The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Six Things I Believe

by Lynne Hybels

This paper was presented to a gathering of Palestinian Christians, Israeli Messianic Jews, and American Christians and Messianic Jews on December 5, 2013. 

In 2010 I spoke at the first Christ at the Checkpoint Conference in Bethlehem.  I gave a talk called “It’s All About Jesus: A Personal Journey.”  I chose that title because my engagement in the Holy Land was a very personal attempt to follow in the way of Jesus.  I had been spending considerable time in the region and was brokenhearted by the suffering that resulted from ongoing and often violent conflict.  I believed that what Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs, needed most was to see Jesus incarnated in his followers in the Holy Land.  I came to Christ at the Checkpoint with the desire to encourage and lift up the Christians in the land.  To stand in solidarity with them.

I had learned by that time that this issue could be theologically controversial.  I was still caught off guard, after my talk, when a Messianic Jewish theologian from Israel told me he believed I had totally violated scripture by talking about the plight of the Palestinians. He reminded me that God had given the land to the Jews, and if the Palestinians were suffering it was because God’s will regarding the land was being violated. If I thought the treatment they were receiving was unjust it was because I didn’t understand God’s purposes in the world.

It was a very awkward and disturbing conversation. 

Now, fast-forward two years.  In 2012 I spoke at the second Christ at the Checkpoint conference.  Again that same Messianic theologian approached me afterwards. I assumed we would again have an awkward conversation.

But instead, he said, “Thank you for that talk.  That was a great talk.  In fact, I think you should give that talk to some of our Jewish congregations.”

What happened during the two years separating those conversations?

What happened in me is that a very wise friend—actually a Palestinian Christian—challenged me to spend as much time with Israelis as I had been spending with Palestinians.

So I began doing that. In subsequent trips I met with secular mainstream Jews.  I met with people in the Israeli peace movement. I ate Shabbat meals with Orthodox families. I talked with Israeli families who’d lost children to the violence of suicide bombers.  I listened to the perspective of Messianic Jews.  Perhaps most significantly, I walked slowly through the halls of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.

In my second talk in Bethlehem, I described those experiences.

I also said, “I will never bring a group of people to visit Israel and Palestine again, without taking them to Yad Vashem.  How can we begin to understand this place without holding the reality of Jewish history in our conscious awareness?”

So, my heart had been broken on a deeper level for the Jewish people and that came through in my talk—and made a difference to the Jewish theologian.

What also happened during those two years was that the Jewish theologian spent time with Palestinians in the West Bank, and he actually saw the reality of their daily lives.  He said to me, “I still support the State of Israel and believe the Jews have a unique role to play in God’s redemptive plan.  But the kind of injustice I’ve seen in the West Bank, and that you have described in your talk, is unconscionable. It can’t continue. But few Jews actually know what’s going on here.”

That story—of those two very different conversations—is so encouraging to me.  I’ve been similarly encouraged by many people with whom I may disagree on some points of theology, but for whom I have the deepest respect, because they manifest a level of compassion and wisdom that challenges and humbles me. Honestly, when it comes to my engagement in the Holy Land, I’ve been blessed by gracious mentors from many different directions.

At the same time that I’ve been encouraged, however, I have also been greatly discouraged—especially recently—by the increasing number of blogs and articles and emails written about or to me that question not only my theology, but my motives, my calling, and my intelligence.

I’ve been called a threat to the state of Israel, a subtle (and therefore extremely dangerous) anti-Semite, a spokesperson for the PLO, and a Christian Palestinianist who traffics in anti-Israel propaganda and historical misinformation.

And I’ve been described as part of a massive effort in the heart of the evangelical church to lure its members—especially its youth—away from the pro-Israel position God commands to an uncritical and unbiblical support for Palestinians.

I am not new to the world of criticism. Forty years ago my husband and I started a church in a movie theater where we used drums and guitars in worship.  We were immediately denounced by the evangelical establishment that called us a cult and warned its young people to stay away from us. Since then, we’ve taken plenty of other actions that many people deemed worthy of criticism. Generally we don’t respond to our critics, unless they approach us personally. If we responded to every anonymous or public criticism, we would have little time to do anything else.

But, rightly or wrongly, I feel that I need to respond to the criticism related to my involvement in Israel and Palestine.  I’m choosing to do it in this setting, not because I believe my harshest critics are here; I don’t think they are.  But the recent criticism has challenged me to strip down my message and say very clearly what I mean and what I believe about the conflict. I’m doing it here because this is supposed to be a forum where we can speak honestly, if we do so carefully.

I want to clarify that I’m not speaking on behalf of my husband, my church, the Willow Creek Association, World Vision, The Telos Group, or any other organization with which I might be associated.  I am speaking strictly as an individual.

In the next few minutes I’ll make six “This Is What I Believe” statements.  Each of these statements deserves extensive discussion, which we don’t have time for today. So this is basically an outline, which needs to be developed more fully in another setting.

1. I believe it is possible to be truly pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian at the same time.  On my first meaningful trip to the region both Israeli and Palestinian leaders said, “This is not a zero-sum conflict; in the Holy Land, nobody wins unless everybody wins.  Either Israelis and Palestinians learn to live together, or we will die together.  If you’re here to pick a side, go away.  We don’t need that kind of help.  But if you are willing to figure out how to be a common friend to Israelis and Palestinians, then we welcome you.”

