Thursday, November 11, 2010

Off to Israel

My last visit to Israel was under the auspice of the World Bank to look at provision of micro-finance in the Palestinian territories. I duly wrote my report that was duly ignored. I did get a stream of queries for six months afterwards. None of which required me to provide an answer beyond a page reference to my prior report. I felt a career as a consultant to the World Bank was not one that was fruitfully pursued!

I vividly remember being so arduously pursued by an Armenian shopkeeper (of jewelery) that I had to take refuge in a bookshop (in the Old City of Jerusalem)!

Equally I remember a visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where I noticed one of the ushers doing something unusual with his feet. He was dribbling an empty plastic Coke bottle to the head of a set of stairs, leading to a portion of the Church administered by a rival denomination, down which he surreptitiously kicked the said bottle! A vision of the religion of agape in inaction!

This time a first week is devoted to holiday (in the north of the country), the second to our six monthly management meeting, exploring 'fragile states' in Jericho, in what might be described as a 'fragile non-state' (namely Palestine).

I have absolutely no 'position' on the conflict (except a resolute belief in the bankruptcy of violence, perpetrated by whichever party). When I try to contemplate the realities of now, and the history that has woven now, I sense that the complexity refuses easy positions. I wonder whether that is not itself an invitation to solution. There is not, nor can be, a resolution of the injustices of the past and that seeking such is an exercise in futility. You can only seek to find a common standard of justice out of which to build a possible future.

This common standard (with a deep and abiding irony) is embedded in the inheritance of Abraham of the three faiths that bear that inheritance, each in importantly different ways. The sadness is both that we focus on the difference rather than the commonality and, in truth, prefer the egotistic identities of our histories to the call of transcendence that is the compassionate heart of our traditions.

The problem, as always, is that we do not take our traditions seriously enough or, more accurately, the call that is at the heart of our traditions.

I vividly recall a Muslim friend, a scholar of Sufism and inter-religious dialogue, asking an audience whether anyone could truly claim to be a Muslim: one who is 'islam' fully submitted to the will of God. To which the answer is probably no, and if yes that person would not claim that yes! His point being that none of us can truly claim the identity with which we justify our hostility to the other, their not being us.

It is the tragedy of our traditions that we refuse the freedom they offer.

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