Whose Land Is It, Anyway? Part 5

[Part 5 of this series was preceded by the original post on February 4, 2016; Part 2 on February 8, 2016; Part 3 on March 3, 2016; and Part 4 on March 30, 2016.]

It’s been a long time since I visited this topic. The delay stems in part from too much else going on in my life, and from continuing to worry about the topic. Can I say what it seems I must say?

Based on what I have written in prior installments in this series, as well as ongoing research and reading, here is what I believe:

  • Palestinians deserve a true and secure homeland, and Israel must be safe
  • Israel can be safe and Palestine, too, if Israel, the United States and others will work with the Palestinian Authority (and even Hamas) to end the occupation of the West Bank and the isolation of Gaza
  • Rigid, rightist Zionists and their allies in the Netanyahu government must be stopped from their plan to obtain all the land they claim they have from God, often called Greater Israel (meaning in contemporary terms the current State of Israel plus the Palestinian territories), and at other times more expansively historical Israel (relying on biblical texts which extend the claim into other sovereign nations)
  • The United States should spend as much on helping the Palestinians develop their economy, government and social institutions as it does sustaining the Israeli military (Israel will be far safer with this nation-building than with more arms)

In other words, the land in the State of Israel and the Palestinian territories belongs to both people, and a way must be found for both to live there.

It seems clear to me that two forces are making this impossible. One is the ineffective leadership of the Palestinian Authority, called corrupt by many. This is not the focus of this series, but is an important element in the ongoing failure to bring peace and justice to the land. Of course, it is not simply corruption or ineptitude that bogs down the PA, it is also that in reality it exists at the sufferance of the Israeli government and the IDF (Israeli Defense Force). Despite declarations by some bodies, one can hardly call Palestine a state because its government does not have typical governmental authority over its own territory.

Indeed, the question of land management reveals how the PA lacks what would be ordinary authority for any government–to issue building permits and enforce land management regulations duly adopted by the civil authority.

jewish-settlement-of-maale-adumin-east-of-jerusalem-sputniknews-com
Jewish settlement of Maale Adumin, east of Jerusalem sputniknews.com

Instead, what is happening in the West Bank–about 60% of which is under full Israeli control (Area C), 28% which is under joint PA/Israeli military control and PA civil control (Area B), and 11% of which is under PA control but subject to Israeli military incursions–seems to be the gradual settlement by Jewish persons in settlements designed to bring about a de facto control the land by Israel.

It is impossible for me to look at these facts and conclude that Israel is not an occupying power. Most of the rest of the world, including the United States and the United Nations, say it is so. Israel denies this. And many Jewish settlers and organizations that support existing and future settlements argue that Israel is not an occupying power but is instead the legitimate government by virtue of God’s grant of all the land of Judea and Samaria to Israel. It is, in the view of settlers, the Palestinians who are out of place, who are interlopers and invaders.

In a recent article in the Washington Post, Yochi Damari, who heads a regional council representing Jewish settlements in the Hebron hills, claimed that those resisting demolition of the village of Susiya represent an insidious Palestinian encroachment onto lands the Jewish homesteaders believe were given to them by God.He called the residents of Susiya “invaders” and a “criminal tribe.”

save-susiya
jpost.com

This is in spite of the reality of generation upon generation of Palestinian families who have resided in that village, farmed and otherwise made their living on the land surrounding it. The effort by the government to push the inhabitants out of their village, and other villages, too, is one part of the process by which it appears that Israel seeks to displace as many Palestinians as possible–to create a modern-day, quiet but effective nakba (the Arabic term for the events of 1948, when many Palestinians were displaced from their homeland by the creation of the new state of Israel–either through military action by Israel and/or the Arab nations who invaded to stop the creation of Israel, or through flight brought about by fear after the massacre at Deir Yassin (see “Deir Yassin, Where Are you?”).

But forced removal–by governmental action or by settler intimidation and violence–is not the only way the local Palestinian population is seeing the land vanish before their eyes.

The other method, one that seems far more effective in the long run, is the establishment of Jewish settlements in various parts of the occupied West Bank territories. Another factor, not for discussion now, is the low, almost non-existent, rate of approval by Israeli authorities for Palestinian homes to be built.

