Throw Your Pebble

 Sun streams through the tangled wires to greet schoolchildren in Chatila Palestinian Refugee Camp, Beirut, Lebanon. November 21, 2016. 

Sun streams through the tangled wires to greet schoolchildren in Chatila Palestinian Refugee Camp, Beirut, Lebanon. November 21, 2016. 

"I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples." ~Mother Teresa

I don’t get political, contrary to popular opinion. I purposely don’t post or engage on politics or social matters, unless it pertains to Palestinian refugees or Muslims. That’s quite a big enough hill to climb. Also, as soon as I say, “Palestinians,” people freak out and say, “whoa, whoa, whoa, you’re getting too political!” Although, let’s be clear, the word “Palestinian” isn’t a political word; it is the name of a people group.

I stay current on news stories, voraciously read anything I can get my hands on pertaining to Palestinians or the conflict, and I watch speeches -- I watch them all. This isn’t a political debate or agenda for me. It’s incredibly personal since I know Palestinian refugees in multiple countries, and I am far too acquainted with the daily struggles of their lives. I do my best to be as knowledgeable as I can from many different sources because I need to make sense of what I see and experience on the ground. I also need to keep myself balanced.

I watched Kerry’s speech last week. It may have been an annoying speech to you, or maybe you were happy with what Kerry was finally saying, but I just found it to be painful. A little too little and a little too late. It doesn’t take much courage to stand up for peace and hold others accountable for bad behavior when your administration is transitioning out in a few weeks. And with the new incoming administration, I fear for my Palestinian friends and their future.

With all that said, I do think it’s wise to read Kerry’s speech[1] because I believe it is an accurate assessment of how Palestinians are forced to live and the rights they are denied daily. It might not change policy right away, but education about the reality of the lives of the Palestinian people might start to change public opinion. We must continue to learn.

Over the 13 years I have served in Palestinian camps, I have seen conditions get worse for Palestinian refugees over the years. Much worse. Some of that is related to our (American) policies or the policies of Israel or even the policies of the Palestinian leadership itself.

I have watched over the past 5 years as funding and aid have dried up or been pulled and given to the immediate need of Syrian refugees. It’s not such a great sell, helping three generations of permanent refugees in permanent camps across the Middle East, when most just want to bury and forget this conflict. It’s just too painful of a topic for it seems, everyone. Yet, this is the consequence of an unresolved conflict; 69 years of permanent refugee status for over 5.5 million of our fellow human beings[2].

And then I looked at the comments as Kerry’s speech was streaming live on Facebook. It was at that point that I lost all faith in humanity.

Maybe it triggered me. The horrible, horrendous, completely unacceptable comments from pro-Israel people and pro-Palestinian people. Name calling, such vitriolic hatred, and I wondered why people felt so emboldened to talk about others in such a shameful way. Others, they have no way of knowing…and why everyone seems to have an opinion about this conflict and believe they are in the right?

I have been working and doing my best to serve Palestinian refugees in permanent refugee camps, and I have had to stand up and speak about the realities of Palestinian refugees that I have witnessed over these past 13 years. This is some of what has been said to me.

I have been called a liar.

I have been asked how could I serve a people group that was out to destroy God’s chosen people.

I have been told my facts are wrong.

I have had my theology questioned.

I have had my actual personal faith in Jesus doubted.

I have had someone bring a full size Israeli flag and put it right in front of my presentation.

I have been called anti-Semitic.

I have been told I have slept with the enemy.

I have been told I know nothing about the Middle East.

I have been told I’ve gone native. (Still unclear what this really means)

I have also been told by complete strangers that I got what I deserved for trying to enter Israel.[3]

Now, I tell you this, not so you can feel sorry for me but to highlight what I must get through before/during/after trying to discuss the reality of Palestinian refugees. I have been plagued and tormented by how to engage others who hold different views than I do. We cannot have this conversation online. That is obvious. But, how do we engage this in a real, informed, respectful way? Because people are suffering and people are dying while we are trying to win a debate with little regard to the person we are debating, let alone the people we are debating about.

I have done my best to listen to others with different voices because, as balanced as I try to be, I’m not sure I will be. I will always be an advocate for Palestinian refugees…until my final breath. Because I’ve seen too much, I know too much, I have been a witness to an incredible amount of injustice. But, can I love Palestinians and fight for their basic human rights, rights we take for granted, without adding any hate? Isn’t there enough hate in this charged topic? Can’t we do this better? Because lives and dignity depend on it?

I don’t do this perfectly. I get angry. I get frustrated. I get impatient. I get overwhelmed. I get offended. I also want to quit daily. But, in the end I don’t. This is why I don’t.

As I mention above, someone placed a full-size Israeli flag in front of my Palestinian presentation. It was the summer of 2014 when Gaza was being bombarded by the IDF. I remember having to do some pretty serious self-talk before I spoke because I felt intimidated. I feared the crowd (of fellow Christians) was going to be hostile. I was afraid of the situation being volatile. I wanted to cancel and run and hide. But, the reality of the people group I serve was -- at that very minute -- being bombed and dying. And I thought to myself, “Well, I’m not dying, I am not being oppressed; all I have to do is stand up here and speak my truth.”

I did. It ended up going well and I think people learned something new. I even got an apology from the person with the flag; he assumed I was going to be hostile and full of hate. When I wasn’t it, he could relax and hear me. The apology meant so much to me and we could move forward.

I’m not sure that in the end all of this makes a difference. But, I would rather work toward something than say it’s too hard or impossible and walk away. If my friends can get up in the morning and face their day, I can too. I can use everything that has been given to me, including my American citizenship and my Christian faith, not to make my life better or easier or more comfortable, but to better others’ lives…to ease their burdens.

In the end, as much as I am for Palestinian refugees, I will never fully understand. I will always be an American, with citizenship, with rights.

But, I can bear witness.

I can continue to seek to build relationships with those willing to engage this respectfully. I can continue to choose to love when everything in my body and mind goes against that principle. I can also continue to speak up.

What can we do together?

Learn.

Stay informed.

Engage.

Get uncomfortable.

I have a list of resources on Beirut and Beyond’s website, such as movies and books. You might not agree with all of them; I certainly don’t. But, they did force me to think and to be uncomfortable.  

I make sure to get news from a variety of news outlets -- BBC, NPR, Haaretz, Al Jazeera, and Fox News. It’s important to know what people are saying and to try to see it from their point of view.

Have a conversation with someone from the “other side” on the ground rules that you both want to learn from each other. Be curious. Don’t try to win. This forces me to learn and engage.

And as a bit of shameless promotion, I will be hosting a Palestinian Learning Party at Belong Church in Denver on January 30th. Click here for more details. Come and listen and process and let’s struggle together.

Those are the beginning steps that I have had to take, that I continue to have to take. Will you join me?

“What we would like to do is change the world--make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended them to do. And, by fighting for better conditions, by crying out unceasingly for the rights of the workers, the poor, of the destitute --the rights of the worthy and the unworthy poor, in other words -- we can, to a certain extent, change the world; we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world. We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever widening circle will reach around the world. We repeat, there is nothing we can do but love, and, dear God, please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as our friend.”  ~ Dorothy Day

Throw your pebble.

 

[1] http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.761881

[2] https://www.unrwa.org/sites/default/files/content/resources/2015_annual_operational_report.pdf

[3] http://beirutandbeyond.org/blog/2014/10/29/denie

Suzann MollnerComment