Matthew 19:19″ Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
This is a commandment of God… and as far as I know…my neighbor is he who dwells in my midst… in the same neighborhood … working with me in the same field… and living in the same situation.
I am often faced with these questions posed to me not only by my conscience but also by other Christian brothers and sisters. Sometimes they are just visitors inquiring, or testing my faith. They see my situation and immediately they ask: How do you do it? … If you are a real believer and you want to abide by the commandment of God, how do you feel towards Jews? Do you regard them as your enemy? Can you see them as neighbors?
Well, let me see. When did I first know a Jew? How did I learn about the Jewish people?
As a Christian born in Jerusalem and lived after the 1967 war, I know the Jewish people first as an army or as a police force. I remember seeing them around the old city in their traditional dresses. They live in huge buildings around our neighborhood and on the road to Al-Quds. Why do they live in these huge buildings? Why their buildings have very small windows? Why do they block the roads on Yom Kipur and why we cannot move and go to work and school on that day?
At the age when I was at school and then at the university, I learned that the Jews were occupying our land. Most of them came here from Europe. They were promised the land by the British and were accommodated here by them. This is what I knew about them. During my years at the university, it was the first Intifada when stones were thrown at Israeli Jeeps. They were Jews for us. They broke bones of young men who were stoning them… and they were coming to the University gates to be hit!!! Anyway… Things became worse at the university when they started putting road blocks and check points. It meant to me, as a Jerusalemite, walking under the sun or rain for few kilometers before I can get a cab to the university which was in Bethlehem. It left a very hard feeling inside each and every one of us. We could not believe the way we became separated. For the first time Bethlehem and Jerusalem are held apart!!!
Afterwards and in business life… It started through my father’s profession… He used to represent Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) in East Jerusalem covering the West Bank and Gaza agents. Administratively he had to report to the Tel Aviv office. They were all Jews… I remember he used to speak highly of some of them, actually most of them. His Boss was a respectable man of the industry. These were different type of Jews to us. They were not neighbors… they did not live in Jerusalem even, but they felt like neighbors. Tourism became also my profession too and in this field I had some Jewish acquaintances “colleagues” and it was solely business like at first. More and more in business I got to be introduced to my father’s colleagues too who gave us a feeling of more closeness, they used to kiss and hug like us, the Arabs… maybe because we were living within the same company: SAS. Later in my career I took a position representing the Hotel Industry in Palestine. Under certain International umbrellas we were to have multi lateral talks, cooperation and participation in fairs and events. I got to know my Jewish /Israeli counterparts… Some of them became friends and hugs and kisses became the norm when we meet even when we were negotiating. They introduced us to their Government officials and tried to assist us in solving our problems because they believed that if our problems are solved it is good for the business since the whole business was connected … If tourists are unable to easily access Bethlehem then they don’t come… and neither of us would be working. This was the kind of a relation that made us see in one direction sometimes.
Well, back to my perception on the Jewish people…where did they come from? How I became more aware after this personal experience? Well, it came by coincidence. I was interested in collecting data on Palestinian Christians. Numbers, statistics and history… Then, I was faced by the Jewish history and statistics in this land, and I started discovering that there were Jews here; they were also called Palestinians, at least during the British mandate, and there are the Jews who came from Europe after WWII. There are the new comers, the new immigrants who are here in huge numbers and getting more and more our place in this land.
Coming back to the question WHO IS MY NEIGHBOUR? Among all of those, in my personal experience, from the books, and around me, who is my neighbor? Our Lord was asked the same question once and He answered with the story of “the good Samaritan” who made good to a Jew, who saved even his life, while another Jew and a priest walked by without caring. At the end Our Lord showed us that our neighbor’s origin and beliefs are not the question and have asked us to be good neighbors no matter who is our neighbor. But, wait a moment…What about the thieves who hit the Jew? They were in the story but Jesus was not asked about them…
Do I have a Jewish neighbor? To answer that …I will start from my neighborhood. I live in Beit Hanina a suburb in north Jerusalem on the way to Ramallah. From my windows I can see the wall separating my neighborhood from my old neighborhood in Al Ram… Who built this wall? …and made me lose my home there… It was Israel… Who is Israel in “the Good Samaritan” story? …Back to the surrounding neighborhoods… Yes, there is a settlement next to us that I remember back from my childhood “Nevi Yacov” – Al Nabi Yacoub , a biblical name.. In this settlement I know nobody there. Next to it is Pizgat Zeev. It is a city not only a settlement, with a big mall … it was built recently and it grew wildly as if it was racing time… On which land is it built?? …I have many questions but this is not the issue now… or is it? My neighbor is there and this settlement is built on occupied East Jerusalem: so what kind of a neighbor is he? Is he a Jew?…Which one?…The one who was hit or the priest or is he the thief?
Next…In East Jerusalem… and around the east of East Jerusalem it is all settlements… it is all the same case. Crossing to West Jerusalem there are Jews dwelling in houses sometimes settlement like but there are old houses too. The old houses though… Some of them still carry Arab names and signs on their façade. So! Did they buy those houses? I know many families coming from there, Arab Palestinians, who tell the stories of these neighborhoods in Baqaa, Talpiot and Qatamon… Their parents left their homes in 1948 fearing death after the Zionist massacres especially in Deir Yasin… Well now there are Jews occupying their family homes. Are these Jews my neighbor?
…. If I go further geographically into and around the West Bank then, I see the Jews in army suits and police vehicles at check points, or settlers with settler roads etc…If I go to Tel Aviv area I might find some friends there, not wearing military outfits but business suits. Both are Jews but I receive them differently…For me as a Palestinian Christian, a Jew is a faithful person in his own faith. He might be my neighbor and he might be my enemy. Well Jesus asked us to love our enemy too but this does not mean to accept the evil that he exerts against me. If he is a settler or an aggressor and I am asked to love him then I have to help him free himself from the “evil” of aggression. Lately I was engaged in a theological exercise, called Kairos Palestine, similar to the process Churches carried out in South Africa against Apartheid…In our process this particular issue was tackled and we agreed that we need to resist the evil in our enemy as a sign of love. So I believe I need to resist the evil in my Jewish neighbor as long as he is occupying my land and oppressing my people with the different policies and actions.
I have come to the conclusion after all these years, research and experience that all Jews are all my neighbors, but some need to be healed from the evil of enmity, or aggression against me or my people. I also see that I am commanded by my faith to love all Jews but at the same time resist the evil in their sin of occupation and their illegally settling in confiscated land and those killing my people, and oppressing us with policies that are discriminating and those who implement and help implement Apartheid..I will love my friends in Tel Aviv and all our colleagues who work with us for Justice and Peace…These are my Jewish neighbors and the rest are my enemies that I will continue to resist with love until they become free of their sin by ending their occupation in my land and on my people. Only then, I believe it will be possible for us to build together a new and peaceful neighborhood.