Monday, May 30, 2011

Does pro-Palestinian mean anti-Israeli?

    Many years ago, while I was in the seminary, one of my profs urged my classmates and I to give the Palestinian cause a fair hearing. He himself was pro-Palestinian, in part because his research required extensive travel in the Arab states surrounding Israel. This travel had sensitized him to the needs of the Palestinians who were refugees in these states. Yet he did not consider himself anti-Israeli. This was wise, because he also worked in Israel. But, more important, he saw merit in both positions.
    His attitude was not popular in a region of the US that was solidly Republican and generally inclined to be pro-Israeli, although most people were not dispensationalists (who are typically pro-Israeli for theological reasons).
   Over the years, I have heeded his advice as I carefully studied the Palestinian-Israeli question. It is a complex issue with a convoluted history. Therefore I will not even attempt to trace the history nor describe this issue.
   Suffice to say, Palestinians and Israelis are two peoples who have long-standing claims to the same land. In the process of distributing that land during the last century, whether by UN resolutions or through war, many injustices have been perpetrated on both sides. Those who claim that their side alone has been an innocent victim, are blind.
     I strongly affirm the two-state solution, but this is becoming increasingly more difficult to achieve. Although a majority of Israelis still support this solution, a hardline faction of the population refuses to cede any of the Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel. On the other side, there are hardliners too among the Palestinians, and not just among Hamas, who refuse to acknowledge the existence of the state of Israel and are prepared to use violent methods to rid the land of the Israeli presence.
   The extremist on both sides are the first to argue that one cannot be be pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli at the same time. "He who is not for me, is against me," is the maxim they might use. But there are others.
   AIPAC (American Israeli Public Affairs Committee), the main Jewish lobby is the US, which held a 10,000 strong convention recently, with both President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu as key note speakers, also falls into this category. The US Congress seems to fit this pattern as well.
   So too do other public institutions that want to be perceived as politically correct. For example, two years ago the University of Toronto at the last minute refused a pro-Palestinian group permission to speak on campus. The event was later moved to church. it should be noted that that UofT has been accused of antisemitism in the past. Universities are not always the bastions of academic freedom that they declare themselves to be.
   Some evangelical Christians are also pro-Israeli for theological reasons. This is why they refuse to listen to those who defend the Palestinians, whom they dismiss as terrorists. Thus too, their equation of Muslims and Islamists, and the burning of the Qur'an by pastor Terry Jones.
   Yet, as difficult as it may seem, there is room in my opinion for those who do not want to take sides, but consider themselves as both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli. They recognize that there is merit to the arguments adduced by both groups. How to resolve these thorny issues is too much to handle in this posting. In the next one, however, I want to make a proposal that may help, although it too is not in itself a solution.
   What is needed is willingness to listen to both sides. My prof many years ago did so, in part so that he could continue to do his research but also because through his work he had begun to see some merit in the various arguments.
   This is also my conclusion after having researched the Palestinian-Israeli issue for several decades. All of us, even the most ardent advocate for a particular position, must learn to listen to the other side.
   If we don't, then peace in the Middle East will continue to elude the world forever. Then intifada will follow intifada and war will follow war, until finally one side is victorious. But the price will be much more than the world is prepared to pay. Who will we have to sacrifice: the Palestinians or the Israelis? Can we not find room for both in such a way that their respective aspirations and integrity are maintained?
  Truth is not always as simple as many people believe. But that is the topic for another posting.

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