A bitter harvest...

I am going to write something hard about the current anguish taking place in Israel/Palestine. I have come to mostly despise ALL the political players in this tragedy. This is not my general inclination towards politicians. Having served as an elected official myself - and having had the privilege to know a number of dedicated public servants who cared deeply about the common good - I tend to extend a great deal of grace to those caught in the devil's bargain of trying to get elected while doing the right thing. More often than not, these are good people attempting an impossible job. And more than half the time, they do a damned fine job. Not always, of course: regularly we find some knuckle-headed simpleton pandering to the lowest common denominator who carries the hour. But even these losers eventually fall victim to their own hubris and do themselves in.

Such an equation doesn't seem to be at work when it comes to the politics of Israel and Palestine. Can we really trust that the arch of the moral universe bends ever so slightly towards justice as we watch human kindness and hope disintegrate? This is a viscous season. Every one's worst qualities and most mean-spirited strategies seem to be in full blossom. Further, the deepest fears and hatreds of these two opponents appear all too alive and well as the innocent dead are carried away and violent retribution carries the day. And while there is some merit to arguments of proportionality, I will leave it to the various partisans to debate the statistics. Tonight I cannot stomach any more human death. The way I see it, hell has erupted into this earthly battle
infecting both Israel and Palestine. And while they do the Devil's work in different ways, both parties are guilty.

The Reverend Jim Wallis of the Sojourner's Community wrote these words that I quote at length: It is time for some truth-telling.

The horrible human costs and increasing danger the world is now facing in Gaza, Ukraine, and Iraq show the consequences of not telling the truth. And unfortunately, we seem to mostly have political leaders who are unwilling to admit the truth of what’s happening, deal with root causes instead of exploiting symptoms, and then do everything possible to prevent the escalation of violence and further wars. Instead we have politicians who are mostly looking for opportunities to blame their political opponents, boost their own reputations, and protect business interests. As people of faith, we are called to speak the truth in love. It’s time for some truth telling.

In Gaza, do we really believe that Palestinian lives are less valuable than Israeli lives at dozens to one? Why can’t we say that both Hamas and the Israeli government are responsible for this escalation and conflict that has already killed hundreds of people? If Hamas is morally responsible for targeting its rockets at civilians in Israel, why isn’t Israel morally responsible for killing hundreds of civilians and children, including four Palestinian boys on the beach who are the same age as my youngest son? Their weeping mothers cursed the actions of both Israel and Hamas — I’m with them. As Secretary of State John Kerry revealed in a microphone mistake before a Fox News interview, the Israeli attacks are hardly a “pinpoint operation.” And if Hamas is responsible for opposing a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, why isn’t the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also held responsible for continually blocking a fair and just two-state solution while continuing to expand Israel’s brutal and unjust occupation in Palestine and continued oppression in Gaza? Why don’t we hold all those morally accountable who refuse political solutions and only work in favor of military solutions that have and will always fail? Can we just continue to ignore the enormous human suffering caused by such failed political leaders — on all sides?
It seems almost certain now that it was Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine who shot down a passenger airliner carrying 298 people, with missile launchers supplied by Russia. Vladimir Putin’s lack of truth telling about Russia’s involvement in this morally indefensible act is consistent with his disingenuous statements about his intentions in annexing Crimea and deliberately destabilizing the Ukraine. But clearly confronting Putin’s lies and moral complicity in the killing of almost 300 civilians is something that European leaders — who are worried about Russian influence in their economies — have yet to agree to do. Mounting serious collective sanctions with tough international diplomacy against Putin and his growing Russian ultra-nationalism is morally warranted; but the rhetoric by some American politicians suggesting that we risk war with Russia — still a nuclear power — is also indefensible.
ISIS, which has now established a new Islamic caliphate across parts of Syria and Iraq, has reportedly told Christians in in the cities they now control that they must convert to Islam, pay a fine, or be executed. So after almost 2,000 years, Iraqi Christians are being forced to leave their country. The creation of more terrorist threats, which the new and terribly dangerous ISIS starkly represents,was one of the clear warnings by the Pontifical Council in Rome and church leaders all over the world when the United States was deciding to invade Iraq. The churches were ignored, and the American government has been proved terribly wrong.
And yet the rhetoric of repetitive hardliners continues to say that the president isn’t being tough enough in all these conflicts, apparently only offering their unrepentant solution of bombing more people every time an international crisis arises. These political leaders and pundits refuse to acknowledge our own hypocrisy, exemplified by the morally indefensible military interventions in our own backyard of Central America. They refuse to acknowledge our tragically missed opportunity of reducing Russian and American nuclear arsenals after the Cold War ended. By papering over our past with rosy sentiments and rewritten histories, we ignore both the roots of current crisis — and the plank in our own eye.
Instead of dealing with the complicated and conflicted causes of a crisis — instead of honestly assessing U.S. influences, liabilities, and responsibilities in trying to help resolve these conflicts — politicians quickly descend into the blame game. And any self-reflection about how their bombings and occupations have led to more crises, how their unbalanced support for the participants in the conflicts have prevented solutions, or how their self-righteous rhetoric fuels conflicts instead of resolving them — is completely absent.
As Christians, we know that there is a Prince of Peace who came to set right what humanity continues to destroy through oppression, injustice, and violence. We know that we are still in wait to see the “kingdom come” which is “already” and “not yet.” And until then, we work to bring about that kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven,” which we pray for each Sunday in the Lord’s Prayer. It begins with asking the tough, moral questions — with speaking truth to power.
It’s time for some truth telling.
I have been praying over three recent quotes from the NY Times' coverage of the war that speak volumes to me about the complexity of this moment - and the truth-telling we must explore. 

