Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Collateral Murder

This video, recently leaked, epitomizes everything I hate about war. Everything that makes me sick. Yes, the soldiers believe (somewhat inexplicably) that they're firing on the enemy, but they aren't. They're children and reporters and the unknown faces of human beings with lives and joys and the courage to rescue the wounded.  And maybe that's the whole point.  That there isn't an enemy.  Only children and reporters and . . . you get the point.  But when we label them, it makes them so much easier to kill (and laugh while doing it).

May God have mercy on us all.  

From the website [shooting took place in 2007]:

5th April 2010 10:44 EST WikiLeaks has released a classified US military video depicting the indiscriminate slaying of over a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad -- including two Reuters news staff.

Reuters has been trying to obtain the video through the Freedom of Information Act, without success since the time of the attack. The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-sight, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded.

The military did not reveal how the Reuters staff were killed, and stated that they did not know how the children were injured.

After demands by Reuters, the incident was investigated and the U.S. military concluded that the actions of the soldiers were in accordance with the law of armed conflict and its own "Rules of Engagement".

Salim Munayer: a man who speaks like Moses

It's about a week since I returned from my recent trip to Israel and the West Bank, and there are so many thoughts I want to share, but it's hard to know where to start.

We met with some amazing people -- powerful peacemakers -- from both sides of the checkpoints.  People dedicating their lives to the pursuit of justice, mercy, and transformation.

And I am in awe. 

I hope to introduce you to some of my newfound heroes over the course of the next few days and weeks, as well as, perhaps, some of my thoughts and reflections from the time there.

After spending the night with host families in Bethlehem, the first meeting of our trip was in Jerusalem with Salim Munayer, founder of Musalaha, who've I've had the great honor of meeting once before.

The man is a powerful speaker, with a powerful story, and a powerful vision for reconciliation -- a vision he is taking concrete steps to fulfill.

I hope his thoughts challenge you and give you hope. 

[Hopefully this won't be too confusing, because the following is taken almost directly out of my notes.  However, please remember that this is my interpretation/memory of what Salim said, and not a transcription (I may be a writer, but I am not a journalist), so don't hold him responsible for what I say he said (if that makes sense).] 

"From the land of strife to the land of reconciliation."

That is Salim Munayer's vision for his country.  Reconciliation, he says, is not compromise, and it is not win/lose.  It is identity transformation.  For identity is the first casualty of conflict -- the destruction of how we see ourselves, how we see God, and how we see others.

The heart of peace is not behavioral change but identity change.

Salim Munayer is a refugee within his own country.  Driven from their homes in '48, his family remained in their hometown of Lydda, but was forbidden from returning to their land.  Given citizenship by the Israeli government (though initially denied freedom of movement and still denied the right of return), Salim attended a Hebrew high school along with his Jewish neighbors -- a school which informed him that his history was a lie.

Palestine, he was informed, was desert, the Jews turned it green, and then the Arabs moved in.  Never mind that he could see his ancestral land from the windows of his classroom.

An Arab-Israeli and a Palestinian-Christian, his identity was in conflict, and he grew up asking the hard questions that his community of faith must still face:  What would Jesus do if forced to cross through checkpoints multiple times every day? What application does the Sermon on the Mount have to the Palestinian reality?  How does one (especially a Palestinian-Christian) resist aggressively, for justice, in the name of love?.  And, hardest thought of all, are Palestinian-Christians (members of the universal body of Christ) an obstacle for the return of their Messiah (as so much Western theology seems to teach)?! 

Teaching at Bethlehem Bible College he faced the similar conflict of his students: "We don't want to learn about the people who inflict pain upon us."  Spiritual heritage in conflict with cultural heritage.  The Bible they loved being used to justify their pain.

Years later, does he have the answers?  Perhaps not all, but he believes he has been chosen for this task.  Uniquely placed, within the conflict of his identities, to bridge the gap between Arab and Jew, Israeli and Palestinian.    

