Among Friends: All Land Is Holy Land

All land is holy land. As Friends, we teach that consecration comes only from the active presence of the living Spirit. Our meetinghouses are not sacred because we worship there or because our spiritual ancestors had meaningful worship there. The transcendent spirituality comes from us returning once more, settling into the depth of the silence once more, and attending to divine prompts. The Quaker style of worship only works if we keep showing up and staying faithful.

When we decided to do an issue on Israel and Palestine, we picked the musty-sounding cliche of “Holy Land” as its organizing theme. Most terms for the region have years and sometimes centuries of layered meaning. Claims of Jerusalem as an especially holy city have been advanced for thousands of years and embraced by three major world religions. The last century and a half of Quaker activity in the region has been shaped by the mythos of these cultural claims, even as our participation has embedded us ever deeper into the complexities of its peoples.

Our stories this month follow some of that journey. Lois Jordan starts us off with the tale of her beloved aunt Mildred, an Indiana Quaker who worked with the Friends school in Ramallah, ten miles north of Jerusalem, over a span of three decades starting in 1922. Philadelphia Friend Sandy Rea continues the story with tales of working at Ramallah and a non-Quaker schools in Jordan in the 1980s.

Then, like a discordant record scratch, Tabitha Mustafa and Sandra Tamari, Palestinian Americans with Quaker bonafides, have an article asking inconvenient questions of how notions of colonialism have shaped Quaker activity in Palestine. They are the ones who remind us that all land is holy land.

When we strip myths away to look at the day-to-day realities of Israel and Palestine, we find two peoples in conflict over resources. Religions and ethnic identities divide them, and so does power. In “When Dialogue Stands in the Way of Peace,” Mike Merryman-Lotze of American Friends Service Committee introduces us to a contemporary Palestinian politics that challenges Quaker idealism. As Friends, our first instinct has been to think of conflicts as misunderstandings: if only everyone got to know each other better, love and cooperation would replace fear and confusion. It’s a charming and sometimes true sentiment, but many Palestinian activists charge that this process ignores power differentials and “normalizes” the status quo.

Finally, Lauren Brownlee shares a vulnerable and honest account of how she worked through the conflicting claims around justice and anti-Semitism to find a position on the controversial Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement that she can claim. Her answer may not be your answer, but we hope her model of discernment is useful to readers.

I’m reminded of the struggles of discernment, power, and normalization when I look at other intra-Quaker conflicts that haven’t resolved despite the ministrations of committees, task forces, and listening sessions. Many Friends feel alienated over important issues—race, politics, and sexuality, just to name a few—and wonder if they belong. The fractures can result in more homogeneous and harmonious bodies, but they also suggest a failure of Quaker process. Is the normal we have the normal we want? If we’re all children of God, then all well-meaning, Light-seeking Friends should be able to find a home among us.

Let’s keep showing up and staying faithful.


Correction: The print version of this article mistaken says Sandy Rea’s teaching in Lebanon took place in Quaker-affiliated schools; they were International College, a secondary school (not Quaker) in Lebanon (1969-70) and at American Univ. of Beirut, in Lebanon 2000-2001.

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