I have noticed a common theme in conversations with many U.S. people who oppose BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) and groups like Jewish Voice for Peace (which supports BDS as a non-violent citizens movement centered in Palestine) and others who are critical of Israel. Most say, as they make judgments about the motives and intelligence and ethics of those who they see as anti-Israel (and some who claim anti-Semitic views as the cause), “Israel makes mistakes, of course; for example the settlements are wrong.”

But no one seems to have figured out a way to stop more of them, let alone what to do with existing ones–no one, except the settlers themselves, with the helping hand of the Netanyahu government.

If you doubt this, I invite you to read the New York Times article, “Israel Quietly Legalizes Pirate Outposts in the West Bank.  The Times is generally very uncritical of Israel, both in its reporting and on the editorial pages, so this report is important. The Israeli daily, Haaretz, also reports formal approval of more new homes for Jewish settlers in the West Bank (see “Israel Approves Hundreds of Homes in West Bank Settlements”). .

The Times article traces what happens when settlers move into an area without authorization and establish homes: eventually, the government recognizes realities and gives the settlers legal permission to be in their homes. What I learned during my visit to Israel and the West Bank in October, 2014 is that once a settler or settlers have a home set up, the IDF generally provide them protection, a de facto recognition of the legitimacy of unauthorized, or illegal, settlements.

israeli-flag-and-idf-soldiers
chinadaily.com.cn

Haaretz outlines how the Netanyahu government is trying to move forward with settlement construction without incurring the wrath of the U.S. government. So far, that government is doing quite well. U. S. protests seem to carry not penalty, the language feeling more like a plea to stop doing something rather than an action to stop it.

So, whose land is it, anyway? If possession is nine-tenths of the law, as I was taught in childhood, then increasingly it appears the land belongs to Israel. The Palestinians are losing ground, day by day.

Will this bring peace? No! Of course not–it will only bring more unrest.

Many say, with some accuracy in a legal way, that there never was a nation called Palestine. They say this means that Israel’s claim is paramount (not to mention the view of biblical literalists) and must carry the day.

However, these people, whom we have come to call Palestinians, are a people of the land. This land. They did not emigrate from Eastern or Western Europe or the United States or Latin America or Africa in order to create a homeland. They had a home, they had homes here for generations. Now their homeland is occupied.

palestinian-flag-with-lone-man-in-demo
news.yahoo.com

Their claim to this land is as legitimate as Israel. Some would say more. I might agree, except that we must work within the legal decisions by the League of Nations and the United Nations.

And Israel, as the occupying power, had best learn the lesson every occupying power in history (including the British whose mandate from the League of Nations to govern this land was a violent episode that drove them out)–namely that the local people will use whatever means is at hand to drive out the occupier.

It is time for settlers and others, including the government, to give up the dream of a  Jewish state within the borders of the current legal territory of Israel and the occupied West Bank–to give up the idea of Greater Israel without Palestinians–and to make peace with the reality on the ground.

God’s ground, the ground belonging to several groupings of God’s people.

 

 

 

Whose Land Is It Anyway?

Jerusalem City wall en.wikipedia.org
Jerusalem City wall
en.wikipedia.org

As readers of this space may know from prior postings, I am deeply concerned about the plight of Israel/Palestine, a territory divided by politics, history, and violence. Coupled with that is my fear that voices in this country, like voices there, are shouting across a cavernous divide rather than finding ways to speak more carefully and softly in hopes of shrinking the chasm between two injured, and injuring, people.

Sadly, it is difficult to speak softly, gently for very long, even if your intentions to do so are clear and well grounded–largely because someone will take issue with you and point to a fact that they believe utterly disproves, or undercuts morally, what you are saying. It is easy to point with alarm and view with fear in every moment, because there is enough history of pain and suffering and violence on all sides to sustain endless argumentation.

Yes, on all sides.

Old City, Western Wall trekearth.com
Old City, Western Wall
trekearth.com

I want to be clear about one key point. I love Israel; I have felt that way for a long, long time. I am just two years older than that nation and I do not remember a time when in my home we did not support the right, the need, of Jews for a recognized safe homeland in that ancient land.