With each trip I make to the region my commitment to that perspective grows.

When I say I’m pro-Israeli, I mean that I support the existence of the State of Israel as a home for the Jewish people.  I want Jews to be able to live there without the fear of rockets falling from Gaza, or suicide bombers attacking civilians, or any other kind of violence against them.  In a world in which anti-Semitism is, tragically, still alive and well, I am thankful for the State of Israel. The fact that I may disagree with some of the policies of the government of Israel doesn’t mean that I’m anti-Israel or anti-Jew, anymore than my disagreement with certain policies of the US government means that I’m anti-US or anti-American.

When I say I’m pro-Palestinian, I mean that I believe the Palestinians have an equally valid right to live in the land and should have the same civil rights that are afforded to Israeli Jewish citizens, whether that’s in one state, two states, or however many states.  I believe Palestinians should be free from military occupation.  They should be able to travel freely between their own communities, engage in commerce, and have easy access to the outside world.

2.  I believe that if we want to engage in the Holy Land as peacemakers, we must recognize that Israelis and Palestinians have very different, and often conflicting, histories and narratives, each of which must be sought out and respectfully heard.  I have been accused of trading the Jewish narrative for a false Palestinian narrative.  I have to say, I just don’t understand that accusation.  How could two groups of people on opposite sides of a violent conflict not have different experiences of what happened, and different memories?

When you pay attention to both narratives, it’s easy to understand why the Jews would want a homeland and why they feel they have a legitimate claim to the Holy Land based on biblical promises.  And it’s easy to understand why the Palestinians feel they have an equally valid claim on the land based on centuries of residence in the land.

Certainly, either narrative can be mythologized and distorted and used to demonize the other.  So, part of our task as people seeking peace is to listen with a discerning ear, to study well, to question what we hear, and to learn from a wide variety of people.

About year ago in Bethlehem I had just such an opportunity.  I attended a meeting of Palestinian women, both Christian and Muslim.  There were two speakers at the meeting.  One was an Israeli Messianic Jew who traveled into Bethlehem, actually breaking the Israeli law that forbade her to go into the West Bank, because she was so determined to meet with these Palestinian women. The other speaker at the event was a Palestinian Christian woman.   Each of these women, in turn, described the typical narrative that is commonly held by her people, and then she critiqued it.

The Jewish women said, “You won’t like what I’m going to say, but this is what most Jews believe.  They believe that Jewish violence in the war of 1948 was purely defensive; Jews were simply defending themselves against Arab aggressors.  But before you get mad at me, I need to tell you that I realize that is not true.  The tragic truth is that in 1948 many Arabs were aggressively forced from their land and/or brutally killed by Jewish fighters.” She said, “Admitting this makes me pretty unpopular with some Israelis, but we must be open to self-criticism.”

The Palestinian woman described some of the hardships of the occupation, but then she said, “We Palestinians tend to think that all our problems are caused by the occupation.  But that’s not true.”  She said, “We must accept culpability for allowing a victim mentality to dominate our actions and for making many poor choices along the way that have hurt us collectively.”  That was hard for some of the Palestinian women to hear, and they discussed it at length.  But at the end of the meeting they asked to meet again so they could continue such discussions.

It was such a privilege to be able to sit in on that meeting.  How admirable, how wise, how courageous, for these women to be willing to listen to the narrative of the other and also to critique their own.  Surely, they are laying a foundation for peace, and modeling that for all of us.

3. I believe biblical theology leaves room for Jews and Arabs to live together as neighbors and equals in the land. I recognize there are differing theologies of the land, based on differing hermeneutical approaches.  These differing theologies often appear to be at odds when it comes to the question of who rightly belongs in the land that we call holy.

I hesitate to speak about this because I’m not a theologian, and I can’t enter theological battles.  But I so appreciate a book written by two people who will be speaking here: Salim Munayer (Palestinian Christian) and Lisa Loden (Messianc Jew).  They edited a book called The Land Cries Out, which includes essays by a wide variety of Messianic Jews, Palestinian Christians, and a few international voices.  There are many different theologies of the land presented in this book, but because most of the writers actually live in the land and deal with the complexity of reality, they speak with the careful, nuanced voices that complexity requires.

Some of the essayists make a strong case that the birth of the modern State of Israel in 1948 and the ingathering of the Jews to the Holy Land is a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy that’s tied to end time events and the second coming of Christ; other essayists have different ways of looking at that.  But running throughout all the chapters of the book was an image of Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians, living together in the land in peace.

For some of the writers (including both Palestinian Christians and a number of Messianic Jews), that peace could conceivably be manifested, to a degree anyway, in the two-state solution that is being discussed in current peace talks.  For others, that vision of peace is for a time far in the distance, when Jesus’ Kingdom is here in fullness.

But what strikes me as critically important is that people with different theological perspectives, who are willing to look at reality honestly and think carefully, can envision Jews and Arab living peacefully and equally as brother and sisters.

4.  I believe that the ongoing military occupation of the West Bank and the continuing blockade of Gaza is a violation of human rights; as such, it deeply harms the security, freedom, and dignity of both peoples. The very fact that I use the word “occupation” has led some people to judge me as an enemy of the State of Israel; they have told me the only “occupation” is the one perpetrated by the Arabs who are occupying the land of Judea and Samaria that belongs to the Jews.

