Where I came from, and the present lay of the land

Initially, my bias on the Israel-Palestine situation was influenced by an overly optimistic story of the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. When the accounts I heard as I began to listen to current news from the region led me to conclude that the State was treating its original inhabitants badly, I assumed it was an aberration, a failure to live up to the good intentions of the founders to live at peace and in equality with their neighbours. To a degree, I blamed Palestinians for the harsh treatment they received at the hands of the State -- after all, one can hardly blame a nation for retaliating against terrorist acts. Yet at the same time, I held the Israel to a higher standard. As a people, having suffered so much, how could they turn around and cause another group to suffer similarly, incited by the same nebulous yet polarizing excuse (race/ethnicity/religion)? If anyone should have a sense of mercy and justice, I thought, oughtn't it be this people who have been so consistently blighted by persecution earned merely for their very existence?

In more recent years, my thinking has been informed by the work of MCC, an organization which has chosen to respond to injustice, conflict, and poverty in the region -- a modus operandi which has often results in their working mostly with Palestinians. I found myself wondering why, outside MCC, so few of the church people who opine on the situation seemed to be rethinking the State's strategy of ramped-up retaliation when its effect was the creation of a people so despairing they see killing themselves to take down a random sampling of their "enemy" as the most reasonable and honourable option. I did wonder, though, why the Jewish people could not just have this small piece of land as their own, why the Palestinians couldn't simply make a home for themselves in any of the many surrounding Arab countries, so close in culture and practice to their own.

But with each page I turned in Sandy Tolan's The Lemon Tree and Elias Chacour's Blood Brothers, my heart sank, for here was a story I had not yet heard, a story that belied all my optimism about original intentions and the benefit of doubt. My first view of the separation wall supported that story. Massive watchtowers atop the forbidding barrier -- it seemed so much overkill, and the beautifully landscaped checkstop complete with roses and geraniums made me sick over its permanence and cheerful acceptance of such a hideous affront to human dignity. Are we devolving, rather than evolving from Hammurabi, who suggested but a single eye was appropriate retaliation for the loss of one? Do we suppose conflicts will be solved by upping the ante on every affront until only one is left standing?

So why not just leave? My Mennonite ancestors, though they worked the soil with an industry and skill that made them desirable colonists, did not send deep roots into any particular plot of land. Our thinking is perhaps like the Bedouins -- allegiance not unconditionally tied to a particular nation, but drawn to the best deal for being left to our own way. Chacour, however speaks of a connection to place that would rather die than leave. It seems to me a great irony that the people best positioned to understand each side's deep, visceral attachment to the land called "Holy" is the people they have framed as their enemy.


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