Entry 34 in the Mondo Awards end-of-the-year Inspire-us contest is a nomination of George Khoury, board member of Sabeel.
Palestinian Christian George Khoury said he has gone through a “hell of a history.” When he was 6 years old, he suffered during the 1948 Nakba, or catastrophe, in which close to a million Palestinians were displaced from their homes. The Nakba is the other side of the coin to the Israeli War for Independence. Khoury was living in Jaffa when the Haganah, which is now the Israeli army, drove the Palestinian men out of his town. Those who resisted were shot. His father ran away with other men. He lived in flimsy tent with the rest of his family. Israelis partook in odious types of oppression like distributing cigarette boxes and toys that would explode when opened. Khoury descibes the Nakba as ethnic cleansing, and he now works for a Christian nonviolent group called Sabeel to stem the terrible oppression Palestinians have endured since 1948.
Khoury’s story, a vivid emblem of the Palestinian struggle, is one of the reasons I am interested in working on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I interviewed him for an oral history class I took at Wayne State University, where I am studying for a degree in Near Eastern Studies. I talked with him in addition to Jewish Voice for Peace activist Barbara Harvey. The interviews were a real education. I had never heard of the Nakba before I took the oral history class and shuttered at the tales of oppression. The project was hard for me as I had been ingrained in the notion of Israeli morality.
I began studying the Middle East in part because of Philip Weiss’s blog…. What I like about Weiss’s blog is that he connects the plight of Palestinians to larger human rights issues. He comes from the long Jewish tradition of protesting for equality, civil rights, justice and human dignity. His arguments resonate with my own experience writing about civil rights in America and South Africa when I was a student at Harvard College in the early 1990s. I wrote about apartheid and the civil rights movement respectively and find some of the circumstances blacks endured similar to what Palestinians are now enduring like violence, oppression, inequality and unbearable hardship.
Another reason I became interested in the conflict is my Christian faith. I wholeheartedly agree with Sabeel’s mission. They advocate a liberation theology and follow Christ’s example of serving the oppressed and working for peace. Sabeel’s support of a two state solution is inspiring, and I think their methods will be effective. Their stress on Jesus’ example in particular moves me. I have honed a fervent Christian faith for the last decade and believe that Jesus’ essence of love, nonviolence, goodness and forgiveness will heal the conflict. War is futile and only entrenches ill will among disparate groups.
From a cursory look at the conflict, it may seem that the two sides’ concerns are too divergent to realize peace. Yet, I think they have a lot in common. Israelis have suffered so much throughout their history from the Biblical era to discrimination in Europe to Russian pogroms to the Holocaust. As a response to this oppression, Jews created their own state. Palestinians have suffered too from the Nakba to current circumstances such as endless war, checkpoints that thwart them from receiving things like medical care, an inability to visit holy sites and a prohibition against assembling peacefully. I think Jews need to look inward at themselves and realize that Palestinians want a state like they did.
These notions of justice, peace, mutual respect and human dignity have roots in both Judaism and Christianity in addition to Islam. Both sides need to dig deep into their souls, and one way to do this is recalling their respective religious traditions. By looking at Christianity and Judaism, for instance, it is clear that both religions support justice, forgiveness, freedom and the importance of relationships. Jews could make real headway towards peace and a Palestinian state if they employed their religious ideals in the negotiation process. As it stands now, Palestinians feel Jews have been unwilling to reconcile the Torah with Palestinian oppression. As Khoury said, “ [Oppression is] OK in Palestine, but it’s not OK anywhere else. And that’s why we go through Sabeel. I think we have guts in Sabeel. That we stand up in synagogue and we say, ‘You’re wrong. Your Torah says the opposite.’ But again they consider us anti-Semitic.”
Desmond Tutu, who has argued against Palestinian oppression, believes in the African concept of ubuntu, which means that “my humanity is bound up with your humanity.” This simple concept is incredibly vital. When people are entrenched in seemingly intractable conflict, it is easy to dehumanize each other. People need to realize that their common goodness can overcome terrible conflict. I think mondoweiss contributes to this idea of common humanity. The blog is a real public service , and I believe that it is adding to the peace dialogue in a meaningful manner. By disseminating information about Palestinian oppression, which is urgently needed as it is undercovered in the Western media, the Web site furthers human rights and human decency. It nurtures a good dialogue that will free Jews and Palestinians alike.
Carrie Cunningham wrote this piece as part of a project for Wayne State University. She contributes a blog on religion for the examiner.