My love for Palestine is no less, although it has a shorter history. For a long time, I never thought about Palestine or Palestinians. There were just the people, a small group I thought, who seemed to get in the way of Israel. More recently, as the result of considerable reading as well as a visit to Israel/Palestine in 2014 and long discussions with people whose wisdom I trust, I have come to see the Palestinians as a people who deserve, who need, a home, a safe home for themselves.

For some time, I more or less thought that somehow these two peoples would, with the help of my country, work things out.

But that is not happening. The chasm grows instead of shrinking.

Palestine countryside palestine-family.net
Palestine countryside
palestine-family.net

I am quite sure that whatever I say will make very little difference in the effort to change direction away from confrontation and violence and repression toward real conversation, deep truth telling and confession, and reconciliation. But I must break through my own fears and speak as authentically as I know how. If I do not, who will speak for me?

I am going to have to write many posts about this, because there is much to say. Today, I start with some perspective about me.

I consider myself a liberation theologian within Christianity, meaning that I view the world from the underside of history, that I see through the eyes of faith a God who stands, and calls us to stand, with “the least of these,” that I read the Bible as a record of how, in many different contexts and eras, God calls people to care for the stranger, the widow, the orphan, the poor, the power-less.

In that worldview, I am formed by a tradition that first goes way back to Hebrew prophets (my parish priest for 20 years was a lover of the Hebrew Bible and all things Jewish and he showed me the power and beauty of Judaism), as well as Jesus (himself a Hebrew prophet in many ways). and more recently with people and theologians and religious leaders in Latin America, Asia and Africa who have done and are doing theological exploration in what are sometimes called “base communities” (created by the poor themselves as well as those policed and kept in check by the privileged authorities) as well as groups in more affluent places, including Black and Latino people in our own nation, feminists, LGBT and Queer, Native American, and differently-abled communities of interest and struggle.

Israeli countryside, road to Jerusalem ronnaliyah.blogspot.com
Israeli countryside, road to Jerusalem
ronnaliyah.blogspot.com

The reader may begin to understand that, given this orientation which developed long before I had any awareness of the depth of the pain in Israel/Palestine, I have some real sympathy toward the Palestinians–definitely the less powerful of the two peoples. In a liberative world view, power and power analysis is central to understanding where we discern God calls us to stand.

But of course, it is not so simple. I have real sympathy for the Israelis, too, for Jews generally, because anti-Jewish attitudes and behaviors–what is often called anti-Semitism (a misleading term in this context because Palestinians are Semitic peoples, too)–is still a major force of intolerance and violence in the world. Jews have been underdogs for far too long, and much of it due to people in my religion (I admit to being utterly baffled by why people who profess to love and follow Jesus hate his people so much).

The Wall walkerart.org
The Wall
walkerart.org

I started out today to write about some current events–Jewish efforts to get state legislatures to adopt bills against the BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) movement, as well as new information about tourism in Jewish settlements in the West Bank (settlements considered illegal by the United Nations and others, and illegitimate by our own government).

But I realized along the way I need to address a deeper theological issue first: whose land is it? Or to put it another way, what can we learn about this dysfunctional situation by looking at history, both in that part of the world, and even in our own, when people contest with each other over territory?

I am not going to start that today, but I will be exploring that question in future blogs.

In the meantime, I invite you to sit quietly if you can, and contemplate peace, think peaceful thoughts, send out peaceful feelings any way you can–especially peace among Palestinians and Israelis. Perhaps you can even use one of the pictures on this blog post as a point of meditation for peace.

 

 

 

 

Reagan, or Roosevelt, for President?

So, here we are in 2016.

What kind of year it will be depends on us.

ballot-box-graphic
aft243.org

Presidential candidates and other would-be leaders think it depends on them, or at least on their being chosen. Indeed, our choice of a new president and vice-president (yes, don’t forget we need both), as well as Congress will determine much.

But not nearly as much as these leaders might think. Just ask President Obama, or either Bush or Clinton or Carter, etc. They each did a lot, but much they wanted to do never happened (and much they did not want to happen did so anyway).

Of course, our choice will say much about who we are at the moment of the election. It will say much about how we see the state of the nation, what we see as the good points and the not-so-good points.

