Trying to Maintain Objectivity in the Middle East

I did not change the names in this next piece because the person referred to is a public and vocal advocate for a particular organization. To learn more about the organization she represents, please visit their website and discern for yourself your thoughts on their particular proposals, don’t take my word for it…

I received an email bright and early Christmas morning from a settler and Zionist advocate I met during my visit to Israel/Palestine, Sondra Oster Baras. We had met for a few hours in Ariel, north of Ramallah in the Occupied Palestinian Territory of the West Bank. Going into our meeting, we each knew of the others’ opposing worldview; she knew I had spent two weeks with Christian Peacemaker Teams, and I knew that she headed an organization that coordinates relationships and correspondence between Christian churches in the US and Israeli settlements in the West Bank. I prepared numerous questions regarding the theological and legal legitimacy of the settlement movement to help the conversation move in a productive direction, since we only had a few hours to conduct an informal interview.

Frequently throughout the conversation, I felt condescension and belittlement from a woman who represented an organization which labeled itself a ‘Christian’ program, though it should be made clear that she is an Orthodox Jewish woman, born in Chicago, later making aliyah to the Promised Land. In her email yesterday morning, which was actually in response to a thank you note I sent about a week ago which also asked for a follow up interview, she clarified some very distressing personal impressions that I had had, but dismissed weeks ago as judgmental on my part. However, the then-laughably excused, presumably inaccurate misconceptions proved horrifically true as I read over her response in my email inbox this morning.

Some points she made aligned me with anti-Semitism because I refused to kill Hitler and she also claimed it was a sin to give my life and not kill an attacker. She made several statements suggesting a misconception that all Palestinians are terrorists, though when offered a meeting with the numerous Palestinians I had met whom decried terrorist acts openly and who did not vote for Hamas, she repulsed and claimed she did not trust even a single Palestinian. When asked what it would take to convince her of the fact that not all Palestinians supported Hamas and wanted simply to be treated as fellow human beings, she demanded nothing short of mass, public demonstrations by Palestinians. I mentioned my participation earlier in the week in Bil’in, which had international coverage and in which no Palestinian used violence. She asked why she did not see it on Israeli TV. Why did it not appear on her television screen? I suppose sometimes you have to be willing to take the effort and look. The truth doesn’t always seek you out; you have to be willing to seek it. If you want peace, you can’t always be simply a peace-enjoyer, but a Peacemaker. Then you may begin to know what it truly is to be a child of God, reflecting His true glory.

I have never been shy in relaying my ultimate goal in traveling to Palestine. I continue to try to come to love both my “terrorist” Palestinian neighbors as well as my “extremist” settler neighbors. True agape and the pursuit of knowledge are both objective; I sought to see the human faces behind both sides of the issue at the center of the conflict throughout the Middle East. The Palestinian faces were warm and welcoming, unashamed to call for justice both from the PA and the Israeli government. I shared food, stories, tea, and tears with them. I met with many Israelis as well, including former IDF soldiers, parents of children killed by suicide bombers, Rabbis, and even secular Israelis I met on the street who asked about the purpose of my visit. I overviewed UN documents, Sondra’s own website, and many Zionist websites. In Sondra’s eyes, for the first time on my trip, I saw apprehension and contempt; disgust and scorn. She represents many others who share her beliefs, and that troubles me. I feel even this fear and hatred must be considered an ailment which must be cured with sympathy and proactive agape. From my experience, I was much more convinced of the Palestinians’ (and other Israelis’) impartiality and objective approach then I was of Sondra’s perspective, who presents herself as an ambassador of the settlement movement to Christians in the US.

True objectivity is impartial; if a scale is unbalanced, an objective person will admit it – “the scale is not balanced” they might say. A balanced person, on the other hand, will try to correct the imbalance; “I must balance the scale” they might say. However, a balanced person is not objective, they are not truthfully diagnosing the problem. I was accused of coming to Sondra with an opinion already formed. In this, she is correct. She was one of the last people I met with before I contracted amoebic dysentery in Bethlehem in the last week of my visit (severely damaging the schedule I had planned). I came to her so that my opinion would be changed; that I would be convinced of certain truths I had failed to see, certain angles I had not considered. In this, I was partially successful, though it was a bitter success, considering the ‘truth’ I was exposed to.

The scale is, in fact, unbalanced. A majority amount of weight is held by the geo-political state of Israel; they prop themselves up at the cost of their neighbors (read Exodus 22:21, Micah 2:1-2), they hold a disproportionate amount of the power and are abusing the great responsibility that comes with such power. In desperation, many Arabs have resorted to absolutely appalling and sickening tactics to achieve their goals. In this, many Palestinians (including members of Hamas and Hezbollah) are guilty, though a far greater number are clearly innocent. The scale is still unbalanced. Desperation breeds desperate acts, but the way to repair this is to cure the desperation, not punish the masses for the misconception that all are guilty; this will only deepen the desperation. I will not shy away from the truth, even if it comes at a great cost. Although I sound certain, I readily admit I continue to seek the truth and welcome anything that may convince me of my own error. It is only of my own dependence on a merciful God and the reality of my own fallibility that I am certain. If the polarized sides on both sides of this enormous issue would be able to adopt that same attitude (both of whom claim Abrahamic lineage and worship his God in differing ways), perhaps we could glimpse a taste pf peace in the Middle East. Perhaps our one Father would bless us with a hint of His Kingdom here on earth, as it is in Heaven.

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