Sins of Omission

Several months ago – Yes, I am a very slow blogger, but this is a story worth telling….

So, several months ago, I had the privilege of meeting two new colleagues at an inter-faith conference. Paul is a Palestinian Christian from Jerusalem and Salim is a Palestinian Muslim living in Nablus, 60 kilometers or so to the northeast.  Despite their different life experiences, they share a similar frustration at how people in the outside world, especially the United States, tend to have a one-sided understanding of the issues facing Palestine and Israel.

Paul meets a lot of international visitors, many of whom experience a paradigm shift when they see firsthand the realities of the West Bank. Some Americans have absorbed pro-Israel theology through certain Protestant denominations, and almost all of us have been fed incomplete history through the media and education systems. Middle-aged American adults often tell Paul that when they learned in school about the 1948 founding of Israel, the event was presented mainly as the return of Jews to a homeland. The textbooks rarely mentioned the Palestinian communities, both Muslim and Christian, that were deeply rooted in the same land. In other words, “they didn’t tell us that there were people already living there.”

How can a truth as important as the existence of a people be omitted? It boggles the mind, but this is not an isolated case.  I have generally thought of Palestinian rights as a distinct issue from indigenous rights, but now the parallels become obvious. The sin of omission of truthful history has happened in Palestine. It has happened in the southern Philippines, where Christian migrants from the north were not taught the devastating effects of their arrival on local Muslim and indigenous groups.  It has happened in North America, where some say the ‘mainstream’ thinking greatly underestimates the numbers of the first peoples who thrived here prior to European arrival.

Each dispossession story is unique, and there are plenty of useful social science explanations for how history gets reinterpreted through the eyes of power. However at a more basic level, talking with Salim and Paul highlights for me the moral issues of right and wrong. Simply put, whatever side of a historical conflict one may embrace, it’s not OK to deny the existence and history of others. Omission of an important truth has the same impact as lying. How can I examine my own conscience today to ensure that I am telling the truth? The whole truth?

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Paul and Salim are of course real people, but their names have been changed to protect their identities. Thank you, my friends, for sharing your stories.