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  • Reverend James Squire

Fragile Peace

There has been a cease fire in the most recent Israel/Palestinian conflict. I spent some time studying at St. George’s College in Jerusalem which sits on the unofficial boundary between the Israeli and Palestinian sections so I speak from my own personal experience regarding what is occurring in this conflict.

One of the unintended consequences of taking a course at the college was that because of a crowded dorm situation, I and others were forced to live in the Palestinian section. I thought this was terrible at first, but I learned more living there than I could in any course. The wall and barbed wire on top of the walls of the college as well as the steel automatic impregnable gate told me that this was not a safe place. The college officials insisted to those of us who were moved to the Holy Land Hotel (yes, that was the name) in the middle of the Palestinian section of the city were perfectly safe.

The contrast that is obvious is the Israeli side of Jerusalem is more affluent compared to the economic struggle of those in the Palestinian section which reminded me more of a ghetto. There are no good or bad guys in this struggle, but there is understanding of how and why we are where they are in this conflict.

Trump and Netanyahu operate from the same playbook whose central premise is the creation of fear of the “other.” Trump was going to protect us from Mexicans, Muslims, and black people. Netanyahu runs on the platform that only he stands between Israel and the Palestinian enemy.

Trump brought this fear home with the event of the January 6 insurrection. Netanyahu who has not been able to put a government together attempted to sway the vote by approving more areas in the Palestinian section for additional Jewish settlements. This is against international law. This action would remind the Israeli people of the Palestinian threat and his power. He was also threatened by groups of Palestinians and Israelis who were attempting to form a government which ironically would have advanced the cause of peace. Remember peace is a threat to both Trump and Netanyahu. Most commentators agree that the eviction of Palestinians by Israelis as well as the violation of worship in an important Palestinian worship site at the end of Ramadan started this current crisis.

Note that both Trump and Netanyahu have criminal cases being prosecuted against them as I write this. They are mirror images of one another’s behavior.

Both the Palestinians and the Israelis have hot buttons that bring them both to a boil. They are present in their national psyches. The Jewish people have dealt with a history of antisemitism including being told by the Palestinians that their goal was to wipe them off the face of the earth. The Palestinians have been subjected to oppression by the Israelis for generations. I saw this first hand passing through check points to get into and out of Bethlehem as one example. When the Israeli soldiers entered our bus with Uzis, it tends to get your attention as they were looking for illegal Palestinians.

The Israeli section of Jerusalem feels safe. The Palestinian section does not. I was attacked by adolescents when I was out for a run. They threw rock, bottles, and anything they could get their hands on. Young people are angry there.

Many more Palestinians have been killed than Israelis during the current crisis. What has been difficult to watch is the significant number of children and whole families that have been wiped out.

Watching the footage in recent days, we saw the Israelis with sophisticated weapons. The Palestinians have rockets but are fighting in the street with sling shots much as King David used against Goliath. That is a metaphor for the unequal balance of power.

But here is the biggest problem and perhaps, at the same time, the solution! It is the fact that people remember, can forgive, and can forget. How do you forget that children have been killed? That fact would be a challenge for me or any others. Here is what I think would move negotiations forward. First, have scholars sit down without politicians and come to a common agreement on the history of the crisis which extends from biblical times through the British turning the issue loose for the people to figure it out on their own on May 15, 1948. When I was at St. George’s College, one Israeli official and one Palestinian official described their versions of the history. It was like watching two different movies.

Go back to the days before the current crisis and form a government that contains both Israelis and Palestinians who are elected to serve on the new bipartisan government. It is not easy to do. Get rid of the extremists such as Hamas and Netanyahu. Don’t do as Kushner and Trump did and Biden has followed along and be perceived as pro-Israel with money going to Israel but not going to the Palestinians at the same level.

Honor all who have died in a ceremony as Biden did with the death of those in the Pandemic.

We are a global community. Anti-Semitism is on the rise here. These acts have been done by Palestinian Americans and others supportive of their cause. We can no longer keep violence in the boundaries of lands on distant shores. Learn a dark lesson from Trump by his constantly referring to the Covid-19 virus as the China Virus or Kung Flu. We have already seen a rapid rise in anti-Asian violence. Both the Jewish and Asian people historically have already been seen as the “other.” Current actions have just built on those biases.

Remember that it is hard to forgive and forget what political expediency and extremist political views have done to the people of God created in his image. We may have to settle for forgiveness and not get to forget as articulated in Holocaust studies mantra,“We can forgive! We can never forget!” That may be the best that we can do, but perhaps that is all that we can hope for to start. We know that forgiveness is subject to the moment it occurs. Forgetting is subject to enduring a test of time.

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