I wish I’d had more experiences, well, any experiences, talking with Jewish Israelis about the occupation while visiting the Holy Land these two times. My goal this recent visit was to learn more about the occupation overall. I wanted to hear personal stories from Israelis and Palestinians: Christians, Muslims and Jews.
Yes, my interest has been largely in the Palestinians because I was exposed to the depth of the injustices encountered in daily life in Palestine when I became close friends with a Palestinian while studying together in Bossey, Switzerland at the Ecumenical Institute for the World Council of Churches. I also have focused on the Palestinians because their stories are vastly unknown and/or misunderstood among Americans since most people here seem to be pro-Israel. More specifically, many American Christians are pro-Israel (Jewish Israel). For the most part, this is because they assume all Palestinians are Muslim and since Christianity is of Jewish heritage many Christians align with Jews over Muslims. However, they do this without realizing a number of Palestinians are Christian. Additionally, a large number of Christians interpret the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises of God to the nation of a people called Israel in what they see as the country of Israel today. Nevermind the whys and hows the land was acquired and allotted. What seems to matter to great number of people is the existence of this particular plot of land for this particular group of chosen people—Jewish people—the land called Israel.
However, in the Bible, Israel is not described as a place, it’s a people. I am sure Jewish people are aware Israel denotes a people not a place. Yet, the impression I got during my visit is many Jewish Israelis believe it is their right and God’s will to establish an exclusive nation of Jewish people called Israel on a plot of land called Israel…which just so happens to bleed into the land of the Palestinians. I find hope and comfort in knowing there are Jewish people who acknowledge the oppression of the Palestinians as atrocious and inhumane, and occupation of their land as horribly wrong. I know such Jewish people exist because I have heard and met with some who have given lectures in Atlanta. Though, it’s not the same as talking to an Israeli in Israel. I imagine our conversations would have made all the difference. Perhaps on my next trip, God willing.
Yet, these anti-occupation, pro-Palestinian-compassion Jewish Israeli voices are hard to hear over the dominant voices and actions of the government, Zionists and many Orthodox Jews vying for racial exclusivity. Such exclusivity is not to be the character of Israel, however. At least according to the Bible. Israel is to be a nation open to all people. A chosen people dwelling in a place where all nations will gather together and worship God. Israel is a “chosen people”, yes, but to be chosen does not mean to bask under a crown of exceptionalism. To be chosen is a responsibility, a great responsibility where a people is called to be a reflection of the extraordinary experience of life found only when in relationship with the God of all nations. To be chosen is a blessing, but to be a blessing to others. To be chosen means to be an expression of the hesed (loving-kindness, goodness, mercy) received from God to the world. To be chosen means to be a moral compass and to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with one’s God.
God’s plan is not exclusivity, injustice, oppression, abuse, or imprisonment. God is about freedom, life, peace, compassion, and love. God is also about reconciliation and unity. My understanding is then God is not pro-Israel or pro-Palestine, God is for all of God’s people, all of God’s creation, and calls us to live in a way that moves in the same direction.
These are my observation from conversations with Arab Israelis and Palestinians, experiences at border-crossings and checkpoints, the Jewish documentary “The Law In These Parts”, writings and documentaries by Christians, a lecture and tour from an Orthodox Jew at the Temple Mount Museum in Jerusalem and a smattering of other lectures, readings and research. I am well aware my sources are limited and weightier on the Arab side. I wish I had more conversations with Jewish people while in Israel. I wish I were better read at this point. But, I’m not. I offer you what I’ve seen and the observations I’ve drawn thus far. My thoughts are still in process and I anticipate my perspectives to evolve the more I learn.
I invite your reflections and insights and hope together we can move toward thinking, living and loving with openness and justice.