Visitors begin with that question, as if it is the foundational question. And it is, from the Jewish Israeli point of view. In a land founded on the violent dispossession of thousands of Palestinians, a dispossession that continues as settlements are built, the Dispossessor cries out for recognition of its right to exist. It is so easy for us to see only that side of a complicated story. We know well the stories of murder and dispossession of millions of Jews from their homes all across Europe. We do not know so well the stories of the Palestinian suffering that followed the creation of the Jewish homeland, the sanctuary for Jews from across the world.
It is so easy for Christian Pilgrims to visit the Holy Land without coming into contact with any Palestinian people. The plane lands in Israel, the taxi flies over a highway prohibited to Palestinians. The tour bus includes an Israeli licensed guide, visiting the Holy Sites in Galilee, and Nazareth. Only in a visit to Bethlehem might a visitor encounter the West Bank, and notice the separation wall. But there may not be time to notice the ongoing destruction of Palestinian homes and olive groves, the detentions of angry Palestinian children, or the diversion of water needed by residents of refugee camps for cooking and bathing so that Jewish settlers living up the hill can fill their swimming pools. Only by walking with people beyond the wall is it possible to see the impact of the creation of the State of Israel on the lives of the families who have lived on this land for centuries. Jewish Peace activists know that Jewish Israelis are imprisoned by the wall, diminished by the separation from their neighbors. Only by hearing their stories, their struggle, their hope is it possible to ask the Right Question.
Warner’s question was the equivalent of asking a woman carrying her child along the Trail of Tears “Does the State of Georgia have a right to exist?” No, of course not, might does not make right, but it’s a fact. The right question gently wonders how we might support the people of that land to rebuild a more just community where all the stories of suffering and hope are honored. The right question is more like “what are do you want for your children?” and “how can we, your neighbors, support you in your dream for peace?” and “how can we, your neighbors, and urge our own government to promote justice and peace in your land?”
Perhaps someday more pilgrims from New Hampshire might carry their good will, and their inquiring and discerning hearts to visit the people of Israel/Palestine and to ask more questions, and deepen our connections so that we might better pray for peace in the world that we share.
- Susan Langle