So call me hateful

I’ve been called a lot of things, but never hateful. Yet if the Conservative government gets its way, what I’m about to say could make me guilty of hate speech.

I can’t reconcile how anyone – especially Christians who claim the mandate of Christ’s love – can do anything other than cry foul over the treatment of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. The tragedies are numerous, but here’s my bullet-point list of Israel’s main offences:

The sealing of borders against migration, commerce and humanitarian aid.

A military occupation and the violent suppression of speech and assembly.

The racial and religious ghettoization of a people into walled enclaves.

The ethnic cleansing that results from removing a less desirable group of people from their homes and land to make room for a more desirable one.

Even if just one of these points is true, how can we not scream for condemnation, sanctions and boycotts?

There. I did it. So call me hateful.

Watered down
With regards to this one perspective – the social side of the story – I can find not a single defensible justification for what is happening in the Occupied Territories. I acknowledge that the overall picture is complex, involving a military, economic, political and religious balancing act of leviathan proportions. Arguments can be made – and ear-numbingly are – for all sides of the situation when the other realities are allowed to enter the discussion.

But go ahead, try and narrow it down to a socially responsible argument in favour of Israel’s actions. Can you do it? Likely not when it comes to focusing the discussion on the Palestinians. Most often, we either make generic assertions that do little to address the reality – All people should be allowed to live in peace – or, more often, shift our sympathy to the Israeli side of the security barrier – Imagine living under the constant threat of rocket attacks or suicide bombings!

A statement that outright condemns the Israelis, particularly from Christians, is rare indeed. For some reason, when it comes to direct talk and action, Christianity is afraid to look the state of Israel in the eye and tell it that it has to change. Instead, Christians rely on watered-down arguments that try and balance the responsibilities, like an inverted David and Goliath story (one where Goliath has not only built a wall to sling stones against, he also stole David’s sandals, clothing, staff and sheep).

Balance is admirable for the most part – I’m a big fan of trying to see the other side. To a point. In the face of consistent belligerence and lasting resistance to reasonable suggestion, even I am forced to abandon balance in favour of concrete, direct talk. And when talking fails, as Israel so often allows it to – and here I place blame squarely on the oppressor’s shoulders – I am forced to find a season to give up, to throw a bad relationship away.

Despite the risk
But, you might ask, where’s the grace in all of this? Don’t our Jewish brothers and sisters in Israel deserve to be loved and treated as graciously as the Palestinians? Of course they do. But as long as it refuses to act in the interests of all the people within their borders, Israel’s corrupt and blind government does not. In What’s So Amazing about Grace, Philip Yancey has it right: politics and the gospel are antithetical to the creation and sustenance of grace. Just think about the cries of anti-semitism that rain down on any public figure who criticizes Israel, as though Judaism and the political aims of the Israeli state are inseparable.

Still, despite the continual braying of the Conservative right, in lock-step, unconditional support of all things Israel, I am heartened by some recent evidence of change. World leaders are increasingly vocal about the establishment of a Palestinian state as the only viable solution to alleviate Palestinian suffering. Recently, the Vatican announced that it too would be making the call, with Pope Francis naming Mahmoud Abbas an “Angel of Peace.”

The Conservative response will be as predictable as sunrise, unable to see past thrown stones, piecemeal rocket attacks and the ever-present threat of Islamic extremism (none of which justifies the violent and systematic oppression of human rights, of course, yet again drenching Israel in the tragic irony of a forgotten history).

Christians congratulate themselves for being vocal against ISIS, the Holocaust, ethnic cleansing in Africa and the Balkans and even the unspeakabe abuse churches visited on Canada’s indigenous peoples. Yet about Palestine’s right to exist, we tend to remain deafeningly silent. Shall we join in, despite the risk of being labelled hate-speakers?

  • Brent spent six years in the Middle East and Asia teaching, writing, and trying to make sense of the borders people create. A graduate of Redeemer University College and the Humber School of Writers, he is now working towards an MFA in Creative Writing through the University of British Columbia. He works and lives in the Westdale neighbourhood of Hamilton with his wife Rosalee and baby daughter Nora. For more information, follow him on Twitter@brentvans or visit www.brentvanstaalduinen.com.

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