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"We must be pro-people."
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In early February, IPMN Advocacy Chair Addie Domske, led a group of young people to Israel/Palestine to participate in the Keep Hope Alive olive planting program with the Joint Advocacy Initiative in Jerusalem and the West Bank, and to tour the land, meeting up with activists and visiting holy sites. Over the next few months, IPMN will be sharing reflections from that trip. Many of the participants received travel scholarships from IPMN to help subsidize their travel costs.
 

Israel. Palestine. Both. Neither.

By Christian Na

MERCUTIO:

I am hurt.
A plague o’ both your houses! I am sped.
Is he gone and hath nothing?
ACT III, SCENE I, WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, ROMEO AND JULIET

There are over 40 political parties within the United States, though many U.S. citizens only acknowledge and follow the clashes between the two major parties.

Our most recent presidential election highlighted in incendiary ways some of the immense disagreements between republicans and democrats, while the third, smaller third, and other parties took a few turns joining our nation’s tumultuous political dialogue of 2016.

I think it’s sad that the United States is enslaved to the constrictive binary of two-party thought. Including only two parties in the narrative of mainstream U.S. politics omits so many dimensions of U.S. American life (and forces many of us to decide to which side we belong, even when we don’t always feel like we truly belong to one side or the other). When I have the chance, I try to branch out from the two sides prescribed by the narrow principles of dualism.

But a wall has two sides. And our brief existence on this planet has been ridden with walls, from the Constantinian and Theodosian walls of the Byzantine Empire to the Berlin Wall to Donald Trump’s wall on the Mexican border.


In February, I was given the opportunity to travel to the Middle East, after having been awarded a generous grant by the Israel/Palestine Mission Network. The trip lasted for two weeks; it felt like two minutes. Many people who’ve heard about the things I experienced on that trip tell me, “but remember: there are two sides to every story.” As often as I can, I reply, “there are way more than two sides to this story.”

After an unexpected whirlwind of applications, registration forms, and ticket purchases, I found myself in the Holy Land meeting Palestinians and Israelis, hearing from Jews, Muslims, Christians, the Bedouin and the BADIL, speaking to refugees and residents, experiencing settlers and soldiers, and learning from children.

My heart broke for the conflict between Israel and Palestine, but as the group with whom I was traveling drew parallels from the Palestinian predicament to many similar instances of oppression in world history, I became aware of how division is everywhere. For as long as humans have been divided, or separate from each other, we have needed to build walls. And so walls we’ve built.

Some of the most terrible and terrific eras of human history have been marked by the division of people; consider the U.S. American Revolution, the Protestant Reformation, and Genghis Khan’s Mongolian Empire. And yet, while one might call them eras of division, another may speak of them as moments of unity. For different people, they are different things.

Indeed, division may just be part of our DNA. Even our biblical first family felt the pain of being divided. But as long as there is a need for peace, it does us little good to take sides when there is division. That is to say, perhaps it is better to relinquish alliances and trade them in for support of something greater than one side or another.


The trip I took gave me first glimpses to the horrors Palestinians live with under the Israeli occupation. No doubt, oppression is happening, and my experiences in the Middle East showed me how Palestine was the object of it.

I wondered why the Jewish Israelis who poured beer and spat on my and my friends’ heads in Hebron’s Shuhada Street seemed so untroubled by their mistreatment of us for being in a Palestinian marketplace. Were these not the same people whose predecessors endured the horrors of the Holocaust not even a century ago? This upset me.

Protective grid metal has been hung over the Shuhada Street marketplace to prevent Palestinian merchants and shoppers from being hit by the trash thrown by Israeli settlers who live above. The settlers, we learned, have resorted to saliva and beer, which can get through the empty spaces in the grid.

While I was still in Palestine, I had a few heated conversations with folks from home (and other places) about my experiences there. After having returned to the States and reflected on interactions like these, I admit I’d take a totally different approach to such conversations.

I hesitate to say I’m pro-Palestine (for that might necessitate that I’m anti-Israel, which I am not). And I would not say I’m pro-Israel, for how could I justify endorsement of an entity that has been irresponsible and harmful with its power in such ways as Israel has?

(As an aside, can one really be pro-any country/culture, when every people group has at one time oppressed another?)

But I do think that Palestinians have unique needs, and I have decided I want to try to meet them, if, at the very least, advocacy on their behalf means doing so.

But when we have conversations about Israel-Palestine, perhaps our words should not be for one country or another. I know many people who call themselves pro-Palestine, and I like to think that their sentiment, really, isn’t pro-(any nation), but rather pro-human rights. And that’s an important distinction to make.

When we zoom out this far, we can

  1. recognize the appalling human rights abuses that Jews endured in one of the greatest massacres of a marginalized people in human history. Furthermore, we can acknowledge their struggle in the aftermath of this holocaust as a people trying to return to a land with which they have a cultural and historical connection.
  2. understand the horrendous treatment of Palestine (also marginalized) by settlers, military, and governors of Israel, in a land to which Palestinians also have cultural and historical ties.

No partisanship is needed to discern that here are two marginalized parties, both of which are still the victims of violence and oppression in the Middle East and around the world.

In some ways, I echo Mercutio during his death in the bard’s old play. “A plague o’ both your houses!” Peace cannot be reached so long as a part of the world says “I’m for Israel,” while another says “I’m pro-Palestine.” After all, the only peaceful moments of Romeo and Juliet are when the star-crossed lovers can be with each other. Unity and togetherness are the things for which they strive, and so must we. But so long as the families remain adversaries, well… we know how the story ends.

Who is “right” in this age-old dispute over land? Israel. Palestine. Both. Neither. But mostly, it isn’t for us to say. Yes, we must recognize Palestine as marginalized and oppressed, but being pro-Palestine does no good in the long run, and being pro-Israel is equally as irresponsible. We must be pro-people.

I think one of the best ways the international community can respond to Israeli/Palestinian conflict is to call out oppression when it happens—fairly and honestly. If peace is the goal, we cannot rush to the aid of Palestine and ignore Israel’s needs altogether, nor can we fortify Israel and push Palestine to the side. We must ask our international leaders to stop funding violence, and to pressure Israel and Palestine to work toward peaceful and diplomatic solutions, rather than methods of brutality and militance.

I am pro-freedom, pro-human rights, and pro-peace. For me, such an agenda manifests itself as solidarity with Palestine and consideration of Israel. But this cannot be an issue of nationalism, especially for those who are neither Israeli nor Palestinian. I quite like the musically climactic words of Mumford & Sons’s title track, “Babel,” from their second studio album:

You’ll build your walls, and I will play my bloody part
To tear, tear them down
Well I’m gonna tear, tear them down



Christian Na is a recent graduate of Westminster College with a degree in communication studies. He is moving to Pittsburgh, Pa., where he will begin a career in marketing.

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