By Harry Akehurst
Responsible people today don’t need to be told that there are two sides to each argument: we can recognize propaganda; we perceive motives and opposing points of view; we’ve grown adept at netting substance from rhetoric, and instinctively suspicious of attempts to dictate a right or wrong.
The Rev. Canon Naim Ateek strove hard to appeal to this common sense in his brief introduction to the Israel/Palestine conflict, at the Young Adults Festival lunch on July 13, sympathising with all sides and reassuring all of his frank objectivity.
I’m far from convinced. Following a little provocation and insightful questioning from his audience, a glimpse of the anger, resentment and sorrow which colours so much of this debate – and from which rational people so instinctively shrink in our efforts to remain objective – became apparent.
Ateek’s emotion emerged because he stands for justice. Let’s be clear: this is not a conflict between equals; over 50 years of displacement, terror and death leave no ambiguity about where justice most desperately needs to be applied.
But maybe there is still another, murkier side to the situation. As Christians we often bundle the words ‘justice’ and ‘peace’ together, as if they were mutually inclusive. But they aren’t. Consider peaceful regions of the world today: was justice ever done in this country by its indigenous people? Ever done in Europe, where oppressive empires have become established nations, despite their ethnic roots in many exploited, conquered peoples?
Justice in the Middle East would be devastating. Israel would be demolished by tanks and F16s, exactly the way it has dealt with Palestine. Justice demands it. Peace, however, may demand something else. What if, for peace, somebody must surrender their claim on Jerusalem? Many are prepared to march at their oppressors in the name of peace: is there anybody prepared to crawl away, so that nobody more need die?
If we let a bully go, and live alone in a peaceful victory forged in terror and religious lunacy, might we not have done better than if we stood our ground? We must – our duty to life demands it – we absolutely must respond to this conflict, but what should be our rallying cry? As Christians, how can we choose between peace and justice?
Harry Akehurst is from the Scottish Episcopal Church.