Last week I was driving around running errands, preparing for our daughters to arrive for a visit and for me to leave for Israel/Palestine. I changed into the left lane to zip ahead of an old blue-green mini station wagon. As I accelerated past I noticed the car was significantly bashed in as if from an accident. A man was driving the car, smoking a cigarette and talking on his cell phone.
Confession. Here are the three thoughts that went through my head: This guy is irresponsible, unsafe, and makes unhealthy choices.
All that from a 3 second glance in traffic!
If I had gotten close and talked to him I might have learned that he was on the phone with his pregnant wife who just went into labor. And maybe it wasn’t a cigarette, but a tootsie pop in his mouth. Perhaps he had been rear-ended by someone texting and driving, and he didn’t have the money to fix his car because he had lost his job in the recession.
Getting close might have given me a more compassionate posture towards this guy.
I have thought often of this 3 second drive by during my time here in Israel/Palestine. We know from the constant stream of words on the news that there is division and violence, and passionate feelings of injustice among Israelis, Palestinians, Jews, Christians, Muslims…But it’s hard to sort out the complicated details, so if you’re like me, you often tune out. It’s just too much.
Yep, you think…really bad stuff going on over there…And you try to label the clearest “bad guys” and “good guys” and be done with it.
Most Israelis have never spoken to a Palestinian and vice versa. Each are fearful of the other. They don’t know each other’s stories. And we don’t either.
The truest thing I’m learning about peace is that keeping people at a distance makes it easy to demonize them. But coming close topples the walls of misunderstanding.
It’s still not easy (and maybe that should be the truest thing!), but if I know someone’s story I better understand why they feel as they do. Why they act as they have acted.
Israelis have experienced bombings in their neighborhoods. Palestinians have had their homes demolished. Jews have endured the Holocaust. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg for all of them!
They each have important, painful stories to tell. And they long to be heard.
It’s easy for each to believe the worst about the other, just like it was for me to believe the worst about my guy in the station wagon. From a distance.
What have you learned about peace?