From Israel: I want to apologize for the unforgivable...

Every day in prayer my heart breaks for my extended family in both Israel and Palestine. They are my extended family, you see, because as a Christian I am united to "the people of the Book" through good times and bad. We all claim a common origin in the patriarch Abraham. We have all shared parts of the same ancient Holy Lands. And no matter how loud the hyperbole or histrionics by ill-informed or mean-spirited fundamentalists of any camp become, nothing can change this fact. As Sister Sledge put it in their 1979 dance groove: we ARE family...

Some of my spiritual cousins are Jews; they are colleagues and friends here and abroad whom I hold close to my heart in prayer each day. I studied Hebrew with the rabbi of Temple Beth-El (now Temple Beth Israel in Bay City) who was an Argentinian Jew serving a congregation in Saginaw, MI. During my first trip to the former Soviet Union, our peace group spent time at Auschwitz, an encounter with horror and dread that will never leave me. Some of my in-laws are Jewish - their beloved forced to flee from Russia during the pogroms of the early 20th century - and my wife is a student of biblical Hebrew. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel is a treasured elder in my spirituality. And I am in love with the words of the Hasidic tales of wisdom as recounted by Buber and Wiesel as well as the music of the klezmer.

Simultaneously, some of my other spiritual cousins are Palestinians and Arabs. One of my spiritual directors in Tucson, AZ was a second generation Arab whose family had roots in the Christian realm of Syria. He would pray the Lord's Prayer with me in Arabic at the close of our sessions. Others in my extended family have recently served as international monitors for peace in Palestine where their lives were changed forever by the realities on the ground. And I can never forget that the one I know as Messiah - Jesus of Nazareth - was born in the Palestinian town of Bethlehem and walked the region when it was occupied by Rome. (For the past few years I have been looking for a small book that contains a picture of the house Christ's mother, the Virgin Mary, spent her final years within after St. John took her to Ephesus in modern day Turkey. And while cleaning my study yesterday, I came across it!)

I take these connections with my extended family seriously. In every city I have lived in, my ministry has included ways of being in solidarity with both Jews and Muslims. I cherish our links - they are a source of hope and fidelity to me - and yet they break my heart every day. This morning in prayer I read a posting from Bradley Burston, a columnist for the Israeli paper, Ha'aretz, called "An Israeli Jew's Apology." It is an honest and anguished reflection on the escalating revenge murders currently taking place in both Palestine and Israel. Specifically, it is his lament over the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir - a 13 year old Palestinian boy beaten and burned alive by fanatical Jewish nationalists - in retaliation for the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli youthNaftali Frenkel (16), Gilad Shaer (16) and Eyal Yifrah (19). 

Burston expresses what I often feel in my own heart: "I owe you an apology" he writes. "I owe you many, in fact. Many more than I have space for here. But a person has to begin somewhere. So I'll begin with what's right in front of me, right now. I want to apologize for the unforgivable..." (read the whole article @

Today, like so many others, I grieve and wait in silence. Last night I was reading Sari Nusseibeh's memoirs, Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life. In it he describes a lecture once given at Hebrew University:

How is it, I asked, that an act of the will can turn one thing into its opposite? Standing on the stage before a crowd of Israeli students and faculty, I said, we needed to develop the miraculous knack of turning hatred into under-standing. Their response taught me that we didn't have to wait for an act of divine intervention, however appreciated it would have been. The empathy those in the audience showed, their lack of public hostility, revived in my the belief... that some mysterious bond connects our two people. We are allies.
I trust this to be true. I trust that hearts committed to compassion are stronger than lives consumed by fear and hatred. And I trust that God's heart aches for this family to find a way into real peace, security, justice and hope. In my tradition, however, the way we move from anguish and fear into trust involves forgiveness. Apologies are part of the process, of course, but always incomplete. I have also come to believe that most of the time politicians are unable to find their way towards peace or forgiveness because their careers are defined by appealing to their base. I don't mean to say that they don't want peace in their hearts, but their public roles keep them from moving in deep and bold ways. There are exceptions, to be sure, but all too often our politicians are in bondage to the status quo.

 So today, in addition to this lament, I pray the words of St. Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.


Peter said…
It takes tremendous courage to raise these issues where you are, and in trying to make a difference where you are. Before we left for Palestine, our daughter wrote us each a note, saying, in part, that she admired us for leaving our comfort zone to do what was right.

We see that you have not had to leave Pittsfield to leave your comfort zone to do what is right. We admire that.

"Love transforms us. We become an ode opening
it's windows to be recited and finished by doves.
We become a meaning that returns sap
to invisible trees on our souls' embankments.
Fly then, O birds, in the village squares of my heart, fly!
For what use is our thought if not for mankind?"
--Mahmoud Darwish
Peter Banks said…
Thanks for this. I, too, have just returned from a short while in Palestine which was life changing (more on my blog).

That photograph over the wall is so moving.


ddl said…
Peter-- I love the poem that you included in your comments. Do you know the poet's background?
Peter said…
Peter, I had the privilege of visiting the organization that put together the Bet Lahem festival, the Holy Land Trust, and they struck me as right-on and positive. I remember wishng that we could be there in June for their festival--sounded fab.

ddl, Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008) was a Palestinian poet who, like so many Palestinians, lived in exile in his own country. His poetry reflected a sense of a Palestine that had been an Eden for his people, now lost and stolen. I found that just about any Palestinian I spoke with knew of him: how many ordinary people in North America know of our fine poets?
Peter Banks said…
Yes, Peter, we spent our daytimes in the hands of some of the wonderful folk from the Holy Land Trust. Did you meet Sami Awad when you were there? Check out some of his talks online, inspiring and challenging stuff!

Best, PB
Peter said…
Yes, Peter, I think so. I met a half dozen people there, and was there only once, unfortunately. I'll check him out online. Thanks!
RJ said…
Banksy: I LOVE your blog posts on this subject and want to know more! Thank you for posting... and Peter I am so moved by your kind words - and the poetry, too.
ddl said…
Peter-- I have just ordered three of the books that Mahmoud Darvish has -- The Butterfly's Burden, The Presence of Absence, and A Journal of an Ordinary Grief. I am hoping that they arrive before my retreat next week. I love the titles! Thank you for introducing the work to me. I look forward to maybe sharing reflections with my congregation and possibly with you. Blessings and thank you again.
Peter said…
Ddl, by all means share, having enjoyed (and endured--his work can be a downer, and understandably so). I look forward to hearing from you. Blessings on your retreat and your journey.



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