For the past fifteen years, I have been very involved in promoting a just peace in Israel/Palestine. Most of the U.S. media and the majority of Washington politicians are rather one-sided in their unequivocal stance with Israel. The human rights of the Palestinian Christians and Muslims doesn’t seem to register on their radar. At times, my actions have not been a very popular choice, causing many – including those close to me – to question my involvement.
My first answer to that question is, “Because we are all already involved.” The United States funds $3.8 billion per year in Israeli military aid that enables Israel to continue and expand upon its fifty-four-year occupation of the future Palestinian homeland, including the growth of illegal settlements in the West Bank. Last Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved disbursing another $1 billion dollars in military aid to Israel. Plainly, by any measure, we are involved, and you can’t be neutral on a moving train.
The other reason that I have invested so much of my time and energy to this issue is because the God who is revealed in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament is a God who stands with the oppressed. When I travel each year to the West Bank and hear the stories of Palestinians suffering the injustices and abuses they face on a daily basis, my heart breaks.
Ezekiel was a 6th Century BCE Jewish prophet who boldly stood up against the injustices and the corruption that affected his people. God spoke to him saying, “I sought for anyone among them who would repair the wall and stand in the breach…” God is saying, “The wall that surrounds the city has been broken. There is a gap. Who will stand in the gap and prevent the city’s collapse? Who will mend the evil of this city?” God was looking for one who would fortify the wall—one who would stand up for God and speak the truth and seek justice for all. One who would stand in the gap.
The Quaker author and educator Parker Palmer was asked in an interview about a phrase he often uses – “the tragic gap.” For him, the tragic gap is the gap between the hard realities, the suffering, the needs and the injustice we see all around us – and what we know we could do to help. He points out that the temptation is to move to one side or the other of this tragic gap. If we move more toward acceptance of the harsh realities, giving in to a state of mind that says, “that’s the way it’s always been and nothing is ever going to change”, we get stuck in corrosive cynicism. And if we move too far the other way, towards possibility, we can get caught up in irrelevant idealism. You float around in a dream saying, ‘wouldn’t it be nice if things were different, or if someone would…” Palmer notes:
These two extremes sound very different, but they have the same effect – both take us out of the gap. And the gap is where all the action is. That’s the gap Martin Luther King Jr stood in his entire life, the gap where Nelson Mandela [stood], the gap where Rosa Parks and Dorothy Day stood. I call it tragic because it’s a gap that will never close, as inevitable flaw in the human condition. No one who has stood for high values – love, truth, justice – has died being able to declare victory, once and for all. If we embrace values like those, we need to find ways to stand in the gap for the long haul, and be prepared to die without having achieved our goals.”
The tragic reality is that most of us feel far more comfortable clinging to the side of “acceptance of the harsh realities,” because we benefit from being silent.
On the floor of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, the words attributed to Martin Niemoller, the anti-Nazi Lutheran pastor, read:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
We all have a responsibility to stand in the gap. To speak up. To guard the human rights of everyone.