Friday, August 20, 2010

Faith Beyond Despair? a word from Father Elias Chacour

I have recently been reading Elias Chacour's recent book "Faith Beyond Despair: Building Hope in the Holy Land." For those not familiar with Father Chacour's writings, I would highly recommend his previous books, "Blood Brothers" and "We Belong to the Land." In all of his books, he tells his own story, of his experience as part of a Palestinian family that was run out of their village in '48, but stayed within what became the state of Israel, and are thus Israeli Arab citizens. He is a priest, now a bishop, and has spent his life working for reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis, Christians, Jews and Muslims. (For more information on the educational complex he has built over the years, see

I find his perspectives refreshing, given his long years of experiencing first hand all of the problems and setbacks of the Palestinian people, and knowing well the obstacles to peace and reconciliation. It amazes me that someone who has lived what he has lived, still has hope.

Here are a couple of statements from "Faith Beyond Despair," with relational convictions that are foundational - in his view - to finding a resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict:

"It is not a matter now of tolerating each other, we have to accept each other.

"We have to move beyond tolerance to the point of accepting one another, which means accepting that the other is different and that this difference is an enrichment, not a threat. That is the way our attitudes have to evolve, and unfortunately that is not yet happening.

"Before we were ever Jews, Muslims or Palestinians we were simply men and women. We must always remember our common identity. The trouble is that we educate our children, not to be human beings, but to be Zionists, or left wing, or right wing, or Palestinians fanatics standing on their rights with hatred in their hearts.

"My proposal to you is that we should work together in harmony to create a human society in which it will be good to be alive. … Neither you nor I nor our friend the sheik was born a Christian, a Muslim or a Jew. According to the Bible, we were born first and foremost as children, created in the image of God."

Is this possible? Can Muslims, Christians and Jews, Palestinians and Israelis, or any of us, set aside their ideologies and secondary identities, focus on their shared primary identity as human beings, and learn to accept one another, as a basis for living together in society? Given all that Father Chacour has experienced to the contrary, the fact that he continues to believe that this is possible, and that he seeks to live this out in his interactions with others, gives me hope.

To me, Father Chacour is a Gandhi or a Martin Luther King, Jr., of the Palestinian struggle. May his hope stay strong, and prove well founded.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What are we missing as we read the Bible?

This past Sunday, the pastor of the church we were visiting spoke on Proverbs 23. I like this church, and I like the pastor, but I was struck on this occasion by something he missed. Proverbs 23 verses 10 and 11 state:

"Do not move an ancient boundary stone or encroach on the fields of the fatherless, for their Defender is strong; he will take up their case against you."

What was noticeably missing in the pastor's comments on these verses, to one who has spent time in the West Bank and knows the situation of the Palestinians, was any reference to the many ways that the Israeli government is continually "moving ancient boundary stones" and "encroaching on the fields of the fatherless," i.e., moving boundaries and taking land that belongs to Palestinians.

On a recent trip to the West Bank, I was struck again, in Bethlehem and surroundings, East Jerusalem, and elsewhere, the extent to which the Wall, rather than being about "security" (which the Israeli government maintains), is about land grabbing. Over and over again, the Wall runs a circuitous route, weaving back and forth in a path designed, not to separate Palestinians from Israelis (and settlers, at that, who are living on stole land), but to separate Palestinians from large segments of their land. Then, once Palestinians have not been able to access or work the land for a certain period of time, Israel uses the "law" (if you can call it that, when it is being used as an instrument of evil) to claim the "unused" land. This is well documented, and if you don't believe it, you should visit the West Bank and see for yourself.

Meanwhile, we sit comfortably in our churches in America, and listen to nice sermons that fail to make the most basic of connections, i.e., between the Biblical text and the reality on the ground in the very area, to the very people, that it was originally spoken to.

May the Defender that the verse refers to, the Just and Righteous Creator of both the Palestinians and the Israelis, indeed come to the defense of those who are having their land (and their freedom and many basic human rights) stolen. And may those of us who claim faith in God, and who claim to believe and revere the Bible, read it deeply and act upon it.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

peace quote of the day [Rabbis for Human Rights: Human Dignity]

The Mishnah teaches: “Therefore was Adam created single, to teach you that the destruction of any person’s life is tantamount to destroying a whole world and the preservation of a single life is tantamount to preserving a whole world” (Sanhedrin 4:5). And again in the words of Rabbi Akiva: “Beloved are human beings, for they are created in God’s Image” (Pirkei Avot 3:18).  We are deeply concerned for human dignity and the preservation of life for Jews and non-Jews alike, and we are deeply disturbed by, and seek to remove, excesses and abuses whenever and wherever they occur.
-from Rabbis for Human Rights: Judaism & Human Rights, Principles of Faith

