Palestine and Israel: A Personal Encounter

By Max L. Carter. Barclay Press, 2020. 150 pages. $16/paperback.

There are no easy answers when it comes to alleviating the tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. One aspect of our Quaker faith that I appreciate is that we do not tend to expect or rely on easy solutions. We trust the Spirit to move through and among us at its own pace, and we try to pay attention. Palestine and Israel: A Personal Encounter is Quaker educator Max Carter’s sharing of what he has learned from several decades of paying attention to people of good will on the conflict of that region. At one point, Carter quotes an Israeli politician as saying, “‘We suffer from the fact that there are two narratives of the history and experience here that are both true—but don’t meet.” One gift of the book is that Carter offers stories and reflections that share a variety of perspectives, while allowing readers to draw their own conclusions.

Carter’s stories about his interactions have many connections to Quaker values. I particularly enjoyed his many stories that centered on nonviolent philosophy and action. He shares stories of his students at Ramallah Friends School in the 1970s not coming to school one day as a show of solidarity, and remaining silent on another day in commemoration of their relatives in Jordan about whom they had no information. He emphasizes the nonviolence at the heart of the Intifada, and observes that reclaiming the dabke dance was a form of Palestinian resistance. At several points, Carter shares ways that Quakers have been called on to play a special role in the region. He writes that during a 2002 visit with the Ford Foundation in Egypt, Quakers were encouraged “to be a moral voice in the conflict.” On that same trip, a Birzeit University scholar shared his view that “America has two souls: one that destroyed the Indians and one represented by the Quakers.” This book serves as an invitation to Friends to open our hearts and minds and do all we can to support a just peace.

Personally, I appreciated how many parallels there are between Carter’s decades worth of time in the region and my experience there in the summer of 2018. Politically speaking, in his experience and mine, there was frustration and cynicism about the Oslo Accords, the corruption of Palestinian and Israel politicians, and the credibility of the United States to serve as a broker in a peace process. Carter talks about a meeting he attended in which they discussed “the strategic location of the spreading Israeli settlements, and the unlikely possibility that a viable Palestinian state could be created out of such a fragmented whole.”

The commitment to nonviolence among Palestinians was a prominent theme of my experience, and it shows up throughout Carter’s many years of living in and visiting the region. In 1970 his students’ reflection on the terrorism they were hearing about in the news ended with “we hope nobody is hurt.” In his visits in 1988 and 2002, he heard from Palestinians who shared that they had no ill will toward Israelis, which was strikingly consistent during my visit. Palestinians were frustrated with Israeli leaders and policies but made a point to always say that they held no anger toward Israeli citizens or Jewish people. From a trip in 2004, Carter shares the Ramallah mayor’s hopes for coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians.

There’s an old saying that goes, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” I think of this quotation often when it comes to working toward a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians. In Palestine and Israel, Carter offers a window into that brighter future through his conversations with individuals on the ground who can imagine and are working toward a more just and loving world.

Lauren Brownlee is a member of Bethesda (Md.) Meeting and has served on the Peace Committees of both her monthly and yearly meetings (Baltimore Yearly Meeting).

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