It’s different here in the Holy Land. It’s real. It is the daily reality of people who live here. How do you live out such a commandment when your village can be isolated by roadblocks, when you’re required to go through a checkpoint with metal grates, when you can be stopped and detained at any moment with no rationale, when you can be shot on sight if an Israeli feels they are endangered? It is unimaginable. I can’t even pretend to understand. Perhaps the most striking thing about spending time in Palestine is the persistent and perseverant hope in the midst of injustice and oppression. The humbling part is that I’m not sure I could do the same.
I’m an emotional person and on my first trip to Palestine I was shocked, horrified and angry. Perhaps it was “righteous indignation” but it was still anger. On this trip, I am filled with sorrow, but I am also inspired. I see all these people working for peace, working non-violently for peace. It’s easy to respond to violence with violence. I wonder if it’s actually inherent in our nature; I know it is inherent in my nature. To overcome that urge, to not throw a punch when you’re arrested by soldiers with machine guns, when you’re beaten, when children throw rocks at you, requires an immense amount of courage and strength.
One of the speakers yesterday commented on the distinction between pacifism and passiveness – a distinction that I think is incredibly important. One can be a social revolutionary in a pacifistic, non violent way in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr and Ghandi. It’s not always about fighting back physically. I can’t help but draw compromises between some of the non-violent protesters here and the occupy protesters in the US. My brain automatically connects the image of Palestinian and International protesters getting fired upon with concussion grenades, tear gas, and rubber bullets to the recent scenes in the US of occupy protesters getting pepper sprayed and tear gassed at point blank range and I stand in awe.
Standing in solidarity with the oppressed, standing up and voicing opposition to injustice is certainly a good step, a responsibility that comes from scripture (and more than that, from the fact that all of us are human beings who deserve justice and equality, regardless of who we are and where we come from). In the midst of this, I struggle with the commandment to love your enemies. What does it mean for me, an educated American with great privilege, the child of immigrants, and someone whose cultural history includes a history of persecution? Alternately, what does it mean for those whose daily lives include oppression, injustice, and persecution, be they in the West Bank or Uganda or in the US? The only conclusion I can come to is that I cannot fully understand this verse, this commandment without experiencing “enemies” in a real and tangible sense. But this doesn’t mean that I can ignore this verse as something that doesn’t apply to me.
As an American, it means that I need to fight for justice. That I should fight against the racial discrimination and profiling that still takes place in the US. That I need to fight for justice, even for those with whom I disagree. It means that when politicians and religious leaders speak things that I cannot believe to be true, things that I believe violate the intrinsic human rights of individuals, I should not give into the hate that tempts me. It means not doubting the intelligence of those I disagree with, but trying to educate them, to listen to them, and engage them in dialogue.
But how do Palestinians live out that commandment? How can they persevere in this love when their lives are constantly disrupted? One of the speakers yesterday expounded on this:
“What is this love? Do I go to a checkpoint, get out of my car, approach the Israeli soldiers, open my arms and go, ‘Habibi! Give me some love? That’ll get me in one of three places – in prison, in a loony hospital, or six feet under. What does it mean to love your enemy? It means to get to know someone.”
It is easy enough to proclaim the “enemy” as the “other”, to generalize them as one giant group, a collective other, forgetting to view them as individuals, as human beings. How often do we refer to Al-Qaeda, to terrorists, as a collective group as though there are no individuals among them? That’s one of the important points being reiterated here at the conference. Some refer to the occupation as the systematic dehumanization and degradation of Palestinians, but insist that one should not generalize. There is a danger in generalization – be it Jews, Israelis, the Israeli government, the Israeli army. Each of these categories is made up of individuals. To generalize them as homogenous categories, as unified forces with no internal opposition is to vilify them and make it nearly impossible to view them as individuals. They are human beings. Every person on this earth is a human being, worthy of love and forgiveness, no matter who they are or what they have done.
Last night, the student group was fortunate enough to meet with an ex-Israeli soldier, one of the cofounders of Breaking the Silence and who now works with Grassroots Jerusalem. He had many good points (which I may expound on later) but the part of his talk that corresponds with the theme of loving your enemy was the simple exhortation “Compassion works”. In trying to witness to what is happening here, in trying to foster discussion about the occupation and what it means, it is important to remember this. Compassion works. We need to treat everyone with compassion. According to Sami Awad, this translates to the need to grieve in their pain and celebrate their joys with them. So much blood has been shed on both sides of this conflict, so many lives have been lost, and an anxious “peace” has been achieved. Bombings on both sides have decreased, Israelis are segregated from Palestinians and neither side is encouraged to travel freely among the other and both sides are being allowed to vilify the other.
Loving your enemy does not mean ignoring the injustice, forgetting the horrors that have happened. Loving your enemy requires the ability to go beyond this, the ability to view individuals as something more than their actions, to view them as fellow human beings. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”