Books and Resources That Give Empathy Toward the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

I have had trouble reading the news lately. My heart breaks for what is happening in Israel-Palestine, not because I want to take a side but because it seems that peace is farther and farther away.

I have a lot of complicated feelings about the region, and I know I’m not alone. As I learn more and more about Liberation Theology, I truly believe that God calls us to stand with the oppressed. I’ve become friends with a Palestinian immigrant this year; our dear friends and neighbors are Israeli-Jewish; Frank’s family is Jewish. Personally, I have a lot of trouble figuring out what I think and feel about this decades-old conflict. (Yes, I say decades-old. I do believe what we are seeing now is a direct result of decisions made in 1948.)

I wanted to share some of the books that have helped me on this journey. These have helped me see the humanity on all sides. I think, regardless of your own conclusions, the longer we create an us-vs-them attitude, the less of a chance conversation and peace will really happen.

UnknownThe Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan

This is the first book that opened my eyes to the complexities of this modern conflict. If you only read one book about the history and impact of Israel-Palestine, I’d recommend this well-researched piece. Tolan’s command of storytelling makes it easy to forget you’re not reading a memoir or narrative but this is deeply researched and incredibly balanced. Tolan takes no sides but simply tells stories. (I wrote initial thoughts back in 2015 when I first read it.)

41haVpeNLjL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Blood Brothers by Elias Chacour

This incredible memoir, written by a Palestinian Christian brought a new depth to my understanding of the region. A Melkite Greek Catholic, Chacour has devoted his life to peacemaking in the region. A refugee from his home nearly his entire life, Chacour chooses to engage in discussion and relationship rather than deepening the divide of oppression. I hadn’t ever thought about the generations of Christians in the region and how this conflict has impacted them, so Blood Brothers gave me a deeper understanding of just how complex all of this is. (Last year, I wrote a post for the Red Couch Book Club if you’d like a more detailed discussion.)

51Fu5TQSL1L._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Sharon and My Mother-in-Law by Suad Amiry

This short memoir was an interesting look at what life during the forty-day curfew of Ramallah was like. Amiry is blunt about her feeling of cabin fever, the unfairness of her dog receiving an identity card from Jerusalem when her family could not, and the daily struggle to maintain identity in the midst of a helpless situation.

51X-WC6f9UL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Sadness is a White Bird by Moriel Rothman-Zecher

This novel about the friendship between an Israeli soldier and Palestinian siblings is a relevant look at what many of the next generations are feeling. Inheriting a conflict creates different perspectives and Rothman-Zecher does a masterful job at remembering why the State of Israel was so important for that first generation of Holocaust survivors and why a “land without a people” is a myth. I will give the caveat that I wouldn’t recommend this novel to my grandmother, as there are some scenes that may make more conservative readers uncomfortable but, as so many novels do, this creates empathy and depth of character in ways that nonfiction can’t.

Other Resources

For a quick overview of the modern conflict, I’d recommend this 12-minute video:

(In short: Let’s not forget the effects of Colonialism!)

Last fall, I took an enrichment class at the University of Denver about the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Our professor founded an organization called Meet the Middle East, aiming at humanizing Palestinians and bringing about conversation. I’d recommend following along, especially if you’re local to the Denver area.

Global Immersion is another organization whose mission is to train “everyday peacemakers.” They frequently host free webinars focusing on the complex issues surrounding peace in the region and I have learned a lot through those.

Ultimately, I’d recommend digging into the “other side.” I’ve learned so much from remembering that there are no easy answers and that actual people are living in both Israel and Palestine.

What would you add to this list? What books or resources have most impacted and helped your understanding of this particular conflict?

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Reading One Star Reviews as an Act of Peacemaking

I’ve read so many articles in the past few years on the need to step out of our comfort zones, to see and hear experiences from “the other.” That our nation and world wouldn’t be so divided if we just know people from different backgrounds. That our churches would come together if we were able to bridge opinions over a meal.

Screen Shot 2018-01-03 at 1.51.35 PMI fully agree with these sentiments. Until we sit down with people whose life experiences and worldviews are different from our own, it is too easy to vilify those who think differently. It becomes second-nature to characterize an entire group based on what we see portrayed rather than what we know through relationship.

This is so much easier said than done. How many of us look up people of extremely different political views and ask them out for a coffee? How many of us actively seek out neighbors whose views on immigration, on gun safety, on religious freedom frighten us? It’s hard to do. When I look at my close group of friends, we mostly think alike. We see the nuances as differences but to an outsider, we are pretty homogenous.