What is the state of the nation today?

state of the union
blogs.rj.org

At home, some things seem to be going pretty well: an improving economy, falling unemployment, tumbling gas prices, low inflation, rising housing prices. Unfortunately, health care and college costs remain obscenely high. And the income gap grows as wages are too stagnant, and gun violence seems on the rise. At the same time, civil rights gains continue, even as the nation’s underlying white racist social structure continues to operate in many sectors. So, things are mixed at best.

Abroad, things look more dicey. ISIS continues to frighten the world, and now Iran and Saudi Arabia are at each other’s throats in another round of internecine Islamic religious warfare. Violence continues in parts of African and Latin America, too, and the ugliness in Israel/Palestine remains unchecked. There is a sense among many that the United States is no longer the leading nation of the world.

President Obama 2
absoluterights.com

And yet, President Obama remains popular outside the country, other leaders look to him for leadership, and he wins some treaty victories (although not in the U.S. Senate). He is not the bragging, pushy leader many in our nation seem to want, but much of the rest of the world appears grateful.

It was only a few months ago that national polls showed just more than half of the country thought things were going pretty well. Then, came more gun violence, and particularly the Paris and San Bernardino massacres. Now, the numbers have gone below 50%.

Perhaps the most important factor in the decline is the presidential campaign. Republicans paint a dire picture–America is about to expire, if you listen to Donald Trump, but others don’t see things too much better–while Democrats are reluctant to be too positive for fear they will appear uncaring about our problems.

I reject the extreme dire view. It is bombast at best, and carries a not-so faint whiff of fascism.

We have many problems, to be sure. But the United States is still able to deal with them–we are dealing with many, despite frequent (but not universal) deadlock between the President and Congress.

So, right now, I am thinking the Republicans could do worse than re-nominate Ronald Reagan. He pointed with alarm at times, but most of the time, he just claimed that while things were okay, he could do better.

Ronald Reagan
en.wikipedia.org

I did not vote for him–indeed, his nomination in 1980 was what finally drove me out of the Republican Party into which I was born. And his silence in the face of HIV/AIDS smelled just plain ugly.

You may think it then strange that I am waxing nostalgic about Reagan, especially because he is dead.

But despite his silence in the face of much that was evil, he was not a hater and he knew how to compromise with Congress. And he wanted peace, really wanted it, I think. Okay, he may not have been the brightest boy in the class, but who says the President needs to be brilliant (some say that is Obama’s greatest problem).

What the nation needs now, I believe, is someone who really believes in our possiblity as a nation–a nation where everyone is thriving and a nation that is the best leader for just and lasting global harmony.

state-of-the-nation-is-good
phil.harris.com

If not Reagan, then I think FDR (see left).

As far as I can see, our best years are ahead. But we have to make the choices that will make it so.

One set of choices is at the ballot box–and there I am less sanguine about our future. But other choices lay elsewhere. About these I will write more in the days ahead.

We can do better than our leaders. We have done it before, and we can do it again.

 

 

 

 

 

Making Peace More Possible?

Violence is on my mind these days.

I doubt the world is any more violent now than in former times, but somehow it feels ever more close and intimate–probably because the  means of sharing it  is so immediate and in-your-face.

gun violence
sciencenutshell.com

I speak here of more than what we usually identify as physical violence against others–war, bombing, shootings, arson, vandalism, assault, murder, rape–by including other forms of violence against the bodies of others–hunger, malnutrition, lack of medical care, homelessness and lack of basic body protections.

police violence
flockforward.com

I mean social violence, too, including ugly words spoken to and about others, individually and in groupings–exclusion and threats to exclude people from groups based on irrelevant characteristics such as skin color, gender and gender expression, religion, sexual orientation, nationality and ethnicity, age–in person and on social media, hateful words spoken in hushed tones behind the back of the despised, the silences when those who hear the ugliness fail to speak up to offer correction or objection, as well as the violence that arises when two people, or a family or group of close friends, erupt in ugly words, and sometimes strike out physically, aimed at each other.

domestic violence 1
begun.case.edu

There also is psychic and emotional violence which can sometimes be cold and wordless, holding another or others hostage through spoken and unspoken threats of bodily harm, or eternal damnation or disgrace, if the object person even thinks what has been defined as wrong or evil or just dares to exist.

