Crazy with Hope
Earlier this week, I sat in a circle with thirty Palestinian Christian and Muslim women. I listened intently as one of the women retold the narrative accepted by most Palestinians about the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. She then carefully critiqued that narrative, noting that some assumptions and accusations often made by Palestinians have no basis in historical fact. She challenged her listeners to understand that not every commonly accepted “story” is true, and encouraged them to become more careful students of history.
The speaker also challenged the mindset that leads some Palestinians to blame all their troubles on Israeli military control of the West Bank. “Do they really control everything?” she asked. “Do they control our minds? Do they control how we think? Do they control what kind of people we become?” Her critiques and questions sparked a heated discussion within the group. Some women questioned her assessment of history, and some cheered her on. Others appeared thoughtful, considering a new perspective.
Then a second speaker was introduced: an Israeli Jewish woman. In order to attend the meeting, she had to disregard signs posted by the Israeli military advising Jews to stay out of the West Bank for their own safety. “I will tell you what most Israelis believe about the founding of our state,” she explained, “and you won’t like some of what I say. But please wait until the end, because I will critique the Israeli perspective just like your friend critiqued the Palestinian perspective. Because many Jews believe some things that just aren’t true.” While she clearly acknowledged the Jewish connection to the ancient land of Israel and the persecution that drove them back to the land, she also acknowledged the violence and trauma suffered by indigenous Arabs who were killed or driven from their homes in 1948.
It would take far more than a blog post to summarize the two histories and critiques that were presented that evening, so I won’t delve into that. But I wanted to write about the event because it’s the kind of story Americans never hear about: Palestinian women engaged in a lively, enlightening, honest interaction with an Israeli; really wanting to know, to learn, to understand, and to grapple with experiences, perspectives, and memories that differ from their own. Before the meeting ended, the women scheduled another meeting so they could continue the conversation and the learning process. And similar meetings will be hosted on the other side of the separation wall, where Israelis will grapple with the truths and fallacies of the Palestinian narrative.
I felt so honored to be present at this meeting. I already read a lot about this conflict—from history books and scholarly articles, to English versions of Israeli and Palestinian media and Twitter updates. I’m committed to learning more about the complexities of the conflict, the challenges to peace, and the possible steps toward a positive future. But whatever I read, however wise and well intentioned, means little without the slow, authentic, personal transformation and relational connection I witnessed this week.
People often ask what my “strategy for engagement in the Holy Land” is. I don’t know. I can’t seem to get passed the point of simply listening. I never get tired of listening to people within this conflict who are willing to let go of their cherished stories if they’re proven false; who are willing to listen to the stories of the other long enough to experience empathy; who are willing to come back again and again to break through barriers, to connect, to move toward relationship, toward friendship.
This week I spent many hours driving through winding, crowded streets in a small car with a Palestinian Christian, a Palestinian Muslim, and an Israeli Jew.
We delivered medicine and wheelchairs to two disabled people and food to a woman in a refugee camp. At every stop, we sat and chatted (well, I listened) with the people we came to see, and drank the tiny cups of very strong coffee they offered us. We were running late for our final meeting of the day, so our driver, a dear friend of mine, became a bit—shall we say—aggressive in her efforts to speed our arrival. The three of us in the backseat were flung from side to side, smashed up against each other, laughing and joking (I think the other two were joking). One of my seatmates finally said in her limited English mixed with Arabic, “The driver! She’s in-tee-mag-noon-a! In-tee-mag-noon-a! Crazy!” Our driver was indeed in-tee-mag-noon-a (my spelling of what I heard). By the time the day ended, we were all a little in-tee-mag-noon-a—in the best possible way. We were crazy with hope!