I won’t try to argue with the religious logic behind that claim, but I will say that I know many Israeli Jews who believe that the occupation is wrong; that it violates their Judaic ethic; that it breeds hostility and undermines security; and that it has to end.

Just last week I read an op-ed by an Israeli journalist, an American Jew who moved to Israel as an adult because she loves Israel and wants to live there.  She wrote, “Why can’t ‘pro-Israel’ mean anti-occupation, support for human rights, equality, democracy for all peoples under Israel’s control?  Why should we perpetuate the conflict, by supporting Israeli government policies that perpetuate the conflict?”  She suggests, in fact, that that’s about “as anti-Israel as you can get.”

Some of my critics say that people who talk like the woman I just quoted, are left wing radicals that we as Christians should not be aligning ourselves with, or they’re self-hating Jews who should be silenced.  I can only say that I’ve met some left wing radicals who are also ardent Zionists who seem to be wise and compassionate people and who, in their words, are patriots who are fighting for the soul and security and integrity and future of their country.  I may be wrong, but I respect them and I think their voices ought to be heard in America.

5.  I believe that any violence against civilians, whether carried out militarily or through guerrilla tactics, is illegal under international law, damages prospects for peace, and should be stopped immediately. I want to state that clearly, because my critics have asked why I don’t spend more time talking about Islamic extremists and Hamas and the battle between Muslims and Christians.  Part of my reason is that I think we hear plenty about that.  I have no desire to give more airtime to the voices of violence.

The other reason is that I’ve traveled to the Holy Land specifically in search of those who are committed to nonviolence, forgiveness and reconciliation.  Interestingly, those voices of peace have come from a variety of directions.  While I believe Jesus is the Prince of Peace whose power will ultimately unleash peace, I have met Muslims and Jews, who may or may not give any conscious consideration to Jesus, but who seem to be living out Jesus’ ethic of peacemaking.  In fact, they often challenge me to take Jesus’ way of living more seriously.  As I get to know them and become friends with them, I pray that the gentle community we create will become a space in which Jesus can do his best work of healing, redeeming, and transforming each of us in the ways we most need.

6.  While I do pray for the peace process that’s now going on, and I hope there is some positive outcome from that, I acknowledge that our work for peace is not dependent on what happens in official, political peace talks—not because what happens politically is not important, but because what happens on the grassroots level of relationships is even more important.  And we are all positioned perfectly to make a difference there, as we build little enclaves of peaceful relationships from which peace can bubble up.

Several weeks ago, thirty American, Israeli and Palestinian women met for two days in Washington DC.  We were Christians, Muslims and Jews, religious and secular, youngish and oldish—united by our commitment to human rights in the Holy Land.

Some of the Palestinian women had been criticized by their friends in the West Bank for attending a meeting with Israelis, their oppressors.  Some of the Israeli women had been criticized by their friends for attending a meeting with Palestinians, their enemies. Some of the American women showed up at the meeting licking wounds sustained from journalists who wrongly judged our character and motives.

So, there was a rather high degree of emotional “rawness” in the gathering.  While that rawness could have pushed us all to put up protective barriers, it actually had the opposite impact.  There was an unusual level of honest communication and vulnerability, with Israeli and Palestinian women talking about the fears they have for their children and the loneliness they often feel as women committed to peace and reconciliation.

There was a particularly profound connection between a young Palestinian woman and an older Israeli woman.  They were both psychologists, highly educated and articulate, but neither could quite contain their emotion as they spoke.

The young Palestinian woman described what it was like to send her teenage son through a checkpoint, knowing that he would feel frustrated and humiliated; she feared that the humiliation, repeated over and over again, would turn him into an angry young man, maybe even a violent young man.  She tried to keep him away from checkpoints, but she couldn’t keep him locked in one little neighborhood.  So she feared for his future.

The older Israeli woman described what it was like knowing that her teenage grandson was an IDF soldier, standing at a checkpoint with a gun in his hand, terrified of using the power of that weapon, and yet terrified not to.  She didn’t want him to become the oppressor, but he was.  She feared what that would do to him, inside.

The two women agreed:  “We are both victims of this conflict, this occupation, this ongoing tragedy.  We are both victims of the fear that sets our people against each other.”

Then the Israeli woman spoke out of the wisdom of her years: “But look at us here,” she said, “in this room.  Today we talked about our fear, and instead of fear driving us apart, it has brought us together.  We need to keep talking with one another, deeply and honestly.  We need to use this fear to draw us together.”   I have to tell you there was magic in that room.  I have nothing against men, but I’m not sure that magic would have been felt in a roomful of men.

The only thing that saddened us was knowing that, despite the wonderful connection we had in Washington DC, once the Israeli and Palestinian women went back home there would be no place for them to meet—except, one of them joked, at a checkpoint.  Interestingly, that idea of “pitching a tent of meeting at a checkpoint” became sort of a metaphor for our remaining conversations that day.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it continues to describe our future meetings.

I’m telling you this because I left that gathering deeply moved by the potential women have to establish healing relationships, and to advocate for human rights in a profoundly personal and captivating way.

One thing we speakers were asked to do in our presentations today is to share what we believe we can do for the sake of peace.  I have concluded that one of the most valuable things I can do is to create more and more connections between Palestinian, Israeli and American women—which will be my focus in the future.

