Excerpted from The Friendly Line, newsletter of the Des Moines Valley Friends Meeting

By Sherry Hutchison

Mark Braverman, author of Fatal Embrace: Christians, Jews, and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land, was featured at a May 4, 2010 lunch and conversation cosponsored by AFSC and the Grace United Methodist Church and Society Committee.

The program began with people reading statements by various mainstream denominations on the Israel-Palestine issue, copies of which were on the tables. Several of the statements recommended divestment of stock of Israeli corporations, and/or American corporations which do business with Israel, especially Caterpillar.

Grandson of a Palestinian Jew, Braverman was raised in Philadelphia in a moderately observant family. Jewish history, he said, is a story of survival over time. Jews can see themselves as a powerless minority. He learned to believe that “all Christians want to kill or convert you.” He has family in Israel who see Palestinians as terrorists.

His perspective was fundamentally changed in 2006 when he joined a FOR delegation (mostly Christians) to the Holy Land, witnessed the occupation of Palestine, and met with Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders. Since then, he’s devoted himself full-time to the Israel-Palestine conflict. He described the conflict as the greatest crisis in history since the Babylonian exile. Time is running out, he said, and a fundamental transformation is necessary.

“Arabs don’t like what we’re doing to Palestinians,” he said; they blame the U.S. for Israel’s actions. Braverman said the Israeli occupation is not the worst human rights violation in the world, but it is the longest. It is important to us because the U.S. supports the Israeli occupation, which threatens world peace.

When Braverman finally saw what was going on, he was horrified and confused. What changed him was meeting Palestinian people. He walked everyday from Israeli West Jerusalem to Arab East Jerusalem. In the office of Sabeel, an organization which helps Palestinians maintain themselves against the occupation, he asked the director how he managed. “We follow Jesus,” she replied. “He was a Palestinian Jew who said, ‘Love y our enemies.’” This all made sense to him.

Braverman found that it wasn’t easy telling Jewish audiences that the story they’d grown up with wasn’t true. Speaking to Christian audiences, he once was admonished to be sensitive to the feelings of Jewish people.

Spiritualizing the land, he said, was an important step. Seminaries teach that the land belongs to the Jewish people; this concept, he said, is responsible for violations of human rights.

“The civil rights movement and the South African anti-apartheid movement were supported by churches,” he said, but there’s a huge interfaith barrier, and Christians shouldn’t wait for Jews. “It’s about your faith.”

Obama seems prepared to push for a two-state solution, but he may settle for facts on the ground. “The president needs to hear from churches,” Braverman said.

Asked about military contractors making profits from war, Braverman said it’s about the money. There are military contracts in each state. He believes a two-state solution would be only a transitional step and that getting the Israeli Separation Wall down would bring reconciliation.

It took 40 years to get rid of apartheid, he reminded his audience, and advised us to keep at it.