“Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.” ~ MLK
“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord.” ~ Isaiah
“No one’s got Christ more wrong than Christians.” ~ Tom Petty
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably seen more than one person post something recently that explains who is ACTUALLY to blame for the current conflict in Israel and Palestine. And as the violence escalates (as violence always does), people take to Facebook and Twitter with renewed fervor to share slick PR and one-sided propaganda. This will not be one of those posts. I have no interest in adding to the noise of that never-ending argument. I could spend 1500 words trying to convince you of the complexity of the situation, but if you can’t already see how both sides could truly believe that they are on the “right” side, nothing I write here is going to convince you.
You’ve probably already seen the videos attempting to explain the reasons behind the fighting: Both the “Pro-Palestine” video (that makes no mention of the very real threat of groups dedicated to the eradication of the Jews) and the “Pro-Israel” video (that attempts to simplify the issue down to “One side wants the other dead”–A ridiculously broad brush). And then, like me, you’ve probably watched as the conversations that followed disintegrated before your eyes, and any hope of understanding was abandoned. On a side note, I believe that if you really want to understand the history behind the conflict in the Holy Land, the video below by Nina Paley is probably your best place to start. In addition, you can go to her website for an explanation about each of the characters in the video.
Beyond the history of Palestine and the continued conflict in the region, this latest violence erupted after Palestinian extremists kidnapped and murdered three Israeli boys. The people who did this horrible act probably wanted Israel to respond with an attack…. and Israel gave them exactly what they wanted, priming the pump of violence that would swell into even more hatred and revenge and death. As I’m writing this, the U.N. reports that so far there have been 635 people killed in Gaza, 4,040 wounded–with 70-80% of those casualties being civilians. For Israel, 25 soldiers and two civilians have been killed.
The thing is, even something like mentioning those asymmetrical statistics is often perceived by many people as being “anti-Israel.” For people who possess such crystal-clear certainty on this issue, even suggesting the possibility of complexity is perceived as declaring an alliance with the other side. Even something as simple as expressing empathy for the people who are trapped in Gaza makes many people feel compelled to recount a litany of things that Israel has done right compared with all the many evils Hamas has perpetrated. But in all of the posts I have seen detailing the many horrors happening in Gaza over the past few weeks, I have seen exactly ZERO PEOPLE say they think that Hamas is doing the right thing. Zero. However, if someone posts a story of four Palestinian kids getting killed on a beach by Israeli shelling, within moments there are comments insisting this tragedy must only be viewed through the lens of Hamas’ inhuman tactics. If we point out the suffering in Gaza, it must be “appropriately” framed by pointing out how the Palestinians are to blame.
I suppose it helps to try to think about what it would be like in their shoes, but really I can’t even imagine what it must be like to live in that area right now. What do I know? Nothing. I don’t have any idea what it is like to be a Jew living in Israel…. Imagine living in an area where weddings are interrupted by sirens because a group of people wants you dead and fires indiscriminate rockets your way. No country in the world would allow rockets to keep being fired on them–no matter how impoverished the people are in that area, no matter how oppressed they are, no matter how much of a minority of the population is responsible for the rockets–without responding with military action. I get it.
And I don’t have any idea what it is like being a Palestinian living in Gaza…. Imagine living in an area where shelling and air attacks in civilian areas have filled up the morgues and hospitals beyond capacity. I try to think about what it would be like in the U.S. if things went down like they did in Palestine. I mean, can you imagine? There are some people in this country who are ready to start shooting people and threatening to secede from the union over being told they can’t carry assault rifles into a Taco Bell. Can you imagine what kind of hell they would raise if they were told they had to pack up their things and give their house and their land away…. TO THE JEWS!?!? There are people buying hundred-round clips and getting neck tattoos that say “Live free or die” over something as simple as a modest income tax…. Imagine if people were forced to move out of their home. They would be firing every rocket they could find, and claiming that God is on their side as they did it. I get it.
