If you're wondering why--if it's really all that complex--the dominant perspective held by Americans and a significant number if not a majority of American Christians is that Palestinians want blood and are mostly just a terrorist group, I have often wondered the same. If you're wondering why we don't hear the stories of Israeli violence and oppression upon Palestinians or why we don't hear of Palestinians working toward non-violent resistance, I wondered the same thing right up until one night when I was innocently flipping channels on TV and came across "The 700 Club" with Pat Robertson, an apparently "Christian" television news show. For some reason I left the TV on that channel. They were discussing the controversy in Israel and they were criticizing the international pressure on Israel to make peace with the Palestinians. Pat Robertson's tone in the broadcast suggested that it was strange that anyone would even think of such a thing and he overtly proposed that the Palestinians "may not want peace." The show then proceeded to interview right-wing Israeli representatives and not once did they interview a Palestinian. No. Instead they let the Israelis and the extremist propaganda videos speak on their behalf. There were no stories of the pain of innocent Palestinians, only a scoff at the thought of making peace with such a violent people.
In summary of the story, Pat Roberson said,
“We need to have more people who speak Arabic… we need to get translations of those Arabic broadcasts. They speak in English and we listen to it and then they speak in Arabic an entirely different message and as long as they phone that hate, there’s not going to be any peace. Don’t think about it and if our leaders begin to say, ‘well, the Israeli’s have got to make a peace treaty,’ well, with whom and about what?” “We need to have more people who speak Arabic… we need to get translations of those Arabic broadcasts. They speak in English and we listen to it and then they speak in Arabic an entirely different message and as long as they phone that hate, there’s not going to be any peace. Don’t think about it and if our leaders begin to say, ‘well, the Israeli’s have got to make a peace treaty,’ well, with whom and about what?” (this was the April 21, 2011 broadcast)A Christian broadcast telling us not to even think of peace with Palestinians? Robertson would have us assume that any rumor of peace is simply a lie and that Palestinians can't be trusted. And, implicitly, they'd have us assume that Israel doesn't hold the same kind of hatred toward Palestinians and that every prospect for Israel to change should be contingent upon the Palestinians change rather than any level of reciprocity. Perhaps we'd have a better sense of why the Palestinians hold negative feelings toward Israel if we understood their pain.
So, I can only attribute such false assumptions to an American media with an agenda, in this case a religious one. I can't take a guy like Robertson seriously... but tragically, many people do and so the false and malicious assumptions are perpetuated.
To counter that, on Monday I finished watching a documentary called Encounter Point. This video chronicles the stories of Palestinians and Israeli's who have suffered the violence of the other and have realized that reconciliation cannot come through violence. Through these stories, the assumptions of both sides are challenged. Indeed, all my previous assumptions are challenged. The mythical caricatures which both sides have painted of each other are dispelled and the pain of both sides is acknowledged.
I cannot recommend this documentary more highly.
The path to peace begins with listening. The perpetuation of false assumptions undercuts the real work of peacemakers throughout the world. When we engage in the suffering of one another, when we stop and see one another, we pave the road to peace. But when we analyze, when we over-simplify, when we suspect and assume our own innocence & objectivity we create more suffering. Love achieves more. Love casts out fear. love covers a multitude of sin. Love never fails.
Non-violence and peaceful reconciliation are treated by so many as impractical and unattainable, if not mythological ideals. Why? Why is this? It is happening and it is even working--no more slowly than the efforts of violence and coercion--right in front of us. Do we not see it? Are we looking for it? If peace is what we want... and it should be what we want... why do we apparently find it so much more reasonable to believe that someday our violence will end their violence? Why can't our love do that? Why can't our compassion and understanding do that? These, after all, are the images of that for which we strive. Does not love more deeply resemble peace than violence?
Dash your assumptions! There ARE Israeli's working for peace. There ARE Palestinians working for peace. There are Palestinians and Israelis working and mourning together! Do not undercut their work with your assumption!