There is so much violence. And that is undoubtedly an incomplete list.

riots violence
canvas.brown.edu

Where there is violence there will be no peace. It has been said many times that peace is not the mere absence of violence. But such absence is the ground on which peace may grow.

Why do we so often resort to violence when doing so merely increases, or escalates, the level of violence? Is violence ever a good response to violence?

Few people doubt that Hitler and the Nazis could have been stopped without violence. Is that enough to justify its use in every day life, in political discourse in the land of the free and home of the brave, as the template for so much that passes for international relations?

domestic violence
calgarysun.com

I have no good answers. All I know to do in this moment of my life is to begin to observe my own violence, and the violence I experience around me, and the violence I learn about in larger social realms.

I want to understand more fully the role of violence in my life and in the lives of those around me, and in my community, state, nation and world. Naming it is the beginning, cataloging it, labeling it, help, too.

Perhaps what I am proposing is a violence inventory or index, admittedly not a pleasant thought and task, but still I think necessary if we want, as I do, a more peaceful, loving world. (you can read a UN report on violence here)

violence against children poverty
unicef.org

Will you join me? Will you commit with me to looking clearly at the violence in our lives, describing it and our feelings, owning the times when we are the agents of violence or at least complicit in it, as well as the ways and times we see others acting as purveyors of violence–in the hope we can change ourselves, and contribute to wider change, making peace more possible?

On this Solstice, when the dark lasts longest in the 24 hours, let us go deep into ourselves and into our world to hold up, examine, and discard and disown some bit of violence.

 

 

 

 

Deir Yassin Where Are You?

Deir Yassin just after the massacre April 9 1948. peace.maripo.com
Deir Yassin just after the massacre April 9 1948. peace.maripo.com

On April 9, 1948, history records an attack on a small Palestinian village, Deir Yassin, just outside Jerusalem; according to most accounts by outside observers, and the Palestinians, the attackers were members of the Irgun, a militant, some would say terrorist, Jewish paramilitary force working to free the land of the British and native Arab peoples. Israeli leaders have maintained that the attack came from Arabs. Whoever the attackers, it became for Palestinians a signal to flee from many villages across Palestine in the face of Jewish (soon to be Israeli) forces.

Martyrs of the Holocaust at Yad Vashem. voices.education.org
Martyrs of the Holocaust at Yad Vashem. voices.education.org

I visited the site of Deir Yassin last October, several days after visiting Yad Vashem, the Israeli memorial to the Holocaust. They are not far from each other; one could walk the distance although I did not. I wept repeatedly at Yad Vashem, left ashen and overwhelmed by grief, especially by the memorial to the children. I feel the deep pain yet today.

Kfar Shaul, formerly Deir Yassin, now a mental hospital
Kfar Shaul, formerly Deir Yassin, now a mental hospital. commons.wikimedia.org

I say I visited the site of Deir Yassin because as a village, as a place, it no longer exists. The place of the massacre has been recreated, smoothed over, by a place called Kfar Shaul, a facility for the mentally ill. There is no plaque or other remembrance–only the stories, the arguments about who did what to whom . . . and the patients, the inmates if you will, of a modern Israeli mental hospital.

At Yad Vashem, I came across the memorial to the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. At first, I did not understand where the memorial was–because it is an empty square, like a central plaza in an European city without any people or market. Then I realized this empty square is the memorial–marking the absence of Polish Jews, their extermination. I sat down on the stones and wept and wept.

The link between the lost people of Warsaw and the lost people of Deir Yassin seems clear to me. And yet nothing marks Deir Yassin. But like Warsaw, like Treblinka and Wounded Knee, and so many others, we must never forget.

Deir Yassin where are you?

The distance between

Yad Vashem

and

Kfar Shaul

more than a stone can throw

less than a good morning walk

but the canyon

between

each

gapes wide and deep like yes and no

a wound buried in enough denial to be ignored

Deir Yassin where are you?

  1. Yad Vashem

records the horrors of

Holocaust

the truth of inhumanity

shining the deepness of honesty on brutality

recounting the names and faces of victims

recalling the perpetrators of butchery

recording the names of the righteous among the nations who refused to lie in bed with evil

Tears flow

hearts ache

minds recoil

as we repeat

Never Again

Never Again

knowing

in the lurking memory of time

it is a promise

we may not keep

Yad Vashem.

