I awoke this morning to the terrible news of the shelling of a United Nations school in Gaza where families had fled for safety. Despite Israel’s denial that the school was targeted (according to an interview by the BBC), there were many women and children killed. In the past 3 weeks, over 1,000 civilians in Gaza have died while the death toll in Israel remains quite low. Regardless, these are all God’s children and clearly all are in need of help.
I’m sad when I read strong opinions of who’s right and who’s wrong on social media. Often the comments are made in hateful ways with name-calling and disparaging words questioning the mental status of whoever is considered the “bad guy” at the moment. I fear this gets us nowhere. I read a more helpful comment by Brain McLaren (author and pastor) the other day that got me thinking about the way we express our opinions on this difficult issue:
This is not a post about who is right and wrong in Israel-Palestine.
This is a post about how the rest of us talk about who is right and wrong in Israel-Palestine.
Conventional discourse on the subject goes like this:
X is right, good, values life, wants peace, is a victim, and is sane. Y is wrong, bad, doesn’t value life, doesn’t want peace, is a villain, and is insane.
Then, data is selected and presented (and other data ignored or discredited) to prove the proposition.
I suppose the goal is to prove that whichever is deemed the right, good, life-valuing, peace-loving, victimized and sane party has the right to continue killing the other.
Which seems ridiculous and tragic, when you think about it.
Another approach to the issue would say:
Both X and Y are a mix of right and wrong, good and bad, valuing some life more than others, acting sometimes as victims and sometimes as villains, and a mixture of sanity and insanity. They aren’t necessarily morally equivalent, but neither is to exempted from moral assessment.
What would be the advantages of starting from this alternative perspective rather than the conventional one?
A further possibility would be to say:
X and Y are acting more or less sanely if one understands their respective goals.
That third possibility would raise this question:
In the pursuit of what goals would the actions of both Israel and Palestine make sense?
I’d like to offer a few thoughts on that question in a day or two. But for now, I hope people will at least consider defecting from the prevailing good-guys/bad-guys mode of discourse. It gets us nowhere we want to be.
So, putting aside the good guy/bad guy question, we can more honestly approach the needs in this region. I’ve written about the Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza before – even last week – but I will continue today because the need is even greater as more and more people are injured in this ongoing struggle. The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby issued a statement on July 30 that says it well:
You can’t look at the pictures coming from Gaza and Israel without your heart breaking. We must cry to God and beat down the doors of heaven and pray for peace and justice and security. Only a costly and open-hearted seeking of peace between Israeli and Palestinian can protect innocent people, their children and grandchildren, from ever worse violence.
My utmost admiration is for all those involved in the humanitarian efforts on the ground, not least the medical team and staff at Al Ahli Arab Hospital. Providing relief and shelter for those displaced is a tangible expression of our care and concern, and I encourage Church of England parishes and dioceses, as well as the wider Communion, to pray for them and support the Diocese of Jerusalem’s emergency appeal.
While humanitarian relief for those civilians most affected is a priority, especially women and children, we must also recognize that this conflict underlines the importance of renewing a commitment to political dialogue in the wider search for peace and security for both Israeli and Palestinian. The destructive cycle of violence has caused untold suffering and threatens the security of all.
For all sides to persist with their current strategy, be it threatening security by the indiscriminate firing of rockets at civilian areas or aerial bombing which increasingly fails to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants is self-defeating. The bombing of civilian areas, and their use to shelter rocket launches, are both breaches of age old customs for the conduct of war. Further political impasse, acts of terror, economic blockades or sanctions and clashes over land and settlements, all increase the alienation of those affected. Populations condemned to hopelessness or living under fear will be violent. Such actions create more conflict, more deaths and will in the end lead to an even greater disaster than the one being faced today. The road to reconciliation is hard, but ultimately the only route to security. It is the responsibility of all leaders to protect the innocent, not only in the conduct of war but in setting the circumstances for a just and sustainable peace.
While it is acceptable to question and even disagree with particular policies of the Israeli government, the spike in violence and abuse against Jewish communities here in the UK is simply unacceptable. We must not allow such hostility to disrupt the good relations we cherish among people of all faiths. Rather we must look at ways at working together to show our concern and support for those of goodwill on all sides working for peace.
Let us pray to the Prince of Peace who so suffered in a land of violence that hearts may turn to peace and the innocent be helped.
The Episcopal News Service includes this link for sending support to the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem which supports Al-Ahli Hospital – http://www.anglicannews.org/news/2014/07/emergency-appeal-made-for-gaza-hospital.aspx
Please continue to pray and consider how you might support the work at the hospital to crisis.
Holy God, you have made of one blood all nations that dwell upon earth. Look with mercy upon us, and drive away our evil passions of fear and hatred. Grant that united in good will we may live together in charity and joy, each in the praise of great achievements, in rivalry of good and beneficent deeds, and sharing in truthful and just dealings with one another; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
~Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council