Mother Teresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

My goal will be to remind American and Israeli and Palestinian women that we do, in fact, belong to each another, and together we can do a work for peace that we could not do without each other.

That is my vision for the future.

The Lovely Languages of the Olive Harvest

by Lynne Hybels

This first appeared at lynnehybels.com in November 2012

oliveharvest_group

What do they know of us, I wonder?  We American women in our t-shirts and jeans.  We loud women, blasting their quiet with strange words. We who are free to leave family and friends for the simple joy of learning.  We who travel with ease across oceans and borders they cannot even hope to cross.

And what do we know of them?  Who are they behind the hijabs that hide their hair, the long coats that hide the outline of their bodies?  What is their home like?  What do they experience in marriage?  What do they dream of for their kids?  What does their religion mean to them?

American Christian women and Palestinian Muslim women.  Meeting in an olive orchard.  Learning names we can’t remember.  Shaking hands.  Smiling constantly because it’s the only language we have in common, or so we think.

oliveharvest_gathering

Then we start picking olives.  Some of us strip the olives from branches already pruned from the trees and scattered on the ground.  Some of us climb to the tops of ladders, bravely but awkwardly, following the lead of our mentors but lacking their grace.  Others of us cannot resist the urge to scramble as high as we dare into the branches of a tree as old as the Roman age.  (Yes, that is where I find myself.)

oliveharvest_tree

I climb higher than I should. I scare myself, and yet I love it here, up high.  I love reaching for a branch almost beyond my reach.  I stretch, my fingers inch toward it, and then yes, I have it!  I feel the dusty leaves slip through my closed fist.  I strip the olives, listening as they hit the black tarp spread beneath the tree.  I love that sound, like rain hitting a window.

And I learn a new language: the language of shared work.

The women in the hijabs tell me with their quickly moving fingers how hard they work.  They tell me how important the olive harvest is to the economy of their extended family, their village.  They tell me that during the several weeks of the olive harvest they start at sunrise and end at sunset, claiming each moment of light as another moment for work.

And I, in this new language, hope that I am saying to them that their work is important, their family is important, their village is important.  I tell them, in the graceless way I pick, that I am an amateur, a newcomer to the olive harvest.  But I pick as fast as can, hoping that in my wordless work they will hear the earnestness of my presence, the earnestness of my desire to honor them and their ancient olive trees.

And then, the one woman among us who can translate, shouts “Time for tea!”  I discover that it’s harder to climb down from a high branch than it is to climb up to it.  The footholds that led up the fat trunk and up the twisting branches inevitably disappear on the way down.  The first tentative step on the way up becomes a wild crashing jump on the way down.

oliveharvest_teaBut it’s worth it.  The sweet sage tea, poured in a steaming stream from a tarnished metal teapot into small clear glass teacups, is delicious.  We sit in a circle using rocks for chairs.  One woman topples off her rock and we laugh.  Then a baby pops an olive into her mouth and all the American women rush to take it out.  Our translator laughs as she says, “Relax.  Babies don’t like olives.  She’ll spit it out.”  The women in their hijabs laugh at our ignorance about babies and olives.

I realize we’re discovered a new language: the language of laughter.  The longer we drink tea the more we speak this new language.  And it is beautiful.

Then a woman in a hijab upends a plastic bucket and starts drumming out a rhythm. Her friends begin to sing—a love song, we’re told.  A six-year-old girl moves her feet and sways her hips; she holds her head high while her hands draw spirals in the air.  Some of us join the dance as if we’ve been dancing all our lives.  Others prove we’ve never danced a step.  But we dance anyway.

oliveharvest_dancingWe love this new language: the language of song and dance.

I find another plastic bucket, upend it and join the drummer, mimicking her rhythm as best I can.  We’re in a movie, right?  I mean, such moments as this don’t happen in real life, do they?  Could I, an American Christian grandmother from Chicago, really be sitting under an olive tree in a small village in the West Bank, dancing and drumming with three generations of Muslim women I’ve never seen before this day?

After tea we move happily back to our work positions.  Olives stripped from high branches plop and bounce, forming tiny mountains of black and green on the dusty tarp.  Old women pluck from the mountains the plumpest olives, the ones too perfect to be pressed into oil.  The rest they gather in huge white bags the men will later haul to the village olive press.

oliveharvest_womanoliveharvest_womanolives

Lunch in the olive orchard is a feast.  Whole chickens, dismembered and seasoned, are skewered on a tall spiral of iron and covered with foil.  While men tend the flames that engulf the foil tower, women open tubs of yogurt and cut thick slices of cucumbers and wedges of tomatoes.  Soft pita baked that morning is torn into chunks perfect for scooping hummus and assorted salads.  We sit around the edges of a tarp turned tablecloth and pour Coke and Sprite into plastic cups.  With our fingers we pull perfectly roasted chicken off the bone.  Even I, a mostly-vegetarian, ask for seconds on chicken.  I am that hungry, and the chicken is that good.

oliveharvest_luncholiveharvest_pita

oliveharvest_9

And so we add another language to our repertoire: the language of a shared meal, of life around the table.

That morning, before I left my hotel in Ramallah, I Tweeted this: “Helping to harvest olives is high on my bucket list.  Today I get to check it off!”

Often, experiences we dream of fail to match expectations.  Sometimes they match, but just barely.  On rare occasions, such as this day in the olive orchard, they far exceed our dreams.

