He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8 (NIV)
When I was in Israel last year, our group spent an afternoon in the homes of David and Rivka, an orthodox rabbi and his wife in the settlement of Efrata, and Atallah, a third-generation resident of Deheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem. They live within miles of each other, but worlds apart. I write this post not to make a political statement about Israeli occupation – although I think it’s unjust – but because I was reminded of these conversations by a speaker and panel discussion I attended on Friday.
The issues of Israel and Palestine are half a world away and for most of us have no personal, intimate aspect. We don’t know the names, see their homes, experience the sounds and smells of their neighborhoods. I’ll write next week on the conference I went to, which hits much closer to home.
Matters of justice and mercy are very often made into political positions. In doing so, we strip them of open dialogue and our shared humanity. The purpose of our visits in Israel was to hear the stories of real people; to make it personal.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” – Matthew 5:6 (NRSV)
Sure of home, a place to live, Rivka – an American who converted to Judaism – voluntarily emigrated to Israel. Rivka and David have hope in not just a secular nation but a national re-embracing of Judaism. Between them, they have 10 children (both are in their second marriage). One of Rivka’s sons was killed by a Palestinian. As they talked about the future of their children with respect to education, job and home, I heard no concerns about their children’s abilities to thrive. When the 50-year lease is up on the land they live on, they have no concern about its renewal (they joyfully referred to this as the Jubilee).
Atallah is a Palestinian Muslim – who owned (owns) land here and lost his home in the 1940’s – cannot move freely in Israel or even just a few miles into Jerusalem. Atallah’s brother was killed by Israeli police. Atallah does not have hope of getting his land back. He has not visited it. He cannot live with his family in the bet ‘ab (the father’s house) in the refugee camp because the foundations cannot support another story. He has moved out of the refugee camp and rented an apartment with his wife and son. Atallah, has great concerns about his son’s future – finding work, finding a place to live, being able to have a family – said with great emotion, “What about my son?”
Rivka called herself a “first generation” emigrant to Israel because “someone has to be the first generation.” She is looking to build something. Atallah is a third generation refugee in his own land. He hopes that either he or his son will be the first generation back on their family land.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” – Matthew 5:7 (NRSV)
Rivka and David spoke of their desire for justice and to live righteously, but they also see their life in the settlement as normal. They told us a story about a Palestinian friend they helped get access to healthcare (which was available to them as Israelis but not to their friend who was Palestinian). As they talk about Palestinians (and the Lebanese, as David fought in this war), Rivka and David lumped all of them together as Muslims and dangerous. They didn’t seem to see the humanity of their Palestinian neighbors as a reason to actively seek dialogue – or maybe they do but didn’t mention it to us. They haven’t transferred the common humanity of their Palestinian friend and former neighbor to all Palestinians.
The hopes of David, Rivka and Atallah for themselves and their children are really the same – until you get to the Jewish state. At this point, politics creates a division between justice and mercy and people who live within a few miles of each other.
Where is true hope found?
Atallah said he is about “20% Muslim” so not very devout. You could argue that hope is only found in your faith – but I didn’t necessarily see that as the basis for David and Rivka’s confidence. They have hope because of power. Living in a settlement may be dangerous – but it is their choice. The danger Atallah lives with has been forced upon him.
Is justice something we do or is it the way we are?
If justice doesn’t define our relationships – especially with our enemies – then can true justice ever result? It would be easy for me to judge David and Rivka for being so blind to what is right before them; to what is more than just theory but is flesh and blood just a few miles away. I could condemn Atallah for the terrorist activities that have originated out of Deheisheh refugee camp.
But then I have to ask myself, what elements of truth and justice in Scripture do I proclaim but fail to translate into my daily life? Who do I fail to see as my neighbor, a fellow human being created in the image of God? What is the log in my eye?
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” – Matthew 5:9 (NRSV)