Saturday, June 21, 2014

Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem: Israel vs. Palestine?

I have no idea what kind of solution could bring peace to Israel.

In my last post I described what I heard of the Palestinian case against Israel - and it sounds compelling. The fact that Palestinians have no right to nonviolent protest offends my American sense of right and wrong. Losing homes, checkpoints, no citizenship to those in the West Bank and Gaza strip - or even Palestinians in Jerusalem, armed violence against a mostly unarmed people? Not the greatest rap sheet.

But I cannot forget the long list of crimes the Jews have been victim to. On Wednesday Dr. Yousef of Al Quds University showed us a picture of a woman in the foreground pointing a threatening finger at a unit of Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers through the separation fence. He asked us what the Jews were afraid of?

The Jews are not afraid of an unarmed woman, they are afraid of bombs on their buses and SUDS sent to Tel Aviv. Building codes requires a bomb shelter in every building. Most Palestinians throw rocks, but terrorists do not. People say, "No one here has guns" but terrorists look like any other person in a crowd. This is a guerrilla war. The United States could pull out of Vietnam or Iraq (try to anyway) but can the Jews pull out of Israel?

Where else would they go?

Israel became a state for various reasons, but in large part because of the Holocaust - because 6 million of their people had been systematically killed in Europe. Even today, 70 years later, the population of Jews in the world has not caught up to what it was in the 1930's. Even before that the history of putting Jews into ghettos or forcing them off their land or forcing conversion goes back millennia.

Case in point let's follow the fate of Greek Sephardic Jews. Sephardic Jews were expelled from Spain and Portugal around the time Columbus was crossing the blue. Before that there had been a Jewish presence in Spain at least back until Paul the Christian Apostle was making his missionary rounds. They well could have been there since the Assyrian or Babylonia expulsion of the Jews before the common era.

So around 1500 most of the Sephardic Jews resettled around the Mediterranean. One of the most popular places was in the Ottoman Empire, including what is today Northern Greece in the cities of Salonika (Thessaloniki of the New Testament book Thessalonians) and the surrounding areas because there was something of a live and let live style of rule of minorities at the time.

Fast forward to 1943 with the invasion of the Nazis and deportation of 96% of the Jewish population of 50,000 to Auschwitz. In 2000 there were 1,000 Jews in Salonika. Most of the survivors moved to another country - many to Israel.

If Palestinians want the Jews to leave, where are they going to go? Israel is the only home they have ever known. And with a history like that can you blame them for having an effective military? Especially when the people of every country surrounding them doesn't want them here?

But ask most Palestinians or Jews if they want to kick the other out of the country and they'll say "No, I just want peace." Where is the discrepancy?

After speaking with people on both sides, one might conclude that this is a war between the extreme wings that the middle is getting caught in. The extreme Zionists want the Palestinians out and the Jihadists want the Jews out. Both commit violence against the other. We're all left to try to clean up their mess, either diplomatically or with force.

But it seems to me that both villainize the other. They want to stab us when I we walk through their neighborhoods. They are killing our children. I couldn't trust them to keep the peace, they would go right back to pushing us all the way back to the sea. It's striking how identical the two accounts are - the Israeli of the Palestinian and the Palestinian of the Israeli - when you listen to them.

I have to admit, I was initially hopeful when I went to hear from the Palestinian professor and students that I might hear or see something that would make peace plausible. And initially I thought I did hear something. This professor and these students were telling me they wanted peace.

But what happened after crushed all hope I had.

There were eight students in our group that day, three of whom were Jewish, and five Palestinian students from Al Quds University.  The Palestinians decided to spend the afternoon with our group. When we split up to go to different parts of Old Jerusalem, not a single Jewish student spent the afternoon with a Palestinian student.

It's that disconnect that is denying peace. It's still too strong.

The only solution I can see is if more schools like Hand in Hand: Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel to walk through the difficulty of living together as Palestinian and Jew one day at a time, year after year. Making friendships, hearing each others stories, telling each other that our day of catastrophe was my day of freedom.

Unless there are deep personal connections between individuals, until people truly understand the very humanity of one another, I don't believe there will ever be peace in Israel.

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