Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Israel, Palestine, Impartiality and Intractable Conflict

Both of my sons are Jewish, and they as of yet have not visited Israel. One of these days, I want to be able to go there with them. But for pretty much the whole span of my 41 years of life, Israel has not seemed like the sort of place that a responsible parent brings their kids. Brief periods of peace are interspersed with intense paroxysms of violence.

You've got hatreds that go back generations. You've got competing claims on the land. You've got radically different faith perspectives, which weave up into those claims on the land. But it's not just Israel and the Palestinians. You've got a broader situation in the Middle East that is insanely convoluted, in which a significant proportion of the Arab world can barely be grudgingly dragged to admitting Israel has any right to exist at all.

The Holy Land is a total sociopolitical mess. Same as it ever was...

All this adds up to a conflict between parties that every now and again drops from level five to level four, but then pops right back up again, like one of the torments of Tantalus if he'd been a conflict mediation specialist. Worst of all, you have forces on both sides that actively draw their energy from the conflict. They create and feed the tensions as a means of reinforcing their own vision of the world, existing in a dark symbiosis with their counterparts.

In this situation of conflict, my own denomination struggles to find a consistent voice. On our left flank, there are folks who see the oppression of Palestinian Christians and see an opportunity to get all social justicey, just like back in the 60s when they still had hair. They tend to gloss over wrongs inflicted by the "side" they've chosen. On the right, there are those whose theological framework assumes that the existence of Israel is necessary for the return of Christ, and who give theological preference to Jews because...well...it says so in the Bible. They, too, are unwilling to recognize where their "side" may overstep the bounds of justice.

The heat of that struggle has occasionally burned/caught up folks of a Presbyterian ilk...and is in the midst of doing so again. A few years, back, we dabbled with the idea of divestment from military ventures in Israel...and got burned. More recently, some of our more lefty folks have come perilously close to endorsing suicide bombings. It's rocky terrain, and when we venture there, we have trouble maintaining our balance.

At our last General Assembly, Presbyterians of my particular flavor adopted as policy a statement of essential neutrality, and established a commission to take a look at what we could do to further peaceful resolution of the conflict in that region. That's the right approach.

The challenge, of course, is really implementing it. As this commission reaches the point at which it is to make it's report, it's really, really difficult to remain authentically impartial. You know, in the same way that the Maker is impartial.

There are some concerns that the results of the Committee report might be imbalanced. But given that it's not even out yet, I'm still awaiting it. Maybe it'll be even-handed. Maybe it'll skew one way or another. I can't imagine it will be quite as skewed as a recent pre-emptive pronouncement of the Simon Wiesenthal Center would have us believe, though. The Presbyterian Church is "ready to declare war against Israel?" Without even reading a report which has not even been released?

Oy. Level Five is so very predictable.

For me, that desire for an end to tensions isn't just an abstract yearning to do good somewhere, somehow. It goes deeper, because it's about my own flesh and blood. From that, though, I recognize my own stirrings towards imbalance. It's hard to sympathize with folks who reflexively hate your children.

But even in the face of that, I recognize that the intense complexity of the situation on the ground calls for avoiding any and all efforts to paint things in black and white. Because that approach doesn't allow for the intermingling and interchange that is absolutely necessary if any movement towards peace is to be found.