A little more news about the Jewish Boat to Gaza has been filtering in. Without trying to sound jaded, I suppose it is what one would expect given the situation, Israel’s Ynet News recently reported an unnamed ministry official as saying that Yonatan Shapira “has joined the ranks of Hamas.” The official, in a harsh aside, continues by stating that Reuven Moskovitz, the 82-year-old Holocaust survivor on board “has probably not learned anything from the terrible past.”
The response to that accusation, I should think, is that Mr. Mokovitz apparently learned the most important lesson of all: how to forgive. In an interview before the Irene was launched he was asked to explain his life’s mission. He told the reporter that it has become that of turning foes into friends. Referring to Jews and Palestinians he said, “We are two peoples, but we have one future.” When one is intent on imposing control and holding on to power, it is easy to forget what is obvious to those who have given up the need to be on top.
I check to see what the Israeli military have to say about the interception of this small boat. No surprises there either. Despite the eye witness testimony by the Israelis of the repeated use of a Tazer gun against Yonatan, they report that, “The boarding occurred [sic] without incident and no violence of any kind was used by either the passengers onboard or the Israel naval forces.”
Yonatan, in a journal posted before their catamaran was intercepted, describes the commitment of all on board. “We do not intend to fight the IDF, even though we have every right to do so. We chose non-violence as a tactic and as a strategy but we do not intend to give up easily until the moment they arrest and handcuff a Holocaust survivor and the bereaved father, right down to the last passenger on the boat.” What is impressive is that reportedly, all those on board are Jews, and they are risking their freedom if not their lives to resist an act of gross inhumanity and redress what they believe to be a cruel injustice committed against non-Jews.
This morning we flew South 2.5 hours and landed at Will Rogers Airport in Oklahoma City. It is hot and dry when we leave the terminal. For me, it’s perfect. At 5:00 pm we are in the Art Gallery on the campus of Oklahoma Christian University (OCU) for a donor event. We are in Mart Green’s home town where EGM is headquartered, so the room is quickly filled with his friends and business associates along with members of the school’s administration.
I regard meet and greets as first step on the slippery slope leading unavoidably to a forced committal to a mental institution. If I were to be assigned the role of activities director of the hot, nether region, I would require 24/7 attendance at such social events. Plus, it is murder on my lower spine. Standing and talking awkwardly to strangers is thus, literally, a very real and persistent pain in the back.
I opt to sit and talk with the good Rabbi Avi. I learn that he grew up in an Orthodox Israeli home but has since become a part of Conservative Judaism. Today is the last day of Succot which means that after the Q&A tonight he will not be allowed to get on our bus. Instead, he will walk several miles to the home of some Jewish friends. He is also forbidden to hold a mike though he can lean over and speak into the microphone on a stand in front of him.
The screening tonight is hosted by OCU, and other schools, including Oral Roberts University. It will be our most conservative crowd on the whole tour. As it turns out is by the far the biggest. Over 420 are in the audience when the film begins.
The questions afterwards are surprising. I can detect no hint of hostility to the film’s refusal to place the Palestinian narrative in an unfavorable light. One student wants to know how nonviolence can be taught in a context where it is regarded as the evangelical duty to unquestioningly support Israel in its struggle for the Holy Land.
Sami states that he learned the same Bible stories as a Palestinian Christian. “Jews and Arabs have lived together for centuries in Palestine. It is simply not correct to regard this as a historic conflict between two warring factions that cannot be resolved,” he clarifies. “All we need to do is look back a few decades and we will see that, before the war of 1948, both lived together peaceably.” He speaks forcefully and the audience listens intently. They recognize that his is a voice they can trust for he speaks out of their same tradition.
“There is truly enough space and room for both to live in the land. Both have historic claims and neither will ever be able to convince the other that ‘my claim trumps yours’” Then speaking as a Christian to a Christian audience he says something he has not said at any other venue: “God’s will is that God’s peace rule here and that peace will be a light to all the nations.”
Rabbi Avi explains that Jews, Muslims and Christians have the same creation narrative which should lead to certain political and territorial policies. He cites one in particular, “There should be agreement to the right to property regardless of race or religion.” He continues, “We all love the land and call it Holy Land–But, how do we end the violence? That is the question.” He returns to one of his favorite points. “Unless we are able to deal with deep-rooted issues like fear among the Israeli community and mistrust by Palestinians along with their feelings of inequality, there cannot be a solution that will benefit both communities.”
Sami explains that the reason for the disconnect between American and Palestinian Christians is “fundamentally a lack of understanding about the Holy Land and its history.” As an example he cites the question evangelicals inevitably ask him. “What they always want to know is ‘When did you convert?’ They assume all Palestinians are Muslim,” he laughs. “I tell them I converted 2,000 years ago at Pentecost. After all, there were Arabs in the crowd when Peter spoke.”
“We want people to pray for Israel and Jerusalem–it is the Holy City, the city of peace,” he urges the audience. “We want God to bring his peace there.” He then repeats one of the most important statements he has made at several other venues. “If after watching this film you leave feeling you are more pro one side or another, or anti one side or the other we are a failure. We want you to be for Israel and for Palestine. And above all, for peace.” He closes with a challenge to the overwhelmingly evangelical crowd: “You are responsible for spreading the message of Jesus to the world of genuine peace and human dignity for all.”
On the bus back to the hotel I look at the schedule. I groan inwardly. It is going to be another short night. We are meeting in the lobby at 4:15am to drive to the airport for the four hour flight to Los Angeles. I am looking forward to a return to normal sleep patterns.