This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Responsibility to know

For years it’s been tempting to avoid news about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the continuous violence it fuels in the Middle East. It’s overwhelming. It’s painful to hear. It feels irrelevant to life in the U.S. because it’s so far from home.

But after hearing personal stories and glimpsing the extent of U.S. involvement in Israel at the Impact Holy Land conference in Philadelphia Dec. 4-6, I’m sure it shouldn’t be avoided. As many of the presenters and attendees expressed, once engagement begins, a responsibility to act follows — the desire to try to have an impact. I often feel undereducated about the root issues there. Most Westerners are. But the conference empowered a few small ways to make change:

  • Listen to the stories of people on both sides, from varying backgrounds. Presenter after presenter told personal stories of trauma, pain and hope for a future free of violence, human rights abuses and, especially, division. Personal connections provide motivations to effect change.

    The people of Israel-Palestine are dispersed around the world. The issues that affect them are not limited to the confines of the Middle East. Millions have been displaced from the region since 1947, many as refugees in the U.S. They offer an opportunity to hear firsthand stories at home.

  • Beyond personal stories, self-education, like knowing some simple statistics, can go a long way. One in particular stands out, and should for anyone paying U.S. taxes: Israel is the biggest recipient of U.S. military assistance. It collected about half of all U.S. military aid in 2013 — $3.1 billion — despite making up only .1 percent of the world’s population.

    Knowing the role they play, U.S. taxpayers must educate themselves. Education contributes to more informed conversations. The better informed U.S. citizens are, the more able they are to make decisions in elections and have conversations with others who might effect change. Mennonite Central Committee’s Washington office is a good place to learn more and find representatives to have those conversations with.

  • The Kairos document, written by Christian Palestinians, calls on all Christians to recognize an obligation to them. It states: “The problem is not just a political one. It is a policy in which human beings are destroyed, and this must be of concern to the church.” It also describes what might be the most important thing for Christians to remember: “True Christian theology is a theology of love and solidarity with the oppressed, a call to justice and equality among peoples.”

Western and Palestinian Christians can draw support from each other and their faith while working against injustice and for equality.

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