Sunset comes early in the West Bank in November.  Our afternoon tea break is barely finished before we have to gather the tarps and call it a day. As the women of the village walk us to the van that will take us back to Ramallah, and the children skip alongside, we wonder if we should have spent less time smiling and laughing and singing and dancing and eating and drinking, and more time picking.  Would our time have been better spent?  Would the olive harvest have been better honored?

If the measure of success is the number of olives that travel from branch to tarp, perhaps we could have been more effective. But what if the measure of success is the number of languages spoken between new friends?  What if the measure of success is the level of camaraderie felt at the end of a day?

oliveharvest_10I walk arm in arm with one of my favorite women, an older woman who laughs lustily and shakes and shimmies when she dances.  A friend snaps our photo.  “I’ll be back tomorrow,” I tell her, not knowing if she understands.

She smiles. “Inshallah,” she says.  If God wills.

Stories Worth Telling

by Lynne Hybels
This article first appeared in Sojourners Magazine, August 2013.

In her Jewish school in Montreal, Ronit Avni learned the tragic history of her people. Her Canadian mother and Israeli father had met in the ‘60s when her mother was living in Israel and working as a folk-singer, often performing for Israeli troops. Her older sister was born in Tel Aviv, but the family settled back in Montreal in the mid-‘70s before Ronit was born.

Not strictly religious but committed to the values of Judaism, Ronit couldn’t help but ask probing questions as she listened to the stories of the birth of the modern state of Israel in 1948. Am I hearing the whole story? How do Palestinian perspectives differ from what my educators and community leaders are teaching? How can we transform this situation from a zero-sum equation to one that respects the dignity and freedom of all?

Years later, having graduated with honors from Vassar College with a BA in political science after studying theater at a conservatory in Montreal, Ronit trained human rights advocates worldwide to produce videos as tools for public education and grassroots mobilizing.

By the time I met Ronit a few years ago, she had narrowed her worldwide focus to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where her heart was most deeply drawn. She is the founder and executive director of Just Vision, an organization dedicated to increasing media coverage and support for Palestinian and Israeli efforts to end the occupation and conflict without weapons of violence.

During the last several years, my engagement in the Holy Land has been significantly shaped by Ronit. Her film Encounter Point, about Israelis and Palestinians who have lost family members, land, or liberty to the conflict yet choose forgiveness and reconciliation rather than revenge, gave me hope that peace can emerge from pain.

In Budrus, she tells the story of a Palestinian father and daughter who galvanize their entire community—and many Israeli activists—to use nonviolence means to achieve freedom for the threatened village of Budrus. Hailed in the New York Times as “this year’s must-see documentary,” Budrus helped me understand the power of nonviolent resistance.

A recently released short film, My Neighbourhood, is a heartbreaking story of Palestinian families threatened with eviction from their homes. I was particularly moved by the actions of a middle-aged Israeli mother—a woman a lot like me—who never intended to be an activist but couldn’t remain silent in the face of injustice.

During a recent visit to Chicago, Ronit joined me for lunch. The timing was perfect. I had just given several talks challenging American Christians to engage in an authentically pro-Israeli, Pro-Palestinian, pro-Peace, and pro-Jesus conversation. While some people welcomed my message, others held to a political or theological position that forced them to choose sides and to accuse me of naiveté. Some even suggested that since I don’t spend more time denouncing suicide bombers and terrorists I must secretly support the extremists who threaten Israel.

Let me make myself clear: I denounce every act of violence that threatens any Israeli or Palestinian civilian. I denounce terrorism whenever it occurs and whoever perpetrates it. But Ronit reminded me why I travel so frequently to Israel and the Palestinian Territory. It’s because of the peacemakers—the Israelis and Palestinians, the Christians, Muslims, and Jews—who refuse to be enemies, who work together for a future in which all the people of the Holy Land live in security and freedom and equality and dignity. We hear plenty about people committed to violence. What we need is to hear more about the people committed to peace.

Do you want to be inspired? Spend some time at www.justvision.org. Let Ronit introduce you to the hundreds of heroes on the ground who work for peace and justice every single day. Learn from them. Pray for them. And whenever you have a chance, tell their stories.

Pro-Israeli, Pro-Palestinian, and Pro-Peace?

Article by Lynne Hybels

Whenever I speak about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict—including Catalyst/Dallas on May 1 and an extended West Coast tour called “Hope for the Holy Land”—I use the phrase “pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, pro-peace.”  Often people ask exactly what I mean by that.  Below is a pledge that I think summarizes the essence of being pro-pro-pro-.  You’ll also find information about Holy Land trips, as well as educational books.

Pro-Israeli, Pro-Palestinian, Pro-Peace Pledge:
Pro-Pro-Pro Pledge

Holy Land tours featuring visits to ancient biblical sites as well as meetings with Israeli and Palestinians representing diverse religious and political perspectives:
http://www.telosgroup.org/programs/pilgrimages

Sign up here to receive Fieldnotes, a monthly newsletter about the pro-pro-pro movement:
http://eepurl.com/xd-gr

An excellent (and short!) introduction to the conflict that honors both Israeli and Palestinian perspectives:
The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Tough Questions, Direct Answers by Dale Hanson Bourke 

An updated version of Blood Brothers, the classic book on reconciliation in the Holy Land, with a new introduction by Gabe Lyons and Lynne Hybels:
Blood Brothers by Elias Chacour 

We Belong to Each Other: a PDF presentation by Lynne Hybels:
Downloadable PDF

This book offers those caught between differing theological perspectives on the Holy Land a path beyond conflict:
Apocalypse Later: Why the Gospel of Peace Must Trump the Politics of Prophecy in the Middle East by Abdu H. Murray

For ongoing information about the pro-pro-pro movement, check back frequently with www.webelongtoeachother.org and www.telosgroup.org.

