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Learning To Listen To Palestine with Author Lani Lanchester

For many, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a distant and complex issue, often filtered through layers of political rhetoric and media bias. But for debut author Lanette Lanchester, the journey to understanding this conflict became profoundly personal. In her book, "Learning to Listen to Palestine: A Personal Quest," Lani explores the human stories behind the headlines.

In this insightful interview, Lani shares the inspirations and revelations that motivated her to write her debut book. From her initial shock at the tragic death of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh to the countless narratives she uncovered while listening to Palestinians, Lani's journey is one of empathy, discovery, and hope. 

Continue reading as Lani discusses her transition from high school science teacher to published author, and how her dedication to understanding different perspectives has the power to foster empathy and inspire change.

What inspired you to write "Learning to Listen to Palestine: A Personal Quest"?

I wrote “Learning to Listen to Palestine” because hope exists.  Current events are bleak, sad, and seemingly hopeless, however, as I have learned to listen to Palestine, something remarkable has happened.  I have not kept what I learned to myself but shared with others my experience.  As I do, my story always brings about a reaction with my friends or family. I see them go through the same steps of confusion, doubt, and personally reexamining what they thought they knew. Moreover, I discovered a story of hope that should shine like the sun but has been mostly overlooked.

It all started for me when I was getting ready to go to Israel by myself on a road trip tour of Israel. As I was preparing to go, I read about Shireen Abu Akleh.  Shireen was almost exactly my age, 51 years old. She was a Palestinian Christian who earned her citizenship in the United States.  She went to school here and worked here, but she returned to Israel and Palestine to report on what was happening between Israel and// Palestine. She covered the conflict for 25 years. However, on May 11, 2022, Shireen Abu Akleh was targeted by an IDF sniper and shot in the head.  It was denied for a few weeks, but in the end, the IDF admitted to the crime.  The incident was caught on film with many witnesses.  Forensic evidence was gathered. Nevertheless, no one was held accountable for her death.  This brought me into full crushing confusion. I thought I knew Israel.  I knew nothing.  I did not understand why I had not heard about this tragedy before from the press.  I did not understand why the US government had not called for accountability and justice.  I did not understand how the IDF which was supposed to be keeping people safe could have so blatantly murdered this woman who served by only telling the truth. 

This was the first of many stories that I heard once I started learning to listen to Palestinian people.  Listening is the first step in humanizing and ultimately loving the Palestinian people as Jesus taught us to love our neighbor as ourselves. 

Tell us a bit about your journey from being a high school science teacher to a published author.

 I tell my students often that each one of them has thoughts that no one has ever had before or will ever have again.  They are unique, precious, and important. I tell them to look around the room at what impressive individuals we have here.  “Listen to each other!  They need to be heard.”

The Scientific Method includes: questioning, researching, writing a hypothesis, experimentation, analyzing results, drawing a conclusion, and publishing their work.  I tell my students often how important it is for a scientist to publish their work because if they don’t they are stealing from future generations.  Weekly, I ensure that they post their writing, and their thoughts for the class to read and to build upon. Just after Sir Isaac Newton reluctantly published his work, the field of Physics was born.  

My experience in developing my story is similar to the Scientific Method with steps of questioning, research, and discovery.  In the end, it was my voice reminding me that if I did not publish, I was stealing from my greater community. 

My students are amazing supporters of my becoming a published author.  However, my students are coached every day that they will grow to become great men and women who will make the world a better place every day. They believe me. I hope by my example they write and publish works much greater than mine.  That they will be scientists who discover.  They will be engineers that solve problems.  And they will be neighbors who will find the solution to injustices. 

Your book emphasizes the importance of listening and understanding different perspectives.  

How do you share this message with those who have little interest in considering another point of view?

It takes courage to be wrong.

First of all, I relate to people who are dogmatic in their support of Israel.  This is the way I was raised. A few years ago, I met a charming man.  We were both teaching at the same University in Texas.  We both piqued each other’s interests. However, he was a political science teacher and a published author, with a book that said “Palestine” in the title.  He was immediately friend-zoned.  smacks self on the forehead I never read his book to find out if he had a good point even though I respected him in every other way.  I did not care to know any more about his perspective because I thought that I was exceptionally well-read.  

