I brought a t-shirt back from Palestine for a friend of mine. Nothing too political, just a navy t-shirt with "Palestine" in English & Arabic and a picture of a tree. Someone at the conference had bought an identical one, and I liked the look of it. (It was also ridiculously cheap, but that's another story...)
For some reason I didn't get round to giving it to him until last week. Mainly because it had been at the bottom of a pile of junk on my bedroom floor. He was pleased, but was worried about whether it was safe to wear it on the streets of London. I told him not to worry, and that it would be fine - he just probably shouldn't wear it if he was ever in Golders Green. (An area with a large Jewish community in north London.)
On Saturday I went round to his house & he was wearing it. He mentioned that he had felt a little uncomfortable wearing it in public, and we ended up having a long discussion about the whole Israel-Palestine thing. Admittedly, I had bought him the t-shirt so that I could recruit him to the cause (so to speak!) and to provoke a discussion, but the reality was rather hard work.
He doesn't know much of the history and did have an Israeli flatmate for over 2 years (who lost a friend in a suicide bombing during that time), so didn't really have an opinion on the conflict. What he did say was that he didn't want to take sides because it was politics and he didn't want to get into it. The bottom line, according to him, was that there needed to be peace but that at the same time this would be nearly impossible because of the hatred felt between the two groups and the huge amount of re-education that was needed. We spent ages talking about the land issue. He kept saying "but if you took the land out of it, then what?" - I tried to explain that you couldn't take the land out of it, because that's what it always boils down to! My biggest point was that what I want is justice - as well as peace. As a Christian himself, he ought to recognise just how important that is. What I saw with my own eyes was a people being oppressed because of their race. That's unjust and needs to stop.
Don't get me wrong, he didn't disagree with how I feel, he just doesn't feel able to take sides and doesn't like the fact that the conflict is so political and there's no clear way out of it. Interestingly, this was the first time I'd really talked to him about the trip - despite the fact that he lives round the corner & I see him all the time. For some reason I just hadn't been able to put it into words, possibly because he's so close to me it was just easier not to. But as our discussion wore on, the emotions I felt when I was there came back.
- The times when the situation seemed helpless, when there were no straight-forward answers.
- The futility of day to day life of Palestinians.
- The endless stories of the loss of land and homes.
I tried to explain that by some miracle not all these people are full of hatred. That on the Israeli side many people just have no idea what's going on. That suicide bombers are a tiny minority on both sides. But it's so hard to be coherent and explain a situation that defies explanation.
I'm glad we had the discussion and broken the ice on the topic. I'm not going to hassle him about it, he's entitled to his opinion and in many ways it's right not to take sides - but so difficult. Interestingly, we watched To Kill a Mockingbird last night, which brought up the topic of racism and segregation again, so there will be more opportunities for discussion. And for me at least it was a chance to talk through the massive frustrations of the whole situation.