My Plea to Christians About Gaza

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    A Palestinian woman in Bil’in plants flowers in Israeli tear gas grenades.

A Palestinian woman in Bil’in plants flowers in Israeli tear gas grenades.

I have watched with horror as the events have unfolded in Israel, The West Bank, and Gaza this past month. There has been so much death and despair and so much hate. Hate coming from both sides of the conflict. As painful as it is to watch Israelis and Palestinians spew their anger, trauma, and to watch them kill each other, it’s been equally painful for me to watch Christians pick sides.

Here’s the thing, I was in Beirut in Israel’s 2008/2009 Operation Cast Lead offensive against Gaza. Americans need to understand how IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) offensives against Gaza affect the region. Currently, there are 5.4 million Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority (The West Bank and Gaza).[1] These are just the Palestinians who are signed up to receive aid from the UN as refugees; the World Bank states there are more than 4 million Palestinians just in the West Bank and Gaza alone. [2]

In 2009, as a result of the IDF operation in Gaza, I wasn’t allowed to go into the camp I worked at in Beirut. It was for security reasons but please don’t misunderstand me, Palestinians knew I was there with an organization and I was there to help. But, as you can see over the past month, things get heated quickly and people’s anger can explode into violence in seconds. I watched my Palestinian friends mourn violence, relatives, the feelings of helplessness and oppression. I had hard conversations with my friends, one asked me why all Americans want them dead. Try representing all Americans and have that conversation in Arabic while honoring their pain and confusion.

It also was the first time I felt excluded by our Palestinian staff.  It was the first time I was made to feel like “the American.” Honestly, I can sympathize, I can see the injustice, I can advocate for them and I can love them. I can hold their hand and sit with them but I cannot fully enter into their suffering because I’m not Palestinian.  I have a little blue passport; a nationality of privilege. Whatever happens in the Middle East, I get to leave and go home to my country. They do not have that luxury.

It was painful to watch Gaza in 2009, to watch Palestinians die, to watch the repercussions in the camp, to watch my friend’s pain and anger, and to feel that isolated. My friends in the US couldn’t understand and I took my pain, helplessness, and confusion to Facebook. Oh social media! I posted every single day about how many Palestinians died in Gaza and how many were children. I think people were shocked and in the end I alienated some of my friends because I chose to express my pain over social media. It’s hard when you love people that are portrayed in the media so differently than how you know them.

Fast forward to 2014.  As I write this piece, the death toll in Operation Protective Edge is 1,058 Palestinians, 218 of whom were children, they make up 21% of the dead[3], and 46 Israelis.[4] I’m not surprised by the amount of violence.  The situation has deteriorated with both sides calling for the other’s destruction, how can this ever be solved?

What’s more alarming to me is how Americans are acting. It feels like a spectator sport, we pick a side, wear their colors, root for them, and try to win arguments for their justification of killing the other. Somehow it’s about winning, both sides claiming moral high ground and refusing to see the other’s suffering. I’ve seen a deeper level of dehumanization happening on social media. More hate being spewed. I am convinced the only way forward in reconciliation for Israelis and Palestinians is for them to acknowledge the other’s suffering and misery.

I believe that as a Christian I am responsible for bring people together. I’m called to restore relationships and be a peacemaker.  It’s not easy to set aside my feelings, mostly my anger. But, I refuse to offer the world more hate. I don’t have the right as a believer. My plea to Christians is to join me. Join me in prayer. Join me in love. Join me in peace. Join me in bringing others together. Join me in offering a broken and violent world healing, reconciliation, and peace. I believe this is what being a Christian means, to enter into the sufferings of others as Christ did for us.

We can do that by listening to all narratives. We can show compassion to all who suffer. We can step beyond our comfort zones.  We must step beyond ourselves. Israelis and Palestinians are both in desperate need of Christians to enter into this mess with them.

"O Lord, make me an instrument of Thy Peace!
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is discord, harmony.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sorrow, joy.

Oh Divine Master, grant that I may not 
so much seek to be consoled as to console; 
to be understood as to understand; 
to be loved as to love; 
for it is in giving that we receive; 
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; 
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life."
~Francis of Assisi