When I heard the newly sworn-in president of the United States mention Jericho in his inauguration speech, I wondered whether he had ever been to the real Jericho, a place I drive by each week.
President George W. Bush wanted to illustrate his new administration’s vision of compassion when he referred to the biblical story of the good Samaritan.
“When we pass that injured traveler on the way to Jericho we will not turn a blind eye,” he informed his fellow citizens and the rest of the world.
The Jericho reference is from the New Testament and is the story of a man who was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was mugged and left, half dead, on the side of the road.
Two others passed the injured traveler by, even though they were men of faith and from the same religion as he. A third man, a Samaritan (i.e., from an opposing religion) stopped and assisted the injured man by taking him to a nearby inn and paying his expenses.
I am not sure whether Bush was aware that, as he spoke, modern-day Jericho was still under a siege placed upon it by the Israeli army.
The citizens of Jericho, like those of all Palestinian areas, have found themselves in a large prison for over two months, with movement in and out of the cities banned, except in cases of extreme emergency.
If I or any other person, traveling on that same road from Jerusalem to Jericho, had been involved in an accident, it is unlikely that an ambulance from Jericho would have been allowed to reach the scene of the accident in time to be of any assistance.
Of course there is no doubt that Bush’s reference was meant to be taken figuratively.
I also feel it worthy of mention that the compassion of the US towards the peoples of the Middle East is very welcome.
The US and other Western countries have, for years, poured billions of dollars in military aid into Israel, as well as into other countries in the region.
A wiser and more compassionate use of such money, however, would certainly be the investment in greater effort in changing the unhealthy realities.
Americans, who themselves cherish freedom and independence, should be the first to identify with the yearnings of the Palestinians to rid themselves of the yoke of occupation and oppression.
Changing realities must begin with righting the wrongs that have accumulated because of US and Western apathy to clear violations – by Israel – of international law. Not only does Israel continue in its policy of collective punishment, but it persists in taking Palestinian lands to accommodate the expansion of exclusively Jewish settlements and the roads leading to them.
In addition to the daily slayings of Palestinians, the Israeli army has been shown, on television, uprooting trees and reshaping the Palestinian landscape in retaliation for resistance.
Showing compassion to the injured on the road to Jericho requires first truth and then justice.
In political terms this translates to a fresh and honest review by the US of its policies in the region.
The US, under Bush, should begin by saying what it really stands for and meaning what it says.
On paper, American positions vis–vis the Arab-Israeli conflict are fine. But truth requires implementing these policies and not just giving them lip service.
Justice and fairness also mean that the US should stop its policy of a double-standard and be consistent when dealing with all the parties in the region.
It can’t push for strict implementation of the UN resolutions against Iraq while turning a blind eye to the resolutions against Israel.
The potential for peace and tranquility in the Middle East is greater today than ever before. But as the potential for peace increases, so do the possibilities of the region exploding.
Showing compassion to the injured traveler on the way to Jericho requires giving the Middle East time and making it a priority without compromising justice and a sense of fairness.