I was talking with a friend about how I love to read one-star reviews of books I’m enjoying. Usually close to the halfway point, if I’m really connecting with a book, I’ll check out the really low reviews on Goodreads. It’s always interesting reading why people don’t connect with aspects of a book I love.

Some of the time, low reviews are based on dislike of writing style or format. Those aren’t as interesting as the ones who don’t connect on a personal or moral level. I look for the reviewers who are offended or who just don’t get the point of the book. Recently, I read Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime and was impacted by his thoughts and perspective of apartheid and oppression. As I read through the one-star reviews, I noticed quite a few people called Noah racist or anti-Semitic. Reading their reviews gave me a new lens for why Noah’s book is so powerful and necessary.

As my friend and I talked about this practice, she pointed out that this is an easy entry into the world of peacemaking. Reading an entire book from an opposing point of view may be too much right now. Sitting at a table and having a meal with someone on the opposite side of an issue may feel too threatening. But reading a review? It takes less than two minutes.

Some reviews totally reinforce my stereotype of certain groups. But I’ve found that the more opposing reviews I read, the fewer people seem like a stereotype. I still may not agree with them. I may even still roll my eyes at the reasoning for dropping a book by a star or two. But my mind is opening up to different sides of an idea.

Maybe this practice will help me when I meet those folks in real life, whose ratings of books and political views are so much different than my own. By exposing myself to one star reviews, I’m taking baby steps toward the everyday peacemaking and activism I long for.

Do you read one-star reviews? What are small ways you practice everyday peacemaking? 

We’ll be digging deeper into this idea of reading one-star reviews as an act of peacemaking over in The Red Couch Book Club’s Facebook group. If you’d like to join this discussion as well as other conversations about faith and social justice, I’d love for you to join!

The Value of Creating Flexible Rhythms

If last fall was filled with new challenges, this fall was filled with recreating those challenges. We did the Whole30 again; I wrote for 31 days again; we’ve reestablished bedtime and wake-up routines, though slightly different since our schedule is slightly different.

BackyardThe biggest difference between forming a habit the first time and re-forming a habit the second time is that it seems easier to cheat this second time around. On our second Whole30, it ended up being the Whole22 because we had visitors and commitments. We felt cleansed and reset and that last week just didn’t seem as important as the first time around.

I skipped a day of writing, due to a migraine this time. I debated going back to make it up but decided that Write 30 Days is good enough. I still achieved my purpose of telling a story and re-disciplining myself to write intentionally. In some ways, since the day I skipped was during my walk humbly week, it seemed fitting to just let it go.

My One Word for 2016 was enough; this year it’s capacity. Those two have built on each other beautifully and I’m learning that creating habits is important and life-giving. But it’s just as important to remember that when I slip on those commitments, it’s ok. That recognizing my capacity for each day may be different. I’m learning the value of creating flexible rhythms to my days.

Ultimately, I’m reminded of my need for structure. I enjoy formal challenges and goals because it is so easy to slip and let life meander. I think there’s something beautiful about the journey, not the destination but it’s a fine line between wandering and being lost. I’m learning to set goals with real life in mind; to not let my perfectionism become the end result; to remember that this is for my own practices.

Last year, I was inspired to do more 30-day challenges and changes. This year, I’m looking at some longer-term ideas, with a bigger overarching goal. These small practices are what build up strength for those bigger goals, but I want to remember that getting stronger means the ability to do something longer as well.

As I pursue justice, I’m learning this same thing holds true. Some days, I have the capacity to make calls, to show up, to post articles and be vocal. Some days, I need to be quiet and listen before any action is taken. Other days, I practice my privilege of turning off the news and focusing on my little family.

I’m learning to trust these flexible rhythms – that when I’m in-tune with where God has placed me, I am much more effective at playing a role in the restoration of this earth. Some opportunities are arising in 2018 for me to put these thoughts to practice and, while I’m still in the very early stages of these plans and hopes, I’m thankful for these past 30 days to reflect and form habits that will shape the way our family does peacemaking.

What do your rhythms look like? Is your life suited for shorter term goals and challenges or are you striving for a larger goal?

Thank you for joining me on this month of digging and questioning! I’ve so appreciated your comments,  engagement, and encouragement!

BackyardThis post is Day 31 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.

A Call to Live Small and Practice Peace at Home

Last week was fall break. We had no plans – no playdates, no excursions, just lots of lazy pajama mornings and slow-paced days. On Monday, I woke up with a migraine headache. I’ve gotten these since I was eleven years old, to varying degrees of intensity and frequency. The commonality is that my vision is obstructed and I feel nauseous. Thankfully, my parents were able to take the girls for the day and I spent our first glorious day of break miserably in bed.

