Friday, November 30, 2007

"I know what it's like...."

If you pay attention to mainstream news services, you'll be aware that there are important - some would say fundamental - differences between people (and groups) in the Middle East. There are differences and divisions on the grounds of geography, ethnicity, culture, language, age, religion and politics.

Symbolic of the deep divisions that currently separate Israel and Palestine is the recently erected security wall (pictured), isolating Israel from the West Bank, and analogous to the infamous Berlin Wall. There are good reasons for the existence of this wall, but the symbolism of isolation and separation remains.

One of the tasks of visitors, it seems to me, is to seek to understand the perspectives of others rather than seeking to be understood, and to express empathy rather than judgment. No one suggests this is easy, but it has proved to be most helpful.

With this thought in mind, here's a question: Who allegedly said these words earlier this week?
I know what it's like to hear that you can't use a certain road or pass through a checkpoint because you are a Palestinian. I know what it is like to feel discriminated against and powerless.

Was it Ehud Olmert? Mahmoud Abbas? David Ben-Gurion? Martin Luther King Jr? George W. Bush? Bernie Banton? Julia Gillard?

None of the above. It was US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (see today's Jerusalem Post).

Now that's empathy. The truth is: I don't personally know what it's like to experience the kind or degree of discrimination, powerlessness and persecution faced daily by many in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

But as our Australian group heads into the region this weekend, I hope we come to listen and learn, to seek to understand ordinary people's stories, and come to express empathy and solidarity with those who suffer from conflict and injustice.

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