• Being stood up spread-eagle against a wall, alongside unarmed Palestinian youth, having my passport examined and my person searched by some of these teenage, weapon-carrying Israeli soldiers.
• Visiting at the bedside of a middle-aged Palestinian man, shot in the back at a checkpoint by what seemed to him to be “trigger-happy” soldiers — himself permanently paralyzed and bedridden as a result (wouldn’t a simple arrest have been sufficient?).
• Commiserating with the family and neighbors of a 10-year-old boy shot and killed by a “rubber” bullet in a Palestinian refugee camp just a 10-minute walk from the Bible College where I was teaching.
• Joining with Jews from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Rabbis for Human Rights, and the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions (not all Jews think “Israel right or wrong”) in a protest against the uprooting of olive trees and confiscation of land from a Palestinian farmer in the Beqa’a valley outside Hebron, where Israeli Highway 60 from Jerusalem to Beersheva has divided his family farm in half, making accessibility difficult.
• Sitting down for the traditional Arab meal of maqlub (“upside down” chicken and rice) with a Palestinian family (parents and four small children) whose home had been demolished four times by bulldozers, and who were living in a Red Cross tent.
• Hearing a politically moderate Jewish family in their home in Israel proper express their fears that the illegal occupation and expansion of settlements in the West Bank to house mostly Jews immigrating from Russia and Brooklyn, N.Y., would only exacerbate conflict, prevent peace and keep them perpetually living in fear and insecurity.
• Hearing Jews in an Israeli kibbutz tell of the “good old days” before the wars of 1948 and 1967 when they got along well with their Arab friends and neighbors before Zionist ideology prevailed and made such “fraternization” politically unacceptable.
I am well aware of the suffering and death experienced by Israelis at the hands of Arab terrorists, causing them to feel that strict security measures and violent repression are the surest way to keep them safe. I hurt for them, too. But when, according to figures I’ve seen, there have been approximately 100 Palestinian deaths (both Muslim and Christian) — nearly all civilians — for every one Israeli Jew killed, such retaliation seems excessive and counterproductive. As Gandhi put it, “an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.”
To be sure, my column did not evoke happy feelings of Christmas joy and peace, but this was not because of any wish “to promote hatred and divisiveness among the two peoples and advance odious notions about Judaism and Jews.” Rather, it was because I was describing the actual scenes I witnessed and people I knew, that evoked in me (and in many others, both local residents and visiting pilgrims) feelings of oppression and gloom similar to those surely experienced by first century Jews and Christians living under Roman occupation.
And I closed with a specific call to “reject both anti-Arab prejudice and anti-Semitism” (while at the same time opposing injustice), and to live in the spirit of the carol honoring the One who “taught us to love one another” and whose “law is love and his gospel is peace.”
I wholeheartedly support Israel’s right to exist, and agree that this ongoing existence can be supported by biblical references and historical residence in the territory. This can best be assured when its policies adhere to the guidelines, enunciated by their Hebrew ancestors, that their nation: “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks” (Isaiah 2:4); “proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants” (Leviticus 25:10); “... not oppress the alien ...; love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:33-34); and “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream” (Amos 5:24). (This time I am being biblical and theological.)
And how about a quid pro quo — a free, viable, contiguous, democratic Palestinian state existing side-by-side with Israel as Semitic kindred, living with mutual respect of each other’s humanity and rights, observance of international law, restoration of or reimbursement for confiscated lands and demolished homes, and a shared administration of Jerusalem under United Nations supervision?