13 March 2010

Palestine and Jerusalem...Pray for them all. Pray for US all.

Recently a couple have joined our meeting, who are long term service workers, in the Quaker tradition, but for many different organizations.  The man is a native Palestinian, who  fled his country during the British Mandate for Palestine, which began the establishment of Israel.  Forgive my ignorance of the historical events related to this post, for I am a youngster compared to this man and the events of his young life that included his forced flight to Lebanon, his subsequent conversion to Quakerism, and his life of deepy dedicated service to humanity and peace.

One statement has been ringing out, in my thoughts and dreams, since our meeting with this couple in their home.  My friend told me of the shots of guns eradicating women, children and men of Deir Yassin (http://www.deiryassin.org/), a small village adjacent to Jerusalem, and how the loudspeakers announced to them that they must leave their homes or suffer the same consequences as their neighbors.

This was 1948.  WW II was barely over.  Millions of Jews and other non-arians had been executed, experimented on, tortured, abused and violated at the hands of their enemies.
Then, as the world prepared to help Jewish people return to their historical and religious roots in their ancient homeland, still more people were executed to carry out the plan.

This has shocked and stunned me.  First, I could not believe how ignorant of history I was, and how long I chose to stay ignorant.  In the back of my mind, I must have known that somehow they had to move people to make room for the Jews to return to the land of their ancestors.  But I chose to stay ignorant, because what lay under the surface was unthinkable.

Second, here sat a man before me, a man of peace.  A man who had helped so many others who were poor and starving and had suffered at the hands of their own enemies, and had helped selflessly for much of his life.   What motivates someone who has had it all taken away, who has been lucky to escape with his life, to go on, and more to reach his hand out to others.  He had every reason to be bitter and angry, but he acted in kindness.

Third, how do people slaughter others in the name of peace?  This has always been a question I ask.  I have a friend who is a veteran of war in the middle east.  In order to serve, to do one's duty, I realized in a conversation one day, that soldiers are systematically programmed to dehumanize the enemy, so in this person's eyes, an Arab, who looks like my friend is filthy, smells bad, is unintelligent, ignorant, and deserves to die.  In my mind, I put these two people side by side. Meeting on this soil, in these times, they would most likely be friends.  If they met in the middle east, one might have slaughtered the other without thinking.

I remember the first time I saw the old movie, All Quiet on the Western Front.  It was a hallmark moment for me, when I realized through a touching scene in this movie that if we know each other as human beings, if we see each other through the eyes of family, community, friends, we cannot so easily kill each other.  Long before I was convinced as a Friend, I saw that this ought to be one of my goals:  to know and treat each person I encounter as my neighbor, no matter how brief the meeting.

Don't raise me to sainthood yet.  This has proven to be far more difficult to live than I ever imagined in my idealistic youth. Carrying it with me has, however, has informed my thinking and my decisions.  It has made me aware of the times I make a harsh judgement out of fear.  It has shown me how the individualism of our culture affects my aim for peace.  It has caused pain in my heart, when out of zeal or haste or selfishness, I brush another aside as unimportant, only to feel the consequences if I happen to catch their eye as I rush by.

Now, as a result of the little story my friend told me, of getting into his car with his relatives, with only the clothes on his back, and leaving his homeland, where he would never return for many, many years, I understand why there is so much enmity between the Israel and Palestine.  Now I understand why the fighting seems it will never stop.

There are still things I don't understand, but I am still learning:  Why the United Nations voted for the British Mandate, knowing so many people would have to be "displaced."  How the Jewish people, who had just barely survived the holocaust, could close their eyes to the treatment of the Palestinians being forced to make way for them.  How can anyone believe that God means for others to die for the edification of others?

We, the Quakers, are a people of peace.  We believe that God (Jesus) is love, and that we should seek for that of God (love) in every person.  Ideals, yes, but ones we strive for.  My elder friend told me that Nasser met with the Quakers in Gaza, and tried to find ways to work out a peaceful resolution, but he died before his plans could become reality.

I have been touched deeply by hearing this story.  I have been saddened, grieving for our world, where so much is black and white, wrong or right, all in absolutes.  We need prayer.  We need deep continuous soul-crying prayer.  Pray for those who have, without conscience cast the first stone.  Pray for those who are quick to judge, for those who rewrite history, for those who choose to remain ignorant.

I read a little parable this week, about a man who was asked why he did not judge a neighbor who had harmed him.  "How can I judge him," he asked, "When I have never bowed my head to pray for him."


  1. As with you, even before becoming a convinced Friend, I wondered the same, asked the same questions. No one had answers for me, not family, not my previous church. I still often ask the question of "Christian" family members....how can you be Christian yet condone war and violence? How can you be pro-life, yet support war and killing of fellow humans, and in the name of God. I always follow up with "My God doesn't believe that", or "The Ten Commandments even state 'Thou shalt not kill', so why don't you follow those commandments?" I try not to judge, but this is one of my (many) shortfalls as a Friend. I try to see beyond these differences, yet cannot. I will take the words of the parable at the end of your post and do just that...pray for them. That is all that I can do. Thank you for your timely post. Isn't it a blessing how the Light leads us to what we need to see?! Many Blessings my Friend!

  2. That was a wonderful and heartfelt posting. I have know several Palestinians and they were all wonderful people. Most had suffered under the Israeli occupation and told stories about being treated as less than human. I found the stories to be heartbreaking. I can never understand how people can treat those of other faiths & races so badly. They group them all together in their minds and think of them all as the "enemy" instead of individuals with the same hopes and dreams that they have. To make it easier to hate the "other" they demonize them and act as if they are all the same. We saw this in Rwanda where the Hutus called the Tutsi's
    "cockroaches" before they began to massacre them. The Germans called the Jews "vermin" prior to the holocaust. And now here in American we hear people blithely call Arabs "ragheads". When will the dehumanization stop?
    As Quakers we are to see "that of God" in everyone. No one group of people is better than another. We all have our faults. We are called to love one another and help the Inner Light grow in all of us. Only then will we have a better, more sane world.

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