Great sadness, even despair, has been evoked by recent events. Faithful people must turn anger into action. My Christian and Muslim Arab friends feel betrayed but still instruct us to practice “sumond,” i.e. to “remain steadfast” even when making peace seems impossible.
Conversations on a recent multi-narrative “pilgrimage” to Jerusalem reminded me of two admired mentors. One was an Israeli former military psychologist Dr. Reuven Gal and the other the American church historian Dr. Martin Marty. They shared variations of a healing triangle. Post Traumatic Stress continues to affect Israelis and Palestinians. This is essential to the understanding of the interior psyche, which perpetuates the cycle of violence.
One side of the Triangle was labeled “anger” and rooted in the holocaust for Jews and the Nakba for Arabs. The other side was labeled “fear” rooted in anxiety about the possibility of traumatizing events happening again. At the base the label was “ignorance” which leads to a xenophobia that rationalizes hostile murderous treatment of “the other.” Oppressive cruelty is imposed even on women and children. Dr. Gal grieved over the fact that in many cases Israeli soldiers suffered PTSD for what they did to others not what was done to them. Dr. Marty illustrated colonization’s residual effect from crimes against aboriginal peoples in countries including Canada, America and the British Empire. Both warned Israel is on a dangerous even suicidal course.
This reality came clear while on the “pilgrimage” in the Levant with 26 others from four countries and eight U.S. states. We observed a pattern of unequal justice. The Israeli army and police treated Palestinians harshly with beatings and detention, sometimes even when the victims were clearly innocent. At the same time Israeli settlers were protected while their aggression toward their Palestinian neighbors was ignored.
Here are some examples:
In Israeli Military Court we observed devious procedure of detaining Palestinian adults and children without charges, sometimes for months or years. 40 percent of all Palestinian males have suffered this indignity. Even children from the occupied territories are being held in Israel, in violation of Geneva Conventions, to which Israel is a signatory. The conviction rate for Palestinian detainees is more than 95 percent. (Source: Military Court Watch https://is.gd/AExqwk ).
At latest count 317 Palestinian children between 12-16 are held in “administrative” detention for suspicion of minor offenses often in order to extract information on others. One 14-year-old tried to put out a fire started by settlers, was arrested, not charged, and was in an adult prison for 14 months before his release.
These repressive acts increase at the time of the olive harvest even with shooting farmers and night raids on homes, crimes that remain largely unreported in the Western media. Our focus on our own American conflicted politics, gun violence and terror attacks. To their credit the Israeli press is actually more faithful than foreign media in recording atrocities. (Source: http://www.state.gov/j/drl/ris/hrrpt/)
Amazingly, the resilience and relative non-violence of the occupied Palestinian people is a basis for undying hope. Hope is also drawn from the sacrificial caring of progressive Israelis such as Rabbis for Human-Rights, the Bereaved Family Forum Parent Circle, the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, and many other justice-driven Jewish groups.
In the midst of suffering in the Occupied Territory, the West Bank Palestine Canaan Olive Oil Cooperative provides more than 2,000 growers fair trade certified prices for olive and almond harvests and craft products from the women. Many American churches, including 19 DC area congregations, market these high quality products for holiday gifts.
In Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Ramallah compelling women liberation leaders such as former Bethlehem Mayor Vera Baboun, Sabeel Theologians and Holocaust survivor women speak eloquently about Palestinian suffering and non-violent resistance. Pairs of grieving Israeli and Palestinian parents, who have each lost children in the conflict, speak with passion at schools and public gatherings about the necessity of breaking down the walls of division between Arabs and Jews, which exacerbate ignorance of “the other.” They address directly the madness that takes the lives of innocent children. Leaders like these inspire endurance as they resist despair.
The Scottish Iona Community’s theology for oppressed marginalized people reminds us: “It is a daily struggle to understand the meaning of salvation of Jesus from a place of alienation, exploitation and shame. It is a theology which aims at liberation through Christ who himself walks with the poor.” Source: “The Iona Prayer Book,” p. 23.
While the illegal Israeli settlement expansion continues rapidly around Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Ramallah, and the Palestinian villages, the world community is becoming alert to the atrocities through social media. Only 20 percent of the post-1948 Armistice West Bank land remains under exclusive Palestinian Authority control, and this behind massive Israeli-built 20-foot walls, serpentine electrified security fences and settler-only highways on confiscated Palestinian land.
The BDS (boycott-divestment-sanctions) movement in America and Europe is changing the reality. Israeli overreaction limits the freedom of speech of many concerned Americans. Israeli citizens are also threatened with legal action for defending the right to speak out for non-violent opposition to the occupation.
Our MEJDI.org “pilgrims” and others have pledged to be representatives of both the occupied and occupiers to give witness to our politicians of the atrocities that are destroying both people. The hope is that a movement will gain momentum to reduce the ignorance that breeds anger, fear and xenophobic violence.
Those who care for the peaceful future for all Middle East Jews, Christians and Muslims are urged to encourage the growing consensus for human rights and justice for all and a more peaceful region. Neither “country” nor their neighbors can survive if the destabilizing violence spreads.
The Psalmist’s (12:5) healing wisdom is timeless, “Because of the oppression of the weak and the groaning of the needy, I will now arise, says the Lord. I will protect them from those who malign them.” The wounds of the afflicted indeed are radiating healing light as they embrace the truth that “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble … He does not ignore the cry of the afflicted,” Psalm 9:9-12.
“Our role,” says the much-loved former Catholic Patriarch Michel Sabbah, “is to save the world by being salt and light. Not to fight anybody by taking the way of death. We don’t want to be against Israel to survive.”
Getman is president of a private consulting group that specializes in international, United Nations and nongovernmental organization affairs. His work centers on United Nations Reform and humanitarian interagency partnership building. He is the former World Vision executive director for international relations, managing liaison activities with the UN and the World Council of Churches. In this capacity he was also responsible for diplomatic relations with UN government member missions in Geneva and with countries on sensitive tax, staff and protocol negotiations.
The Huffington Post has requested permission to publish this piece, which appears in the ___ edition.