But really this is neither here nor there…. I am not on the side of Gaza and I am not on the side of Israel. I am on the side of recognizing the image of God in all people. I am on the side of loving our enemies. I am on the side of forgiveness and mercy. I am on the side of alleviating suffering, regardless of who’s to blame or where it is on the map. I believe this is our best response as humans, but this has to be your response if you are walking around calling yourself a Christian. As followers of Jesus and as humans, our compassion for suffering people is not determined by borders or nationality. The world focuses on fault, on who started it, on who’s to blame…. But the kingdom of God is different. The focus is not on responsibility, but on reconciliation. Not on accountability, but on empathy. Not on culpability, but on on compassion. Not on fault, but on friendship. Not on liability, but on love.
And I get that using Jesus to solve a problem between Jews and Muslims smacks of a western superiority complex, but here’s the thing: If you want to leave Jesus out of it, feel free. Christianity does not have a patent on nonviolence. Gandhi did just fine without Jesus. How hard is it to see? The strategy of More Violence as a response to More Violence is not working! And I understand that nonviolence can be a hard sell if people are shooting rockets at you or if your family just got killed in an air strike, but most of the people I see doing the arguing are sitting on couches. We are far from the fighting, and yet so many of us cannot even bring ourselves to acknowledge the complexity of the situation. What hope is there for people who are living in the midst of all this fear and hatred and war if we–living safely on the other side of the world and sacrificing little or nothing–cannot even IMAGINE that love might be an effective response to hate? And instead of using our words to make a moral or pragmatic case for nonviolence, we use them to argue with each other–safe in our houses–over which side is LESS wrong. But both sides are wrong and both sides are right…. To what degree depends on what group you’re in.
Both sides claim that the laying down of arms would certainly result in in their people’s demise, but this both dehumanizes the the other side and it drastically underestimates the powerful witness of an active nonviolence rooted in love. And really, it belies the spirit of God in all of us that cries out for justice and immediate action when we see images of little girls tumbling down the streets at the end of fires hoses, and men with badges turning loose dogs on young men who are doing nothing but standing on a sidewalk. Our stomachs turn, and both our humanity and our divinity well up inside of us. It is a bleak view of humanity that cannot imagine way out of this other than more violence, but it is an even bleaker view of Jesus Christ. The voice of God cries out for us to love our neighbor, but any mention of “loving one’s enemies” is met with reason after reason why THIS particular enemy is not deserving of love.
Everyone’s taking sides…. Well, if following Jesus has anything to do with taking sides, it is about taking the side of love over hate, of mercy over judgment, of peace over war, of humility over certainty, and of hope over fear. And just like Martin Luther King, Jr. said in the quote at the top, the rejection of revenge, aggression, and retaliation is the way out of this. But again, this nonviolence does not necessarily have to go hand in hand with the name of Jesus. Anyone can claim the name of Jesus…. The Nazis claimed that name. Given the choice between the name of Jesus and the spirit of Jesus, I’ll take the spirit every time. I feel like I have more in common with a Jew or a Muslim who is working toward reconciliation and understanding and an end to the violence than I have in common with a Christian making a case for why Gaza deserved to be attacked, or why the deaths of the 132 Palestinian CHILDREN who died over the past two weeks were actually Hamas’ fault. Just like in the parable, sometimes the Samaritan gets it better than the priest or the levite. Christianity is not going to solve this…. Love is going to solve this problem.
I want to leave you with a couple glimmers of hope courtesy of the good people of Israel and Palestine…. Please, please check them out: The first is the story of Robi Damelin and Ali Abu Awaad. Robi’s son was killed by a Palestinian sniper, and Ali’s older brother was killed by an Israeli soldier. Their story of reconciliation and understanding in the face of tragedy is a story that has the power to break the cycle of violence. You can also read Robi’s powerful letter to the family of the sniper who killed her son David. And lastly, if you haven’t checked out the Twitter hashtag #JewsAndArabsRefuseToBeEnemies yet, you really should. It’s inspiring and hopeful, and I think we can all use as much of that as possible right now. No matter your faith or lack thereof, let us continue to work at facilitating rational and loving discourse. And most of all, let us work together to alleviate suffering and end violence wherever we find it. Peace.