Tuesday, October 30, 2012

War, Peace and Flipping Coins

On Monday evening (Oct. 29), our IFPB delegation split up into small groups and spent the night with host families in the ancient walled city of Acco on the Mediterranean.  My travel roommate, Deklan, and I were staying with the family of Yosef a few blocks from the water.  We were joined by Laura and Art who were staying with Yosef’s brother, Ahmed, closer to the water.  The dinner conversation was lively, as we bantered back and forth about historical facts and comparative narratives of injustice and violence – present as well as historical – all around the world. 

After dinner, Deklan, Yosef and I went for a walk.  Deklan asked Yosef how he thinks things will unfold between the Palestinians and Israelis.  “War” was his calm, somewhat sad, answer.  For him it is clear that the only way to avoid war is to return to the 1967 borders but is not going to happen.  He was clear that he does not want war, but he just doesn’t see an alternative.   I reflected my own faith that where there are signs of hope, we can help lessen the violence.  Deklan’s stance was that the Israelis simply need to stop with the lows and policies that keep the Palestinians as second class (or worse) citizens.  It’s as easy as “flipping a coin”, he said. 

“War, Peace or a coin toss”, mused Yosef.  I am increasingly thinking that it is going to be some combination of all of these.  There is already violence – blatant as well as systemic – and to reverse these will take effort and certainly some luck. If, as Yosef said, there will be no peace until there is a return to the 1967 borders, there is no way there without the upheaval of at least 500,000 settlers, many of whom are not likely to go peacefully and will be backed by many Israelis.  At the same time, many Palestinians are not enamored with their own leadership, so even if the Palestinians were to gain autonomy, I would expect a battle for power from within as well.  And then, of course, there is the insidious systemic nature of violence, as evidenced y the US-supported military destruction followed by US-funded rebuilding.  It’s a great economic machine.  It’s a mess.

As I start to reflect on my time here, I don't see groups of people.  I see the faces of individual humans, many of whom are caught up in the daily challenge of human survival.  I am awed by the beauty and the passions in these individual struggles, while shuddering at our capacity to dehumanize each other to the point of annihilation in some cases.  There is Yosef, with his exasperation of  constant arrests and harassment for speaking out but also his friendly hospitality.  There is his wife, and her somewhat defensive and unnecessary statement that Palestinians just want to support life.  There is 23-year old Mahmoud’s spirit of hope for the future while including me in a Palestinian bachelor party with festive music and dancing.  There are the sincere desires and demonstrations of a commitment to find a peaceful way forward from the members of kibbutz communities.  There are Roi and Rwan, a Jew and a Palestinian (his grandparents came to Israel in the 1930's because of anti-semitism in one case and zionism in the other; her grandparents village was wiped out in 1948) working together to bring cross-cultural learning to Jewish and Arab schools as part of their work at the Arab-Jewish Community Center in Tel Aviv.  There are organizations creating new ways forward through theater and community outreach.  And then there are people who hate, fear, resent or wish to harm the neighbor they don’t know.   

I have hope that, if we stay connected and keep acting in ways that support the common humanity of each other through the upheavals, we can come back together as a stronger global community.  Just as I believe will happen in the US as we struggle with all our various prejudices and practices of injustice past and present, my hope is that our descendants can sit around the dinner table, sharing meals from all our faiths and cultures,  celebrate each other rather than try to lord over each other, and look to the past wondering "what the heck were they thinking?"  Yes, it’s ideal, but we can start practicing now so when the opportunity comes, we are ready.  As Whitney Young said “it’s better to prepare for the opportunity that may not come, then to have an opportunity emerge, and not be prepared.” 

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