Monday, October 24, 2011

On olive trees, and hope

Recently, my mother and I watched a documentary called With God on Our Side, a critical look at Christian Zionism and its leadership and theology. As usual, I ended the documentary in tears, while my mother, an evangelical Christian, looked at me and said "I feel so helpless. I feel like my faith is being hijacked to serve a political agenda." To this I replied, "Sounds eerily familiar, doesn't it?" It's true that Islam is too often manipulated to support hateful purposes--but as in this case, Christianity often suffers from the same affliction.

Indeed, much of the current uncritical support for the policies of the Israeli government comes from professed Christian elements in U.S. society who have swallowed the narrative that this is an ancient conflict whose only solution is "to bless Israel" -- whatever that means. Even more bizarre, it is the Christian Zionist belief that the second coming of Christ will only come after the re-establishment of a political Israel -- whatever that means. Indeed there are so many holes in their logic that it's hard for me to understand how it's managed to have so much sway in U.S. policy.

And the result of such uncritical support is a continued Israeli occupation in the less than one quarter of historic Palestine that still remains ostensibly under Palestinian control, stealing land, building walls and preventing the return of the world's largest refugee population. "They" insist this is a "security" measure. I suppose if you genuinely believed that every single Palestinian is a potential terrorist, that fallacy would hold some water. Yet though some have resisted the occupation of their lands using regrettable and violent tactics, the vast majority of Palestinians are trying, simply and steadfastly, to go on existing in spite of a hostile foreign government that wants them exiled or dead. No matter how you want to spin it, the U.N. and countless human rights organizations have called the occupation out for what it is: dehumanizing and illegal. It has nothing to do with race or religion--it is simply unethical to allow this kind of situation to continue without protest.

There are days when I wonder why I even care so much about this, seeing as how I am neither Israeli nor Palestinian. But ultimately that makes no difference, because in the end we are all just people. I know that I am blessed to live in a situation where all my needs are more than accounted for. I have never had to feel the sting of terrorism or the constant dehumanization of living under occupation. I have never had to watch a relative die because they could not get through a checkpoint in time to receive the medical treatment they needed. I have never wept with my arms wrapped tight around the skeletons of my olive trees after a settler attack, the trees that represent my identity as well as my livelihood. I have never had to cope with blackouts, dry water pipes, or being utterly cut off from the world. Though my own government has committed some of the worst human atrocities in history, I have never been taken for a terrorist simply because of my national identity. But no one should have to experience these things. I know that as a young woman who is blessed to be educated and free, I have the responsibility and privilege of advocating for those who deserve no less than the same peace and opportunities for which I am so grateful.


A Palestinian woman weeps for her olive trees after they were stripped in an attack by extremist Jewish settlers.

And as intrenchable as it often seems, the movement to recognize the rights of all people involved in the conflict is indeed growing and moving in a positive direction. Just this week, a prominent Washington Post writer with a decades-long career actually dared to question US aid to Israel in an op-ed; that would have been journalistic suicide even a few years ago. And while the US government still adapts AIPAC policy without question, more and more individual citizens are learning about the reality of the occupation. Most importantly, more and more people are challenging the myth that criticism of Israeli political policy is akin to antisemitism, including many young American Jews, who are more likely now than ever to differ from their parents' traditional views and understanding of Israel. People are seeing more and more that uncritically supporting Israel is ultimately not being a very good friend to them, and that the Israeli government's policies are not only destroying Palestinian livelihoods, but also marring millennia of Jewish heritage and putting their own citizens in very real danger. Simply put, the occupation ultimately benefits no one. It is out of love for Jews as much as Arabs that I believe Israel should respect international law and pursue a very real peace process--instead of the cover for increased settlement building, more land-grabbing, and continued occupation that it has been until now. I believe a better future is possible.

The Torah emphasizes ethical humanity, especially towards the "other" and the "strangers in your land." So it rightly begs the question as to why this situation has been allowed to escalate to the point that it has, especially in light of all the evidence of Jews living in peaceful coexistence alongside Palestinians for centuries while they were being massacred in Europe and Russia. I see nothing "pro-semitic" about coming to the conclusion that that the only way for Jews can be safe is by segregating them from the rest of the world, as if they cannot prosper freely or integrate into society. It doesn't help anyone to respond to one humanitarian atrocity by creating another one, and thus I agree with the growing number of Jews and Israelis who believe that to pursue peace and reconciliation in the Jews' (as well as Palestinians') historic homeland honors the legacy of those who perished in the Holocaust far better than an indefinite occupation ever could.

The extreme Zionist vision of an ethnically pure Israel is at odds with human rights, with international law, and even with Israel's own political policy of secularism, and despite Israel's attempts to manipulate its demographics in order to maintain a Jewish majority, it is clear that Israel cannot indefinitely remain both a Jewish state and a democracy. And why does it need to? Why must Jews "return" to a Palestine that has been rid of its other indigenous populations? Why can't the land be shared?

These are two peoples inextricably bound to the same land, and since settlements, the refugee crisis and the issue of Jerusalem have basically rendered partition impossible, it seems like they are going to have to learn to share. It's easy to despair, but I have hope that once both sides truly realize that their mutual prosperity lies in reconciliation, things will improve. I am thankful for the many examples in history where truth and reconciliation won out over sectarian conflict and cyclical violence. In the meantime, the best I feel I can do is continue to educate people and advocate for peace to the best of my ability. This problem is obviously way too big for one person to solve, but we can all at least try to support those affected while striving to be part of the solution. I love the people on both sides far too much not at least to try.