Follow us on Twitter @webelong4peace and @telosgroup.

Finally, The Book I’ve Been Praying For!

Article by Lynne Hybels

This blog was first published at lynnehybels.com

Years ago, when the leadership at Willow Creek Community Church wanted to respond wisely and compassionately to extreme poverty and the AIDS crisis, we challenged our entire congregation to read Dale Hanson Bourke’s books, The Skeptic’s Guide to Global Poverty and The Skeptic’s Guide to the Global AIDS Crisis. We knew there would be a time for more in-depth study, for decisions about strategies of engagement, for vision trips and serving opportunities and fundraising. But first we had to break through myths and stereotypes and ignorance. We had to provide a basic understand of issues, a common language, and a solid foundation upon which to build. My husband and I had known and respected Dale for years and were not surprised to find in her books the perfect starting point for our congregation.

Fast forward a few years. While happily engaged in ministry partnerships in several African countries, I was surprised by a divine nudge to turn my attention toward the Middle East. I began traveling to Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian Territory. I met Arab Christians who challenged me to learn more about the Middle East, particularly about the ongoing conflict in the Holy Land, which they described as sending ripples of tension throughout the region and negatively impacting their lives. I decided to accept their challenge.

I started by reading book after book after book, piecing together dates and wars and migrations and political perspectives in an attempt to better understand this ongoing conflict. I traveled repeatedly to the Holy Land, not just to visit the traditional holy sites, but to learn from thoughtful people on all sides of the issue—from Israelis and Palestinians, from Christians, Muslims and Jews. Along the way, my heart was broken by the pain that decades of hostility has produced in the lives of all the people in the Holy Land. At the same time, I was captured by Jesus’ call to his followers to love their enemies and by the blessing he spoke upon peacemakers (Matt. 5:24, Matt. 5:9).

As I began telling others about what I’d seen and learned, I came to dread the moment when I’d be asked for a “simple book—a primer—to help me get started.” I dreaded that moment because I had no good answer. I’d recommend Elias Chacour’s book, Blood Brothers, which is a powerful call to reconciliation and peacemaking in the Holy Land. But in terms of the basic facts of the current reality, there was nothing. Most books about this conflict assume too much background knowledge or confuse readers with too many details. Worse yet, many offer a clearly biased perspective, a black-and-white assessment of good guys verses bad, which does not lay the biblical and essential foundation for peacemaking.

I could think of only one solution to this problem of the missing book: Dale Hanson Bourke. As soon as Dale agreed to travel with me to Israel and the West Bank, I started praying she’d be inspired to write about what she saw and learned. I knew it would be the most difficult project she’d ever written on, not just because it’s a complex story, but because it’s a painful story that taps into individual and communal traumas of two distinct people groups. To write this story in a way that would honor all the people in the Holy Land, and serve beginners on the peacemaking journey, would require equal measures of intellectual rigor and empathy, the mind of a dogged researcher and the heart of a passionate Christ-follower. Fortunately, that’s exactly who Dale is.

The Holy Land is not the first place Dale and I wept together as we listened to the stories of people whose lives have been shattered by violence. Nearly two decades ago we walked together through the rubble of war-torn Bosnia and committed ourselves to upholding the cause of suffering people through reconciliation and peacemaking.  It was in that spirit of shared passion that I invited Dale to join me in the Holy Land.  It is also in that shared passion that we have both decided to join the growing chorus of pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian voices, confident that as we submit our hearts and minds to the spirit of Jesus, we will find the way of peace.

I’m so grateful that Dale wrote the book I’d prayed for.  In fact, this blog is taken from the forward I wrote for Dale’s book, The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Tough Questions, Direct Answers.  Please read this book!  Order it right now!  It’s not about taking sides. It’s about listening, learning and prayerfully becoming part of the hope and healing needed in the Holy Land.

An ‘Eye For An Eye’ and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: It’s Not What You Think

Rabbi Melissa Weintraub

(This thoughtful article by Rabbi Melissa Weintraub calls on all people—Israelis and Palestinians, as well as Americans (including “Jews, Mainline Protestants and Evangelicals, Israel advocates, Palestinians solidarity activists, hard-lines and doves”)—to become “not pro-Palestinian or pro-Israel but pro-solution.”  Rabbi Weintraub’s words beautifully affirm the perspective we promote in this blog.  Lynne Hybels)

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-melissa-weintraub/an-eye-for-an-eye-and-the-israeli-palestinian-conflict_b_1498110.html

 

Asking to Understand

Dale Hanson Bourke’s book, The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, was released in April 2013.  In this blog, Dale reflects on the process of writing about such a complex issue.  Read more about the book and excerpts from the forward in a related blog by Lynne Hybels.   

Article by Dale Hanson Bourke

In many ways, it was a frustrating year.  I spent much of it writing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a subject so complex that I was often overwhelmed.  I became intellectually insecure and frustratingly unproductive.  Days of research often produced just one written page.  More than once, I considered quitting the project and taking up something more manageable.

