Thursday, September 12, 2013

6th Report from the ground (in I/P)

I/P Study Tour report, (the 6th), From the Ground
John Kleinheksel Sept 12, 2013
Presently, The U.S. is torn between 1) a punishing military strike against the Assad regime and 2) giving diplomacy another chance (controlling “chemical weapons” by the international community).

But I want to dig deeper into the reality of Israeli/Palestinian and our commonly experienced human relationships. One of the perennial issues for us as mortals is the issue of inclusion and exclusion.

For us as persons (and in I/P and U.S. society as a whole), we wrestle with who to let into our lives and who to keep on the margins. Will “they” have their own space; or do we have to make room for them with us, here? This is not an easy matter to decide, for Israelis, Palestinians or US!

Among followers of Moses, Jesus and Muhammad is the perennial tension between those who adhere to the mindset: “Come apart and be separate from the outside world”; and those who (like Jesus) insist on being more inclusive of “outsiders” (think of the immigration issue in the U.S.).

Especially since 1948 when Israel declared its independence, the guiding principle of the Israeli State seems to be: Palestinian Arab residents are not our neighbors, they are our enemies. They refuse to accept our presence and rule here. If they do (20% accepted Israeli citizenship, albeit as second-class citizens), they will do well. Those who refuse to accept us as a Jewish State belong here no longer and should leave or be further marginalized. This land is your land. This land is my land (a Jewish democracy).

If they stay (God forbid), we will make life increasingly difficult for them. We will confiscate their homes, drive them out of their habitat, their villages and their orchards. We will squeeze them especially out of E. Jerusalem which will no longer be theirs. When they are unwilling to leave peacefully, (demanding their ‘rights’), we will call them terrorists, harass and discriminate against them, incarcerate and execute them (often with no judicial oversight).

Lest we in the U.S. think we are exempt from this attitude, think of how often we have gone to war against groups or even nations we perceive as “security threats” to our way of life or those of our “friends” – think Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Serbia, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Syria. We demonize them, rob them of respect, degrade and punish them.

Overt warfare against “enemies” is an extremist response to human conflict. It compounds and intensifies the difficulties in resolving long-standing and underlying disputes between the ruling class and the under classes in a country. We emphasize that turning the other cheek doesn’t mean being a doormat.

Jesus once told a story that mirrors what can happen in all religious and cultural traditions. He used the image of life-giving seeds and death-dealing weeds (read it in Mark 4:1-20). Good seeds symbolize life, potential for growth, multi-cultural connections, the possibility of nourishment for the hungry, jobs for harvest hands, the coordination of sunlight, rain showers, good soil, freedom from weeds and wholesome interaction with the environment.

When hearts are hardened toward “the other”, good seeds don’t take root and flourish. When relationships are shallow and superficial (too many fences), real life-changing interactions don’t take place. When people are overwhelmed by security issues, making money, keeping outsiders out of our settlements and subdivisions, we get distracted from the structural changes that need to take place between insiders and outsiders. But among the “good earth” people, life-nourishing seeds take root, leading to human flourishing beyond our wildest expectations.

Those of us in the Western world have an iconic picture seared in our memory bank. It is the photo of Phan Thi Kim Phuc, the little Vietnamese girl running naked and screaming from a napalm fireball on June 8, 1972, dropped by American forces.

Americans are still in denial about our guilt in perpetrating atrocities, but that is another matter. Almost beyond belief, there is now a fruitful harvest coming from that atrocious event. In 1996, Kim Phuc was approached by a US military officer who confessed to involvement in the bombing that enflamed and scarred her person.

Love had taken hold of her being. The love God has for her, the love that could now brim over from her to others, even “the enemy”. She forgave him. Here is what she said at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C. in 1996:

“It was the fire of bombs that burned my body. It was the skill of the doctors that mended my skin. But it took the power of God’s love to heal my heart” (Presbyterian Mission Yearbook, July 13, 2013).

Religious devotion can be demonic, divisive and destructive. Fanatics think they are doing “God” a favor in destroying “The Enemies of God” (See John 16:1, 2). This is true in Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism (and explains why many secularists spurn “religion” altogether). However, the love of God in each of those traditions CAN BE powerfully angelic, unitive and restorative.

Last Sunday, during and following worship, I realized we needed to do more to include minorities in our congregation. I sought out Willie Watt, an African American member of our congregation, who was mentored by a former pastor in our congregation. Willie has long been doing terrific work with ex-prisoners (former addicts like himself) and their children, potential gang members here in Holland, MI (my hometown). During my conversation I embraced him, pledging my support in giving him greater access to the mainstream congregants through our Contemporary Issues Adult Church School class. (Read more about it here:

As we come upon Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we begin by admitting injustices have actually occurred (and continue to occur into the present!) Where is the sense of humanity that admits our vulnerabilities and our tendencies to inflict pain on others?

What of the “talks” now sputtering along between representatives of Israel and the Palestinians? Are the parties truly interacting? Is trust being rebuilt? Are confessions parts of the discussion? Are toxic elements being purged from the soil? Can we look at the grievances and continue to deny the truth in the grievances? Will weeds distract, choking out good seeds? Will minorities be allowed their space in the Garden? Where? How? When? Is there an End Point to the “talks”? Will the “Occupation” end? Can it be admitted, confessed, adjudicated?

The “power” imbalance still exists between the two parties. U.S. and European (the EU) pressure points are coming to bear right now, but there is still much heavy lifting to be done. I think Ziad Asali is right when he concludes a Huffington Post op-ed with these words: The long-term objective must be to help empower open-minded, tolerant Arab groups to develop their own path to modernity based on the consent of the governed, job-producing economies, the rule of law, and respect for the rights of all citizens, including individuals, minorities and women.

We should do everything in our power to ensure Palestinian-Israeli peace, and never stop trying to achieve that vital goal. Meanwhile, we would do well to rethink our fundamental approach to the Middle East, and systematically help Arab societies transform their political cultures. Otherwise the black hole will continue devouring everything within its reach, harming not only the region but also our national interests.

Simple, honest, humble people can get it done. Simple people, not the walking dead, but the wounded living, who steer clear of detours, distractions and dead ends, who don’t let thistles and thorns thwart us, but lead us forward towards a fruitful future for all.

Which way will I be for us?