This was originally posted two years ago. Before posting my thoughts on my experience hearing Sari Nusseibeh speak on Tuesday night, I thought this would be a good introduction to the topic…and will buy me some time in writing out my thoughts! Stay tuned!
Sometimes I wonder about the state of the world – how it got this way. I wonder how certain people are certain ways. It is dumb-founding to ponder the root of the world’s problems. Here in the Middle East, the complexity of the situation can consume even the stoutest of intellectual might. Yet, many have very strong opinions about the path for peace, or worse, the path for self-dominance – which some believe is better than peace.
I’ve been doing some reading about this region in hopes of, at the very least, holding my own in a casual conversation of my peers, or, at the very best, having enough understanding to offer compassion to the people who exist here. The first book that I read (I still have a few chapters left), was From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas Friedman – a Jewish-American, yet secular, journalist who lends a very open mind to his historical exploration of the issues in the Middle East. I valued Mr. Friedman’s candor and dutiful rendering of the events of the last sixty-plus years of the region. Yet, I was sure that it wasn’t the whole story.
While traveling to Jordan, I picked up another book, Once Upon a Country by Sari Nusseibeh. Now, I’ve only read a small portion, and I don’t claim to know or support all of Mr. Nusseibeh’s claims or causes – I simply don’t know enough. But, I am impressed by his candor and openness in penningwhat seems to be the exact inverse of what Friedman wrote. Mr. Nusseibeh comes from an Arab academia where a peaceful, artistic, multi-cultural state was seen as ideal. So, to me, the two books combined offer great insight into the Middle East dilemma.
From the U.S/western perspective, we seem to align ourselves with the Israeli perspective almost naturally. I think it is important to challenge our understanding, or even grow our understanding. Here is an excerpt from Once Upon a Country, circa 1947:
One day a peasant farmer came to his [Mr. Nusseibeh's father's] office. He was from a small village in the south, near the Jewish town of Rechovot. His modest house had been blown up, and his village lands had been taken by Jewish forces. His only son had been killed, and he himself had been shot in the leg and was in danger of losing the limb.
Father didn’t recount this man’s adventures with the detachment of a historian, but rather with the flare and skill of a tragedian. “Jaffa is the home of 200,000 Arabs,” he writes about their expulsion by Israeli forces. “And its loss means the dispersion of these people. The loss of Acre, Nazareth, Safad, Ramle, Lydda, and all the other towns and villages of Palestine means more than red dots on the map. They mean the warm hearths and proud homes of an old established community. The hearths have turned to ashes and homes ground to dust and the life that once throbbed within them throbs no more.”
This really grabbed me. It illustrates just some of the loss of the beating hearts of this land. It breaks through the idea of good guys and bad guys. These are people who were solely looking to live out their lives in their own homes, with their own people and with their own families. It made me ponder what would happen if someone did that to me. Or, more hypothetically, if some one started taking the land of fourth generation farmers from the Midwest and handing over the land to the Native Americans who had claimed historical rights to it. Just as we Americans value our perceived right to exist, thrive and own property, the Arabs of 1947 and later do likewise.
This brings me to the last point. Where is our greatest allegiance? Is it to our nation, our family, our personal rights? Shouldn’t it be to our Kingdom? We are called to die to ourselves daily. We are to be meek, loving, humble, sacrificial citizens of a territory that we have yet to step foot in. Shouldn’t we look at a situation like the Middle East and understand that it isn’t about land, peace accords and lines on a map? This situation is too filled with complexities of pride, grievances, history and power-struggles for a man-made solution to be effective. The solution exists in understanding that the New Covenant leveled the playing field and ushered in the chance for all to belong to a new citizenship. It opened up the only, real and lasting chance there is for peace – this doesn’t just apply to Middle Easterners. And, the way that people will come to realize this is through the current citizens’ obedience to loving sacrifice.
So, I’ll keep reading. I’ll share as I learn more. May we all learn to understand more and love better. Holy Spirit come!