Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Seeing the Light: A 25th Anniversary Trip to Israel/Palestine Turned a Quest for Origins and Solutions of the Conflict

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Seeing the Light: A 25th Anniversary Trip to Israel/Palestine Turned a Quest for Origins and Solutions of the Conflict

Article excerpt

SEEING THE LIGHT: A 25th Anniversary Trip to Israel/Palestine Turned Into a Quest for Origins and Solutions of the Conflict There

How did I, an American who grew up with newsreel images of the Nazi death camps and the movie "Exodus" come to be a passionate sympathizer with the Palestinian victims of Zionism? How did I, a post-Vatican II Catholic, encouraged to embrace our Jewish elder brothers in the common faith of Abraham, come to a grudging realization that in Israel the scapegoat of history has become the oppressor?

As of early 1993 I had never met a Palestinian, but I had worked with many Jews while a lawyer for the National Labor Relations Board and the Michigan Employment Relations Commission. I counted quite a few among my friends. These were good people, committed to a better world, always on the side of the underdog. Exactly my kind of people. In 1976 I was elected to a judgeship, and have been a judge in Michigan for 22 years.

Although I now live in a community with relatively few Jews, I have had the privilege of acting on my religiously-based affinity for Jews on two occasions. The first was a successful effort to bring a Jewish congregation, Temple Beth El, within the fold of our local ecumenical Christian organization. The rabbi and I hammered out language which satisfied all sides. The temple became an active participant in interfaith activities, a development that gave me great pleasure. Then, in 1985, I chaired a civic committee for a Holocaust Memorial Program on the 40th anniversary of the end of the Nazi plan to destroy European Jewry. It remains one of my proudest moments.

In 1993 my wife, Marilyn, and I traveled to Israel/Palestine to celebrate our 25th anniversary. I remember well the Jews on board our jet clapping as we landed at BenGurion Airport. I joined in the spontaneous celebration, and kissed the tarmac upon exiting the plane. But the euphoria was dampened by my observation of the harsh treatment of Palestinians going through customs, my introduction to the apartheid system of the Israeli government.

We stayed at a run-down Palestinian hotel in East Jerusalem, and soon were exposed to the separate worlds of the Israeli and Palestinian sides of the Holy City. We saw Israeli soldiers jump out of jeeps in East Jerusalem and frisk and humiliate Arab men without provocation. We couldn't help seeing the lack of city services in the Arab areas. Soon we were to witness the checkpoints, the closures of roads to Arabs, the menacing soldiers with their semi-automatics ready to go. We were surprised to discover that the Palestinian Christians and their leaders were entirely sympathetic with the grievances of the Muslim majority.

Yet we had little understanding of the origins of the disturbing situation in which we found ourselves. Israelis and Palestinians all had their pat little stories. Some said the Arabs had always hated Jews, and that the Palestinians in the refugee camps should be absorbed by the 20 surrounding Arab states.

Then there was the biblical covenant whereby God promised the land to His people, Israel, forever. Was this not a trump card which overrides all other justice claims to the contrary? And hadn't Israel taken a virtually empty land and made the desert bloom?


Upon returning home to Michigan I began to read everything I could get my hands on concerning the holy places associated with the life of Jesus. The faint stirrings of an idea -- to write a guidebook for Christians of all denominations, but containing sympathetic presentations of Jewish and Muslim history, holy places, and contemporary life as well -- were brought to life when a group from my own parish planned a "Holy Land Pilgrimage" in 1995. I felt inspired to travel on my own to Israel/Palestine and after a period of time exploring the Old City of Jerusalem, to meet up with the Michigan group.

Just before leaving home I was surprised by the sharp response I received from a rabbi with whom I was talking in a coffee shop when I innocently remarked that I was traveling to Israel and Palestine. …

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