I remember in Rwanda in 1994 when Canadian peacekeepers discovered an orphanage where the Hutus had hacked off the feet and hands of Tutsi children so they could not grow up to retaliate against them. Witnessing this, the peacekeepers wondered, “How can we teach peace to children like these, who have every reason to grow up to hate those who crippled them?”
We have the same dilemma in the Middle East. Mansoor Riaz of Bellevue, Washington, writes in today’s Toronto Star newspaper: “Civilian casualties, Israeli or Palestinian, are utterly unacceptable especially if civilians are specifically targeted. While Israel continues this brutal campaign, it will not only garner ill will internationally, but also engender more hostility from Palestinians and ensure the continuation of this conflict.”
Whether civilians are targets or “colateral damage,” their sacrifice is not justifiable even when terrorists use them as shields. Canadian Sharmin Rahman of Toronto makes an excellent point in his Letter to the Editor in the Toronto Star: “More than 600 Palestinians have died in this conflict alone, but only 130 were Hamas fighters. The gains Israel is making now will be over-shadowed by the devastation it is causing. And that will leave Palestinians susceptible to recruitment by groups like Hamas in future. Who else will help feed their starving families or give the homeless shelter, as Israel continues to keep a stranglehold over Gaza’s borders? If Israel actually assisted the Palestinian people in rising out of their poverty and grief-stricken existence, then their reliance on Hamas would be greatly diminished.”
In Israel, there are Jews who want to live in peace with their Arab brethren, who deplore the war between them. What propels the Middle East conflict forward are the radicals filled with hate on both sides. “An eye for an eye.” The healing power of love and forgiveness escapes them.
President-Elect Obama has said that, if bombs were dropped in his backyard and threatened his daughters, he would retaliate. Many Israeli citizens have blamed their government for the helpless fear their children feel. Towns and some cities in Israel have endured rocket attacks day after day for years, though only four civilian deaths have been reported over this time as a direct result. Rather, it’s been a prolonged nightmare of shattered nerves. The threat is always real. The possibility of death immediate. Whole communities suffer from sleep deprivation as those rocket attacks rain down on them. The Israeli government has decided, “Enough is enough.”
But, at what price? What is achieved if the result is perpetual hate, between generation after generation of Jews and Arabs?
A dear Canadian friend, John Smyth of St. Catharines, reminds me that, regardless of our feelings about the crisis between Israel and their Palestinian and Arab nerighbors, there is an overriding fact goading the antogonists, and he sent me this quote by Benjamin Netanyahu: “If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more violence. If the Jews put down their weapons today, there would be no more Israel.”
Is it not time to seek a path to peace, to deflate the Arabs’ hate-filled desire to wipe Israel off the face of the earth? But how, when extremist Arab and Muslim leaders brainwash their young people with a call for Jihad and death to all non-believers? John further reminds me that Jews do not teach their children how to blow themselves up and cause maximum deaths of Arabs and other non-Jews; that not one single Jew has destroyed a church in protest against the razing of European synagogues or the genocide in concentration camps during the Holocaust.
Right now, “turning the other cheek” spells suicide for Israel, but leaving in its wake slaughtered children in Gaza maligns its justification in the court of world opinion.
In despair, I have no answer. I only know violence begets violence.