Time for an historical quiz: please identify the following group.
This people had no internationally acknowledged government or army. They lived within the borders of another country, and many in that country considered them to be a threat to their national existence. Their host country, as a whole, wanted them to leave, and therefore subjected them to humiliation, threats, and intimidation to force them to leave. Leaving was difficult, for the places to which they wanted to go were reluctant to receive them, and turned them away at their borders. Many of them did succeed in leaving even so, but many stayed, believing that the country in which they were born was their home. These people were treated as distinctly second-class citizens. The economic measures to which they were subjected meant that they lived a much more wretched life and with a much lower standard of living than those around them. They sought to protest the injustice of the discrimination and oppression, but found themselves helpless before a more powerful regime, who enforced their dominance and will through armed might. This regime forced them to live in confined ghettoized spaces. To survive, the oppressed minority had to work for those who oppressed them, and any resistance or hint of rebellion was ruthlessly punished. Question: who is this oppressed group?
If you said, “The Jews in National Socialist Germany in the 1930s”, you get part marks, for the above description does indeed fit the Jews living in the Third Reich at that time. But not full marks. For I was actually describing the Palestinians living in the State of Israel in the latter part of the 20th century, whose lamentable situation continues to the present hour.
The Arab-Israeli conflict is exceedingly complex, and defies easy analysis. In particular it resists labeling any group as “the Good Guys” or “the Bad Guys”, unlike the situation in Nazi Germany, where the Nazis were clearly the Bad Guys, and where the Jews they oppressed were simply the innocent victims. (Let us remember that the global Jewish conspiracy to run the world, expressed in such forgeries as the “Protocols of Zion”, to which the Nazis called attention to justify the oppression, was simply a fantasy, and that Germany never was under threat by the Jews in their country or anywhere else.) But though there is no exact parallelism between the Jews in Nazi Germany and the Palestinians in the State of Israel, there are certain resemblances, mentioned above. In particular, the average Palestinian in the Zionist State is subjected to oppression, humiliation, and injustice, and such things are done at a cost. Certainly terrorism is always evil, but such evil fruit, while remaining evil, is not inexplicable. It is the result of hatred born through the endurance of prolonged injustice, and of unshakable despair.
Being a pastor and not a politician, I have no easy solution to offer the prolonged conflict in the Middle East. Whether the solution is to be found in two states or one state, I have no idea. How the political and national borders are to be drawn now (having once been drawn by Europeans who had, I submit, no right to draw them) is a task beyond my wisdom. But I know that regardless how national borders are to be drawn, the true final solution (yes, I choose the phrase advisedly) involves love, and mutual embrace, and self-crucifixion. Arab and Israeli must embrace one another, whether or not their arms reach across national boundaries. Each must put to death, at great personal emotional cost, their own desire for justice, for justice must be sacrificed in this age for peace. Past wrongs cannot be easily righted, nor can pain be washed away in another’s blood. Forgiving the other will be hard and painful, and will feel to the person doing the forgiving like death and dying. Each side must gather up all their grievances, real or imagined, and cast them into the deep abyss of God’s mercy. Sons and fathers and grandfathers have killed each other; both sides have seen beloved family members unjustly slain. These things cannot be fruitfully avenged, nor can the pain be assuaged in this age. God calls all to look not at those who have died and who still live with pain, but rather at those yet to be born. For their sake, justice must be sacrificed on the altar of grace.
I am keenly aware how naively idealistic these words must sound, and especially to those who have suffered loss. Writing them from my peaceful home in Canada, from the midst of a family which has never known unjust oppression or terrorist death, may seem to undercut my right to say these words. And I know how unlikely it is for those who have suffered to forego their rights, and to silence their cry for justice and retribution. But this remains the only path to sanity and to offering a good life to those yet to be born. Whether or not it sounds naïve, this path must be trod. I am reminded here of the words of G. K. Chesterton about Christianity: some accused Christianity of being tried and found wanting. Chesterton countered that, on the contrary, it was found difficult, and left untried. The same could be said for the only hope for peace and sanity in the Middle East. It has certainly been found difficult. God grant that it may not forever be left untried.