Thursday, July 24, 2014

A confounding reality: both the stories of the Palestinians and the Israelis are true

Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Secretary General Nabil Elaraby in Cairo to discuss the Israel-Palestine conflict. Photo courtesy of the State Department.

The headline in the Minneapolis StarTribune blares its devastating message: “UN school sheltering Palestinians in Gaza caught in cross-fire; 15 killed.” And so it goes. The Israelis and the Palestinians are at it again.

The AP reports:

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israeli tank shells hit a compound housing a U.N. school in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, killing at least 15 people and wounding dozens who were seeking shelter from fierce clashes on the streets outside, Palestinian officials said, as Israel pressed forward with its 17-day war against the territory's Hamas rulers.

Hold on a bit, though, especially if you live in my neighborhood:

We have our privileges up here in the metropolitan Twin Cities area. Where else would you have the opportunity to gather on a university campus with a bunch of Christians, Muslims, and Jews and listen to first a couple of Palestinian-Americans, Hussein Khatib and Ziad Amra, describe what it was like for them to grow up in Palestine and a week later, hear Israeli-Americans, Mira Reinberg and Oren Gross, tell their stories?

The above presentations were followed up by Ron Young of The National Interreligious Leadership Initiative For Peace In The Middle East. Young gave an address titled Roads to Resolution: What is Our Role as Americans?

Thanks to the St. Paul Interfaith Network, it all happened in October 2010 at Hamline University. I left the event, which I covered for the St. Paul Examiner, with the deep down realization that the people of Palestine and Israel both yearn for peace. Even with the recent outbreak of war between those two countries, we need to remember it’s the people in power commanding the rockets, not those who are desperately trying to protect their loved ones.

Four years before the current raging flareup between Israel and Palestine, I wrote:

Although I brought a sketchy background on the perennial Middle East conflict to the conversation in Fall 2010, I could only feel compassion for both the Palestinian and Israeli presenters as it quickly became obvious that each had grown up in what must be described as a war zone in which violence might erupt at any moment.

Nevertheless, with the shadow of the holocaust in the background, Israeli speaker Mira Reinberg offered a profound word of wisdom. She advised against being imprisoned by history. Without suggesting that either Palestinians or Israelis dismiss the trauma they’ve experienced, she encouraged them to focus instead on the present and “build a life around or beside the trauma.”

In his address, Ron Young was determinedly optimistic about the prospects for peace in the Middle East. He cited a survey he’d done in 1985-6 in which he asked American Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religious leaders if they would join in an interreligious effort for peace between Palestine and Israel. He said they were almost unanimous in the affirmative without asking any questions about the politics in the region.

Young mentioned three parts to a message in resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  He said,  “The first part of our message is ‘peace is possible’ and frankly, cynicism is one of the main enemies of that message.”

He said the second part is that the U.S. role is essential even though, the U.S. is closer to Israel than it is to Palestine. He explained, “Many Palestinians understand that because the U.S. is closer to Israel, it is the only country in the world that can help Israel overcome its own reluctance and fears to make the compromises necessary.”

The third part, Young said, is that talks are going on now between Palestinians and Israelis.
Young mentioned “resources on the ground” available to those engaged in the peace process, including the Parents Circle, Seeds of Peace, and religious institutions in the Holy Land. He also mentioned groups in Washington now working together to promote resolution of the Middle East conflict.
Young reminded his listeners that both the stories by the Palestinian speakers and the Israeli speakers were true. He said, “That’s part of the confounding reality of this conflict – both stories are true.”

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