Thinking of Israel

January 31, 2010

activism / church / politics

I’ve never been a person who wanted to go to Israel. I’ve known lots of people who wanted to go, and a good number of people – pastors and professors and such – who have been, but nothing I’d heard in the past has been at all compelling. Plus, I find most of the talk of Israel, both within the church and within American politics on both sides, to be disgusting, and that doesn’t help. Israel is an occupying force, and no one wants to talk about it.

But recently, I’ve seen a different side, that of nonviolent activism for peace, on the part of Israelis and Palestinians, starting with this interview on The Daily Show a couple of months ago, but really becoming something else entirely with the trip that Brian McLaren, Mike Todd, and other folks have been on a trip “to see the places where the Spirit of God is working now – for reconciliation, justice, and peace in the midst of turmoil.”

I want to draw attention to the things that have been said about and during, and the issues that are being examined. I’m sure both of them will continue reflecting now that they are home, and I encourage you to read all of their thoughts on this.

Brian, at one point, writes several things that have stuck out to me:

If you get a chance to go to Israel and Palestine, I encourage you to take it – but only if you can go on an alternative tour that will have you spending time in the West Bank, meeting both Palestinians and Israelis so you can see for yourself how different the reality is from the impressions gained from our well-managed media and highly-lobbied government.

January 29

We have spoken with many Palestinians in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem so far in our pilgrimage, both Christian and Muslim. Their voices are seldom heard in our corporate media, so it has made sense to meet, listen to, and understand them. But of course we’ve met with Israeli folks too. Yesterday we had some particularly important conversations with Israeli Jewish voices. They agreed that there will be no change in Israeli policy until the US decides to stop giving Israel a blank check.

January 27

If you’ve never been in both Israel and Palestine, I hope you will start questioning what you think you know about the situation here. I’ve been an avid reader on the subject for quite a while, but being here now, I see how many of my most basic assumptions were skewed from a lifetime of half-truths, unfair and imbalanced news, well-planned propaganda, and misinformation.

January 25

It was a reminder that the struggle here is not about people. It’s not about Jews versus Palestinians or vice versa. It’s not about choosing who the good guys and bad guys are, as our media so often portrays it (and sadly, as our religious leaders so often do as well).

January 23

But what is especially powerful – and what keeps us from being overwhelmed with cynicism or anger – is the lack of hatred among the Palestinians we are meeting with – both Christians and Muslims. Again and again we hear the word “non-violent” and we see a desire not for revenge or even isolation … but for reconciliation. To my surprise (based on expectations from the US media), I haven’t met a single Palestinian who wants a two-state solution. They want to live in peace with Israelis.

January 22

Mike writes equally poignant things, though he does not blog as much when he travels and will write more in the coming days and weeks:

The church has for too long swallowed the prevailing narrative about Israel’s policies in the occupied territories without question.

January 29

This is not about choosing sides. However, I’ll repeat an earlier assertion I’ve made, and that is that we have been fed a narrative that is simply wrong. It’s fiction, if you will. More about that to come I’m sure, but this is a big one: The church in the west must start thinking again, and not simply buy what we are told. From where I’m sitting this morning we are looking very foolish.

January 25

Again, I can’t encourage you enough to read the full posts, and the other things that Mike and Brian will be writing as they continue to process.

But I have to say: this honestly makes me willing to go to Israel on this kind of trip, should the opportunity ever arise. There is a beauty that is present there that, certainly we could assume was there, but I at least hadn’t heard anything about – people who have voices that we need to hear, stories that would inspire and change us, and a real desire for peace and nonviolent reconciliation.

I would like to see Barack Obama sit in this realm with his discussions of and with Israel. He is often accused of standing against Israel, but this is a completely unrealistic accusation as there is never any criticism or attempt to talk about the issues of segregation and oppression by Israel. This is consistently bolstered by the unwavering support of Israel in whatever it does by the mainstream media, to the point that it really is politically impossible for anyone on any side of American politics to criticize Israel for any of the oppressive things it does, or to suggest that there really is a necessity for reconciliation.

The American church today should be in this part of the story, seeking ways to encourage peace and reconciliation, but instead it is contributing to this kind of political climate, using various theological concepts to suggest that Israel is blessed by God regardless of what it does. Do you see the opportunity we could have?

I’d love to see more people go on trips like this, and come back to tell us what they see and learn. I’d love to see our role in this change.