+ First is a story by Anne Barnard and Jodi Rudoren, "Israel Says Hamas Is Using Civilians as Shields in Gaza." The reporters quote Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as saying: "Hamas uses innocent civilians as a human shield for terrorist activity." Mr. Netanyahu has used this distinction between Israel and Palestine before and on one level it has served him well. It us not untrue. At the same time, these reporters refuse to let this observation stand alone without qualification - and their nuance discloses yet another whole layer of tragedy for everyone involved:

Nothing is ever so clear in the complex and often brutal calculations of urban warfare. There is no evidence that Hamas and other militants force civilians to stay in areas that are under attack - the legal definition of a human shield under international law. But it is indisputable that militants operate in civilian areas, draw return fire to civilian structures and on some level benefit in the diplomatic arena from the rising casualties. They have also at times encouraged  residents not to flee when alerted by Israel to a pending strike and, having prepared well for war, did not build civilian bomb shelters.  (http://www.nytimes.com/ 2014/07/24/world/ middleeast/israel-says-hamas-is-using-civilians-as-shields-in-gaza.html?ref=todayspaper)

Such is one of the cynical, deadly and ugly calculations of this war. 

+ Second is the a story printed yesterday, "In the Long Run, Hamas Could Gain Economically." Ms. Barnard notes that: "When war between Israel and Hamas broke out two weeks ago, the Palestinian militant group was so hamstrung, politically, economically and diplomatically, that its leaders appeared to feel they had nothing to lose. (So) Hamas took what some here call “option zero,” gambling that it could shift the balance with its trump cards: its arms and militants." Earlier this year, Hamas was "so handicapped that it agreed to enter into a pact with its rival party, Fatah, to form a new government. But that seemed only to make matters worse, sowing division within its own ranks, with some in the military wing angry at the concession, while providing none of the economic relief Hamas had hoped for."

At first, when Hamas rockets were being intercepted mainly by Israel’s Iron Dome system as Israel hit Gaza with devastating force, the group strove to persuade its supporters that it was having enough impact on Israel to wrest concessions: Its radio stations blared fictional reports about Israeli casualties. But as it wore on, the conflict revealed that Hamas’s secret tunnel network leading into Israel was far more extensive, and sophisticated, than previously known. It also was able to inflict some pain on Israel, allowing Hamas to declare success even as it drew a devastating and crushing response. Its fighters were able to infiltrate Israel multiple times during an intensive Israeli ground invasion. 

Its militants have killed at least 27 Israeli soldiers and claim to have captured an Israeli soldier who was reported missing in battle, a potentially key bargaining chip. And on Tuesday its rockets struck a blow to Israel - psychological and economic - by forcing a halt in some international flights. Hamas once again looks strong in the eyes of its supporters and has shown an increasingly hostile region that it remains a force to be reckoned with.

To date more than 700 Palestinians and 45 Israelis have been killed in this contest of completing calculations. Most of the Palestinians are civilians and at least 100 have been children. Ms. Barnard notes rightly (I believe) that "Gazans did not get a vote when Hamas chose to escalate (this) conflict, nor did they get to vote when Hamas selected areas hear their homes, schools and mosques to fire rockets from in a densely populated strip. At the family house of four boys killed last week by an Israeli strike while playing on the beach, some wailing women cursed Hamas along with Israel." I would add, as well they should. (http://www.nytimes.com/ 2014/07/23/world/middleeast /hamas-gambled-on-war-as-its-woes-grew-in-gaza.html?_r=0) Another reason I hate these politicians!

+ And third is this quote from the Letters to the Editor section of today's Times by Barbara Allen Kenney of Santa Fe, NM. Her reaction to a poignant Op Ed piece entitled "Darkness Falls on Gaza" cuts to the chase:

After reading Mohammed Omer's cogent and wrenching analysis of the state of death and destruction in Gaza, I suggest that the Israelis and Palestinians, except for the obvious imbalance of military capability, are much more alike than different. Both lack visionary and courageous leadership; both subscribe to 'saving face' while trying to discredit and demonize the other; both assure themselves of the righteousness of their causes; both cling to the same discredited policies. If only the life-affirming commonalities secured by the right to self determination and the right to coexist and prosper could overcome the fears and hatres that breed this cycle of bitter harvests.

From my perspective, as this bitter harvest ripens, my head and my heart are in conflict.I know that cruel political calculations are part of reality and, as they are played out alongside long-standing fears and betrayals Israel and Palestine will get worse before they get better. St. Paul was right when he wrote: all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. So after these cynical calculations lead to the next cease fire - and they will - I pray that we start disconnecting from the traditional political strategies that have given birth to this disaster. Let's begin with some truth telling, but let's keep pushing for some justice and compassion, too.


Peter said…
Amen, brother.
ddl said…
Painful to read...but reading and re-reading/studying...and praying. Yes. Amen.

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