Saturday, February 11, 2006

Sharing the Pain

The Moderator of the General Assembly of the PCUSA is concerned about the denomination’s plan to divest from Israel. Frankly, I believe that the decision to go down the road was foolish at best. I appreciate the moderator’s concern, and I hope the General Assembly Council heeds his advice to provide guidance. What I find interesting is the Presbyterian News Service’s depiction of the moderator’s nuanced approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The moderator said that, when he visited the children's section of the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, he was able to imagine his own son's name being read among those of the dead. And he said he also remembers that, during his first visit to the Holy Land, four years ago, he visited Bethlehem, a town under house arrest, and noticed that children woke up in the morning and asked whether the curfew had been lifted, much as he had asked about snow days when he was a boy.

Holding that dual tension, he said, requires empathic listening to both stories, and sharing the pain of both parties, rather than simply siding with one.

Now, it’s true that Palestinians have suffered a great deal. The average Palestinian deserves better than to be limited by curfews and walls. However, one overwhelming question comes to mind. Does our moderator believe that the systematic slaughter of Jews and a curfew are morally equivalent? I also find it strange that the moderator must reach into the past of Nazi Germany for a wrong perpetrated on the people of Israel. A modern Israeli might think of a stream of suicide bombers killing innocents. A curfew may provide annoyance for children and be economically devastating to adults. However, many Israelis are willing to bear that cost for security.

The real tension is how can Palestinians exercise freedom -- economic freedom and freedom of movement -- and the Israelis be free from violence. Here is the debate that we are not having as a denomination.

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