A Palestinian Christian Perspective on Conflict and Peace with the Jews and Israel
Growing up in the Old City of Jerusalem in the early 1950s was some¬thing unique. This was especially so because I was a child to a Palestinian Christian family who had become refugees as a result of the 1948 Arab¬-Israeli war and the creation of the State of Israel. As a five-year old, I had no idea about the Jews or what had happened in Palestine. Nor did I real¬ize the extent of suffering my parents had gone through as they found their way from Qatamon, in West Jerusalem, to Lebanon and eventually to Bethlehem and the Old City of Jerusalem.
My knowledge and appreciation of the Jews and, in fact, Jewish history came from the lessons of Christian Catechism. The Christian Brothers who taught us Catechism were quite objective and, on reflection, some of them felt various degrees of empathy with the Jews. The experi¬ence of the Hebrews in Egypt was clearly projected as the conflict between good and evil. The manner in which the Jews were treated in Egypt justi¬fied, in my mind at least, all the ills and punishments meted out against the Egyptians by Yahweh. I identified with the Hebrews as they roamed the wilderness for 40 years and even felt some disappointment that Moses could not enter the Holy Land.
But this identification was primarily religious. It did not pose a prob¬lem for me and I did not see a need to revoke or reject it as I grew to under¬stand what had happened between Arabs and Jews in Palestine. In a sense, the religious link between myself, as a Christian Palestinian, and the Hebrews of the Old Testament was a link that superseded mundane con¬flicts of whatever nature or cause. I grew, therefore, to appreciate the New Testament as the culmination of a natural historical, religious and doctri¬nal process which started with the Old Testament. Certainly, there was a break between the Old and New Testaments, symbolized by Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection. Yet, I never felt I had a problem with the Jews because they had not accepted Christ.

Perceptions and Reactions

My problem with the Jews was with the experimental dimension of my parents, my teachers and others who had passed through the trauma of 1948 and exile from their country. Here I started to develop a sense of injus¬tice experienced by these people as a result of Jewish designs in Palestine. Fortunately, this sense of injustice, together with a sense of indignation at what had happened to Palestinians in 1948, was not accompanied by expressions of anti-Jewish sentiments by either of my parents. But I could tell that as my parents sat to drink their morning coffee, they spoke about dreams that had disappeared together with the life that they had hoped for themselves and their children. For many mornings spanning the years, they mourned for the loss of their home, their dreams and their country.
I shared their mourning and I grew to identify strongly with their sentiments. Seeing my parents weak, hurting and wounded made me anti¬-Israeli. I couldn't care less what Arab leaders were saying about Israel. It was to my parents' and teachers' narrative that I listened intently.
One thing which struck me in particular was my father's anti-Western reaction to what happened in 1948. I understand now that his reaction was common among Christian Palestinians who had reacted strongly, not against the Jews, but against the West. One explanation is that they had expected the West, the Christian West, to take a position in keeping with Christian values and principles, which meant standing by Palestinians instead of by Jews.
Now, not many of my parents' generation were aware of the extent of horror that was being perpetrated by "Christian" Europeans against the Jews. Nor were they aware of the rather strong anti-Jewish currents or ten¬dencies among certain strata of American society and even government circles. Their expectations of the West were simply based on their shared Christian background.
The other angle to this anti-Western outlook of my parents' generation lies in the fact that the Jews were perceived as too weak to have been able to accomplish, by themselves, what they did in 1948. Attributing weakness to the Jews may have lessened, or minimized, anti-Jewish sentiments in my parents. In fact, I have never heard either of them pronounce anti¬Jewish statements, even when they were facing difficulties in life as a result of their flight in 1948.
But to turn to an important question today and now: How do I, as a Christian and a Palestinian, deal with or relate to Israelis and Jews, given the history of both conflict and peace between our two peoples? Were I to be faithful to the teachings of my religion, then I have to strive to understand and accept the Jews as they are. Moreover - and this is the most painful part - I have to forgive them all the pain and suffer¬ing they have inflicted on my parents, on myself and on other Palestinians. The other part of this forgiveness is to ask them to forgive me and Palestinians for any pain or suffering we have inflicted on them. This is the heart of the Christian message - complete and unconditional forgiveness. I know, in all honesty, that I have not reached this stage and that I am not a Christian, in light of this Christian principle of forgiveness.
For although forgiveness is liberating and generates new possibilities, like justice, fairness and equality, its attractiveness is counterbalanced by injustice and the continued suffering of the Palestinian people. In spite of the peace process, such injustice and suffering continue to plague all Palestinians. Closure of the territories have adversely affected thousands of families, as breadwinners are denied access to their jobs; issues such as a just solution to the refugee problem; the question of Jerusalem and the need to satisfy the religious and national aspirations of all inhabitants of the city remain unaddressed. There is also a significant percentage of Israelis who refuse to acknowledge the injustice they have done to Palestinians. Indeed, settlers in West Bank and Gaza Strip settlements, and Jewish religious functionaries operating in East Jerusalem, see their presence there as a fulfillment of religious teachings and directives. As such, there can be no common ground between Palestinians and them.

Our Responsibility

I do not profess to be a theologian, but as a Christian, and a nominal one at that, I see that monotheistic religions have failed all of us: Jews, Christians and Muslims, in helping to unravel and resolve the conflict that has devoured us in the last hundred years or so. The followers of each of the three great monotheistic religions have become so self-encapsulated that other religions, cultures, societies are made irrelevant and insignifi¬cant. The basis for dialogue, trialogue and for bridging differences and gaps is made impossible as the truth, the sole truth, is seen to lie in one specific religion to the exclusion of all others.
Clearly then, a gap exists between religious teachings and our interpre¬tation of them, and the realities surrounding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and peace-making. This gap constitutes a crisis quite difficult to overcome. The essence of the problem and conflict between us and Israelis is basically a national one and should be solved within this context. The failure to do so, however, remains on the religious level, though a just and lasting polit¬ical solution does not necessarily contradict the teachings of all three monotheistic religions. To me, as a Palestinian, the key words are justice, equality and willingness to be magnanimous towards each other, our neighbors and enemies of yesterday.
We are now in the process of peace-making. My generation has been affected by the wounds and pains of our parents' generation. We have car¬ried their wounds and pains within us as we grew up. I have attempted, as a father, not to pass on to my children any of the personal wounds and pains emanating from the conflict with Israel. This is very difficult, espe¬cially so since we all continue to live in an environment of roadblocks, searches for illegal transients from the West Bank or Gaza, bombings, con¬frontations and other indicators of continued conflict. This, however, does not mean that the vicious cycle of hatred and mistrust should not be bro¬ken. Nor does it mean that Palestinian or Israeli parents should not teach their children the meaning of justice and openness to others. We are nei¬ther angels, nor are we idealists; we are people who are trying to make sense out of a situation that appears, at times, senseless and tragic.
These are difficult times for Palestinians and Israelis alike. The challenge facing us is not an easy one and demands not only energy or goodwill but great sacrifices of a magnitude that many of us are not prepared to under¬take. Can we, if we ourselves cannot do it, at least prepare our children to do so? The choice is clearly to go forward, and the responsibility lies on our shoulders, we, the generation of parents in the 1990s, to encourage our chil¬dren to prepare and work together for a future that is just and peaceful, irre¬spective of religious, cultural or national backgrounds.

This article was presented at the" Palestinians and Israelis: Educating about Each Other in the Era of Peace" seminar, cosponsored by the Konrad Adenaur Foundation, the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI) and the Palestinian Peace Information Center, December 7-8, 1995, Notre Dame Center, Jerusalem.

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