Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
– Romans 12:12 (NIV)
Today, we had the privilege of learning more about the work that happens on the ground to reconcile seemingly insurmountable divides between the Israelis and Palestinians. Since the governments are at such a standstill with one another, people cannot wait around on higher officials to make their voices heard and advance their causes. They must work for it themselves, though it is far easier to become violent, carry their side’s narratives like crosses, present the other as an oppressor through and through (without acknowledging the faults of one’s own side, though they may be small in comparison on a particular issue), run away, and fall into cynicism and resignation about the possibility of peace at all. It’s despair and hopelessness that lead to violence, so it’s important to root them out. And one of the things we need to do to help is to make sure that international community involvement provides neither the hardware (weapons) nor software (theology and philosophy) to continue the occupation and the validating of only one narrative – specifically that the Israel of the Bible is the same as the Israel of today.
God does not kill. God does not oppress.
The organizations we met with today, Holy Land Trust, Diyar, and Tent of Nations, all take unique paths of active nonviolent resistance. Whether it’s through conversations between people of different backgrounds, after-school programs with children of all languages and religions, or planting a tree (and showing, in effect, that you believe in the future), they are trying to make peace happen from the ground level up, for peace requirements more than just a government-level handshake. Even if you were to get what you wanted at a government level, the problems of personal and intergenerational trauma stare you down: “How can you make peace with anyone you don’t see as human?” These conversations may take more time than we can imagine, and in the meantime, there are real human beings suffering because of a zero-sum game at the government level.
I’ll write about our time at Tent of Nations most specifically because it left the most vivid imprint on my soul because of the immense imposed ugliness of the neighborhood, fought-for beauty of the farm, and deep humility of the farm owners.
Tent of Nations is one of the examples of a truly infuriating, dehumanizing land grab attempt in Area C of the West Bank. (If you don’t know that the West Bank is split into Areas A-C, each of which is under a differing degree of occupation, I suggest you look into it). It’s one of the nightmares of the Israeli Occupation – a land, held in the hands of the same family for a century, keeps getting demolition orders; olive trees keep getting knocked down; settlements keep getting built around it (which sometimes means that people have a Bible in one hand and a gun in the other); and rubble and trash keep being poured into the driveway to make it more difficult to enter.
And yet, the people work to make this place a symbol of stubborn, against-all-odds hope and resistance. They even allow visitors the privilege of helping to plant something to replace some of their losses. They invite anyone to come – even settlers from the nearby neighborhoods. One visitor even left that living arrangement upon meeting them. It helps people to understand the BDS movement against products made in the settlements (internationally recognized as illegally annexed land) as not an anti-Semitic one, but an important movement toward justice for those who still live on those lands.
I see the Fruit of the Spirit everywhere here. I see fruits I have never eaten, given to me by the people who have the most reason to be stingy in this entire world, but instead live with smiles. I see the fruits of conflict and roots that are too gnarled, jagged, and intertwined to tend apart. There are few obvious situations here, few answers; no clear oppressor and oppressed throughout the nearly century-long conflict, but there are some rotten and foul smells that one cannot avoid without closing oneself off. Why does the average person cheaply see only their own suffering, why does that choke us from the opportunity to empathize with the other?
I’m inspired by their generosity. I’m dismayed by my own stinginess. I’m inspired by their perseverance. I’m dismayed by how quickly my motivation and hope for social justice can fade. I’m inspired by their refusal to be enemies. Will we?
You must not mistreat or oppress foreigners in any way. Remember, you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.
– Exodus 22:21 (NLT)
What if nobody feels like a foreigner in the Land, though? What if the foreignness is imposed by their treatments of one another?
Will Palestinian farms continue to be threatened and settlements surround and replace them?
We’re in the last second of the last minute of the 2 state solution. The clock is ticking.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
– Langston Hughes