Friday, October 26, 2012

Faith, Justice and Grace in Israel

The thankful heart sees the best part of every situation. It sees problems and weaknesses as opportunities, struggles as refining tools, and sinners as saints in progress (Francis Frangipane)

This is now my third day here in Jerusalem with Interfaith Peace Builders.  It has been an eye-opening experience to see and learn more about this amazing region of the world.  It has also not been an easy trip for me.  As so often seems to be the case, while I share the passions and concerns that the current state of things here is perpetuating immense harm on many Palestinians, I don't necessarily share in the sentiments expressed or the specifics of the calls to action.  There are stories of farmers being disconnected from their farms, and idle farms are then deemed vacated and taken by the government.  Because of limited movement, Palestinians cannot enter into parts of Jerusalem to argue their cases for land and home.  Institutionalized harrassment is pervasive.  On the other hand, I know that there must be more to the story. Good friends of mine talk about the importance of Israel in their lives, the bombings suffered by attacks.  I see people of deep faith - Muslims, Jews, and Christians - just going about their daily lives, some trying to co-exist, others just living.  The more I learn, here and see, the less certain I am about anything - sometimes by what is said, other times by what is not said.    I do know this: people are suffering from violence.  If things remain on the present course, there will be much more suffering. I know there is anger, hatred, hurt and mistrust of scary proportions.  From terms like "the Arabs want to eradicate Israel" to "my 10 year old nephew wants to kill all the Israeli soldiers", this goes deep.  I guess much of this is understandable, but a speaker we heard today spoke my mind when she said "All violence is unacceptable.  No buts".

So what is mine to do?  I don't know.  Will BDS (boycott/divestment/sanctions) promote peace and justice? Given that, as one person working against home-demolition stated, the Palestinians need to figure out what they want, I can't even venture an educated guess.  I hear too many opinions.  In my role as Clerk of a Quaker committee (where reaching consensus can be a black hole of time to little positive effect) and what I hear from folks, it's a tricky thing.   What I am seeing more clearly that mine is to stay committed to my belief (that has been backed up by experience) that there is God in all things, and mine is to joyfully keep seeking.  To be a bridge-builder.  I have a long way to go, but it seems to be what my leading.  I hope to return with some possible actions people can take that don't need consensus.  I hope to bring back a deeper appreciation of why Israel is so important to both secular and religious Jews.  Perhaps I can help to develop a Workcamp trip here to tour the holy sights, reflect on their meaning and role in lives and conflict, spend time on a kibbutz and at a Palestinian farm. Perhaps even help build a personal relationship or two across the divide, building on where some already exist.  Basically be in fellowship.  Nothing dramatic, but all with a clear vision of justice and harmony. 

I find it a challenge to give voice to this whilst among people who are clearly well-informed passionate activists, some of whom say "the facts are in, and the time for action is now", reflecting a sense of urgency that current trends are dooming much of the Palestinian community.  I don't disagree, although I am not sure that referring to doers of misdeeds as the "f#cking Israelis" helps.  I can't help but go back to where I place my bets: try to practice grace, dedicating myself to hearing what people have to say rather than demanding them to hear what I have to say.  Continually try to put my ego aside, soften the heart and not try to lord what I think needs done over other people, but still hardening my own resolve for a more just world.  I suspect many people think this is wishy-washy, but hopefully people who know me know that I am not shy about speaking my truth.  I wouldn't think a wishy-washy person can disagree as much as I do, but I try to do so in a way to really here another's truth, not deny theirs, seeking to understand rather than be understood.

The issues here are a mess.  There are signs of hope, such as the Palestinian farmer who responds to countless efforts to intimidate and take his farm with love and hospitality, or the woman at the kibbutz leading the Other Voice for Peace, but the hope is in their spirit, not their situation.  The least, and perhaps best, I can do is simply be that constant appreciative voice for hope, trusting that love may not prevent bad things, but can help make whatever happens do less harm.  It's a lot of work, much of it lonely, but seems to be my lot. 


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your work. I am deeply troubled by the situation there. I am grateful someone of your character and conscience and centered in the Holy Spirit is doing this work. My only thought - not even a suggestion - is would someone from Northern Ireland have any ideas on a peaceful negotiation with some of the people you have identified? I will hold you and yours in the Light and look forward to your next update.

Brad Ogilvie/The William Penn House/The Mosaic Initiative said...

There is actually someone with us who was involved in that work. He's a Catholic Priest from Belfast who helped get Congress approve the McBride Accord (I don't know much about that). He also lives a few blocks from William Penn House and is here doing just what you mention - seeing if there are any lessons from his work that might apply here. Thanks,


Anonymous said...

I think the Northern Ireland suggestion is a good one. Folks from South Africa would be another good resource.

I think that you will have to make a choice about where your loyalties lie in order for justice to be served. Where there is no justice, there is no peace. An inconvenient verity for those who seek peace.

If Quakers are truly committed to a testimony of non-violence, then that would mean not supporting ANY entities that perpetrate violence institutionally or otherwise.

However, withdrawing support does not necessarily mean that you are inherently allied with the opposition. It only means that you will not support violence on the part of either party.

Continuing financial support or other means Quakers have of organizations that perpetuate violence is tacitly approving of their actions. A true commitment to peace and non-violence will always be easy to identify as there will be no ambiguity or shadow of violence in the chosen path. Nor will there be any ambivalence about speaking boldly for justice as justice never requires violence in its service.