Retribution or Reconciliation?

Yuval Roth had long been committed to peace between Israelis and Palestinians. And then in 1993, one month after the Oslo Accord was signed, Roth’s brother was kidnapped and shot in the head by Hamas as he served along the Gaza-Israel border. Some in Gaza rejoiced at the murder. Some in Israel demanded retribution. How did Yuval respond to his brother’s death?

Yuval created an amazing non-profit, Road to Recovery, that provides transportation for Palestinians needing to go from the West Bank or Gaza border to Israeli hospitals. Employing Whatsapp technology, Roth has mobilized more than 1,200 Israelis who provide more than 10,000 trips annually from the border to hospitals. Volunteers in Gaza and the West Bank get patients to the border; volunteers in Israel get patients from the border to Israeli hospitals and back to the border.

One of the organizations using Roth’s services is Project Rozana that works with Palestinian children who need urgent care currently unavailable in Palestinian hospitals. Project Rozana works with Palestinian and Israeli doctors to get these children to Israeli hospitals. One such physician is Dr. Khadra Hasan Ali Salami, a mother of two working as a highly respected pediatric hematology oncology specialist at Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem. Teaming with Palestinian and Israeli medical colleagues as well as Project Rozana, she helps West Bank and Gaza children receive life-saving cancer treatments in Israeli medical facilities.

A large obstacle for Palestinians needing specialized medical help has been and is transportation. A child may need to receive chemo treatments in Israel twice a month. The roundtrip cost of taxis from the West Bank to the border to major hospitals in Israel can be as much as $300; well beyond the means of many Palestinians. Working with Project Rozana and others, Road to Recovery drivers help the kids and their family companion get back and forth for chemo and other medical appointments.

Roth is quite clear that the drivers, not just the ill children, benefit from Road to Recovery and Project Rozana’s efforts. “These encounters break down barriers,” Roth says. “Everything the Palestinians knew about us, and everything we knew about them, simply disintegrates.” Bonds of trust are built that even the harsh politics of the Middle East can’t destroy. Help someone’s child live and you have a friend for life.

If all of this sounds like work in which the church should be involved, you are correct! But raising one’s voice for reconciliation and humanitarian projects in the PCUSA these days causes one to be accused of “normalizing the occupation” by some BDS (Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment) advocates within the church. In other words, if you help Palestinian kids get through checkpoints to a hospital in Israel, you are accused of accepting and perpetuating the existence of the border checkpoints. Forget about the health of the kids. If you promote building the West Bank economy as a peacemaking strategy, you are told that you are just making the status quo more acceptable. Forget about the jobs created for Palestinians. Such is the ideological doublethink that is promoted within the PCUSA regarding Palestine-Israel.

Can the PCUSA not side with the reconcilers in the Middle East rather than those who seek retribution for past and present harm? Can we not realize that Jesus told us to turn the other cheek, not because Jesus was “normalizing” the harm, but because it is the only way beyond harm? Short answer: Yes, we can! May the PCUSA become known for the kind of grace-filled work we witness in Project Rozana and Road to Recovery.

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