Changing my point of view was going to take courage. It took listening to a person, then another person, and another person. I found out that Palestinian people, each one of them, have thoughts that no one has ever had before or will ever have again.  They are unique, precious, and important. I needed to listen to them!  This book is just a glimpse into some of these stories.  To truly change the point of view, we need to get to know Palestinians as our neighbors. 

I hope this book will give people courage.  In the history of science, there are stories of scientists stubbornly hanging on to an old tired theory.  However, the courage to be wrong drives science forward. Looking at the conflict over the last 76 years in the Holy Land, we have been unable to solve the injustices.  Perhaps it is time to look deeply into our understanding and find the courage to be wrong. 

Could you elaborate on your decision to focus on the Palestinian narrative and its significance in today's socio-political landscape?

This book is not political.  There are no solutions in politics.  Politics are guilty of dehumanization, division, deception, and control.  There is little value in seeing Palestinians as humans politically.  

Socially, however, Palestinians have amazing gifts to contribute to society.  Living in the Holy Land, they live by faith to resiliently persist in loving their families, their country, and even their enemies.  Yes, Christians and Muslims see the teaching of Jesus as prophetic truth.  They have an ancient culture that reaches back thousands of years of history.  Some of the olive trees in the land are 800 years old and were planted by the same family who tends them today. Before Zionist Nationalism infused the land after WWI, Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived in peace for over 400 years (from the time of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent). 

The conflict that has erupted into heartbreaking violence and death, has a context that must be heard. This context was not from October 7th but has been increasing in intensity. Bitterness and fear grow in traumatized Palestinians and traumatized Israelis. I was not surprised when I heard about the attacks, because I had been listening to the increasing abuses, rapes, thefts, kidnappings, and murders being committed against Palestinians. 

When we share a meal with someone, hug a child, and work side by side to make the world a better place, we find that we have more in common than we ever imagined. 

Your book touches on themes of forgiveness, empathy, and overcoming bitterness. How do you envision readers applying these principles in their own lives?

The week before I started writing my book, my friend died of cancer and my dad died unexpectedly on the same day, and my daughters had stopped talking to me the year before. I was completely broken. My sister shared “The Book of Forgiving” by Desmond Tutu which tells the story of South Africa. I cringed at the thought of South Africa polluted with hate and injustice. As I worked through this book, I was shocked to find that South Africa, a nation notorious for a wicked apartheid system, racial violence, dehumanization, and corruption had found a path to healing in a matter of years. I had never learned the rest of the story. Reverend Desmond Tutu took on the healing of a nation with a national project to uncover the stories of the abuses of the South African apartheid system and to facilitate the forgiveness and healing of individuals and a nation. They achieved something I did not know was possible.  Something beautiful. 

I believe that everyone should read “The Book of Forgiving” by Desmond Tutu.  It is easily applied to every life.   

What challenges did you face while researching and writing about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and how did you overcome them?

Once I started learning to listen to Palestine, I didn’t know what to believe from my years of reading and education about Israel and Palestine.  I had never heard the term “Nakba” until I was in Israel naively saying to my Palestinian friend, “There must have been something righteous about 1948.”  

“Righteous! 530 villages were destroyed!  There were massacres, rapes, 750,000 people were forced out of their homes.” My friend was angry, but I had no idea.  I had never heard this before.  

It took me a lot of time to learn about the Nakba even after I was on the trail.  Nakba means catastrophe in Arabic.  This refers to the terrible events that Palestinians suffered in 1947-1948. A simple Google search brought up sketchy information. 1948 was a time that involved foreign reporters and UN observers, but it is an incident that was almost eradicated from global memory unless you are Palestinian. I spoke to many Palestinians about that time, but these people could only tell me their limited view or perhaps recall what their parents had told them about it. 