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

peace quote of the day [Israel's Declaration of Independence]

THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open to the immigration of Jews and for the Ingathering of the Exiles from all countries of their dispersion; will promote the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace as invisaged by the prophets of Israel; will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex; will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture; will safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of the shrines and Holy Places of all religions; and will dedicate itself to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
- from Israel's Declaration of Independence 

Monday, August 2, 2010

Game Trekking: traveling (and gaming) towards peace, creativity, and understanding

"As cliché as it sounds, I believe that travel is a metaphor for, and microcosm of, life itself, and that therein lies its value. It's about the exotic, but also about the commonplace; about the new, but also about the old; about seeing and discovering, but also about listening and waiting; about coming into contact with the other and being changed, but also about finding constancy. Always it is about coming to know the world better, and myself." -Jordan Magnuson, "The Journey"

If, as Marvin Olasky suggests, social justice is created from millions of individual acts of relational justice, then maybe global understanding is created from combining millions of moments of individual understanding.  Of one person stepping out of his or her comfort zone to encounter the Other.

And encountering the Other is exactly what game designer, Jordan Magnuson, hopes to do.  Travel the world, and create computer games (or notgames) about what he sees and experiences.  About how he is impacted.

This is something he has already done -- very effectively, I believe -- with such games as Freedom Bridge, inspired by his two years spent living in South Korea.  But now he wants to do it on a wider scale, and is asking for your support.

Now, there are many, many reasons that this excites me, but I'm going to share two of them.  One, as I have stated elsewhere, I believe in creativity.  I believe that creation is, perhaps, the single greatest weapon we have against destruction -- against war, and hatred, and violence.  Pacifism is powerful because it requires creative resistance.  It requires humanity in the place of barbarism.

I believe that the creative process, even when it isn't used to convey explicitly peace-related themes, helps us retain our humanity and draws us together in community -- the broad community that binds us together as beings who long to communicate, create beauty, and make meaning, and the more specific community of those who have shared a specific experience, whether that experience involves looking at a van Gogh, attending an opera, or playing a computer game.  Art binds us together.

Which is why kickstarter (an online site that allows you to contribute directly to creative projects) is so exciting to me.  Not only can you be involved in the process of experiencing art, you can actually help create it.  You can enable individuals to share their creative visions with you, and with the world.

So I am excited about Game Trekking because it's creative.  But I'm also excited about the specific way in which it is creative.  I'm excited that it's a project dedicated to encountering and understanding the unknown.  I'm excited that Magnuson will have the opportunity to see and listen, to explore and ponder, to change and be changed.  I believe that, in itself, is priceless.  But it doesn't stop there.  What I'm really excited about is that Magnuson, being the artist that he is, will then be able to share those experiences with us.  Share them in a way that is deeply impactful, using a medium, travel gaming, that has never been used before.

Now, I will admit that I'm a bit biased when it comes to this particular project, gamemaker, and person.  After all, he's one of my favorite people, one of my favorite artists, and one of my favorite thinkers.  I find his ideas compelling and his conviction inspiring.  He's one of the very few people who has the power, in a 60 minute conversation, to actually change my perspective on a topic, and broaden my worldview.

Magnuson is a person of integrity, living and creating out of a strong sense of necessity, compassion, and humility.  So when I tell you that his creative contribution can actually impact the world, I truly, wholeheartedly believe it.

"I want to travel around the world and communicate the things I experience.  To help me understand the world better, and maybe, just maybe, to help increase understanding in a broader context.  Perhaps that's arrogance, but for me it's hope."

So what are you waiting for?  Become a backer.  Because choosing peace, creativity, and understanding, even on the small scale, is always a good thing.

peace quote of the day [Rabbis for Human Rights: Torah]

The essence of Torah, as summarized by Hillel’s statement “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow” (Shabbat 31a), reflects the experience and ethical consciousness of the Jewish people. The Torah states explicitly: “Do not wrong a stranger who resides with you in your land. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens: you shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:33-34). Our historical experience of exile and redemption, as well as our ethical consciousness, must sensitize us to the suffering of others and compel us to defend the rights of all who dwell among us.
-from Rabbis for Human Rights: Judaism & Human Rights, Principles of Faith

Ethnic Cleaning: the fate of Arab Israelis in Israel

The Israeli Declaration of Independence declares that "[The State of Israel] will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex; will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture; will safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of the shrines and Holy Places of all religions; and will dedicate itself to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations."

