As I was following the news of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza on various television news networks, I managed to steal a glimpse of a poster written by an ultranationalist Israeli settler which read: “How can you evacuate us from the land God gave to us?” The next day as I was making my way through the Kalandia checkpoint to go to my work in Ramallah, I bumped into an old Palestinian woman covered in dust and mud after the ordeal she encountered in crossing the checkpoint. As I managed to squeeze past her I heard her mumble the phrase: “O God! Avenge us.” I paused for an instant as I thought about the Israeli settler’s plea and the Palestinian woman’s counterplea to God, each sticking to their subconscious conviction that God was ultimately on their side. I tried to think of God’s position on this matter and whether He will interfere in giving back the land to the Israeli settler who so confidently claims it is his, and whether he will avenge the Palestinian woman for the suffering inflicted upon her as she passes the Kalandia checkpoint.
Drowning in my own thoughts, I recalled a saying that I once heard: “In times of conflict and war, God cries for both sides.” From that powerful saying one can fairly deduce that God is neither with the Israeli nor with the Palestinian, and one can only conclude that God will not intervene to solve political conflicts and wars caused by the very creature God favoured above all. As human beings, we have to rid ourselves of this constant dependency on divine intervention to redeem us from pain and suffering that we force upon each other. We simply cannot fold our arms and expect God to do our work for us. Human beings are the ones who classify each other and act with feigned superiority toward one another, forgetting that we are all united by one classification: that we are human beings made in God’s image and example. If the world today is catastrophic and full of hatred, it is not because God is not interfering; it is because we are abusing one of the most gracious gifts God gave to us: free will.
As Israelis and Palestinians in today’s reality we are put to a big test; we are both rooted in this land and, if God is what I was brought up to believe He is, then it is preposterous to believe that He would want to give land to a certain people at the expense of another, and He certainly would not want to punish a people for controlling another. God is neither a real estate agent nor a punisher; He is much bigger than that. It is up to us to reach a mutual understanding and solve the conflict that we, human beings, have prolonged. In order for us to be able to live side by side with each other as blood brothers in the land that is very dear to all of us, one of the numerous conclusions that we need to reach is that our God is one of mercy, justice, compassion and love, not one who is biased to preferring one side over the other. Is it not time for us to live by the true teachings of the monotheistic religions, and not simply abide by certain misinterpreted religious criteria that suit our political purpose? We simply cannot afford to rely on certain theologies which continue to incite hatred and superiority to fit into certain political agendas, especially given the direction our world is going.
The Israeli settler and the Palestinian woman turned to religious arguments when they were disappointed by the useless politics of the conflict. Besides, what stronger political claim can one propose other than one that includes God Himself? If the Israeli settler offers this argument as an alibi to justify the occupation of and hostility towards the Palestinians and the Palestinian woman turns to God to collectively punish the Israelis for what the occupation is doing to Palestinians, then in that particular context one can assume that religions are nothing but contradictory. If both the Israeli settler and Palestinian woman would deliberate for an instant as to whether such a belief and theology would truly serve the cause of peace and reconciliation in a land so desperately seeking them, then I am quite positive that their conclusion would be that the utilization of such stubbornness in sticking to harmful religious misinterpretations can only breed hatred and further disrespect, thus foretelling of a future counterproductive to peace and coexistence.
Ever since my childhood years in the streets of Jerusalem, I still remember when my father used to take me up to look at the Old City from my grandparents’ rooftop; I was always fascinated by the closeness of religious icons and as a child I had shivers run down my spine every time I heard the Christian church bells toll with the Muslim and Jewish call for prayer at sunset. A sense of sacredness used to emerge within myself emphasizing the affinity of the monotheistic religions and celebrating the unity of humanity. For me, as an innocent child, this was a natural declaration that monotheistic religions were complementary. It is only when I grew up and started to learn the way our political world functions and how some people go to shocking extremes, such as using religions for political motive, is when I was painfully disappointed. Today the question still remains; will the message of monotheism, a message that preaches righteousness, justice and tolerance, uncover the veil of dominant misinterpretations which preach the exact contrary? I believe the answer for that is not in the hands of God, but in our hands, especially given the signs and clues of hatred and intolerance that continue to environ us.