Have you ever gotten to a place in your life where the things you thought to be true were no longer truth? I felt like that happened when I went from elementary arithmetic to algebra. No longer did 1+1=2. I learned that depending on the type of 1 (-1 or +1), the outcome of a foundational formula would be vastly different.
I could no longer take the number 1 at face value. Once I got to algebra, I had to ask more questions and gain more insight into the problem before me in order to solve it.
Have you ever been in a place where the things that you are witnessing and people you are meeting challenge everything you thought you knew? This has been my reality as I’ve traveled the world and walked alongside people who are different than I. As I experience their lives and learn about their culture, I am awakened to alternate realities and my understanding of what is true is expanded. My capacity for compassion increases as I meet with people in their homes and hear stories of their lives. Situations that I observed from afar take on new meaning in the face of relationship. I find that what might have been called “true” from afar is often much more complex when I experience it in real time.
My knowledge of the conflict in Israel and Palestine has been an example of me believing one thing and then realizing that what I thought I know is NOT the whole story. This conflict has left an indelible mark on my soul. I first learned about it in depth while pursuing my Master’s degree at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. A dear friend had recently returned from a trip to the region and gave a presentation to the seminary community. There were so many facts and figures that he shared and at that moment, I realized that the things I thought I knew to be true may not actually be truth.
My friend told us about the reality on the ground – the lived experience of Palestinians in the West Bank and the ways in which they struggled under the oppressive state of Israel. Prior to this information, I was incredibly ignorant about the modern day situation. I knew some of the popular rhetoric that was used to talk about the creation of the state of Israel – the need for people of Jewish ancestry to live in safety and create their own nation-state; the need to fulfill the prophecy found in the Old Testament about the people of Israel being restored to the land that God had promised them. I heard about “terrorists” called Hamas and the ways in which they attacked the innocent people of Israel. I knew that Israel was an ally of the United States and I later learned that they are the number one recipient of foreign aid from our country. We give the state of Israel approximately $3 billion per year for military support, which is about a quarter of Israel’s defense budget. All of this information, coupled with my rudimentary understanding of scripture and history, led me to believe that things I was hearing about the conflict was true. However, after hearing my friend’s experience of his time in the region, I began to wonder if I had the whole truth…
In June of 2013 I traveled with 18 young adults from the Metro DC area to Israel and Palestine. This trip was led by the very same friend who first introduced me to the conflict and his wife, who was born in Jerusalem, is an American citizen and who now works on issues of peace, awareness and advocacy in the region. As I prepared for my time on the ground, I knew that what I was going to see and experience would leave an indelible mark on my soul.
Our trip was not your typical Holy Land pilgrimage. Generally faith groups go to see holy sties and places, following in the footsteps of Jesus. I quickly learned that we were partaking in a pilgrimage of justice and peace, one that not only experienced the dead stones but one that also encounter the living stones and stories of the people in the region. We spent time learning about the conflict and listening to presenters who were both Israeli and Palestinian. We began to chip away at a truth that many of us brought with us that was soon replaced by the lived experiences of those we encountered.
We learned about the apartheid-like reality on the ground – the limited movement of Palestinians throughout the region.
The checkpoints that look like cattle stalls which move people through structures that are attended by military and contract security.
The “security” wall that separated Palestinian families from their land and livelihood and the creative ways that people are so desperately trying to reclaim their story.
The ID cards that Palestinians are required to carry that designate their race and religion.
The separate transportation systems for Palestinians and Israelis.
The unjust water allotment that leads Palestinian homes to have black water tanks on top of their houses because Israel controls the flow of water to their areas and often times cuts it off.
What I saw challenged everything I thought I knew and provided a new lens through which I not only viewed the current day reality but through which I began to re-imagine the history that I was taught.
After my time in the region, I knew that I had to take others back so they could see and experience what was happening for themselves. I created a program with my colleague to train young adults to lead trips to the region and we went went back in January of 2014 with a group of young adults from around the country. During this trip, I heard from Israeli and Palestinian families of The Parents Circle, both who lost loved ones because of the conflict. I heard their clarion call that peace must come to pass because of the lives lost and the perpetual cycle of violence that is destroying future generations.
We toured Hebron, a holy city for both Muslims and Jews that is considered to be ground-zero for the conflict. Former Israeli Defense Force soldiers who are a part of Breaking the Silence shared their experience occupying the region and the havoc it wrought on the lives of Palestinians. They feel convicted by their experiences and are now committed to telling their side of the story, one that seeks to uncover more truth.
I learned more about the work of the Lutheran World Federation in Jerusalem (LWF), which responds to human need throughout the world, serving all people irrespective of ethnicity, gender, religion or political conviction. LWF has been providing humanitarian aid in the occupied Palestinian territories for over 65 years.
The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. The more I experience, the more I realize that there is to learn. The more I uncover, the more hesitant I become to label something as undoubtedly true. For me, truth is not just about facts or reality. I’ve learned that there are many realities and facts are contextual. The brokenness and divisions the exist among humanity lead us to distort the truth.
There’s so much more to be said and shared about the conflict. But for right now, I leave you with this – when was the last time you questioned that which you have believed to be true? When have you sought out truth? Are you engaging in truth-seeking with issues that bombard us from all sides – issues of injustice and oppression? Or are you taking things at face value?
Seek truth and uncover what’s true.
Helpful Links about the Conflict:
- Jewish Voices for Peace – Israel and Palestine 101
- B’Tselem Statistics from the Occupied Territories
- Lutheran World Federation in Jerusalem Statement on Abiding International Law
- Mapping the Conflict