Deir Yassin where are you?

  1. Kfar Shaul

tells a different story

speaking in code known to those who want to forget

a moment of silence lasting lifetimes

a center for mental health

mental

health

resting on

the remains of a village

living in denial recording nothing of the souls buried beneath its glassy façade locking patients and remembrances of things past lives gone

behind security cameras and guard posts

Kfar Shaul.

Deir Yassin where are you?

  1. It was a day in what should have been another lifetime

but feels like only yesterday

the wounds buried

just deep enough in denial to be ignored

continuing the mournful fugue of historical futility

A

day

April

9

1948

righteous men believing in a vision to reclaim their ancient home

struck out at villagers in homes

these in the wrong place at the wrong time

on the wrong side

at least the losing side

Deir Yassin where are you?

100 or 250 gone of 600 or 750 inhabitants

depending on the history we read,

one-sixth to one-third gone

whatever your source

reports of rape

men paraded through Jerusalem

to the cheers of other men

and then shot

others dispute all the horror

blaming it on Arab soldiers

whose single-fire guns sought to stave off

automatic weapons and mortars

Still

Deir Yassin where are you?

  1. The exodus

of villagers not just Deir Yassin

250,000 refugees in camps

symbol of the new order

creating fear among people without an army even a government

some said they did not even exist

living in a land without a people

Deir Yassin where are you?

The conquerors

terrorized in other lands

hated and feared and maligned

survivors of the slaughtered

came

a people without a land

to call home

filling the homes of those who fled

becoming a people and a land as one

prosperous and strong

proud and feared

hated too

Deir Yassin where are you?

  1. Are you under the wound

scabbed over now

by a place for

mental health

a place of screams and dreams

of loves and lives lost

remembered

repeating in flashing fits of confession and accusation

rambling humbled haunted tales of fear and illusion

even bouts of sometimes reality?

Yad Vashem.

Kfar Shaul.

Deir Yassin where are you?

No word

about what lies buried

under

Deir Yassin where are you?

No names on homes still standing as offices and cottages for the new village inmates

even as their walls and doors and windows and roofs hold the secrets of yesterday’s disappeared

  1. A visitor

stands on the sidewalk

tearfully remembering the histories he has read and Holocaust stories he can almost recite word for word from memory

and the endless arguments about who killed how many in ‘48 and ‘67 and ‘73 and ‘14 and all the other years too

and why it had to be so

persist like a bad dream growing more weird

frightening

ugly

Yad Vashem.

Kfar Shaul.

Deir Yassin where are you?

His mind reciting

repeating

mumbling

stumbling

Never Again

Never.

Again.

Knowing

knowing

knowing

it is a promise

we have yet to keep

Deir Yassin.

Jerusalem Journal #3: Letting Go of Who Did What to Whom and Who Did It First

Jerusalem YMCA
YMCA, headquarters for the IAPSP Conference (author photo)

[Note: In October, 2014, I accompanied Jonathan on a trip to Jerusalem. He was going to the annual meeting of the International Association for Psychoanalytic Self Psychology (IAPSP). He spent much time in meetings while I was free to travel, visiting sites within Jerusalem and beyond. I have posted two times already about this trip; you can see those postings by clicking on these dates: October 31, 2014 and January 5, 2015. I also posted on a related topic, namely an important book, The Lemon Tree. Click on the title to see that post.]

I had intended to write much more about my impressions from last October’s trip to Jerusalem, as well as to continue reflecting on this bedeviled conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Partly, preparations for moving, and the move, from Richmond, VA to Greenbelt, MD got in the way.

12184_565702306776905_1535647524_n
nikkikubanminton.com

But more, I think, was my growing realization at how I despair over two things that must happen: that Israel will shift its mindset and strategy and the Palestinians will respond productively. Someone has to change, significantly, if this perpetual, and seemingly self-perpetuating, crisis is to shift from a deadening into a life-giving mode. I believe it is incumbent on Israel to engage in a major shift. I say that because it is my belief that it is usually, if not always, the more powerful party in any dispute–certainly one in which both parties have legitimate concerns and interests, as is true here–that has to move the most.

