Tuesday, February 20, 2007

I Think...

Archbishop Elias Chacour speaks with a fierce simplicity and an uncompromising passion. A modern-day prophet and our very first speaker on the trip, Chacour had me riveted from the minute he walked into the room. This man lost everything during the Israeli War of Independence in 1948 – again, a symbol of differing histories and perspectives: Palestinians refer to this event as naqbah (the “Catastrophe”) – and is now the founder and leader of an interfaith Christian school that provides kids with otherwise few opportunities the opportunity to succeed. He is an Arab Israeli, gaining citizenship in the State of Israel, yet has a marker on his ID to identify him as completely separate from a Jewish Israeli. When asked if the current situation is, as Jimmy Carter described it, a system of apartheid, he responded simply, “If it’s not apartheid, what is it?”

I haven’t yet read Carter’s book, but I have heard enough of what others think of him. “Anti-Semitic” is always a fun one, and normally the most common. Yet just as many around the world can differentiate Americans from our government (thank God), can’t people do the same with Israel? When Carter attacks the Israeli government, he is not attacking Israeli citizens – and he is certainly not attacking the Jewish people as a whole.

Here we come to the trickiest part of the whole Palestine-Israel equation: Anytime you criticize Israel, you are often called anti-Semitic, as if your critique is just a well-concealed, deep-seated hatred for Jewish people. (For many people, my words so far could be enough to indict me on the same charges.)

Why is this? Is the State of Israel the fulfillment of prophecy, and thus must be defended at all costs? Christian fundamentalists would certainly say so – many cheered during the Six-Day War in 1967, convinced that once Israel took the Temple Mount, they would destroy the Dome of the Rock (so predominant in modern pictures of Jerusalem) and replace it with the Third Temple, thus ushering in the long-awaited-for second coming of Christ. This, in turn, would begin a seven year-long reign of the Antichrist (take your pick on this one – the solid theologians of the Left Behind series would say it’s the leader of the UN…but, of course, that is Biblically-based and not a political statement in the least) a period of time during which, incidentally, many Jews would either be killed or converted.

That doesn’t sound very pro-Semite to me. But, when it comes to the Rapture, I guess moral values and hypocrisy take a backseat to the prophecy spelled out in that wonderfully clear and transparent Book of Revelation.

The question is this: Can we, as Christians, love and affirm our Jewish brothers and sisters without compromising our compassion for Palestinian Christian sisters and brothers?

I would say absolutely. And I think the first thing to do is separate Judaism from the State of Israel. When you criticize the actions of a country, you are not fundamentally questioning the value of their citizens. I think Americans are all-too-familiar with this concept.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Initial Feelings

My Holy Land trip and subsequent jet lag combined with extreme laziness – and the advent of the new spring semester – notwithstanding, I have not taken care to update this thing. Given my love for writing, rest assured that I have sufficiently reprimanded myself.

So, the Holy Land. Right. Some call it Palestine, some Israel. Perspectives on geography bring about an interesting dynamic in this region, with many Israeli maps showing a vast empty space in the region of the Palestinian West Bank – “Samaria” in the ancient world – as if there is nothing there but a vast desert. Conversely, some Palestinian maps name Israel “Unoccupied Palestinian Territories.” Who’s right, who’s wrong? As much as I want to say “both, in some ways,” it just doesn’t work that way.

I must confess that I had an obvious leaning before I went on this trip, and my opinion was only confirmed and strengthened after seventeen days in this volatile region. But that, in many ways, matters not. Some experiences are visceral and leave little to interpretation. They are what they are.

When you enter Bethlehem, the city of our Savior’s birth, you must pass from Jerusalem through a 25-foot wall that will soon surround the entire city. A modern and perverted twist on an ancient idea promises security to the people outside the city walls, while choking the people within. This Wall, Barrier – whatever you want to call it – separates much of Israel from its occupied land, in many instances crossing into the West Bank itself, sometimes separating people from their neighbors, their land, etc…

Crossing the Jordan river from the Kingdom of Jordan to the State of Israel, I had the sense that I was crossing from Mexico to the United States. A developing nation, Jordan has all the signs of countries in the 2/3 world – main roads in rough shape, visible, endemic poverty – and it is bordered by other countries that are in similar economic situations, and are similarly, predominantly Arab. Israel, on the other hand, is a solid member of the developed, industrialized world, and it shows. The highways are paved, signs of poverty well-hidden.

Bordering many Palestinian villages in the dry climate are Israeli settlements – “Oases in the Desert”, as one billboard proclaimed – that feature spacious swimming pools and ornate water fountains. They resemble upscale suburban gated communities, except that one needs only drive five minutes out of the heavily-guarded gate to encounter extremely poor (and dry) communities.

I guess it’s hard to hide my sentiments with respect to the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” I don’t pretend to be objective. All I know is what I have seen and experienced, and I will continue to relate that in future postings (with more regularity, I promise!). So, understanding that this is a sensitive topic, I will try to be fair-handed with my observations (especially sobering when many of my conclusions pointed me to inequities all-too-present in the United States). But I can only be honest.

The “Holy” Land proved too many times to be anything but. Yet it is a land in which many people place their dreams, hopes, and futures. Praying for “peace” takes on a whole new meaning, especially when so much pain and devastation rarely stops: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/6346093.stm