and travel prohibitions - fiery sermons, recent grudges, and dueling histories, only exacerbates it.

The result is random rocket fire into civilian population centers under the guise of "resistance." The result is an air force pilot asked if he "felt anything" when his F-16 dropped a one ton bomb on a Gaza apartment, killing the targeted "terrorist" but also killing 15 civilians - many of them children: "Yes; I felt a slight bump when the bomb was released."

How about the "new" being getting out of our compartments and viewing both Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs as human beings, not deserving of "terror," ghettoization, stereotyping, marginalization, and humiliation? And here, I have to say, the major change will have to be in both how we see Palestinians and Israeli Jews. Palestinians must be recognized as having legitimate rights to living in peace with justice, security, and the benefits we all seek in life. No American would tolerate fellow Americans being kept in the conditions Israel imposes on Gaza. No Israeli would tolerate a Jew anywhere in the world being treated like Palestinians in Gaza. Nor should we view Israeli Jews as heartless occupiers; their narrative, influenced by a sense of "siege" wherever they have lived in the world, affects their visceral response to threats against their existence. Nor should we view Israel any more as "David" versus "Goliath," "Good" vs. "Evil".

Palestinians and Israeli Jews are equals. Both are humans. Both deserve dignity and freedom. It's time for the "something new" to be a recognition of that fact, to stop treating Israel as something "special" and hold it to the same standards of international law and human rights that are defined by the rest of the world; to stop justifying violence by "security" and "resistance;" to seeing the loss of a Palestinian life as equal to the loss of a Jewish life.

Not as easy as it would seem, of course. We are firmly ensconced in our "compartments." But G-d is in the boundary-breaking business. And perhaps the events of the past week might just be the "epiphany" we need to begin hearing the "other" narrative in this conflict. Maybe then we'll recognize that there should be just one "narrative:" all humans are children of G-d; all humans deserve our respect, care, love, and assistance in living into a hopeful future.

By Max Carter
A recorded Friends minister, he serves on the Board of the American Friends Service Committee and the Advisory Board of the Earlham School of Religion.

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