Friday night we were the guests of a synagogue in West Jerusalem. It was beautiful to see the room full of Jewish families honoring God in song, reading, silence, and prayer. It was clear they intended nobody any harm; they just wanted to raise their families in the faith and traditions of their ancestors. It was a reminder that the struggle here is not about people. It's not about Jews versus Palestinians or vice versa. It's not about choosing who the good guys and bad guys are, as our media so often portrays it (and sadly, as our religious leaders so often do as well). The struggle here is about people being held in various forms of bondage -- both occupiers and the occupied each in their own ways, and everyone needs liberation.
This is a theme we keep hearing from both Christian and Muslim Palestinians, and I'm sure we'll hear it from many Israelis in the coming days as well: "We don't want you to take sides, us versus them. That will just expand the conflict. We want you to stand for justice and peace, and work with God and with others to help us achieve justice and peace here."
People aren't the enemy. Rather, it's harmful ideologies and world views and narratives that rule and exert power in and through people's lives. Paul called these forces "principalities and powers," and they really do possess people and cause them to do terrible things they would never do in their right minds. When hateful and dehumanizing ideologies take control, both victimizers and victims are dehumanized.
In contrast, when people are liberated, when they refuse to conform to this world and instead are transformed by the renewing of their minds, when they surrender to the Spirit of God, when they seek first God's dream and God's justice, beautiful things happen. Today we saw many of those beautiful things alongside the razor wire and segregation walls.
Many things have become more clear since our arrival, and some things have grown more complicated for us, but one thing is absolutely certain: the picture we're given through the media in the U.S. is grossly distorted. If you've never been in both Israel and Palestine, I hope you will start questioning what you think you know about the situation here. I've been an avid reader on the subject for quite a while, but being here now, I see how many of my most basic assumptions were skewed from a lifetime of half-truths, unfair and imbalanced news, propaganda, and misinformation.
Brian McLaren is an author and speaker whose next book A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith releases Feb. 9, 2010.