IMG_7115I may take out my stress in headaches; Bea takes hers out in sleep. She’s always been prone to night terrors and restlessness. Over break, with the ability to breathe and unwind, she was unable to sleep through the night. Yes, we had a week of pajama days but they weren’t as restful as I was envisioning. They stemmed from exhaustion and lethargy from interrupted sleep and inability to rest.

In Mending the Divides, Jon Huckins & Jer Swigart end the book reminding us that peacemaking starts in our own homes, with our own families. I have a really hard time being loving, gracious, and peaceful when I’m running on a week of sleeplessness. I’m selfish and looking for conflict.

As we’re finishing up this month of looking at Micah 6:8, I’m realizing that doing justice starts with seeing the big picture in my own home. Bea isn’t waking us up out of vindictiveness. She’s a five-year-old who needs her safe parents in the middle of the night. Loving kindness means choosing to not respond sarcastically to Frank when all I want to do is drink a cup of coffee in silence. I live in a family who wakes up ready to go, while I love to ease into the morning. Kindness is a choice I can make each morning before any coffee has been made. Walking humbly looks like not needing to be right. When Bea wakes up from a restless night, she’s loud and screechy and tired, which manifests itself in a surplus of energy. It’s grating and I just want her to understand that she is the reason the morning is rough. But where does that lead? What good does that do?

I want this verse to be a commissioning – a great call to living BIG and well in this world. The reality, like so much of the Bible, is a call to live small, in our own homes and lives. How can I listen well and live as a peacemaker with strangers if I can’t even practice this with my daughter?

I suppose that is the most humbling part of this. Seeing that all the learning and reading and writing do nothing unless I can shift my thinking and behavior with the people I love most.

How do you practice peace in your day-to-day life? Which do you find more doable – the big practice of peace or the mundane practices?

BackyardThis post is Day 30 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.

Telling Better Stories

Sometimes I get overwhelmed by what I can’t do in this phase of life – I can’t drive without the demand for kid music; I can’t read more than a paragraph in a book without interruption; I can’t attend protests or marches. Sometimes I wonder what I can do. How can I make a difference in the midst of my own everyday story?

21232021_10155709708059772_4896716415377640771_nOsheta Moore answers that question with grace and enthusiasm. In Shalom Sistas: Living Wholeheartedly in a Brokenhearted World she reminds me what everyday peacemaking looks like. It looks like getting to know my neighbors; it looks like loving and empowering my kids; it looks like giving myself grace when I mess up.

She reminds me that we all have a story – that our experiences and opinions aren’t formed in a vacuum. How did we get here? What happened to help shape our own narrative? I appreciate that Osheta doesn’t have big solutions to big problems. She has small, doable solutions to everyday problems. Her solutions include things like listening, getting to know our neighbors, dancing in the kitchen and choosing subversive joy in the midst of pain.

Throughout Shalom Sistas, Osheta reminds me that can be the one to change the narrative. I don’t have to believe what I see or what I’m told. I can choose to see good, to love through the seemingly unlovable situations, and to choose to bring peace rather than division.

But being a peacemaker isn’t passive. Like getting your hands dirty in the garden in order to grow flowers and vegetables, peacemaking requires getting messy in order to create something beautiful.

How do you find peace in your everyday? What are ways you choose to tell better stories?

BackyardThis post is Day 7 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.

Sitting Just Quietly

One of Bea’s favorite stories is the one of Ferdinand the Bull, who is content to sit just quietly under a cork tree, smelling flowers. I love it for many reasons – not least is that his mother is an understanding cow who lets him sit just quietly. (A lesson I need to remember.)

hebwnWhat I love most about Ferdinand is his pacifism. Even when he is taunted and faced with death (which would probably have been the more likely outcome of this story), he sits just quietly in the middle of the stadium, smelling the flowers in the ladies’ hair.

What a reminder, in a time when we are constantly reminded that strength is necessary. Our country needs to strengthen its borders; strengthen its foreign policy; strengthen its domestic policy. Our churches need to strengthen their messages; strengthen their programs; strengthen the community.

Growing up, I was taught that Jesus loved children, that Little Ones to Him belong; they are weak but He is Strong!

But I wonder if we’re missing something about the message when we focus on strength? When we forget the fact that Jesus taught about an upside down kingdom of peacemakers and helpers and those who turned the other cheek and offered to walk an extra mile.

I wonder, in a time of fear and wanting to strengthen our values and beliefs, we need to remember to stop, to sit just quietly, to smell the flowers, and to remember that the kingdom of Heaven belongs to the peacemakers?

How do you find strength in peacemaking?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “weak.”