Just as disempowering as my despair was my fear that many of my Jewish friends in the United States–not to mention those Israeli (and other) Jews I met at the conference whom I admire greatly–would become angry at me, perhaps even cutting off our friendship, if they understood that and other points I feel compelled to make (I will reflect another time on my continuing struggle to stop being governed by my fears of what others will, or do, think).

Faults
hrringleader.com

But let me be clear. This is not a one-sided conflict. Both parties, all parties (certainly including the government of my country, and thus me), bear responsibility for the mess that now exists. There is more than enough blame to go around. Somehow, we have to get beyond the blame game.

This was brought home to me with great power during one part of the international conference. Prior to the formal sessions, I joined Jonathan and other conferees and spouses on a trip to Lod, a mixed Jewish-Arab city, situated 15 Kilometers southeast of Tel-Aviv, near Ben-Gurion International Airport. According to the conference organizers, Lud, “despite the enormous potential of this ancient-contemporary city . . . has been plagued by a poor image for decades: its population of 75,000 people is constantly struggling with social, economical, multi-cultural and ethnic problems that make the city an example of the painful term – ‘social periphery.'” 

NY Times
NY Times

Indeed, the session was billed as “Self Psychology and Weakened Populations: A Tour of Lod.”  Weakened populations, as I understand the organizers, are places where all of us, not just the subject peoples, bear responsibility for deterioration. They are communities where empathy is required, but empathy that helps create concrete action for change. This action involves more than just the weakened group; it must include those who have been party to the weakening. To my way of thinking, this is the situation in the United States among white people, as we need to make concrete changes to lift our social boot off the backs of the still-weakened African American, and Native American, populations.

It is appropriate that IAPSP is involved in this new understanding, because at the heart of self psychology is empathy. The IAPSP tour organizers wanted us to see what will become the new headquarters of the Israel Association for self Psychology and the Study of Subjectivity (the Israeli affiliate organization which hosted the conference), and they also wanted us to hear from a diverse group of local people about the efforts to build a new society in Lod.

Houses in Lod www.haaretz.com
Houses in Lod http://www.haaretz.com

Included in the local people were the leader of a local program to teach agriculture to students, both Palestinian and Israeli, and a teacher in the program. Part of the goal is to teach the students how to share the land, how to treasure it together for the benefit of all.

Both educators were amazing in their ability to convey, despite language difficulties, a deep desire to create a truly multi-cultural community in Lod, and to help this ancient area recover from serious decline over the past several decades. The teacher, a woman, was the most articulate. During question time, I asked her, a Palestinian whose family lived for generations in that area, how she felt about the participation of Jewish people in this work, given that her family had been displaced by the Israelis more than once. She said, “We will never move forward until we choose to let go of who did what to whom and who did it first.”

I cry right now as I write about that moment–empathy at work in her, breathtaking in its simplicity and power.

seeing with the eyes of another
quotesgram.com

So often, people who speak in or about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict pronounce from one box or the other, talking past the people in the other box. Wisdom comes in refusing to be put in one box and learning what to believe and say from your own space (which contains parts of many boxes), and at the same time hear the other, with empathy and a desire to understand.

But it is not enough to speak and listen with care, vital though that is. That we must act on what we know seems clear, even as our actions must be laced with empathy and a desire to understand others.

My training, and engagement, in Christian liberation theologies, feminism, and political theory, as well as my understanding of Judaism, lead me to act based not only on ethical perspectives but also to engage in power analysis to aid in promoting productive action. In future posts, I shall explore more of this trip, as well as reflect on new learnings, with the goal of contributing to a dialogue for peaceful, life-enhancing change in the haunted land of Israel and Palestine.

For now, let us remember empathy, indeed, let us be empathic.

A New Name for this Blog: Make Love. Build Community.

