Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Peace lessons from my travels in Palestine

From the people I have met on my travels in the land of Jesus, here are a few of my “peace lessons”:

  1. We must learn to see all people – including our “enemies” – as human beings created in the image of God, due respect and honor and treatment as such (regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, etc., and regardless of how they are treating us). The way Sheikh Ghassan put it, to see that “the person in front of me is me with a different language, religion, ethnicity, etc.,” and to “make my enemy into my friend.” The way the Quakers put it is to find “that of God” in all people. The way Jesus put it is that we must learn to love our neighbor and love even our enemy, and “do to others as we would have them do to us.”
  2. We must not accept the status quo. We must take action to bring about change.
  3. Outsiders must not “take sides.” That creates more problems than it solves.
  4. Whether we are inside or outside of a conflict, we must speak out, speak the truth about evil, injustice, etc.
  5. We need to develop an understanding of God, of religion, and of people that rises above the ethnocentric “tribalism” of believing that God is for us and our people and against others (and that uses religion/the name of God to justify fighting and killing others).
  6. We must develop the strength of character to make difficult moral choices, e.g., to forgive, to not return evil with evil, to resist injustice nonviolently.
  7. We need to build relationship with those on the other side of a conflict. We need to share our stories, get to know each other, find what we have in common, embrace our shared humanity, and find ways to work together to end the conflict.
Conversely, walls and checkpoints and occupation and humiliating others; enshrining our own ethnicity and religion and nationality; playing the role of the victim; and justifying actions which serve ourselves and our interests while mistreating others, do not lead to peace.

I have met many courageous and principled people in the midst of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Israeli and Arab, Muslim, Christian and Jew, who are living out these values and practices. They are among my peace heroes, and I pray that their efforts for peace will succeed.

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