About two weeks ago I flew halfway around the world with my best friend, who is also my brother, and 13 wonderful people I now count as friends. We spent one amazing week in an historic, beloved, conflicted, painful place. It is a very young country, a little over 70 years old, and it is more ancient than the oldest stories of the Hebrew scriptures. It is full of beautiful, worthy, conflicted, hurting people who need a way forward. They are, in my mind, like scared and angry children in a world that at times seems to be without grownups, looking for the nurturance and guidance that will help them quit throwing rocks and launching missiles at each other. And I hurt for them.
Every day our group had the same two amazing guides, one each from two of the country’s major cultures, who gave us different, equally important perspectives on what we were seeing. We saw the old and historic, the new, the natural and the human. We listened and looked, and felt just a little of the weight of the burdens of the people of Israel and Palestine. There was, at times, stark contrast between the environments of Israeli cities and cities in the Palestinian West Bank. There were pockets of wealth in both, and vast areas of poverty. There were schools for children in both, and we even saw an integrated Jewish-Arab school dedicated to growing the conversations of peace and understanding. We saw a Palestinian Christian orchard struggling to continue its mission of multicultural, religiously pluralistic environmental cooperation and self-sufficiency. We saw ancient markets and modern streets filled with art, walked through the history of the Holocaust at Yad Vashem, and danced with professional artists. We learned some of our most cherished religious stories may have been fudged a bit. And we wondered how to make friends out of enemies.
I learned that, as one of our guides said the very first day, life in Israel and Palestine is “complicated.” Cliché? Maybe. But authentic. I went looking to see if I could find “good guys and bad guys.” I only found good people who are broken, who may hope but are also afraid, and very tired of being broken and afraid. I learned that Israelis (and perhaps Palestinians, too?) love stories about their perseverance, and hard-won victories, even pyrrhic victories.
Jewish rebels against the Roman empire held on to a mountaintop fortress and palace for several years, and their story became a central character story for a people who lived for two thousand years scattered to the wind and almost entirely destroyed. The crux of their conflict appeared to me to be this: When the entire population of the major Jewish culture on the planet was on the brink of total annihilation, they needed safety and a future. The declared solution, which involved the creation of a new nation-state for them, required the imposition, by many countries in agreement, of a new nation physically on top of an old, multiply conquered land and people. No one came to this decision quickly, or meanly, and if in a room together, no one would deny the other’s right to exist in safety. But new trauma in one people will not allow healing of the trauma in a second people to be a simple process. My heart aches, after seeing these two beautiful cultures, for everyone here.
It is not possible for me to adequately express my compassion for either group, as they see themselves as very unique, separate groups in this young country. So I will focus on what I know: childhood, and the needs and wants of childhood through the lens of children in this nation. I pray for laughter for all the youth of this young country (or countries, as some see it). I will write, and display snapshots of my learning and thoughts, and I will pray. I will pray for copious food and shelter, for loving hands and smiling adult faces, for warmth and kindness and understanding of their needs. I will pray Israeli families see and cherish the promise of Palestinian youth the way they see and cherish the promise of their own children, and that Palestinian parents likewise value the children of Israel. Next year, in Jerusalem. Next year, in a peaceful land.
The stories to come describe snapshots of my experiences while in these two lands sitting on top of each other, co-existing in a painfully mingled way. Please bear with me as I try to paint a portrait of my love for everyone, individually and jointly, that lives in that young country, that rugged piece of land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.