A theme has been occurring in my life a few times in the past two months – comfort. As I write this blog post from Costa Rica, I sit in a beautiful home that a friend’s parent’s graciously allowed some of us to stay at while on vacation. The trip has been wonderful. I’ve been to beautiful waterfalls, visited a tropical zoo, Zip-lined through the Rainforest, snorkeled, and much more. Even more wonderful has been the time relaxing, eating and conversing with a group of wonderful people. Our catchphrase for the trip has been “the casual lifestyle”.
It’s in times like this when I’m tempted to think that I could live like this forever. I could soak up the rays and eat delicious food with no cares. Sitting on this mountaintop, I could spend the next (God willing) 96 years in perfect comfort. Even though I’ve been able to relax and enjoy myself, I know that this is a life I never really could allow myself to live, when my comfort comes while others suffer. This wealth and privilege that I enjoy is something that so many in this world could never even imagine. Whether it be abused workers at FoxCon or oppressed people who live under dictatorships that the USA props up, these peoples’ pain is, in fact, what allows me to enjoy my comforts.
Similar thoughts emerged this January when I was in Israel. As I traveled the country on the public buses I felt quite safe. In fact, I spent the vast majority of my time enjoying the company of friends, doing work that I love and playing with two of the cutest babies in the world. I have truly been blessed.
What I barely thought about, until one night towards the end of my trip, was the Palestinian territories. With the separation barrier so effectively eliminating the thought of Palestinians from life in Israel, it felt too easy to ignore the conflict that I was a part of. Even though at times I was within mere kilometers of the Palestinian territories, I rarely had thoughts of what was going on there.
Of course, I know what’s happening on the other side of the wall. Palestinian farmers’ lives are made impossible by restrictions placed by the Israeli government and by the terrorism of Jewish settlers. Checkpoints, attacks, economic insecurity and severe restriction of liberty is the standard of life there. While I ate my hamburgers and falafel in Tel Aviv, Palestinian farmers struggled under the yoke of oppressive circumstances.
So even though I feel intense emotional satisfaction in the knowledge that I, my friends and family can feel financially, socially and physically safe in the country we love, I also feel intense pain at the expense of that security. How can I possibly choose to live in a place where my comfort comes at the deprivation of comfort for others?
There is certainly plenty of blame to pass around for the plight of the Palestinians. Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Britain, the USA, Russia, China, Iran, and many others play a major role in the global political chess match that pits Israel against Palestine. Yet, at the end of the day, I do not think that Benjamin Netanyahu is a potential partner for peace with the Palestinians. The democratically elected government of Israel cannot, in my opinion, be considered but amongst the foremost perpetrators of injustice in the territories.
The conclusion I’ve reached is tentative, but is one that I feel good about. For me to live in Israel, I must choose to inconvenience myself. I already know that I’ll be living more modestly than ever I have before. I already know that I’ll be devoting my time to the work of movements for social justice, both within Israel and within the territories, but I think I’ll need to do more. Perhaps it will mean participating in weekly protests with the Sheikh Jarah Solidarity movement. Maybe it will be something else.
No matter what I choose, the fact is that to live in Israel, I must allow myself to live uncomfortably. I must choose to make the reality of life in the territories impact me regularly. Only in this way can I ensure that I am not choosing comfort over caring; I am making sure that my security does not come at the expense of others’ pain. Dealing with this need will be a serious factor in whether Israel becomes a place where I can live for a long time, or whether it will be a short diversion from my middle-class American existence.
If you have any suggestions for how to deal with this, please let me know…