For the workshop, “The Question of Palestine & Israel,” at the Friends General Conference Gathering, June-July 2008 (revised July 17, 2008)
What are my questions concerning this topic?
Can I concoct a schematic view of the situation that omits names of peoples? A and B rather than Israel and Palestine. And what difference would this make?
Will I eventually lose my life or health or property or reputation by caring about Israel-Palestine?
What are the main areas of compromise needed for resolution?
How does religion affect the conflict?
Is there anything of the earth—magnetic and electrical fields, other energy sources yet to be discovered—that might contribute to the frequent fighting of peoples in the region?
What connects me most personally with the issues?
The fact of Jesus’ life lived in a few areas of the Levant, and for such a brief period.
The light, physical and metaphysical.
My various shifts of opinion as I’ve matured and what hopefully is a progression toward a greater, more encompassing truth.
My sense of outrage, which initially led me to this project and continues to propel me, offering me energy and direction.
Individuals in the region who I love and support: Ibrahem, Mosab, Amal, Yousef, Belal, Fida, Issam, Amani, Adham, Jean, Kathy, the kids at the Ramallah Friends School, the kids generally, Walid, the barber, the shuwarma shop man, the internet café man, Osama who I met at Kalandia, the elderly taxi driver with what might have been throat cancer, AND Matan, Anarchists Against the Wall, ActiveStills, Uri Avery, Jeff Halper, Angela Goldstein, Arek Ascherman, Gila Svirtz, Beny Gefen, the underground solider I met at Ma’ale Adumim, the man grilling me at Erez crossing, and numerous others, some I can recall vividly, some I only briefly met, some I’ve read or heard about.
Why is this topic important to me?
It is a volatile region and topic, possibly leading to a nuclear conflagration, the final holocaust.
I feel personally connected with it, as indicated above.
I’m challenged by the task—making good photos, making useful (but not too useful photos) for the struggle, comprehending and portraying the situation, and understanding how light operates in the region, physically and metaphysically.
I am personally complicit by nature of being a human being, first and foremost, and by being a US citizen.
What is my first awareness of the issues and what were my associated feelings?
The pioneer period, when I thought all Israelis were like early white settlers and farmers in the US—noble, courageous, earth connected, other directed, communal, cooperative, all of them living in kibbutz. I had no thought or awareness of native people in the region, the Arabs or Palestinians. I was 8 when the Israeli nation was founded, a true believer if a nascent one.
Then the 1967 war while I was teaching at Maimonides, an orthodox Jewish school near Boston. We were in session when we learned the results of the 6-day war, the Jewish blitzkrieg. I was as elated as my students and peers. I was 27, a new father, and 4 or so years married.
Following that, the terror period, when Palestinians hijacked and might have occasionally blew up airplanes. The debacle in Munich followed this, when Israeli athletes and others kidnapped by Palestinian militants were killed during a botched rescue attempt. Now I was first aware of Palestinians, but not with a positive view toward them. I deplored their methods, while possibly being slightly sympathetic to their causes. Did I understand their causes? Barely. This was in the early to mid 1970s; I was then 30-35, a few years before my mother died.
Was I aware of the Shatila and Sabra refugee camps massacres in 1982? I don’t think so. I should have been, I was 42 and coming out of my comfortable family cocoon.
What are the gray or most confusing areas about the topic?
The heightened sensitivities of many American Jews about the Israel-Palestine situation, how quickly they’re rattled when they detect any challenge to or criticism of Israel?
Resolution of the conflict, how to persuade or require compromise?
The role the US should play, hamstrung by being a biased party (for now at least).
The lack of disciplined, humane, smart leadership on both sides.
The core beliefs of the most extreme Palestinian and Israeli elements.
The confluence of 3 major religions, how did this occur?
The ancestry of Palestinians, who are they exactly?
How to hold all parties in the conflict to international law and conventions and humane practices?
What am I most fearful of/worried about/challenged by when dealing with the topics?
The reaction of strong supporters of Israel, some of whom are my friends and former students.
The risks I run in doing my work, on the ground, physical risks, and with that my aging—how long will I be able to continue this project?
Returning a Jew. That is, switching sides completely once I’ve understood Israeli positions. As might have happened to me partially in South Africa, when I returned much more sympathetic to the Afrikaners.
The quietude of so many in the US, notably among religious groups, very specifically among Quakers. How best to awaken people?
What are the core beliefs of those supporting Israel?
For the radical right wing, a small minority of people with power disproportionate to their number: the holocaust and the covenant between Abe and god justify Israeli Jewish control of the entire region from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, some feel even to the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Altho historically beleaguered, vilified, attacked, and massacred we are a superior people, chosen by god, and we have a right to rule—not only the right but the ability and mandate. Arabs are at worst less than human and at best interlopers and latecomers with few rights other than those we grant.
For the center, largely secular: we say the covenant plays little role, the chosenness as well. However, we have long memories, recall the persecution over the past two millennia, often either by Christians or as Christian nations stood by doing nothing. We must be self-reliant, attentive to any threats, maintain a strong military, court world opinion especially in the United States, and be ready to defend our people and national interests.
Of those supporting Palestine?
Our human rights must be guaranteed, which means the right of return, shared sovereignty in one state or two separate viable states, equal rights for Palestinians living in Israel, and the support of the international community. Our Koran specifies that we also are children of Abe. Our ancestors have roots in this land since before the Jews and Muslims were communities. Our bloodline goes back millennia.
What blocks do I and my community experience about this topic?
The threat of being called anti Semitic, angry, partisan. The lack of awareness and education. The high emotionality of the topic. The sense of guilt, both because of the holocaust and how little most people did to quell it, and the continuing complicity of the US government and with it, me.
What is my vision as we work toward peace, justice, and security in the region?
We’ll break thru the crust of denial, hatred, ignorance, and greed, and germinate into loving, insightful, brave creatures confronting one of the great illnesses and evils of our time. I will play a role, small but significant, thru my photography and stories. My Quaker community will likewise speak and act to resolve the conflict, first by strengthening our small 2-year-old Israel-Palestine group and then by expanding it and going more public with events.
What vows will I make to implement this vision?
I will return to the region yearly for as long as I have health, passion, energy, and conviction. I will develop a larger audience, Quaker and wider than Quaker. I will co lead my monthly meeting’s Israel-Palestine group, which means, find a suitable leadership role, not too visible (because of my reputation); bring back info and inspiration from this workshop; continue to network by offering to blog with multiple sources; expand our monthly meeting circle; help organize more public events; implement the brainstorming our monthly meeting group has done; and link with other local organizations, especially Jewish and Christian.
I’ll also see if I/we (workshop participants) can develop a workshop blog, and I’ll consider other follow up from the workshop.
For further writing about this topic please read my Israel, Palestine, Kaleidoscope:
A memoir of my involvement with the issues of Israel-Palestine