As Christians, he challenges, how do we see God?  Burning holiness that demands isolation and perfection?  Absolute sovereignty that justifies fatalism and prophetic blindness, without thought to individual responsibility or communal justice?  Or do we see the crucified God, the lion and slain lamb, the Christ who wept?

Such a God forbids our involvement as jihadists or modern crusaders.  Forbids, also, our allegiance to political agendas which destroy our sacred calling to be salt and light in society, drafted only to the love of God and neighbor.

This is the foundation of peacemaking.  And because God is a God of relationship, Salim believes we must build relationships to build peace.  Must build relationships to destroy the destructive patterns of conflict:
  • Division between "us" and "them" (self and Other)
  • Dehumanization (the necessary step in justifying self-protection against the "enemy")
  • Failure to see plurality (all of the Other is exactly alike -- a strong basis for collective punishment, which is considered a war crime)
  • Suspicion
  • Self-fulfilling prophecy (treating the Other as the enemy leads the Other to behave as the enemy)
  • Moral superiority
  • Perceived victimization (the dangerous tendency to claim pain as uniquely ours, whether 9/11 or the Holocaust -- the refusal to see suffering as a universal human experience)
  • Demonization (attributing absolute evil to the other side -- often uses religious language and labels [i.e. "terrorist"])
So this is what he does.  Taking Jewish and Arab youth into the desert -- the literal desert -- where power can be stripped away and the Other encountered as a person necessary to the very survival of self.

Salim believes that this desert encounter is integral to the process of reconciliation, because no dominant culture will choose to relinquish power.  The desert, however, strips power without the realization of the powerful, forcing people to become dependent on each other as people -- humans in need, not oppressor and oppressed.

In the Bible, he reminds us, the desert is a place of transformation and renewal.  A place where the world fades away and God is met.  But it cannot happen without pilgrimage. 

He leaves us with some challenging thoughts:
  1. While peace and reconciliation are happening in Israel on the relational level, where all real change must start, full reconciliation, which must also involve structural change, is stunted by a lack of vision.  What is the end goal for Palestine/Israel?  What are we struggling for?  For S. Africa it was the abolition of apartheid.  For the U.S. it was the end of discrimination.  What is it for Israel?  No one seems quite sure.
  2. It is not the American Jews (many of whom are actively seeking justice) keeping the U.S. from interceding in Israel, but the American Christians.  As an American, and a Christian, this is a sobering, convicting, and painful thought.  
  3. Finally, and most importantly, as third parties who desire to be involved in advocacy -- holding up mirrors to those in power -- we must not allow ourselves to be drafted into the conflict.  We must not take sides.  Advocacy without reconciliation, states Salim, simply feeds the fire of strife, and that they do not need. 

Musalaha: Theology of Reconciliation

Salim Munayer (founder of Musalaha) speaks about reconciliation, the importance of an approach/theology that is both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian, and the theological problems when we embrace one at the expense of the other.

Theology of Reconciliation from Porter Speakman Jr on Vimeo.

Musalaha: Ministry of Reconciliation

This is a powerful introduction to the work of Musalaha (Arabic for "reconciliation"), a non-profit organization headquartered in Jerusalem that seeks to build relationships between Arab and Jewish youth (among many other leadership and peace building projects). I've had the honor of meeting twice with Musalaha's founder, Salim Munayer, an Israeli Arab with a passionate heart for justice, compassion, and transformation in Israel/Palestine.

The first 2:20 minutes contain true pictures of the conflict (the most startling of which, for me, is at the 2:08 marker); the rest of the film is dedicated to hope.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Travel Writing: the border crossing

We began our trip in a Moumayez taxi with a Bedouin driver who spoke of Jordan as a land of peace, and King Abdullah as a man of peace.

My father agreed. "If all Middle Eastern countries had rulers like King Hussein and King Abdullah, this region would be known for its reconciliation rather than its strife."

"Indeed," said our taxi driver.

At the Jordanian border our passports were stamped by a man who commanded us to smile.

