I may be a Christian priest but I have three Jewish grandparents,so, to an anti-Semite I’m a Jew. Even worse, I’m an infiltrator, trying to destroy the church from within. Believe me, when I’m attacked on social media that abuse becomes abundantly and repeatedly clear. My family fled Russian pogroms in 1900, then lived in the eastend of London during the threat of pre-war fascism. They had direct, physical confrontations with Nazis.
I’ve also visited Israel and Palestine numerous times for 40 years, and have dear friends on all sides. I studied there, lived there, and genuinely understand the region, its history, and complexities.
Because of this I refuse to play the sordid game of triumphalism and exclusive truth. I will not stand with Israel or with Palestine, and won’t utter platitudes and simplistic slogans about a situation that demands so much more than that. If I stand with anything it’s with justice and peace. Let the extremists roar but I will not be moved. Apart from anything else, my faith demands that of me.
There are simultaneous truths that have to be made clear, and they really aren’t so very difficult. First, the Hamas slaughter of the innocents on October 7th was barbaric and grotesque. To refuse to condemn it, let alone condone it, is a moral outrage. No relativism, no excuses, no infantile radicalism. Just explicitly reject rape, infanticide, and the murder of blameless people.
Second, the open wound of injustice towards Palestine and Palestinians remains, and until that is addressed there can be no lasting solution. Of course there are lies and distortions, of course the local as well as the super powers are hypocritical and exploitative, and of course the Palestinian leadership has often been disastrous. But none of that changes the reality of the Palestinians losing their homes and homeland.
Third, while Israel’s campaign in Gaza may well destroy Hamas as a threat, it has come at the cost of countless innocent lives and will also achieve little if anything in the long run. Revenge is not policy, and an Israeli child killed by a blood-lusting terrorist is little different from a Palestinian baby pulled from the rubble after an Israeli missile attack. It will create another generation of young people eager to martyr themselves to attack Israel, it has alienated much of world opinion, but most of all it will bring further agony to a people already living in appalling conditions.
If I had the ability I would silence the Islamists, the Jewhaters, and the predictable Marxists who know nothing of humanity; as well as the fundamentalist Israeli settlers, the extreme Zionists who care for nobody other than their cause, those diaspora Jewish people who are more extreme than most Israelis, and their rightwing Christian friends who want to fight the end times war to every last Jew and Arab.
They hold the edges of great net, and caught in it are the mass of ordinary Israelis and Palestinians. I’m not naïve, not inexperienced in the ways of conflict and tribal bitterness, but I also know that most on both sides want to live in dignity and safety, and are willing to make the compromises that are vital if anything of value is to be achieved. I’ve seen it repeatedly, and know it can happen. My God it won’t be easy but then little that is worth achieving ever is.
Just a few months ago I sat in a small house in Belfast with a man whose father had been shot and killed by a paramilitary gang. The murdered man wasn’t involved in politics, just of a different religion to those who killed him. For many years my host had wanted revenge, then he gave up, then he devoted his life to peace and reconciliation. Now he lives in a country where there is a peace nobody ever thought remotely possible. In fact, it always is possible. Even in Israel and Palestine, if enough genuinely want it. As Christians our role is to always see the possibilities, to look to the path of radical and often frightening love and change, and to walk and work with God’s plan for justice and peace. Saying Shalom or Salam is not enough, but living it is everything.