Life fills me with questions. And living in the Gaza Strip, I am now
filled with even more questions than usual. Almost every aspect of who
I am and what I believe has been questioned by life here. Not just the
simple questions posed by living surrounded by an alien culture, language,
and religion. But the complicated questions posed by living with one million
other people, on 81 square miles of sand, surrounded by barbed-wire and
I often feel trampled by the enormity of the questions life here throws
at me - about identity and justice, about pain and hope. The Palestinian-Israeli
conflict is perhaps one of the most painful and complex of this century,
and living in the midst of it questions all your beliefs - your very humanity.
Never in my life have I so longed for some answers.
I understand the pain of a Palestinian when the land where his great-grandfather
is buried has been confiscated and given to a Russian Jew whose ancestors
have never lived here, because he is a converted rather than Semitic Jew,
and who arrived in the Middle East for the first time only two months earlier.
But I am an immigrant myself, and I also understand that a land not yours
by birth can still be your spiritual home. In a strange way I am an immigrant
in two directions - born in my father's land, brought up in my mother's
land. The hills of both Scotland and New Zealand are where my soul belongs
- although I have never really lived in Scotland, and no longer live in
Here identity is something people die for. But what is identity? When
a Gazan asked me where I come from, and I replied New Zealand and Britain
- he insisted I must choose. For a man who has fought all his life for
a state for his people, it was unbelievable that I could be confused about
where I come from. He declared that a person cannot possibly come from
two places regardless of how many passports they have. Normally I never
hesitate to identify myself as a New Zealander if I have to choose, but
it suddenly seemed important that I should not have to choose, that I should
not have to provide a convenient answer. I realised I may never have an
answer, I may spend the rest of my life torn between the two hemispheres
that are mine. And because I have married a Dutchman, I have chosen to
impose an even more complicated question on the children I hope to have.
As I struggled with this very personal question I found comfort in
the wisdom of the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke - be patient with all
that is unresolved in your heart - live the questions themselves - and
perhaps one day you will find yourself living into the answers. Gradually
I have come to realize that I must learn to live all the questions in my
heart, no matter how much I want answers. Questions about identity. Questions
about a just settlement between Israel and the Palestinian people. Questions
about pain and healing. Questions about peace and hope and human rights.
The human need for clear cut, tidy answers to everything is perhaps
one of our greatest failings. Answers can be very insidious deceptive things
- we long for them, and once we think we have found them, we venerate them.
But they can put chains on our hearts and minds. The ideologies which have
ravaged our planet this century were all supposed to be ultimate answers.
There can never be a tidy answer to the tragedy lived by the Palestinian
and Jewish peoples. The situation is in many ways unanswerable. No matter
how it is finally settled politically there will always remain pain and
unresolved questions. There will always be Jews who believe all the land
should belong to Israel, and there will always be Palestinians who wonder
why they have been forced to pay the price for Europe's persecution of
the Jews. I am not saying there is no hope. But if there is to be a lasting
peace in this Holy Land it will be created by people living the questions.
The closest thing I have seen to peace is in the eyes of a Jewish Rabbi
who is trying to live the questions - not only of his own people, but of
his Palestinian friends. He has no answers. He lives in Jerusalem, the
centre of his faith, but lives every day aware he is living on Palestinian
land. It is by really living the questions that we can become part of the
spirit of paradox and wonder that is the only solution to human confusion
A few weeks ago my husband and I were at a Gazan wedding. As I attempted
to join the festivities and learn to dance Arabic dancing, a tiny old woman,
dressed head to foot in a
beautiful white hijab (a form of Muslim dress), kissed me and danced
holding my hand. Without a language, religion or culture in common, we
danced together with joy, each in complete acceptance of the other as a
child of God. A profoundly affirming experience. Perhaps that is what living
the questions means. Perhaps that is who I am - a child of God.
Janet Gunning, NZ/UK