The first thing that visitors and volunteers see at the Tent of Nations just outside of Bethlehem is a large stone on which are written the words, “We refuse to be enemies.” As Israeli settlements draw ever closer to their land and the Israeli Defense Forces destroy their orchards, the Nassar family continues to pay a heavy price in their practice of Jesus’ teaching, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you (Luke 6:27-28).”
The Nassars refuse to divide the world into friends and enemies, challenging the rest of us to do the same.
As a Christian, I was raised to be pro-Israel. Since going to the region many times, I’ve become pro-Palestinian and pro-peace, too, which has led me to explore the narratives of Palestinians as well as Israelis. I grieve the deaths in both Israel and Palestine. Every human life has extraordinary value. The loss of even one life is a loss to all of us.
But to suggest that there simply needs to be another ceasefire in the current conflict, then more negotiations — without acknowledging that past negotiations have unalterably yielded the same result: more missiles out of Gaza, more settlements, closings, imposed economic hardship and invasions by Israel — is either naive or deceitful.
We have tried that several times over the past 15 years.
Most Americans have no idea that, after Israel pulled its last settlements out of Gaza in 2005, Israel maintained — and still maintains — control over Gazan airspace (prohibiting flights), access to Mediterranean seaports (prohibiting commercial vessels), and transfer of its agricultural and other products out of Gaza through checkpoints into Israel and the world beyond. A people cannot create a viable economy under such conditions. To this end, we are “our brothers and sisters keepers.” Part of our responsibility is to learn the whole story.
I abhor Palestinian radicals that target noncombatants and infrastructure in Israel, but I understand Hamas refusing to yield to still another ceasefire without demanding that Gazans be able to ship goods in and out of Gaza and an end to the disproportionate death and destruction it has caused.
Persons who want to delve deeper than the one-sided politic and coverage most American are exposed to are encouraged to add these Israeli sources to their diet of information: B’tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights, Breaking the Silence, Mondoweiss, and the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz.
Christians who want to hear from their brothers and sisters in Palestine are encouraged to read Kairos Palestine: A Moment of Truth, or Blood Brothers, a book by Elias Chacour, the Nobel Peace Prize-nominated archbishop of the Melkite Catholic Church.
In his office in Haifa, Archbishop Elias Chacour tells pilgrims, “If you’ve come to take a side, for Israel or for Palestine, don’t come back. You will leave us in pieces. But if you come to love Jews, Muslims, and Christians, and to learn about the situation, you are welcome because you bring peace.”
Jeff Wright is a pastor at Heart of the Rockies Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Fort Collins, Colorado. He and his wife lead alternative tours to Israel and Palestine and serve as short-term missionaries to Israel/Palestine for the Board of Global Ministries of the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Image: View from the Mount of Olives on the Dome of the Rock through barbed wire, gkuna / Shutterstock.com