Destined for Conflict

Reconciliation is hard. As in, really painful, uncomfortable, I-don’t-want-to-do-this-anymore hard.

We find ourselves in the land that is notorious for its conflict. For some reason the Israeli-Palestinian conflict captures the media despite there being many other, and at times much more grievous, conflicts happening throughout the world – some right next door. But we have been captured by it as well and came here hoping to learn about conflict and reconciliation. I knew a few things before we arrived here:

  1. There is more than one side to every story
  2. Emotions run deep in this conflict
  3. It is very complicated

We have now been in the Holy Land for about two months, half the time among Palestinians and half among Israeli Jews. After listening more, reading more, and spending time in the company of people whose perspectives differ from mine, I now know:

  1. There is more than one side to every story, but it is difficult to hold multiple stories at the same time. To reference another potential side to a narrative can stir up incredible frustration, passion, indignation, anger, and mistrust. It can shut a conversation down or blow it up.
  2. Emotions run deeper than I could have imagined. This is a deeply personal, deeply painful, deeply volatile issue.  Not only are there deep wounds, there is deep conviction and a deep sense of purpose, faith, meaning, and hope tied to one’s narrative and perspective.
  3. It is so complicated that I can not truly comprehend it and can barely see hope for peace.
  4. But perhaps the greatest thing I have been learning is that I am painfully self-righteous. I constantly find myself judging people for refusing to acknowledge any other perspective than their own…while I myself am arguing with them because I find it hard to accept the validity of their views.

Our time here has been painful. I am grieved by the wounds, by the violence, by the harsh language and the sweeping generalizations. I am grieved that violence and force are the answers we most often turn to. I am grieved that I don’t know how to negotiate conversations with people amidst sharp disagreements. I want to understand those I identify with least. I want to believe that by knowing the “other” I will love the “other.” But I don’t. Lately, the more I know them, the more angry and frustrated I become, so I stop listening and start concocting rebuttals to prove them wrong. I am full of angst and self-justification. I am anything but a peacemaker.

A few nights ago, our host made a generalization about a people group that in my experience was inaccurate, so I countered her. I thought my comment was simple and non-confrontational but it hit a raw nerve in my host and angered and offended her badly. I apologized, but the damage had been done and I knew that I had touched one of her trigger wounds. I tossed and turned all night and by morning I was prepared to be asked to leave the house. So I got up early and wrote her a note to try to reconcile our relationship – to affirm her pain and the affect of my comment, to affirm her faith and her perspective, to affirm that we are not enemies. But I told her I would understand if it was now difficult for her to have us in her home, so if she needed us to leave we would go without rancor.

I left the note in the kitchen and went out to the fields to work. I spent an excruciating morning going over and over things in my head. Why couldn’t I just keep my mouth shut? Why did I think we could ever have a future in reconciliation and peace work when I can’t even manage interpersonal conflict without making a mess of things? What are we even doing here? We say we want to be listeners, but I actually have a very hard time just listening and listening to things I  consider not only erroneous but offensive. The very fact I call them “erroneous” means I don’t really know how to see things from an opposing viewpoint. I am ready to quit. I can’t do this. I hope they tell us to leave, because I don’t want to be here anymore. I just want to go home or at least go do something else, because the only thing I can do in this conflict is make things worse by throwing my opinions into an already over-flowing pot.

To make matters worse, the military base nearby was going through training drills so the morning was punctuated with the reverberating booms of explosives, the pops of automatic weapons, and the scream of jets flying at low altitude — the outcome of all of which will be more death and destruction. It was the perfect soundtrack to underscore my sense of despair at the insanity of violence, the inevitability of conflict and the futility of working toward peace.

I was despondent and miserable by the time we came back to the house for tea. I was hoping our hosts were still out on their errands because I didn’t really care to see them. I went to the kitchen to boil some water and my heart dropped when I heard my host’s voice at the door greeting Andrew.

I didn’t turn around when I heard her come into the kitchen. I made myself very busy scrubbing the already-clean mug in my hand so I didn’t have to face her.

And then she said, “can I give you a hug?”

Reconciliation

Everything inside me broke and I turned with tears in my eyes to embrace my enemy. She thanked me for the note, told me she cried tears of healing reading it, told me her desire is to love people well – all people – but that it is not easy. She asked us to please stay. She told me that she still has hope.

I cried as I embraced her again. In a few short minutes all of the walls between us were broken. The dim rays of hope burned a little brighter through my haze of discouragement. We still disagree, the foundational beliefs that shape our world views are still in opposition, we still carry the weight of our personal experiences, but there is now more than just controversy between us. There is now love and respect and trust.

It has become clear to me that with all the differing beliefs and convictions, this world is destined for conflict; for strife that is intense and painful at best, violent and destructive at worst, and in any case absolutely difficult. I do not hold much hope for a time when we as a people can agree enough to tear down our barricades and lay down our weapons. I do not think that peace will ever come if it is dependent on consensus. But I am beginning to understand that peacemaking is less about eliminating conflict and more about building bridges of love and trust and relationship amidst the discord. For that, there may yet be hope.

 

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