“So what do you think about the situation in Israel?”
“What do you mean?”
“What should be done about the Palestinians?”
“Well, you cannot deny that Israel has a right to its existence, and a right to self-protection. That right is affirmed by the world community.”
And the world needs to continue to affirm that right. The history of the Jewish people has been one of oppression, after oppression, after oppression. There was no way that the Jewish people could find a home in Europe after the Holocaust and the pogroms. They had a right to a just resolution to the wrongs that had been done to them.
Can you tell that I, like many people, always fall victim to the last good argument that I have heard?
I’ve been with Arab people the last few days, so in my blogs I have been sympathetic with their cause. Now I am in Jerusalem, talking with Israelis at a bar, so I sympathize with them… at least to a point.
“They’re going to f***ing kills us.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because they f***ing hate us. That’s why.”
In the conversation I’m having with my Jewish friend, I want to speak up for the Arabs and Palestinians that I have met these last few days, but I also don’t want to start arguing. No matter how passionate, what he is saying is wrought with ignorance. I mean how does a citizen of a country with 70 nuclear warheads (in the Middle East by the way) feel threatened by a few make-shift bombs? Instead, I help him make my point with a simple question.
“Where do you think they learned to hate you?”
“They learned it as little children. You are taught HATE from an early age, and it doesn’t go away.”
I don’t know if he listened to what he said, but it was very profound. Hate is taught. If you don’t learn it when you are young, you don’t really learn it. Hate can actually be quite difficult to develop after you have learned the value of love.
As a Catholic, I subscribe to the most significant development to social doctrine during the twentieth century. Catholic theologians and bishops began to use a phrase which informs how a Catholic should act in circumstances where there is freedom to act. A just person, and a just nation, should hold a preferential option for the poor in all aspects of their daily living.
“I enjoy your photos and love the work you are doing.” My young Jewish friend leans over to me and says. His words and conversation have been most consoling to me, and given me a chance to hear the perspective of the situation in Israel from the standpoint of a Jewish person. “I actually have to go soon. I’m under house arrest.”
“What?” I exclaim. “What for?”
“I was convicted for selling drugs.”
“Is selling drugs a big thing here in Israel?” I seek. Curious how anyone could manage to traffic any kind of contraband in a country that checks your bags every time you board a train, or enter a café.
“Yeah it is. But it isn’t a good thing to get involved in.”
“Then why did you do it? What leads Jewish Israelis to become drug users and dealers?”
“It is just so depressing living here. Our grandparents came here to live, and ever since then, we have been fighting war after war. You get tired of the thought that every time you walk down the street, a Palestinian is going to blow you up, so drugs help you get away from it all.”
In disbelief, I sat there. Here is a young man who represents for me a people who have been given a great gift. The world opened up for them the right to immigrate to Israel, at the cost of displacing thousands of Palestinians. The United States, in particular, spends more money on the defense of Israeli citizens than it does on its own citizens who need food and housing. (This is a statistic based not on actual amounts, but per capita amounts. What the US spends on direct assistance per capita of US citizens vs. military support to Israel, per capita of Israeli citizens.) Despite all of this, there are young men and women like this Israeli with whom I am speaking, who feel hopeless, depressed, isolated, and afraid. The only way out for them is drugs.
I shouldn’t feel too badly about consorting with criminals. It is my second time today. A man asked me to buy four packs of cigarettes for him. I had only a brief encounter with him, but was glad to help. Later someone stopped me, thanked me, and told me that what I did for him truly was a blessing.
“Why? So I can help him get lung cancer?” I smiled, seeking to dismiss the compliment.
“No, because he can’t leave that facility. He has been living here illegally for 12 years. He is an illegal refugee. He can’t leave the premises. If he does, people might report him, or he might get stopped by the Israeli police and then deported. The only way that he can get anything he wants, or needs, is by asking people that he trusts to get things for him.”
