This conflict is personal — and I empathize with both sides

People take part in a Nov. 4 demonstration in Berlin, Germany, organized by Palestinian and Jewish groups. — Streets of Berlin/Wikimedia Commons People take part in a Nov. 4 demonstration in Berlin, Germany, organized by Palestinian and Jewish groups. — Streets of Berlin/Wikimedia Commons

I am a child of Egyptian immigrants who survived the wars between Israel and Egypt. When I consider the current conflict in Israel-Palestine, I feel solidarity with the Palestinians. We share a language, a landscape, a culture.

Palestinians are family. When they suffer, I do, as well. It feels natural and moral to ally with them.

When I see Palestinian homes, businesses and places of worship bombed, I grieve. When I see their anger — even including the violence of the Hamas attack on Oct. 7 — I understand the desperation.

I am passionate about justice for Palestinians. Even before they were pushed out of their homes in 1948, British colonialism had robbed them of their independence for generations. For Palestinians, wanting freedom and self-determination is utterly rational, and I understand why they forcefully resist the Israeli occupation.

There are philosophical and theological factors that brought me to this perspective but, above all, for me, it’s personal.

Over several decades of living and worshiping in progressive Christian circles, I have found many allies in the cause. Among progressives, sympathy and an alliance with the struggle of Palestinians has been easy to come by.

I was surprised, though, when I learned that many progressive Jews are Zionists, supporters of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. At first, I was astonished — ignorantly, perhaps — because I thought the plight of Palestinians was so plain. But as I listened and learned more, I grew empathetic with Zionists.

While the history of occupation and expansion of Israel in Palestine is ­egregious, so is the history of Jewish people across millennia, especially in Christian Europe. Jewish people, throughout their history, have suffered from exiles, pogroms and the worst genocide in the industrial age: the Holocaust.

Antisemitism in Europe was brutal, and Jews desperately needed a home and safety. In 1933, nearly 9 million Jews lived in Europe; today just 1 million do. Those astounding figures speak of a monumental social hatred.

It suited Western interests to partition Palestine in 1947, by removing Jews from war-torn Europe and securing a Western ally in the Middle East. The partitioning of Palestine and the creation of the state of Israel was not purely benevolent; it was designed in the interests of the West. Palestine wasn’t even the preferred location of all Jewish people.

The conflict in Palestine has been terrible and deadly, and it has led to the tragic circumstances of the present day. Given several millennia of oppression and statelessness, securing a home for the Jewish people — with the power of the West behind them — was surely understandable.

Given that historical perspective, a violent response to the Hamas attack on Oct. 7 also makes sense.

I came of age during the Global War on Terror that followed al-Qaeda’s attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. I can understand the American rage that followed — although some of that rage became used against me as jingoism and racism spiked.

But I am a Christian and an Anabaptist, committed to nonviolence. As I strive for a world without violence, I empathize with the wounded bodies and helpless rage of both Israelis and Palestinians. I can simultaneously denounce the brutality of Hamas and the cruelty of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. I pray for nonviolent resolution.

Peacemaking Christians must advocate for the nonviolence that’s at the heart of the gospel. We need to think of and work for creative solutions to conflicts. Peace in Israel-Palestine seems impossible, but I hope and believe that two peoples can coexist — either in two neighboring countries or in a single, shared state. Many inhabitants of the region want one of these options.

Yet the global powers behind Israel and Palestine — such as the United States for the former and Iran for the latter — may make peace impossible.

While there is violence on both sides, the power, wealth and Western backing of Israel mean this isn’t a fair fight.

At the same time, the Palestinian longing for independence is corroded by antisemitic notions fueled by Lebanon, Syria and Iran. These nations maintain Israel has no right to exist.

Israelis and Palestinians have histories of oppression that make the idea of nonviolence rooted in faith seem ­naïve. Vilifying either side, however, only perpetuates the deadly status quo. We need to hold the hope for those whose burden has grown too heavy to do so. Empathy and love alone can lead us to peace, however improbable it may seem.

Jonny Rashid is pastor of West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship and the author of Jesus Takes a Side (Herald Press, 2022).

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