"Why so angry?" he reprimanded our solemn faces, delighted by the picture of my grinning 17-year-old self and our occasional Arabic phrases.

On the Israeli side we were met with small-scale changes since our last time through -- a working restroom and a new system to sort the desirous from the unwanted. The key? Smile brightly, look innocent (there are some advantages, it would seem, to still looking like a high school teenager), and wave the blue passport that marks me as one of the unthinking loyal.

The girl at the high desk asked where we were going.

"Jerusalem," we say.

"To the West Bank?" she asks.

"Jerusalem," we chorus.

"Only Jerusalem?" she presses.

"Maybe Galilee," we answer.

She nods.

And I wonder, by staying silent are we consenting? To the truth of her assumptions, to the justice of her questions?

"Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light." -Dylan Thomas

The first sight of David's city -- the church steeple peeking over the hill -- always feels a little like traveling back in time. Back to an age when the world was built in stone, and cities grew out of the earth with flowers and arches, and the land was bathed in dusty sunlight. This is the holy land -- the land of crusader knights and holy fathers -- of tragedy and ecstasy.

There is a secret code of sorts among those who visit Bethlehem -- a language learned of hms and hahs, evasion and misdirection.

"Where are you going?" asked the German girl in front of us at the border.

"Um, Jerusalem," was the reply.

She laughed.

"Ah, yes, Jerusalem. Smile and wink."

When asked the same question, she replied, "Oh, me too -- Jerusalem."

Asked where she was staying, she said she didn't know yet -- was planning to look around, see the sights.

Stepping off the bus, away from the scrutiny of Israeli soldiers with automatic rifles, her story changed.

"Do you know where to get the bus to Bethlehem?"

You'd think the soldiers would catch on.

peace quote of the day

One of my friends has a writing blog in which she often posts a "true quote of the day." I've decided to modify her idea here.

Here are some words from Yigal Allon, former commander of the Palmach (the elite fighting force of the Jewish underground during the British Mandate), general in the IDF, acting prime minister of Israel, and member of the kibbutz Ginosar, which I've had the honor of visiting twice (once on my family's spring break trip to the Galilee, and once on my more recent trip to the West Bank).

He was a Jewish hero and a Zionist, but also a man who longed for peace, respected his Arab comrades, and seems to have been uniquely gifted with long-term vision.

Where, oh where, are the Yigal Allons of today?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Righteous Among the Nations (or Hope in the Holy Land)

At the moment I'm sitting in a coffee shop in Bethlehem, drinking a cup of coffee and watching the World Cup.

I'm here with a group from my dad's university, doing an "alternative tour," which basically means that instead of the tourist sites, we're here to see the peace and justice sites -- to meet with those working in the areas of reconciliation, non-violent resistance, and human rights.

The trip has been mindblowing.

Yes, I've been in Israel before. Yes, I've been in Bethlehem before. Yes, I've worked in refugee camps. Yes, I've seen the separation barrier. But this is so much more. I've seen the bones and barbed wire of the conflict, but this has been a trip about the living flesh -- the people and organizations dedicating their lives to resolving the deep, complex, and tragic issues facing this region.

I have been challenged, I have been stretched, and I have been encouraged.

Someone asked our group today how we've been responding to what we've seen -- how we're holding up to the weight. For me, the answer is that for the first time in a long time, I have hope.

I don't want to minimize the suffering, injustice, and pain, of which there is much. But at the same time, there seems to be an alternative. Not yet on a national or international level -- and there are still moments where it seems that such a step would be impossible -- but on the personal level, where there are relationships forming, peacemakers coming forth, and whole networks of Palestinian leadership rejecting violence . . . maybe this is a step towards the future.

One of the rabbis we met with (a member of Rabbis for Human Rights) made the statement that if you just know the facts -- what's happening on the ground -- you're going to get bitter and give up hope. We, he said, are not bitter, because we see what's happening, and we've chosen to act. We have hope.

May his hope be ours.