Poem: havdalah in the toddler house
Oasis of Peace - Israel/Palestine summer workshop in Vermont

Israel / Palestine: hoping for hope

Israeli-American Emily L. Hauser recently posted A snapshot of despair: one week in Israel/Palestine, which chronicles one week's worth of depressing happenings in the contentious Middle East. Soon thereafter, Rabbi Brant Rosen shared a guest post called Sam Bahour: Where's My Friend? Here is a small excerpt:

My friend is Walid Abu Rass. He is the Finance and Administration Manager for the Health Work Committees, one of the largest community health service providers in the occupied Palestinian territory. HWC serves over 500,000 patients/beneficiaries per year...

On November 22nd, Israeli occupation soldiers arrived at his home at 1:30 A.M. Walid lives in Ramallah with his wife, Bayan, and two daughters, Mais, 13 years old, and Malak, 4 years old, who were all frighteningly awakened during his arrest. Walid was taken into custody and transported in the bone chilling cold of the night to Israel’s Ofer Military Detention Center where hundreds of Palestinians are detained, the vast majority with absolutely no knowledge of why.

Not long after that, Palestinian Mustafa Tamimi was killed -- shot by an IDF soldier at point-blank range with a teargas cannister -- at the weekly protest in Nabi Saleh. (For more on this incident, The New York Times' The Lede blog has a good piece: After Fatal Shooting of Palestinian, Israeli Soldiers Defended Use of Force Online.) Then at his funeral procession, in an act of painful irony, the IDF fired teargas at angry mourners. I tweeted about this: "God, help us hope 4 better" -- and my tweet included a link to the Guardian article Israeli soldiers clash with mourners at funeral of Palestinian protester. (For more on Nabi Saleh in general, I recommend B'tselem's recent report Show of Force: Israeli Military Conduct in Weekly Demonstrations at Nabi Saleh, which came to me in print form here at my office but is also available online.)

I don't know how to respond to stories like these except with sorrow and grief. I try to hope and pray for better things: for a better future for the peoples of Israel and Palestine, for harmony and mutual respect in the Middle East. It is an article of faith for me that things can always get better. That we, with God's help, can heal and transform the world.

But sometimes, looking at the steady stream of suffering and violence in Israel and Palestine -- not to mention the many other places where suffering and violence are everyday happenings: Afghanistan, the Mexican Drug War, Yemen, Syria, so many others around the world -- hope can be difficult to sustain. Everyone I know in Israel yearns for a better future; I know that Palestinians do too. And yet how is it possible to reach that future when the situation there seems to just keep getting worse and worse?

Rabbi Jeff Roth taught me, years ago, that when reciting the modah ani (the morning prayer for gratitude), it is good to focus on my own gratitude, to cultivate that gratitude and let it well up in me to inform my singing of the prayer. And if I can't access gratitude? If for some reason I am too far from thankfulness to be able to call it up? Then I can use the prayer, he said, as a time to pray that gratitude may someday rise up in me again.

For now, I may need to pray for the upwelling of my ability to hope. To hope for a better future for the Middle East; to hope for a safer and kinder world; to hope that we, with God's help, can heal and transform what is broken. Please, God, help me to hope...and then help us get there, speedily and soon.