|The Tomb of the Patriarchs, Hebron. A divided holy site in a divided city.|
I hoped that after having spent some months in the Holy Land I would have gained some clarity regarding the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine. The longer I stayed, however, the more confused I became. I had the opportunity to hear from people on both sides and found aspects of each narrative compelling. I cannot say that one side is all in the right while the other in the wrong. Unless things change dramatically, I do not see how things will change for the better. A critical problem, in my opinion, is the breakdown of communication. People on both sides of the conflict rarely get to personally know one another. They often don’t appreciate what the other thinks and why. This problem is hardly confined to the tensions between Israel and Palestine.
There seems to be growing division in many areas. Politics is becoming increasingly polarized. Within the Church factions can easily arise. In families a breakdown of communication is all too frequent. Disagreements are becoming more charged. Those on the other side are quickly dismissed, often in a nasty way. People don’t seem to be able to talk with those who have a different view than themselves, let alone trying to understand why they think as they do. This deterioration in dialogue is ironic considering we live in an age where technologies such as social media promise to make us more connected. It seems to do just the opposite. On Facebook for example, the algorithms of the program ensure that we generally see content we like and agree with. Hearing and learning from those we disagree with is not really facilitated. More traditional media operates similarly. The variety of newspapers and television newscasts cater to every taste. Unless we really make an effort, we tend to read, watch and listen to perspectives we find most in line with our own.
This fracturing of community goes contrary to our Christian understanding of what it means to be human. We believe that we are made in God’s image. God is a Trinity of three persons living in a perfect relationship of love. Though we are all unique individuals, we become more like God and therefore more human when we grow in deeper relationships with others. When we polarize into groups we move further away from how God intends us to live.
On the one hand, when we consider the various conflicts around us, whether it be between Israel and Palestine, local politics, the Church or within our own family, it can be tempting to despair because the situation is so complex and seemingly hopeless. On the other hand, the first and most important step towards peace is simple: we choose to get to know those on the other side, attempt to understand their point of view and empathize if possible, even if we disagree in the end. Maybe the other will not reciprocate, but we will never know until we try. Moreover, we need to seek to be agents of unity if we really believe we have been created in God’s own image.