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Local View: Seize chances to better understand Israel-Palestine conflict

For nearly as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by the Middle East, its history, culture, politics — and especially the Holy Land. As a teenager I identified with the modern state of Israel, especially after reading Leon Uris' novel "Exodus," a powerful portrait of the struggle for Israel's independence following the horrors of the Holocaust.

My father was a religious journalist whose guiding professional principle was listening for and reporting on the differing sides of any story. When he saw my passion for the story of Israel, he gave me another book to read: "What Price Israel" is a nonfiction account of the international political maneuvering behind the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan, which allotted Jews 56 percent of Palestine even though they owned only 6 percent of the land. Thanks to my father, I was introduced to the complexity of the situation in Israel and Palestine, and my fascination gave way to more mixed emotions: confusion, frustration, anger, sadness, despair, but also determination and hope for what has become an "unholy land."

In the decades since, I have traveled in the Middle East and have lived and have studied in Jerusalem. I have become increasingly aware of how the media in the United States have focused disproportionately on the state-supported position of Israel and have ignored or dismissed Palestinian concerns. We hear little of the impact on the Palestinian people of the Israeli settler movement, the building of a separation wall, the economic blockade of Gaza, the detention of Palestinian children, and the live-fire response to demonstrations asserting Palestinian rights.

Most recently, the Trump administration's decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and its refusal to meet with Palestinian leaders continued this pattern, to the detriment of U.S. policy and diplomatic practice.

The church body of which I am a part — the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America — has, through its "Peace Not Walls" campaign, committed to awareness, accompaniment, and advocacy for justice and peace in Palestine and Israel. For the past two years the Twin Ports Peace Not Walls group has been meeting for study and action in support of a just, lasting, and comprehensive solution to the conflict.

And there are other voices — Churches for Middle East Peace (a coalition of 22 national church denominations including Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant traditions), Jewish Voice for Peace, Ha'aretz, and Breaking the Silence, to name a few.

May is an appropriate month to seek a fuller understanding of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Today, May 14, is Independence Day in Israel, celebrating 70 years since the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948. Tuesday, May 15 is Nakba ("catastrophe") Day, marking 70 years since the 1948 displacement and dispossession of 750,000 Palestinians, resulting in a Palestinian diaspora and refugee population that today numbers more than 5 million, including descendants. Both these events and their anniversaries are important for understanding the political complexities in the Middle East.

Today, the Twin Ports Peace Not Walls group is hosting a food and film event at First Lutheran Church in Duluth at 6 p.m. Middle Eastern food will be served and a film, "Iron Wall," (52 minutes) will be shown. The film documents the construction of the separation barrier and the expansion of Jewish settlements on land reserved by UN resolution for a Palestinian state. The event is open to the community.

On Tuesday, Churches for Middle East Peace invites participation in a time of multifaith prayer for peace in Israel and Palestine. More information and prayer suggestions are at cmep.org.

Karen G. Bockelman of Duluth is a retired Lutheran (ELCA) pastor and a member of the Twin Ports Peace Not Walls group.

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