Eventually, I discovered several teachers who became my guides.  Yohanna Katanacho is a Baptist Pastor from Nazareth, Israel. He helped me refine my theology, and to understand how a Palestinian Christian endures the struggles of the Palestinian life.  Munther Isaac is an Anglican Priest from Bethlehem, Palestine who teaches about justice, and mercy. To understand the Nakba, my guide is an Israeli historian, Ilan Pappe.  Ilan Pappe was born and raised in a Jewish city, went to Israeli schools, and served in the IDF during the 1973 War.  However, in the 1980s Pappe studied the original documents from 1948 that were unsealed in 1978.  Pappe cautiously at first revealed what he found, but in 2006 he published a book that forced him to leave Israel for good, “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine”. This book tediously details all the events and participants of the Nakba, that did not start in 1948 but began in 1947.   


What most surprised you about writing your book?

I was surprised to learn about the persecution of the Christian Church in Israel.  I had thought that Christians were great supporters of the Jews and Jews were great supporters of Christians.  Christians send thousands of dollars to Israel every year to help support the elderly, plant trees, and help desperate people make aliyah.  I learned about a Church burning of the historical Church of the Loaves and Fishes by Jewish extremists and bulldozers illegally targeting the Armenian Quarter in Old City Jerusalem (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). I was surprised when there was not a collective call to stop from the Western Church when the Baptist Hospital was bombed in Gaza.  Also, the three churches of Gaza were bombed, one of them was the second oldest church in the world. There was not a call of outrage from the Western Church.  I was shocked when people taking refuge in one of the bombed-out churches including a nun were killed by IDF snipers. Many Christians believe that God is always on the side of Israel, even if they are carpet bombing civilians, neighborhoods, schools, hospitals, and churches.  

I learned that the Churches of Israel and Palestine had collectively created a document asking the Western Church for help.  The document is fifteen years old, and I had never heard of it.  Kairos Palestine 2009 was created when the heads of churches ranging from Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, and much more united in prayer and study to determine what they shared and what they would ask the international community and the World Churches to aid peace, justice, and reconciliation in the Holy Land. It is a beautiful document that outlines hope for nonviolence and peace.  It is a roadmap for reconciliation. I am convinced anyone interested in peace should read and ask questions about this document.  Kairos Palestine 2009

As a first-time author, what advice would you give to aspiring writers who are tackling sensitive or controversial topics?

Learning to Listen to Palestine tackles aspects of theology, political situations, dehumanization, and buried truth while trying to find that glimmer of hope.  It is important to have many early readers from many different backgrounds.  The topics covered in Learning to Listen to Palestine affected different people in many ways that I could not have predicted.  I share my manuscript very humbly with people asking them to give me a minimum of 10 notes.  I ask them, “Tell me where you put the book down if you got stuck or walked away.” If an early reader gives me harsh criticism, I thank them and take it as love.  This gives me a window into how other people’s points of view affect their perception of what I have written. I write down all people’s reactions and questions that they ask me about the book.  Then I carefully examine the wording and the content to judge if the work is accomplishing what I hoped for.  

It is important to carefully research and document all the sources for the controversial topics in Learning to Listen to Palestine.  I make sure that the reader has easy access to sources to document the facts of the stories.  For instance, when my friend told me that the Israelis planted trees over destroyed villages to hide the evidence of the ethnic cleansing and massacres of 1948, I did not believe my friend was lying to me, but I did not trust his facts until I read the documents for myself.  

I also have a secret tool for overcoming my hesitancy to change my work.  I have a “word dump”.  It is a special file on my computer where I cut and deposit sections of my writing that need to go, but I fear losing something important. Being willing to cut out sections that do not improve the story significantly improves my writing. 

Do you have anything else you would like to share with us?

While it appears that I have switched sides from Israeli to Palestinian “side”, this is not the case.  The truth is that we all need to be on the same side.  There is one race, the human race. We all need to listen to each other.  Our goal should be to work together to give all of us the best outcome possible.  Desmond Tutu writes, “I know in my heart that peace is possible. I know it is possible in your life, and I know it is possible in mine.  I know it is possible for our children, our grandchildren, and the generations that follow...Peace is built with every small and large act of forgiveness” (Tutu 59).


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