I started blogging in 2009, wanting to share with the church community I was serving as well as any others in the wider public who might be interested in the musings of a pastor, theologian, and social activist in Richmond, Virginia.

faithAt the time, I used my longtime signature closing, “In faith and hope,” as the name of the blog. Six years later, no longer pastoring but still theologizing and engaging in activism, and now claiming my vocation as a writer, I want to put a different label on these reflections.

hope sproutI have come to see the great problem in the United States, and throughout the world, as the failure of community. We are, the human race, a much-ravaged people in most every corner of the world. There are bright spots, of course, places and communities where people work and live together for the greater good, but I see a quickening, widening, and deepening trend of being torn apart.

don't shoot I want to grow up

The signs are everywhere: increasing violence in the Middle East as well as on our streets; wars in the name (often falsely labeled) of religion on the rise; the failure to overcome historic oppression to constructively engage and build the power of Africa as well as African Americans; the widening gap between rich and poor people as well as among first, second, and third world nations; the failure of the justice system to really deal with problems it probably cannot solve even as we keep tasking it with that work; the weakness of international structures to make any real difference; the continuing resurgence of totalitarianisms all over the globe; public officials in our nation self-righteously defying the law to deny rights to others and politicians vying to be the most insulting to groups of voters. This is by far only a partial list; one more, though: the failure of our national political system to address serious issues at home and abroad.

Palestinian boys dressed in uniforms of Palestinian security forces and holding plastic toy guns

The failure of community is directly traceable to our failure to grasp and use the power of love. I share the view of Teilhard deChardin that the physical structure of the universe is love, indeed it is the entire structure, meaning that there is an underlying desire for union among all beings. But with a terrifying perversity, we are laying waste to that promise. Just as we are despoiling the ecology we call nature, we are destroying the deeper ecology of love. These two movements are inextricably intertwined, both cause and effect.

IDF soldier and Palestinian woman and children

Ironically, it is love that will save us. The very thing we misuse, under use and abuse is the solution.

Thus, I have decided to rename this blog to more directly embrace the great task before us. We have to make more love in order to build more and better community.

Making love is usually a polite way of saying we are “having sex,” or being sexual, with another person. Sadly, this way of speaking limits love to the encounter between two (or occasionally more) people, usually in private behind closed doors involving intimate touch and genitals.

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But the love we desperately need more of is out in the open, in groups, in whole nations, between and among communities. We as individuals have to be committed to making love everywhere we can–sharing our deepest humanity and care and nurture and compassion and kindness not only with partners but with siblings and parents and children, neighbors, co-workers, strangers, opponents, even enemies, perhaps most with those with whom we disagree. And we have to include feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, caring for the sick in our definition of making love.

There already is more than enough love in the world. The problem is that we are not using it. We have locked most of it away, for safe-keeping I guess, or maybe because we are afraid to really let it loose in the world. Too much might change if love really guided us.

Make-Love-Give_Design_final_fullcolor_04We might have to share some of what we have so that everyone, including ourselves, could have more. That is really how love works. The more you share the more you have. But it confounds our limited human understanding; we think about love the way we think about money. If we give too much away, we won’t have enough.

I am choosing to challenge this stingy view of love. I want to make lots of love, and I want to do it with you, my readers. I am a witness for love. But more than that, I am a lover. I want to be your lover, and for you to be mine.

Make love to Uncle SamOh, I am not divorcing my wonderful husband of 18 years. And I am a monogamous kind of guy when it comes to sex. But I am an advocate for free love.

It is not that love is free exactly. It does come with a price. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that in order for love to grow we have to spend it, and trust that more comes.

But it is free in that it is available to all, for the asking, for the taking you might say. But that implies that you have to be aggressive and grab it. The reality is that it comes to you. But you have to be open, you have to want love. You have to, as the ancient mystic Julian of Norwich said of God, “allow” it into yourself.

How to build communityBut even this is not quite right–because our entire being, each one of us, all of us, has more than enough love inside. So in some ways, we have to allow it out, we have to open ourselves not only to receive the love “out there,” but also to share the love “in here.”

This is more introduction than I planned. So I had best stop. There are many blog posts ahead in which to say more.

For now, let me say this: I am here, writing regularly, to help us to Make Love. And to Build Community.

Make Love. Build Community. The life you save may be your own, and surely if we do it together we can save each other, and the whole world.

Make Love. Build Community. Say it a few times.

Then go do it. Wherever, and whenever, and with whomever, and however, you can.