What's Happening in Israel/Palestine?

As I scroll through my Facebook news feed, I find myself distressed not only by the situation in Israel/Palestine, but by how few people seem to be having informed, restorative discussion about it on social media. The is nothing new and no surprise. We live in a polarized climate, and social media is not conducive to discussion unless carefully curated. These conversations are hard enough in person, let alone the impersonal posture of social media.

I am also struck (though again not surprised) at how little people in the U.S. know about the history of the conflict. Many are unsure as to how to process the news of the killings of Palestinians in Gaza because they lack the background to see these in context, and aren't sure what to make of the different spins they hear from various news sites. Because conversations about Israel/Palestine are so often polarized as it is, it can be hard to figure out how to move forward to holistic understanding and restorative action.

I can say from my own learning experience that although the situation is complex and multifaceted, it is not utterly beyond understanding. It’s easy to be cowed by lack of knowledge (I often am), but that’s even more reason to dive into resources that can help us understand the conflict and the influence the U.S. has on Israel/Palestine and how we as part of the U.S. can use our voices to advocate for peace and justice.

To that end, here are summaries and links to some of the resources that I’ve found helpful. I am grateful to have been exposed to some fantastic people and resources who can lend incisive, holistic perspectives on what has happened and is happening on the ground. You do not need to be reliant solely on the piecemeal information from daily news sources for your education.

What I've Learned

I hope to write more later, but before I introduce you to these resources, I want to highlight a few very important elements of the history that were missing in my own understanding of Israel/Palestine for the first 27 years of my life.

The first is that Palestinians are indigenous to the land. It seems ludicrous to me now that I did not know this, but the impression I got growing up was that the Holy Land belonged to Jews and was inhabited primarily (if not exclusively) by Jews. But Palestinians are not outsiders coming in. Israel/Palestine is their home even if it not exclusively their home.

The second element is related to this inaccurate vision of the land as primarily full of Jewish Israelis. The conflict is often framed as though we are dealing with two sides or two stories: Israeli versus Palestinian (and "Israeli" and "Jew" are often conflated). But the land's inhabitants are far more diverse and blended than this vision allows in terms of religion, ethnicity, and nationality. And the stories, experiences, and perspectives are manifold. There's more than two sides to every story.

Along similar lines, it's important to remember that even when we think in the broader categories of "Israeli" and "Palestinian," we can't conflate the actions of one government or political faction as representative of every constituent, and it is not a betrayal of one's national, religious, or ethnic identity to challenge the actions of governments, leaders, or political parties.

As you will discover in a more nuanced way if you read Bashir and Dalia's story in The Lemon Tree (recommended below), the leaders who orchestrated what is known to Palestinians as the Nakba ("Catastrophe") in order to establish the State of Israel created an impossible problem when they framed the land as exclusively a homeland for Jews. From then on, Palestinian claims to the land as home (though legitimate) would be seen by many as a threat to a homeland for Jews. 

In the wake of the horrors of the Holocaust, many Jews outside of Israel longed for a homeland where they could come to seek relief and rebuild. But when the authors of the Nakba forced Palestinians from their homes and gave them to Jewish immigrants, they cultivated the sense of home for these immigrants not along side of but at the expense of the indigenous people of Palestine. By binding Jewish desires of a homeland with Palestinian oppression, it became necessary to maintain Palestinian oppression and cast Palestinian liberation and flourishing as the antithesis of Jewish well-being and flourishing.

The expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians was carefully planned, but many of the Jews immigrating to the land that had been cleared for them were acting on the "myth of the empty land." For example, as you'll read in Dalia's story in The Lemon Tree, some Bulgarian Jews recall prewar Zionist newspapers that framed it as the "land without people for a people without land" (The Lemon Tree, pg. 72). The descendants of those Jews who relocated to Arab homes in Palestine were born there and knew no other home. It created the question of how they were to negotiate their relationship to the home of their birth when that very home had first been home to others who were now displaced.

But you'll read more about that in The Lemon Tree.

The Global Immersion Project

Global Immersion is a good resource for everyday peacemakers to return to for workshops, eCourses, and webinars in peacemaking. Yesterday, they hosted a webinar called Destabilized: What Rising Tensions in the Middle East Mean for Peace, featuring Israeli expert Sari Bashi (Human Rights Watch), Palestinian American expert Greg Khalil (The Telos Group) and Palestinian Christian Sami Awad (Holy Land Trust). This hour-long recording is a good place to start. You can access this and all their webinars by signing up here.

The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East

The Lemon Tree is as emotionally engaging as it is informative. Journalist Sandy Tolan crafted this book as a narrative based on extensive interviews and research and has taken care to present the various people in this book as accurately as possible. NPR’s summary is apt:

In 1967, nearly 20 years after his family was forced to flee, Palestinian Bashir al-Khairi returned to his boyhood home and began a lifelong friendship with a woman living there. Her name was Dalia Eshkenazi. She was Israeli. Reporter Sandy Tolan first told the poignant story in a 1998 radio documentary heard on NPR's Fresh Air. His new book, The Lemon Tree: An Arab, A Jew and the Heart of the Middle East, connects the tale of one house and two families to the complex history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Tolan weaves together dramatically different perceptions of the conflict and its context and explains how the lemon tree grew to become a powerful symbol of home.

I cried through most of this book and think it's one of the most human I've ever read. I will send copies of it to the first three people interested in reading it and having a book discussion via Skype or Zoom (or starting/leading a book discussion in their local community).

Chosen? Reading the Bible Amid the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Chosen? is a good book for those who want clarity about the relationship of “Israel” in the Bible to the State of Israel today. It’s a short, but pithy book by Hebrew Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann, who guides readers through the different ways the term “Israel” is used in the Bible and reflects on its significance for contemporary Israel/Palestine.

Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible Through Palestinian Eyes

This book by Mitri Raheb was the first book I read by a Palestinian author, and it radically transformed the way I understood both the Bible and the Holy Land. Like Brueggemann’s book, it is short, but very substantive.

Churches for Middle East Peace

Churches for Middle East Peace has a plethora of resources available on their website, and I’ve found their bulletins to be a helpful way of getting access to current news. They also host an annual Advocacy Summit in Washington, D.C. Follow CMEP on Facebook and Twitter, where the daily link to informative articles.