A Gathering Voices Post by Rev. Martin Otto Zimmann
In Matthew 18: 21-22, Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive someone. Peter believes he is being generous when he throws out, “Seven times?” Jesus once again trumps Peter’s piety by raising the bar—77 times.
This is what forgiveness is: extravagant, radical, and over the top. It is not literally a process of saying the words “I forgive you” 77 times, but living life as if each moment were imbued with a sense of understanding the rationale of the other to the point where we cannot do anything but forgive them. Or as one of my friends in the Middle East recently quipped, “The Bible doesn’t say I have to like them, but I guess I have to love them.”
In lieu of President Obama’s recent declaration that we have met the enemy, and it is ISIS, the ongoing conflict in Palestine and Israel will now sink into media oblivion while the people of Gaza struggle to put together some semblance of an infrastructure after the recent Israeli military onslaught in exchange for a few rockets lobbed by Hamas extremists into southern Israel. Entire neighborhoods were bombed and destroyed by the Israeli military. Many believe that Israel’s ongoing war of attrition is using every incentive possible to disenfranchise Palestinians until they give up and leave so Israelis can take all the land for themselves. It’s a strategy that has been in play since 1948, and very few public figures are willing to speak of it lest they become branded as anti-Semitic.
Please understand, both Israelis and Palestinians have a right to self-determination, but we’ve been coopted into their ethnic warfare because of mitigating factors dating back to the Middle Ages and our own burden of institutional racism which has a way of sneaking into our geo-political discourse.
When I lived in Jerusalem and served as Assistant to Bishop Munib Younan, the current President of the Lutheran World Federation and Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, I began to notice that at every opportunity, he spoke the same phrase: “We need a peace based on justice with reconciliation and forgiveness.” This was not some tired rhetoric coming from a pundit, but a core conviction being shared by a man who carried on his person a UN refugee card. I mention this because all too often the picture of Palestinians perpetrated by the western media is one of stone-throwing thugs whose faces are wrapped in keffiyehs and whose words cry out for the death of infidels.
Palestinian extremists represent a sliver of their society, yet we in the West are all too eager to lump all Palestinians together for the sake of expediency so we can feel better about the fact that our foreign aid and military technology helped the Israelis bomb the Gaza strip back to the Stone Age. Similarly, Israeli extremists compel the Knesset to act hawkish in ways that it perhaps would not were a more moderate voice heard without recrimination. There are many Israelis who do not agree with their government’s actions towards Palestinians.
In 1995, a self-professed Christian name Timothy McVeigh detonated a bomb in Oklahoma City, destroying a federal building, murdering 166 and wounding over 600. Did we immediately bomb Michigan back into the Stone Age? Did we assume all Christians residing in the Mitten State were terrorists or militant fanatics? Did the Western media attempt to lump all the citizens of Michigan together under a banner of terror or ethnic cleansing? Of course not.
Yet time and again, we see images coming out of the Holy Land that dehumanize and criminalize an entire people, the vast majority of whom are longing for peace and the right to live their lives the same way we do from day to day. Sometimes these people are Israeli, sometimes they are Palestinian. One cannot paint either group with a wide brush—we must take the time to painfully understand the complicated nuances of each people and each context.
Whom should the Palestinians and Israelis forgive 77 times (besides each other)? Perhaps you and me, for our complacency, our ignorance, and our “might is right” foreign policy. We need to receive forgiveness from the Palestinians and the Israelis, because we are complacent and not holding our government accountable for foreign policy decisions that prolong this horrible conflict. We are called to love ALL our Middle Eastern neighbors as ourselves. Let us pray they have the resilience to return the favor, 77 times over.
About the Author: