Monday, October 6

Jonah's Lessons for Today

Today is the celebration of the end of Ramadan, the nearly month-long Muslim holiday where Muslims fast from sunup to sundown. They refrain from eating or drinking, and the end of the month is marked by a feast when people exchange presents.

This week begins a series of Jewish Holidays. Rosh HaShana, the Jewish New Year, and then Yom Kippur, the Day of Repentance.

During the holiday season, both observant Jews and Muslims turn their attention to spiritual matters. Both mark their holidays by fasting. Observant Jews specifically get themselves ready for Yom Kippur by taking stock of their lives over the past year.

On the holiday of Yom Kippur, to be celebrated a week from Thursday, many texts from the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, are read. One of those texts is the book of Jonah. There are deep implications regarding peace between Israelis and Palestinians from the book of Jonah. Jonah is told to go to the capital of Assyria, Nineveh, and warn them to repent. Assyria was an empire that had invaded Israel and deported many of its citizens. When God tells Jonah to go his enemies so that they have the opportunity to repent, he refuses and runs from God's call. And when the Assyrians finally do repent, "...It displeased Jonah, and he was very angry." (Jonah 4.1).

How similar a situation we see ourselves in now. There are a people here who are being oppressed. There are many Palestinians living outside the land that would like to return but are not allowed. Where is the Jonah of today, the one who would be willing to go to Ramallah and speak to the Palestinians about how to work with Israel in an effective way? Not only to the leadership, but to the people on the other side that are willing to do what's necessary for the hard work of pursuing peace. Even after hearing God's call, Jonah still resisted. No wonder then that we so often too shun the work of pursuing peace with our enemies; it's human nature that we want to see them 'get what they deserve' rather than receive the grace and forgiveness God offers.

As we work with MCC in Israel/Palestine we are often reminded that we are outsiders to the conflict here. Ultimately, the people here have to move forward themselves. But as we try to learn from the people we build relationships with, one thing we begin to understand is how each side sees the 'other'. For us, soldiers at checkpoints represent an inconvenience and a frustration; for our Palestinian friends who have experienced them as an immovable part of their lives, they represent something else. Settlers represent injustice to me, but I've never lost a home because of one. In the same way, when militant Palestinian groups speak of destroying the Jewish state, or call Jews pigs and thieves, it doesn't resonate with our identity in the same way it would if we were Israelis or Jews. When leaders rail against the Zionist regime, we don't immediately think about how that will affect our future lives in our current home. But, despite the fact that we are outsiders, we're beginning to understand. Through the relationships we're building we're learning of the pain, frustration, and misunderstanding that is found so often on both sides. We're learing to see the 'other' as our friends see them. And as we understand these things we're able to enter into some of that frustration with our friends, and by doing so, we legitimize something inside them. Suddenly our encouragements to work towards peace and to love our enemies begin to mean something. Here is someone who is learning their language, listening to their story, hearing their pain. So when we talk about loving our enemies, our words carry weight. Recently we've come to understand the grace God has shown us on a deeper level. Perhaps if I had been born in Tel Aviv I would be standing at a checkpoint. Perhaps if I'd been born in Gaza I would march in parades for martyrs. Either way, understanding that grace has kept us from these things is a move towards understanding those on either side who have legitimate grievances. By not cheapening the pain felt on both sides we're able to speak with integrity about the necessity of working towards peace. We realize that as outsiders it's not up to us, but we can often fill the gap that people from here aren't able to. One afternoon we can be in Ramallah helping to train young people to see themselves from others' perspectives and think about the responsibility they have towards their society, and that evening we can sit down with rabbis in Jerusalem to talk about ways to educate the Israeli public about the injustices being carried out by their government.

One of the most significant aspects of Jonah's stories is that not only does he see his enemies redeemed, he actually plays a role in bringing them to that redemption. We look to inspirations like these as we work with partners and friends, urging them to play a role in the redemption of the other side. As outsiders it's not up to us, but we can encourage and support those on both sides who will decide when peace and justice will come to this land.

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