I have opinions. We all have opinions. But there is a marked difference between having an opinion and choosing sides. That is not to say that I am inherently not a chooser of sides, or that choosing sides is inherently a bad thing. I would choose the allies over the axis in WWII and I choose BYU over the Utes in college football.
The issue of Israel and Palestine, however, is more complex than choosing a football team or knowing that Hitler was a bad guy. I have found that in this issue I cannot truly choose sides, because I have seen both and love the groups and people on both sides of the conflict. I have lived there, I have seen just a glimpse of it. Jerusalem is and always will be home to me, no matter where I live, and it tears me apart to see the Holy Land tear itself apart.
That said, I would like to offer a few thoughts and facts for those who go forth forming opinions about this highly-charged question.
- Jews and Arabs both feel deep ties to the land they are living on, and feel that their claim to it is legitimate. The Jews have ancient connections to the Holy Land, dating possibly as far back as father Abraham. Theirs is a connection of heritage, and many Jews living in Israel and especially Jerusalem take pride in having been part of the children of Israel returning to their home. The Arab claim dates almost as far back and is no less legitimate. Palestinian people have lived in Israel/Palestine for centuries, and their ancestors were there back in the time of the ancient Jews. Both claims have merit, and neither is wholly false. Both are highly valued and deep-seeded in their respective groups.
- Both groups have a history of not respecting or accepting the claim of the other. Back in the early days of Israel, some people didn't even respect the claim of the country of Jordan to exist. I doubt that anyone thinks that now, but the history is there.
- There are more than two distinctions here. There is the state of Israel and the state of Palestine. Then there are Jews, Christians, and Muslims. There are Arabs, Europeans, and others. Israel and Palestine are places. Jews, Christians and Muslims are religions. Arabs, Europeans, and (in some ways) Jews are nationalities and races. No group is wholly on one side of the conflict or wholly on the other--Jews in Israel, Muslims in Gaza, etc. There are Arab Israelis. There are Muslim Israelis. There are Christian Palestinians. One of my teachers was an Arab Israeli non-practicing Muslim. One woman in the Jerusalem branch was an Israeli-born Palestinian Muslim-turned-Mormon convert. You see? It's complicated. Easy version: Israel and Palestine (West Bank and Gaza) are the political entities. The religious and ethnic distinctions fall on both sides
- Israel is a developed, first-world country. Palestine is, at best, developing--but you won't find it on any lists of developing or underdeveloped countries, whether under "Palestine," "West Bank," or "Gaza." This is not because it doesn't fall under those categories, but because it lacks the distinction of being a country.
- A few Facts:
- Fact: Israel has superior weaponry to Gaza and an extensive "Iron Dome" system to protect itself from outside projectiles. Gaza has limited weaponry and virtually no protection. Another fact--the leaders of both Gaza and Israel know that.
- Fact: Israel has built settlements into West Bank and Gaza territory--really nice apartments, gardens and all.
- Fact: Gaza has dug tunnels into Israeli territory. Some have been found to contain weapons, tranquilizers, handcuffs, and other items for military use and/or kidnapping.
- Fact: Israel has fired on civilian areas in Gaza, including United Nations schools, killing hundreds of innocents.
- Fact: Gaza has hidden missiles and weapons in civilian areas, including UN schools.
- Conclusion: Neither side is an innocent victim here.
- Small additional fact: There are still students at the Jerusalem Center. Yes, they're safe. No, they're not being sent home. The story on the headlines and the actual day-to-day living in conflicted places are not the same thing. All is well for the BYU Jerusalem Center.
- Another distinction. Islam is a religion of peace. Jihad as we know it--suicide bombers, plane hijackings, military strikes, etc.--were never part of the program. Judaism is a religion of peace as well. Both rely on and pray to God (Allah, Jehovah, as you will) with a devotion unparalleled by anything else I have seen. Do not judge a group by the actions of the uprising minority. Hammas is not Islam. Netanyahu's military actions are not Judaism.
- Thought: People in Israel and Palestine want peace, and people all around the world want peace for them. It is possible. I hope someday to be able to witness it myself. I cheer for John Kerry, who, in spite of incredible odds, has chosen to continue to strive for peace between the two sides. Peace is possible.
- Final Thought: God loves everyone. He loves Jews, Christians, and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians all alike. He does not want His children to suffer, and it is His peace alone that has power to heal the wounds and rifts of generational hatred that have torn not only Israel and Palestine, but countries and peoples around the world and throughout history. All are His children, and He understands more deeply both sides of the conflict than anyone, and loves them entirely. "All are alike unto God."
There you have it--such are my thoughts, for whatever they may be worth. In conclusion, here is one more. Don't be too quick to choose sides, until you have walked a mile in someone else's shoes--or sandals or burqa or prayer shawl or hijab or kafya or combat boots. Say a prayer in someone else's way, or in your own way on someone else's behalf. Listen to the stories of others, and tell your own as well. Walk a little way in someone else's company, and imagine the road in their shoes. That is the best any of us can do, and it is the pursuit of a lifetime. I am working on it every day.
How about you? Shall we walk in some new shoes together?
Most of the facts in this article are based on personal knowledge and studies both recent and not. If you want source material or if something doesn't seem correct, please tell me so. Thanks so much, and God bless you!