For Palestinians, an Advent #FAIL
To Blink Open the Blind Eye
In November, sportswriter Frank Deford devoted his weekly NPR commentary to the numerous moral corruptions plaguing sports. Toward the end of the commentary Deford observed that "gross" evils, in particular, provide an opportunity "to blink open the blind eye."
It's an evocative phrase, to be sure.
And it sent me to another place completely: a land plagued by another sport and marked by "a weird fertility of violence."
To blink open the blind eye might well describe what for this American Christian continues to be a coming-out regarding an orientation on Israel/Palestine. Simply put—but with all the expected complexities—I am on a very personal peacemaking journey.
As I reflect theologically on the gospel of Jesus Christ (and, especially, on this radically inclusive text), I have come to a hard-but-not-fast conclusion. There will be no true and durable peace in Israel/Palestine without reconciliation between the State of Israel and the Palestinian people.
There is no reconciliation on earth without justice.
Justice is what brings reconciliation, which brings peace.
While I certainly don't wish to spoil anyone's Christmas party—not to mention all the lovely Christian worship services framing the season—engaging this seemingly intractable conflict has become. for me, morally and spiritually absolutely necessary.
Like Advent, I suppose, the time has come.
On the other hand, Advent has genuinely failed Palestinians.
Everywhere you look a new day is nowhere near dawning on the West Bank, in Gaza, and in Israel. It's as if the same old day never quite ends. Injustices and sufferings dangle in the air, suspended in terrible pain just over the horizon, which is giving off the illusion of hope.
For many Palestinians, there is only permanent exile and hopeless expectation.
This summer, on the heels of retribution-kidnappings and revenge-killings, the State of Israel implemented a brutal military incursion in Gaza known as "Operation Protective Edge." During the 50-day conflict more than 2,100 Palestinians were killed, including over 500 children. (Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers and six Israeli civilians also died in the conflict.) The Gaza Health Ministry, the United Nations and human rights groups estimated the percentage of civilian deaths to be approximately 70%.
Philosophically, to say that Israel's military response in Gaza was disproportionate might be a start. And that is not an unimportant discussion.
But it still misses the more obvious conversation. On either side of this supposed line of argument about proportionality lies a question far more tragic and urgent for both Israelis and Palestinians: Was the response even necessary?
*For an insightful and helpful article on Gaza, written by a British evangelical leader who has lived, ministered, and taught in the Middle East for 18 years, including in Egypt and Lebanon, please see: "Trying to Make Sense of Gaza" by Colin Chapman.
Growing up in American evangelicalism, I've become quite accustomed to a certain level of overall neglect with regard to Palestinians—this, notwithstanding movements like "Christ at the Checkpoint," a biennial conference for global evangelical leaders which began in 2010; this, notwithstanding high-profile evangelical media voices like Relevant, which highlighted Palestinians (including Palestinian Christians) in a feature article in its March/April 2014 issue.
When asked “In the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, who do you sympathize with more?” evangelicals are still far more likely to say Israel—72 percent to 4 percent in 2013—according to the Pew Research Center.
And, in a glaring and telling omission, Christianity Today's end-year editorial reflection acknowledged the enormity of human suffering in 2014—mentioning geographies like Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo; mentioning terrorist organizations like Boko Haram and the so-called Islamic State (ISIS)—while somehow failing to mention Gaza. Christ-followers were encouraged "to enter the suffering of the world" and "bear the suffering of the world as an act of love." Just not the world of Palestinians.
The time has come for me to write about it.
Previously, I've made occasional writing forays into Israel/Palestine. Here, for instance, I described an experience in 2013 where I watched the film Budrus with American evangelicals inside a Baptist church.
As a moderator for the post-film conversation, I gloriously tried in vain to find the mythical balanced discussion. Despite the numerous, assorted complexities to the conflict, what I found (and what I am finding) is this: There really is no such thing as a "balanced" discussion. Not in the face of power dynamics so woefully imbalanced.
Anyway, the written road will not be easy—especially for an American evangelical. I get it. Then there's the high-decibel "white noise" accompanying Israel/Palestine, which makes the conflict all the more difficult to understand. Furthermore, paralysis and apathy strangely abound; they are no doubt the compelling evidence of highly successful propaganda efforts by influential players on both sides.
All the while, everyone holds their cold absolutes tightly in place.
But something happened.
During Israel's operation in Gaza, I began reading Elias Chacour's book Blood Brothers: The Unforgettable Story of a Palestinian Christian Working for Peace in Israel (2nd edition; 2003). For my Christian friends, in particular, I believe this is a provocative place to start if you're up for the journey. Chacour's story is tragically haunted yet beautifully hopeful.
Chacour is an Arab Palestinian Christian and a citizen of Israel. He is renown for his restless peacemaking among and between Palestinians and Jews. His advocacy and activism, in fact, are drawn from the deep reservoir of his orthodox Christian faith: he insists on methods of non-violence; he encourages demonstrated love for one's enemy; he pursues dignity and a just reconciliation for all.
In 2002, the American author David Hazard, who co-wrote Blood Brothers with Chacour, toured a refugee camp in Gaza. He relayed this story in the book's afterword—
A seventeen-year-old girl trembling with grief and rage told how she witnessed her teenage cousin being shot through the head by Israeli soldiers. They had been walking to school together and the soldiers were taunting him. In response he had picked up a rock.
I tried to tell her that most Americans do not know about these tragedies, and that we would never support those who perpetrate them. “Of course Americans know we’re suffering over here,” she retorted. “You’re the most powerful nation on earth. And everyone has a television. I know you know.”
Hazard later reflected—
Is there hope?
My reply must be: As long as we know about the desperation of the Palestinians, as long as we continue to let it grow, and as long as we give Arab people reason to believe that Americans offer unqualified support to the power they see as an oppressor, then the rage of people like this young woman will continue to send shock waves into the world, carrying bombs into crowded markets and buses. This will continue until the world—or at least the Body of Christ—listens and acts.
In 2002, the novelist and journalist Kenize Mourad traveled through Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. She had covered the Middle East, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for over 15 years. Now she was interviewing ordinary Palestinians and Israelis during a tense time in which the Second Intifada was reaching its fever pitch.
Their stories eventually became the pages of her book Our Sacred Land: Voices of the Palestine-Israeli Conflict (Oneworld Publications; 2004). In the introduction she writes:
Shutting our eyes and remaining tightly enclosed in our own selfish viewpoint entails the risk of terrible consequences. The Palestinian situation is a time bomb, yet we allow it to grow ever more inflammatory.
Ten years later, in the middle of my own peacemaking journey, in the middle of a crushing cycle of hatred, I've sensed a growing compulsion to share a few of Mourad's stories from her revealing encounters with Palestinians.
To give voice to those for whom Advent has failed.
And to blink open the blind eye.