Unfortunately, it lied.

Nearly 20% of Israel's citizens are not Jews.  They are Arab.  And yet, despite claims that "Arab Israelis are citizens of Israel with equal rights,"every human rights group we spoke to in Israel (most of which were Jewish) declared that the Arab citizens of Israel are consistently discriminated against, and many live in a constant state of fear.  

Just to be clear, I am not talking about the Palestinian residents of the Occupied Territories.  I am talking about the Arabs living within the borders of Israel itself, who are supposedly recognized as full citizens by the Israeli government. 

One example of this disparity is the difference between the law of return (which makes it illegal for an Arab Israeli to return to their pre-1948 land) and the right of return (which gives every Jew, regardless of citizenship, the right to settle in Israel).

They also receive significantly less public services (i.e. money for schools, health care, road cleanup, etc.) than their Jewish counterparts, despite paying the same amount of taxes.  

One of the Jews we talked to at B'Tselem (the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories) cited this as one of the main reasons he got involved with the organization: I have eyes, he said.  I grew up seeing the way we lived, and seeing the way our Arab neighbors lived, just across the street.  I knew they paid the same taxes, and I couldn't understand why they were treated so differently.  

But this is all just an introduction, for what I actually wanted to share, which is Max Blumenthal's article, "The 'Summer Camp Of Destruction:' Israeli High Schoolers Assist The Razing Of A Bedouin Town."

The thing that really struck me in this account of the demolition of a Bedouin village in the Negev (which took place on July 26th) is the fact that the Arabs involved were Israeli citizens.

But instead of being protected by their government and neighbors, they were surrounded by gloating volunteers, celebrating the destruction of an Arab community in their midst.

A number of villagers including Abu Madyam told me the volunteers smashed windows and mirrors in their homes and defaced family photographs with crude drawings. Then they lounged around on the furniture of al-Arakib residents in plain site of the owners. Finally, according to Abu Matyam, the volunteers celebrated while bulldozers destroyed the homes.
“What we learned from the summer camp of destruction,” Abu Madyam remarked, “is that Israeli youth are not being educated on democracy, they are being raised on racism.”
Blumenthal highlights the disturbing reality that many of these volunteers are teenagers, officially working for the Israeli police.   
Not only are they being indoctrinated to swear blind allegiance to the military, they are learning to treat the Arab outclass as less than human. The volunteers’ behavior toward Bedouins, who are citizens of Israel and serve loyally in Israeli army combat units despite widespread racism, was strikingly reminiscent of the behavior of settler youth in Hebron who pelt Palestinian shopkeepers in the old city with eggs, rocks and human waste. If there is a distinction between the two cases, it is that the Hebron settlers act as vigilantes while the teenagers of Israeli civilian guard vandalize Arab property as agents of the state.
Blumenthal's concern echoes that of the Arab Association for Human Rights, who we met with in Nazareth.  Unlike other organizations (B'Tselem, Al Haq, etc.) working for Arab rights in the Occupied Territories, these were Israeli citizens working for human rights for Arabs in Israel.  The director informed us that his great fear is that, while the situation in the Occupied Territories will eventually be resolved, one way or another, the situation for Arabs in Israel will just continue to deteriorate, because they are invisible.  
Most do not even know they exist.  The terms Israeli and Arab are thought to be mutually exclusive.   
While the individual suffering is heartbreaking, it is the trend (and legal precedence) that is truly terrifying.  As Blumenthal states, "The spectacle of Israeli youth helping destroy al-Arakib helps explain why 56% of Jewish Israeli high school students do not believe Arabs should be allowed to serve in the Knesset."   
Take a moment.  Read that again.  More than half of Jewish youth (the next generation of leaders and law makers) do not believe that Arab citizens should have a voice in the law-making of their country.  
They want the minority silenced. 
As for the present condition of Israeli democracy, it is essential to consider the way in which the state pits its own citizens against one another, enlisting the Jewish majority as conquerers while targeting the Arab others as, in the words of Zionist founding father Chaim Weizmann,“obstacles that had to be cleared on a difficult path.” Historically, only failing states have encouraged such corrosive dynamics to take hold. That is why the scenes from al-Arakib, from the demolished homes to the uprooted gardens to the grinning teens who joined the mayhem, can be viewed as much more than the destruction of a village. They are snapshots of the phenomenon that is laying Israeli society as a whole to waste.
This is America's democratic ally in the Middle East.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

peace quote of the day [heroism]

"Who is the greatest hero?  One who makes an enemy into a friend." - Avot d'Rabbi Natan (23:1)