Brenda Berck

There were celebrations last month marking the 60th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel. A month later, I still feel conflicted.

On the one hand, having been born in Canada during World War II, I have strong memories of my neighbours and friends following the war. Some, whom our government then called D.P.s (Displaced Persons) had arrived in Canada after the war. Ours was a childhood filled with stories of the horrors perpetrated upon people who were Jews, gypsies, infants, homosexuals, mentally challenged-or simply weren't Aryan-and of the experiences of those who escaped.

We read endless numbers of paperback stories of members (especially women) of the Resistance. And I remember many adults who refused to take a ride in a Volkswagen (let alone buy one) or other products developed by Germans. Having learned about the countries (including Canada and the U.S.) that refused entry to Jews trying to escape Europe, the proposal that Jews settle in Palestine made sense: it would be a place of refuge.

I was a young adult before I understood that I had misunderstood, or been misled, about Palestine: it was not an unoccupied territory. Rather, thousands of Palestinians had been displaced by the refugees' arrival.

And the leaders of many countries behaved badly: leaders of Middle Eastern countries attempted to turn the turmoil to their advantage; British leaders were happy to wash their hands of the Jews. Countries developed alliances according to what resources they might be able to access. No leaders seemed interested in doing the hard work that would enable people to live together. Sixty years later, leaders continue to behave badly. Jews from Russia, Ethiopia, and other places where anti-Semitism exists continue to find refuge. Unfortunately, however, zealous settlers continue to displace Palestinians, taking land and water. Some fundamentalist Christians support Israel, but ironically they hope for its destruction, since they harbour the belief that the book of Revelation predicts that the end of Israel will bring on the Apocalypse. And the U.S. government is now supporting Israel for its own ends, as a market for its arms dealers, to establish a military presence in the Middle East, and to guard its oil.

Sadly, pictures of men praying at the Wailing Wall, that familiar visual representation of Israel, have been supplanted by pictures of the new Separation Wall that keeps Palestinians from their crops and their jobs, and Palestinian children from their schools.

Instead of celebrating the creation of a country of refuge, I feel a combination of happiness that refugees have found a home and heartsick that so many leaders and settlers treat Palestinians in cruel and violent ways. Having learned of the unspeakable horror done to the Jews by the Nazi regime, I keep wanting all of us who know that history to avoid perpetrating horrors on others.

It is understandable that Israeli citizens would be alarmed by Arab rhetoric that rejects the right of their country to exist, and by the deplorable actions of suicide bombers and those who launch rockets into their countryside. But that does not justify the constant harassment of Palestinians, the massive retaliation in Gaza and the West Bank, the repressive tactics of the Israeli Army or the violence with which some settlers reinforce their belief in the Jews' exclusive right to the land. Certainly, it will not lead to what all but the extremists want: peace.

Where, then, are the signs of the holiness of this land which Christians, Palestinians and Jews call The Holy Land? The signs are small, often individual actions which accumulate to what scholar and activist David Shulman calls "compassionate disobedience." (See his recent book, Dark Hope: Working for Peace in Israel and Palestine, University of Chicago Press, 2007).

There is an active Israeli peace movement. The Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem carries out a ministry of reconciliation. Members of the Christian Peacemakers Team and Ta'ayush (the Arabic word for 'living together') bring food and medical supplies to Palestinians, help to harvest a Palestinian's wheat and stand between Palestinian families and rock-throwing Jewish settlers.

There are groups like the integrated bilingual, binational Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam school, the Parents Circle of Israeli and Palestinian parents whose family members have been killed--and others I've not yet discovered--and individuals who face the rage of fellow Palestinians or Israelis because they stand with 'the other'.

They give me hope.