Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Know Your Enemy

Speaking in the United States about the injustices I see perpetrated against Palestinians brings a variety of responses. Some are curious, some are supportive, some are informed, some are ignorant, some are opinionated, and some are hostile. Speaking recently at a church in Northern California, the responses were, as expected, varied.

At the conclusion of one of the church services, I was approached by a man in his early 60's. I am becoming increasingly adept at recognizing whether someone wants to 'tell me something' or 'ask me something.' It was obvious this man wanted to 'tell me something.'

“So I've been reading a book I found in my mother's things. It says that the land that is now Israel and Palestine, used to be called Judea, did you know that?”

“Yes, I had heard that. Formerly Judea, in the Bible, and the West Bank was called the Judean and Samarian deserts.”

“Also, I read that the modern day Palestinians are actually descendants of the Philistines. Goliath was a Philistine, and Philistines were always enemies of God.”

My mind begins to race with things I would like to say. “So you are making the connection between Philistines, enemies of God, and Palestinians. Are you saying that Palestinians are enemies of God?”

But instead I respond, “well, it seems pretty hard to make these statements about a large people group. I mean 10% of Palestinians are Christians. So regardless of what position you come from, it's impossible to say that Palestinians, as a people, are enemies of God. (I resist going down a more interfaith path claiming that people of faith abiding by principles of peace and love couldn't possibly be enemies of God, whether they were Muslim, Christian, Jewish, etc.).

The man pauses, seeming pensive, “you know, I have been a truck driver for 40 years. I have come across a lot of folks who I thought would be enemies. And the majority of the time, they turn out to not be enemies.” And with this statement the man turned to walk away.

I was stuck by the profundity of the man's words. So often our preconceptions and prejudices are unfounded; they may be based on fear, experience, or ethnocentrism. This truck driver reminded me that before we label people as enemies, we must meet those people and hear their stories, attempting to understand who they are.