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.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Religion, Geography and Human Dignity

This from a blog on the Haaretz website. (Much of the last paragraph rings so true for me).

by Shoshi Rosenbaum

I have been in Israel for two weeks, and I have not yet been to the old city, but I have been to Hebron. This has been far from a conscious decision; I have been meaning to go to the old city since I got here. But there has been much here to keep my roommates and me busy in terms of setting up our apartment, so we have spent more time in areas with stores that sell household items and food, such as Emek Refaim Street, which is a ten minute walk away from where we live, and our favorite place to buy delicious produce, the shuk.

I went to Hebron with an organization called Breaking the Silence, which was started by a group of Israeli soldiers who felt strongly that the general public--both Israelis and non-Israelis--should know what is going on in Hevron. The most striking part of this day trip for me was not the political-religious perspectives and implications of the groups and individuals we encountered. I am generally uncomfortable with extreme opinions from both sides, and this trip helped me explore to a larger degree why I feel that way. Physically standing in a place about which there is so much controversy--and actually experiencing the tensions there--was a raw, unparalleled learning experience for me.

We got on the bus, crossed the Green Line, and passed through 4 or 5 checkpoints to get to Hevron. We sat in the home of a Palestinian man who spoke to us about the damage that had been done to his house by the Israeli Army and how his sixteen-year-old son is beat up regularly by soliders because this man speaks with tours like this. We saw the ghost town that Hevron is today--small Palestinian roads that have been blocked so that Palestinian cars do not have access to the main roads. Closed shops covered with stars of David drawn in blue spray paint, reminiscent for me of Holocaust movies and pictures of swastikas. We saw settlers, dressed more or less in clothes like those that I wore in high school, walking on the streets. We experienced tension between ourselves and the soldiers on duty. We felt the tension between our group leader and the police officers that accompanied us on the tour.

And then, as if I were not conflicted enough already, I felt the religious significance of the place of Hebron. As we stood outside of Ma'arat HaMachpela, the Cave of the Patriarchs, I felt connected to the Bible and the significant ancestors whose tombs are there.

I felt as if my head were going to explode with the difficult thoughts and feelings that this trip evoked, but I left with one thought ringing in my ears:

I truly believe that human dignity is paramount and that religion is secondary. In situations such as these, God has far more to do with human dignity than with religion. I cannot relate to a God who uncompromisingly commands people to live in specific geographical locations or a God who orders people to refrain from leaving their homes in the most dire of circumstances. I am concerned with a God who cares deeply about humanity and the basic human dignity that each and every person deserves. And this realization leads to a new set of questions entirely, including: how to relate to others in the same religious tradition who do not agree with this core issue, and: how exactly should human dignity be defined, and how does that play out?