Maybe tired…maybe angry…maybe frustrated…but most likely just disappointed. It’s not as if this emotional state is new. Disappointment has been a significant part of my perspective on most things Middle Eastern since I first began to take the issues here seriously.
Perhaps my return to Jerusalem has just prodded it to the fore. Perhaps it is because one cannot hide from the realities in Jerusalem. Nor can one avoid the harsh brutality of the occupation of my sisters’ and brothers’ lives by Israel. But these realities are not the genesis of my disappointment. The hard truth is that I have come to expect this kind of behavior from Israel. Sadly, they are good at what they do. They actually have leaders in my country contemplating a third war in this rather contained corner of the world. Brilliant! How better to remove the focus of international eyes and ears from the inexorable taking of land and homes and heritage from Palestinian people than to point to Iran and shout, “They are evil! Hurt them and we will be secure!” Certainly Iran has some horrible characters leading it. Certainly many of them wish Israel harm. Certainly another nuclear nation in the region would be one more step in the wrong direction. But when a tiny, nuclear-armed country can bring my nation to the brink of sending thousands more of our sons and daughters to die in a pre-doomed attempt to bring peace and stability to the area, I must bow in adoration and appreciation of its powers of persuasion. I am not disappointed by Israel.
The obvious question then remains: If not Israel, then what? If not the Israelis, then whom?
In simplest form, I am deeply disappointed by the silence of prophets and the absence of prophetic leadership from those who are in good position to cry out for justice. It is no secret that I am growing older, and the long column of years behind me has left on deposit in my life’s savings a rich treasure of memories. I slogged through the experiences of what is termed the “Civil Rights Movement” in the 50s, the 60s, and the 70s. I was inspired by those men and women who refused to nestle in the comforting embrace of dialogue alone when it was little more than an inexpensive substitute for positive change. In other words it was easy then to speak of justice and equal rights. It was much more difficult to risk losing friends and position and prestige to try to make justice a reality. And I remember well that so many of those stood on the solid rock of their faith, bringing Martin Luther’s magnificent declaration into a 20th century context, “Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me. Amen.” I remember well the tragedy of apartheid and oppression in South Africa and South West Africa which gained in its freedom a new name–Namibia. The struggle, of course, belonged to the people of those lands, but all the rest of us were faced with the choice of where we would stand. Again, people of faith–Christians, Jews, and many others–chose to position themselves resolutely on the side of basic human rights for all people…and gradually the scales of justice were set right. In the other direction powerful voices–both within and outside the Church–intoned the grave admonition, “If we do not walk with the standard bearers of the status quo, the interests of the United States will surely suffer.” It became readily apparent that, simply put, when we both speak and act for right, we earn not only justice for others, but respect for ourselves.
I am disappointed by the thousands of visitors to this land who see for themselves the oppression under which Palestinians live, yet return home and keep silent, giving our leaders the impression that they do not oppose the occupation by Israel.
I am disappointed by the church when it will issue righteous pleas for feeding hungry children in its own country, but will simultaneously ignore the suffering children in Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank. I am aware that speaking out in behalf of our own children carries little risk, but speaking out against Israeli actions which produce grinding poverty and daily humiliation may result in angry reactions and even censure by neighbors and dialogue partners.
I am disappointed by the United States Administration and the Congress who continue to send billions of tax dollars to Israel each year to purchase weapons and weapons systems, especially when I see so many of those weapons aimed at those who only seek to keep their lands and their livelihood in peace. It would be one thing if weapons were used for defense alone, as they are legally intended, but they are not. Too often the arms are used to protect the illegal settlers as they take land and olive trees and security from Palestinians.
I am disappointed by many things and many people, but most of all because I believe that time is running out.
If there are any more prophets out there, please let us hear your voices. Justice and mercy can wait no longer.
Russell O. Siler