But in retrospect, the lessons of the year are not so much about choosing my subject more carefully but about what I learned and how I learned it.  Taking on a topic that was so complicated and potentially polarizing taught me lessons I had never learned from writing about subjects closer to my comfort zone.  And because the subject was not just about facts but also about beliefs, I spent a good amount of time interviewing people who held a variety of opinions.

If there was a theme for my year, it would have to be the year of asking questions.  I asked dozens of questions, not in the way I had ever asked questions before.  I asked to understand points of view I found confusing and disturbing.  I listened to people share stories of pain and anger, sorrow and frustration.  I heard theories and diatribes, proposed solutions and defiant declarations.  It was important to understand each so thoroughly that I could explain them.  So instead of pushing back, I asked to hear more.

People from completely different points of view took the time to talk to me, to explain themselves, to answer my often ignorant questions.  They were mostly kind, extravagantly patient, and willing to share resources.  I rarely offered an opinion or reacted to what I heard.  It wasn’t my place and my lack of expertise was profound.  I needed to take in what was offered without filters.

Some of the people I interviewed wanted me to engage.  It is, after all, a topic that elicits strong reactions from almost anyone. But most just seemed surprised and then grateful that I was truly listening to a view they held dear.  The longer I spent listening, the more I realized that my ignorance was a gift. I wasn’t being disingenuous when I said, “I don’t really know enough to offer an opinion.”  I asked to truly understand, not to argue.

In the end, I came to a place of empathy for a variety of opinions.  Almost every person I interviewed graciously offered to help.  Many spent hours reviewing my drafts and helping me articulate their point of view clearly.  I made new friends who are so diverse I dare not mention one to the other.  And even when I found some of their beliefs disturbing, I came to understand why they held them.  Instead of stereotyping points of view or types of people involved in this conflict, I have new appreciation for the painful realities and conflicting narratives.

This year I learned to ask questions, not to be polite, or to elicit a quote for a story, or to act like I cared.  I asked questions to truly understand.  Not only did I learn a great deal about the subject, I learned even more about people.  We are very much alike, even when we hold very different opinions.  We mostly care about the people we love and about being safe.  We care about justice even though we define it in many ways.  And we want to be respected.  We want someone to listen to our thoughts and try to truly understand who we are.

Where Politics Are Complex, Simple Joys at the Beach

Article by Ethan Bronner

One goal of this website is to acknowledge the unique contributions of women to global peacemaking.  The Israeli and Palestinian women highlighted in this inspiring New York Times article below made their unique contribution with courage and creativity. If you’re like me, this story will make you laugh and cry.  And then it will challenge you to think deeply about the big or small actions you can take to contribute to peace in our world.  Invest two minutes in reading this article.  You’ll be so glad you did!  -Lynne Hybels

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/27/world/middleeast/27swim.html?_r=0

The Common Bond of Blood

This article appears in the March 2012 issue of Sojourners Magazine.

Robi Damelin has always fought injustice. Growing up in South Africa, she spoke out against apartheid and worked actively for co-existence. In 1967, she moved to Israel—“to solve the conflict,” she says with self-deprecating humor. She ended up working on a kibbutz. “Ever since then,” she told me, “I have had a love-hate relationship with this country.” She loves the reality of a homeland for the Jewish people, but she hates the oppression of Palestinian people that results from the Israeli military occupation. “Israel will never be free until the Palestinians are free,” she says.

Robi’s son, David, shared her perspective about the occupation. Robi claims he “would rather have gone to jail than serve in the military, but he knew that as soon as he was released, he’d just be posted somewhere else. In the end we agreed it would be better for him to serve as an officer and set an example to other soldiers by behaving like a human being.” David fulfilled his required service, but in 2002 he was called up to the reserves. Again, he and Robi decided he should serve and set an example.

But as a soldier “he was a symbol of an occupying army.” On March 3, 2002, 28-year-old David Damelin was killed by a Palestinian sniper.

“I was beside myself with grief,” says Robi. “I had all the good things in life, but it all became totally irrelevant. I just wanted to prevent other families from experiencing this.” Robi was invited to a meeting where she met Palestinian mothers who had also lost children. “I saw there was no difference in our pain. I realized that through our joint pain we could speak out and make a difference.”

Robi closed her public relations business and became a spokesperson for The Parents Circle (www.theparentscircle.com), a group of more than 600 Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost an immediate family member in the conflict. Robi spends her time traveling the world to spread the message of reconciliation, forgiveness, and peace.

“Reconciliation is not about hugging and eating hummus. It is about understanding the needs of the other,” Robi explains. “You need to view history through the human eye.” Together, members of the Parents Circle study each other’s personal and historical narratives. During a typical learning experience, they visited Yad Vashem (the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem), listened to lectures by Israeli and Palestinian historians, then visited an Arab village destroyed by Israelis in 1948.

At the village, one Palestinian mother saw the well she had used as a child. “That helped me understand why she walks around with the key to her family’s house, wishing she could return,” said Robi. “These experiences create empathy.”

