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My Palestinian Neighbor

I am a planner. I’m a solution-oriented person. When people have problems, they often ask for my help in brainstorming an answer. I have been this way for as long as I can remember. So it’s no surprise that I find a kinship with others who share those traits. That’s part of why I resonated with Yousef’s story. As a natural born helper who became a professional helper, I was unsurprised that Yousef did so too and works for a humanitarian agency. When my father was hospitalized with COVID (back in the days when we had no idea what it was) I scrambled to find a way to make things better for my family, just like Yousef tried to do for his family. And when my father passed away, I felt utterly helpless. So when Yousef talked about feeling the ache of helplessness, I felt that too.

One of my favorite radio programs is “This American Life.” It airs weekly on National Public Radio. On each show, the producers select a theme and put together different kinds of stories on that theme. Despite its name, it isn’t relegated to subjects in the USA. The show often incorporates slices of life and conversations about people who live thousands of miles from the States. It’s not atypical for people from various countries to be included in an episode. Yousef was one such person. What was atypical, though, was that Yousef’s episode was entirely about him: he was the theme. The whole hour consisted of phone calls between Yousef and the show’s correspondent. It was a rollercoaster.

Over multiple weeks they discussed his life and challenges and fears living in Gaza. During several calls, bombs could be heard in the background. The voices of his children were captured on air: talking, laughing, crying. We followed the saga of Yousef trying and failing to secure a sanitary, well-staffed hospital for his pregnant sister to deliver her first baby. We heard of the births and the deaths among his family members. He talked about desperately trying to safely move his extended family of over 60 people from their hometown in the north of Gaza…not once, not twice, not thrice… By the end of the episode, he was trying to find yet a fourth place to move all of his relatives, as they faced the threat of being bombed once again, sheltered in tents near Gaza’s southern border. And it was deeply affecting for me to hear the absolute powerlessness in his voice. When you are used to being the person who people go to for solutions, what do you do when no solution is in sight?

Of course, as a Christian, I pray (although that doesn’t mean the anxiety immediately disappears). Is Yousef Christian? It’s possible. There are Christians in Palestine and they are not safe either. But it’s statistically more likely that he’s not. Does that matter? For some Christians, it does. If he’s one of us, he’s worthy of our concern. If not? Well, it depends on what he is exactly. I know Christians who would readily express concern if he were Jewish but not Muslim. Our Old Testament connections lead many Christians to happily embrace Jewish people as brethren—which we should! But it ought to be based on our shared humanity as creations of God and not simply because we share theological roots. However, that would mean extending compassion towards other people too. And sadly, for some of us, that’s a bridge too far.

Within some corners of conservative Christianity, there has been a movement to embrace the extreme beliefs of Zionism that, by definition, make Muslim Palestinians “the enemy” and justify any means the Israeli government uses to clear them from “The Promised Land.” It’s so odd to me to hear Christians stridently defend Netanyahu’s actions as being necessary steps towards the fulfillment of prophecy. That’s not a teaching of Christ. Nevertheless, this unnerving theology has crept into many churches (weirdly, even among some Adventists when we are explicitly not Dispensationalists). And it’s crowded out several of Christ’s actual teachings, like loving your neighbor. If you recall, in Luke 10, Christ expounded on that maxim by sharing the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan—the one who didn’t share the same faith or background as any of the people in the narrative—was the true neighbor.

So I’m praying for my neighbor, Yousef. Although he’s on the other side of the world and he may or may not believe what I believe, he is my neighbor. His experiences as a child, a sibling, a loved one, are all human experiences that bind us together and transcend whether or not we attend church on the same day. I’m praying for all of the neighbors in Gaza too. Spending every day living in fear of ground attacks or aerial strikes is an unfathomable experience. One does not have to be allied with Hamas to recognize that the response of the Israeli government has been disproportionate, indiscriminate, and inhumane. I am praying for my Israeli neighbors as well. The civilians aren’t the ones committing war crimes. And quiet as it’s kept, many of them oppose what’s being done by their government. Just as I often disagree with the government here, so too are there many Israelis who are disgusted by the atrocities committed by their leaders. I pray for (and write to and call) my own political leaders: that they will stop being complicit in crimes against humanity, stop supplying weapons of mass murder, and that they will use this country’s influence to exert pressure towards a ceasefire. And I pray you will do the same. All of us must loudly and clearly call for an end to this conflict.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

About the author

Courtney Ray, MDiv, PhD, is an ordained minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and a clinical neuropsychologist. She is president of the Society for Black Neuropsychology.  More from Courtney Ray.
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