Israel and Palestine, a listening tour

Hope springs eternal. This week, as President Barack Obama makes the first visit of his presidency to Israel, Palestine, and … Continued

Hope springs eternal. This week, as President Barack Obama makes the first visit of his presidency to Israel, Palestine, and Jordan, I am hopeful. I am hopeful because he visits the land where Jesus performed his miracles, a land where the unexpected seems to be commonplace. I am hopeful because the most powerful person on Earth is going to one of the most volatile regions on the planet to listen. Not to bring answers or solutions, but to listen to people from both sides of the conflict. I am hopeful, because I know what this kind of activity has done in my own life and in the lives of many others.

Before the summer of 2008, I was what could best be described as a “default Zionist.” As an evangelical Christian, I knew that the Bible said some things about supporting Israel and didn’t give the situation much more thought than that. Then, I spent a summer in Lebanon learning Arabic and working with Palestinian refugees, and my entire perspective changed. As I listened to story after story from the Lebanese and Palestinians, I gained a greater understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The problem was that I only understood one side.

Returning home, I became active in different organizations that dealt with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I felt like I was being faithful to my Lebanese and Palestinian friends, but noticed that my one-sidedness didn’t build any bridges with my evangelical friends. At first, I thought this was due to their ignorance of “how it really is over there,” but then I realized that I really didn’t have a complete picture either. I began to realize that this unbalanced view would not help me participate in the resolution of the conflict, but would instead keep me stuck perpetuating it. By taking sides, I had become part of the problem instead of being part of a solution. I realized that, not only did I not understand the Israeli narrative, I didn’t really want to. So I sought another trip to the Middle East that would help me understand the “other” side, which I found through the Just Peacemaking Institute at Fuller Seminary.

I was drawn by the idea that it would be a “dual narrative” trip, attempting to gain understanding of the conflict from both sides through listening and conversation. Often, people visit Israel and Palestine and hear only one side of the story. This leaves people with inaccurate, and often unhelpful, understandings of the situation. Not only did the trip help me understand both narratives, but also the vast complexities within each side.

With this stronger understanding of the conflict, I can identify myself as pro-peace, pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian! Both Israelis and Palestinians are suffering greatly from the conflict, and now my sense of urgency to be part of a just, secure, and peaceful resolution is multiplied. I have been able to meet people wherever they are on the spectrum of understanding and help them see the other side a little bit more clearly. This is a main focus of the non-profit I now lead: Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding (EMEU). Our bridge-building efforts focus on listening and building dialogue that leads to greater understanding of the complexities of the region.

Civil society groups like EMEU have the unique ability to gain from interpersonal connections with those from both sides of a conflict to find a path toward peace. I know that this is not always an easy task for those in government, who must enter diplomatic discussions gingerly and always keep political implications in mind. But As Obama visits Israel, Palestine and Jordan, I am hopeful that he will still take a page from my book. I am hopeful that he will see the value in listening to all sides. I am hopeful that he will extol the benefits of civil society groups practicing peacemaking at the interpersonal level. And I am hopeful that we can all take a moment to listen.

Adam Estle is Executive Director of Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding.

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  • xexon

    I think Obama made the right approach in talking to Israel’s youth. They are the future, and they don’t have nearly the love of political zionism as do the elders.

    Question is, can they become a force before one of the elders pushes the button?


  • macnietspingal1

    Now that YaHWeH or No Way is accepted by The New Jerusalem Bible, Jewish Virtual Library, and Wikipedia, the year 2013 and the Bible and HAKORAN can be recycled from now on with vigor and scientific foundations. No more deceit and fraud about the OT, Original Testament.

    I would ask Abbas, what in the world Suras 3:3 and 2:113 mean in their Constitution. I would ask our USA President and our Maryland Governor the same thing. I can answer that question myself but I’m nobody. Just a poor old lady that was lucky to get a valuable education in using Hebrew at the same time I learned to read English. My brain evolved in reading both from right to left and left to right at both Van Ness Elementary School on L St SE and at the original South East Hebrew Congregation on 9th St SE. I was on welfare which makes it a miracle that I got that education. Hebrew education in the USA is very expensive.

    But that naive skill without being really skilled orally and terribly slow in translating is still the rock upon which my 83YO brain operates. All of you who think this is ridiculous might be on Marijuana or some such. Turning out , lots of outspoken naysayers might be on mental drugs. They might not know Hebrew too. So what do they know? Latest news this morning about killings in USA based on druged kids with guns. Makes me suspicious of their parents you know. So I’d like to see more comments where people tell us if they can translate the Original Testament from the Hebrew themselves. I’d like to see more Washington Post Opinion writers tell us if they read the Original Testament in Hebrew. Makes a huge difference to me.