In 2010, an Israeli marketing firm challenged creative thinkers throughout the world to come up with a way to bring Israelis and Palestinians together. The result was Blood Relations (www.bloodrelations.org), which provides a catalyst for dialogue by demonstrating people’s shared humanity through the common bond of blood. The effort was launched in Tel Aviv in September 2011, when Israeli and Palestinian members of the Parents Circle publicly donated their blood to Israeli and Palestinian hospitals as a symbolic act of healing. Robi donated her blood while seated next to a Palestinian mother whose son had also been killed.

“The pain of David’s death never goes away,” says Robi. “But what do you do with this pain? Do you invest it in revenge, or do you think creatively?”

People ask why I have hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. How can I not have hope when there are people like Robi Damelin?

A Common Friend to Arabs and Jews

As followers of Jesus, those of us who host this blog believe that all human beings are made in the image of God. We believe that in Jesus there is neither “Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  We believe that God has granted dignity to all human beings and that at the foot of the cross we are all equals. We believe we are called to worship God “in the Spirit and in truth,” and that when we do, wherever we are becomes sacred space. We believe that Jesus calls his followers to walk in the world as peacemakers.

We wholeheartedly support the existence of the State of Israel as a place where Jews can live in freedom and security. We cannot listen to the deep and legitimate fears of Israeli Jews—as we have all done—without joining them in celebrating the existence of the State of Israel. We cannot walk quietly through the halls of Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Memorial) in Jerusalem—as we have all done—without being horrified by what the Jews experienced in Europe in the 1930s and ‘40s, and what they suffered at many times in many places before that. We earnestly long for the day when Jews can live in Israel—and anywhere—in security. We believe followers of Jesus ought to be outspoken in their support of peace and safety for all Jews, and of the right of Israeli civilians to live without being subjected to rocket fire and suicide attacks.

We wholeheartedly support freedom and equal rights for Palestinians. We have been challenged by Arab Christians throughout the Middle East to listen to the stories of Palestinian Arabs forced from their homes and villages during the founding of the State of Israel. We have been challenged to see for ourselves—as we have all done—the current plight of Palestinian Christians and Muslims living under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank.

As we have traveled to the region, we have been shocked to see the reality of daily life for Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation. A shattered economy, land seizures and house demolitions, settlement expansion, Israeli-only roads networking through Palestinian land, and hundreds of military checkpoints on Palestinian roads—all of which make daily life difficult and frustrating for Palestinians. Because of delays at checkpoints, produce rots in the back of pickup trucks before farmers can get it to market. Other farmers are permanently separated from their land by the Israeli-built security wall; while the wall was created to protect Israelis from terrorists, in many places it is built not on the internationally recognized “green line” between Israel and Palestine, but deep within Palestinian territory. We’ve learned that the best and brightest of Palestinian Christians are leaving the Holy Land, not because of tension with Muslims, but because energetic, educated young people see no future for themselves under ongoing military occupation.

We believe the military occupation of the Palestinian Territory is unsustainable and undermines the welfare and security of both Israelis and Palestinians. We recognize that there are many who disagree. There are, in fact, religious Jews and Christians who do not consider Israeli presence in the West Bank as “occupation.” They believe God gave the land to the Jews centuries ago, so the Palestinians are actually the “occupiers.” They feel justified in building Jewish “settlements”—or cities—on Palestinian land because they believe the land is not really Palestinian land. Though the international community considers the settlements illegal—as do many Israelis—the settlers and some Israeli leaders believe they are legal. Increasing numbers of extremist settlers even believe they are justified in using violence to move the Palestinians off the land.

We respect the perspective of these religious Jews and Christians, but we do not agree with the actions that flow from their theology. We denounce the violence of the extremist settlers, just as we denounce the violence of Palestinian extremists. We believe the Holy Land can and should be a place where Jews and Arabs can live as neighbors. We’ve talked with Israelis and Palestinians who are committed to mutual understanding and reconciliation. These Christians, Muslims, and Jews have begged us “not to take sides.” They have said, “Please, be a common friend to all of us. Either we will learn to live together or we will die together.” We have become convinced that the best way to be a friend to Israel is to also be a friend to the Palestinians, and the best way to be a friend to the Palestinians is to also be a friend to Israel.

Some people have accused us of moving from an accurate “Zionist theology” that supports the State of Israel, to a dangerous “Palestinian theology” that delegitimizes Israel. The truth is that we hold to a theology of God’s Kingdom that has room for both Jewish and Arab presence in the land. What fuels our passion for peacemaking is our personal engagement with the living people of the Holy Land—both Israelis and Palestinians—who have suffered from the ongoing conflict.

Many people ask why we continue to travel to the Holy Land. We answer that we go to listen and to learn. We’re all on a continuing journey of understanding about what it means to be a “common friend” to Jews and Arabs. What better way to learn than to listen to a wide range of experiences and perspectives? As we listen to these diverse voices, we pray for discernment. We pray to be able to hear the fear or the longing behind the words. We pray that our hearts will break like the heart of God breaks over the pain of all his children.

Peacemakers on both sides are discouraged as they watch the inability of Israeli, Palestinian, and American politicians to move toward peace. We share their sadness about the present and their fears for the future. But we resonate with God’s call to action that challenges us to “seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:14). We’ve discovered people on both sides of this conflict who are committed to that calling, and we are committed to partnering with them and lifting up their voices.

We invite all people of faith to join us in praying that the acts of violent people will be thwarted, that people committed to nonviolence will be protected, that reconcilers will be sustained as they seek mutual understanding and friendship, and that politicians will have the maturity and grace to become true moral leaders.