And so I am struggling at the end of this day with a question, “Who are the poor in Israel, and what is the preferential option we are supposed to give them?”
For an American, it is often difficult to speak out against the injustices of the Israeli government. The Israeli government represents the sanctuary for Jewish people, and if you criticize the Israeli government, you’ll be labeled an anti-Semite who hasn’t seen enough documentaries on the Holocaust to understand how guilty we should feel for not eliminating the Nazis much earlier. Besides that, the Israelis are just defending themselves from Muslim extremists. Right?
Jesus once walked through this land, and he didn’t pick sides based on the labels put upon individuals. He feasted with prostitutes and tax collectors, as well as foreigners and Roman occupants. He always preferred the poor, but he knew that there was a kind of poverty that was rampant amongst the wealthy, and those who held privilege.
This son of Israel, with whom I sit at the bar, is much wealthier than the 70% of West Bank Palestinians who are unemployed, and the 80% who are living in physical poverty. Comparatively, he has everything that he needs. His religion/ethnicity holds the political and economic power in this land. They use it to the advantage of the Jewish people. Yet he is poor. He finds no hope in this wasteland of fear and oppression.
I handed off the packs of cigarettes to the refugee with the breathlessness of defeat. Is this all I can do? He is a Christian living in the Holy Land, but he will never walk in the steps of Jesus. He is not free to walk through the very region of Galilee where he lives. His offense? He is an Arab, and therefore a threat to the Israelis, a group of people who have become the oppressors, when only 60 years ago, they were oppressed.
The hard part about following the example of Jesus Christ is that he is challenging to both sides. I’m not an anti-Semite. I have the most respect for the Jewish people and their oppression over the last four millennia, but wrongs do not make wrongs right. There is a distinct difference between the Jewish people, and the secular state of Israel, which hijacks the dignity of Judaism for its needed defense, in order to become an oppressive military state. I feign to believe that this was the vision of the great kings of Israel. Meanwhile, the Arabs living in Israel, the West Bank (and I can only assume Gaza) are being kept like rats in a cage. The cage keeps squeezing them tighter and tighter, until they either suffocate, or bite.
And if I really listen to my drug dealing parolee, his poverty is one that comes from FEAR. Israel has become a country of people who remind me of paranoid adolescents. (I should know what I am talking about because it my job to work with adolescents in Chicago). The Israelis are simply AFRAID of what will happen to them if they give peace a chance. The result has led to the poverty of hopelessness on both sides. Israelis FEAR that there is no hope, so they fight. Arabs FEAR that there is no hope, so they fight.
Let us never forget, that the real goal of a terrorist not really to inflict damage. If a terrorist could do that, the terrorist would be a legitimate enemy combatant, and a viable threat that a military could engage. Terrorist are terror-smiths, and their goal is to birth terror… FEAR. This is the real evil that they spread.
In Israel, evil is winning at a tremendous rate. The terror-smiths of Palestine have scared the Israelis into near schizophrenia. The terror-smiths of the state of Israel have engendered fear in the hearts and minds of the Arabs. There can be no solution until there is hope.
The priest did a wonderful thing after Mass. There were two children who were “presented” in the church for the first time. This wasn’t their baptism. These infants were born some forty days before, and by tradition, the priest gives special prayers for the child’s first visit to the church. In the ritual, he even took the child behind the iconostasis and walked the children around the altar. I had never seen this ritual before, but I learned that it is quite common in all rites of the Catholic Church and Orthodox Church in this region of the world.
In these innocent little children, all I could see was hope. In the dedication and concern of their loving parents, all I could see was faith. It seems that these two virtues are what truly can combat the fear that shackles this nation. The HOPE of a better world, and the FAITH that it can be reached.
As I think back on the day, I wish I could have spoken a prayer to those children, and to their parents. It would be a prayer, taken in part, from my convicted, drug-dealing, Israeli friend. I would modify it with one word.
“You learn it as little children. You are taught LOVE from an early age, and it doesn’t go away.