Suffering is Suffering by Dirk Ficca

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This is a blog post by one of our contributing authors. Rev. Dirk Ficca has twenty years of experience in the global interreligious movement, having served as Executive Director of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions. He is a graduate of McCormick Theological Seminary, and has taught at DePaul University, Garrett Evangelical-Theological Seminary, and the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. He is a member of Chicago Presbytery and serves as the convener of its Ecumenical and Interreligious Work Group. He is the International Director of Open Skåne and an Advisory Board Member at the Niagara Foundation. Photo via UN Photo

There is a story – I believe its origin is from Madagascar – about a wise judge, whose practice was to walk up and down a road each morning, allowing anyone from the local village to join him and seek out his counsel.

One morning, a woman walked with him, pouring out bitter complaints about her husband, to which the judge said, “You are right. You have a just case against your husband.”

The next morning, it was her husband who walked with the judge, unburdening himself of equally bitter complaints about his wife, to which the judge said, “You are right. You have a just case against your wife.”

The next day, a woman who lived in a house next to that road, who had overheard the previous conversations, walked with the judge, with a bitter complaint leveled against him. “How can you be called wise, when you agreed with both the wife and the husband in their case against each other.” To which the judge said, “You are right. You have a just case against me.”

The well-known Christian scholar Krister Stendahl often said that in the Middle East conflict, you couldn’t be for both Palestinians and Israelis. You have to choose sides.

I went on a trip to Israel and Palestine in 2001 with that idea in mind. I would have to choose sides. I listened to the long list of complaints Israelis and Palestinians had about each other. From the perspective of their respective narratives, you could understand how each side saw the justness of their case. While at the time of that trip there was a heightened state of tension, with suicide bombings and military reprisals, nevertheless, I found this vast gulf in their narratives more depressing and discouraging than those hostilities.

However, I left that trip with the insight that the destinies of both peoples were intertwined. That if you want for there to be a just and peaceful resolution to the conflict, it has to be for both. And therefore, to hope and work for the self-determination and well-being of one side is an indispensable requirement for the self-determination and well-being of the other side.

I’ve clung to that insight for the past dozen years or so, but the truth of it has been sorely tested many times, as it is now. We’ve been down this road before in Gaza, for the same intractable reasons, with absurdly similar catastrophic consequences.

As we all wait for a ceasefire, in the hopes that it will turn into a lasting cessation of the fighting, I can’t fault anyone who is taking sides. Those who take the side of Israelis huddled in bomb shelters. Those who take the side of Palestinians pulling loved ones from the rubble. Both peoples are confronted with terror and suffering – though clearly, without the protection afforded to Israelis by the “Iron Dome” missile defense, and with the ground battle being fought in Gaza, Palestinians are much more vulnerable to the horrific impact violence, with the resulting causalities and deaths a hundred-fold greater.

In the midst of this, perhaps some of us can take the side of those who are suffering, without the political calculation of whose cause is more or less just, or moral calculation of whose is suffering is more or egregious. Suffering is suffering.

As we look towards what happens afterwards, perhaps some of us can stand against those forces standing in the way of a just and peaceful resolution. Israel continues to expand settlements in the West Bank, and Hamas has clearly stated their categorical opposition to a two-state solution, to name just two of the obvious impediments. The list of complaints in this regard, of course, is much, much, longer.

Ultimately, some of us can stand with those on both sides who are ‘on-the-ground,’ courageously working for justice and peace for both peoples. If we don’t stand with them, then clearly both Palestinians and Israelis will have a just case against us.

Meanwhile, the news today is that both sides in Gaza are digging in. Suffering is suffering….

Rev. Dirk Ficca

 

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