Yesterday I wondered down to the streets of Hebron, the home of the Abrahamic Mosque/Synagogue. (yep…that’s me with the two week old beard)
If there’s any place in this region that symbolizes some of the deepest pains threatening the Peace process in Israel, this is the one. Israelis and Palestinians are living in such close quarters, that every move they make is under the watch of the other. And for good reason. There’s been a long history of violence in Hebron, and just like it always does, the consequences of violence are often plagued on the most vulnerable.
A Meeting of Pain
As I was walking down the street with my Palestinian friend, I noticed a group of Israeli soldiers guarding one of the streets leading into a prominent Israeli neighborhood. I decided to go and meet the soldiers and ask them how their day was, and how the job was treating them.
“Hey, my name is Andy and I’m from America. How are you guys today?” I asked.
The young soldier smiled, told me his name, and asked about the best places in America he could come visit when he finishes his army requirement.
“Where’s the best place to party?” he wanted to know.
“Oh, I don’t know. What kind of parties are you looking for?”
“Lots of girls…” he went on to describe a young man who was looking to relax after 3 years of army service.
Emboldened by our conversation, my Palestinian friend introduced himself. I noticed quickly the tension entered the conversation, and of course I had no reference for what was really going on.
For the next 10 minutes, the two shared their own stories, and the result was nothing short of phenomenal. It’s not every day you can encounter a pleasant conversation between two enemies that results in both of them agreeing on the humanity of the other. Here are a few points I learned.
From the Israeli
The soldier was 22 years old, and has served all over the country. He’s not a run of the mill paper pusher sitting at a desk, as he told us of this tour through the north part of Israel and the conflict with Lebanon. He told us of several skirmishes and developed a pretty solid argument for the necessity of the military to protect people. “There are enemies all over the country, and we must stand for justice.”
He told us of people in Hebron who try to demonstrate violently, and he really fears for his life and the those of the people in the community he protects. Security was the number one concern, and I found myself identifying with his fear. After all, I asked myself What would I do if I felt so threatened? He didn’t have anything to do with the Zionists kicking people off their land. He didn’t have any authority to broker peace. He’s just a young man trying to live in a very tense place and serve his country.
As an American, I can identify.
From the Palestinian
My Palestinian friend asked him, “Why do you kick the doors down to my neighbor homes? Why do you close this whole street once full of shops? Why do you serve a government that is oppressing so many people?”
And it was hard to reconcile his argument. After all, we walked through the lonely streets of Hebron with Palestinian shops open to…well…no one. There’s no traffic down by the Abrahamic Mosque. People don’t walk through the markets any more for fear of violence. “Maybe you look over there at me standing on the sidewalk, and your first thought is…Terrorist. I’m no terrorist. I have a business, my family has a business, and we’re just trying to live in our homes.”
The soldier admitted that when he sees a Palestinian man walking down the street alone his first thought is to protect. And rightfully so. There’ve been so many problems, on both sides of this issue that real people are living in fear of one another.
After it was over
After our encounter, I became more aware of the personal problems that exist here in the Holy Land. The politicians and the governments are fighting for their own view of what is right and wrong, and they’re all human like you or me. They have greed and a hunger for power that inform daily decisions, just like you or I. But the real tragedy of what’s going on is here on the ground. Real people suffer from the stereotypes they’re trained to hate.
My Israeli friends just want to live in a peaceful environment without a threat of violence or terror.
My Palestinian friends don’t want to live in a land where military can take the liberty of controlling their neighborhoods.
I guess the most important lesson for me: You can’t believe what you hear in the news until you come here and meet with people on the ground. The lies and fears promoted by the governments of both camps fade quickly when you talk with human beings in their environment.
One of my dear friends said, “If you sow fear, you harvest control.” And now I wonder who is behind sowing all the fear here in the most Holy Place in the world?
There’s so much good happening on the ground. I wish those human stories were the one’s being planted, so we could harvest peace in the land where the prophets of old walked the earth.