Sitting in the Overwhelming Tension of the Moment in Israel-Palestine

Two recent questions on this important subject …
First, a friend sent this note in response to my post a while back:

I recently read your post in reply to a question about the Fogel family. I wanted to let you know I very much appreciated the way in which you handled such a volatile question, answer honestly and compassionately and without backing down. The incident was horrific and extremely disheartening. What I find interesting is the need to find fault with the other instead of simply sitting in the overwhelming tension of the moment. The cycle of violence has continued and will continue: the Israeli government announced 1,000 more housing units in retaliation, and the previous week an all-girls school near Nablus was threatened with bombs, a Palestinian home was firebombed, and 5,000 olive trees were burned or uprooted. CNN didn’t cover that. I am haunted by this cycle and increasingly Jesus becomes more and more a life-threatening and life-giving interpeter of time. May those who have been subjected by this story actually take heed.

The comment about “finding fault with the other” strikes me as terribly important, and suggests three habits we all need to develop.
1. Blaming whole groups for the actions of subgroups perpetuates the cycle of violence.
One crazed Palestinian extremist group does something horrible, and (in the minds of some) all Palestinians are to blame. A unit in the Israeli Defense Force does something horrible and (in the minds of some) all Israelis are to blame. So much evil in our world comes from group blame – races, religions, parties, and so on. To break the cycle of violence, we have to develop a new habit: the habit of refusing group blame.
2. Discounting the suffering of the other perpetuates the cycle of violence.
Can we say – often and firmly – what is so obvious, but so seldom acknowledged? Both sides have suffered greatly. The suffering of Israelis doesn’t discount the suffering of Palestinians, or vice versa. Rather, each side, as it suffers, can seize an opportunity to empathize with the other: “Ah, so this is how my counterparts feel when violence is perpetuated against innocent people in the name of my people.” This kind of empathy can help break the cycle of violence.
3. The media aren’t disinterested or neutral, so it’s dangerous to trust only one source for news.
Those of us who have visited the region know that reality on the ground is very different from the picture given by the largest US media corporations. Here, filtering tends to favor the Israeli side and disfavors the Palestinian side. In other countries, the most powerful media no doubt favor and disfavor the opposite sides. It takes work to hear all sides of a story, and as the ancient Proverb says (18:17), “The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.” We all need to develop the habit of withholding judgment until we’ve heard multiple perspectives.
Another reader writes …

I really enjoyed your book “A Generous Orthodoxy”. I think that Christians often do not think or ponder their faith and come to potted conclusions about it. Your book made sense of the anxieties I had and encouraged me indeed to be more faithful and devoted to our Lord Jesus.
Someone gave ma a copy of Prophetic Witness Jan 2011. On the last page I read a comment (and i scanned it):
“STEPHEN SIZER This virulent critic of Israel, a so called evangelical has been touring the country peddling his distortions and perverse views on Israel in the hope of influencing opinion in high places against the legitimacy of Israel. His vile views commended by Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo are just an extension of his past form on this subject. He seems to be on an anti-Israel crusade and cannot have much time to promote Gods word although the indications are that he has little understanding of it!
BROTHER ANDREW has once again placed in writing his sickening views on Israel in his biased book “Light Force”, I quote Jacob Prasch who goes on “Brother Andrew has joined the ‘kick Israel club’.”
Brother Andrews earlier book had a foreword by Stephen Sizer – Is there a connection? Has Mr Sizer influenced him? What a tragedy that Brother Andrew did not stick to distributing bibles instead of interfering in matters he is so obviously ignorant of!”
I wonder if you are doing a “generous orthodoxy” on these matters? I would like to understand them but there is a lot of people who are convinced they are authorities, especially on prophetic witness subjects.
What was it they were criticising you for? I am genuinely wanting to understand these things.
Once again, thank you for your book and the excellently read DVD that i got as well.
I look forwared to hearing from you

I’ve never seen Prophetic Witness magazine, but judging from the tone of the comment, the writer doesn’t seem to understand that one can be critical of the actions of the government and defense forces of Israel without being anti-Israeli. The original prophetic witnesses – Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah, Hosea, and the other prophets – pronounced, in the name of the Lord, strong criticisms of the kings and other leaders of Israel. They called their people to remember, for example, that God cares about widows and orphans, that God notices when injustices are done to minorities (“aliens”) living in the land, that God cares for Philistines and Ethiopians no less than God cares for Israel (see Amos 9:7, for example). They asserted that God desires mercy – compassion for other human beings – not sacrifice. To defend injustices perpetuated by the Israeli government in the name of the ancient Hebrew prophets seems, frankly, nutty.
If people encourage the government of Israel to practice injustice, are they truly friends of Israel? If people encourage the government of Israel to show disdain for the sons of Hagar in favor of the sons of Sarah, are they not repeating an old crime and perpetuating an old heresy? (See Gen. 21:17-21) So … my constant refrain is that we need solutions in Israel-Palestine that are pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, pro-Jew, pro-Muslim, pro-Christian, pro-peace, and pro-justice.
If you go to the search button at the top of my home page and search on “Israel” or “Palestinian,” you’ll see the kinds of things I’ve written on this subject over the years. I think they’re all in complete agreement with the original prophetic witnesses, if not with the more recent magazine by that name.
If I could recommend just two books on the subject, I would recommend books by two Jewish writers who, it seems to me, carry on the ancient prophetic tradition powerfully and faithfully.
This one by Mark Braverman
and this one by Marc Ellis.