This is the tale about the missile that missed me by inches when I was in the Holy Land this summer. As most of you know, I recently returned from a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories where there has been an increase in violent tension of late. Peace talks are on the board, but many have been scrubbed. It’s a very complicated situation.
Missiles have been fired from both fronts, and many people have died. I left the country right before three murdered Israelis were found a few miles away from where I was staying. After, in retaliation, a Palestinian teen was burned to death. The tension was palpable when I was there, but since then there has been a serious escalation.
I have some news for those who don’t keep up with the news prior to the last two weeks. The conflict isn’t new, or even close. There’s a reason Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a term. I wanted to study up on the subject so that I was familiar before I got there. No amount of studying could have prepared me for the real thing.
Between the West Bank and the country of Israel there is a large wall. It stretches 403 miles and is 25 feet tall. That’s three Goliaths people. That’s more than double the Berlin Wall. The first time I saw it, I cried. The wall’s purpose is clear. It is a separation barrier. For many it is a symbol of power, injustice, and control.
As we drove alongside, I had a thought. The bright idea of walking up to the wall with a huge poster with verses from the Torah, Quran, and Bible on the topic of peace. In my moment of idealism, I was convinced the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be solved by my act. I decided to ask someone on the bus what would happen, you know, just in case it wasn’t actually a good idea. They laughed and casually replied that I would be shot down immediately. So yeah, I didn’t do that. Phew. Dodged a bullet with that one. It was such a tourist question.
It’s crazy because around here we don’t experience anything like that. It’s so out of our radar. I realized this as we continued to drive along the large wall so I decided to ask people what it was like who lived with this as a daily reality. Not just the wall, but the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a whole. I was able to talk to many locals from both sides over the course of a couple of weeks. I asked what they thought about the politics, separation, and tension. If you can imagine, I got a large range of answers. Some in tears and some in a rage. Some apathetic and some who’s life mission is to fight. Some who riot and some who ignore. Some who think it’s right and some who think it’s wrong. No matter the response, there was a consensus. It’s a pained way of life that has effected everyone.
Being such a problem, I wanted so desperately to pick a side. Not in order to argue, but in order to do something about it. There is a Christian responsibility to justice, and I wanted to fight for it. Plus, everyone wants to be a vigilante like Batman fighting for justice, the good of the disadvantaged.
I thought I needed to determine this is definitely right and this is definitely wrong so I could help, but it was impossible. The situation is too large and too complicated for me to grasp objectively, and the conflict’s motivation from each side is full of relativity. There are definitely terrible things that happen, but I couldn’t simply pick a side that was the lesser of two evils. There was no cookie cutter answer for right and wrong. More specifically, neither side was wholly right. I felt at a stand still. I knew I’d only be there for a short time, and I thought if I didn’t know which side was right, how could I help?
One day, I was at the West Bank border control station and saw a big fight. Both sides were yelling. I stared as a small breeze past me. I was so focused on the fight that I did not see it coming from behind. It was the missile that missed me by inches.
The missile was a common one that hits quite a few people. It’s kind of our favorite missile actually. It’s the missile of morality, and it almost hit me so hard that I was debilitated in my mission to help people while I was there.
I had spent my time focused on justice in such a way that I needed morality to guide it, but as I watched both sides fight I saw that my view of right and wrong couldn’t help them. After all, they’ve been in this fight far longer than I could imagine, and each side is used to being told it’s wrong. Morality in seeking justice could not help me help them.
I realized that’s not how justice works at all, is it? Justice isn’t about picking a side and winning. The heartbeat of justice is love. It has to be in order for it to be true justice.
As a Christian, I believe God is love, and true justice and mercy are expressions of his love towards humankind. Since we can’t comprehend God’s perfect, infinite nature, we use warped versions of his characteristics for our definitions. That’s why retribution, vendettas, and morality slip into our justice.
When seeking to think about justice as it is in God, we must make sure to never separate it from love and mercy. Sure, they are different things in the sense that justice and mercy look different to us in their expression, but in God they are the same. God is not the sum of a bunch of separate attributes. He is who he is. Therefore, love and mercy and justice are not contradictory, and we can be positive that he is good.
With that in mind, I’m back at the fight. The missile of morality just flew by me. I realized to seek the justice I wanted I must love the people. I turned around and saw horrified looks on the face of a girl my age. So instead of picking which side was right, breaking up the fight, and seeking moral justice, I talked to the girl. She shared her hurt, fears, and life. Later, I prayed for her. Then I prayed for the fighters. I prayed for the people that I thought were really mean over there. I prayed for the violent. I prayed for the peacemakers.
My fight for justice had begun by loving people, praying, and learning from them. Since I was only there for a short time and have no political power whatsoever, there was nothing helpful to the people that could come from me morally choosing which side was right. Instead, my fight for justice in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continued with asking the question, “How can I love the person in front of me?”
*Sidenote: I’m not saying that this role is for everyone. Like I said, I happily have no political power in Israel, the United States, or in general. For those that have more of an effective voice on those matters, it is far more complicated than I could even imagine. This blog is more to shed light on the fact that my pointless debating would have helped no one during my time in the Holy Land. My effective role in justice is love.