A Brief Review of
The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Tough Questions, Direct Answers
Dale Hanson Bourke
Reviewed by Ellen Painter Dollar.
Until recently, most of my knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict came from stories. As a child, I was captivated by my father’s Time-Life books on World War II, especially the one about the Holocaust. I sat looking at the photos of doomed Jews, struggling to absorb the stories they told, their horror far too vast for my child’s heart (for anyone’s heart) to fully comprehend. For my religion major in college, I took an entire course on the Holocaust, which gave me a wider historical lens through which to view the horrific events of 1930s and 40s Europe. I learned how Jews had been denied citizenship even in countries where they had lived for centuries. I began to understand how a people without the protection of a state that claims them are uniquely vulnerable to persecution. For the first time, I understood why the state of Israel was so necessary.
I started hearing stories of Palestinian life when a friend started traveling regularly to the West Bank for her work with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). She met Palestinian shepherds who were unable to easily get to their land—land that has been in their families for generations—to care for their sheep because of a checkpoint or other barrier. She and her team accompanied Palestinian children to school, and held conversations with both Palestinians and Israelis. Some of my friend’s most poignant stories are of conversations with young Israeli soldiers, in which they let down their guard and say that they sometimes struggle with the moral questions raised by their job.
Stories have a unique power to connect people and blast through the platitudes that we so frequently pull out in response to hard questions. But when it comes to my knowledge of Israeli-Palestinian affairs, my appetite for stories needed to be enriched by some plain old facts. So I picked up Dale Hanson Bourke’s new addition to InterVarsity Press’s “Skeptics Guides” series on The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Tough Questions, Direct Answers.
If you are concerned about what’s happening in the Middle East (and if you’re not, perhaps you should be!), if you want to be a more informed reader of the day’s top news stories, if you have ever wondered what people mean when they talk about the “two-state solution” or the “right of return,” if you don’t quite understand why Iran is so anti-Israel or why Palestinians don’t just go live somewhere else or what Jordan has to do with any of it—read this book! It is short and easy to read, just more than 140 pages, including notes. Divided into seven major topic categories, addressing everything from geography to politics, history, and terminology, the book is formatted in an easy-to-ready question-and-answer format, with most answers being just a paragraph or two. It is a perfect introduction for those who want to understand more of what is happening in the Middle East today, and the history that led to this point.
Throughout, Bourke remains neutral on questions of which side is right or wrong, although as she notes, Israeli-Palestinian affairs are so fraught that some readers will no doubt quibble with her word choices or perspective here and there.
While this little book is meant primarily as a source of information, Bourke’s skill as a writer, as well as her compassion, shines through. She writes:
“As I researched and wrote this book, the two questions I was asked most often were, ‘Is there hope to end the conflict?’ and ‘Have you decided who is wrong and who is right?’ I now realize those two questions are linked. The more time we spend deciding who is wrong or right, the less hope there is to end the conflict. Even as Americans, thousands of miles away, we can add fuel to the fire by emotionally taking sides instead of looking at specific issues.”
I have often argued that storytelling is vital to discourse around difficult issues, because stories are rarely black and white and thus they force us to see the complexities inherent in any conflict. The pitfall of storytelling, however, is that we learn to tell and listen to only a certain type of story—stories that prove we are right, with a moral point that just so happens to echo our opinions. As followers of the ultimate peacemaker, Christians must not merely welcome stories that make us uncomfortable and challenge our presuppositions, but also get our facts straight.
Bourke concludes her book by writing:
“What I believe is this: We all need to learn more about Israelis and Palestinians, to better understand each of their struggles. We need to listen more. Yes, we need to advocate, but out of knowledge, not emotion. We need to meet more people who we see as representing ‘the other side,’ and then we must sincerely listen to what they have to say.”
Whether we’re telling stories or absorbing facts (or ideally, doing both), we are called to be compassionate listeners. Dale Hanson Bourke’s book, The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Tough Questions, Direct Answers is a vital tool for that endeavor.
Ellen Painter Dollar is a writer focusing on faith, parenting, family, disability, and ethics. She is the author of No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Faith, and Parenthood in an Age of Advanced Reproduction (WJK, 2012). Find her online at ellenpainterdollar.com