This past April, I had the chance to make a fourteen day trip to Israel. It was a life changing experience, one that I will carry with me throughout my life, and it has connected me with that place, and the people who live there.
Sitting over here, thousands of miles away from that place, it is easy to have opinions on who is right and who is wrong in the battle for control of that land. Certainly, the Palestinians have some claim to the land of their ancestors, land that was taken by force from their hands. Likewise, the Israeli’s have every right to ensure a safe a secure existence, in a place that they likewise claim as home. Yet, the wrong’s and the right’s become very less clear when you are there, walking among the people and hearing their stories.
After spending time with Palestinian Christians (albeit a small minority that remains in Israel) I clearly saw the persecution perpetuated against Palestinians by the Israeli state. For all of the rhetoric about giving the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinians, the fact is that Israel does little to offer those states an opportunity to flourish. Settlement building continues in the West Bank (frankly, no one really wants to live in Gaza) and the economic blockade ensures that most Palestinians live in poverty. If it weren’t for the remaining tourist industry (which is likely drying up in the face of our world economic crisis), I am unsure how Palestinians would survive. Standing at the base of The Wall in Bethlehem, one can hardly keep from feeling the waves of oppression that the wall represents.
I can’t forget the day we were in Tiberias when the air raid sirens went off. The day before we had been in the north of the country near Lebanon and had seen the destruction wrought by the rockets of Hizbullah. As we drove to a national park, we made our on a narrow road between two barbed wire fences with signs that warned that the fields beyond were filled with mines. So when the sirens went off, our group went into a minor panic, sure that the rockets were about to hit, only to discover that it symbolized holocaust remembrance day. No one should have to live with that fear.
I walked near the end of my journey through Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum and memorial, and learned about the complicity of the western world in ignoring the horrors perpetuated against the Jewish people by Hitler and his regime. It was clear in that place that no one had stood up for the Hebrew people, and the only hope for their existence was to stand up for themselves. Thus was born the state of Israel, an attempt to create a safe harbor for those who worship YHWH.
Two groups, each with claims to the land. Two groups, neither of which is able to trust the other and think about peace. Two groups where war seems ever present.
I write this to say that I am torn at the news today of the ground invasion into Gaza. I long for the peace of Jerusalem. I long for peace in a land that has been sacred for much of recorded human history.
The Israelis have some justification for responding to the continuing rocket attacks perpetuated by Hamas. Having heard the sirens in the streets of Tiberias, sometimes a nation must respond in the interest of security.
Yet, I also fear that the response is far from proportional, and falls outside the minimal requirement of the lex talionis – an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. The fact is that there are those being attacked who want the destruction of Israel. Yet, for the average Palestinian, the greater concern is with having enough to eat, with having clean water, and being able to provide for the family. This “war” only serves to create more alienation, more anger, and more retribution.
Creator of us all,
why don’t we understand that violence is not ended by more violence,
that war is not the answer for finding peace.
We pray today for the people of Gaza,
asking that you help them to recognize that violence is not the answer,
and that peace only comes through love.
We pray today for the people of Israel,
asking you to help them remember the ideal of shalom,
and to think about alternatives to jet fighters and tanks.
May the swords be turned into plows,
may the weapons be turned into farm implements,
may the hatred by turned into love.