John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is perhaps the world’s best known allegory. Christian, the protagonist, travels from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. Along the way, he passes the Slough of Despond, Giant Despair, Doubting Castle, House of the Interpreter, and Vanity Fair. He faces troubles and pleasures of all kinds, meeting characters such as Worldly Wise Man and Hopeful. The story is to be understood as the picture of a man’s life from his conversion to Christianity until his death. It’s not a subtle piece of work—the names make things pretty obvious—but it has been popular; sales of the book are second only to the Bible.

George Orwell’s Animal Farm is another example of the genre, and it is not as obvious to most people what’s going on, since the names of the characters are not quite so transparent. Animal Farm is an allegory of the history of the Soviet Union. Napoleon is Stalin, Old Major is Marx and Lenin, and Snowball is Trotsky. The other characters in the novel can similarly be identified with historical figures. In college I took a history course called Twentieth Century Russia. Toward the end of the semester, my professor had us read Animal Farm. It made perfect sense then and the identifications were pretty easy.

As I’ve listened to the news of late, and watched criticism or even condemnation of the Israelis in their ongoing conflict with the Palestinians, I’ve thought about writing an allegory myself. Sometimes telling the story in analogous terms can help clarify what’s going on for those who might otherwise fail to recognize what should be obvious. Jesus taught in parables for this very reason. People can understand better when you change the setting and characters. It lets them see past the clouded and loaded terms, the obscuring fog of the yelling participants.

My allegory about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be the story of a black family that moves into an all white neighborhood after being chased out of the South by the KKK. They pay too much for a broken down fixerupper and then they work hard, plant grass, fix the broken windows and make it a nice place despite the constant griping and complaining and put downs of the neighbors. The black family refuses to leave, despite the nearly nightly crossburnings on their front yard, the periodic Molotov cocktails tossed through their front door, the robberies, and the shootings. Meanwhile, they face criticism at every turn from the local newspaper for reacting to the attacks against them. When they install a security system, they are condemned for their intransigence. When they arm themselves, they are “escalating the conflict.” When they shoot the rapist climbing in the daughter’s bedroom window, they are slapped with a wrongful death suit.

Their neighbors make a habit of comparing them to the KKK at every opportunity. Moreover, the police do nothing but issue warrants against the black family and cite them for building code violations. The city council decrees the neighbors should be able to build a barbecue and tennis court in their backyard, and that it is unreasonable for the black family to forbid their neighbors from having parties in their living room on Saturday nights. The rapist’s brother has filed a class action lawsuit demanding his right to sleep in the daughter’s bedroom. Meanwhile, the local paper editorializes about how “hostile and inhospitable the black family is. They need to reach out to their neighbors and find a way to get along.”

Another allegory might work if that one is unclear: in marriage counseling, both parties need to be interested in reconciliation if there is going to be much hope for saving the marriage. If the husband, for instance, wants to reconcile, but the wife wants the husband to drop dead, there’s little room for compromise. When the voices in her head tell her he’s an alien and she is mad because he keeps ducking every time she fires her shotgun at his head, how exactly is it his fault that the marriage isn’t a happy one? One can always point out that there are two sides to every conflict, but sometimes, one of those sides is simply nuts.

The Jewish people want peace more than anything. The Palestinians want the Jews to die more than anything. That makes it tricky to find a compromise. The sad reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that right now only one side wants peace. Maybe someday, if the Palestinians get tired of their situation, peace can happen. It did happen between Israel and Egypt, when the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat finally woke up and decided he was tired of being the Moslem world’s canon fodder and made peace with Israel. Now Israelis spend big bucks at tourist resorts in Egypt. Same thing with the Israelis and the Jordanians: they managed to sign a genuine peace accord. So it might happen someday between Israel and the Palestinians. But not until the Palestinians accept the idea that it’s okay for the Israelis to live.

One last thing, a bit of historical context. Jordan and Egypt controlled the West Bank and Gaza from 1948 until 1967. In that entire time, the Palestinians never sent suicide bombers against the Jordanians. The world never condemned Egypt as an occupier or demanded a Palestinian state on the West Bank. But there was never a shortage of violence and condemnation against the Israelis, anyhow.

But maybe it is the case that all the problems in the neighborhood are because of the nasty character of the family that moved into that rundown house. They really are inhospitable. It has nothing to do with the fact that they are black. The voices in my head told me so.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm a deacon at Quartz Hill Community Church. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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