Bethlehem Diary 7: Hearing some hard questions

Day 5 part 1: Hard questions

Oded Shoshani, a messianic Jew, asked some hard questions of the audience today.

What if Palestinians had accepted 1948?
What if the Arab nations had not declared war and ethnic cleansing on Jewish people?
What if Palestinian suicide bombers were not sent out to kill 1200 people and injure thousands between 2000-2005?

He acknowledged the very real Palestinian suffering but the questions were well put.

The 1948 Arab Israeli war resulted in an agreement about partition based on the proposals of UN Resolution 181. Approximately 700 000 Palestinians and 10 000 Jews were displaced by these arrangements. Israeli casualties numbered about 6000, 2000 of them civilians. Palestinian casualty numbers are disputed but could be as high as 3000 with a further 4000 from other Arab nations.

In the 1967 Arab Israeli war Israel defeated Syria, Egypt and Jordan to occupy the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip, West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

The 2000-2005 suicide bombings were carried out by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fathah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Israel argues that the wall was built to secure against suicide bombings but Palestinians would dispute this arguing that, while there are still some incursions, the bombings would largely have ceased. They also argue that if the wall were to separate Jew from Palestinian then it would not separate Palestinians from other Palestinians as it now does.

The history is complex and without more research it is difficult to judge the truth of any of these claims. What cannot be disputed is that there is suffering today and that Palestinians and Jews have both been aggressors in the past. It is a credit to all the speakers at the Christ at the Checkpoint conference that time and again they have said they do not support violence from any quarter. It also cannot be disputed that Palestinians who live outside the line are dependent on Israelis for permits to travel, including to access their own land, and this creates a dependency on Israel.

The longer history of the Jewish people tells of their suffering and fear, not least in the Shoah but on many other occasions throughout history.

Hard questions are being asked all around. Theological questions. Questions about history and questions about politics. But most basic of all is the question about humanity and what it means to be human in such a situation. I have wondered if there is a hierarchy of needs which have to be identified and responded to. The larger political questions can immobilise action at the individual human-need level so that people’s lives remain impaired and restricted. These larger questions have to be addressed but there is a hard question about the every day realities that people live with – inadequate drinking water, sanitation, education, freedom of movement, health care, and accommodation. If these issues are not faced then the broader political crisis will only deepen as people become more angry, frustrated and dehumanized. The international community of the church must surely have something to say about these human questions and, like others whom I have listened to this week, call for non-violence responses, international interventions and a new narrative of humanity between broken and wounded people. Calling for these things is not enough though. Actions in the right places whether that be among the powerful decision-makers or the people on the ground also have to be taken.

There is, of course, a counter set of hard questions. What if Jews had decided they didn’t need the land to themselves but could share it with Palestinians? What if the international community had considered sticking with dialogue rather than opting for partition? What if Christians across the world had been more aware of human circumstance rather than esoteric theological debate? Would facing these hard questions have made a difference?


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